Mary Schaefer, a mitra from Triratna’s American sangha, sends us this report of their recent adventures in India, saying “We came to India on a Buddhist pilgrimage and found ourselves in the midst of a revival. The “we” was a delegation of 10 Americans and two Canadians, all participating in a special three-week trip to India to retrace the life of the Buddha and meet the people who are bringing Buddhism back to modern India. The tour was organized by Dharmachari Viradhamma of the San Francisco Sangha and Dhammachari Manidhamma of Nagpur, India, under the auspices of DharmaJiva, a Triratna group that is working to publicize the Buddhist revival in India.
Our journey gave us a close look at the extraordinary work of Triratna in India, where it is using Buddhism as a powerful tool for personal and social improvement. We heard first-hand of the inhumanity of the caste system through the personal stories of Dalits, now our fellow Buddhists. Even though the caste system was outlawed in the 1940s, its roots run deep in modern India.
We learned of the work of Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, lawyer, politician and chief architect of India’s constitution - a man described by Sangharakshita as the lifelong champion of India’s outcasts and the man responsible for the historic rival of Buddhism in the 20th century. We stood at the Diksha Bhoomi where Ambedkar and 400,000 of his followers converted to Buddhism as a means to gain dignity, self-confidence and a path to a better life.
Our first stop was Pune, where we stayed for several days at Triratna’s Manuski Institute - a hub of Buddhist-directed social work in western India. Our dedicated hosts showed us the Dharma in action at a girls’ school and hostel and a women’s development center in the slums providing child care and skills training to poor women.
We could see as we watched these women proudly show us their sewing work, said Marta Meengs from the Montana Sangha, how Buddhism liberates not just individuals but a whole class of humans. Mangesh, one of our inspiring guides at the Institute, told us when a Dalit becomes a Buddhist they no longer belong to the container where there is hatred and lack of humanness.
From Pune, we traveled to Nagpur and Triratna’s Nagaloka Centre, a pilgrimage destination and residential training center for Buddhist youth nnby.org . Youth – ages 18 to 30 – come from all over India, many of them from very poor backgrounds to learn computer skills, languages and social practices that motivate them to go back to change the caste system conditions in their areas.
These students eagerly gathered around us, curious about who we were and what we do, said Danamaya of the San Francisco Sangha. We were equally curious about them and were deeply inspired by their commitment and dedication to improving their lives and those of their fellow Indians. One young woman told us of her plans to help handicapped girls in her home region. Another youth launched an NGO to provide education and other resources to the poor.
Many of us, too, in the comfort of our North American Sanghas, said Kay Jones also of the Montana Sangha, focus about 80 percent of our practice on our personal transformation and the smaller percentage on improving the lives of others. In India, she said, the percentage seems reversed among the Buddhists we met. There is tremendous commitment to put the Dharma into action to improve society while facing enormous obstacles.
We came to be inspired. And we were. What we didn’t expect was to be inspiring to our fellow Buddhists. Manidhamma told us though that our visit here and our interest in their work encourages our fellow Buddhists who are working tirelessly to use Buddhism as a force for social change. We are privileged to be such an inspiration, as Steve Wade from the Boston Sangha said, “for just showing up. Many of us now are looking to see how we can further encourage, raise money for and, in some cases, even work beside our fellow Buddhists in India to support this “Peaceful Revolution” so that it gains visibility, voice and support – not just in India – but around the world.
Come to India. It will change you. And you can help change the world”.