A Correct Vision

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....

Teaching 6 - Wisdom For The World

Buddhisms Contribution

The spectacular achievement in the teaching of the Buddha is the verifiably correct identification and the diagnosis of the ills of the humans as well as the prescription by him of a way of life to them for their eradication. And placing this triumph in philosophical analysis in the context of world history, this was at least half millennium before the appearance of the major surviving religions of the world today. It is also to be remembered that according to Buddhism, this total process of salvation of mankind is personally effected by each one [men and women themselves], without the intermediary of an external agency who dwells outside their pale of existence. Nevertheless, the eradication of the ills of life and the consequent salvation of the humans imply a process of transcendence. This is the contrast, which the Buddhists have to constantly keep in mind, the contrast between the lokiya and lokuttara or the mundane and the supra mundane. This is a realistic and down to earth differentiation and requires no assistance of any profound theology. This is a fact which would be established and proved here and now, in this very life [dinnh eva dhamme] as the Buddha himself demonstrated through his own life.

This places before the Buddhist two realities, the reality of life in the world, and the reality of the state in which it is superseded. To the Buddhist, both these are real existing states. Hence they are truths or saccas, the first and the third of the four Noble Truths [cattai ariyasaccani ], viz. dukkha and nirodha. To the Buddhist, the life in the world is not fiction [ maya or illusion ] as against a REALITY [ paramattha ] beyond this. It is, more or less, his inherited lot as a sausaric being to suffer in living it, to suffer physically on account of disease, old age, and death. And also suffer mentally the stresses and strains on account of self acquired likes and dislikes of the humans as well as partialities and prejudices in which they find themselves desperately plunged in. Buddhism sensitizes man to these and in the process teach him the need to eliminate them by transcending the very process of living.

It would profit us to take note here of the fact that early Buddhism seems to uphold the wisdom of the ancient psycho ethical concept of man in the definition: Poraoa pana bhaoanti manassa ussannataya manussa = Ancients say the humans are called maussa on account of the elevated or lofty nature of their minds [VvA. 18 and KhA. 123 ] as against the more legendary one of presenting man as the offspring of the First Man or Manu : Manuno apacca ti manussa. [ Kh A. 123 ]. Man, by this sublimity of his mind or power of reasoning [ manassa ussannataya ] is gifted with the capacity to choose or to reject the one in preference to the other, choose what is wholesome and contributory to his well being [ i.e. kusala ] and reject what is unwholesome or detrimental [ i.e. akusala ]. This is the normal run of religious culture in Buddhism, which insulates him against moral and spiritual disaster [ akaraoayo marassa akaraoayo papimato. A. IV.109 ].

The Anguttara Nikaya enumerates seven factors as the bases of this culture: Ariya savako akusalau pajahati kusalau bhaveti savajjau pajahati anavajjau bhaveti suddhau atanau pariharati ... etc. [ A. IV 109-111].. The Samyutta Nikaya [ S.III. 8-9 ] describes the situation very vividly and in a very convincing manner, saying that the adoption of evil ways [...akusale dhamme upasampajja viharato ], leads to misery in life [ dukkho viharo], to anguish and tribulation [ savighato saupayaso saparieaho ], and entailing painful consequences in the life beyond [ duggati panikankha ]. For this reason the Buddha is present as praising the rejection of evil and the adoption of virtue: Tasma bhagava akusalanau dhammanau pahanau vaooeti... kusalanau dhammanau upasampadau vaooeti. S.III.8 ].

Thus correctness of choice as the basis of action turns out to be the burden of Buddhist thinking. Whether it be the oft quoted lines sabba papassa akaranau kusalassa upasampada [ Dhp. v. 183 ] or it be the inquiry of a Cakkavatti king on the collapse of his empire, wisely worded as Kiu bhante kusalau kiu akusalau kiu savajjau kiu anavajjau kiu sevitabbau kiu na sevitabbau kiu me kayiramanau dagharattau ahitaya dukkhaya assa kim va pana me kayiramanam dagharattau hitaya sukhaya assati. [ D.III. 61], it implies a direction of policy, a reorganization of the pattern of living, moving over from the mundane to the more sublime or transcendental. There could be no other way thinking or acting. This indeed is the only passage from sausara to nibbana.

