And a Life Sublime
by Venerable Professor Dhammavihari | 22,946 words
Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Samma Sambuddhassa (Adoration to my Buddha, The Glorious, The Worthy, The Fully Enlightened One) To the cherished memory of Athandra Deepanie: a dear daughter and a loving sister This little gift of the dhamma is offered for the furtherance of her pursuit of the goal of Nibbana....
To be in harmony with the world around us, both with the animate and the inanimate, is one of the principles advocated in Buddhism, in order that man may attain his fullest development within himself and also secure for himself the maximum degree of success and happiness in life in the world outside. And this latter, Buddhism insists, without violence to anyone or anything, and at the same time fostering peace on earth and goodwill among men. This literally requires man to live within the framework of dharma [or the ethic of living], such living being called dhammacariya and samacariya [i.e. harmonious living]. Those who practice such a way are called dhammannha or dhamma dwellers. This principle primarily derives its authority from the recognition of the philosophy of mutual interdependence in the universe, i.e. the recognition of the diverse relations that exist both in the physical as well as the psychical world. This relates to the origin and to the peaceful and harmonious continuance of what we conventionally regard as life, states, or things.
Thus life on earth, taking into consideration even the wide concept of the universe, has to be a co operative process, based on the principle of inter relatedness, not only of mutual assistance but also of mutual non interruption and non interference, in order that serious imbalances and consequent destruction might not be brought about. The scientists of the world today emphatically announce the disastrous movement of man, unwittingly though, in the direction of destroying the biota of the world we live in. Note:
" The one process now going on that will take millions of years to correct is the loss of genetic and species diversity by the destruction of natural habitats. This is the folly our descendants are least likely to forgive us.
Although oft cited and reported, the scale of the unfolding catastrophic loss of many and varied ecosystems through human activity is still only dimly perceived, for the link between the degradation of the biota and the diminishment of the human prospect is poorly understood."
[The Biophelia Hypothesis Edited by Stephen R.Kellart and Edward O. Wilson, Island Press, 1993 , p.4 ]
This philosophy of amity or friendship [i.e. maitra ] which is fully enunciated in the Metta Sutta of the Buddhists [Sn. vv.143-152 and Khp. p.8f. ], brings within its fold all grades of life, man and bird and beast, no matter how large or small they are. Seen, unseen, near, or far, all life is encompassed within thoughts of loving kindness. In displeasure or in ill will, one shall not long for or pray for the destruction of another with more or less maternal affection, one is called upon to look at life in the universe. This attitude is expected to pervade all areas of Buddhist life, both religious and secular.
To begin with, it is worth noting that in terms of life in society as against that of the monk in the cloister, the Buddhist ruler is called upon to provide peace and security, free from threats of assault or destruction, to men and animals in his kingdom. It is his responsibility not only to provide for the security of his people but also assure safe living for the birds and beasts of the land [A. 109 f.]. Considerations both social and religious called for such an attitude. It was the obligation of a righteous ruler, which has been honored and upheld as an ideal for over two thousand years in the history of our land. Out of such a philosophy, which had the premier sanction of the state, was born a deep seated love for the environment, not only to include the birds and the beasts but also to tend the vegetation and foster growth of trees and plants.
People had already learnt to derive aesthetic delight and spiritual solace from them. It was already present in the spirit of the religion and the first lessons in this wise were taught by the great stalwarts of the sasana like the Venerable Shariputra and Maha Kassapa. Their appraisal of the forest and all that is therein, including the birds and the beasts, must turn out to a recurrent theme on which our elders in the homes talk with a fair frequency and therefore come to be well known to and appreciated by our younger generation. Let it ring through the ear of every good Buddhist as the Venerable Shariputra sings of the richness of the forest in this manner. We even conceive the possibility of these words being set to music in a manner that would certainly be spiritually edifying. Dwell upon the depth of the idea contained in this utterance. A musically creative mind, enriched with a religious sanctity and sensitivity, could even create a whole symphony out of it.
Delightful are the forests, where no crowd [i.e. common worldlings]
Doth come to take its pleasure; there will they
Who are released from passions find their joy.
Not seekers they for sense - satiety.
Psalms of the Brethren 992
Here the Venerable Shariputra keenly observes at the same time that the untutored and therefore uncultured worldlings are insensitive to these. The true Buddhist disciples are very much in this line of thinking for, like Thera Ekavihariya, they know that the Lord himself led the way in this direction. Ekavihariya Thera says:
Handa eko gamissami ara__au buddhavaooitau.
Let me alone to the forest resort, the place
Much praised by the Buddha.
Thera Maha Kassapa finds the enchantment of the forest enhanced as the trumpeting of the wild elephants reverberates through the upland glades.
As the impact of Buddhism came to be felt more and more on the life of Emperor Ashoka of India, we see him increasingly practice this love towards animals. Not only the provision of sanctuaries for animals but even a reduction in the slaughter of animals for the royal kitchen is witnessed. Almost on the day Ashoka"s missionaries arrived in Sri Lanka, the ruler of the land, Devanampiyatissa was out on the royal hunt. It was obviously an expression of a traditional elitist snobbery. It was undoubtedly much less prompted by the desire for venison. Note how perverse social values like these, of the rulers or the ruled, can send those around scaling up slippery walls, to result in disastrous falls to death and destruction.
