JOURNAL OF THE LONDON BUDDHIST VIHARA
|ISSUE No. 26 MAY 2005 B. E. 2549 ISSN 1368-1516|
INSIDE THIS ISSUE
by Most Venerable Dr. Medagama Vajiragnana,
Sangha Nayaka of Great Britain, Head of the London Buddhist Vihara
As social beings, it is important for us to know how to deal with people. We all live in society and we all want to live in peace and harmony with our neighbours. So we need to have a way of understanding our fellow citizens. Most of the disagreements in the world come from mis-understandings between individuals or from hasty judgements based on merely superficial understanding.
Man has discovered an immense amount about the world in which he lives. He has discovered the innermost secrets of the atom, he has probed the outer reaches of the universe. Sometimes we may wonder - is there nothing that man cannot do or cannot discover? There is, however, one area of human investigation which has yet to be understood completely - the human mind. When we look at the society around us and at the people we associate with, how much of their true nature do we know? How many of them do we really understand? But if we are to live and work in harmony with our neighbours, it is vital that we find an answer to this question. Many people draw hasty conclusions about others by merely observing their outward, superficial behaviour.
The Buddha was someone who had penetrated the innermost workings of the human mind. Above all others, he was able to understand individuals through his special vision, known as cetopariyaya or paracitta vijanana nana (penetration of the mind of others). One of his most remarkable characteristics as a teacher was his ability to see into the mind of the person to whom he was speaking, gauge his level of understanding, and then speak to him in the most effective way.
He also spoke in general terms about how one should understand an individual. It comes in the Satta Jatila Sutta of the Samyutta Nikaya (Part I, ch.3.2). When the Buddha was staying at Savatthi, He received a visit from the Kosalan King, Pasenadi. It so happened that some ascetics were passing the place where the Buddha and King Pasenadi were talking. Some of them had matted hair, some were Niganthas (naked ascetics), some wore only a single garment, and some were Wanderers. The King called out to them, announcing, "I am over here, the King, your reverences, the Kosalan Pasenadi." After they had gone, the King asked the Buddha if these men were Arahants or at least on the path to Arahantship.
The Buddha remarked at this point that it is difficult for a layman, who is not conversant with the criteria for recognising an individual correctly, to tell these things, and then went on to explain four general points, all of which can apply equally well to ways of understanding different people, not merely these ascetics to whom he was referring.
First, the moral character of a person can only be confirmed through close association, and that, too, after a long time by an intelligent, watchful person, not by a careless, foolish person nor can it be done in a haphazard manner.
Secondly, a person’s level of wisdom and scholarship can be discovered after long conversation and many discussions, and that, too, only after a long period of time by an intelligent person with careful observation. People speak in two different ways. Some talks are superficial and shallow, and some talks are profound, useful and meaningful. There are some who talk in both ways. But to know the genuine from the show-off, one has to associate with the person for some time. Only then will one realise whether the person is genuine or not.
Thirdly, the depth of a man’s integrity needs to be shown by his dealings. Often a person may seem to be honest, trustworthy and sincere, but on closer inspection after dealing with him for some time, he is discovered to be dishonest and hypocritical. This is true not only of individuals, but also of institutions, organisations, multi-national bodies and nation states.
Fourthly, in times of misfortune and personal calamity, an individual’s strength of character and fortitude needs to be judged. Many people can keep their balance of mind when everything goes well with them, but when disappointments come - such as business failure, sickness, or death of loved ones - they lose their balance of mind and sometimes even behave foolishly. We become elated or depressed because of our ignorance. The wise man controls his own reactions in moments of both success and failure. Therefore, an assessment needs to be done intelligently, over a long period of time and mindfully, never in a foolish, haphazard fashion.
King Pasenadi was delighted with the Buddha’s statements, saying how difficult it is for a layman to know anyone well and truly. Again, the Buddha further advised him not to go according to external appearances and fleeting impressions because it is so easy to be deceived by someone’s clothing, superficial habits and charisma. An earring may be forged from clay or a bronze coin may be coated with gold. Similarly, some people disguise their impure minds with an outward show of beauty or false charisma.
So there are four things we should seek to understand about an individual - his moral character, wisdom, integrity and his strength of character. All of these require careful investigation and patience.
