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Why do we celebrate Buddha’s birthday? Buddhajayanthi does not mean worshipping a picture or an idol of Buddha with camphor, cocoanut and eatables. It means that we have decided to learn something from Buddha’s life and teachings and follow them in our own lives. I am taken for an atheist. If nastika means a person who denounces the Vedas, Sastras (Doctrines) and Puranas (Mythologies), I am undoubtedly one. I believe it is right and proper for a person of that description to speak on Buddha. A man who believes in the Vedas, Sastras and Puranas must indeed be very clever to speak on occasion like this. He must be one who is well–trained in deceiving the people and one who is a hypocrite himself. It is not uncommon for such a man to speak of Buddha as some ancient sage or mahatma (Supreme Soul) akin to those he reveres.

Buddha 450Neither rishi nor mahatma

Buddha was neither a saint nor a mahatma (Supreme Soul). He was one who actually opposed the Hindu saints (rishis) of old times, and that is why we are here to celebrate his day. Just as Buddha is no rishi or mahatma, so is Buddhism not a religion in the accepted sense of the word. Many people wrongly regard Buddhism as a religion. A religion must have a god in its center. It must also have things like heaven (moksha) and hell (Naraka) and soul and the lord (Paramatma), sin (papa) and virtuous deed (Punya). To be a great religion, one god is not enough; there must be many of them. These gods must have wives, concubines and all conceivable human relationships. Indians are familiar only with such a religion.

Rational thinking is the greatest attribute

To start with, Buddha declared that it is not at all necessary for man to concern himself with god. He wanted people to be bothered with a man alone. He did not speak about moksha (heaven) and (hell) Naraka. He laid stress on man’s character and right conduct. Wisdom with rational thinking, he said, was the greatest attribute of man. A thing is not to be believed in just because a rishi (sage) said it or a mahatma wrote it. It is absolutely necessary for every intelligent human being to examine a proposition with his own intellect and arrive at the truth himself.

Buddhism is, therefore, not a religion, and we have pleasure in participating in Buddha’s birthday only for that reason. Buddha’s rationalism called forth a severe reactionary opposition. He lived Some 2,500 years ago when barbaric religious practices were the order of the day in India. He stood up boldly against the religion of the day; and the great opposition to his teaching is proof of Buddha’s greatness and the power of his word. The people who wrote and spoke after him to destroy his rationalist platform tell the tale of the stupendous efforts undertaken to revive the shaken barbaric Hindu religion.

Reference in Ramayana about Buddha

The Ramayana has spoken ill of Buddhism. The Ramayana was rewritten to take its later huge proportions to counter Buddha’s teachings. The Ramayana, which existed prior to the Buddha, was only a small story. The Vaishnavite Nalayira Prabandham, the Saivite Thevaram etc., have taken pains to ridicule and belittle Buddha. The Buddhists and the Jains have been decried as atheists, robbers, murderers, and enemies of Vedic sacrifices. The Siva Bhaktas (devotees of Sivan) have prayed to Siva to give them the power to molest the wives of Buddhists.

The meaning of Nastika

Buddha is ordinarily taken to refer to a person. Buddha means buddhi or intelligence. Anyone who uses his intelligence is a Buddha. All people are endowed with intelligence, but only those who use it intelligently can be Buddhas. The word Siddha conveys a similar meaning. Siddha is one who controls his sense. God Vishnu is the center for Vaisnavism; but for Buddhism, buddhi or intellect is the center. Today the word ‘nastika’ (atheism) is made to one who denies the existence of god. But the fact is that one who denies the existence of god and uses his intellect and logically argues about things is taken for a ‘nastika’ (atheist). People who denounce Brahmanism are also treated as nastikas (atheists).

Twisted to all terrible meaning

Some time ago, a Buddhist conference was conducted at Erode. The Head of the World Buddhist Society, Mr. Mallala Sekhara, very nicely said in his opening address that we were all gathered there as so many Buddhas. The Encyclopedia Britannica has described Buddhism as one which calls for the use of Buddhi or intellect and which denounces blind belief.

Today intellect is hardly given any place of importance. Schools and colleges do not ask people to use their intelligence and question tradition, reaction, and superstition. If a few do use their intellect, they are immediately branded as ‘nastikas’ (atheists), an appellation that has really no meaning. The rationalist often has to take great trouble to deny that he is a nastika (atheist), for the term has been twisted to mean all terrible things.

