Jagdish Kashyap: Great proponent of Buddhism

He wanted to use Buddhism to launch a cultural movement and he wanted to be active at the ground level

If anyone can be given the credit for rejuvenating Buddhist philosophy in modern-day Bihar, it is ‘Bhikshu’ Jagdish Kashyap. Unfortunately, few in the land of Buddha know about this great proponent of Buddhism. Nav Nalanda Mahavihar, commonly known as Pali Institute came into existence mainly due to the efforts of Bhikshu Jagdish Kashyap. Attempts are being made to establish an international-level University at Nalanda. If that happens, it would be the fulfillment of an enduring dream of Kashyap.

Bhikshu Jagdish Kashyap was born at Ranchi on 2 May 1908 in a middle-class family. His family name was Jagdish Narayan. Once he happened to meet Rahul Sankratayan and was extremely impressed by the latter’s dazzling intellect. He was introduced to Buddha through Rahul Sankratayan. He was also active in the anti-imperialism struggle from the Congress platform. He was a born rebel. Add to it the company of Rahul Sankratayan and the influence of anti-imperialism struggle and Kashyap decided to take the untrodden path. He decided to study Buddhist philosophy and the Pali language. At that time, Vidhyalankar Mahavihar in Sri Lanka was the biggest centre of study of Pali Tripitika (the Pali canon). Kashyap wrote to the head of the institution and sought permission to come there. But it was Rahul Sankratayan who paved the way for Kashyap’s entry into the Sri Lankan centre of learning.

At that time, the house of Kashi Prasad Jaiswal was the epicenter of Patna’s intellectual class. Kashyap had met Rahul there and it was from there that Kashyap was seen off for Sri Lanka by Rahul, after providing him a recommendatory letter from Jaiswal. In Sri Lanka, Jagdish Narayan embraced Buddhism and became Jagdish Kashyap. It is said that he had taken the permission of his mother and other family members for becoming a Buddhist monk. With the dint of hard work, Kashyap soon mastered the Tripitika and became a Tripitikacharya. After acquiring a command over the Pali language, he studied the state of Buddhism and Sri Lanka and wrote a book in Sanskrit on this subject. He won the respect of the scholars of that country. Rahul Sankratayan was also in touch with him. When, in 1934, Kashyap returned to India, Rahul took him to Japan. Both of them toured several Eastern Buddhist nations and enriched their knowledge. During this sojourn, Kashyap learned the Chinese language and translated Dirghanikaay (a part of the Tripitika) into Chinese. He also learnt Buddhist Dhyan Yog (system of meditation) called Vipashyana. He wanted to do as much as possible in the shortest period of time. He also translated Milind Panha, an important Buddhist text into Hindi.

After returning to India, Kashyap made Sarnath the base of his activities. At that time, many Buddhist scholars lived in Sarnath. Here, he studied scriptures like Abhidhamma and Vishuddhimagg under the great scholar Dhammanand Kausambi. Kashyap’s scholarship won him all-round adulation. But he was not one to be satisfied merely by gaining theoretical knowledge. He wanted to use Buddhism to launch a cultural movement and he wanted to be active at the ground level. He was also rather unhappy that Buddhism was not talked about in the state which was once its cradle. At that time, the Bodhgaya temple was in a dilapidated state. The common man knew little, if anything, about Buddha. So, Kashyap shifted his base from Varanasi to the Magadh area. He travelled from village to village, telling people in the local Maghhi dialect about Buddha and his teachings. At every place he visited, he tried to establish a permanent Buddhist centre, even if in a small hut. He went to Nalanda and arranged for the teaching of the Pali language in the local college. When no teachers became available, he began teaching himself. In the midst of all this, he met the then Education Secretary Jagdishchandra Mathur and persuaded him to establish an international-level centre for Pali studies at Nalanda. He began looking for infrastructural facilities for the centre himself. He met hundreds of people, seeking support for a cause people knew little about. Most of the people did not know what Pali or the Tripitika were. He met the Muslim zamindar of Islampur and told him that “Your ancestors had, at one time, set Nalanda ablaze. I have come to you seeking your help to rebuild it”. The zamindar was so impressed that he immediately donated 11 acres of land for the Pali Institute. On this land, on 20 November 1951 India’s first President Dr. Rajendra Prasad laid the foundation stone of the
Nav Nalanda Vidhyalaya (New Nalanda School). This institution is Kashyap’s gift to the country, Thanks to this institution, the teaching and study of Buddhism resumed in Bihar after a gap of several centuries. This institution is a reminder of Kashyaps great contribution as also of the world-famous
seminary that once stood in Bihar.

After the establishment of the Mahavihar, Kashyap turned his attention to the gradually disappearing Pali literature. The entire Pali literature was available in many scripts but not in Devnagri. The Pali Text Society in London had got Pali literature transliterated into the Roman script from Sinhali. Transliterating into Devnagari from it was a challenging task. Jagdish Kashyap completed this task. Today, the entire Pali literature in available in 41 volumes in Devnagri script. It was due to his efforts that the government published the entire Vangmay. This was a work for which Kashyap will always be remembered.

The trinity of Kashyap, Rahul Sankratayan and Bhadant Anand Kaushalyayan is credited with propagating Buddhist thought in modern India. This trinity completed the unfinished task of the great Buddhist monk Dhammapal Anaharika. Thanks to their efforts, Buddhism is today talked about in Bihar and India. Bhikshu Jagdish Kashyap’s memories are intermingled with this new-found interest in Buddhism. As Bihar becomes more enlightened, it will appreciate the contribution of Kashyap even more.

Kashyap passed away on 28 January 1976 at Rajgriha. He was cremated at Nalanda. A statue of his adorns the premises of Nav Nalanda Mahavihar. Once upon a time, Sheelbhadra, a bhikshu of Magadha had spread the fame of Nalanda far and wide in the world. This modern day bihkshu carried that legacy forward.

Published in the May 2013 issue of the Forward Press magazine

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