Monday, March 30, 2009

Black Hats or Yellow Hats – India Is A Safe Haven

Recently, the 17th Karmapa, Ugyen Trinley Dorje was in the news during his visit to Sarnath to participate in the annual Buddhist festival. My thoughts went back to the year 2000, when this young lad’s sudden emergence in the Indian side of the border made national headlines. It also made for considerable embarrassment for the Indian Government, which was flummoxed on whether to treat him as a fugitive, a renegade, an infiltrator - or just a guest. Yet, true to the sanctified norm of ‘Atithi Devo Bhavah’ (Guest is God), the Indian Government granted him refugee status a year later and His Holiness currently resides at the Gyuto Monastic University outside Dharmsala. And true to his ‘Karmapa’ bona-fides as the ‘embodiment of Buddhist activities’, His Holiness visits important Buddhist sites in India to spread the fundamentals of the religion and inculcate the Tibetan spirit of respect and affinity towards it.

When you unwind the sequence of incidents as they unfolded 09 years ago, it was so very mystifying as to how a 14-year old, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, till then in virtual captivity in the Tsurpu Monastery in Tibet, managed to undertake a perilous journey that slithered over from a jeep to a mule to a helicopter and finally a trek to reach the Indian side of the border. How was it that the belligerent Chinese armymen were caught unawares for almost 48 hours, even as the disappearing act was being staged? In a chaos of myriad possibilities, it was felt that China had stage-managed the entire episode, which was proved to be incorrect by the subsequent turn of events. Apparently, His Holiness himself explained that he had planned his escape to the minutest detail at Tsurpu, where he had announced that he would be entering into a penance and would not come out of it for some days. This ruse worked, for when he made good his escape, it prevented him and his entourage to be pursued right away. By 2002, he had taken over as the de-facto leader of the Kagyu Sect or the Order of Black Hats.

The Karmapa initially was lodged at a monastery near Dharmsala. Yet even then it was speculated that he would cross over to Sikkim, which houses the Rumtek monastery, established by the 16th Karmapa in 1966 (now the possible headquarters of the Order of Black Hats). 08 years have gone by since then and His Holiness still awaits the permission of the Indian authorities to cross over to Rumtek and take over the reins, even as the followers at the monastery await his arrival with bated breath. The Dalai Lama’s Order of Yellow Hats on its part, recognizes him now as the ‘Boddhisatva’ or the ‘Enlightened One’ and also as ‘Gyalwang Karmapa’ or the ‘Victorious One’.

Things might be peaceful, as of now yet there is no indication to the future course of events. Incidentally, this also happens to be the 50th year of the Dalai Lama’s Government-in exile at Dharmsala. In this scenario, if India grants religious asylum to Ogyen Trinley Dorje, it is likely to further imperil Indo-China relations, especially when internecine strife has afflicted the entire Mahayana cult of Buddhism in S-E Asia.

Even as India’s Tibetan Policy continues to traverse a wearisome terrain of contradictory obligations, its spirit of magnanimity is there to be seen in providing a safe haven to such Holy figureheads from across the border. The Order of the Yellow and Black Hats have both found abundant shelter beneath the spread of a nation’s opulent wings; very much in keeping with the Buddhist spirit of universal love & compassion - that did originate from India after all!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Truth & Ahimsa – Gandhiji’s Expressions of Rational Hinduism

For a major part of his life, Gandhiji fought against the evils of communal hatred towards inculcating the spirit of unity & brotherhood among his countrymen. Yet, his relentless endeavour was cut short by a Hindu fanatic who considered his gospel of Ahimsa as prejudicial and detrimental to the Hindu Community and its interests. Nothing could have been farther from truth for Gandhiji’s crusade for Hindu-Muslim unity was borne as much out of his abhorrence of the British policy of ‘Divide and Rule’ as his implicit faith in the rational Hinduistic cult, which according to him ‘enables the followers not merely to respect all other religions but to admire and assimilate whatever may be good in other faiths’. It was his fervent belief that Hinduism was not a religion in ‘exclusivity’ but is all-pervading & all -encompassing and all his actions were consistent with India’s struggle and realization of democratic national freedom.

