The Present Condition of Buddhism in Bangladesh

Being a powerful religion of solid philosophical background, the Buddhism is not only surviving but flourishing more and more day by day all over the world. And even in Islamic countries from where the other religions are practically wiped away and in the Communist countries where there is no place for religions practice, the Buddhism is being practiced not only by the Buddhists alone but it is respected by all. The Islamic and Communist Governments now have started encouraging their people for study of Buddhism and being engaged in restoration of Buddhist centers, many of which had been damaged during their barbaric period of reign. However, it is not my business to discuss all these here in this tiny paper. I shall only say a few words about the Buddhism in Bangladesh out of my own experience. I took part in a conference held in Dhaka on the occasion of a celebration titled, Atisa Dipankar Srijnana 1000th Brith Anniversary National Celebration, jointly sponsored by the government of Bangladesh and Bangladesh Bouddha Kristi Prachar Sangha, headed by the Ven. Visuddhananda Mahathero who is the Supreme Head of Buddhists in that country. This was a large International Buddhist Conference (Feb 26 to March 5, 1983) attended by scholars from various countries like, America, Australia, Bhutan, China, India, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri-Lanka and so on. Various aspects of Buddhism had been discussed. But the speakers were form different religious societies and different schools of philosophy including a number of Muslim scholars, all of whom were in high estimate of the Buddha and Buddhism. The organizing committee of the celebration took us out of Dhaka by road to show the historically important places in Comilla and Chittagong. These were Mainamati, Salvana Vihar, Triratnastoopa, Rani Pahar eyc. Besides enjoying the natural scene, one could see a lot about the historical past of the country. While seeing the ruins of Salvana Vihar which obviously was a hige Buddhist monastery once upon a time, one of the foreing delegates whisperingly said to me, What a beautiful establishment it was like Nalanda and other ancient Buddhist monasteries, this also must have been the target of Mohammedans, don’t you think so? I have replied, though, I do not know the history of these places, it is quite possible that these had been destroyed by certain elements of either Brahminists or Mohammedans. Historical upheavals are always there. Even now, in the science age of the 20th century, reports of communal riots and attacks are regularly coming. But for these, you cannot blime the entire commnnity from where the evils are coming, wicked and narrowminded are everywhere, in any country, any community. It is better for us to look for a happy future than digging the dark corner of the sad past. And moreover you should have noticed that the Buddhists are not at all in picture of communal or religions controversies as far as the recent memories are concerned. On the contrary, the Communists are supporting Buddhists both in their theory and practice. Visuddhananda Mahathero Ven. Visuddhaananda Mahathero the Supreme Head of the Buddhists in Bangladesh, is a man of very special status. He is not only working for a mere survivl of Buddhism in the Islamic country of Bangladesh but he is for strengthening of Buddhism all over the world. As he knows more than any one else that only Buddhism can save the world form a total extinction which has become quiet possible because the sreation of all sorts of very dangerous weapons and the ever growing hostilities among different human societies. Therefore, not only Buddhists but each and every peace loving people of the world should support this great monk Visuddhananda Mahathero in his efforts of promoting Buddhism for the welfare of entire world. Ven. Visuddhananda Mahathero does not belong to any particular sect but he is a universal man of all Buddhists. He respects both Mahayana and Hinayana in equal measure. This monk of Hinayana (Theravada) school knows that the Buddhists cannot teach the other to maintain peace without being harmonious respecting each other’s theory and practice of the Dharme. Ven. Visuddhananda Mahathero has written in one of his articles titled, Buddhism as World Religion, “the defference which had come into existence among the Buddhists are not so serious.only there is a sense of superiority complex. And this must be removed.” And he wrote in another place, “We must achievee the inspiration to make a unified Buddhist world where sects will not create any impediment in the way of attaining the highest goal of Buddhism which is peace in the world,” And also Van. Visuddhananda’s