Even the Buddha did not ask people to blindly believe what he preached. He called upon them to weigh his words, sift them according to their intelligence and accept that part of them which appeared to them to be reasonable. 

Looked at heavens with naked eyes

Gouthama Buddha preached his principles to people 2,500 years ago to suit their illiteracy then. The wisdom of the people had its limits. What was said then cannot all be cent per cent true today or cent per cent applicable today. To take the Buddha word for word today, is, to my mind, another form of ‘asthikam’ (atheism). People looked at the heavens then with naked eyes and could know only broad features. Today we see through powerful telescopes and examine the black spots on the sun. To believe only in what the ancients knew is to limit human creative intelligence and purposeful progress.

Aryanism made the country barbaric

It would be true of Buddism to assert that knowledge improves with advancing times and that we must adjust our ideas in relation to the progress made. Sticking to old ideas as the final word is to betray intellectual backwardness and stop all advancement in rationalism.

Buddha arose at a time when Aryanism had made the country a primitive, barbaric, irrational land. The men who wrote the Sastras and Puranas were intelligent in their own way to suit their imperialist, colonialist tendencies. The good of the masses was never their concern. The Sastras and Puranas prove the point beyond doubt.

Thiruvalluvar and his limitations

I have great respect for Thiruvalluvar; but he had his limitations. Even the greatest work of the olden days could not exceed the available intellect of the day or the progress then achieved by mankind. To say, therefore, that everything said by the sages or the Buddha or Thiruvalluvar is the last word would be incorrect. Yet we honour Buddha and Thiruvalluvar for the reason that it was possible for them, and they had the courage to expound a rationalist approach to Hindu religion and society at a time when people were barbaric, and the majority of the populace serving as slaves for the benefit and comfort of an infinitely small class of citizens.

Our religious people will believe and shout about the fantastic nonsense found in the Puranas; yet when something about actual history is told to them, they do not hesitate to reply: “Do not believe in what the white man has written about India”. These are people who dishonestly speak against their own conscience, and the populace they contact are devoid of all powers of thinking. In the name of religion and the gods, the religious people have learnt to wobble, anything they like, and it is immaterial to them whether there is any correlation with truth or history. Religion, therefore, reduces itself to superstition.

Puranas dated after Buddha

When stating that the history written by the Britishers must be disbelieved, the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in North India keeps on writing about the silly Mythologies and the undemocratic Sastras. Mr. Munshi was at the head of it. Dr. Radhakrishnan and millionaire Birla are important members in it. They have produced a book on the “Vedic Age” and Mr. Munshi has a great part in it. Even there, it has been said in the foreword: “The ancient days were barbaric. The Puranas and the Itihasas are not histories and they do not record the happenings of the period. It is all imagination. The word ‘Vyasa’ means story writer”. The Puranas entered the people’s heads and started to rule them; and that was the cause of our difficulties.

More than 75 per cent of the Puranas are stated to date after the Buddha. To counter the rationalist teaching of the Buddha, the Puranic rishis (sages) wrote the stories about the avatars (incarnations), the chief of which is that of Krishna, to divert the people and attract them to Brahmanism. Miracles of Hindu deities have always excited the special attention of the people, and Krishna’s epic is full of sex and obscenity. Having done this much, divinity was also added to it, and the Bhagavad Gita was written and added on to the Mahabharata at a much later period.

“I mean a different thing by caste”

Where is the need to create a god-like Krishna in such an obscene sexy environment and sing his praise in bhajans, dramas, and dances. Krishnaleelas have also come on the cinema screen. The bhakta who claps his hands or cups his palms in worship at the sight of Krishna’s promiscuity would not dare to allow the same god to visit his wife at home. Where is the meaning in people not rejecting what their own conscience prohibits? Why should there be festivals to celebrate a god’s obscenity, promiscuity and adultery?

Today none dare support the caste system. The exception to the rule is perhaps Mr. C. Rajagopalachariar, who wants casteism to continue. If personally approached and questioned, he might say, “I mean a different thing by caste.” How could there be caste without the support of the Vedas, Sastras and Puranas? How is it ever possible to destroy casteism without denouncing the Vedas, Sastras and Puranas? The one purpose of the Sastras is to condemn the Non-Brahmins as Sudras and Pariahs and preserve for all time the pre-eminence of the priestly class.