Yes, Gandhiji’s nobility of thought and action was borne out of his empathy for mankind and not for any particular religious order or sect. His avowed belief in the Sanatani Hindu cult, which preached to everybody to worship God according to his own faith or dharma, found expression as – ‘I have found Hinduism as among the most tolerant of all religions known to me and so it lives at peace with all the religions.’ It was religious tolerance that saw his endless crusade against the dissolute practice of untouchability, which according to him was to be looked upon as an excrescence on Hinduism, not protecting religion, rather suffocating it. Likewise, he was vehemently opposed to proselytism, which the Hindu faith did not submit to.

It was Gandhiji’s modest claim that he had nothing new to teach the world as ‘truth and non-violence were as old as the hills’. His belief in non-violence also found the highest expression in Hinduism, which ‘believed in the oneness not of merely all human life but in the oneness of all that lives’, which is sacrosanct. He essentially felt that Hinduism propagated the search for truth through non-violent means and ‘a perfect vision of truth alone can follow a complete realization of Ahimsa’, which was the bedrock of all that he preached and practiced. Gandhiji felt that while Hinduism, in its incipient spirit and form, could raise one to the highest echelons, it could also bring down ignorant masses to the lowest depths. It was therefore, for every individual to see the Universal and all-pervading Spirit of Truth by loving the meanest of creations as belonging to oneself.
It was Gandhiji’s immutable faith in the capacity of Hinduism and its assimilative character to purge itself of all impurities from time to time that he reposed his full faith in it. It was his fervent belief that Hinduism has never in centuries extolled militant activities and ‘the identification with everything that lives is impossible without self-purification in all walks of life, not just of oneself but also of the surroundings, without which the law of Ahimsa shall remain a distant dream’. Today, in this world embroiled in ethnic & religious strife, Gandhiji’s teachings, which derive their essence from the power of the soul and the purity of spirit, are the most relevant to salvage one’s thoughts & actions.

Netaji's Death – Perennially Shrouded in Mystery

Even as the nation celebrated the 112th birth anniversary of Netaji on the 23rd of January, his unique personality cult continues to keeps him ‘alive’ even in ‘death’ among his passionate admirers. Even though, there has been no evidence to disclaim his demise as has been chronicled in history, there are people who surface time and again asserting that he escaped the fatal air crash and lived much longer. Despite the report of the Mukherjee Commission (set up in 1999) too having been cast aside by the Central Government after a scathing rebuttal of facts including the claim that the ashes in Renkoji temple in Japan were not of that of Netaji’s, matters have continued to perpetrate regarding the circumstances surrounding his death.

To look back at the sequence of events, the British on their part had set up two inquiry commissions, the Finnings Commission in September 1945 and the Chakroborty Inquiry in December 1945 and these were followed by the Frigg's Report in 1953, none of which corroborated the sequence of events though, the one person who could have given conclusive evidence as the only Indian to have witnessed Netaji's death, Col. Habibur Rehman, refused to depose before either of the two commissions. The first of many enquiries in India, was by Shahnawaz Khan, one of the figureheads of the Red Fort trials followed by the report by Justice G.D. Khosla, a retired Chief Justice of the Punjab High Court in 1970, both of which, gave a conclusive report that Netaji indeed, died during the air crash. However, several years later a 102-year-old Nizamuddin claiming to be Netaji’s driver-cum-bodyguard, said that the latter was not killed in an air-crash in 1945, but died a natural death in oblivion in 1985 as ' 'Bhagwan ji - Gumnami Baba' in Faizabad. There is no explanation as to why this venerable old gentleman suddenly decided to come out with this version after lying dormant for more than 40 years of Netaji’s death. This Gumnami Baba folk-lore too has remained inconclusive as such.

