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India Talk

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by Sangharakshita

... Hindus and Buddhists on the one hand and Muslims on the other from a religious point of view they don't mix very much. You can imagine it's not easy to mix, as it were, religiously or spiritually with a Muslim - they've got rather decided ideas about certain things. But anyway I did go along to some of these tombs, and of course in some cases there were quite a lot of people, quite a lot of pilgrims visiting them because - I don't know whether you know it but worshiping at the tombs of dead Sufi saints is quite a feature of Islam in India. It's not considered strictly orthodox. Middle Eastern Muslims wouldn't feel at all happy about it, but it's a very definite feature of the religious life of Muslims, many Muslims, in India. And some of these tombs are very beautiful from an architectural point of view. So I saw some of them and I also experienced the atmosphere of some of them. One in particular had a very strong atmosphere which seems to be coming from the actual tomb which was in a way quite strange and quite interesting. And of course I was wearing my yellow robes - perhaps that hasn't been clear - in India I was wearing my yellow robes all the time, because if one doesn't wear one's yellow robes in India well people start wondering what exactly you are. It's much simpler and easier if you just wear them. Then it's `Oh yes, he's a bhikkhu'. They know exactly where they stand. So I was wearing my yellow robes even when I went to these Sufi tombs, and these Sufi tombs are very often associated with mosques, and of course Muslims at first sight they can't tell the difference between say a Buddhist bhikkhu and a Hindu sanyassin or Hindu swami, and of course they don't usually like Hindus anyway, not to speak of Hindu monks, going into their mosques. So were some quite odd looks given to me when they saw me in my yellow robes in the precinct of the mosque or of the tomb, and usually there were several of our Buddhist friends, Indian Buddhist friends, with me, and so on several occasions Muslims would sort of quietly come up to them and say `Who is that?' They clearly weren't happy at the thought that a Hindu might be there. So these Indian Buddhist friends of mine used to say, `Well he's from England,' and the strange thing was as soon as they heard `He's from England' it was all right. [Laughter] They didn't mind. So that was, I thought, distinctly odd. The fact that an Englishman was visiting their mosque or their tomb didn't bother them at all. They only seemed bothered by the fact that it might possibly be some kind of Hindu monk. So after that I didn't have anything to worry about. So yes I enjoyed my little bit of sightseeing. I also took the opportunity of visiting Ellora which I hadn't seen before. I'd seen Ajanta but not Ellora, but anyway I'm not going to say too much about that.

I must also admit that I enjoyed giving my lectures. Perhaps I enjoyed the actual giving of my lectures, and even the preparation of my lectures, as much as anything, and I gave quite a lot. I think I gave about thirty five substantial lectures during the time that I was there, plus little talks. And I very much enjoyed meeting old friends. There were people that I hadn't met for twenty odd years. Others I'd met on my last visit three years ago, but there were some I hadn't met for many years, and I couldn't help noticing that so many of my friends, very good friends, even quite close friends, seemed to be in their eighties. How they'd got there I couldn't imagine because [Laughter] I don't feel as old as that myself. In fact I'm not quite as old as that, but it seemed as though so many of my really good old friends were already in their eighties, so this rather set me wondering I must confess. But, anyway, in one way or another, for one reason or another I must say that I felt very much at home in India. In some ways I was rather surprised by the extent to which I did feel at home [Radio interference with a voice saying `You're coming through nice and clear. I've come through the tube and I'm at the old fire station'!] in India. I think last time I had two very short visits there - on the way to and on the way back from New Zealand. I didn't stay long enough to realize how much at home I did feel. I felt it very very much this time. I felt as though everything there was very familiar to me. I knew it very well. I knew the ropes as it were, I knew the customs, I knew the manners, I knew the people, I knew the language, I knew what people would think on certain issues. I knew how they would react. I'd know what they were thinking without having to ask. In short I felt very much at home in India indeed. And this again set me thinking. It seems as it were quite strange that I should be able to feel so very much at home in two such very different places, for yes I do feel very much at home in England. I feel very much at home in London, having been born and brought up here. I feel very much at home in Norfolk, and I feel no less at home in India, especially in Maharashtra. In fact if I was pressed I might even say that I feel more at home in India. I think partly because the Dharma, certainly among our ex-Untouchable Buddhist friends, is more all pervasive, and I think partly because there is very often a sort of positivity in Indian society, among Indian people, that you don't quite get here. One might almost say, if it wasn't for fear of being misunderstood, there's a sort of friendliness there that very often one doesn't experience here. And of course I do have so many friends there. I've probably got far more friends, numerically speaking, in India than I've got here. I've probably got hundreds of friends here but I've probably got thousands of friends in India.