According to the Visuddhimagga, the character of human beings can be divided into six kinds: greedy, hateful, deluded, faithful, intelligent and speculative. The character of a person is an expression of his mentality. This may be determined by his previous kamma, the condition of his physical elements, racial differences, geographical location and climatic conditions. The second three types are similar in some respects to the first three. Hence, both the greedy and the faithful temperament share the quality of seeking out, wanting to acquire or accumulate. The greedy person seeks out sense desires and things which are unprofitable, the faithful person seeks out profitable qualities such as virtue. The greedy person does not give up what is harmful, whereas the faithful person does not give up what is beneficial. Similarly, there are parallels between the hating and intellectual temperaments - they both want to get rid of or destroy. The hating type wants to get rid of possessions, friends and responsibilities. The intellectual wants to get rid of unwholesome qualities or faults. The deluded and the speculative temperaments share restlessness and indecision; the deluded character is restless. Because of perplexity, he has no solid opinion about anything. Whereas the speculative temperament is restless due to thinking over various objects and being unable to decide what is best. We can summarise by saying that the first pair tend to move towards and hold on to things; the second pair tend to move away from and reject things; the third pair do not know what to do.
None of us is purely of one type or another. Our personality changes constantly, but over a period of time it may be seen that one of these six characteristics predominates.
There are many ways of understanding an individual’s character type. It can be done by observing how a person walks, stands, sits and sleeps. We can also observe how a person carries out physical tasks, and we can see how a person reacts to sensual pleasure and displeasure.
This process of character analysis is not meant to be judgemental, but it can also help us to understand better those people with whom we have daily contact, so that we can live in tolerance and harmony. The better we can understand our fellows, the less we shall be surprised or upset by their behaviour.
No matter what conclusions we may reach, we should always maintain an attitude of love and tolerance towards all beings. Even if we conclude that someone has some negative characteristics, we should remember that the unwholesome roots of greed, hatred and delusion are to be found within the minds of every single one of us. The differences between us are only a matter of degree. Far from condemning others for what we perceive to be their faults, we should develop compassion and understanding. We can try to dwell on their good qualities and develop equanimity towards their negative ones. The Karaniya Metta Sutta counsels us to develop a loving attitude towards all beings. "Just as a mother protects her only child even at the risk of her life, even so one should cultivate boundless loving-kindness towards all living beings." Our task is to work on ourselves, at purifying our own minds of their negative qualities, not to dwell on the failings of others. We can, however, draw strength and inspiration from the example of those who are steadfast in virtue, and we can develop patience and compassion towards those who are not.
by Venenrabla Dr. H. Gunaratana Nayaka Thera, USA
(Dhamma talk given by the Venerable Dr. Gunaratana Nayaka There on his recent visit to the Vihara.
Dear friends, I assume you all are meditators. Perhaps therefore you may not need any particular meditation introduction, but it is very difficult to talk on meditation all of a sudden. However, since there are many instructions on meditation and meditation instruction books, good meditation teachers and various experienced meditators, there is also room for misinterpretation and misunderstanding of meditation, some of which I have explained in Mindfulness in Plain English. There are some more misunderstandings. Let me spend a few minutes on some of these misunderstandings.
One is that people think that meditation is something we must do sitting on a cushion. In recent years various magazines published lists of meditation groups. They don’t even call themselves meditation groups, they call themselves sitting groups, assuming that meditation is something we must do only sitting on a cushion. I think that’s not a complete presentation of the total practice of meditation. Sitting is a very small fraction of our life. If you read the Mahāsatipatthāna Sutta which is the manual of vipassanā and samatha meditation, at the very outset of the discourse the Buddha has mentioned the way how we should meditate. For instance he says there, Kaye kayānupassi viharati. Viharati in Pāli means lives. Seeing the body as it is, one lives. When we say live, we don’t mean sitting. Live involves a lot of activities, sitting, standing, walking, lying down, eating, drinking, wearing clothes, using rest rooms, talking, observing silence are some of the examples the Buddha has given in this particular discourse. This shows that the practice of meditation involves all these activities in our life.
Disregarding this very important instruction, most people ask perhaps at the end of our meditation sessions how can we incorporate this meditation experience into our daily life. Say for instance, they spent about a week or ten days on a retreat. At the end of the retreat they want to know how they can bring this experience to their daily life. So right there, you can see this misconception, the assumption that the meditation is limited to sitting, doing something sitting on a cushion, as if there is nothing else to do with meditation when they go out of meditation retreats. And this is why no matter how long one sits on a cushion, when they get off the cushion, go out into the world, try to live their regular lives, they will not be any different from any other person. Their emotions, temperaments, their reactions to all kinds of psychic irritants are still there. Not one iota of them is reduced. Why? They think they are not meditating, they think that they cannot meditate, they have to do meditation in a certain, selected place. Of course, a place we select to do intensive practice is important as well. Occasionally, or daily, we have to set aside a period of time to do intensive practice. This is what I call our homework. When you do your homework, you have to present your homework in the class. If you do your homework and don’t show anything in the class, your homework is not going to be accepted by your teacher, nor does it help you do anything in the class. Sitting on a cushion and practising meditation is exactly like that. That is our homework. We must bring this homework to the fieldwork. The field is our daily life and daily activities. While talking, we must use our meditation experience.
