The successful shaping of the ‘Asian century’ cannot be envisaged without putting the philosophical underpinnings of Buddha’s teachings at the centre stage.
“I have always believed that I have a special connection with Lord Buddha. I experience that I am connected to his thoughts and his path of love and compassion”, Prime Minister Narendra Modi once confessed in one of his addresses to a convention commemorating Buddha’s life and message. This special connection must have been forged in his childhood days in Vadnagar, which had been a vibrant Buddhist centre of learning civilisationally. Decades later as Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, evincing keen interest in Vadnagar’s Buddhist antiquity, ordered excavations leading to the discovery of Buddha’s sacred Relics. As Chief Minister, Narendra Modi had organised an international Buddhist Assembly which saw delegates from more than 20 countries participate. He was perhaps the first Chief Minister of an Indian state to convene such a Buddhist Assembly. Prime Minister Modi refers to this dimension of his relationship with Buddha and Buddhism as a “wonderful coincidence” – that of Vadnagar, his birthplace being “a great centre of Buddhist learning centuries ago.”
Prime Minister Modi’s fascination and his ever-renewing effort and outreach to rekindle and re-state the Buddha legacy and heritage is thus not a new phenomenon that has taken off post his becoming Prime Minister. Like a number of his flagship and path-breaking national initiatives, this too he had envisaged and started working out on a limited scale in Gujarat as Chief Minister and later gave it a global scale and shape as Prime Minister. Reinstating and disseminating the Buddha legacy, infusing it with a new scope and dimension and making India conscious of her civilisational role and responsibility towards preserving and disseminating the Buddha legacy and message has been one of Prime Minister’s Modi’s principal outreach. In his words, ‘from Kandy to Kyoto, from Hanoi to Hambantota, Lord Buddha is omnipresent through his thoughts, relics and culture…”. It is this civilisational, cultural and spiritual connect that Narendra Modi as Prime Minister of India has sought to relay and reimagine for the present.
He has himself travelled on the global Buddhist circuit, leaving no opportunity to visit centres and sacred sites connected to Buddha, his life, message and to that of the great teachers and masters of Buddhism. Prime Minister Modi’s outreach to Mongolia, his continuing connection with the Buddha legacy of that country, is second only or equal to that once initiated by venerable Kushak Bakula Rinpoche. For decades after that, this link lay inert, till Prime Minister Modi infused new energy and direction to it. His taking a sapling of the sacred Bodhi Tree and gifting it to the iconic Gandan Monastery in Ulaan Batar renewed and rejuvenated the sacred civilisational tie. The Gandan Monastery is the custodian of a portion of the sacred Relics of one of the greatest teachers of Buddhism, Atisa Dipankara from Bengal. The recent outreach with the sacred Relics of Buddha from India being taken across Mongolia at the behest of the International Buddhist Confederation, created a sensation among the people of Mongolia. The Buddha spirit and link connecting our two countries since centuries received a new impetus and direction. There are many such instances where PM Modi has initiated international efforts, with India and Buddha legacy at the centre.
The latest can be surmised through his insistence on connecting the message of Mission LiFE – Lifestyle for Environment, one of his special global initiatives aimed at mitigating the multidimensional environmental challenge with the philosophy and message of Buddha. While inaugurating the International Buddhist Summit in Delhi convened by the International Buddhist Confederation, he remarked that the herculean problem of climate change could be addressed if people became conscious of their lifestyle and if the movement towards change begins with the individual. “Mission LiFE is influenced,” he said, “by the inspirations of Buddha and it furthers Buddha’s thoughts.” Over the years, in every global Buddhist forum that he has addressed, Prime Minister Modi has spoken of this fundamental approach, “One of the biggest challenges is that of climate change”, he once observed, “reckless life-styles of the present threaten coming generations. Weather patterns are changing, glaciers are melting. Rivers and forests are in danger. We cannot let our planet remain wounded. Lord Buddha put emphasis on a way of life where respect for Mother Nature is paramount.” This aspect of the Buddha philosophy has now become the sustaining vision of Mission LiFE.
In connecting the Buddha legacy throughout the Buddhist world, in connecting and revivifying the Buddha legacy in India and in imparting a contemporary direction to Buddha’s message for addressing present challenges of “climate, conflict and calamity” as he articulates it, Prime Minister Modi has emerged as an enlightened trustee and leader of the global Buddha heritage.
The Rs 360-crore layout for shaping a Buddha circuit in India, the inauguration of the Kushinagar International airport to facilitate the inflow of “crores of Buddha followers from all over the world” and to ensure that their journey is smooth and less tedious, the development of the India International Centre for Buddhist Culture and Heritage in Lumbini, the regular convening of international Buddhist Conclaves, the huge effort of aiding India’s neighbours to protect and preserve their Buddhist heritage, the restoration of the Buddhist sanctuary of Bagan and the Ananda Temples, the conservation of Temples in Cambodia and Laos and My-Son Temple in Vietnam, India’s aid and succor outreach, be it the vaccine aid or aid during disasters and calamities, like in Nepal and more recently in Turkey, is driven on the one hand by the ageless philosophy of “Vasudhaiva Kutmbakam” and on the other hand by “Compassion” which is the core of Buddha philosophy. All of these has seen India emerge as a responsible and compassionate preserver of Buddha legacy and heritage, globally. India’s Buddha outreach led by Prime Minister Modi has no strings attached to it, is not calculative or domineering, it is based on and driven by “Metta”, compassion and consideration. It seeks to bring together, to weave in a cohesion, as PM Modi said, countries which are “like-minded and like-hearted.”
India’s proactive effort in laying the contours of the Buddha circuit under PM Modi’s stewardship brings to mind the words and hopes of Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee, who, as President of the Mahabodhi Society of India in the early years of freedom, had called for preserving the Buddha legacy and heritage. “There are many holy places in India,” Dr Mookerjee had observed, “which are sanctified by their association with the life and activities of Lord Buddha, and they would naturally attract pilgrims and visitors from all Buddhist countries throughout the world. I fervently hope that these places would not only be preserved and protected by our government and the people of India but in and around them, would develop institutions and monasteries which should become active centres of beneficent activities both in social and cultural spheres inspiring masses of people and also attracting those who want to devote themselves in the cause of higher studies and research.” Decades after that hope was evinced, Prime Minister Modi, as Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee’s foremost heir, is fulfilling it in letter and spirit.
The just concluded International Buddhist Summit in New Delhi, convened by the International Buddhist Confederation and inspired by Prime Minister Modi, has set a new agenda for the Asian Century. It is an agenda which is driven and based on Buddha’s message. The Asian Century will be shaped by India and other “like-hearted countries” and it will have, as one of its principal centres, Buddha. “Those who imagine the 21st century to be Asia’s,” said PM Modi, “probably forget one aspect. There can be no 21st century belonging to Asia without Buddha. There can be no 21st century without Buddha. It is Buddha only who can inspire the world…”
That Asian Century has begun taking shape and India, under Modi, is imparting it with a lasting philosophical foundation inspired by Buddha’s civilisational message.