JOURNAL OF THE LONDON BUDDHIST VIHARA
|ISSUE No. 15 JANUARY 2000 B. E. 2543 ISSN 1368-1516|
INSIDE THIS ISSUE
THOUGHTS FOR THE NEW MILLENNIUM
by Venerable Dr. Medagama
Vajiragnana Nayaka Thera,
Sangha Nayaka of Great Britain, Head of the London Buddhist Vihara
It is natural that at this time our thoughts should be very much occupied with the new millennium, although the occasion is actually a purely Christian commemoration - the dates being reckoned from the birth of Christ. By some this is perceived as such an important time in human history that they wonder just what will society be like in this new age. Will there be radical changes to society? What will happen to the role of religion? What drastic developments took place as soon as the year 2000 started on 1st January?
Some people are decidedly optimistic. For them, the new millennium means the coming of a world filled with peace, less riven with strife and crime, a world in which people are healthier than ever before, with increased life expectancy and with all one’s faculties being further developed.
On the other hand, there are people who are strongly pessimistic about the future. They think that wickedness may increase, social norms may collapse, family traditions may break down. Young people may lack any sense of direction, leading to increasing social problems and violence. Some selfish individuals may go on amassing wealth without respect for life, destroying living beings, polluting and contaminating the environment because of an obsession with economic prosperity, whether in developed countries or in developing countries. These are some of the varied views which are currently held in different parts of society.
As Buddhists, what can we expect from the new millennium? We know that we cannot expect any miracles to occur by merely changing a date on the calendar. For 1999 years we have been changing from 31st December to 1st January without any miracles happening. Why should things be any different on this particular occasion? We cannot expect changes to happen just because the date has altered.
As Buddhists, we also know that everything is impermanent; therefore, we know that there will certainly be many changes in the next millennium. Our future and that of our society lies in our own hands. Whether the world changes for the better or for the worse is up to each and every one of us; we have the power to change society radically. Man is unique among living beings in that he has an extraordinary capacity to consider the difference between good and bad, to make moral choices and then work towards attainment of his aspirations. It is up to each individual to develop his potential, thereby bringing about greater health, happiness and prosperity to society. Man can create changes in the fields of science and technology which are so momentous that they might indeed be called miracles, but they will be based on human endeavour, rather than some invisible, outside agency. If we want to see developments in society, then we must take personal responsibility for bringing them about. The concept of development should be considered carefully. If development causes harm to individuals, society, animals or nature, then as a matter of principle it cannot be accepted. This is not simply a religious matter, but every creature has its rightful place, which must be respected by all civilised people.
It is not enough to concentrate all our efforts on the purely material side of life. The Buddhist teaching is that man has to develop both his material and his spiritual aspects simultaneously. Real development must mean to progress spiritually as well as materially. If the spiritual side of life is neglected and emphasis is placed solely on material prosperity, the results for society can be tragic. At the moment we see many disasters occurring all over the world, some are man-made and while others, such as earthquakes, storms and floods, are natural. As Buddhists, we know that nothing happens without a cause. These destructive disasters are the results of interactions among the four great elements (Maha Bhuta, which are earth, water, fire and air). They change from their normal course and the reason for this may be the influence of man and his egoistic activities. When man’s mind degenerates into selfishness, greed and anger, all this has a disturbing effect on the environment. Out of desire for power, wealth, and reputation man violates moral and ethical principles which can and should protect him.
Buddhist teaching is relevant to the needs of our everyday lives. Buddhism has a philosophy of social life which is rich and resilient enough to cover every aspect of our life in society. This social philosophy rests on the twin principles of wisdom and compassion. This is what gives it a universal appeal.
As parents, husbands, wives and children, as ruled and rulers, as lawyers and judges, as economists and administrators, as politicians, teachers and pupils, as religious devotees and clergy we are all given our respective duties and responsibilities to fulfil in order to make our society harmonious and peaceful. Let us dedicate ourselves to the supreme task of carrying out our own duties successfully, thus creating peace within ourselves as well as among all our fellow beings so that we can make the new millennium a time of peace and happiness throughout the whole world.
