Association of Medical Doctors of ASIA, founded in 1984, Consultative Status with UN ECOSOC since 1995








Visit to India #3: AMDA Award

Publication date:2021-02-03
By Dr. Shigeru Suganami,  President, AMDA International

Mr. Vikram (right)

At 11am on 11 November 2019, I paid a visit to Jeanamitabh Boarding School in Bodhgaya whose students are of destitute communities. The school director is 52 year-old Mr. Vikram who, surprisingly, never blinks when he has a talk with someone else. For most of the reserved Japanese, one may turn one’s eyes away from his unswerving gaze. But I find his to be very likeable that I return my glance to him in the same manner.

His motive for founding this school dates back to the time when he was growing up in poverty. Mr. Vikram was a pupil at a local school run by a Japanese monastery that taught manners and discipline to local children in the Japanese language.

At every single visit I make to his school, I am met with fervent welcome in which the convivial assembly is held with all students being present. In the reception, the school’s locally-famous chorus group sings a welcome song for me. And I must say this is as equally precious as being received by the world-famous Vienna Boys’ Choir. The music performance is followed by Mr. Vikram’s welcome speech. After his is my turn. My message to the students is, “Study hard and be the person to bridge Japan and India in the years to come 

Receiving warm welcome at the reception

Myself making a speech

This time, I proposed to Mr. Vikram the idea of presenting “AMDA Award” to some of the best students with a bursary of 10,000 JPY. I left the judgement to Mr. Vikram on the allocation of fund and the number of awardees, with an additional suggestion that one of the prize recipients shall be invited to Japan every five years. My intention was that, besides my wish for young people to take an interest in my country, I wanted to prepare for human resource development in India, fully taking into account the fact that the nation has been the second emerging power to China that will advance on the global front in the near future.


Students performing the welcome song

Students at the assembly

In the evening, I had a pleasure of being invited to dinner at his large house next to a river running through Bodhgaya. I was stunned by the fact that there lived an extended family comprising 12 households (50 family members). This obviously turned out to be the biggest family dinner I ever attended. It was interesting to learn, as I was told, that all family-related matters are discussed and finalized between brothers. While their occupations vary, the brothers help each other on a daily basis, and all families dine together for a weekly catch-up.

In the late 1960s when student activism was sweeping through Japan, my university was also forced to close temporarily. I tried to make my time worthwhile by travelling around the world for 10 months from Southeast Asia to the southwest of the continent, onto Iran and Kuwait. At the time, I remember staying at a Buddhist monastery in Bodhgaya as there was no commercial accommodation available.

50 years later, I get staggered by the excessive number of inns and guesthouses in the area. It is so much that some hotels have already been up on sale due to the oversupply of accommodation facilities. This city will no doubt show a remarkable change in the next decades in line with India’s economic growth. By then, I would love to see Mr. Vikram’s students, who will have been adults, working actively on the forefront.

One thing that worries me is the decline in the number of pilgrims from my country. Every November to February, hotels in Bodhgaya are packed with visitors from neighbouring Asian countries. Since every one of these nations has one or two temples in Bodhgaya (run by its mainstream monasteries back home), the city usually gets crowded with people on a pilgrimage. On the contrary, Japanese travellers are increasingly getting less each year.

The Japanese Buddhism is traced to what is called “soshi” (founders) who founded different schools, and it is these founders that are traditionally garnering reverence. Saicho, for instance, founded the Tendai-shu sect while Kukai is known for establishing the Shingon school. Likewise, Nichiren (Nichiren-shu), Dogen (Soto-shu), Eisai (Rinzai-shu), Honen (Jodo-shu) and Shinran (Jodoshin-shu) have been respected as prominent religious figures. In Bodhgaya, there are at least two or three temples run by the Japanese religious organizations. Nevertheless, only one or two of them have a resident monk stationed in the actual monasteries.

Similarly, although there are famous Buddhist universities in Japan, it is quite unlikely that many of the students would visit Bodhgaya during their college years. With my urge to improve the status-quo, I am planning to launch a one-year internship program at this Buddhist sanctuary for the students and young monks with three following objectives:

  1. Allowing the interns to visit sites that have significance pertaining to Lord Buddha which include a cave where the lord meditated, a village where he received milk-rice pudding from Sujata (his milkmaid), and the place where he attained enlightenment
  2.  Fostering global perspectives of the interns through exchanges with monks from other Asian temples
  3. Letting the interns partake in social welfare activities in Bihar which is the poorest state in the nation

A lot of Buddhist mantras are based on the dialogues between Lord Buddha and his disciples. They present knowledge. And what transforms knowledge into wisdom is experience. We need to remind ourselves there are many differences in the living environment and ethics between Indians and the Japanese.

Japanese morality is based around three principles: 1) not to trouble others, 2) never tell a lie, and 3) help each other when needed. But just blindly being bound to this yardstick wouldn’t help the Japanese survive in Indian society. India has a different set of principles deriving from their unique customs, and their priorities aren’t always similar to ours.

Likewise, Buddhism in India and Japan are not the same. The interpretations of mantras differ depending on the historical context and under what circumstances they are read. It is my understanding that the only way to level such a gap would be to experience the real life in India, the homeland of Buddhism.
    •  President's Message
    •  India
    •  2019