From details that do carry a semblance of truth, Netaji flew off from Japan to Bangkok on the 16th of August, 1945 and the next morning to Saigon from where he was to leave for Taipei (then Japanese Taihuku) and then to Dairen (in Manchuria), en route to Russia. The pilot decided to land at Tourane during the twilight hour, spend the night there and attempt the over water flight to Formosa (now Taiwan) the next day. The next day morning, the plane with its crew of four, its six Japanese passengers and two Indians, took off and headed for Taipei nearly a thousand miles away. After a flight of about seven hours, the crew refueled at Taipei and at about two thirty in the afternoon, took off again. Then at less than a hundred feet the port propeller was lost and the plane nosedived to split into two. Netaji was supposed to have suffered third degree burns and after several hours of struggle, died sometime between ten and eleven in the night. This was the evidence given by Dr. Yoshimi Tameyoshi as a first-class eye-witness account and there is no reason not to believe it, for it was a pre-cursor to Netaji’s disappearance.

While so many claims and counter-claims have surfaced, not one of them have answered a most straightforward question – ‘If Netaji did survive the crash, why didn't he made himself public at any stage’? After all, he wasn’t perceived a national threat and neither did India & Britain enter into any such treaty as would have extradited him to England to be tried as a ‘war criminal’. On the contrary, he would have been accorded a rousing welcome in India, post-independence. Strangely, while Netaji’s life has been meticulously chronicled, his death continues to baffle rational sensibilities, unearthing material & accounts, which rather than unravel the mystery tend to further shroud the incident into obscurity. What holds as incontrovertible truth is that Netaji in life as in death stood and continues to stand tall as a perennial warhead who shook the Colonial yoke from its roots.

Should Tibet Seek Autonomy as in Pre-Independent India?

Even as the battle-scarred figurehead of the Tibetan community, the Holy Dalai Lama, continues to lead his brigade against the might of their Communist rulers, as yet, there are no signs of buckle-down by either of the sides. From the wintery day in 1959 when His Holiness was forced to flee the Norbulingka, his summer palace in Tibet and take refuge across the border in the confines of Dharmsala with his followers, to escape the tyranny of the Chinese invaders, his life has been at the bleakest edge of social and political turmoil. China on its part has been offering a euphemistic rationale to its acts, alluding them to Mao Tse-tung’s rather archaic ideals of adding Tibet to the family of the People’s Republic of China and freeing its inhabitants from feudal tyranny. 58 years later, that very Dharmsala became a hot spot of congregation for Tibetans round the world to express complete faith in His Holiness’ primacy as their undisputed leader. To the Dalai Lama it is quite clear that total independence from China is not quite at hand yet he knows that groups like the Tibetan Youth Congress are steadfast in pursuing the cause.

His Holiness has all along been intransigent in following the ‘middle path’ that seeks autonomy within the region and under Chinese command. Nothing articulates this belief better than his saying – ‘The aims of the Lord Buddha and of Karl Marx are not incompatible. Both were concerned with bringing happiness to the masses, the Buddha with spiritual happiness and Marx with material happiness. Is it not reasonable then to see how the two might work together?’ Unfortunately, in the current day scenario, such an ideologue of incorporating materialism in spiritual progress is like putting an elephant on the tendril and cannot be a sacrosanct norm adopted by the Tibetans. The genesis of this could be found in the ‘cultural revolution’ in China in 1966, which has led to the systematic decimation of religious institutions in Tibet by the Communist regime. Therefore, any crusade in Tibet that uses religious sentiment as its preamble and does not stand the onslaught of reason is bound to crumble.

In 1987, His Holiness had formulated a five-point peace plan, one of which was the demilitarization of Tibet - a fore-runner for seeking provincial autonomy in the region, which eventually fell through. However, hypothetically perhaps, it wouldn’t be off the mark to suggest that Tibet could explore the possibility of adopting a structure similar to what was proposed for India under British rule in the year 1917 and ratified in the House of Commons; which was a forerunner to India’s independence three decades later. It called for the increased association of Indians in every branch of the administration and the gradual development of self-governing institutions towards progressive realization of responsible government in India as an integral part of the British empire.

To start with, Tibet’s policy should propose to extend to the domain of its provinces. This would mean, having a federal system of government at the Lhasa under China’s command and constituting a federal assembly on the basis of representation of provinces in accordance with the population. China can be persuaded to adhere to the principle of a federal government and grant full autonomy to the provincial governments run by Tibetans. Thus the central government shall administer the federal subjects while the provincial governments will have full authority in the provincial fields.