The Buddha said 'manasikāra sambhavā sabbe dhammā', all the states of mind are present in us only when we pay attention. When we do not pay attention, we really do not know what is going on. Just imagine the amount of things going on in our mind and body at any given point in time and space. Something or other is going on in our mind and body. How much of this do we know? Perhaps very little or maybe nothing. Why is that? Because we have not trained our mind to pay attention to what is going on in our mind and body. Say, for instance, the breath. How much do we know about the breath? Why? Because our attention is not mindful attention. We don’t pay much attention.
Attention itself has degrees and qualities. All living beings have basic attention, even animals have basic attention. We all know that predators can catch their prey when they pay attention. For instance, a cat has to watch the movement of a mouse, paying total attention to the movement of a mouse so that the cat can catch the mouse at the right moment. There is an attention. So with all other predators. That is not the kind of attention we must train ourselves to develop. We must develop a special attention which is called mindful attention. What is mindful attention? Mindful attention is the attention without preconceived notions, presuppositions, verbalising, conceptualising, ideologising, philosophising and psychologising - pay attention. Sometimes I use a term called pre-conceptual awareness. Before we conceptualise something, we must learn to develop total, pure, simple, clean attention. When we develop pure attention, clean attention, we can penetrate that very particular thing we want to know. In inter-personal relationships we have to develop this kind of attention. In communications we have to develop this kind of attention. In listening to something we have to have this kind of attention. Learning, doing, whatever we do, we must pay this kind of attention. Only then can we know what really is going on between us in any situation.
Some people say when you wash dishes, you must pay attention to washing dishes. Who does not do that? When you cut vegetables, you have to pay attention. Who does not do that? If you don’t pay attention when you cut an onion, you may lose some of your fingers. But that is not the kind of attention we are talking about. Our attention has to be much deeper, more profound and pure attention. It is not paying attention to what is going on outside between the knife and the vegetable or onion, but attention to what is going on in our mind and body. While cutting onions, cutting vegetables, something can go on in our mind and that is where we have to pay attention. If we very carefully study the teachings of the Buddha, not only the particular part on the subject of meditation, read any particular aspect of the Buddha’s teaching, this is the theme that you come across repeatedly. That is a way to train the mind. The meditation itself is called bhāvanā, which means cultivating, developing and training the mind in a certain way, in a very special way. Whether we learn Dhamma or Vinaya or Abhidhamma, this is what we do. We learn various techniques, methods, ways, means to develop, cultivate, train our mind, because all our problems, all our difficulties arise from that source.
I would like bring out another part of the Buddha’s teaching which also of course is not alien to the practice of meditation, but it is a part of it. You can see how it relates to the practice of meditation. We repeat every day in our Buddha vandanā, Dhamma vandanā or Sangha vandanā, particularly in Dhamma vandanā we recite a part called ehi passiko. What does ehi passiko mean? Ehi passiko means come and see. This is an invitation. Normally when you receive an invitation, what would you do? You first ask, Who sent the invitation? When you see this invitation come and see, you have to pause and ask yourself, Who sent this invitation? The invitation says come and see, then you must ask the next question, Where should I go? Come means movement from one place to another. Where should I go? Then you ask the next question, To see what? So there are three questions you must ask. Who sent the invitation? Where to go? And to see what? Then the answer comes to the first question, Who sent the invitation: nobody. When you ask the second question, To go where? The answer is: nowhere. When you ask the third question, To see what? You get the answer: to see nothing with my eyes. So what does this invitation mean? Does it make any sense? It does make a lot of sense, if we understand the meaning of these three words. Two words in Pāli, maybe three words in English including the conjunction “and”.
