JOURNAL OF THE LONDON BUDDHIST VIHARA
|ISSUE No. 18 MAY 2001 B. E. 2545 ISSN 1368-1516|
INSIDE THIS ISSUE
by Most Venerable Dr. Medagama Vajiragnana,
At the time of the Buddha there lived a beautiful Brahmin lady named Magandiya. She later became the chief consort of King Udena. She had a grudge against the Buddha, because she had heard that the Buddha was speaking scornfully about beauty. When the Buddha was going on his alms round (pindapata) in the city she bribed the townspeople to ill-treat him. So those people reviled the Buddha with unbearable, harsh words like, "You are a thief, a fool, a mad man, an ox, etc." Those words were so harsh that it hurt the feelings of Venerable Ananda, the chief attendant of the Buddha.
He approached the Buddha and suggested, " Oh, Venerable sir, these people are reviling you by using unbearable, filthy words hard to endure. Let’s leave this place and go to another city."
The Buddha said, "Suppose we were reviled even in that place where would we go then?" "We would go to another city," said Venerable Ananda. Thereupon the Buddha advised Venerable Ananda that a problem should be solved wherever it arises. A person cannot run away from a problem. One has to face it with fortitude. Therefore, said the Buddha, "This problem should be solved here. Only then we can proceed to another city."
Thereupon the Buddha said, "As an elephant in the battlefield withstands the arrows shot from a bow, even so will I endure abuse; verily most people are undisciplined." (Dhp320)
This little story beautifully illustrates how one should practise the quality of tolerance effectively so that it is of benefit to oneself and to others. The person who has tolerance forgives others for all kinds of injury, insult, abuse and censure. He forgives them with his body, as he never thinks of striking them; he forgives with his speech, as he never utters harsh words; and he forgives with his mind, harbouring no anger or evil thoughts.
The Buddha advised his disciples, "If anyone were to speak ill of me or of my teaching, or of my disciples, do not be upset nor perturbed, for this kind of reaction will only cause you harm. On the other hand, if anyone were to speak well of me, my teachings and my disciples, do not be overjoyed, thrilled or elated, for this kind of reaction wil only be an obstacle in forming correct judgement. If you are elated, you cannot judge whether the qualities praised are real and actually found in me, my teachings and my disciples".
Khanti in Pali means tolerance, patience, forbearance and endurance. It is the opposite of anger, of hatred, and malice. It is patience in the face of pain and hardship, the pardoning of wrongs done to one.
We have to encounter many occasions in our daily life where we have to practise tolerance by enduring pain, insults, abuse, threats and provocation. If we return violence, there will be more violence, enmity gives rise to more enmity, revenge begets more revenge, resentment and hatred create more resentment and hatred. We can overcome all these negative attitudes by cultivating positive qualities like patience, love and tolerance.
The spirit of tolerance has been the most striking feature in Buddhist civilisation. Because of this cherished ideal Buddhism is free from the blemishes of persecution, violence or wars.
in the name of religion. There has been no attempt to convert people forcefully to Buddhism. But Buddhism spread peacefully all over the world depending on the power of persuasion and tolerance.
People become intolerant due to pride which is a very destructive and demoralising characteristic. This is what is called Ego. Due to their achievements in education, business, sports, arts and crafts, even in physical appearance some people, like Magandiya, tend to feel that they are higher or superior to others. They exalt themselves, belittling and deprecating others. They criticise others for everything, creating disharmony among the members of society.
The source of all troubles, violence, and conflicts in the world is Ego. Man is blinded by it so that he cannot see things clearly. He sees everything in the light of what he wants it to be. If there is a slightest difference, he gets annoyed and creates anxiety in the minds of others. He is never ready to listen to others, but wants others listen to him and becomes very unpopular in society and lives in misery because of the lack of tolerance.
