Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Burning of Dharmaganja

The sky was pale in color and the distant chattering of mini vets and parakeets could be heard welcoming the birth of dawn. Chandrapala muttered his prayers and yogic sutras as he completed his bath in the massive swimming pool at Nalanda. Though he usually enjoyed his bath, and considered it an essential ritual of purification and reverence, today his mind was disturbed.

His teacher, the knowledgeable, wise old soul, the person he considered one of the greatest intellectuals of his time, Rahula Sribhadra, had spoken to him with tears in his eyes of how Nalanda was in grave danger. Chandrapala could not understand what his teacher meant. His teacher could often foresee things before they even happened and this prophecy of his disturbed his mind so much that he could not sleep that day. The way of the mendicant was one of great processing of thought, focus and intuition. The power of innumerable hours meditation and the reverberation of the chants of prayer trained the mind so much that it could attain powers which were unthinkable of, for mere mortals.

Chandrapala often chided himself that he was perhaps too lazy and unfocused to not imbibe all his guru's teachings.  He was just thirty years old and was restless to learn all that he could from the masters. Himself a great scholar and practitioner of Ayurveda, he had lived a life of good circumstances, being a descendent of the Royal Pala family. The great guru had come personally to his home and brought him to Nalanda the abode of knowledge of thousands of years.

He had wanted to probe further, but his guru was tired and had to rest and so he had walked to the Dharmaganja to continue his study.  The Dharmaganja was the main library at Nalanda and had a huge number of treatises and scriptures on the teachings of the Buddha, the Vedas and Upanishads, papers on Ayurveda, Astronomy, Mathematics, Anatomy and every work of literature that was of contemporary importance. Works of Scholars from China and Indonesia were at the side in what was a huge adorned hall of magnificent size. Chandrapala had immersed himself in a treatise on Surgery of the Heart in the Ayurveda section when cries were heard set to the sound of horses neighing and people shouting. Chandrapala quickly climbed up the steps and reached outside. There were hundreds of horses and men in war like gear. The constant noise and disturbance seemed like a harsh awakening of Nalanda in trance.

The soldiers wore a green headgear and some of the monks nearby said they appeared to be soldiers of the Mamluk Dynasty. At the centre stood a great black horse, on which sat a bearded Man of Turkish origins. His name was Bakhtiyar Khilji. He had very long arms and appeared to be very angry. Before Chandrapala could make sense of what was happening, the troops had started attacking some of the monks and were asking for the whereabouts of his guru. Chandrapala rushed to his guru's room. He had heard and seen enough. The guru had to be saved. The soldiers seemed to be merciless, as they went about killing and beheading monks. Chandrapala saw his master in meditation and normally would not have dared to disturb as that was not the path of Dharma Vinaya, the path of discipline, but his mind was troubled and therefore rushed and picked up his guru, who was still in a meditative state.

As he emerged outside, the guru quickly opened his eyes and asked Chandrapala to set him down. "O' Learned one, we need to hurry. These rakshasas will kill us for sure, for they know not the path of Shanthi and Dharma. Let us hurry. We have to escape to Magadha", pleaded Chandrapala.

"Set your mind at calm, son. Do not lose control of your mind. Fear not and lay your trust in the ways of Dharma. Let us go to the Dharmaganja. Let us gather some of the scriptures. Come with me.", replied the Guru. Chandrapala followed the guru, marveling at his calm demeanor. As Chandrapala and his guru reached  the Dharmaganja, they saw the bodies of two monks, who had been beheaded at it's altar. Their eyes started to stream seeing the gruesome sight. Rahula was about to touch their writhing bodies, when the smell of smoke touched their nostrils.

The Burning of Dharmaganja had started and it was a heartbreaking sight to see. The Hetuvidya and Shabdhavidya sections were wildly burning with a great intensity and it was difficult to enter through that particular Vihara.

"Come Chandra, we have to at least rescue some of the great Manjusmrita's works", said the guru, his eyes watering and desperate. They rushed through another entrance. Chandrapala was worried, as they could not afford any of the soldiers seeing them and he had to protect the Guru somehow. But his teacher was right, the great scholar Manjusmrita's work on Vajrayana Buddhism was a treasure for the entire world.