THE BUDDHA’S SERVICES TOWARDS HUMANITY
What contribution did the Buddha make to the spiritual wealth and social welfare of humanity?
Through his great compassion and all-seeing wisdom the Buddha’s service to humanity was, and indeed still is, many faceted and immeasurable. He taught men that in order to reach the highest attainable happiness there is no need for them to rely on anyone supposedly superior to themselves for help or grace. He taught that men could be self-reliant and strong enough to achieve deliverance by themselves for themselves; deliverance from selfish craving, ill-will and delusion. He expected them to stand on their own two feet and admonished them to strive to attain the goal by their own efforts; he merely pointed the way.
"Oneself, indeed, is one’s own refuge, for what other refuge could there be? With oneself well controlled one obtains a refuge difficult to find."
Consistent with this proclamation of self-help being the only true way to deliverance, the Buddha condemned all sacrifices performed in the name of religion, particularly those involving the killing of animals. You are perhaps aware that according to some religious beliefs ‘sin’ or evil can be atoned for, or done away with by killing. At the time of the Buddha and before, there were animal sacrifices. A great horse sacrifice is specially mentioned in the texts and even now such cruel practices are still prevalent. The Buddha exposed such practices as being futile as well as cruel and barbaric. He taught that a much more beneficial sacrifice was to give up the taking of life and other misdeeds and by so doing men would be elevated above such primitive gods. All such cruel practices were the antithesis of all that religion means. The followers of Buddhism should regard all living beings as sharing the wonderful gift of life and as deserving of protection rather than exploitation.
"Let him not destroy life nor cause others to kill, nor approve of others’ killing. Let him refrain from oppressing all living beings in the world, whether strong or weak."
The Buddha adjures men to practise active loving-kindness towards all living beings, including animals. Inscriptions on stone pillars in India dating from the time of Emperor Asoka reveal that the great Emperor ordered the establishment of hospitals for both men and beasts in his great domain, and advised his subjects to practise kindly and considerate behaviour towards all living beings, not only to abstain from hunting and killing animals but to tend them when ill and guard them from danger.
Another great contribution that the Buddha made to humanity was his condemnation of the slave trade. 2,500 years ago, long before the time of William Wilberforce, the Buddha had laid down a rule for his followers that they should abstain from all trade in human beings. Human beings might be engaged for domestic service or as labourers but without infringing on their personal rights. An employer was expected to take care of his servants by:
˜assigning them work according to their ability,
˜supplying them with food and wages,
˜tending them in sickness,
˜sharing with them extraordinary delicacies (including windfalls etc.),
˜allowing them leave at times.
In return, it should be noted, the employees were expected to:˜ rise before him,
˜sleep after him,
˜take only what was given,
˜perform their duties satisfactorily,
˜spread his good name
The Buddha was also a pioneer in the art of peace-making. The scriptures tell us of a case where the two armies of the Sakyans and Koliyans were on the verge of war over the right to take water from the river Rohini dividing their countries. They were preparing to do battle when the Buddha appeared on the scene and asked the reason for the dispute. They told him it was about the right to take water for irrigation. The Buddha asked them which was more precious, blood or water. Of course they replied ‘blood’. "So then," he said "you are going to lose what is precious for the sake of what is relatively worthless, is that the action of sensible men? Go away and see if you can settle this dispute in a more reasonable way than this." That war was thus prevented by the Buddha’s good advice and influence.
The Buddha did not admire the conqueror. He said:"Victory breeds hatred. The defeated live in pain. Happily the peaceful live, giving up both victory and defeat."
The conqueror oppresses his victims so they scheme to rise and overthrow their oppressor. The cycle of revenge and counter-plots ensures that no one gets any peace. The Buddha warned men against following their base instincts and showed them how to settle their disputes by discussion and mediation.
