JOURNAL OF THE LONDON BUDDHIST VIHARA
|ISSUE No. 20 MAY 2002 B. E. 2546 ISSN 1368-1516|
INSIDE THIS ISSUE
UNITY AND PEACE
by Most Venerable Dr. Medagama Vajiragnana,
First of all we have to accept the fact that man cannot live in complete isolation from his fellows. It is through mutual dependence upon one another that we are civilised, social and ethical beings, each having a specific relationship to each other. Each person has a different role to play within the order of things. Duty, responsibility and religious ethics have no meaning if there is no society. Each of us has a set of duties and responsibilities to perform and the well-being of society depends on how each individual member functions within it.
The world is a society of beings who depend utterly upon one another. We can do nothing, nor can we exist or grow either materially or spiritually, unless we are committed to one another. The function of all social bonds is to provide a life-path both as a realistic discipline and as an opportunity for fulfilment, which guides and rewards at every stage from birth to death.
As human beings we are unique in our ability to see what is good. We can choose to put this into practice in our own speech and actions. We are able to develop the inner purity and strength to give, in all our relationships, what is needed by others. It is we who can create a safe society in which to live and grow.
Buddhism stresses man’s superiority over all others. Therefore it devolves upon him to live in harmony and in unity not only with his own species, but also with all other living things. Buddhism also recognises the oneness of the human species. The Buddha says that unlike in the case of different species of plants and different species of animals, there are no biological differences of genus among human beings (lingam jatimayam tesam, annamannam jatiyo - Sutta Nipata). From the biological point of view all men belong to one species. Whether they live in the West or in the East, whether they live in a Arctic or in the Antarctic, the differences are only in colour, hair, form, the shape of the head or the shape of the nose. Buddhism stresses the oneness of mankind and urges all men to be treated as members of one family irrespective of caste, creed or colour. Every man has his own dignity which should be recognised and respected.
Today we are living in a multiracial, multinational and multicultural world, no matter where we have chosen to live. In the past, communities felt that it was safe for them to live separately. But as people learned from the recent tragic events in the United States, today’s world requires us to think in terms of a global village. Therefore it is vitally important for us to have not only a basic knowledge of our own religion, but also an understanding of and respect for other faiths. Such mutual understanding and respect will lead us to peaceful and harmonious living in world society.
Dialogue is the most sensible and effective way of resolving differences and conflicts of interest amongst individuals or nations.
The spirit of interfaith dialogue should be as follows: I should not try to convert you to my beliefs and views, or me to your views. I should respect your beliefs and views, and you should respect my beliefs and views. You have the right to hold on to your views, I must respect that, and I have the right to hold on to mine and you should respect that. Just because another person holds different views from our own, there is no reason why we should disrespect or condemn him or be angry with him. As long as there is an attitude of disrespect or condemnation of others' views, there cannot be healthy unity or peace.
By studying the beliefs of others, we can come to see the common ground which we all share, and where there are differences we must be prepared to accept them. The Inter-Faith movement has grown hugely in the past few decades and I think this is a most important forum for the promotion of better understanding among the different religious communities now living in our multi-faith and multi-cultural society.
The Buddha has advised us to show equal compassion and kindness towards all living beings whatever their species. Yet he has acknowledged that human beings occupy the most important place among all living beings. He has declared that being born a human is one of the most difficult achievements (kiccho manussapatilabho - Dhammapada), and that birth as a human being is one of the rarest events (dullabham manussattan). The human life is of tremendous worth as it is only man who has the capacity and the possibility of gaining the highest state of perfection. This is why human life is considered the highest in the teachings of the Buddha.
Those who participate in working for unity and harmony should have a very high standard of human qualities, such as universal love, compassion, tolerance and understanding. This is why it is not an easy task. We are often dealing with attitudes which have been built up since childhood. It takes time for better understanding and trust to develop, and we must practise patience.