Such a system may sound quite untenable but it could be quite significant in the light of the increasing growth of social & political unrest in the Tibetan people the world over. Even if total independence isn’t quite imminent, at least some form of self-government could well be the pre-cursor towards fulfilling a long-cherished dream of Tibet’s liberation movement. Provincial autonomy for Tibet under Chinese rule could well mark the end of one epoch and the beginning of a new one.

Gandhiji’s Precious Ingersoll – Lost and Found!

The nation suddenly appeared to have been shaken out of a stupor with Gandhiji’s memorabilia being brought under a sledge-hammer blow among a cartel of pecuniary bidders. After all the clamour by the powers-that-be that failed to subvert the auction, it took a liquor baron’s ‘Gandhigiri’ to intercede and save the situation from escalating into a national opprobrium. Now one would imagine that the precious heirlooms shall be safely ensconced in the sanctified realm of Gandhiji’s memory.

Somehow providence has willed that most of Gandhiji’s items are now the safe custody of the Government, some rightfully and some providentially, one of which is a shining white, Nickel-plated Ingersoll watch that he used to tie to his waist with a string. Time was one of his chief obsessions and he treasured every moment for the service of mankind, which to him was akin to serving the Almighty. Gandhiji led a most austere life and his needs were scarce too. So that on his return from South Africa, except for the Gita, his tin utensils and some mementos of his prison days, he renounced all valuables except for the Ingersoll that was too precious for him to forsake. However, it so happened that once when he was traveling to Delhi in March 1947, he was jostled in the railway compartment and the Ingersoll was stolen by an unknown hand. Gandhiji later happened to relate this incident to Lord Mountebatten with tears in his eyes. What apparently hurt Gandhiji was that with the Ingersoll being purloined, a particle of his faith too had been plucked away. He was now on the horns of a dilemma! Had the nation really understood his creed or was it just hardening into an inflexible dogma on which life could never be regulated.

The fact however, is that the same Ingersoll happened to be tied to Gandhiji’s waist when he was struck down by the assassin’s bullets ten months later. So how and when did he retrieve the lost possession of his? It so happened that some five months after the burglary incident, when Gandhiji was staying at Birla House (now ‘Gandhi Smriti’) a stranger appeared at the gates, refusing to reveal his identity to anybody but Gandhiji himself and also refusing to go away without meeting him. After being thoroughly frisked, he was allowed in. On meeting Gandhiji, he immediately took out the same Ingersoll, admitting to the fact that it was he who had stolen it and had to come to return it and also ask for the Mahatma’s forgiveness. Gandhiji is supposed to have leapt in joy and instantly embraced him. Not only that, like a kid who couldn’t hide his giggle at having recovered a lost toy, he called all his followers and brandishing the Ingersoll, introduced the stranger as though he was his unknown benefactor. So the prized possession was back, for now.

Ironically, in the last few minutes before he was assassinated, it was the Ingersoll at which he stole a glance and realised he was late for the prayer meeting, even as he was engrossed in a heated conversation with Sardar Patel. And when Gandhiji fell to the bullets, it was Manu who stole a glance at the watch tied at Gandhiji’s waist as it stopped instantly to record that it was seventeen minutes past five. In the mayhem that followed, Gandhiji’s precious Ingersoll was thankfully taken possession of and it occupies a pride of place at the Gandhi museum in New Delhi. Sadly, this time it was not the watch but its owner who was lost and forever - to the nation, to the world and to humanity at large.

So we have two diametrically opposite conundrums surroundings Gandhiji’s belongings. Apparently, a James Otis, despite repeated entreaties, ensured that the remnants of Gandhiji’s belongings were auctioned off, there was this unknown stranger who could have made the most of his theft yet, overcome by his guilt conscience, performed a quixotically noble deed as an expiation of his self-confessed sin. Obviously we are living in a world that straddles uncomfortably between the precept and practice of Gandhiji’s faith.