Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Introducing Buddha to Obasanjo

By Valentine Obienyem (Archives. Written when Obasanjo was the president)

The debate of where civilization started – Greece or Egypt – is grossly unfair to the far Eastern countries. They have their own civilizations as great as any in the world. As far back as we can pry into history, we shall find China and India already rich in both the physical, economic, cultural and other factors of civilization. We have so much concentrated on Egypt and Greece that informed Indians and Chinese, whenever they come across their historical records as written by, perhaps, the Westerners, are wont to mourn the superficial scratching of these histories.

Talk about China, you are bound, first of all, to remember Confucius among others. Talk about India, you are bound, again, to remember Guatama Siddartha (Buddha). Such profound people were not just great men, they were monuments in history. They are not adored because of their material riches, but because of their wisdom, which still function actively in the society. Their sayings have since become proverbial and are so profound that they seductively temp the tongue.
But is Chief Olusegun Obasanjo a philosopher? Has he not shown marked aversion to Philosophy? How many Philosophers are there in his cabinet? If he has not considered it right to carry along the Philosophers around and about him, is it Buddha of the ancient cast that he is going to take seriously? These are legitimate questions which, however, should not engage our attention.
In deciding to present part of Buddha to Obasanjo, the intention is not to get him to love him nor become proximately or even remotely interested in his works. Buddha presents a challenge to us. No matter your state in life, he has something to teach you, including the founders of religions, those concerned with the transcendental and those who carry the storm and stress of leadership, such as our own Obasanjo.
Prince Buddha, it is said, was the founder of Buddhism, a prominent religion in India and some parts of the Far East. He might be a real figure or even a legendary construct of the historical imagination. Indian “legend”, not content for an ordinary birth for such a figure, told how apparition announced his miraculous birth. We are told that when he came of age to marry, 500 ladies were presented to him to choose from among, it was a delight to be an Indian Prince.
Buddha was shielded from the misery of human existence by his parents. He was not even allowed to move freely, in order not to see the pictures of the suffering masses. At a point, like one overcome with “conversion” he suddenly resolved to leave his father, wife and son. Stealthily he left the palace and moved around the streets of India. Behold, Buddha was face to face with suffering, deprivation, agony and other lot of humanity.
Efforts were made by Buddha’s parents to find him and lure him back, but they did not succeed. At last, he went back to the palace on his own. His father, who had mourned the loss of a prince, rejoiced for a while, over the return of a saint. But his return was momentary, for he had come to convert his father, wife and son to Buddhism, which his absence and experience gave birth to.
The height of Buddhism is to achieve Nirvana. But what is Nirvana? It is difficult to find a correct answer to this question; it will need a person who had experienced Nirvana to explain Nirvana. If we may venture a slight explanation, it is a forgetfulness of will and all desires; that point we become detached from material things. In Nirvana soul is lifted into an almost mystic union with something deeply interfused, some profound, immense and quiet Being, some primordial and pervasive reality that smiles upon all striving wills, change and death. But we are not here concerned with the exposition of the doctrine of Buddhism nor to vouch for its authenticity.
Another striking aspect of Buddha was his relationship with his environment, including the human beings in it. He took the counsel not to return good for evil, and to love even one’s enemies, as the highest expression of all human idealism. He resolved rather to fail with these than to succeed without them. Buddha did not only profess this; he lived it out.
Once he was in the village-square and was abused by a simpleton. Buddha listened in silence, but when the man had finished, Buddha asked him: “Son, if a man declined to accept a present made to him, to whom would it belong?” The man answered: “To him who offered it.” “My son”, said Buddha, “I decline to accept your abuse, and request you to keep it for yourself”. Unlike many people of his standing, Buddha had a sense of humour, and knew that metaphysics without laughter is immodesty.
Buddha gave to Indians an inspiring example in virtues and in the dictates of positive living. Even while he was still alive, the seepage of Buddhism into the Indian minds was complete and overwhelming. Like him, most of those who he inspired affected a habit of solitary meditation, as Buddhists monks/temples sprang up recklessly. We cannot exhaust the life of Buddha in a single write-up. Besides, as Buddhist monks/temples sprang up recklessly some of the things he did have lapsed from human memory and records. History, said Bacon, is the planks of a shipwreck; more of the past is lost than has been saved.
Obasanjo has a lot to learn from Buddha. Just reflect on the response of Buddha to the abusive simpleton. Where is to be Obasanjo, he would have given the "naughty” guy a bloody nose. Unlike Buddha, Obasanjo’s faults increase by leaps and bounds. He is proud amid his constant expression of humility, intemperate in zeal, denouncing intolerance and practicing it. He is no paragon of constituency of virtue, but a man as contrary as life and scorched, many believe, with the pollens of revenge.
Rewind and listen to his responses to criticisms, even to the constructive ones. Every line of his response to labour leaders in the heat of the just averted strike action still vibrates with intensity, and is hot with the hatred of enemies brought face to face in war. The way it is now, Obasanjo seems set to win that war. He is determined that fuel will sell at nothing less than N40.00.
Obasanjo, unlike Buddha, is not close to the suffering masses. If it were possible, I would advise him to move out incognito one night and interact with the masses in the streets and markets, eat with them in restaurants, buy roasted corn as they do, enter going (Okada) like they do, buy antacid if the unfamiliar food causes him indigestion. He hears from Nigerians that life is hard and biting, but he has not felt it himself. He needs to feel it at close range for us to know whether he would, like Buddha, undergo a profound conversion. The way he acts these days, you are left to wonder whether he is still the Obasanjo that counseled General Ibrahim Babangida to show Nigerians the “milk of human kindness”. Milk is taken by the well-to-do, what we even need from him is the “water of human kindness”.
Nigeria is in trouble, which is due to the unfeelingness of her leaders. We have plenty of great leaders in the past they can look up to for guidance and inspiration. Buddha is surely one of them.



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