Your Divine Majesty,
I write this missive to inform you of the facts behind my actions in the case of the itinerant preacher known as the Buddha, which have created such a sensation in the kingdom and by now will undoubtedly have reached your august ear. I do not mean this as an apology, or even a plea for clemency...but as an explanation of my actions, which I am convinced averted catastrophe for the kingdom and for society as we know it.
You must understand, Your Majesty, that this itinerant preacher, this Buddha, was not an ordinary mendicant, the likes of whom we see so often in your august realms. This man was of a different cloth altogether, though, and was already gathering a strong following. He had to be stopped.
I have no doubt, Your Majesty, that your ministers – many of whom, as you are no doubt aware, bear strong animosity towards me – will already be whispering that there have been, and are, similar wandering preachers who built up strong followings, and who never posed the slightest threat to the realm. But if you will only have the kindness to read on, Your Majesty, I will explain why it was different this time.
First of all, Your Majesty, you know that one of the foundations on which our society is based is the absolute awe in which the common people are taught to hold the Monarch and the dynasty. If that respect is gone, they will start looking at the king as an ordinary mortal, with human emotions and failings; and then, what is to stop them from slipping from awe to indifference, and from indifference to contempt, and from contempt to loathing and rebellion? Nothing.
Well, then, Your Majesty, this Buddha was not, like all the rest of his ilk, a man of humble birth. No, indeed, he was a royal prince, one Siddhartha Gautama, from a vassal kingdom to the north. He renounced his kingdom for the common good, Your Majesty, because he felt sorry for sick people and those who died. Can you imagine what this would mean if it became known to everyone? They would ask why their own king – you, Your Majesty – had no such sorrow for their misfortunes. And what would happen then? Rebellion, devastation, and the downfall of the realm.
Does it stop there? No! This Buddha had, repeatedly and without provocation, done harm to the kingdom and, thus, to Your Majesty and the dynasty. Where should I begin?
Shall we begin at the time he was attacked by a particularly notorious bandit, who had repeatedly preyed upon travellers along the highways? We had hunted this bandit for a while, without any success, I must admit; but he was well-known in the kingdom’s northern reaches, and it could be assumed that no one would be so foolhardy as to travel alone in places he frequented. But this Buddha did.
So what happened when the fearsome highwayman met this wandering mendicant? Did he cut his head off for him, and finish off the problem once and for all? No, what he did was get converted, and lay down his sword. Instead of killing people and taking their gold, he’s become a disciple of this Buddha and is following along in his wake!
Your ministers, Your Majesty, will be asking how this could possibly be a bad thing. But think, Your Majesty. If robbers and highwaymen can be converted to peace by the words of this mendicant, then what is the use of maintaining out huge internal police force and spy service, at such enormous cost to the public exchequer? Don’t you think people will be asking this question? And without the police and spy service, how can we presume to keep control of the kingdom?
But what were the teachings of this man, which converted even this dreadful robber? There lies the greatest threat to the kingdom, Your Majesty, and to society as a whole.
What this man wants people to do, Your Majesty, is to renounce worldly goods and to reduce their wants to the minimum. Suppose this catches hold of the popular imagination; and, with this Buddha’s preaching skills, that is almost inevitable. Yes, I can almost see the Finance Minister, that venerable old gentleman who served your august father before you, turn white as marble at the thought. People will no longer purchase more than the most basic necessities, plain food and simple homespun cloth. The trade markets will collapse; this means taxes will dry up since the traders will have no income to pay taxes from.
It gets worse. With nobody wanting them any longer, gold and silver will become as devalued as copper or bronze. Overnight, the imperial treasury will become worthless. The kingdom will face bankruptcy and ruin.
May I assume that your Minister for Religious Affairs is already suggesting proclaiming the wrath of the gods will come down on anyone who listens to this mendicant? He will want to say that anyone who does follow this man’s teachings will be rewarded by hell for eternity. But, Majesty, this will not work either.
It will not work because this Buddha does not even admit of the existence of the gods, let along heaven or hell. In his teachings, when you die, you are reborn in another life where you get the opportunity to correct the mistakes of this one and reach a higher plane of rebirth. And when you reach the highest plane, what is your reward? Not joy or sorrow, but something he calls Nirvana, meaning, as he intends it, nothing.
How can religion be used as a tool against such a man, Your Majesty? It’s impossible. And this is bad news, too, for our great temples, which serve as the repository of so much wealth. When the people stop paying their money to the priests in exchange for prayers to the gods, what will the temples do then, Your Majesty? What will happen to them then?
These are the reasons which made me decide that this Buddha must be stopped at any cost. I thought for a few days how to do it before I decided.
My first impulse, of course, was to have him killed. This might have been easily achieved, but would not have solved the problem, which is that his teachings would have continued to be spread around by his followers. And had I ordered a massacre of as many of them as I could lay my hands on, some would have undoubtedly got away, and the whole movement would go underground, with potentially disastrous consequences in the long run.
So this is what I did, Your Majesty, which is causing such a sensation in the kingdom: I proclaimed this Buddha a god.
Oh, it wasn’t easy, and I had to proceed bit by bit. First, I had my spies spread around rumours that this Buddha had been performing miracles, that lions came to him and lay down like lambs, that he could cure the sick with a touch and stop natural disasters with a wave of his hand. I did all this very discreetly, of course, but soon it became known through the country that this man was a miracle-worker, for all that he might look like a wandering monk in mud-stained robes and matted hair.
Once that was achieved, I had but to wait. Soon, masses of people were thronging to him, not to hear him speak, but demanding miracles. Of course he could not perform them, and did not try; but this didn’t stop people from coming because the rumours spread faster than tales of his failure. And then, when he was wandering through the north followed by a great crowd of credulous people waiting for miracles, I put into action the rest of my plan.
I had temples built, in which this Buddha would be worshipped as a god. Instantly, his teachings lost all their menace. No longer would he be able to divert people from their ordinary lives with his talk of unworldliness and cycles of birth. No longer would he be able to menace our society and Your Majesty’s kingdom. Instead, what will happen – what is in fact happening even as you are reading this – is this:
The new priests of Buddha have already flocked to these temples, and begun taking in donations from the people to send prayers to the new god. Even as we speak, the new religion is building a class structure, with the priests on top and accumulating wealth. Why would they ever want to propagate a worldview where people should not care about material things? It’s now in their interest to make people acquire as much as they can, in order to pass on to the priests in turn.
Soon the Buddha will be gone, for he is an old man now. And then he will be firmly enshrined as a god, and the kingdom will be free from the threat of his teachings, forever.
This, Your Majesty, is the reason why I have acted as I did. I await your decision, to reward or punish me, as you choose.
With humble protestations of my eternal loyalty, I am,
Governor, Northern Province.
Copyright B Purkayastha 2013