We have to learn how to love others without expecting anything in return. We call it Metta in Buddhism which means universal love or loving-kindness. It is the basis of unity and peace. It springs from a pure heart; it may be thought of as universal goodwill, a sincere wish for the welfare of all beings. Many different words have been used to translate metta into English, such as ‘love’, ‘loving-kindness’ and ‘universal love’, but metta has a much deeper sense than is conveyed by any of these words. It is the foundation of all good human qualities. In this kind of love there is no trace of personal attachment. It is an altruistic, friendly feeling which is entirely free from lustful desire.
We do not expect anything in return from those to whom we radiate this quality. They may not even know that we are radiating metta towards them, but by doing this we fill our own hearts with peace, happiness and a sense of unity.
We must develop a sense of universal responsibility and must learn to work for the benefit of ourselves as well as of all mankind.
The world community today is passing through a very critical period in human history. We have learned from the recent tragedies in New York that whatever happens in one part of the world will affect virtually the entire world, because the world is becoming increasingly interdependent. We cannot pretend that we are unaware of this.
Religion does not confine itself to the mere observance of rites and rituals guided by a set of beliefs. It means much more, it refers to a way of life that stimulates and guides a person towards a good life. The practice of a good life consists of Samacariya which means harmonious, peaceful living with one’s fellow beings. The word 'peace' means not the mere absence of strife but a positive state of harmony among people. It is therefore clear that both religion and peace and unity are inseparably linked together with the welfare of human beings.
Whatever doctrinal differences there may be among the various forms of religion, they all attempt to lead men away from evil and direct them in the path of righteousness.
"May all beings be happy and secure, may their hearts be wholesome!
"Whatever living beings there be - those mentally feeble or strong, physically long, stout or medium built, short, small or large, those seen or unseen; dwelling far or near; those who are born and those who are to be born, may all beings, without exception, be happy minded.
"Let none deceive another nor despise any person whatsoever in any place; in anger or illwill let one not wish any harm to another.
"Just as a mother would protect her only child, at the risk of her own life, even so, let one cultivate a boundless heart towards all beings.
"Let thoughts of infinite love pervade the whole world - above, below and around - without any obstruction, without any hatred, without any enmity.
"Whether standing, walking, sitting or lying down, as long as one is awake, this mindfulness should be developed; this - the wise say - is the highest conduct here."
the buddha's vesak message
by Venerable Piyadassi Maha Thera
Again, the Buddhist World commemorates the triple anniversary of Siddhartha Gauthama, the Buddha. To a follower of the Buddha there can be no greater or holier day than the Buddha Day. The heart of the Buddhist beats fast with gratitude as the Vesak full moon waxes and both young and old and the very babes throng the temples where with lowly heart and bowed head they worship with flowers, incense and light at the feet of the Master, the Lord of Compassion.
On this day of days all temples and sacred shrines are packed with pilgrims, and the mansions of the rich as well as the cottages of the poor are decked with the six-coloured Buddhist flag (the symbol of peace) with lanterns and flickering oil lamps in memory of the Buddha, the Light of the World. All that is right and good, long may it continue. But not thus alone do we truly revere the Buddha who showed us the way to deliverance.
Let us also remember and pay heed to the significant words of the Master uttered on a Vesak day exactly 2546 years ago. Addressing his personal attendant the Venerable Ananda, the Master said:
"Those who, Ananda, fulfil the greater and the lesser duties, they who are correct in life, walking according to the precepts— it is they who rightly honour, revere and venerate the Tathagata, (the Perfect One) with the worthiest homage.
Therefore, Ananda, be ye steady in the fulfilment of the greater and the lesser duties, and be ye correct in life, walking according to the precepts. Thus, Ananda, should you train yourselves."
Further said the Master:
"The doctrine and the discipline (dhamma-vinaya) which I have set forth and laid down for you let them after I am gone, be the teacher to you."
Yes, the Buddha is no more, but he has left a legacy to the world - the doctrine and the discipline, and his true greatness stands out clearer and brighter as the ages pass.
Discipline (vinaya) should be the first essential if the Buddhists are to be true Buddhists and not merely labelled followers of the Buddha, and discipline should be expected not only from Buddhists but also from all humanity irrespective of race, colour, creed, sex or any other division.
