Valuable addition to Buddhist literature

Review by Tara Kashyap, Deccan Herald, July 24, 2005

The book "Nirvana - Buddhist Pilgrimages in India" would have made a greater impact on the reading public if the matter had been presented in a more organised manner.

New Delhi, India -- The message contained in Nirvana is perhaps the need of the hour in Bihar, the land of The Buddha- the Enlightened One. If properly read and understood, particularly by those responsible for causing immense suffering to humanity, the book Nirvana- Buddhist Pilgrimages in India could be the answer.

For millions seeking respite from endless strife and struggle, the message in the book taken in the right spirit, could make a big difference.

It would bring solace to the victims and those who empathise with them alike. Its contribution is significant to the socio-cultural needs of the community; a community reeling under political instability and social injustice. The book Nirvana has arrived on the scene at the right moment.

Nirvana is also a valuable addition to the already existing literature concerning Buddhism which in fact is voluminous. With a simple and lucid style Subhadra Sen Gupta has tried to put together the information culled from numerous sources. The information is more than adequate for a pilgrim planning an itinerary or budding journalists seeking short cuts to scholarship.

The most uninitiated and the lay reader can also benefit sufficiently from messages spread over chapters relating to the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold path leading to the attainment of Enlightenment and ultimately the achievement of Nirvana.

Chapters include information about the pre-Nirvana life of the Buddha. Being brought up in the lap of luxury, with little chance of knowing what lay beyond the palace enclave, the shock he experienced while coming face to face with the realities of life like poverty, sickness, old age and death, have been dealt with in detail. So also the tenets of the faith which he expounded after the enlightenment have been highlighted with emphasis laid on the essential features of the newly founded faith.

The chapters reveal how the Buddha had striven hard in his quest to find the root cause for human suffering and evolve possible solutions for freeing the humanity from them. He had realised the futility of the existing practices for achieving cessation of pain and hence sorrow, which involved severe penance and self mortification.

These he had realised were of little help in the furtherance of spiritual progress. The Buddha abandoned them in favour of simpler methods based on the concept of the Middle Way which lay in between extreme asceticism and materialism.

Known in the Pali language as Majjhima Nikaya, The ?Middle Way? formed the very essence Buddhist religious philosophy. Having founded the faith it was necessary to spread the word to enable the suffering millions to get redemption from life of eternal doom.

Surcharged with spiritual zeal he traversed tirelessly great distances, reaching across to people the message of ?dhamma?, compassion and love. For nearly forty-five years after the attainment of Enlightenment till the day of Parinirvana or divine demise, he nurtured the faith, organised communities of monks and nuns or Sanghas, formulated rules and guidelines for the members of the Sanghas.

These were elaborate and subsequently became the basis of Buddhist cannons paving the way for works like Vinaya Pitaka, Sutta Pitaka, Abhidhamma Pitaka, Majjhima Nikaya, Dhammapada, Lalitavistara, Dipavamsa, Mahavamsa, Jatakas and others.

In short the chapters indicate how he initiated a spiritual movement which has survived with the number of followers becoming larger each day. There are details regarding the spread of the faith beyond the frontiers. The spiritual empire which encompassed a vast geographical region bounded by Afganistan in the west to Indonesia in the east and from outer Mongolia in the north to Sri Lanka in the south dotted with innumerable places of great sanctity.

Most important of them have been listed and discussed. Included in this list are Lumbini and Kapilavastu where he was born and grew up, Bodh Gaya, the place of enlightenment, Sarnath the place of first sermon and Kushinagara where he attained Mahaparinirvana and other centres associated with his activities during his life time.

The information however could have been organised in a more coherent manner. There is no definite chapter wise demarcation. The chapter titled ?The Middle Way? for instance is vague.

Nothing specific is said about The Middle Way. There is more about the Buddha?s rejection of the earlier faiths rather than the affirmation of new tenets. It is repeatedly stated that the tenets are unique without exactly explaining their essence there by lessening the degree of their effectiveness.

Similarly the chapter titled ?Teachings of The Buddha? is misleading as much is said about the organisation, councils held and the schools of Buddhism and relatively less concerning the teachingsInter-changeability of information, repetition, absence of chronology of events often lead to confusion.

Had the information been better organised and presented in a format more compact the book would no doubt have made a greater impact on the reading public.

Nirvana- Buddhist Pilgrimages in India
Subhadra Sen Gupta, Rupa and Co
2005, pp 161, Rs 295.