"The dominion of the ego in the emotional sphere appears most conspicuously in the weight of the unwholesome roots - greed, hatred, and delusion - as determinants of conduct. Because the ego is essentially a vacuum, the illusion of ego-hood generates a nagging sense of insufficiency. We feel oppressed by an aching incompleteness, an inner lack requiring constantly to be filled. The result is greed, a relentless drive to reach out and devour whatever we can - of pleasure, wealth, power, and fame, in a never successful attempt to bring satisfaction. When we meet with frustration we react with hatred, the urge to destroy the obstacle preventing our satisfaction. If the obstructions to our satisfaction prove too powerful for the tactics of aggression, a third strategy will be used; dullness or delusion, an attitude of deliberate unawareness adopted as a shell to hide our vulnerability to pain." (Bhikkhu Bodhi, "Nourishing the Roots" Kandy, 1978 Wheel No.259/260).
When events do not meet our expectations, we may become impatient, angry, tense, frustrated and suffer a great deal of pain in our hearts. This is because of Ego, strong attachment to the idea of Self. One becomes bad tempered or intolerant because of selfishness. A selfish person thinks that every other man is his rival; he is envious of their success, covets their possessions.
Tolerance or patience (khanti) is a very high moral quality that is regarded as one of the Bodhisatta ideals (paramita) which one who aspires to become Buddha must perfect. In the khantivadi jataka the Bodhisatta, living harmlessly in a forest, was slaughtered by a maddened king, about whom it is said in the story:
"In olden times there was a monk,
Of patience he was paragon;
He kept his patience even when
The king of Kasi murdered him."
Even though our patience is not tried by such extreme events, yet we have to tolerate heat and cold, hunger and thirst, pin pricks and sharp words and the frailties of arrogant fools. Tolerance helps us to avoid hasty judgements and it is the mark of a good Buddhist who has applied the Dhamma to his life. He has a ‘cool-heart’ which cannot be upset by the impressions entering the mind from the six sense doors. Tolerance has as its basis loving-kindness and equanimity (metta & upekkha). We see loving-kindness as the power to forgive those who hurt us and as a protection against the effects of pain. This helps us to eliminate the evil emotion of anger.
Equanimity (upekkha) is ‘viewing justly’ or ‘looking impartially’. One day the Buddha was invited to a certain house for dana, but he was bombarded with filthy language and called, "swine, brute, and ox". However, he was not offended and did not retaliate. Calmly he asked his host what he would do when guests visited his house. The host replied that he would prepare a meal for them. "And what if they did not eat it?" asked the Buddha. "In that case we ourselves would eat the meal," replied the host. "Well, good brother, you have invited me to your house for dana, but instead you entertained me with a torrent of abuse. I do not accept it; please take it back." From that time on, the offender’s character was completely reformed.
One should first train oneself in elementary principles and social etiquette before talking about higher precepts. By associating with good, wise friends one becomes a great and cultured person, who leads a peaceful happy life. We should cultivate tolerance for it helps us to move ahead, overcoming all difficulties like an elephant which goes to the battlefield moving ahead overcoming all the obstacles. Live happily and peacefully without interfering with the affairs of others, realising that no man is infallible. The weakness you find in others can be found in you, too.
When is man wise?
byVenerable Dr. Walpola Rahula
The aim of life according to Buddhism is the attainment of panna which is generally translated as "wisdom". But the Pali term panna (Sanskrit : prajna) connotes a deeper and wider sense than the English word wisdom. Panna or wisdom, according to Buddhism, is not only the ability to see things objectively as they are, not only perceiving the truth, but also attaining complete freedom from selfish desire, hatred and violence, and the unlimited capacity to love all living beings without discrimination. This wisdom should not be confused with practical common sense, or with the accumulation of factual knowledge, or with whatever can be measured by intelligence tests.
The Buddhist discipline aims at producing not a lop-sided man, but a well-balanced full man, at developing the whole man. Apart from the physical well-being, which is an axiomatic basic requisite, man has two other things which he must cultivate and develop equally and simultaneously in order that he may become a full being. These two are the heart and the brain. I use these two terms symbolically, the heart to represent love, compassion, sympathy, charity, and such noble qualities on the emotional side or qualities of the heart, and the brain to represent the intellectual side, such as the reason, judgement, and imagination, or the qualities of the mind.
