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Lecture 12: The Vanished

Path, Part IV
3rd February, 2017
Let’s pick up from where we left last time.
Given the Hindu majoritarian discourse, the
Buddhist protagonists of The Vanished Path of
course feel uneasy whenever they see signs of Hindu
dominance, especially when Hindu monuments
encroach upon Buddhist archaeological sites such as
Bodhgaya, where the Buddha is said to have gained
Enlightenment.

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This image shows
Bodhgaya, where the
Buddha is said to have
gained Enlightenment, and
thus the place lies at the
centre of Buddhist sacred
space. Here the
protagonists find statues of
the Buddha being
presented as those of the
Pandavas, mythical heroes
from the other ancient
Indian epic The
Mahabharata. The
Mahabharata features the
treatise The Bhagvad Gita,
now commonly accepted
as the holy book of the
Hindus (211).
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Originally, The Bhagvad Gita was structured as a
conversation on ethics between the Pandava warrior Arjuna
and his charioteer the god Krishna, embedding complex moral
enquiries (cf. Sen 3-4, Lecture 11 slides). Here, Arjuna has
doubts about making war on and potentially killing the
Kauravas, who happen to be his cousins, but Lord Krishna
argues that Arjuna must do his duty as a warrior instead of
worrying about the consequences. According to left-liberal
historian Romila Thapar, The Bhagvad Gita, or simply The Gita
was later identified as a revealed book, analogous to The Bible
for Christians and The Koran for Muslims.
Romila Thapar (1989). “Imagined Religious
Communities? Ancient History and the Modern Search for a Hindu Identity”.
Modern Asian Studies 23, no. 2 (1989): 209-31 (posted separately on
Learnweb)
The image shows The Gita in the comics series
called Amar Chitra Katha (“Immortal Picture-Stories”
in Hindi).

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Religious lessons haven’t been common in schools in India, although some
may be offered (often optionally) at schools run by religious missions: what is
offered as a staple is a subject called “Moral Science,” which may correspond to
“Ethik” taught in German schools.

In recent times however, under the influence of the Hindu hard-liners, The
Bhagvad Gita has been pushed forward as essential reading in primary and
secondary schools by Hindu nationalists, sans respect for students’ own religious
affinities. Other manifestations of religious conflict include an infamous pogrom
against the Muslim population in inter-religious riots in the western Indian state of
Gujarat in 2002 (in the riots many Hindus died too, as is usual in any riot), the
brazen rewriting of school textbooks, and the official imposition of bans in a
number of states in India on the consumption of beef, commonly taboo for upper-
caste Hindus (i.e. excluding Dalits) and consumed mainly by the Muslim
population and other religions, as well as Hindus.

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The Vanished Path makes it clear that Buddhism didn’t get
wiped out of India accidentally—a history of violence contributed
at least partly to this phenomenon. We learn of the destruction of
Nalanda in 1198 AD in a raid by agents of the Islamic Delhi
Sultanate. Invasions by Muslim raiders from the eleventh century
onwards have been commonly accepted as the historic reason for
Buddhism’s disappearance from India by the thirteenth century
(173-5)
Cf. Donald S. Lopez Jr., “Introduction: Buddhism,” Religions of
Asia in Practice: An Anthology, ed. Donald S. Lopez Jr. (Princeton
& Woodstock: Princeton University Press, 2002) 165-96.
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The Dalai Lama “reiterates”
the glory of Nalanda in Northern
India, the great medieval
centre of Buddhist learning
which comprised a monastery
that housed 10,000 monks and
nurtured pioneering traditions of
regular cultural exchange with
Chinese and Tibetan scholars and
travelers. From the 7th century
onwards, Buddhist teachers from
India were regularly invited to
Tibet too, and they transmitted
scripture to their enthusiastic
hosts across the Himalayas.
Hence “The Tibetan Buddhist
tradition is essentially the
Nalanda tradition.” 7
However, the protagonists are also disturbed by the
commercialisation of modern Buddhist practices in India.
Given the rising prosperity in East and South East Asia, many
pilgrims appear to be from these regions.
(http://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/sketches-notes-and-a-
story/article7188336.ece; https://in.news.yahoo.com/kushinagar--the-place-where-buddha-died-
132041292.html)

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At Shravasti, the
protagonists are
astounded by the sight
of a massive Buddhist
statue, called
“Mahamongkol” by the
parent Thai
organization, as well as
a humongous temple,
which contrast starkly
with the local “rural
poverty” (149-52).

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It appears that the
protagonists must
ignore these outward
manifestations of
Buddhism and trust
instead to their
personal faith and
awareness of
Buddhism’s historical
and cultural heritage.

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In this image of
Kapilavastu repeated from p.
106 in full colour and with
sound effects (for the birds
and the clicking camera), the
protagonists appear to finally
make peace with the
conflicted history and
presence of Buddhism within
the multi-religious social
framework in these
geographical regions.
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Ultimately then The Vanished Path doesn’t appear to offer any
final answers or closure to the various issues raised, as related
to religious conflict and identity. The text doesn’t even present
Buddhism as the best religion in opposition to all others. This
is perhaps what makes the text not a preachy one, although
the content could have turned didactic very easily.
Suggested reading
Since The Vanished Path is a relatively new
publication, it’s hard to find secondary reading
material based specifically on this text, but the
books and articles (print and online) listed on
the slides may be of help.

General reading on comics


Duncan, Randy and Matthew J. Smith. The Power of Comics:
History, Form, and Culture. New York, NY; London, UK:
Continuum, 2009. Print.
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Group activities
Say you work as a teacher at a private or international school and you need to
demonstrate a mini-lesson to parents and prospective new schoolchildren at an
Open Day. Prepare a mini-lesson in English or any other subject for
• 1st grade
• 3rd grade
• 7th grade
• 11th grade
Your mini-lesson should feature some audio-visual aids (images, comics/graphic
novels/films etc.) and have some element of interactivity with your visitors.

Results: 2 groups chose to design mini-lessons in for the 1st grade and 7th/11th grade
respectively (see next slide)
For 1st grade – an English lesson
• Introduction of new words/vocabulary (for e.g. “car”) with pictures or toys
• Students imitate teacher—repeat each word
• Students apply new words
→teacher asks “Where is the car?,” students point at the toys mentioned,
teacher shows pictures of cars, students are asked to respond
• Arrange reward for students—small toy/candy/pictures/pictures they can colour
with colouring pencils and can take home
For 7th/11th grade—intercultural training (introduction to
British culture)

• Classroom turns into a tea shop, everything has to be set up beforehand, guests
walk in into different classrooms
• Students dress up as butlers and serve different tea from different countries, plus
scones and mint cakes
• Typical British music
• Historic pictures of tea rooms
• A comics-style menu