Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Man searches for 2,600-year-old Buddha spirit

Wisdom Quarterly; Sanjay Sharma (Times of India); The Buddhist Forum UPDATED
Buddhist heritage sites are found throughout greater India, from modern Iran to Bangladesh
Lone man searches for 2,600-year-old Buddha spirit in north Indian ruins
CHANDIGARH, India - A rural Hindu boy found peace sitting in Buddhist ruins around historically important Yamunanagar, his hometown, when he felt low pursuing his engineering degree from Kurukshetra University.

Siddhartha Gauri, 35, just like the historical Buddha Siddhartha Gautama, found hope thinking of reviving dilapidated structures around his town.

The Buddha traveled throughout the north interacting with Brahmins and others, which later influenced the development of Hinduism (formalized as a "religion" by Adi Shankara).
Prince Siddhartha, who became the Buddha at 35, was on a spiritual quest that started when he first noticed or was deeply struck by the uncommon sight of death, disease, and old age in his charmed life. The Buddha found answers to his quest 2,600 years ago on this very day [May 17, 2011, the full-moon day of the Indian month of Vesak].

While collecting pictures of such sites, an idea occurred to Siddhartha Gauri -- making a documentary to capture the plight of the historically important sites. It took three years but he succeeded in making a 22 minute documentary: "Dhammashetra -- The Lost Land of Buddha."

As he started researching on the ruins, he found too many of them across the country, mostly in Haryana.
Gauri was, however, shocked to know that nothing much was happening in terms of conserving Buddhism's heritage, which is so important for world peace, tourism, as well as the diplomatic and economic ties of India with the rest of the world, particularly China and Japan and neighboring Buddhist countries.
Despite his film being shown on Doordarshan International, he launched a website to attract the attention of the world towards the plight of Buddhism's heritage in India.
The Buddhism that developed in ancient India spread to ancient Greece before moving to China and north Asia, leaving behind imprints of Mahayana that went on to influence Christianity and Western ideals like democracy and parliamentary processes.

The website is attracting 100,000 visitors a month, mostly from America and Russia, both of which have significant Buddhist populations (indigenous and new adherents).
His efforts to draw the attention of the Indian government brought him disappointment as nothing tangible has happened on the ground.
Gauri, however, started getting recognition from the international community. In April, he had a meeting with Magsaysay Award winner Sri Lankan Gandhian Dr. A.T. Ariyaratne to save the Buddhist heritage of North India.
The "Buddhist circuit" in ancient Magadha, Northern India
Barely managing so far by borrowing funds from family and friends, the Yamunanagar City youth is planning to visit Buddhist countries to drum up support for his cause. the first international screening of his film was held in Sri Lanka in April. He was invited to the island nation's celebrations of the 2,600th anniversary of the Buddha's enlightenment (Buddha Jayanthi).
"My name and my work on stupas [alabaster Buddhist burial mounds that serve as sacred reliquaries] have almost made me a Buddhist in the eyes of the world despite retaining my Hindu belief close to my heart," Gauri told The Times of India.
Gauri has already written letters to all 700 MPs to preserve India's Buddhist heritage in their areas. And he has sent 21,000 signatures to India's president for saving stupas.
Whether there is a controversy on Chaneti Stupa being spoiled during conservation work or villagers demanding the return of the Ashokan pillar from Delhi back to Topra village, Gauri is on the forefront.
Talking to The Times of India, Gauri said one of the biggest challenges for his campaign came when he found out that the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir has a large number of Kushan period remains. It was from here that Buddhism went to Bamiyan in Afghanistan [where the Buddha may have grown up, the real Kapilavastu, the capital of the Kingdom of the Shakyas].
But one courageous Kashmiri Muslim, Siraj-ud-din Salam, of the Kashmir Humanity Foundation has stood by him. Together they launched a signature campaign in Kashmir to save the Buddha.

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