If one develops only the emotional side neglecting the intellectual, one may become a good-hearted fool. Or if one develops only the intellectual side ignoring the emotional, one may turn out to be a hard-hearted savant, egoistic, dry, without feeling for his fellow beings. Therefore, to be a well-balanced, complete man, one has to develop both sides equally and simultaneously. That is the aim of the Buddhist panna, in it the equalities of the heart and the brain are inseparably linked and blended together.
The prevailing system of public education, throughout the world in general, aims at producing men and women with certain intellectual discipline for professions either general or highly specialised. While this system lays great emphasis on intellectual discipline and efficiency it too frequently ignores one half of man, that is the moral and spiritual qualities of the heart and thus it produces lop-sided and unbalanced half persons, who are either without equilibrium and harmony, always in conflict with themselves and with society, or else who are uncritically content with themselves as they are and with the status quo of society. To think that the development of the other half of man belongs to religions and not to the system of general education is a grievous fault. The word religion is unpalatable to most people today and this for good reasons, one of which is religion is identified with outmoded, parochial practices and traditions. The noble teachings of Gotama or Jesus are not the monopoly of any particular religion, but they belong to humanity as their common cultural heritage.
Modern science and technology have produced wonderful machines which can work many times more efficiently and more accurately than human beings, but they are machines without wisdom. One wonders whether our system of education also is not producing human machines, but less efficient and less accurate. It is mostly these human machines without wisdom that are managing the affairs of the world.
I said the Buddhist aim of life is the attainment of wisdom. Now, what is this wisdom? It consists of two elements, one is Right Understanding, the other is Right Thought.
Right understanding is fourfold: The first is to understand the problem of our life as it is, to understand our sorrows and joys, pleasures and pains, to recognise our existence as imperfect, unsatisfactory, full of conflicts, always in need of improvement.
The second is to understand that the cause of these problems and conflicts in our life is our own selfish desire due to our false idea of self, and the expansion of this self-centredness to every dimension of our life.
The third is to realise that it is possible to attain peace, freedom, liberation from these painful conflicts and problems of our existence. We are not hopelessly trapped in an eternal torment from which there is no exit.
The fourth is to understand that there is a way to attain that peace, freedom, liberation from present conflict, and that this way consists of courageous moral, spiritual and intellectual discipline and development.
These are called the Four Noble Truths. The scheme of Four Noble Truths may be applied to any problem or conflict in our daily life. First of all we must clearly understand the problem or the conflict, and then seek to discover its cause or origin. Thirdly, we must see whether freedom from this conflict is possible, and finally if it is possible, then we must persevere to find the way to realise that end.
Now, what is Right Thought, the second element of wisdom? It consists of the thought of freedom from selfish desires, the thought of self-abnegation or selflessness, thoughts of non-violence, love and compassion for all living beings without discrimination. Here the idea of self disappears, and in true love there is no place for self.
Even from this extremely brief description of an enormous subject, one may see that wisdom, as conceived by the Buddha, comprises not only insight into Truth, but also selfless and unlimited love and compassion for all beings. It is free from all thoughts of self, hatred and violence. Thus the Pali word panna with its complete connotation might be translated as wisdom-love. Any thought of selfish desire, ill-will, hatred and violence is the result of a lack of this wisdom-love in all spheres of life, whether individual, social or political.
One characteristic of this wisdom is freedom of thought, freedom from all prejudices - religious, national, racial, social or political - not to be a slave to any system or any tradition even and especially not to an intellectual one. Intellectual slavery is difficult to recognise and hard to get rid of much more than any other form of slavery. This slavery is perpetuated today not only in the minds of ordinary men, but also in the minds of so-called intellectuals, through mass propaganda by the press, the radio, the television, the cinema and even by some books. Men’s minds can be systematically and regularly indoctrinated and enslaved by these mass media.