When they arrived at that section there was already a soldier there who was setting fire to the gold tinted book shelves. They waited with bated breath for him to leave and then rushed towards the shelves once he had left. The fire was raging and Chandrapala could feel his eyebrows being burnt. His guru was using his feeble hands to put the fire down. They quickly took out two scrolls and two books, but the fire had started raging now. Chandrapala had to pull the Guru forcefully as they were running out of air to breathe. They rushed outside still burning but his Guru held on to the books with all his life.

They were about to go out of the university through the eastern vihara, when they found Cannons and soldiers killing monks outside. Chandrapala knew an exit to the forest on the southern side, a small opening out to the jungle where the mini vets used to rest, but today their cries were not to be heard. They ran towards that opening and rushed though a gap in the columns to the forest outside. The Guru was tired and wanted to rest, but then they heard the sounds of horses and more explosions, so they ran and ran and kept running until they could no longer feel the fire behind. After running for what seemed like eons together they fell down below a huge banyan tree and lost their consciousness.

For days together they rested below the banyan tree occasionally eating leaves and berries. A few days later a few woodcutters found them and took them to their home, where they were nursed back to health and received food and water. The Guru blessed and thanked them for their service. Chandrapala and Rahula then continue their journey up a hill nearby where they built a hut and rested for some time. Two weeks should have passed, but they were shocked and pained when from atop the hill they still saw the fire from the Dharmaganja still raging and burning.

"I curse them! They don't realize the wealth of the world that they destroyed. For what reason did they commit this inhuman act. How many of our lives have they taken", cried Chandrapala one day, in despair.

"Set your mind at calm and meditate Chandra", said the Guru. "O' Learned one. How can you still be calm. Did you not witness this treacherous act. How can you still trust in Mankind? How can you still meditate ?", queried Chandrapala. His face had reddened with anger and his eyes were clouded and misty.

"Because Chandra, that is the path of Dharma", said the Guru. "It is in the times of despair and when you are tested the most, when you have to make an example of your learning, your tolerance and your following and strict adherence to the path gifted to us by the Budha. The path of Dharma Vinaya"

"Mankind will further degrade and may get more intolerant, but by following and sharing the message of Dharma, by making our lives an example, we can lend back to the world the treasures that we lost. I have been reading Guru Manjusmrita's writing and it has given me back the peace of Mind I needed".

"Trust in the three treasures of our path.". "Buddham Sharanam Gachami", he chanted. "Relieve and perfect your mind, for that will give you enlightenment and peace. Focus on the task at hand and cultivate inner peace".

"Dharmam Sharanam Gachami, Continue following the teaching and methods of Dharma". "Teachings of our great scholars are not in books alone. Even books will perish someday and may not be preserved, for time eats up all. What will withstand the onslaught of time is the continuous teaching and methods followed by one exemplary life which will be emulated by generations together. Let us live our lives, by continuing to follow our dharma and we will still be preserving the knowledge that we have learnt. Many have gained knowledge at Nalanda. I am sure they will have the wisdom to share and the world over our teachings will get preserved in some form or other".

"Sangham Sharanam Gachami You should leave me here. I will return back to Nalanda and continue my life teaching our children. But you should take these scriptures and leave for Dharamshala and continue the practice of Sangha, of mutual support and encouragement and spiritual friendship and sharing of knowledge. Live your life, son on the path of Dharma. Follow these three treasures and all the treasures the world lost today shall be regained across the world in one form or another."

After listening to the words of the wise, learned one, Chandrapala became calm. His tears glistened with reflection of the raging fire far away. There was now hope in his heart and sadness at the forthcoming parting with his teacher, but peace  filled his heart, when he thought of his Guru going down to Nalanda later and continuing to teach from whatever shall be left behind.

As he fell asleep, his Guru caressed his forehead and looking at the distant fire raging, chanted silently
"Buddham Sharanam Gachami, Dharmam Sharanam Gachami, Sangham Sharanam Gachami".


