Leaving Nagaloka

8 February 2012

I am resting between flights in Delhi, on my way to Burma (via Bangkok) after two good weeks among friends in India.  Happy to report that I am healthy.  Once again no digestive digressions, and the straightforward vegetarian routine of curry, rice, dal, chapatti seems to suit me fine.

After a first week shuttling between Mumbai, Nagpur, and Pune—with talks most every day, and even a few songs at a large Buddha Festival in Nagpur at the Diksha Bhumi, the site where Dr. B.R. Ambedkar led 400,000 untouchables to take refuge in 1956, I returned to Nagpur for a week of teaching at Nagaloka/Nagarjuna Training Institute.  This is a school for Dalit/untouchable Buddhist youth from poor rural districts all over India.  The students range from 19 to their early 20s.  They get eight months of residential training in Buddhist practice—with two meditation and chanting sessions daily—along with dharma study, and social praxis.  This year I taught from five or six Pali suttas, the Buddha’s words linking personal ethics and practice with his social thought, much of which remains relevant 2500 years later.

I love being with these young people, much the age of my own kids, which is why I have been coming back here each winter for the last few years.  Despite the challenges of poverty and continuing reality of caste oppression, they come to Nagaloka and blossom in an atmosphere of friendship, dharma, and critical thinking. This year, along with the first-year group there were about 20 or 25 second-year students, some of whom I have been in email contact with since last winter.  It is gratifying to see them maturing, setting goals of higher education and making plans to serve their communities at home by establishing practice and providing social services.

The practice has been established by friends in the Triratna Buddha Mahasangha, what used to called FWBO, or Friends of the Western Buddhist Order, the practice community established by the British Buddhist teacher and scholar Sangharakshita.   Indian order members have done remarkable work over the last thirty years, bringing dharma to the poorest of the poor.  On this trip (and previous visits) I owe thanks to Lokamitra, Mangesh Dahiwale, Vivekaratna, Nagamitra, Maitreyanth, and numerous others. And I leave my heart with the students, who shared their vivid stories with me, threw themselves into our study each day, and asked questions that push at the limits of my understanding.


If time and the internet permit, I will write again from Burma.  Otherwise, see you soon. Meanwhile, I will also share with you my comments last night at the Full Moon ceremony and rededication of the large Nagaloka walking Buddha.




Full Moon Celebration at Nagaloka

 Each month at the time of the full moon Buddhists everywhere take refuge in the Triple Gem and recite the ethical precepts that guide us. If we have committed any errors or have been hurtful to those around us, we repent our mistakes, renew our vows, and move forward.

Tonight in the cool air of Nagpur we stand at the feet of this great Buddha. As we rededicate our precepts, we rededicate this wonderful statue, making it shine anew.  This is a unique figure, tall and gleaming gold, striding forward with determination, just as Dr. Ambedkar moved forward for the liberation of all.  He began with his own Dalit communities, but the liberty, equality, and fraternity he valued was not for any one group. It was for all Indians and for all people everywhere.

The first step on the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path is right view, the view of liberation and justice. I do not think of this as a religious goal, but as a human challenge. In 1942 Babasaheb Ambedkar he said: “The battle to me is a matter of joy… It is a battle for freedom. It is a battle for the reclamation of the human personality.”

So what is right view?  I believe the challenge for Buddhists in India and also in the West where I live, is to share common action and practice with the most oppressed and those most hungry for dhamma.

Sharing is the practice of dana paramita, the perfection of generosity. Traditionally, dana has three expressions.  Without expecting anything in return one offers: material things, fearlessness, and the dhamma itself.  Giving is not exactly the right word. The best way is to help people gain what they need by their own efforts.

Materially people require food, water, clothing, shelter, and medicine. We vow to help them acquire these requisites for life, even if we must give them from our own resources. Fearlessness is a mysterious gift that cannot be given.  It is the strength to face the unknown. When we demonstrate fearlessness, we allow others to find it in themselves.

The third kind of dana is the dhamma itself. This is the Ambedkar’s vision of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity.  It is the practice itself: our daily meditation and our mindful social action. This kind of social action recognizes two realities: first, that our brothers and sisters facing caste oppression, racism, and poverty deserve and enlightened life; and second, that all people, regardless of position, caste, or wealth yearn to be free.  The dhamma is for everyone, high & low, rich & poor.

So let us rejoice in our presence here tonight.  And let us continue together along Buddha’s path, Dr. Ambedkar’s path, and along our own journey to peace and freedom.  Jai Bhim!


—  Hozan Alan Senauke

7 February 2012

Nagpur, India


About asenauke

Zen Buddhist priest, activist, writer, father, musician
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