The freedom of thought, free inquiry without fanaticism, bigotry and dogmatism advocated by the Buddha is unheard of elsewhere in the history of religions. Once a group of people, called Kalamas, who were in doubt about a certain matter went to see the Buddha. The Buddha told them:
"It is proper for you, Kalamas, to doubt, to be uncertain; uncertainty has arisen in you about a thing that is doubtful. Come, Kalamas. Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing, nor upon tradition, nor upon rumour nor upon what is in a scripture, nor upon surmise, nor upon an axiom, nor upon specious reasoning, nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over, nor upon another’s seeming ability or authority, not upon the consideration:
‘This is our teacher’. But, Kalamas, when you know for yourselves that certain things are unwholesome, bad and wrong, then give them up.......... And when you know for yourselves that certain things are wholesome and good, then accept them and follow them."
The Buddha told his disciples that they should examine even the Tathagata (the Buddha) himself, so that they might be fully convinced of the true value of the master whom they followed.
The Buddha’s teaching is described as ehipassika, inviting you to come and see but not to come and believe, which means his is a teaching of free inquiry and investigation leading to wisdom without dogmatism.
The mind of a seeker after wisdom must be free from attachment to all fixed views and theories. The Buddha said, "To be attached to one thing (or to a certain view) and to look down upon all other things (or views) as inferior - this the wise men call a strong bondage."
Once the mind is fettered to any dogmatism, whether religious, scientific, social or political, it cannot move; it stagnates and rots there. One of the signs of wisdom is unfettered freedom and openness.
Once the Buddha told a group of Brahmins: "It is not proper for a wise man who respects truth to come to the conclusion : ‘This alone is truth, and everything else is false." He further explained that a man might have a faith or believe in something. He might say that it is his faith or belief. So far he respects the truth. But if he proceed to the conclusion that what he believes is alone the truth, and everything else is false, then he has no respect for truth.
As a corollary to this freedom of thought, the spirit of tolerance and understanding is regarded to be one of the most cherished ideals of Buddhist culture. Though some Buddhist countries have gone to war for political or other reasons, there is not a single example of religious persecution or the shedding of blood in converting people to Buddhism, or in its propagation during its long history of 2500 years. It spread peacefully all over the continent of Asia without violence.
In the 3rd century B.C., the great Buddhist Emperor Asoka of India, following this noble example of tolerance and understanding, honoured and supported all other religions in his vast empire and declared in one of his Edicts:
"One should not honour only one’s own religion and condemn the religions of others but one should honour others’ religions for this or that reason. So doing one helps one’s own religion to grow and renders service to the religions of others too. Let all listen, and be willing to listen, to the doctrines professed by others."
This spirit of freedom of thought, tolerance and sympathetic understanding based on wisdom-love may be considered as the most important lesson that the world today can learn from Buddhism. It is necessary for us today, more than ever before to listen to, and understand wisely not only religious doctrines, but also social, economic, and political doctrines professed and practised by others.
Another essential quality of wisdom is the realisation of the universal laws of change and impermanence, conditionality and relativity. According to Buddhist philosophy, there is nothing permanent, ever-lasting, unchanging, absolute in this world. Everything in this world including our life is conditioned, relative, interdependent, impermanent and is in a flux of continual change.
In the ancient Buddhist texts, it is quite often mentioned that when one comprehends the truth, when one attains wisdom, one realises that: "Whatever has the nature of arising (of coming into being) all that has the nature of cessation (destruction )." (yam kinci samudayadhammam sabbam tam nirodha dhammam).
This means that whatever it may be, whether a thing, or a concept, or a system, or an organisation, or even the universe, if it has the nature of coming into being, the nature of being produced, it has also the nature of its own decay and destruction. The Marxist dictum that the Capitalist society is born with the germ of its own destruction is only partially true. According to Buddhist philosophy not only the Capitalist society, but any society including Communist society, is born with the germ of its own destruction. That is to say, that with the change of man, with man’s evolution, the social system which he had created in the past, also must now change, yielding place to a new system which man again produces in keeping with his own change and evolution. No social, political, or economic system, whether Capitalist, or Communist, can remain as final and ideal forever. It must continually undergo change and transformation. This is what one may rightly call the permanent revolution.
