Founder of Indo US Cultural Association:
Dr Gokhale was a many-faceted individual: a world-renowned scholar, an exemplary teacher, a social activist, a community leader, a perceptive editorial writer, and a man of deep humanity and gentle humour who radiated compassion and integrity, living the ideals he found so compelling in the lives of Gautama Buddha and Asoka Maurya. B.G. Gokhalé was born on September 4, 1919, in Dwarka, into an impecunious and orthodox Chitpavan Brahmin family. He was the last of thirteen children. His father, who was a Revenue Collector for the Maharaja of Baroda, died when he was nine. He soon exhibited the brilliant intellect and prodigious energy that characterized his entire life. He was the first in his family to matriculate. from high school, passing the matric exams on his very first try. He started college in Baroda, but then had the chance to transfer to the University of Bombay, from which institution he received his B.A. (Hons., First Class, 1939); M.A. (St.Francis Xavier Medal, 1941); and PhD (1946) degrees. His family could not provide any monetary support so he gave tuitions to make ends meet for himself.
His teaching career began in 1942. He taught at St. Xavier’s College, Siddharth College, and the University of Bombay during 1942-1954 and 1956-1958. In 1952 he was invited to attend an international seminar led by Henry Kissinger at Harvard University, which led to invitations to teach at Bowdoin College in Maine (1954-1955) and Oberlin College, Ohio (1955-1956). Gokhalé returned to India at the specific request of Dr B. R. Ambedkar to teach Buddhism at Siddharth College. He was then invited to teach at the University of Washington in Seattle, Washington (1959-1960). In 1960 he was asked to establish and direct an Asian Studies Program at Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He remained at Wake Forest until his retirement in1990.
He was associated with Jayaprakash Narayan, and was also a mentor to Dr Ambedkar and assisted him in his study of Buddhism. In addition, he wrote editorial columns on the outstanding topics of the day at a moment’s notice for the Free Press Journal in Mumbai. When he took up residence in the United States, he willingly responded to the numerous calls for him to speak to churches, community groups, and schools, freely giving of his time to convey the richness and complexity of Hinduism, Buddhism, and India to audiences for whom all three were almost unimaginable. As a testament to his standing in the Winston-Salem community, he was asked by the Mayor of the city to preside over the Human Rights Commission, an organization whose mission was very close to my father’s heart: instilling tolerance, compassion, and respect for diversity of thought and culture.
In the words of Jayashree B. Gokhale – daughter of Dr B. G. Gokhale – “My father was a man of principle, innate kindness, integrity, and generosity, who was not motivated by the pursuit of money or worldly fame. He came from humble circumstances, and with perseverance and dedication to ideals he early embraced, left an indelible mark on the world of scholarship. He treated everyone with equal respect. In the purest of senses, he was a good man, who will continue to live in the memories of all who were fortunate enough to encounter his presence.”