The temperance movement of the present day has its predecessor in the word of the Buddha. He enjoined his followers to abstain from intoxicating drinks and drugs, warning that it made the user susceptible to disease, mental disorder and many other dangers to his family and property due to his heedlessness.
"The householder who delights in self-control, knowing that intoxicants result in loss, should not indulge in taking intoxicants nor should he cause others to do so nor approve of them doing so."
"Fools commit evil deeds as a result of drunkenness and cause other people, who are negligent, to act accordingly; this delusion is delight of fools."
MEDITATION ON METTA
byVen. Dr. H. Gunaratana Nayaka Thera, Bhavana Society, West Virginia
At this momentous in the history of the world, it is highly appropriate that we should remind ourselves of the great importance attached by Buddhists to the development of the quality we know as Metta or loving kindness. If we make only one New Year’s resolution, or one New Millennium resolution, it should be to develop our practice of Metta to an unlimited extent. There is no better time to start than this new millennium. The following article by Ven. Dr. Gunaratana explains why the development of Metta is essential for healthy and happy living in our everyday lives.
Sometimes the practice of Insight meditation may be interpreted to be a kind of practice which makes the meditator a heartless or indifferent being like a vegetable without any love and compassion for other living beings. However, Buddhist meditators are strongly advised by the Buddha to cultivate four sublime states of mind: loving kindness, compassion, appreciative joy, and equanimity. The first of these is so important that the Buddha said that a Bhikkhu can repay his indebtedness to lay supporters if he spends even such a short time as a fraction of a second practising loving kindness towards all living beings. The Buddha perfected it for the attainment of Enlightenment, balancing compassion and wisdom. The first thing the Buddha did every day, even after attainment of Enlightenment, was to reach the attainment of Great Compassion and survey the world to see if there were any beings whom he could help. These four states are called Brahma Vihara or Noble behaviour or Noble attitude. The first three of these are strong enough to attain the first three jhanas and the last to attain the fourth jhana. They are so important in the practice of meditation that they are included in the second step of the Noble Eightfold Path. In fact no concentration is possible without these sublime states of mind because in their absence the mind would be filled with hatred, rigidity, anxiety, worry, fear, tension and restlessness.
Preliminary to the practice of these noble states of mind is overcoming our hatred. Hating is a terrible way of wasting one’s energy. Hate is compared to boiling water or jaundice. It can destroy your meditation practice. The hateful person is compared to a half-burnt log of wood taken from a pyre. Both ends of it are burnt and turned into charcoal and the middle is covered with filth. Nobody would carry it for firewood or for any other purpose because it can dirty the hands of the one who handles it. Similarly the hateful person will not be associated with by anybody. Everybody may try to avoid him. Think of the direct and immediate results of hate. Think of the endlessness of samsara and kamma. Try to build up impartiality towards yourself, a dear one, a neutral person, and an enemy and then practise loving kindness towards all beings including yourself.
Sometimes some of you may wonder why we have to love ourselves first. Wouldn’t that amount to self love and lead to selfishness? However, if you very carefully investigate your own mind you will be convinced that there is none in the whole universe that you love more than yourself. If you say you love so and so more than you love yourself you really are not telling the truth because you can never love anybody in the world more than yourself.
The loving kindness that we want to cultivate as a practice of meditation is not an ordinary love as it is understood in everyday usage. When you say you love so-and-so what you conceive in your mind is an emotion conditioned by a certain behaviour of one whom you love. Sometimes you might say, "I love such-and-such a person or such-and-such a thing." What you really mean, perhaps, is that you desire such a person’s appearance, behaviour, ideas, voice, or overall attitude towards life, and if he or she changes them you may not say you love him or her. If you change your tastes, whims and fancies you may not say that you love so and so any longer. Now, if your love changes in this fashion from time to time then what you called "love" was not true loving kindness but lust, greed, or desire - not love by any means. The kind of loving kindness that we want to cultivate through meditation doesn’t have an ulterior motive or an opposite. Therefore, the love-hate dichotomy does not apply to loving kindness, which does not become hate at any time. This loving kindness cultivated through wisdom or mindfulness will not change into hate because of circumstantial changes. It is a natural faculty but hidden under the heap of greed, hatred and ignorance. We have to find it out within ourselves and cultivate it mindfully. Nobody can give it to us. Mindfulness discovers it, cultivates it, and maintains it. "I" consciousness [ahankara] dissolves in mindfulness when loving kindness is discovered.