Praising Buddha and carrying on with gods?

Why has it become necessary for us to celebrate Buddha Day? If he is to be classed amongst the Alwar and Nayanmar saints, it would be better not to remember him. Buddha Day is the enemy day for the Vaidiks (Hindu devotees). The Brahmin press will not properly report the proceedings of a meeting like this. Instead, one will find announcements of a score or more of puranic meetings, and reports of these meetings and reports of these meetings will fill the pages of the newspapers. How difficult it is to re-establish the rule of the intellect and destroy caste in these conditions may better be imagined than described.

Which other country in the world has so many gods as ours? And why should there be gods without character? No useful purpose will be served by respecting and praising the Buddha and still carrying on with these gods. The people who eliminate these gods will become Buddhas themselves. Gods in human shape and given to human pains and pleasures, human crimes and virtues, cannot be gods at all. The stories about the great Hindu trinity, Vishnu, Siva and Brahma, are full of obscenity, sex, violence, incest and murder.

Washing the feet of dirty priests

The wonder of it all is that people who believe in these Puranas dare to come and participate in the celebration of Buddha’s birthday as well. These are people who believe that a charitable person is one who builds a temple. These are people who think that piousness (bhakti) is expressed in knocking the head on a stone pillar or in washing the feet of dirty priests. The truth about Buddha is twisted and debauched by these puranics to nullify the great achievement of the great rationalist of the world.

Not have the guts to destroy caste

Books about the Ramayana and the Mahabharatha are still being printed and sold in thousands. What is the purpose? Is it not plainly to continue caste, superstition, and the slave mentality? If true democracy with its attributes of liberty, equality, and fraternity is to take root in India, the caste system must be rooted out. There must be a government which can dare to do it. Today we have a government that speaks about the evils of the caste system but has not the guts to destroy it.

R. Radhakrishnan has had the courage to say: “We have removed the rajas and zamindars. To obtain a lasting benefit, we must destroy casteism, and to do that, we must have men with iron hearts.” The government has the idea but not the will to attack casteism. It is not our purpose to establish a godless society. We want a society in which truth and intellect rule as gods.

Buddha for our Revolutionary purpose

On the 23rd January 1954, we conducted a Buddhist Conference at Erode. Why did we do it? Was it to make ourselves Buddhists? Did we call upon the people to desert the Hindu religion and go over to Buddhism? No. For what then was the conference called in the name of the Buddha? It was because we find in the teachings of Gowdhama Buddha full support for all that we want and for all that we want to destroy as degrading to the Hindus. Buddha’s philosophy, his tenets, and his sermons stand by our Self-Respect and Rationalist movements. The gods, creeds, Sastras, Puranas and Ithihasas that enslave our people are the things we want to discard and Buddha’s teachings and principles are of tremendous value to us for our revolutionary purposes.

An authority for our ideals

Some of the things we propagate today were taught by Gowdhama Buddha 2,500 years ago. Buddhism serves as an authority for our ideals. When the Self-Respect ideals are propagated by a mere Ramasami (Periyar), there are some who feel that he is not big or important. They think that I could not be bigger than the Gita. For such people, at least the authority of Buddhism is a great encouragement. It will not then be so easy for the traditionalists to brush aside our ideals. They require to be told that rationalism is as old as Buddhism and that nothing very much new is being said now.

Accepted and worshipped by Hindus

For historical reasons, Buddha has been accepted by the Hindus. He is even being worshipped. Yet history tells us that the Buddhists were subjected to persecution and torture, their monasteries were burnt down, and their religion was very nearly suppressed in India by the Hindu fanatics. Some Buddhists were set adrift on the high seas and left to die. In spite of all that, it has never been possible for the Hindus to erase the memory of the Buddha from the Hindu mind.