Some people say the Buddha sent this invitation. The Buddha never sent an invitation to anybody. Rather, he was invited by others. But this invitation comes from the Dhamma itself. The invitation comes from the Dhamma, to go to the Dhamma and see the Dhamma. Where is it? Where is this Dhamma? What is Dhamma and where is it? we must ask. Dhamma is us, we are Dhamma, it is in us, and us invites us, we invite us ourselves. Where is this Dhamma, what is this Dhamma? For instance Dhamma is dukkha, suffering. Where is it? Is it hanging from a tree somewhere? In a library? In a temple? In a bookshop? Where is it? It is within us. So this Dhamma invites us to come, get closer, get inside, come within, come close and see. See not with eyes, it is like a platypus. You know platypus is an animal living in Tasmania. When he wants to catch a prey, he approaches the prey within a certain distance. When he reaches to a certain distance he closes his eyes. When he closes his eyes, his electronic device built into his system sends an electric current to stun the animal and then he catches the animal. When he opens his eyes this device does not work, so he cannot catch the prey. Similarly, when we open our eyes we cannot see Dhamma. We see colour, shape, size, movements. Of course, Dhamma is hidden there but it is not so conspicuous, but when we close our eyes we don’t see external objects. Buddha said, kummova ange sake kapāle samodaham bhikkhu mano vitakke. Abhibhuyha sabbāni parissayāni anupakkhino sabbadukkham pahāya. Just like a tortoise brings all its limbs inside, when a fox approaches a tortoise, the tortoise is moving with all his limbs out; head, four legs and tail are out when he moves. When a fox approaches, he withdraws all of them in and keeps them in a secure place under his shell. Similarly we have to restrain all our senses, bring them all in and use our mind to see what is going on in our mind and body. We have so trained ourselves to be extroverted and send all our mental impulses towards the outside, we do not use them to see what is going in our mind and body. So this particular phrase of come and see tells us no, no, that is not what we should do, we must bring our attention inside, and look at what is happening in our mind and body at any given moment. So in the practice of meditation this is what we should do, we must look at ourselves first.
Particularly look at the mind. Look at what is happening in the mind. Even if certain things happen to the body, that ends up in the mind and therefore all our attention must be paid to what is happening in our mind and body, particularly in the mind. So, because all our suffering, cause of suffering, end of suffering, and the path leading to the end of suffering stem from the mind, when we pay attention, we must pay attention to these things that are within ourselves. This is called special attention, mindful attention, attention without any judgement, any conceptualising.
Sometimes when we try to pay attention to things going on in our mind and body, some of us are taught to use words, sentences and concepts to pay attention. That also is blocking the reality that is going on within ourselves. So we suggest when we pay attention, pay attention without verbalising, labelling or conceptualising because when we try to pay attention using words, eventually the mind will be locked in words and we do not know what is going on behind words, so the words will get in our way between what is happening and our attention. We have to learn not to pay attention with words, but to pay attention without words, without concepts and ideas. Because our practice of meditation is a way to train the mind to see things as they are. When we use words, Buddha said concepts or words are thorns, boils, sickness, which can get in our way, so we shall not able to see what really is happening within ourselves.
Moreover, when we try to use labels or words, we may come to a situation where we run out of labels. Particularly when certain experiences we go through are so subtle, deep and profound that in our vocabulary there is no word for them. Then we struggle to find words to express these things going on in our mind and body. Also, we meditate not to verbalise or conceptualise or to tell the world what is going on in our mind and body, but we meditate to understand for ourselves what is going on in our mind and body. What we try to communicate to others will be a very small fraction of what we experience. We cannot express everything that we experience in meditation. It is because it is a totally subjective, personal experience. And from that experience we can see the reality, exactly as it is in a very profound way, directly. That is called abhiñña, knowing things directly and this direct awareness can be known through direct attention, pure attention without concepts and ideas and words. Another reason is things are happening so quickly, when we try to verbalise, what we verbalise is not really what is happening, but what has already happened. While it is going on, if you try to verbalise you will get stuck up with the words and will not know what is going on in the mind. So what is going on in the mind has already gone, disappeared, before you use a word and concept to express it.
The next thing is concepts and words always disguise the reality because when we try to express it we shall not express what we really experienced. For these reasons we train our mind to pay total, undivided, pure attention to what is going within our mind and body. This is what is called mindfulness. We must pay undivided attention to our experiences in order to get to the very bottom of what is called our luminous mind. Buddha said our mind is luminous but an uneducated ordinary person does not know that the mind is luminous. Uneducated person is the term that Buddha used, of course that is the translation of puthujjana. There is no one, strong, single English word, not because the English language is poor, the English language is so rich that it requires more than one word to explain this primitive Pāli word puthujjana, which is translated into English as common folk, wordlings. Common folk and worldlings also do not convey the proper meaning of puthujjana. So the Buddha qualified the word puthujjana with ariyānan adassāvi ariya dhamme akovido ariya dhamme avinito, that is one who does not know, one who is not educated, one who is not associating with the noble Dhamma. Noble Dhamma is the pure Dhamma, Dhamma that leads to liberation. Somebody who does not know that Dhamma is called an ordinary person or puthujjana. One who does not know that Dhamma also would not know that the mind is luminous, therefore the Buddha said such a person would not practise mental training, citta bhāvanā nāmānātthi’ti. For such a person there is no mental training, citta bhāvanā. As you know the word bhāvanā is used for kāya bhāvanā, vaci bhāvanā, citta bhāvanā, sīla bhāvanā, samādhi bhāvanā and paññā bhāvanā. The word bhāvanā is used in many senses, so here citta bhāvanā means cleansing the mind, purifying the mind through the practice of what is called concentration meditation, which is called jhāna, jhanic meditation.