Because of our selfishness we hate some people. We want to live in certain ways, do certain things in certain ways, perceive things that we desire most. But if we don’t obtain them the way we wish them, we resent them and become completely unmindful of the fact that those things that we don’t desire have the same right to exist as we do.
No human being could be totally devoid of loving kindness, no matter how cruel he or she may appear to be. The loving kindness hidden in each person should be brought out through skilful means. Mindful observation of one’s own mental states can pick up this particular wave of mental force and then begin to generate a further force of loving kindness. No other force can bring us happiness as loving kindness does.
When we meditate what happens is that our mind and body become naturally, not artificially, relaxed. In contrast, the artificial relaxation of drugs or alcohol disappears when the effect of chemical intake is worn out. It may even cause some side effects such as dependency or some other physical and psychological harm. But the relaxation that we cultivate through the practice of meditation does not produce any side effects. Neither does it do any physical damage nor does it make us dependent upon it.
As our sleepiness and drowsiness are replaced by alertness, doubt by confidence, hatred by joy, restlessness and worry by happiness, not only do we relax but also our hidden loving kindness shows itself, making us more peaceful and more happy. In this state of meditation we gain concentration and overcome our greed. Therefore, to pick up one’s own mind wave of loving kindness one must tune oneself up through the practice of meditation.
Meditation destroys hatred and cultivates loving kindness, which in turn supports our practice of meditation. Together these two function in unison, culminating in gaining concentration. Mindful observation of our own individual mental states can show us how certain thought waves are harmful, destructive and make us feel miserable. As we observe our own mental states and as we notice peaceful thought waves and destructive thought waves we also notice our mind rejecting that which is harmful. We don’t learn this from books or teachers or friends or enemies; but from our own practice and experience. We learn from this experience to cultivate those thoughts that are peaceful and learn to reject or not to cultivate those that are harmful to our own peace. When the harmful thoughts arise we learn not to entertain them and when peaceful thoughts arise we let them grow and remain in our minds much longer. This way we learn from our own experience how to think more healthily. In this way we condition ourselves to the almost involuntary occurrence of loving kindness in our mind. Then we can cultivate it intentionally. This means that peaceful thought waves that at first appear in our mind by themselves can, later on, be generated intentionally. This way we discover within ourselves that love does not come from outside, though environmental or circumstantial factors play an important role in helping us cultivate loving kindness.
Loving kindness is called Metta in Pali, Maitri in Sanskrit. Perhaps the reason why this emotion is so-called is that it is a very warm feeling for beings. Warmth comes from the sun which is called "Mitra" in Vedic literature. One who has a warm heart towards us is called in Pali and Sanskrit "Mitta" or "Mitra" and the nature of "Mitta" or "Mitra" is "Metta" or "Maitri". Just as the sun shines on any object In the world, "Metta" or "Maitri" pervades all beings without any discrimination. The Buddha had cultivated loving kindness to such an extent that he loved Devadatta, his bitterest enemy who tried many times to kill him, Angulimala, a highway robber who came to kill him, Dhanapala, an elephant that came to kill him, and his own son Rahula alike. It is such loving kindness, guided by mindfulness, that allows us to live in peace and harmony.
The one who practises loving kindness does not get angry if he does not receive any form of favour in return from beings to whom he radiates his loving kindness, because he has no ulterior motive when he radiates loving kindness towards them.
However, loving kindness or Metta cannot be cultivated by mere repetition of words of loving kindness. Repetition of such a formula is very much like repeating a prescription to a patient or repeating a menu in a restaurant. Repeating a list of things will never produce the things themselves. Loving kindness is something we have to cultivate in our own minds by ourselves.