No power can stop this change. People who do not understand this truth, this universal law of change, lament, grieve, become desperate, when they see that values they cherish, whether personal, social or political, are changing and disappearing. Throughout history people lamented and cried in this manner, but they could not stop the change. The wise man understands this universal truth, the law of change and impermanence and does not lament but acts and advances forward with vision and understanding. The part of wisdom is to co-operate with the inevitable.
Once the Buddha was asked the following question: "There is tangle (confusion, conflict) inside and tangle outside. People are entangled in confusion. Who can disentangle this tangle (or who can settle this conflict)?"
The Buddha answered: "He who is established in ethical conduct, he who develops mental discipline and wisdom, that energetic wise man can settle this conflict."
It is only fully developed, right-thinking men, endowed with "wisdom-love", who can disentangle this tangle."There is no light equal to wisdom" (natthi pannasama abha). (The Maha Bodhi, Aug-Oct. 1978)
The world is filled with suffering; its cause is desire, selfishness, the power of the illusory self. To remove an unwanted effect it is commonsense to remove the cause. The ending of suffering, therefore, is achieved by the elimination of desire. But how? By treading a Way, a Middle Way between all extremes. So taught the All-Enlightened One, and he later described the Way as an eightfold Way, for although perfection in any one step is perfection in all, yet there is an orderly sequence in the task of self-perfection: the higher stages of mind-development, for example, must wait, or should wait, for the purification of motive lest, when achieved, they are used to selfish ends.
The Middle Way, however, is no mere compromise between the "pairs of opposites." It is not a middle way between good and evil, nor between too much effort and too little. The key to its nature is in the word translated "Right." "Right" Views, "Right" Motive, "Right" Action and the like mean these things at their purest and best, and the Sanskrit word samma has affinities with the Latin summus, meaning highest or best. When a thing is "right," (and the etymology of this word is itself of the greatest interest), it is right in place, time, author, purpose and method of doing. It is done by the right person at the right time in the right place, for the right reason and in the right way. Hence the saying that there are two ways of doing everything, the right and the wrong way. As a car driver, I like the analogy of changing gears. When tried too soon or too late there is a grinding of the delicate cogs of adjustment; when done (without "effort") at exactly the right time, the shifting relationship of parts makes way for the "perfect" act, and a new arrangement of parts is born. Here is the motiveless act of the Bhagavad Gita, and the Taoist’s WuWei. So with each of the steps; each must be "right" of its kind.
The Middle Way is far beyond the field of ethics. Ethics, the right relations with one’s fellow men, is an essential part of progress, but the ethically perfect man may be a long way still from Enlightenment. When I joined the Buddhist movement in England forty years ago I was told that the Buddhist was known by the fact that he was a vegetarian, and wore no fur. Here is a principle sadly gone astray, a deviation from the Middle Path to Enlightenment. Ahimsa. the doctrine of "no-harm," of doing no injury to any living thing, is excellent Buddhism. But it is far more important to think harmlessly than to create rules for harmless action, and it is more important still to think creatively and helpfully. The Buddhist about to enter the final Path will, as a matter of course, have achieved the control of sense desire and thought which will make it impossible for him to injure his fellow beings, but "cease to do evil’ is only the first of a threefold law. The second step is to "learn to do good," and the third to "cleanse your own heart," and thus develop awareness of the already possessed Enlightenment. First, clean the bulb by all means; then make way for the Light.
The Middle Way is not the life of the crank, still less of the egotist. Before one can be extraordinary one must learn to be extra-ordinary, to be as nothing in the eyes of the world. Personal ambition is a bar to spiritual progress, not a way to it, and the great men of the world have no desire for power in any of its worldly forms. The Way is a way of experience, and to the Buddhist all that happens is material for progress. We can learn something from everything, and "there is nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so."