When somebody does not know that this mind is naturally luminous, he would not attempt to cleanse it to see the luminosity. That simply means although the mind is luminous, it is not pure. Normally people assume when something is luminous it must be pure. That is not true. Something can be luminous, and still have a lot of dirt in it. Luminosity simply means an indication, the possibility, the potential of cleansing it. Since it is luminous it has the potentiality, power and possibility of cleaning. So the person who does not know the Dhamma does not associate with the right persons, does not know that the mind is cleansable, that it can be purified and is luminous. Therefore such a person would not practice citta bhāvanā. So when you practise mindfulness with the combination of concentration, without using particular words, concepts and ideas, the mind can reach its original luminous state, that is what I wanted to express. When you can reach the luminous state, then the mind can see how pure it can be. It can be as pure as pure can be. When we have this combination of powerful concentration and pure insight, when these two combine together we can have purity of mind. With that state of mind, we can see reality exactly as it is. Seeing reality is the special function of the pure, clear, mindful, concentrated state of mind and that is why Buddha said, Samāhitan cittan yathā bhūtan pajānāti, the concentrated mind can see things exactly as they are. Only when we see things exactly as they are can we be liberated from all kinds of psychic irritants and make ourselves totally free from this repetition of birth and death in samsāra. This is the thrust, the goal, and the aim of our meditation. So we can begin all of this with pure attention. With mindful attention we can accomplish purity of mind, we can accomplish success in associating with people, living in daily life in a more successful way. Therefore, friends with this note, I like to stop the talk so that we shall have time to meditate and time to discuss and ask questions this evening. I hope we shall have a lovely discussion if you have questions. Thank you very much for your patient listening.
A BUDDHIST WORLD VIEW IN A TURBULENT WORLD
by Prof. Chandra Wickramasinghe
Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe, BSc, MA, PhD, ScD (Cantab), Hon DSc Soka University Japan, Hon DSc Ruhuna University Sri Lanka, FRAS, FRSA, FIMA Professor of Applied Mathematics and Astronomy and Director of the Cardiff Centre for Astrobiology, Cardiff University
The twentieth century will go down in the annals of history as a century of science. Technological developments in the early years of the century led to momentous events that have transformed our lives. The invention of radio was perhaps the most important socio-technological advance that connected the entire human population and instantly made the world a smaller place. The birth of atomic physics, unravelling as it did the nature of matter at the atomic and subatomic level, led not only to the beneficial harnessing of nuclear energy, but also, in later years, to the marvels of modern electronics. To such advances in physics, combined with the advent of the communication satellite, we owe our ability to communicate across vast distances. Live TV pictures from remote corners of the globe, mobile phones, the internet and electronic mail are all part and parcel of our daily lives. Most recently we have witnessed the explosion of nanotechnology with enormous potential applications across many areas of science.
In the mid-1960’s an earth-bound living creature, a human being, actually succeeded in leaving this planet and taking the first tentative steps in space. Since then scores of unmanned spacecraft equipped with cameras and scientific instruments have explored the remotest parts of our solar system, returning exquisitely beautiful and highly detailed pictures of alien planets, and information about conditions that prevail in these diverse worlds. Over the past year, space science has revealed tantalising evidence of water on Mars and even signs of microbial life. Also, there is growing evidence that life on our planet was seeded from space, our life here being thus connected to the most distant parts of the universe.
Towards the middle of the 20th century crucial discoveries were made in the life sciences, notably relating to the structure of our genes, the now famous double helix molecule of DNA. From the sheer complexity of life that was discovered at the molecular level, it should have been clear already in the mid-1950s that this complexity, which is of a truly cosmic order, must imply that life is a truly cosmic phenomenon, a theory that I myself have developed over the past 3 decades.