As we pointed out earlier, loving kindness begins to develop through meditation. When the mind is relaxed the meditator is able to forgive and forget any offence committed against him or her. If one tries to practice Metta without tranquillity (Samatha) or Insight (Vipassana) meditation, one will not be able to succeed. Love or friendliness cultivated through Samatha meditation is not permanent because Samatha achievements can be only temporary. Friendliness cultivated through Vipassana is perpetual because the qualities cultivated by Vipassana take deep root in one’s mind. Vipassana meditation softens the mind, and friendliness, cultivated along with or even after the softening of the mind, will take deep root in the mind.
The Vipassana meditator sees the impermanence in his form, feeling, perception, mental formations and consciousness. He compares the changes of these aggregates with those of others. Then he does not see any permanent thing in him or in others for him to hate. If he asks himself whom he hates, he may not find any individual to hate. By the same token he may not find any being towards whom he can cultivate loving kindness, too. All he perceives is the phenomena of changes that take place in his own state of affairs and that of others. This enables him to forgive and forget the offences that others have committed towards him or towards his friends or relatives.
Therefore, although meditation appears to some people as something that is very selfish, it is the real thing that genuinely develops our noble qualities which can promote peace and happiness. Nevertheless this peace and happiness cannot be given to others if they do not prepare the ground for them or if we do not have them within ourselves. That is why we want to cultivate them within ourselves. You cannot teach someone a subject if you do not know it yourself first. The better you know your subject the better you can serve the world. The better you discipline yourself the better you can discipline the world. While training in your subject you need some practical training, too. There should be people to work with or work for in order to gain experience. So while receiving your own training you train others or while being helped you can help others. Of course you cannot wait until all your training and learning are complete for you to start your teaching. If you try to teach others without having any knowledge of the subject you want to teach you make a fool of yourself. While learning you can teach and while teaching you can learn. In the final analysis all depends on an individual’s development and Kamma.
IS THERAVADA BUDDHISM FUNDAMENTALIST?
In a religious sense the word "fundamentalism" is taken to mean a strict adherence to traditional, orthodox principles which are held to be fundamental to the faith. In particular, it refers to a belief that the scriptures are literally and absolutely true. Unfortunately, religious fundamentalism has got itself a bad name in some places because its supporters are regarded as intolerant fanatics, who insist on the closest adherence to the letter of the scripture and permit no deviation from what they regard as the one and only true path.
To what extent is it fair to say that Theravada Buddhists are also fundamentalists? As the most conservative or orthodox school, great emphasis is placed on the Pali canon. This body of texts is traced back to the First Council which was held three months after the death of the Buddha. At this council 500 enlightened monks (known as theras) rehearsed all the Buddha’s teachings and agreed on a definitive version of them. This was then committed to memory and handed down from generation to generation of monks by oral tradition until it was first committed to writing in the first century B.C. Theravada means literally the "teaching of the elders (theras)" and the first council is regarded as the authentic source of the tradition.
Since that time the Theravada has held steadfastly to these teachings. No changes have been made to these texts. In fact, even at the time of the first council, there was discussion about whether the monks would be right to carry out an instruction given by the Buddha shortly before his death that, "You may, if you wish, abolish some of the minor rules". As Venerable Ananda had not asked the Buddha precisely which rules he had in mind, Venerable Kassapa said at the council that it would be best to leave all the rules intact. Since that time monks have been punctilious in observing the rules laid down in the vinaya without alteration or amendment.
The greatest importance is attached to the Buddha’s teaching - the Dhamma. Not long after the Parinibbana (final passing away) of the Buddha, the brahmin Vassakara, the chief minister in Magadha, asked the venerable Ananda, "Is there, good Ananda, even one monk who was designated by the good Gotama saying: `After my passing away this one will be your support’, and to whom you might have recourse now?"
