Ali Sukhanver -
The relationship between Buddhism and Pakistan is no doubt very deep-rooted; in Pakistan we find a lot of Buddhist places of worship in different parts of the country. It was Raja Tri Dev Roy, the Chief of the Chakma tribe who openly supported and favoured Pakistan during the 1971 war with India. That war had resulted in separation of the West Pakistan from the East Pakistan. After that separation Raja Tri Dev Roy left Bangladesh’s Chittagong region and settled in Pakistan. In Pakistan he founded the Pakistan Buddhist Society and remained its Chairman from 1996 till his death in 2012. During all that period, his family remained settled in Bangladesh. Raja Tri Dev Roy lived a very active social, political and religious life in Pakistan. Still people of Pakistan admire and appreciate his role as a politician, diplomat and a writer. He had been the Minister of the Minority Affairs in Zulfikar Ali Bhutto cabinet too.
Though the people from the Buddhist community are not more than a few thousand in Pakistan but there are countless religious icons here in Pakistan belonging to the Buddhist heritage. These icons include the Fasting Buddha in Lahore, Buddha’s Relics in Taxila, Dharma Rajika Stupa in Taxila, Shatial Rock Carving in Chilas, the Healing statue of Buddha and Seat of Saints in Jaulian, the statue of Sleeping Buddha in Haripur, Buddhist Stupa in Mohenjo-daro, Jehanabad Buddha in Swat and the Throne of the Water Spring inTakht-i-Bahi, Mardan. The government of Pakistan is spending millions of rupees on looking after the Buddhist heritage every year. Unfortunately, almost a decade back when Pakistan was under a severe wave of terrorism, reportedly some of the historic Buddhist religious icons were damaged by the foreign-supported terrorists near Pak-Afghan border area. It is also very a very painful fact that because of some foreign miscreants, most of them patronized by India, Pakistan couldn’t be a safe place for the tourists, particularly for those who wished to visit Pakistan for seeing their sacred places; people from the Sikh and the Buddhist community are on top of the list among them. Now Pakistan has almost defeated all such devilish elements with the help of the security forces and the people of Pakistan and now things are in a better situation. Millions of tourists are coming to Pakistan for sight-seeing and for visiting their religious places of worship. Hopefully those terrorist elements would never get again any chance of destabilizing the peaceful society of Pakistan.
It is a very interesting fact that the Buddhist and the Muslim communities had never been hostile to each other because both religions promote love, kindness and equality for all human beings, though there had been conflicts and clashes between the people belonging to the two communities at some places, particularly in Bangladesh but not on religious basis. The basic reason for this harmony is that Buddhism, just like Islam, disregards the inhuman caste system particularly prevailing in the Hindu majority societies. According to the Buddha’s preaching, individual people might be able to attain enlightenment in this life and moreover caste was not a punishment for deeds committed in a past life. Buddha further preached that prejudice is an example of ignorance and believing that we are in some way superior to those around us is an example of craving or of fear. Today for the Hindu extremists in India, Buddhism has become the most serious threat because countless low-caste Hindus are tired of their everyday persecution at the hands of the Upper Caste Hindus and that is why they find a comfortable sheltering zone in Buddhism. For Buddhists, the caste system is an example of discrimination and is something that they do not support. A relationship based on hatred and enmity between the Buddhist and the Hindu community is nothing new, it is centuries old. Between 830 AD and 966 AD thousands of the Buddhist statues, Stupas and Viharas were destroyed in India just in the name of the revival of Hinduism. This inhuman behavior of the Hindu extremists had been criticized by various historians in different books of history published inside and outside India. They all lament over the havoc done to Buddhism by the ‘Nazis’ in India.
A renowned Indian Historian Dr. M. S. Jayaprakash once delivered a lecture on the topic, ‘How Buddhism was eliminated in India’. He said, “The Hindu ruler Pushyamitra Sunga had destroyed 84,000 Buddhist stupas which were built by Emperor Ashoka. This was followed by the demolition of Buddhist centres in Magadha. Thousands of Buddhist saints were killed mercilessly. King Jalaluka destroyed the Buddha viharas within his jurisdiction on the ground that chanting of hymns by Buddhists disturbed his sleep! In Kashmir, King Kinnara demolished thousands of viharas and captured the Buddhist villages to please Brahmins. A large number of Buddha viharas were usurped by Brahmins and converted into Hindu temples where entry of untouchables was prohibited.” No doubt it is very much true that all Hindus of India are not extremists; neither were they all in the past but extremism has always been dominant in that society. Be it the Muslims, the Sikhs, the Christians or the Buddhists; and even the low-caste Hindus commonly known as the Dalits, everyone is being exploited and maltreated by the extremist Hindus. The low-caste Hindus in a big number are reverting to other religions simply because of this insulting maltreatment. According to the Wikipedia, in the 1951 census of India, 181,000 (0.05%) respondents said they were Buddhist. The 1961 census showed an increase to 3.25 million (0.74%). According to the 2011 census, Scheduled Castes Buddhists grew by 38 percent in the country. In short, Buddhism is growing rapidly in the Scheduled Caste (Dalit) community.
Recently during Modi’s visit to Nepal on 16th and 17th May 2022, an incident of a very trivial nature occurred which proved that no one else could ever be more rigid, prejudiced and narrow-minded than Mr. Modi. Apparently he was there in Nepal to attend the celebration of the birth of Gautam Buddha in Lumbini but critics say that this visit was something more than the promotion of religious and cultural ties; it must be viewed through the larger geopolitical lens. They are of the opinion that this visit was to give a clear-cut message to Nepal that country’s growing closeness to China is not acceptable to India. Here the point to be noted is that today China has the world’s largest Buddhist population, with an estimated 185–250 million practitioners. Closeness with China could mean inclination towards Buddhism and certainly this closeness and inclination could never be acceptable to India. That is why Mr. Modi chose to land via helicopter on a helipad in Lumbini which is just 18 kilometers away from the Gautam Buddha International Airport. Gautam Buddha is the second international airport in Nepal built with Chinese assistance and support. Honourable Prime Minister of Nepal Sher Bahadur Deuba had inaugurated that airport the same day in the morning of 16th May when Mr. Modi landed in Lumbini. By avoiding landing on that newly inaugurated airport, Mr. Modi reflected India’s hesitance to endorse China’s infrastructural activities in Nepal. Such type of narrow-mindedness could never be expected from the prime minister of a country which introduces itself as the Largest Democracy.