The name is Lokamitra but the person who answers to that name is not the traditional Indian hermit. He is a blue-eyed, fair-skinned foreigner. At 23, Jeremy Goody was a history teacher in Britain. Like most youngsters full of angst, he was desperate to know how he could channel his unruly emotions. Back then the hippy culture of the 1960’s was slowly fading away and opposition to the Vietnam War, nuclear weapons was high. It was at that time when Goody took up Buddhist meditation after meeting Sangharakshita, an English Buddhist who had spent 20 years in India teaching Buddha Dharma to followers of Dr Ambedkar who had converted to Buddhism.
Lokamitra, the name given to Goody by his teacher, translates to friend of the people. Ask him if why he was given the name and he says, “It can either mean I possess people friendly qualities or I need to get them.”
3 decades later Goody has truly lived upto his name. For he has spent 34 years in a land that was unknown to him, travelling to the remote villages of India where he was introduced to several people belonging to the underprivileged castes. His extensive work with the Buddhists of Pune and Nagpur has been recognized at the international level too, after he was awarded the prestigious Manhae Grand Prize for Peace this year.
But what made this British Buddhist teacher stay back in India you might ask. “I knew nothing about the Buddhist movement here. But when I saw the enthusiasm among people about Ambedkar, I decided to stay,” he says. It was in the slums and villages of Maharashtra where Lokamitra realised that Buddhism was more than just upliftment. “It actually helped changed a lot of attitudes. People who belonged to the scheduled castes found dignity as Buddhists because they were free from the curse of untouchability.” In current day India, the burning issues of Khairlanji and reservations have managed to sway public opinion on both sides.
A mention of Khairlanji and Lokamitra is agitated. “The verdict treated the massacre as a criminal act, ruling out any question of caste. There isn’t enough national consciousness about the verdict which is why it will soon fissle out,” he says asking for advocacy on the national and international scale. As far as reservation are concerned, he says that it has surely managed to change many lives. Casteism still exists in modern day India and Lokamitra has been witness to it. “I remember visiting the Gujarat after the Bhuj earthquake. It was there when I saw deep-seated discrimination. There were dalits who were denied relief if they didn’t say ‘Ram Ram’ and beg.”
Lokamitra has seen these minorities being fooled in the name of Buddhism by greedy politicians who look at them as sheer vote banks. “These are very bright people. But the politicization of Buddhism has left them with meager or no knowledge of it,” he fears.