The first step on the Path is obviously Right Views. There must be a reason for setting out on a long and tiring journey. A knowledge of the Signs of Being and the Four Noble Truths provides such a reason. Right Motive or Aims is the second step. At first men do what they do because it pays, because it seems to serve the interests of the self. Yet this is selfish, even if it is called "acquiring merit." A nobler ideal is the service of life, of the common-weal, and this involves an expansion of the self which is served, an enlargement, as it were, of the field of selfishness. Last of all comes such a sense of wholeness that action becomes motiveless. Thereafter there is just an awareness that something should be done, and the time and place and means of doing it. It is done, and there is no sense of purpose, still less of reward.
And so, with a right comprehension of first principles, and a right purpose in view, the pilgrim begins the treading of the Middle Way. It is interesting that the first fruits of its treading is given as Right Speech. There are many reasons for this. We can wound with the tongue more subtly and more deeply than with a knife. A knife wound hurts the flesh but slander, bitter criticism, and even a deliberate snub can terribly hurt the mind. But nearly as important is the task of diminishing the loss of power which comes from idle chattering. Silence is more than golden; it is power, and in the ideal there should be silence unless there is something useful to say. It is not for nothing that the fourth of the five Precepts which a Buddhist repeats on many occasions is the vow to abstain from evil speech in all its forms.
Right Action is the key to progress. We are a restless, active people, not easily trained to contemplation or devotion. But we understand good deeds, and the Dhammapada is a famous hand-book for the practice of right action, even as the Bhagavad Gita proclaims the philosophic principles on which right action is founded. In the perfect act there is no room for self, and where there is no self to receive the consequence of an act, the law of karma, the law which brings us back to earth again and again for fresh experience, has ceased to operate. Hence the saying that the perfect act has no result.
Right Livelihood is a logical extension of the ideal of the perfect act. One’s working day, and the reasonable reward attaching to it, should be in the first place harmless. A Buddhist would not be a butcher, and there are other employments, ranking highly in the social scale, which it is difficult to defend from the Buddhist point of view. If possible, one’s job should be one which is helpful to others. Healing, teaching and all forms of social service are clearly a higher form of livelihood than manufacturing something which is of no service on the Way to any man. But we all have our individual karma to perform, and duties have a way of conflicting.
Right Effort is important, for wrong effort, particularly on the later stages of the Path, may do vast damage to the doer and to the receiver of the deed. It is not enough to "mean well." Karma takes an accurate record of all actions, "good" or "bad," and an act done with the best intentions will, if wrong in fact, bring painful consequences. Thus a mother may love her children, but love unillumined with common sense may do great harm to the child. Much folly is committed in the name of love, and those who think they love their neighbours, but in fact merely love interfering in their lives, bring hatred on themselves for their mis-spent effort.
The last two stages on the Eightfold Path are Right Concentration and Right Samadhi, an untranslatable term for the highest state of consciousness which precedes Nirvana. Concentration is the forging of the instrument, the acquiring of control of the mind until, like a searchlight, it can be used to illumine the subject chosen, and to exclude all others from the field of consciousness. Just as the modern searchlight throws a beam where chosen, and can be turned on, moved about and then turned off at will, so must the trained, controlled and developed mind be an instrument in the hands of will. One cannot meditate until one has learned to concentrate, for meditation is the right use of the mind as an instrument for Enlightenment. First must come control of sense, that is, of the mind’s reaction to outside stimuli. Then comes emotional control, the power to refuse to react to the forces of doubt, delight, conceit, despair and many more which surge into the beginner’s mind. Then at last comes mind-control, and the task is the task of a life-time.
Meditation is the profound concentration of the poised and directed mind on the seed or object of thought. To be useful it should be regular, for the mind works easily in habits, and the place, the posture, the time and the "devices" used, should be, at any rate in the early stages, the same. Later, all devices will be discarded, and the mind will "meditate" with ease in any place or time. The level of consciousness will have begun to rise, and its habitual focus-point be higher than the average level of those about one. Sense, emotion and thought will be under some sort of control, and a sense of synthesis, of the wholeness of life, begin to replace the destructive, analytic habits of the mind. When this much is achieved there will be time enough to consider the higher stages of the Middle Way, for this is a Middle Way wherein the whole man must develop equally, and no stage on the Path can be avoided. It is easy to lose oneself in dreams of a far ideal, but while the head is lost in the clouds, the feet must still "walk on," and Nirvana is a state of consciousness beyond description by the intellect and therefore beyond words, blind symbols of the intellect, to describe. Yet Nirvana is not here nor there, nor placed in time. Each moment of the day we enter Nirvana whenever a higher thought replaces a lower or feeling guides an action into "right" and therefore nobler ends. Nirvana is no far off heaven; it is the state when life is "rightly" lived, and may be won in its entirety, as the Buddha won it, on earth.
