Sunday, February 29, 2004

In search of nirvana
Rashmi Kalia

The Path of the Buddha: Writings on Contemporary Buddhism
edited by Renuka Singh. Penguin Books. Pages 221. Rs 250.

The Path of the Buddha: Writings on Contemporary BuddhismIT is very likely that a book containing a compilation of essays written by monks, nuns, practitioners and spiritual leaders from all over the world may fall into the category of contemplative reading when compared to popular fiction, in the same way that we view a documentary film in contrast to popular cinema—informative, but not entertaining. This book, however, promises to be a refreshing change.

It contains writings on contemporary Buddhism and traces its growth over the centuries, from the enlightenment of Shakyamuni Buddha to the present time, not only in India but also over the entire civilised world. It also dwells on the issue of the future of Buddhism. The essays have been placed so that the book reads like a novel.

The anthology not only answers elementary questions about Buddhism that arise in the mind of a layman—who is a Buddhist, what are the three jewels of Buddhism, into how many schools of thought is Buddhism divided and what, according to Buddhism, is the Path"?—but also informs the advanced learner.

Apart from the essays written by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and other Buddhist spiritual leaders like Lama Thubten Yeshe, Lama Zopa Rinpoche and Lama Doboom Tulku, which describe the various aspects of Buddhist philosophy and how these have been influenced by this philosophy, the anthology contains essays written by persons with diverse backgrounds and varied interests, who, like all of us, have at one time or the other felt "uncertain of our (their) basic values".

Like Donna Brown, we often feel a contradiction between the values dictated to us by our parents and society and the ones actually practiced. Like K. T. S. Sarao, we find the basic tenets of a religion fascinating because these address our immediate concerns, and like Vivek Kumar, we feel disillusioned with our religious social order and seek an escape from it.

All of them have found their salvation in Buddhism and Buddhist philosophy. Their accounts of their predicaments not only breed a feeling of familiarity within us, but also inspire us to seek moksha by indulging in something more meaningful than our mechanised existence. Renuka Singh’s assertion that "human experience remains the basic realm of our concern" is evident in her selection of essays for the anthology. Human experience, with its trials and tribulations, forms the core of all the personal narratives.

The anthology not only provides a comprehensive and contemporary account of Buddhism, which a modern reader can identify with, but also inspires one to delve deeper into the study of Buddhism. It should not fall into the category of religious books, as neither is the content overly didactic nor is it philosophical. All essays are written in a simple and lucid style. The book is recommended particularly for people with a keen interest in Buddhism and generally for everyone in the post-modern world, whoever needs a refuge from the technology-driven, pollution-ridden, sophisticated world.