But it did not take long in Sri Lanka for the turn of this tide. Kings began to show consideration even for the life of animals. Ban on the slaughter of animals came to be imposed from time to time. Kings of Sri Lanka like Amandagamini, Silakala, Aggabodhi IV and Mahinda III, following this tradition of just kingship, ordered from time to time that no animals should be slaughtered [ Maghatau karayi dape sabbesau yeva paoinam . Mhv 41 .v.30 ], and set up veterinary hospitals for the treatment of sick animals. That even fishes, birds and beasts [ [macchanau migapakkhanau Ibid. 48. v. 97 ] carne under the loving care [ kattabbau sabbau acarii. Ibid] of a king like Sena I is undoubtedly owing to the benevolent influence of Buddhism. Sanctuaries for animals, including safe pools for fish in rivers and lakes became a common sight in the land. This is more to be viewed as a magnanimous change of heart and a desirable change in the value systems of the land. It seems to make much less sense to view this as a total imposition of vegetarianism or as leading, on the other hand, to malnutrition or economic disaster.
In fact, one of the kings is supposed to have popularized the eating of fruits as against the easy way of meat eating and himself undertaken the growing of various types of fruit in the land. Obviously they knew what they were doing and had commendably long range vision. They also seem to have held the view that it was too presumptuous to believe that man had exclusive rights over the land in which he lived to the exclusion of fauna and flora. On the other hand, they believed that the fauna and flora not only had a right of their own but also contributed in no small measure to the total harmonious growth of the land. This ecological sensitivity and the respect man has for it, is the main stay, which in the long run saves him from extinction.
The protagonists of the idea of biophelia hypothesis whom we have already quoted above are laudably moving today in the same direction. But they cannot emphasize it any more than what their Sri Lankan predecessors have implicitly done more than a thousand years ago. The contemporary stress on this kind of thinking, namely that the desire for the survival of man must go closely hand in hand with an equal degree of respect for the survival and well being of the animal world is boldly reflected in the writings of todays philosopher thinkers like Peter Singer [Professor of Philosophy at Monash University, Australia.]. One must co operatively read his Animal Liberation [1975, 1990] and his Save the Animals [co authored with Barbara Dover and Ingrid Newkirk [1990,1991] to comprehend the total dimension of this line of thinking and meaningfully relate it to the Buddhist concept of love or universal loving kindness [Pali metta and Skt. maitra ].
In a beautiful brief FOREWORD to the small book Save the Animals referred to above, Linda McCartney writes the following with a remarkably disarming candor.
A long time ago we realized that anyone who cares about the Earth -- really cares -- must stop eating animals. The more we read about deforestation, water pollution, and topsoil erosion, the stronger that realization becomes. Of course, anyone who cares about animals must stop eating animals. Just the thought of what happens in a slaughterhouse is enough. We stopped eating meat the day we happened to look out of our window during Sunday lunch and saw our young lambs playing happily, as kittens do, in the fields. Eating bits of them suddenly made no sense. In fact, it was revolting. If you want to live a longer and healthier life, the conclusion is exactly the same, naturally.
This spirit of concern for the world we live in and the total content thereof, both animate and inanimate, is reflected in many parts of the thinking world. Here is Frances Moore Lappe expressing a very candid opinion on this subject in her Diet for a Small Planet [Twentieth Anniversary Edition: November 1991 / Ballantine Books, New York ].
The change you and I witness in a lifetime now exceeds what in previous centuries transpired over many generations. And we who were born after World War II are the first to know that our choices count: They count on a global scale. They matter in evolutionary time. In our species fantastic rush toward "modernization" we obliterate millions of other species, transfigure the earths surface, and create climate changing disruption of the upper atmosphere, all powerfully altering the path of evolution.
More personally, I feel the quickening of time in realizing that what was heresy, what was "fringe," when I wrote Diet for a Small Planet just twenty years ago is now common knowledge.
Then, the notion that human beings could do well without meat was heretical. Today, the medical establishment acknowledges the numerous benefits of eating low on the food chain.
Then, anyone who questioned the American diets reliance on beef -- since cattle are the most wasteful converters of grain to meat -- was perceived as challenging the American way of life (especially , when that someone came from Fort Worth, Texas -- "Cowtown, USA"). Today, the expanding herds of cattle world wide are not only recognized as poor plant to meat converters but are documented contributors to global climate change. Theyre responsible for releasing enormous quantities of methane into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming.
Then, anyone who questioned industrial agriculture -- fossil fuel and chemically dependent -- was seen as naive " back to the lander." To challenge industrial agriculture was to question efficiency itself and to wish us all back into the fields at hard labor. Today, the National Academy of Sciences acknowledges the threat of agricultural chemicals and even the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that the small family farm is at least as efficient as the superfarms undermining Americas rural communities.
[ Ibid. p. xv f.]