Pic Courtesy : Pradheesh K. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Fallacy of the Reservation Policy

A friend once shared me with this experience that he had when he went for engineering counseling. There was a boy there, from his coaching center, who was from a specific backward community and he wanted to pursue Mechanical Engineering, when his parents and some of the other people present there told him that based on his cut off marks and based on the quota system, he can get a seat for Computer Science engineering. The tragedy is that the boy chose the Computer Science option. The tragedy is that the country possibly lost a good mechanical engineer. If you carefully notice here, there are multiple problems here. One is the problem with our mindset, wherein we do not consider that the boy probably has a better aptitude for Mechanical Engineering. The other problem is that our society is becoming increasingly materialistic and wealth-driven. The option of an Engineering degree in Computer Science is considered because of the sad foresight that a profession in the IT Industry will be the more economically viable option in the short term. Here, the fact that the boy would probably be a better mechanical engineer than a programmer is not considered. While these are sad realities, one of the problems is also here that our education system has already reserved a seat for us, based on the community in which we were born, because some of our ancestors were socially discriminated against in a previous era. I am personally therefore against reservations in our education system but this does not mean that I do not want our socially backward communities not to advance and be progressive. It is just that I have serious reservations about the way we have gone about achieving the same.

When the V.P. Singh government went about implementing the Mandal Commission Recommendations in the 1990's there were serious opposition from several student groups, including some sad instances of self immolation. However this post of mine is not intended to add to the protest against government policies. I have not benefited from this policy and therefore I have an inherent bias. I, therefore am not qualified to attack the policy in itself. However, it has to be mentioned that today this policy is more often than not a tool that major political parties utilize to get numbers for the elections or they are scared to take a step against reservations mainly because in terms of whole communities, there is often unanimous demand for reservations and thereby the numbers and the vote banks they represent has the power to topple governments. We have seen this even recently when there were widespread protests during the Vasundhara Raje regime, by the Gurjar community in Rajasthan. The fact that a community is protesting so that it could be slotted as backward itself is a big tragedy, since it shows very much that the problem is not with social discrimination now, but with inefficiency in the implementation of government schemes and education delivery model.

One of the mistakes with these kind of policies is that while they have been implemented across the country, there is no measurement of how effectively they are being implemented. It may be done by some other inquiry commission later on, when the subject is broached upon, but a periodic review process of the implementation and whether it is proving effective must have been included in the policy itself. I was not sure whether this has been done and therefore I had filed an RTI query regarding the same with the Department of Higher Education. Refer DOHED/R/2013/61580/1. To quote my query verbatim,

The Mandal Commission recommendations were implemented for Higher Education in 1990s. Many colleges and universities allot seats based on Caste. Has there been any research or retrospective study as to how much this has helped and how many people from the deprived communities have been uplifted. Are there any statistics present to know how many families have benefited from reservation and how many communities are not backward anymore due to this system.

Also if there are such statistics, are there any plans or guidelines as to until what period in the future this policy of reservations will be followed. How much longer will it take to bring out this percentage of population out of its backwardness.
I received a reply from the Department of Higher Education that no such information was available and that my request has been forwarded to other departments. I recently got the same reply from University Grants Commission as well. Therefore, as of now, we know that there has been no retrospective study of whether this process or policy implementation is proving to be useful or effective. While even recently the present Congress government is standing by the reservation policy, perhaps the question the government needs to respond to is, how much good has come out of it. Is it being measured effectively? If so, how long until we continue to follow the same.

One point of view expounded by the BJP, the other mainstream political party is about creating equal opportunities for all citizens thereby diminishing the requirement for reservations. This, I feel is again in some ways a flawed argument mainly because we also have the trend of many seats going vacant in many engineering/arts colleges across the country. Also there are contradictions in their stance regarding reservations according to regional compulsions as has been seen recently with the move to ask for reservation in promotions for government jobs. It cannot be just a supply and demand problem. The political leadership of the country will have to devise an innovative solution to address the present flaws in the Indian Education System.

At some point in time, in the future if we one day wake up to the reality that India is a country without the requisite skilled labor across all fields it might then be too late to make changes. It could then be too difficult to bring about reform and no one might take accountability. I hope that even if the government of the day does not have the information today, some day it will collect the same, otherwise the fallacy in the current reservation policy will never be exposed.