Buddha opposed war, therefore he was exiled as a punishment; the narrative that he left home for enlightenment is a myth
While speaking on a Buddha Jayanti in New Delhi on 30th April 2018, Narendra Modi has said:
जिबित बो है जो ध्वंस और हिंसा और घृणा से अपने बिरोधी पर हमला करे, जीबन तो उसीका है जो घृणा, हिंसा और अन्याय के तत्व को सार्थक मैत्री, करुणा से जीतकर बिस्व के इस सबसे बड़ी विजय हासिल करे.
(Living are not those who will fight against their enemy with destruction, violence, and hate, but living are those who will win the world with the idea of compassion and friendship)
These are the lies uttered by Narendra Modi in front of thousands of people including Buddhist monks and nuns in Delhi. The same Narendra Modi and his government are waging war against Muslims, Dalits, Adivasis, and OBCs in the name of naxalism, in the name of nationalism, in the name of the cow, and in the name of terrorism. Now BJP, RSS, and their warmongering allies are creating a war-like situation between India and Pakistan. In this context, our people must not fall in their trap. War on another territory is never in our history. In fact, starting from Buddha to the Ambedkar, all have spoken against war as a solution to any problem. It is important to remember that our people have fought against warmongers in their life. This is a short note on how the idea against war is very old in the egalitarian philosophy of our history.
Do you know why Siddhartha Gautama left home? Was it a forced act or was it his choice? Did he leave home to seek so-called enlightenment? Most of the traditional Buddhists hold the view that he left home because he realised that life is sorrow, death is sorrow and everything is sorrow. This is the popular and most known beliefs, notions which are popularly mentioned by Brahmanical scholarship and myths. The popular belief is that Buddha left home at the age of 29 because he saw a dead person, a sick person and an old person. Is it possible that a person of twenty-nine years had never seen these sights? Babasaheb said it is an absurd belief. He wrote: “it is impossible to accept the traditional explanation that this was the first time he saw them. This explanation is not plausible and does not appeal to reason.”
Siddhartha Gautama lived in the Sakya kingdom. When Siddhartha was a member of the Sakya Sangha, in his 8th year in the Sangha, an incident occurred. At that time Sakyas and Koliyas were two separate kingdoms. There were no modern nation-states like today back then, so India was non-existent. It was a little kingdom which was ruled by different chiefs. Between these two kingdoms, the river Rohini flowed. Both the kingdom used the water of the same river for irrigation and various other purposes. Over a period of time, many disputes used to emerge about who should use the water first and how much one should use. When Siddhartha was in his twenty-eighth year, this dispute resulted in a major clash between these two kingdoms.
Looking at the unending dispute between these groups, the rulers decided to settle it for all time and decided to go to war. The chief commander of Sakya kingdom proposed that war is the only ultimate solution for the dispute. Ambedkar mentions what the commander said (Ambedkar 1997; 24):
Our people have been attacked by the Koliyas and they had to retreat. Such acts of aggression by the Koliyas have taken place more than once. We have tolerated them so far. But this cannot go on. It must be stopped and the only way to stop it is to declare war against the Koliyas. I propose that the Sangh declare war on the Koliyas. Those who wish to oppose speak.
While everybody was hesitant to speak on the matter Siddhartha Gautama spoke against the war. He said (Ibid):
I oppose this resolution. War does not solve any question. Waging a war will not serve our purpose. It will sow the seeds of another war. The slayer gets a slayer in his turn; the conqueror gets one who conquers him; a man who despoils is despoiled in his turn.
Since both parties were involved in the dispute, he suggested that it is possible to talk to each party. So blaming anyone is only creating trouble. Instead of war, Gautama proposed that they could select certain members from both the parties and settle the dispute. The Commander opposed the proposed solution and then the Sangha went on to vote to come to a common decision. Siddhartha’s solution lost the ground as the majority opposed the idea. Noting the result of the vote he again revolted and said, “I beg the Sangha not to accept the resolution. The Sakyas and the Koliyas are close relations. It is unwise that they should destroy each other”(Ambedkar 1997: 25).
Again opposing Siddhartha, the Senapati brought out the idea of the dharma of Kshatriyas, saying that it is to fight for the sake of their kingdom, just as the dharma of the Brahmins was to perform rituals, Vaishyas to do business and Shudras to provide services. Siddhartha opposed this idea and said that, as he understood the Dharma, enmity will never be resolved by enmity. There were suggestions on whether Siddhartha should be hanged, or sent to exile or his family should be boycotted. Siddhartha requested them not to boycott his family socially and instead give him whatever punishment. The Sangha did not hang him or give him exile because it would have needed the permission of the King of Kosala. So they decided to send Siddhartha away from his home. To avoid difficulty Siddhartha himself chose to become Parivrajaka and left the country. Siddhartha convinced the Sangha that it is a kind of exile too, disappearing from home, never to return.
While BJP government is obsessed with war to divert all attention of the country from their failures, it is necessary for our people to not only stay away from such government’s lies but also to speak against such ideas of war and hate. Without touching the real problem, and never bringing out solutions, the ruling castes i.e. Brahman and Baniya, try to encash everything to further their political careers. We Dalit Bahujans, as oppressed communities, must initiate the debate, which is time and again buried by the ruling castes to satisfy the conscience of majority Hindus. We must initiate the debate which Babasaheb had spoken about without any fear, and the debate is the solution of Kashmir. The government is misleading the nation in the name of terror and has created a war-like situation. In a situation where warmongers like BJP, RSS, and its allies provoke, create much false propaganda through media, we Dalit Bahujans must remember that our war is against Brahmanism, caste, and exploitation by upper castes.
Ambedkar B. R. (1997). The Buddha and His Dhamma, Taiwan: The Corporate Body of the Buddha Educational Foundation.
Jitendra Suna is an M.Phil research scholar at the Centre for the Study of Discrimination and Exclusion at Jawaharlal Nehru University and is a member of BAPSA.