Buddhism has been accused of being pessimistic in its approach towards life because of its recognition of suffering being part of human existence. This, of course, is not true- one just has to look at the great developments in art and culture during Buddhist times and at the countries that practice Buddhism (South East Asia, China) to see that people that are influenced by Buddhism is anything but that, as Jawaharlal Nehru points out in his The Discovery of India
Dr Ambedkar in The Buddha and his Dhamma, underlines how, contrary to being pessimistic, Buddhism is a religion of a dynamic middle path. He asks in the Introduction (page 19):
If life is sorrow, death is sorrow and rebirth is sorrow, then there is an end of everything. Neither religion nor philosophy can help a man to achieve happiness in the world. If there is no escape from sorrow, then what can religion do, what can Buddha do to relieve man from such sorrow which is ever there in birth itself? The four Aryan Truths are a great stumbling block in the way of non-Buddhists accepting the gospel of Buddhism. For the four Aryan Truths deny hope to man. The four Aryan Truths make the gospel of the Buddha a gospel of pessimism. Do they form part of the original gospel or are they a later accretion by the monks ?
He addresses this question in the later part of the book (page 428):
The vihara at Nagarjunakonda island (click to enlarge images)
It required a visit to the ancient town reconstructed at Anupu on the banks of the Krishna river to drive home what a great setback the decline and destruction of Buddhism was to Indian civilization. A number of reasons have been ascribed to account for the atheistic religion’s demise in the land of its birth. This includes the one pointed out by DD Kosambi- that the Buddhist monasteries succumbed to their opulence. Another theory is that it was too closely aligned with centralized states and when those broke up, so did the religion. Whatever be the reasons for its ultimate decline, it is certain is that its successor- Brahmanical Hinduism, was worse. As I gazed over the monastery and the amphitheater a deep sense of reverence and awe came over me. It was soon broken, though, by the chants of shalokas
from the Bhagavad Gita over the loudspeaker from a close by temple. The sound was metaphorically shattering. It was Shancaracharya, after all, who sounded the death knell of Buddhism and revived the Gita.
No faults in any way are found in him;
All virtues in every way dwell in him
Thus begins the Hymn to the Buddha (Satapancasataka), a poem by the 1st century poet Matrceta. It is considered to have played some part in the popularization of Buddhism at that time, and even now is a good introduction to the atheistic religion. At first it looks like an eulogy for the Buddha, but as one reads the full text it becomes apparent that it is not just a blind eulogy to a person but encapsulates the message of the Buddha in verse. It speaks about the Buddha’s concerns (the noble eight fold path)- Compassion, Speech, Teaching, Guidance and Deeds, among others. An extract from ‘In Praise of Speech’:
Your speech is excellent in three ways,
based on fact it is truthful
because its motive is pure it causes no confusion
and being relevant it is easily understood.
You ride on a horse,
while I ride on a donkey.
Looks like you are better off than me!
Turning around, I see a man pushing his cart.
Some are better off than me,
But there are others less fortunate than
A poem from the collection “Cloud and Water” (pdf) by the Chinese Buddhist writer Hsing Yun. The blurb explains the title of the book:
What do we mean by cloud and water? Clouds float by water flows on. In movement there is no grasping, in Ch’an there is no settling. The cloud and water life is a life of living in the moment, always fresh and ready to experience.
Literature, Politics. Paradise, Labyrinths.