The discipline has to do with conduct, the ethical side of the teaching. Discipline comes under the aggregate of virtue (sila) and the doctrine belongs to the aggregate of concentration (samadhi) and of wisdom or penetrative insight (panna or vipassana). This is Buddhism in practice. This is the Middle Path pointed out by the Buddha which avoids the two extremes: sensual indulgence and self-torture. This Middle Path leads to supreme security from bondage, complete deliverance (vimutti), Nibbana, which is the goal of Buddhism.
Indiscipline among young men definitely weakens all the good causes for which they stand. No nation could progress unless it is disciplined. But discipline should be cultivated from within and should not be imposed by others. In some countries discipline is imposed by the Government, but that is not the right attitude. Discipline cannot be brought about by coercion and compulsion nor by science, but by sincerely following a religion which stands for peace, purity and happiness.
Conduct builds character. No one can bestow the gift of good character on another. Each one has to build it up by thought, care, reflection, effort, mindfulness and concentrated activity. Just as in the mastery of an art one has to labour hard, so to master the art of noble conduct on which a good and strong character depends, one must be diligent and on the alert.
As William Hawes says: "A good character is, in all cases, the fruit of personal exertion. It is not inherited from parents, it is not created by external advantages, it is no necessary appendage of birth, wealth, talents or station but it is the result of one’s own endeavours."
If we could acquire a sterling character we ought to remember the Buddha’s words of warning against negligence and day-dreaming. "Be vigilant, be ever mindful." (appamatta satimanto). "Work out your deliverance with mindfulness." (appamadena sampadetha). (Vesak Sirisara, 1991)
HUMAN RIGHTS AND THE FIVE PRECEPTS
by Professor Lily de Silva
The concept of human right is of recent origin. We do not find a word to denote this concept in Sanskrit or Pali. Instead of rights, duties have been well emphasised in the cultures represented by these languages. It is no strange coincidence that the word for duty, dhamma in Pali and Sanskrit also stands for truth. The underlying philosophy seems to be that duty leads to truth. In English, however, the word right has the double meaning of truth and pnvilege/claim. According to the social function of oriental philosophies the discharge of duty by one leads to the fulfilment of the right of the other.
When we compare the social impact of duties with that of rights we begin to realise that an atmosphere of harmony and mutual co-operation can prevail in a society when duty is emphasised, whereas it is more likely that contention and competition will be the outcome if each one is wont to assert his or her rights.
The absence of a single word to denote human rights does not mean that the ancient oriental civilisations did not have methods to safeguard human rights. This was accomplished in such a subtle indirect manner that man was not even overtly conscious that he was enjoying certain rights as such by the very fact of his human birth. The mechanism was the voluntary acceptance by each and every one to abide by the five precepts or pancasila.
Each. man in society is expected to voluntarily take upon himself the vow not to destroy life. Life is sacred and each human being is expected to respect life as inviolable. When this non-violent attitude is widespread the right to life of each individual gets automatically fulfilled. What is more, this non-violent attitude generates security of person, amity and benevolence in society giving rise to harmonious interpersonal relations.
The second precept expects man to abide by the voluntary vow not to take anything that has not been given to him. This vow of non-misappropriation safeguards everyone’s right to ownership of property. The sense of security of property creates an atmosphere of mutual confidence in society. Such a society is tension-free and people can devote themselves to the pursuit of their chosen vocations without the burden of having to guard their properties.
The third precept enjoins that man should take the voluntary vow to abstain from unlawful sex. This safeguards the right of every individual to choose a spouse and bring up a. family free from outside interference. Sexual immorality is most often the cause of broken homes which have disastrous social repercussions as they produce problem children and problem citizens. The health of a nation depends on the health of the family and the value of the third precept can never be underestimated.
The fourth precept comprises abstention from false speech. The human being is a social animal and he has to depend on society for his survival and meaningful existence. Therefore, he has a right to expect truthfulness and justice from his fellowmen and this right gets fulfilled if everyone is honest in his dealings. No society is self-existent today, every society and nation is dependent on everybody else. Therefore, honesty and integrity are an absolute social necessity today.