Having put forward what might be termed a Buddhist point of view with regard to love and care of nature and environment, it is well worth illustrating this in actual operation in Buddhist life. It is best we begin with the Buddha himself. A beautiful story in the Buddhist books [ DA.11.p.675 ]describes the Buddhas going to the region of Kunala Lake on holiday with a large number of monks who are said to have been afflicted with anxiety and consequent stress. The very idea of the Buddhas decision to take these monks to the Lake District to relieve them of their boredom is fascinating and illuminating. On arrival there, he started the season as it were by inviting the monks to inquire from him about the names of the diverse species of fish in that lake which they could not identify. They did as requested and the Buddha was able to help them with the identification of the various species of fish that attracted their attention.
The intimacy with which he had known his environment and his absorbing interest in them is revealed as the text further says that his knowledge of the environment extended beyond the fish in the lake to the trees on the mountain slopes, and to the birds and beasts [Na kevala_ ca macchanau yeva. Tasmiu vanasaooe rukkhanau pi pabbatapade dipada catuppada sakunanau pi namani pucchapetva kathesi. loc.cit.]. On inquiry, he was able to help his companions with the identification of each one of them. This diversion and diversification of interest in and into areas, which are inoffensive to monastic aspirations and are non corrosive, seems an ingenious exercise in psychotherapy, even in the more complex and sophisticated society of today.
This rapport, which one is capable of developing with the environment, including everything both animate and inanimate, through the teaching of Buddhism, concerns itself not only with the pleasant and the beautiful, but also with what is even regarded as fierce, weird and grotesque. To the spiritually oriented and those who are mature on the Buddhist path, these discriminating differences of ugly and beautiful, pleasant and fierce are both relative and arbitrary reckonings which are by no means insurmountable through the cultivation of a new outlook. Thus it becomes an attainable reality that man shall not be in conflict, and hence be hostile to man or to the environment. Once the idea of functional intergratedness of man and nature is properly grasped, it would not be possible for man to lay his hands on nature in a way that would damage or destroy it. The outcome of this philosophy is eloquently and authentically manifest in the Japanese arts of flower arrangement and landscape gardening. And it is admitted and they make no secret of it that they owe these to Buddhist inspiration, which they inherited nearly fifteen centuries ago.
If one carefully scans the ecstasies of the early disciples of the Buddha, expressed in works like the Theragatha, one discovers the sources, which inspired this austerity in art, and this love of the weird and the grotesque. It is the goal of a man seeking peace and tranquility, of development within and without, to be harmoniously blended with nature. Adequate proof of it may be given from the very words of Buddhas own disciples. Animals that are stigmatized as a threat to man or are believed to stand in his way, when viewed from this magnanimous angle are seen to be never so hostile. Far from it, they can be integrated into a harmonious community, adequately respecting both their right to be in it and the valuable part they can play towards its uplift. It may be a Nirvana oriented disciple we see when we meet Thera Talaputa, who can with honesty and sincerity say the following.
There in the jungle ringing with the cries
Of peacock and of heron wilt thou dwell
By panthers and by tigers owned as chief.
And for the body cast off care;
Miss not thine hour, thine aim!
Ps.B. v. 1113.
Or hear in the words of Kassapa the Great a similar ring.
Those upland glades delightful to the soul,
Where the Kareri spreads its wildering wreaths,
Where sound the trumpet calls of elephants;
Those are the braes wherein my soul delights.
Ibid. v. 1062
The charms of lakes and mountains were well known and wisely appreciated by the poet disciples of the Buddhist community, inheriting this legacy as it were, from the Master himself to whose love nature we have already referred. Hear same elder Kassapa, waxing eloquent on them:
Those rocky heights with hue of dark blue clouds,
Where lies embosomed many a shining tarn
Of crystal clear, cool waters, and whose slopes
The herds of Indra cover and bedeck:
Those are the braes wherein my soul delights.
Like serried battlements of blue black cloud
Like pinnacle on stately castle built
Re echoing to the cries of jungle folk:
Those are the braes wherin my soul delights.
Fair uplands rain refreshed, and resonant
With crested creatures cries antiphonal,
Lone heights where silent Rishis oft resort:
Those are the braes wherein my soul delights.
Ibid. vv. 1063-65
Yet another finds joyous company with birds and beasts.
O (thou wilt love the life), bet on the crest
Of caverned cliffs, where herd boar and gazelle,
Or in fair open glade, or in the depths
Of forest freshened by new rain - tis there
Lies joy for thee to cavern cottage gone.
Fair plumed, fair crested passengers of air
With deep blue throats and many hued of wing,
Give greeting to the muttering thundercloud
With cries melodious, manifold; tis they
Will give thee joy whilst thou art musing there.
Ibid. vv. 1135-36
Through this philosophy is achieved a transcendence, a release from the rigidity of the workaday life:
And when the god rains on the four inch grass,
And on the cloud like crests of budding woods,
Within the mountains heart Ill seated be
Immobile as a lopped off bough, and soft
s cotton down my rocky couch shall seem. Ibid.v. 1137