"There is not even one monk, brahmin, who was designated by the Lord who knew and saw the perfected one, fully Self-Awakened One, saying: `After my passing this one will be your support’, and to whom we might have recourse now."
"But is there even one monk, Ananda, who is agreed upon by the Order and designated by a number of monks who are elders, saying: `After the Lord’s passing this one will be our support’, and to whom we might have recourse now?"
"There is not even one monk, brahmin, who is agreed upon by the Order.... and to whom we might have recourse now."
"But as you are without a support, good Ananda, what is the cause of your unity?"
"We, brahmin, are not without support; we have a support, brahmin, Dhamma is the support."
"......Indeed the revered ones do not deal with us, it is the Dhamma that deals with us." (Gopaka Moggallana Sutta, Middle Length Sayings III,108)
During the last 2,500 years, the Pali canon has been held in the greatest respect by all Theravada Buddhists. Its minutest details have been the subject of intense academic study.
So on the face of it, there seem to be ample grounds for believing that the Theravada tradition would develop into a staunchly fundamentalist teaching, adhering strictly to the literal texts of the Pali canon. To see why this has not happened we need to look more closely at what it was that the Buddha taught.
First of all, the nature of the Dhamma is emphatically non-fundamentalist. Two of its qualities are sanditthiko "to be self-realised" and ehipassiko "open to investigation".
The Buddha was never dogmatic about his teachings. Indeed, he said that just as a goldsmith tests gold, by cutting, burnishing and polishing it in order to establish its purity, so we should test his teachings for ourselves and not accept them merely because he said so.
There is his famous discourse to the Kalamas. They came to the Buddha and said, "Sir, there are some recluses and brahmanas who visit Kesaputta [their local town]. They explain and illumine only their own doctrines, and despise, condemn and spurn others’ doctrines. Then come other recluses and brahmanas, and they, too, in their turn, explain and illumine only their own doctrines, and despise, condemn and spurn others’ doctrines. But, for us, sir, we have always doubt and perplexity as to who among these venerable recluses and brahmanas spoke the truth, and who spoke falsehood."
The Buddha’s reply shows just why a fundamentalist approach is completely foreign to his teachings. "Yes, Kalamas, it is proper that you have doubt, that you have perplexity, for a doubt has arisen in a matter which is doubtful.
"Now, look you Kalamas, do not be led by hearsay [i.e. thinking that thus have I heard it for a long time], or tradition [i.e. thinking that it has thus been handed down through many generations], or rumours [i.e. believing what others say without any investigation]. Be not led by the authority of religious texts, nor by mere logic or inference, nor by considering appearances, nor by the delight in speculative opinions, nor by seeming possibilities [i.e. that which seems acceptable], nor by the idea: `this is our teacher’ [this includes the Buddha himself]. But, O Kalamas, when you know for yourselves that certain things are immoral, these things are blameworthy, these things are censured by the wise, these things, when performed and undertaken conduce to ruin and sorrow - then indeed do you reject them. When you know for yourselves - these things are moral, these things are blameless, these things are praised by the wise, these things when performed and undertaken conduce to well-being and happiness - then do live and act accordingly." (Anguttara-nikaya, I, 65)
We should not become attached to the scriptures or, indeed, any other aspect of the Buddha’s teaching. He compared his teaching to a raft, which is used for crossing over a river, not for carrying around. He said that if a man were on a journey and made a raft in order to cross over a river, the raft would indeed have been of great help to him, but this does not mean that he should henceforth carry the raft with him. After it has served its purpose, it should be abandoned. (Alagaddupama-sutta, Majjhima-nikaya, II, 22.) Similarly, his teachings should be relinquished once they have served their purpose, i.e. attaining the ultimate aim, Nibbana.
The Buddha did not say that he taught "Buddhism"; this is a term which has been introduced later by his followers. He said that he taught "the Truth". Reality is direct knowledge and understanding, it is not based on any theory or dogma. The texts are our guide to understanding the Truth, but they should not be confused with the Truth.
GO TO FRONT PAGE
Ven. Tawalama Bandula