So from that point of view also I do feel very very much at home. So it seemed in a way strange that I could be able to feel so much at home in two such very different places. It's like being equally at home in two different worlds, because they are very different. It's as though almost as one might sort of go to the moon and feel very much at home there, just as much as on the earth. So it's as though well there are sort of two very different sides to oneself, one might even say, because on the one hand you're very much at home here and on the other hand you're very much at home there. It's almost as though you're two people, but at the same time you're not two people - you are just one person. One could say well one aspect of you, one part of you feels at home here and another aspect, another part, feels at home there, but no it isn't really quite like that because the whole of you feels quite at home in each of these two places, even though they are so different. So maybe that should give one something to think about.

Anyway, this is all in a way quite preliminary. I hope I'm not taking up too much time, but it's probably time I gave you - though actually we're about half way through, don't worry! [Laughter] - gave you - we're not going to be here all night! - it's time I gave you a sort of sketch of my itinerary. I've mentioned various places but you may not have a very clear idea of exactly where I did go, so perhaps I'd better say without more ado that I actually visited three states. India comprises about a dozen major states, plus various other territories. I think all these states are probably bigger than the United Kingdom. Some are as big as Spain or as big as Germany. I visited Maharashtra, which is certainly greater in extent than the United Kingdom; Gujarat which is probably a little bigger, and Rajasthan which is very much bigger. I visited these three states and gave lectures in all of them. I also visited the union territory of Delhi where indeed the capital of course is. But I spent most of my time, I did most of my work in Maharashtra among the ex-Untouchable Buddhists, among the Mahar Buddhists, that being the centre of the Buddhist movement in India and where we had most of our own activities. I started off by giving some lectures in Pune. Then I went up into the hills, into the Western Ghats and I gave a lecture at Panchgani and then another one at Mahad. Mahad is associated with the life of Doctor Ambedkar because it's there that he did something that really upset the Hindus. He burned the Manusmrti. The Manusmriti is one of the orthodox Hindu law books which say that even Shudras - and Shudras of course are a bit bad with numbers - but even Shudras if they happen to hear the words of the Veda, the sacred words which only caste Hindus can hear then molten metal should be poured into their ears and it says things like that. So Doctor as a gesture he burned the Manusmrti on a very famous occasion. So I was there celebrating with other Buddhists the anniversary of that great occasion, and there was a sort of cenotaph, a sort of column that they'd erected and I was shown this - they were very proud of this - Nagabodhi took photographs and I gave a lecture and so on.

Then of course there were lectures in Bombay after that, and here I must give you a bit of a picture of these lectures, some of these lectures anyway: in Bombay I gave quite a number of lectures in the course of a few days, but anyway the most spectacular was one at a place called Worli. Worli is a sort of working class area in Bombay. It's quite extensive, and there are lots of ex-Untouchable Buddhists living there. They mostly live in great slum block. There is row upon row of these slum blocks. There are tens of thousands of these people - perhaps a hundred thousand or more - living in the same area. It's very slum like.

[End of Side One Side Two] Traveling wasn't easy. Sometimes transport broke down. Sometimes cars didn't turn up. Trains were late etc., etc. But anyway there was a party of ten or twelve of us traveling around. I had with me just for those three weeks, Nagabodhi, Lokamitra, Punya ...

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