genuine faith in Mahayana and his seriousness in bringing the two main Buddhist Sectarians closer to each other had come into light when he arraqnged the celebration of 1000th Birth Anniversary of the famous Mahayanist monk, Atisa Dipankra Shrijnana in a big way, in 1983. The present Bangladesh was once flourishing with a very rich Buddhist cultural and education centers. Historical and archaeological evidences of the same are still being found. The profound learning of the ancient Bangali Buddddhists had been extend far beyond the Indian sub-continent Great works of Bengali Buddhists (lost in India) are still remain preserved in Tibean Chinese and Mongolian Literatures in perfect translations. Specially the Tibetan and Mongolian scholars who translated the works were very much in favour of keeping he original style of the writings. This has become more convenient for restoration of them. And not only their works, many of the scholars themselves had reached Tibet, Mongolie and had been highly respected in these countries. Santaraksita, Atisa Dipankaraq, Vanaratna were among the scholars form this region of Indian sub-continent. Both Santaraksita and Atisa Dipankara were form same family of Vikrampur (Dhaka) while Vanaratna was form Sadnager (chittagong). One who wants to know more about these scholars may read Taranatha’s History of Buddhism in India, translated by myself and Aaka Chittopadhyaya, And also see Gos Lotsa-ba’s history of Buddhisam, translated by G, Roerich, the Blue Annals. According to Ven. Visuddhananda Mahathero, Buddhisam was prevalent in East Bengal even during the time of the Buddha. Mahathero has Written in his book “Buddhism in Bangladesh” that the Buddha himself had visited Bangal and stayed there for many days in various places like pundrabardhana, Samatata etc. in support of his statement, Ven. Visuddhananda Mahathero has named several great Buddhist texts like Anguttar Nikaya, Samyukta Nikaya and Divyavadana. And he has also written by quoting the chiness travelers like Fa-Hine, Hieun-Tsang and Tao-Lin that in this part of the Sub-continent, there existed hundreds of vast monasteries and centers of learing for both Theravada (Hinayana) and Mahayana. Thus,as he said, the Mahayana doctrine was once flourishing all over India including the present Bangladesh. I myself also have seen various images of Mahayana deites in arechaeological museums of the local discoveries in Bangladesh. At present, the number of Buddhists in Bangladesh is said to be about seven lacs. Baruas , Chakmas,Marmas, Mongs, Rakhaines and Singhas are well known Buddhists. Most of these people live around Chittagong Hill Tracts. Among them the Baruas are very advanced. Even in West Bengal, there are several Buddhist monasteries and learning centres run by Baruas. The Buddhist Temple “Arya-Vihara” of the Bengal Buddhist Association in Calcutta is an example. It is said that at present there are more than one thousand Buddhist temples and monasteries in all over Bangladesh. Maintaining the peace loving tradition, the Buddhists in Bangladesh live very friendly with all people of other Communities, as far Buddhistic education, besides the large Buddhistic centres like Dharmarajika monastry in Dhaka, Dhaka University provides teaching of the Pali Buddhist texts, history of Buddhism etc. also, the government of Bangladesh is giving freedom to the Buddhists to use the public media for discussing various aspects of Buddhism. Bangladesh Radio and Television have a weekly programme of broadcasting Buddhism. Thus, Buddhism once more has Become a mighty force playing a vital role in maintaining peace among different communities of that country. The activities of Buddhists in Bangladesh are quite mondernized according to the need of the time. They are no more only worshipper and meditators for their own attainment of enlightenment like the Hinayanists of those days. Now they live for the benefit of others. Bengali Buddhists maintain a number of social welfare centres like schools, hospitals, Libraries, orphanages, technical centres etc. while maintaining the traditional temples and monasteries in perfect condition. The Buddhists of other countries have a lot to learn form the Bengali Buddhists in field of practical Buddhism. The Buddhists all over the world have a long habit of building beautiful temples and costly images of the Buddhs and more and more such are still being done. But now they should concentrate on expansion of Buddhistic education. School and Colleges exclusively for the study of Buddhism must be there. Otherwise, the beautiful Buddhism of rich literature and deep philosophy may be reduced into a mere part of the history leaving these beautiful temples and images as museum pieces.