World Literature through Buddha Dhamma | Daily News


World Literature through Buddha Dhamma

“Mahatma Gandhi and Nathuram Godse, both read the Bhagavat Gita. One became a martyr. The other became a murderer", wrote Varghese K. George, to The Hindu (30/01/2015), on the 68th anniversary of the Gandhi assassination. It is probably because Godse saw only the violence in the Gita. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi found, "under the guise of physical warfare it described the duel that perpetually went on in the hearts of mankind, and that physical warfare was brought in merely to make the description of the internal duel more alluring. In the second chapter, instead of teaching the rules of physical warfare, tells us how a perfected man is to be known." The Mathatma wrote in his introduction to "The Gita According to Gandhi"

This is the way we should read all literature, to find the deeper meaning that the author would give through his writing.

The Mahatma translated the Gita into simple Gujarati, "designed for women, the commercial class, the so-called Sudras and the like, who have little or no literary equipment, who have neither the time nor the desire to read the Gita in the original, and yet who stand in need of its support."

Ven. Prof. Induragare Dhammaratana thero once explained how we could watch the film Titanic through Buddha Dhamma. This comment opened my mind to the opportunity we have to read all artistic creations through Buddha Dhamma.

Literary works were used by the Buddha, when he used stories from previous births. He also used incidents from everyday life in and around the Greater Magadha region where he often addressed the people. Later on Jataka stories and Thera,Theri Gatha were gradually developed. These stories were used to explain the Dhamma to the people who were mostly illiterate.

Today our country boasts of a 92% literacy, which means that most of the people could read not only our modern Sinhala literature, but even the world literature in English or in Sinhala translation. Such modern literature is much closer to us and we can empathize more with the characters and situations in them, than we could try to stretch our imagination beyond all limits to see the life and society in India two to three millennia ago. It does not mean that we should throw away the ancient Buddhist literature, but that while reading them, we should also look at the modern literature.

The problem today is that even with a 92% literacy rate, the "Literate Literacy" could be very low. Under such circumstances we cannot expect people to read ancient Buddhist literature, most of them written in ancient Pali or Sinhala, or translated into the English of about a century or two ago. But it would be easier to get them to read a fast moving thriller, or juicy romance.

Anyone who has watched the 'Rambo' series, could read 'First Blood' (1972) by David Morrell, not as a cheap thriller, but as one of the best anti-war novels ever written. If John Rambo is the protagonist (if I may borrow a literary term), then not only the police chief Wilfred Teasle, but the entire town of Madison would be the antagonist, which in turn means that we are all antagonists. Because they created Rambo and they have to deny his existence, so they have to destroy him, but Rambo cannot be destroyed, because he is inside all of us.

A blogger, calling himself an American Buddhist, tried to see the concept of Sunyata in Hemingway's story, 'A Clean Well-Lighted Place'.

"it is a profound description of the human condition as it relates to Sunyata". We could read Ernest Hemingway, at least his two short stories written in 1936, 'Snows of Kilimanjaro' and 'The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber', together, if possible, with his biography. Hemingway may not have understood the Buddha Dhamma, and may not have seen the Truth himself, but through most of his stories, he could show The Way to his readers.

Mark Twain is another writer we could read. Eugene O'Neill said "Mark Twain is the true father of all American Literature" and is still accepted by many. Just one example is his story, written in a style that only Mark Twain could give us, 'The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg' (1899), which shows that greed always brings grief.

When D. H. Lawrence wrote "Thought is a man in his wholeness, wholly attending", is he not talking of 'reflection and contemplation' Most of us relate Lawrence to 'Lady Chatterley's Lover', but we ignore his poetry, and his last novel, 'The Escaped Cock' or the 'Man Who Died'. Though Lawrence wrote to a friend, on 17th, April, 1922, during his visit to Ceylon, "I detest Buddha, upon slight contact: affects me like a mud pool that has no bottom to it -", he had realized that all pain and grief of mankind is due to his insatiable desire and greed.

We could find the True Dhamma in almost all literature around the world, but it is only in the writings originally in English. The other great writings in other languages are available to us only in English translation, and unfortunately when the translators are British or American, we cannot be certain if they had really grasped the ture message in the original work. That is why we are unable to really see what Gurudev Tagore was telling us in his original Gitanjali, because what we have is his prose translation done for the British readers. We are also very unfortunate that we are not able to read the original writings of Omar Khayyam, Rumi, Hafez and other Sufi poets.

Han Kang's 'The Vegetarian' won the Man Booker International Award 2016, but we can read it only in its English translation, and we could never be certain if the translation had captured the essence of Kang's writing, or if we could really enter the life of Yeong-hye. It is the price we have to pay when the world has nearly 7000 languages and most of us can speak only one or two of them.

It is Prof. Sunanda Mahendra who drew our attention to the Kavi Sutra in the Anguttara Nikaya Sucarithavagga. Prof. Paranavithana was able to identify the four types of poetry, Atta kavi, Suta kavi, Chinta kavi and Patibhana kavi, among many of the Sigiri Graffiti. Perhaps we should make an attempt today to find these types in modern poetry.

On this Wesak day, if we do not have any Dhamma literature at hand, let us read a good novel, or a poem, and try to see the Dhamma through it.

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