The One True Path

Navayana's new book,  The Buddha’s Way to Human Liberation: A Socio-Historical Approach is by  Nalin Swaris, a Srilankan who was ordained a Catholic priest in 1962 in Bangalore. Swaris gave up priesthood and went to the Netherlands where he obtained a Master’s in Social Sciences in 1973, and followed it up with one in Religions from the Catholic University of Nijmegen. He completed his PhD on the “Buddha’s Way” at the State University of Utrecht in 1997 with summa cum laude. Swaris was also a human rights activist and the author of Buddhism, Human Rights and Social Renewal. He died in April 2011.

In this magisterial study of the social élan of early Buddhism, Nalin Swaris argues that the radical thrust of the Buddha’s teaching is based on his realisation that ‘the individual’ is a fiction of human craving. The Buddha’s decision to found a community of compassion and sharing was the practical expression of his conviction that individualism is the principal obstacle to human happiness. The Buddha’s Way was not discovered and preached in a social vacuum. Orthodox Hinduism classifies its sacred traditions into srutis (sacred truths of the Vedas ‘heard’ by ancient rishis while in a trance) and smritis (codes of conduct). In deliberate counterpoint to the brahman tradition, the majority of the Buddha’s discourses begin with the declaration: Evam me sutam—‘Thus have I heard...’.

Swaris argues persuasively that Buddha’s teachings are not esoteric, but grounded in everyday life. The Dhamma is not a revealed truth that humans could not have discovered by themselves. It is like a light brought into a darkened room so that people could see what is already there, once the fog of delusion is dispelled.

In a style that would appeal to both lay readers and scholars, Swaris shows how the Buddha anticipated Marx, Derrida and Foucault by centuries.

David Loy, author of A Buddhist History of the West: Studies in Lack says “This highly original work uses a multidisciplinary perspective to determine the original message of Shakyamuni Buddha. Critiquing the usual belief that the Buddha’s ideal of human liberation ‘is to be realised in solitude, away from the everyday concerns of ordinary men and women,’ Swaris demonstrates that the Buddha’s path to awakening is oriented towards social liberation. His main argument offers a different (and persuasive) way of understanding anatta, the doctrine of non-self and non-substantiality. He argues that anatta provides the perspective from which to understand the meaning and significance of all other Buddhist doctrines, especially those relating to the theory and practice of the Buddhist moral life. This is in sharp contrast to the usual interpretations of early Buddhist teachings that are now current in academic Buddhology.”

In our Religion section, in hardcover, 388 pages, Rs 590. ISBN: 9788189059316.