The polarised environment in our society made worse by increasing radicalization and extremism may be a worry but it is heartening that young India is making its own efforts to harmonize the society through small but effective initiatives. One such initiative is Bodhi Trail by Gurgaon-based school student Riaan Kumar writes Autar Nehru
When we talk of lost history and heritage, it also includes Buddhist scholarship from most of our academia. Mahatma Gandhi, the father of nation, called Lord Buddha as the greatest teacher of mankind and drew a lot of inspiration from him for turning freedom struggle into a non-violent mass movement, which even today motivates many in the current world.
Discovering Buddha and his teachings for Riaan Kumar, a class 12th humanities student of The Shri Ram School, Aravali (Gurgaon), was an unexpected journey. Like most children, very much attached to his IAF warrior grandfather, Air Vice Marshal (retd) Arun Kumar Tiwary, Riaan couldn’t bear his loss when the decorated officer passed away in 2018. Riaan, all 10 years old then, was immersed in sorrow and in difficult mental health condition. Thanks to his partnership with grandfather since his early childhood, Riaan had grown up listening to his stories and developed inquisitive mind where he would question morals and ask questions on history. Already motivated for a keen interest in history and religion, Riaan found some solace in Buddhist teachings. As he delved further into its philosophy and scriptures, the more interested he got.
A regular debater at his school and a scholar of public policy, he started researching on Buddhism and came in contact with Prof Charles Hallisey of Harvard Divinity School. He went to Buddhist sites of Bodh Gaya, Sanchi and others to learn more about it. Finding time from his own studies, he read Tipitaka Scriptures, Agatha Sutra, and the Lotus Sutra. By 2020 his Buddha Trail became Bodhi Trail as he realized its huge potential in spiritual awakening among students.
He has already built a team of 16 volunteers, all students from various schools and locations including Thailand, for taking this initiative forward. Using interfaith harmony to extinguish communal conflicts is one of the missions of the group. For this they keep doing conversations with religious leaders and scholars. “The whole idea is to create a public discourse and policies that will eventually help in keeping social conflicts out and bring people together as a community. The spread of interfaith communal harmony message and promotion of common liberal values is way forward as all religions are united in their quest for peace and fraternity,” Riaan says.
Bodhi Trail held a major event on the International Day of Conscience (April 5) this year, in fact, a national conference, where they brought various thought leaders including religious and social activists together. UNESCO’s MGIEP (Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development) which was part of this conference has also partnered with them on education of migrant children in the past. The student group has volunteered with two NGOs (Navjyoti India Foundation and India Vision Foundation) run by yesteryear’s super cop turned politicians and former LG of Puducherry, Dr Kiran Bedi.
The group finds practical engagement through social service volunteering and at intellectual level it seeks to engage students in spiritual awakening. And in all this, Riaan Kumar has kept his keen scholarship in Buddhist teachings going. He recently presented his research paper on “Reflections of Buddhism on Modern Democracy”, at the International Society for Research, Malaysia wherein he mapped modern democratic architecture with ancient Buddhist value system and created a model.
Keen to pursue his career in public policy, Riaan, hopes to reawaken people to Buddha and network with global efforts in this regard as Buddhist teachings and values such as sanga remain more than ever relevant to a divided world. Bodhi Trail through the use of workshops, podcasts, blogs, visits, and conferences hopes to highlight the most significant aspect of spirituality – acceptance of others as they are, and service of others from a space of altruism and empathy.