Brahmins made him Avatar of Vishnu

Finally, the Brahmins were obliged to accept Buddha as the tenth avatar of Mahavishnu, thus making Buddhism a subdivision of the all-embracing Hinduism, akin to Saivism and Vaishnava. They may or may not have done the right thing in those old days, but the fact remains that Buddhism did not completely disappear from Indian soil. The government of free India has also found it impossible to forget Buddha. His teachings have been accorded official recognition to the exclusion of those of Saivism and Vaishnavism – the right and the left hands of Brahminic Hinduism.

Dharma Chakra in National Flag

The Buddhist symbol of the Dharma Chakra has found an honoured place in our National Flag. The Asoka pillar at Sarnath, consisting of the four lions, has been adopted as our national architectural symbol, and this has become the emblem that adorns the shoulders of all our military officers, the bonnets of all our ministers, state cars and the postcards of everyday use in the remotest villages. Since independence, Buddha’s birthday has been declared a public holiday.

Can our movement be belittled

What do all these mean? It means that the government of free India has accepted Buddha and his teachings. It has not been possible for the government to adopt any Hindu symbol, Saivite or Vaishnavite, as the national symbol. This means that Hindu symbols are unfit for All – India national purposes. I regard this as a revolutionary turn in our people’s history. If, therefore, we point out that the Self-Respect Propaganda that we make was the subject of the Buddha’s teaching 2,500 years ago, it must be possible for the people to realize that we are doing no more than what the government itself has already accepted. It is therefore impossible for the Brahmins, Congressmen, Pandarasannadhis, Sankaracharyas and Matathipathis to belittle our /Reformation movement.

Kural twisted to suit Brahminic teachings

One of the subtle tricks of Brahmins was to accept rationalist teachers as their own and then twist and turn their teachings to suit the undemocratic, authoritarian Brahminic teachings. First, they did it with Buddha. Next, they did it with Thiruvalluvar. Before the Self-Respect Movement adopted his Kural as its scripture, the Brahmins and their Sudra slaves had also spoken highly of the Kural only to twist its real meaning. Brahmin commentator Parimelazhagar has imported into his commentary most of the Aryan tenets and almost succeeded in hiding the genuine truths of Thiruvalluvar thoughts. It was only after we took up his Kural and expounded its real truths that it started to shine once again in all its ancient glory and splendour. Today the whole land is filled with Kural associations and groups. More and more of the Kural is prescribed for study in schools with less and less of the caste and superstition-ridden texts of Aryan translation in Tamil like the Ramayana and the Mahabharatha.

We are now doing a similar thing to Buddhism. The truth about this religion is being propagated, to the dismay of the orthodox, tradition-bound Hindus. Their jealousy anger does not, however, bother us.

No wisdom in Saints’ teachings

Buddha gave the first place to rationalism. He refused to find wisdom in the writing of the ancient saints or divine scholars. He wanted the people to search for the truth themselves. Refusing comment on the existence or otherwise of a thing called god, he proceeded to dethrone Atma or soul, since Atma had been used as the spark of the Paramatma or god, thereby bringing in the idea of god in a different way. A spark of God cannot be the instrument to gather sin and virtue, evil and righteous deed, since god has been described to be perfect and all-wise. It was this incorrect inter-relation between the Atma and the Paramatma (Soul and Supreme god) that came in for severe criticism at the hands of Buddha.

Idolatry in all forms, the worship of personal gods, ritualism and superstition were all condemned by Buddha. Almost everything held divine and sacred by the Aryans received hammer blows in Buddhism.

Gods with murderous weapons

Archaeologists have proved that many Hindu temples of today were formerly Buddhist Vihars. It has been asserted that even Srirangam, Kancheepuram, Palani and Thirupathi temples were originally temples of Buddha. Temples that once harboured the beauteous Buddha a full of grace, love and compassion, were made to harbour warlike gods bearing in their hands murderous weapons. There is hardly a Hindu god who does not sport a deadly weapon to prove that these gods have some killing to their credit. Saivites and Vaishnavites are loud in their talk about god being love. This is all hypocrisy. This tall talk is belied by the very murderous appearance of the gods. Where is the connection between love and violence? The strangest thing is that in spite of the worship of the warlike gods, Hindus are by and large the most cowards when compared to all other nations.

Translation by Prof. A. M. Dharmalingam

(From 'Collected Works of Periyar E.V.R.', compiled by Dr. K. Veeramani, published by 'The Periyar Self-Respect Propaganda Institution')

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