The fifth precept regarding the abstention from intoxicants is extremely valuable for mental and physical health of every member. Disregard for this precept undermines the value of all other precepts. Physical and mental health should be the same choice of every human being and habits which are diametrically opposed to them should be shunned by every sane man.
Thus, adherence to the five precepts not only safeguards human rights but also generates a tension-free society with healthy homes for bringing up happy families. (Vesak Sirisara, 1988)
WE ARE THE WAYFARERS IN SANSARA
We are the wayfarers in Sansara
Wandering in life after life
Changing into different grades and forms
Never ending ever wandering lives
Until we realize what suffering is
Then with determined effort
We try to analyse and understand it
And find the causes for it
So that we remedy it
The reasons are the human attachments
That we carry on with us
Keep us ever wandering
Lord Buddha discovered this
The big bundle of a bondage
Attached to each individual mind
Which consists of three things
Anger Greed and Ignorance
A mind free of these is the bliss of Nirvana
by Mrs. Kamala Perera
UNIQUENESS OF THE BUDDHA'S DOCTRINE
by Prof. D.J. Kalupahana
The original teachings of the Buddha have so far been evaluated in relation to either the traditional Indian as well as later Buddhist philosophy or the Western philosophical and religious traditions. These evaluations undermine the very unique and innovative nature of the Buddha’s doctrine.
Most philosophical and religious traditions direct their attention at the outset to a search for and determination of what is true, often ending up with a conception of an ultimate reality or a Supreme Being. Examining the Indian context in which Buddhism was born one can see this search embodied in a plea on the part of a sacrificer to the priest officiating at the sacrifice. It reads as follows: "Lead me from the non-existent (asat, untruth, unreal) to the existent (sat, truth, real). Lead me from darkness (tamas, ignorance) to the light (yotir, enlightenment). Lead me from the mortal (mrta, death) to the immortal (amrta, the deathless). The realisation that one’s own real self (atman) is part of the real self of the world, consisting of the four castes, that is the universal self (Brahman) constituted the attainment of the ultimate goal. Here, one can notice the absence of any serious moral concern, except the arbitrary recognition of the superiority of the Brahmin class and the equally arbitrary assignment of duties (dharma) to the four classes in society.
The Buddha, who had his academic training in the traditional philosophy and the sciences, was very conversant with the primary goals of the contemporary thinkers. Being more concerned with the sufferings of the large segment of the population, the Buddha was not interested in the pursuit of truth. Rather he was intent on discovering what is good (kimkusalagavesi) and in the search for the incomparable and noble path of peace (anuttaram santivarapadam pariyesamano). After his renunciation of the household life, he spent some time with two traditional Indian contemplatives, Alarakalama and Uddakaramaputta. The contemplative tradition he learnt from them was directed at what they considered to be the ultimate experience of the world that transcended all sensory experience. Siddhartha, the highly motivated hardworking contemplative, did not take long to master the techniques on which he received instruction. However, he did not find the peace he was looking for when not involved in such contemplation. The contemplations did not represent a life associated with the day-to-day experiences of the world. Having left them, he practised self-rnortification in the company of five ascetics, which also proved to be fruitless.