On the more practical side the revolution of molecular biology started 50 years ago has led to major breakthroughs in medical science. Brand new vistas of knowledge are now being opened up with progress in the human genome project, which endeavors to unravel the entire length of our DNA. New developments include the use of genetic engineering and embryonic stem cells to combat disease. A brand new world is around the corner. New medicine, like new physics, has brought new ills, however, and raised hitherto unsuspected moral issues that have yet to be resolved.
Our attitudes to our planet itself, to our environment, and to life itself are undergoing a major re-evaluation at the present time. There is an acrimonious debate in progress as to whether or not claims for climate change caused by human activities are genuine or not. Climate on our planet has of course changed in past epochs without any human intervention, and so to extricate any natural cause from a man-made component may not be so easy. I will not go into this debate here, but merely say that a world view that respects the environment and the integrity of the entire planet is long overdue. This is of course a Buddhistic world view as I shall explain.
The few instances of technological advances I have cited here form part of the rich harvest of discovery that followed from the so called reductionist methodology that began in the West in Classical Greece with the philosophies of Democritus and others in the 5th century BC, and came to the fore with Newton and Descartes some 300 years ago. As every child of three can testify, one powerful method of exploring the world involves taking objects apart into their components, and then studying the individual components in great detail. Western science has progressed mainly by following this route, but there are sacrifices to be made on the way. In general one tends to lose sight of the relationship of components of the universe to the universe as a whole. Since it is obvious that the separate parts of the universe are all interconnected, one cannot hope to obtain a complete picture of the world if such relationships are ignored. Scientific progress, in the real sense of new syntheses and new insights, will in my view eventually come to a halt if this route is too rigidly pursued. This is just one of the many crises that science and society will have to face in the coming decades.
Another crisis that follows from technological advancement concerns the production of weapons of mass destruction. Our planet viewed on a cosmic scale is but a small piece of rock on which life evolved from simple beginnings some four billion years ago. It is now populated by many billions of different species of life – microbes, plants and animals. At the peak of this pyramid of life are humans who have control over the destiny of all life on the planet. Human beings number over 6 billion, and are grouped into over 222 separate nation states. Many of these nations are at war with one another, each seeking control to enforce a particular world view or a particular political philosophy. Nations would appear to be vying with one another to gain supremacy in the destructive power of modern technology to kill their fellow human beings. This is an extension of a basic instinct of primitive man, a killing instinct that needs to be tamed, but is yet exalted to the status of a virtue by the most highly developed nations of the world. The power to kill has grown enormously from human muscle power, to gunpowder, to nuclear weapons. Even with a reduction of nuclear stock piling in the modern world there is enough power in our arsenals to kill a hundred times more people than the present world population, the equivalent of several tonnes of TNT per individual human on the planet. A frightening thought, one has to admit.
Wars have been recorded throughout human history, and it would seem that the ultimate root cause of all such conflicts can be traced to economic factors rather than ideological or religious motives. Economic disparities tend to generate internal tensions within countries and conflicts between nations. Even within the confines of a single country conflicts between diverse societal sectors spark off unrest and violence and terrorism. It is a lamentable fact of the first decade of the 21st century that a large proportion of national GDP worldwide continues to be expended on defence and armaments. On the other hand, the amount per capita being spent to alleviate poverty in the poorest countries diminishes by the day. There is enough for everyone, but the selfishness of the rich precludes an equitable distribution of resources worldwide. It is a sad fact to note that the number of humans beings living in abject poverty in the year 2005 exceeds the entire human population of the planet as it was at the dawn of the 20th century. And this despite the enormous technological achievements of recent decades that could raise the quality of life of everyone on this planet to one of happiness and fulfillment.
As we progress through the new millennium there is a growing sense of unease that is leading us to search for new paradigms that might sustain us in the future. The unease is not simply confined to science, but extends over a broad front of human activity. One sees evidence of a renewed popular interest in the ancient philosophies of the Orient, Buddhism in particular. There is an imminent energy and resource crisis, an environmental crisis, and along with it a surging wave of violence and crime. Just like the situation that faced physics in the 1920’s, it would well be that all such problems arise from the application of an outmoded reductionist, Cartesian world view to a reality that can no longer be circumscribed in this way.
The alternative world view to replace the Cartesian paradigm must be holistic and eco-friendly and take account of the interconnectedness of all parts of our experiential world. This is indeed the essence of Buddhist philosophy. All phenomena and things that we perceive with our senses are recognised as being interrelated and representing different aspects of a common ultimate reality. Our tendency to divide the world into separate components, and to regard ourselves as isolated egos, has to be purely illusory. It is referred to as avidya in Buddhist philosophy and is interpreted as the condition of a mind in turmoil! Thus Ashvaghosha wrote:
"When the mind is disturbed, a confusing multiplicity of ideas is produced, but when the mind is quiet, the multiplicity disappears...."
