Siddhārath Gautam Buddh

Afghan museum, Kaboul 1963 - Hadda - Head of Buddha, stucco (1st-2nd Century A.D.) Photo: UNESCO

Afghan museum, Kaboul, 1963 - Hadda - Head of Buddha, stucco (1st-2nd Century A.D.) Photo: UNESCO - Status: stolen

Ghani Khan wrote with some satisfaction in his otherwise inconsequential book, The Pathans, that Pathans used to be Buddhists before embracing Islam. The monastery of Takht-e Bhai which I have yet to see for myself (captured by the World Heritage team in panography), the Buddhas of Bamiyan and other relics found in Afghanistan and Swat valley corroborate this notion. Ghani Khan also portrayed Buddha and the paintings can be seen today on the walls of his home in Utmanzai, along with an ancient stone relief depicting phases of Buddha’s life.

Last night, I saw the disturbing video posted on facebook showing the torture of Taliban suspects in Swat by the Pakistan Army. The militant Taliban are a vicious lot, and one can still see why the army’s reaction has disappointed many people. One can also imagine the situation where soldiers, policemen and civilians are slaughtered, and the sort of sentiments evoked by such vulnerability and the ensuing callousness while dealing with individuals who could possibly be those ‘enemies of the state’.

There is a general disposition in humans for being more aggressive in a group. Freud believed that the total intelligence of any group (mob, he meant) is lower than the intelligence of its least intelligent member. I have always found this amusing and compared it to a concept in physics: resistors in parallel!

It is also true that there is a sort of intellectual satisfaction derived from such discussions which distances us from the cracks in our universe, i.e. whatever fails to make affirmative sense in a human context.

Western philosophers from Schopenhauer to Irving Singer – who mentions Buddhism in his most recent book, Philosophy of Love – have meaningfully varied in their views, which is a great virtue of their tradition, but most of them have admired Buddha for the haunting insight that there is a lot of suffering in the world – so much, and most often, so meaningless, that it calls for compassion.

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