At the end of a six-year long struggle, he decided to depend upon himself. He went back to the contemplations but made a radical change in the technique. Instead of looking for an ultimate truth, he focused on rendering the contemplative process more morally oriented. He therefore decided that the initial stage of contemplation is one in which a person has to refrain from pleasures of sense and unwholesome tendencies. This enabled him to enjoy a state of joy and happiness qualitatively different from those associated with pleasures of sense. This sharpened his reflective (vitakka) and investigative (vicara) capacities. If the last two were to be pursued without limitation, he would have struggled to unravel the origin of the universe through reflection and to search for an ultimate reality through investigation. Realising the danger, he temporarily suspended reflection and investigation. This left him with a serene feeling of joy and happiness. However, such joy and happiness could lead to obsessions that becloud one’s perception. Hence his decision to suspend joy and happiness. The resulting state was one of clear, unprejudiced perception. The Buddha used a term of rare occurrence in the pre-Buddhist languages in India, namely, upekkha (Sk. Upeksa, a word formed out of upa+iks, meaning ‘taking a close look’). It is generally rendered into English as "equanimity", a term of more ethical import, but which highlights the epistemological stance, hence better translated as "consideration". This is because a prejudiced mind, a mind that has already been made up, cannot consider anything that is contrary to its accepted views. Hence, a ‘considering mind’ is beautifully defined as one which has become pliable (kammaniya), become stable (thita), become flexible (mudubhuta) and reached a state of not fluttering (anenjappatta). This is a concentrated mind (samahita), without blemish (anangana), purified (parisuddha) and cleansed (pariyodata) with all defiling tendencies gone (vigatupakki1esa). It is almost difficult to think of the salutary effects of adopting such a perspective in the investigative processes relating to science, technology, medicine, economics, political science and sociology, to mention a few. This is specially so in the context of the modern world where all such disciplines are based upon the inflexible and rigid dichotomies such as the true and false, the existent and the non-existent. Absolutism of some sort is the invariable result.
The good and the peaceful that he attained under the Bodhi tree permeated all his teachings, whether they pertain to explanations of the physical or objective world, the human personality, social, political and moral life as well as the use of the most important method of communication, namely, language.
The Buddha began his explanation of the world of experience in terms of what he saw as "the dependently arisen" (paticcasamuppanna), a term not found in the pre-Buddhist languages. It is a past participle that explains experience in an enduring present. In fact, in order to explain it as such, he had to modify the Indian conception of time involving the past, the present and the future. In the pre-Buddhist Indian languages, the past was denoted by the past participle atita; the future by another past participle anagata, while the present was expressed by a present participle, vartamdna ("existing") thereby disconnecting it totally from the past experience. In such a context the past conditions and the present effect could not be related. The Buddha’s solution to this problem was the use of another past participle paccuppanna, not found in the Indian languages before him, to refer to the present. This is the enduring present in which the transformation of the condition or conditions to the effect is experienced.
This means that the perception of the dependence of the effect on the condition or conditions makes the whole process relative or conditional, leaving room for the possibility of revisions based upon further or future experience. As such there is no absoluteness in the relationship between cause or condition (hetu/paccaya) or effect (phala).
Following upon this experience of conditionality, the Buddha formulated the general principle, extending it to the obvious past and the future. This general principle is expressed by the abstraction of the above phrase as "dependent arising" (paticcasamuppada). This, then turns out to be the central conception of the Buddha, whose application in the spheres of the physical world, in psychology, sociology, politics, morals and linguistics, made it the most flexible philosophy, avoiding any conflict and suffering among human beings. This is not merely a theory. Its effectiveness in the matter of bringing about peace and harmony among human beings has been proved during the last 2500 years of its existence on this planet.
BPS Newsletter, No. 48
FACTS OF LIFE
by Narada Maha Thera
We live in an ill-balanced world. It is not absolutely rosy, nor is it totally thorny. The rose is soft, beautiful and fragrant; but the stem on which the rose flower grows is full of thorns. Because of the rose, one tolerates the thorns. However, one will not disparage the rose on account of the thorns.
To an optimist, this world is absolutely rosy; to a pessimist, it is absolutely thorny. But to a Realist this world is neither absolutely rosy nor absolutely thorny. It abounds with both beautiful roses and prickly thorns.
An understanding person will not be infatuated by the beauty of the rose, but will view it as it is. Knowing well the nature of the thorns, he will view them as they are and will take the precaution not to be hurt.
Like the pendulum that perpetually turns to the right and left, four desirable and four undesirable conditions prevail in this world. Everyone without exception must face these conditions in the course of a lifetime. These conditions are: gain (labha) and loss (alabha), fame (yasa) and ill-fame (ayasa), praise (pasamsa) and blame (ninda), happiness (sukha) and sorrow (dukkha).