The world view inherent in Buddhism is essentially a dynamic one, in which time and change are interwoven attributes. Whilst Buddhist methodology might appear at first sight to lack the advantages of the empirical method of science in its exploration of the physical world, its treatment of psychology, for instance, appears to be remarkably sophisticated in modern terms. The reason for this dichotomy is simple. Meditation, which is a central aspect of Buddhism, is an experiment conducted on a living human being. The experimenter and the object of experimentation happens to be the same. As in all experiments, successes and failures can be quantified and recorded in ways that are fully consistent with the methodology of empirical science.
What is consciousness and how does consciousness relate to the external world? Contemporary science has not yet been able to consider such questions except in a superficial way. Sophisticated modern techniques of neurophysiology and experimental psychology have hardly touched upon the nature of the higher levels of consciousness that undoubtedly exist in all of us. Some schools of post-Jungian physchology have actually begun to adopt Buddhistic attitudes on these subjects as working hypotheses from which tests and experiments could be devised.
The reductionist methodology of science has undoubtedly succeeded in unravelling the chemical nature of life and the workings of the individual cell, but there is scarcely any understanding at all of the true nature of consciousness and of the workings of the brain at its highest levels of performance. The starting premise from which most scientists have probed the workings of the human brain exclude the existence of mind as a distinct entity. Recent research, starting from such a negative premise, is now leading to a contradiction, whereby qualities of consciousness or mind are seen to emerge as entities distinct from the physical structure of the brain. Using the language of computers, the physical and chemical structure of the brain constitutes the hardware; consciousness and mind constitute the software for expressing personality, emotions, creativity and a good deal more. Reductionist science has thus far failed to come to grips with the nature of the software that drives the computer that is the brain.
Buddhism recognises the existence of a sequence of conscious states, starting from the lowest levels of consciousness associated with basic sensory perceptions such as touch, smell and sight, to a transcendent consciousness that is essentially universal in character. In Mahayana traditions the highest ninth state of cosmic consciousness is called the Amala Consciousness. Amala consciousness, which is supposedly present in all of us, can be seen, when it is awakened, as merging with some all pervasive quality of the universe.
The Buddhist concept of human life is that each of us is a psycho-physical unit comprised in its most primitive state of three components: the sperm and the ovum that go to make the zygote along with a packet of consciousness derived from the cosmos. The union of all three components is required in order to form a conscious human being.
Before leaving the subject of consciousness it is worth pointing out that ideas connected with consciousness entered the stage of the physical sciences over 50 years ago with the emergence of quantum mechanics. Whereas Newtonian or classical mechanics elegantly explains the behaviour of matter on the large scale, quantum mechanics, which was developed in the first half of the last century, seeks to understand the properties of matter on the scale of atoms or smaller. I have referred earlier to the great practical successes of this branch of science. In addition, quantum theory has given way to dramatic revisions of the basic philosophical framework of science. The perfectly deterministic world of Newtonian physics was challenged by the so-called principle of uncertainty in quantum mechanics. The essence of this principle is that no matter how much we refine our measuring techniques, our telescopes and microscopes for instance, we would at best obtain only a blurred view of the outside world. The reason is that we cannot receive any message from the external world on a scale finer than that conveyed by a photon, that is to say a single packet of light energy. It is analogous to looking at a photograph printed in a newspaper where the original photograph is screened through a mesh of dots. Any information such as a wart on a face that is on a smaller scale than the mesh size of the screen will obviously be lost.
Until the advent of quantum mechanics it was thought that the operation of making a measurement on the universe was divided into two distinct components: the subject that perceives, and the object that is being perceived. This division is now becoming blurred. On the scale of atoms the perceived universe is intimately connected with the consciousness of the observer through the act of observing itself. Quantum mechanics deals mostly with probabilities that are expressed in mathematical form by what are called wavefunctions. If we know what state a system was at some initial moment of time the science of quantum mechanics enables us to calculate precisely the probability that it will be in some other state at a later time, but only until the moment the system is observed again. The act of observation necessarily leads to a definite result for the state of the system. Later probabilities have again to be recomputed using the information derived from the previous observation. Thus it is only when our consciousness becomes actively engaged through a series of observational steps that the world at an atomic or sub-atomic level comes into focus. It is indeed quite remarkable that all these concepts are in general accord with the Buddhist idea that consciousness is the source of all knowledge.