So much for the first two of the Triple-Gem of Buddhism, the Buddha and his Teaching. There remains the Sangha, the Order which he founded, first of men and later of women followers. The Buddhist Bhikkhu, clad in the Yellow Robe which meets the eye all over the Buddhist East, is no mere "priest." He makes no claim to stand between man and his divinity, still less between a man and the God in whom, as a Person, he does not believe. But he has left the world of men to tread more strenuously than other men the Middle Way, and to the extent that he is an example to all men of the Buddhist life he is respected and revered. He is the teacher of children and the teacher of men. His words are those of the Blessed One, his deeds an attempt to live in accord with them. So long as he lives a self-controlled, unworldly life he advances the cause of Buddhism. When he fails, from laziness, or from dabbling in mere wordly affairs and politics, he is unfaithful to the Robe he wears. But the Sangha is still the shrine of the Dhamma which the Buddha gave mankind, and so long as the Triple Gem is a force in the world, so long will its followers tread the Middle Way to the heart’s enlightenment.
Peace to all Beings! (BUDDHA ENSHRINED 18 OCT. 1964)
Recently there has been much publicity and outcry concerning the destruction by the Taleban of the Buddhist statues in the Bamiyan Valley, Afghanistan.
The Buddhist influence in this part of the world can be traced back as far at Emperor Asoka, whose inscriptions have been found at Lampaka and Kandahar. In the first century C.E. the area was ruled by King Kanishka (78-144 C.E.), the greatest king of the Kushan dynasty, and it was Kanishka who convened the Fourth Council in Kashmir about 100 C.E. The area was visited by the Chinese pilgrims Fa-Hien around 400 C.E. and Hsuan-tsang in 630 C.E. Buddhist culture was well established in Bamiyan and reached its height in the 3rd to 5th centuries C.E. It survived for several more centuries after this. The rulers of Bamiyan embraced Islam in the 8th century, but Buddhist monasteries were still flourishing one hundred years later. Legend has it that Genghis Khan put the entire population of Bamiyan to the sword.
Current interest has centred on the Bamiyan Valley which lies north-west of the capital, Kabul, at an altitude of 2,590 metres. There are many man-made caves, carved into the sandstone cliffs which extend for more than a mile to the north of the town. It is possible that these were used as temples and the interiors of some of them bear traces of fine wall-paintings, similar to those found in caves in Sinkiang in China. At either end of this complex, two huge Buddha statues were carved from the living rock; at the eastern end, one image stood 120 feet high and at the western end stood an even larger figure, 175 feet high. They were finished with fine plaster and when Hsuan-tsang saw the figures they were decorated with gold-leaf and fine jewels. The smaller statue has been dated to the second or third century C.E., and the larger one may be two hundred years later.
The Taleban condemned these statues as "idolatrous". Buddhism died out in Afghanistan about 1,000 years ago and since that time this site has not been used by Buddhists for acts of devotion. So the question of idolatry does not really come into it because the statues were not being used by Buddhists in any way, "idolatrous" or not. For the past 1,200 years the Muslim inhabitants of Afghanistan have lived quite happily with these relics of their Buddhist past. This is a long period during which these statues have survived the onslaught of the elements and have been preserved by the local inhabitants, but now their rulers have shown themselves to have a different point of view and ordered their destruction.