GAIN AND LOSS
Businessmen, as a rule, are subject to both gain and loss. It is quite natural to be complacent when there is gain or profit. In itself there is nothing wrong. Such righteous or unrighteous profits produce a certain amount of pleasure which the average men seek. Without these pleasurable moments, however temporary, life would not be worth living. In this competitive and chaotic world, it is right that people should enjoy some kind of happiness which gladdens their hearts. Such happiness, though material, is conducive to health and longevity.
The problem arises in the case of loss. Profits are accepted smilingly, but not so the losses. The losses often lead to mental agony and sometimes suicidal tendencies arise when the losses are unbearable. It is under such adverse circumstances that one should exhibit high moral courage and maintain a proper mental equilibrium. All of us have ups and downs while battling with life. One should be prepared for the good and the bad. Then there will be less disappointment.
When something is stolen, one naturally feels sad. But by becoming sad, one is not able to retrieve the loss. One should take the loss philosophically. One should assume a generous attitude that his need is greater than mine. Let him be well and happy.
In the time to the Buddha, a noble lady was offering food to the Venerable Sariputta and some monks. While serving them, she received a note stating that certain misfortunes had affected her family. Without becoming upset, she calmly kept the note in her waist-pouch and served the monks as if nothing had happened. A maid who was carrying a pot of ghee to offer to the monks inadvertently slipped and broke the pot of ghee. Thinking that the lady would naturally feel sorry at the loss, Venerable Sariputta consoled her, saying that all breakable things are bound to break. The wise lady remarked, "Bhante, what is this trivial loss? I have just received a note stating certain misfortunes have occurred in my family. I accepted without losing my balance. I am serving you all despite the bad news."
Such valour on the part of such a courageous lady should be highly commendable.
Once the Buddha went seeking alms in the village. Owing to the intervention of Mara the Evil One, the Buddha did not obtain any food. When Mara questioned the Buddha rather sarcastically whether he was hungry or not, the Buddha solemnly explained the mental attitude of those who were free from impediments, and replied, "Ah, happily do we live, we who have no impediments. Feeders of joy shall we be even as the gods of the Radiant Realm."
On another occasion, the Buddha and his disciples observed the rainy period (Vassa) in a village at the invitation of a Brahmin who, however, completely forgot his duty to attend to the needs of the Buddha and the Sangha. Throughout a period of three months, although Venerable Moggallana volunteered to obtain food by his psychic powers, the Buddha made no complaint and was contented with the fodder of horses offered by a horse-dealer.
Losses one must try to bear cheerfully with manly vigour. Unexpectedly one confronts them, very often in groups and not singly. One must face them with equanimity (upekkha) and take it as an opportunity to cultivate that sublime virtue.(To be continued in our next issue)
MR. PEARSON DE SILVA
Mr. Pearson de Silva passed away on 27th February and his funeral was held at Putney Vale Crematorium on 03rd March. He is survived by his loving wife Sumana.
MRS JAYANTHI GUNARATNE
Mrs Jayanthi Gunaratne passed away on 20th February in Sri Lanka and her funeral was held at Boralla Crematorium on 23rd February. She is survived by three daughers Charminie, Nilanthi, Ayoma and a son Erajh.
MR. SRIAN PERERA
Mr. Srian Perera passed away on 16th March and his funeral service was held at Easthampstead Park Crematorium on 23rd March. He is survived by his loving wife, Tilaka, and three children, Chintani, Shashini and Yenusha.
DR. L. P. MENDIS
Dr. L. P. Mendis passed away on 30th March, after a brief illness The funeral took place on 15th April at Udahamulla Cemetery, Sri Lanka. He is survived by his loving wife, Jenny, and daughter, Shirani.
MRS. PUSPA RAJAPAKSE
Mrs Puspa Rajapakse passed away on 12th May and her funeral was held at Kensal Green Crematorium on 16th May. She is survived by her loving husband Raja.
May they attain Nibbana!
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Ven. Tawalama Bandula