In ancient Buddhist texts hierarchical world systems are clearly defined. The smallest world unit is called a minor world system, and a minor world system could clearly be identified with the modern concept of a planetary system. The next unit, comprised of a thousand minor world systems, is said to make up an intermediate world system. In the ancient text Visuddimagga it is stated that "as far as these suns and moons revolve shining and shedding their light in space, so far extends the intermediate world system". The "intermediate world system" in Buddhism lends itself immediately for identification with a galaxy. A thousand intermediate world systems in turn comprises a so called major world system, which can be identified with a cluster of galaxies. In Buddhist teachings it is further postulated that there are countless major world systems throughout the observable universe.
Buddhist teachings also expound the idea of the evolution of world systems. Each world system is supposed to go through 4 temporal stages or Kalpas as they are called: formation, continuance, decline and disintegration. Such a sequence is of course clearly discernible in the life cycles of individual stars, planetary systems and even of galaxies.
A point of numerology is worth making at this stage. The number thousand (or koti) which occurs frequently in these descriptions is open to debate as to what it really meant. A hundred billion rather than a thousand would fit better with current estimates, but one should remember that the translation of the Sanskrit word koti could lead to some uncertainties. Some scholars would say that the ancient Sanskrit word koti meant simply a very large number, a number that is way in excess of our everyday experience.
Whatever the ancient numerology might have meant there is little doubt that the overall logic of Buddhist writings is fully in line with modern astronomical thought. Because the modern scientific viewpoint is derived from the application of the methods of empirical science one could wonder how similar conclusions could have been reached 2500 years ago, long before the advent of modern telescopes. The answer could lie in the powers of introspective meditation in which higher conscious states are involved, powers to which Indian sages have testified for thousands of years, and which are epitomised in the wisdom of the Buddha. If we are indeed creatures of the cosmos, as modern evidence tends to show, would it not seem reasonable that we have some innate intuition of the nature of the cosmos hidden deep within ourselves? A relationship between the microcosm of life and the universe at large must exist for the simple reason that the one is derived from the other. When a modern, well-educated scientist makes an inspired connection between apparently disparate natural phenomena, we are happy to say that physical intuition was involved. This intuitive process is perhaps not fundamentally different from the manner in which the Buddha himself discovered truth.
The universal aspiration to Buddhahood or knowledge, embodied in Buddhism, implies that a form of cosmic consciousness is indeed present within each and every one of us. The idea that such a universal consciousness is the font of all knowledge, with its implication of the interconnectedness of the many different attributes of the universe, combined with an abiding respect for all life on our planet, can be regarded as the central tenet of holistic Buddhist world view.
I would like to end with a few remarks relating to social issues, particularly ones that concern our security and survival. Respect for life has been a declining value in our modern civilised world ever since the enormous destructive power of technology was realised with the atom bomb dropped over Hiroshima in 1945. In one form or another the same decline of respect for life has percolated through our society, be it in battlefields or in street corners of our big cities. No one is safe from gratuitous violence and killings and terrorism in one form or another. In times such as this it is worth recalling a remark from a manifesto by Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein issued in July 1955 imploring powerful nations to refrain from manufacturing nuclear weapons:
"We appeal as human beings to human beings. Remember your humanity and forget the rest. If you can do so the way is open to a new Paradise; if you cannot, there lies before you the risk of universal death."
This exhortation is as relevant today as it was in 1955. A Buddhist and humanist position with an abiding respect for life is more pertinent now in our turbulent world than it has ever been. The very survival of our social institutions could well be contingent upon the adoption of such a world view.
*Talk delivered on 22 May 2005 at the London Buddhist Vihara
With heavy hearts and deep sorrow we announce the passing away of the following devotees:-
MR. TIKIRI BANDA BASNAYAKA
Mr. T. B. Basnayaka passed away on 22nd February after a brief illness. His funeral was held at Mortlake crematorium on 4th Marchl amongst a large gathering.
He is survived by his loving wife Ukku Amma and 4 children, Samarakoon, Daya, Wasantha and Indra.
MRS. RATHNAWALI FERNANDO
Mrs. Rathnawali Fernando passed away on 17th March after a brief illness and her burial was held on 5th April at Reading Cemetery.
She is survived by her loving husband Magage Subasena, daughter Shirani, and son Stanly.May they all attain the bliss of Nibbana!
GO TO FRONT PAGE
Ven. Tawalama Bandula