Buddha — His Life and Contemporaries

In spite of all his compassion, calm and composure, Buddha was, like all reformers, a rebel at heart

Mauritius Times 60 Years Ago

The 2500th birth anniversary of Buddha will be celebrated next week. It is an occasion that has been awaited with great eagerness by the Buddhist world. That is the time also for celebrating the birth anniversary of Tagore. And so in this issue of Mauritius Times we have thought it fit to unite the two great sages of India separated by twenty five centuries.

Living in mid-twentieth century, we are inclined to consider the past as something old-fashioned when people dressed in ridiculous ways and lived unexcited lives. And to many of us does not History being with the History of England or that of France? What we are taught is mostly what took place in the Christian era: A.D. is what counts, B.C. is just non-existent.

However, in this old, very old world of ours, epoch-making events started to take place long before the dawn of the Christian era. And a period that shines brightly in the dim and distant past is the sixth century before Christ. Speaking of that time, H.G. Wells has said: “This sixth century B.C. was indeed one of the most remarkable in all history. Everywhere men’s minds were displaying a new boldness. Everywhere they were waking up out of the traditions of kingships and priests and blood sacrifices and asking the most penetrating questions. It is as if the race had reached a stage of adolescence after a childhood of 20,000 years.”

It was in that glorious and challenging period that Buddha came on the scene in India.

In India at the same time there was another great sage and his name was Mahavira. He founded the Jain religion.

In Persia there was Zoroaster popularly known as the founder of Zoroastrianism, the religion of Persia. What it is thought Zoroaster did in fact was to invigorate the existing religion of his land.

China had two great men, Confucius and Lao-Tse. “Neither of these men,” says Nehru “was a founder of a religion in the ordinary sense of the word. They laid down systems of morals and social behaviour, what one should do and what one should not do. But after their deaths numerous temples were built to their memory in China, and their books were as much respected by the Chinese as the Vedas by the Hindus or the Bible by the Christians.”

About the same time as Gautama Buddha taught his disciples at Benares in India, Isaiah was prophesying among the Jews in Babylon.

While his contemporaries were trying to solve the riddle of life in their own ways, Buddha was pointing out the path of good living. In spite of all his compassion, calm and composure, Buddha was, like all reformers, a rebel at heart: he wrote against the form of religion then prevalent in India. That is why his teachings have not struck any deep root in his motherland.

Buddhism today has the largest number of followers in the world. But Buddha is certainly no prophet in his own country.

B.C. or A.D., nobody seems to like a rebel!

May Day

Even workers have their day and that day is May Day. We have taken it for granted now that the 1st of May belongs to workers. Only seven years ago however it was quite different — 1st of May was to workers just a day of toil like so many others. Thanks to Rozemont and his co-operating colleagues in Council, the 1st of May became a public holiday in 1950.

From this year the 1st of May will have a particular significance in another way to some people: it will also be observed as Fete de St. Joseph by Roman Catholics. Workers of the Catholic faith used to march in procession before to Marie Reine de la Paix where what they saw and heard was too abstract to have any lasting appeal. St Joseph, Ouvrier, will now stand as that very embodiment of labour. Paying homage to such a symbol is much better than railing at communism and what not.

This year we celebrated the May Day without Rozemont. Workers went to the Labour Rally at Champ de Mars as pilgrims would go to a shrine but their idol was not there. On the other hand, it has been gratifying to see Dr Cure stepping once more into the political field. He was again at Champ de Mars, but at his own meeting twenty years ago he roused workers to consciousness. But why does he now try to fight a lonely battle? Dr Cure cannot be forgotten. Nor can Anquetil who threw himself heart and soul into the struggle. Rozemont came third. While Anquetil and Rozemont will rest at St Jean, venerated, we shall watch Dr Cure rising from political ashes.

May Day was celebrated this year at a turning point of our history. We are about to get a new constitution. That constitution is going to make or mar the future of this island. We cannot be over careful in scrutinizing it. In the sacred name of Labour and in sacred memory of those who slept their last sleep after dying for Labour, all Labourites must see to it that they are united to face any iniquitous innovation tending to hamper our political progress.

And we met at Champ de Mars this May Day when we have to fill the yawning gap caused by the loss of Rozemont as first Member for Port Louis. It has been decided by the Labour Party that the man who should replace Rozemont in Port Louis be Dr Dupre. The electoral meetings held by the Labour Party could not be more successful and they only point to one thing: the success of Dr Dupre at the polls. And on the side of the Parti Mauricien there has lately been a silence of the grave, a silence that spoke volume while the leaders held their tongues. Now by holding meetings half-heartedly the Parti Mauricien is trying to conceal the crack in its facade.

Apart from wishing the workers of this island — be they manual or intellectual — a stable and prosperous life, we wish the Labour Party all the success it deserves. It stands for a noble ideal, an ideal which every man working for his bread with the sweat of his brow must cherish. We hope that the new office bearers of the Party, with the support of the rank and file, will consolidate its position and make it an object of pride to the workers of this island.

May Day is gone. Let its spirit flourish now and for ever.

 

  • Published in print edition on 8 December 2017

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