We live in a rather unforgiving society that prides itself in always doing things by the book, unconsciously applying a judgemental, “one size fits all” principle to condemn or punish every mistake or misdemeanor we encounter.
While some who have erred are punished less often than others, defended by familiar phrases like “honest mistake” or “blame culture”, Singaporeans often lose their jobs because of various indiscretions which have absolutely nothing to do with their work.
We are not allowed to make mistakes, especially when we’re in high positions which are not high enough, but did you know that even the Buddha himself had made mistakes?
After Prince Siddhartha Gautama left the palace at Kapilvastu (present-day Nepal), all the guidance he had was based on Hindu practices. Quite naturally, he adopted the ways of the Hindu Sadhus, practising self-mortification in a cave at Dungeshwari.
He refused food, exposed himself to the elements, did not clean himself or cut his hair. After 6-7 years, fasting to the brink of death, Siddhartha Gautama realised that he was on a dangerous and unproductive path. He abandoned asceticism, accepting an offering of a highly nutritious milk rice from a wealthy devotee by the name of Sujata.
He decreed that those set out on the path of Enlightenment must at least clean and nourish themselves. Asceticism is not the right way. He then walked about 13km to present-day Bodhgaya where he sat under a bodhi tree to meditate. After 49 days, spending 7 days at 7 locations around a bodhi tree, he attained Enlightenment.
Dungeshwari now houses a temple on a knoll situated on a relatively barren landscape some 13km from Bodhgaya. We went there by tuk tuk and it’s a ride that gives you a glimpse of what life in one of the poorer places in India is like. There are fields of wheat where most of the harvesting and thrashing are still done manually by large families; the larger the family, the greater the supply of manpower.
The walls here are seldom complete and they seem to serve the sole function of a vertical drying platform for cow dung much better than they can enclose a compound. Cooking gas is too expensive for these folks.
At the parking area at the foot of Dungeshwari, is a road that leads to the Tibetan temple at the cave. I didn’t see any big tour buses. Most of the visitors were monks, lamas or independent travellers. Though the path is considerably longer but not more difficult than the path leading to the Tree Top Walk at MacRitchie, there are guys on motorbikes touting their services.
The final inclines are presumably out of bounds to motorbikes. Where the bikes couldn’t go, the beggars and vendors could. Capitalising on Buddhist compassion (and perhaps generosity), was a long row of beggars and vendors selling Hindu offerings.
In contrast with the squalid conditions outside, the temple at Dungeshwari was neat and dignified with an immaculate stupa and new prayer flags. It was a stark difference and that’s in spite of the fact that less than 1% of Indians are Buddhists. This tiny minority has done very well indeed.
A flight of stairs from the main temple complex rises to a platform and the opening to the cave has been made into a low and narrow doorway. Inside the cave, I saw the answer to a nagging question. Apart from the statue of the fasting Buddha, there was also a statue of a Hindu deity.
There were also Hindu offerings before the Buddha. As a very prominent and successful minority, it’s nice to see that Buddhists have been sensitive and accommodating. Regrettably, the sheer poverty outside the administrative and spiritual purview of Buddhists is one that will take a lot longer to placate.
Unlike the Mahabodi Temple at Bodhgaya, Dungeshwari sees far fewer pilgrims. But to me, it bears a huge significance. That’s because we humans make mistakes all the time. If we realise that even the Buddha had made mistakes before Enlightenment, what unintentional mistakes by mere mortals like us can be so unforgivable? Why is it then that a mistake that has gone viral often attracts the harshest condemnation and the most imaginative punishments? As long as the one who has erred has no intention to harm or exploit, could we not adopt the principle of 得饶人处且饶人？
The trip to Dungeshwari has been yet another humbling experience for me. Folks who seek to annihilate others over a few critical remarks lack wisdom, discipline, compassion and do not deserve our respect.