How should we Buddhists react to this? There are two points to bear in mind. The first is that one of the Buddha’s main teachings is anicca (impermanence) and indeed his last words were "impermanent are all conditioned things". So these statues are of course subject to this law and we must expect that sooner or later they will decay or be destroyed. The second point is that the Buddha counselled his followers not to react against how other people might speak of him or his teaching. "If anyone were to speak ill of me or my teaching, or of my disciples, do not be upset or perturbed, for this kind of reaction will only cause you harm. On the other hand, if anyone were to speak well of me, my teachings and my disciples, do not be overjoyed, thrilled or elated, for this kind of reaction will only be an obstacle in forming correct judgement. If you are elated, you cannot judge whether the qualities praised are real and actually found in me, my teachings and my disciples." (Brahmajala Sutta, Digha Nikaya, I.6) The actions of the Taleban do not affect the truth of the Buddha’s teachings. "It is as a man who looks up and spits at heaven - spittle does not soil the heaven, but it comes back and defiles his own person." (Anguttara Nikaya Vol. I, p. 79)
So, as Buddhists, we should not be too attached to these statues, but we can also say that the statues should be treasured not so much for their specific importance to Buddhists, but for their significance as works of art, which are of value to all mankind. The world is the poorer for their destruction and one does not need to be a Buddhist to regret their loss.
The real losers in all this are perhaps the Muslims themselves. The Taleban do not represent the entire Muslim community, world-wide. In fact their actions have been clearly condemned by at least one leading Muslim in this country as the despicable acts of ignorant, ill-educated people and as a crime in Islam. Unfortunately, the actions of this tiny minority of ignorant people have created much bad publicity for the entire Muslim community. Although some Muslims have been deeply troubled by these events and have expressed their deep sense of regret, there has been a tendency to condemn all Muslims as wrong-doers. This is a most unfortunate consequence as it tarnishes the image of Islam and does nothing to promote tolerance and understanding among the followers of different faiths.
MR. COLIN FERNANDO
It is with profound sorrow that we record the passing away of Mr. Collin Fernando on 4th March, 2001 after a brief illness in Moratuwa, Sri Lanka. He was a good friend of the London Buddhist Vihara.
The late Mr. Fernando came from a distinguished Sri Lankan Buddhist family. He him self was a devoted Buddhist. He was a very popular figure who had many friends, They admired him and valued his friendship.
The funeral took place at Uswatta, Moratuwa, Sri Lanka. He is survived by his loving wife, Corine, and two daughters, Aminta and Melani.
MR DIPAK KUMAR MUTSUDDI
He passed away peacefully on 2nd May 2001 at the age of 63. Mr. Mutsuddi was born in Burma (Myanmar) and became a leading figure in the Bangladeshi Buddhist community in UK. He tirelessly encouraged and inspired others to attend religious functions at the London Buddhist Vihara and other temples, and promoted the Dhamma.
The funeral took place on 12th May at the London crematorium. He is survived by his loving wife Diptee Moyee, two sons Rana and Panna and a daughter Rina.
DR. (MRS.) SIRIMA SUBESINGHE
We announce with deep sorrow the sudden death of a generous and faithful supporter of the London Buddhist Vihara, Dr. Mrs. Sirima Subesinghe who passed away 18th April 2001.
She was associated with the Vihara for many years, and generously supported the Vihara. She was a good Buddhist who followed Buddhist principles for success in life. Although she lived far away, she was a frequent visitor to the Vihara.
The funeral was held on 26th April at Rowden crematorium, Leeds amidst a large crowd of mourners. She is survived by her loving husband Dr. Disampathy, son Samitha and daugher Amali.
DR. DOUGLAS A. GUNAWARDENE
We record with sadness the death of Dr. Douglas Gunawardene who passed away on 6th April 2001 at the age of 68 following a brief illness. He was known as Dago among his friends.
The death of Dago came as a great shock to his family and friends. He was a kind and brilliant healer to his patients and he was a respected teacher in the field of medicine for over 25 years in Sri Lanka and the UK.
The funeral was held on 11th April at the Colchester crematorium. He is survived by his loving wife Joyce and 5 children, Mihiri, Charith, Druvi, Lilangi and Sayomi.
May they attain Nibbana!
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Ven. Tawalama Bandula