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Buddhist publications in India (1908-2008)

by Rohan Lalith Jayetilleke, Daily News (Sri Lanka), Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Buddhism continued to be the dominant religion of Indians for 1,000 years, from the 3rd century BC to the 7th century, and those years were in many ways the grandest in Indian history. Unfortunately, however, Buddhism began to decline in India, and by the end of the 12th century, it had almost disappeared from the land of its birth. Even the name of the Buddha had vanished into oblivion from the memory of Indians. This decline, the historical disaster for the Indians could be adduced to the following reasons:

1. Spiritual decline and factionalism among Buddhists.
2. Strong sectarian opposition within India.
3. Systematic destruction of Buddhist institutions by alien Islamic invaders in the 11th century and hostile indigenous forces.

The Buddhist revival movement began in India, with the arrival of Anagarika Dharmapala, who came to India in 1891, at the request of Sri Edwin Arnold (author of Light of Asia) who met him at the Rankoth Vihara, Panadura, Sri Lanka. In 1891 he formed the Maha Bodhi Society in Colombo, with him as the general secretary and Most Venerable Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Maha Thera, as the president to launch his movement to rest the control of Buddha Gaya from the total control of Hindu priest Mahant.

To facilitate his activities, with the British government he`shifted the headquarters of the society to Calcutta (now Kolkata) the then capital of British India in 1893. In 1915, he had the society registered under the Indian Companies Ordinance, with he himself as the General Secretary and Sir Asutosh Mukherjee, the Vice Chancellor of the Calcutta University as the president. The activities of the society inspired some broadminded Indians turned their attention to their dead great Buddhist culture and civilisation.

The first important book on Buddhism to be published by an Indian scholar after the beginning of the revival movement initiated by Anagarika Dharmapala in 1891 was ‘Essence of Buddhism’ by Professor P. Lakshmi Narasu of Madras (Chennai, Tamil Nadu). It was published in 1906 with an introduction by Anagarika Dharmapala. The publication was financed by Anagarika Dharmapala, who was the son of the richest furniture dealer in Sri Lanka H. Don Carolis. Prof. Narasu published a revised edition at his cost in India in 1911.

Thirty seven years later Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, the great Buddhist revivalist of India in the mid 20th century,” was so inspired by this book that he arranged to publish the third edition of it in India in 1948, with a foreword by him and recommended the book to his followers of Maharashtra who embraced Buddhism in millions in 1956, the year of the 2500th Buddha Jayanthi.

The first book to be published in India itself, as the first was published at Colombo, Sri Lanka was ‘Civilisation in the Buddhist Age; BC 320 to AD 500’ by Romesh C. Dutt, an Indian Civil Service Officer (British service).

To commemorate the long history of Buddhist publications in India, although the Indian Buddhist population is presently only one percent of the total population of 1.5 billion and the Hindus aggregating to 84.6 percent, and eclipsing Hinduism by Buddhism is never a possibility in India, as Hindus venerate the Buddha conceptualising him to be the ninth incarnation of God Vishnu and God Vishnu’s 10th incarnation as the future Buddha, Maithreya.

This attempt is to document the books published in English, Hindi and other State languages of India by Indian authors during the period 1908-2008, for the benefit of the Sri Lankan readers, as there are no such studies conducted by Sri Lankan writers in respect of India.

In the survey of Buddhist publication in India, one could classify them under seven categories:

1. Pali Tipitaka in Devanagari.
2. Pali texts in English translations.
3. Modern Buddhist literature in English.
4. Buddhist journals.
5. Pali texts in Hindi.
6. Modern Buddhist literature in Hindi.
7.Pali texts in other main Indian languages of different states of the Indian Union.

Pali Tipitaka in Devanagari

In the days of yore in India, literary treasures of Buddhism, like the Vedas of Hinduism, were primarily passed on from one generation to the others through recollection and the treasuries of Buddhism were the monasteries and of Veda, the shrines or abodes of the Brahmins. When Buddhism declined in India, the monasteries which were ornamented with gold and silver images and other religious artifacts were vandalized and Buddhist literature was systematically destroyed by the enemies of Buddhism.

The best example is the setting ablaze of Nalanda Maha Vihara (University) with multi-towered libraries by the Muslim invaders in the 12th century and the raging fire continued for over seven months. The Bhikkhu students, 15,000 in number and Bhikku teachers 1,500 in number were destroyed and cartloads of treasures were taken by the Turkish Muslims to Afghanistan.

However, fortunately, the Pali scriptures were preserved carefully in Sri Lanka and Myanmar (Burma) after it was introduced to these two countries by Arahath Mahinda, son of King Asoka of India in the 3rd century to Sri Lanka and to Myanmar by Arahaths Sona and Uttata, the Buddhist missionaries of the third Buddhist Council held at Pataliputra (modern Patna capital of Bihar State), the capital of the Maruya Empire of the 3rd century BC, and the capital of the Magadha kingdom in the 6th century BC under King Ajatasattu.

The Sanskrit Buddhist literature of Mahayana Buddhism, that arose 100 years after the demise of the Buddha, in a Buddhist Council held at Vaishali, under the patronage of King Kalasoka, which saw the division of original Buddhism to around 14 sects and finally dichotomizing to two main sects, Sthaviravada (Theravada) and Mahasanghika (Mahayana) and in Tibet Lamaism.

Hence, whatever Pali and Sanskrit Buddhist literature now in India has come to the Indians from the neighbouring countries.

source: http://www.dailynews.lk/2009/12/01/fea42.asp

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Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Sammāsambuddhassa.
Buddha sāsana.m cira.m ti.t.thatu.