In one of the loveliest contexts in Buddhist history, the Buddha expresses these wise and kind words of counsel in the Suttanipata [ Sn.vv. 1120-23 ]. A very aged monk of Brahmanic origin who was Pingiya by name, [ said to be a hundred and twenty years in age according to the Commentary ] and had joined the Buddhist ranks late in his years, comes to the Buddha and reveals his true position both with regard to his age and decrepitude. Bemoaning the inadequacy of his spiritual attainments up to that point, he wishes to obtain from the Buddha an answer to his problem of transcending the ills of life here and now [jati jaraya idha vippahanau. ]. He expresses his present plight with such vividness and with such veracity that one could hardly remain unmoved: My vision is not clear and my hearing is not efficient. Not comprehending your message let not my life at death be an empty one. Do tell me Sir, how I may transcend birth and decay in this very life." The Buddhas message to him in brief is this: Reject form, i.e. the physical body, if you choose to eliminate birth: Jahassu rapau apunabbhavaya [Sn. v. 1121].

It is followed by the request to give up taoha or craving. The prompting for the abandonment of craving comes from the awareness and conviction which results from a closer look [pekkhamano ] at life wherein one sees that those immersed in greed and attachment [ taohadhipanna ] are victims of anguish [ santapa jate ] due to maladjustment on the psychical plane of existence. At the same time, a Buddhist has to become aware of the fact that the process of sausaric existence where ills of life like decay, disease, and death prevail, is perpetuated by the force of craving or taoha. Therefore on the physical plane one must necessarily recognize the presence of physical bodily deterioration, of which Pingiya has already admitted that he is a victim, as a bye product of taoha [ taohadhipanne jarasa paretet ]. For the transcendence of ills on both these planes, the Buddha advises Pingiya to give up taoha. Indeed that alone transcends birth : jahassu taohau apunabbhavaya. Towards the attainment of this goal, a great deal of self adjustment is needed : an adjustment of values, of attitudes and a great surrender of customary ways. This is in fact what the Buddha meant when he said that his teaching as a way of life requires an up stream movement, a movement against thecurrent: panisotagamiu [See M. I. 168 Ariyapariyesana Sutta].

Consequently in Buddhism, mans salvation depends on adjustment to the world in which he lives. He has to regulate his reactions to the stimuli of the world of senses, which keep bombarding him all the time, from birth to death. Seeing a form with his eye or hearing a sound with his ear... say the Buddhist texts [cakkhuna rapau disva ...sotena saddam sutva... M. I.180 ], a diligent disciple grasps them not. The world that we live in is the launching pad from which the take off to the transcendental realms is affected. Or putting it differently, On the journey to nibbana one does traverse the highways of society. An intelligent analysis of the Noble Eightfold Path would convince one of the truth of this. At the core of Buddhist ethics obviously lies the correction of mans attitude to man, for his actions and reactions are primarily in relation to those around him, even inanimate things of the world having some kind of relationship to persons and vice versa.

This ethical correction of man applies to both primary evils of greed and hatred [lobha and dosa or abhijjha and vyapada]. The threefold incorrect bodily action, the fourfold incorrect verbal action, and the threefold processes of thought of the ten akusala kamma or evil conduct also imply this concern for correct inter personal relationships. The Ambalatthika Rahulovada Sutta of the Majjhima Nikaya [M.I. 414-420] discusses this at a level, which reminds one of transcendental values. All the same, these considerations are not unrelated to down to earth realities. All evil traits verging on ill will, i.e. vyapada, vihiusa and paigha are shown to have their origin in mans maladjustment to man. Self correction by man in this sphere safeguards for man this primary need, viz. the security of person. That is the right of every man to live. Founded on the basic awareness that ones own life is dear to everyone more than any other [Evau piyo puthu atta paresau. S.I.75], one is called upon to respect the right of every other to safeguard his or her own life [Tasma na hiuse parau attakamo. ibid.].

The process of living also carries with it the accessories of life, viz. property. We are impressed by the Saleyyaka Suttas reference to them with remarkable insight as vittapakaraoa, i.e. possessions and means, or possessions as means of livelihood [ M.I.285 ff. ]. The respect for anothers property or the willingness to regard it as the basis of his sustenance prevents one who is endowed with an ethical consciousness from dispossessing another of his legitimate belongings. We should note here how the Commentary to the above referred sutta describes property with even greater insight as the source of his joy: tunnhi jananau parikkhara bhaooau. These two items of fundamental human rights relating to life and to property, with their universal extensiveness, form the core of Buddhist lay ethics. Speaking in terms of religious culture, they are potent enough to assail the primary roots of evil in man, viz. greed and hatred [ lobha and dosa ]. Thus they also take their place as items 1 and 2 of the Buddhist pa_ca sala or laymans code of basic ethics. Suttas like the Saleyyaka and Veranjaka [ M.I. 285 ff.] show that these ethics in the breach constitute vicious behavior or evil conduct [visama cariya or adhamma cariya] in society, leading to degeneracy of human life, here and hereafter.

It is this universality of pa_ca sala, which makes the Buddhists, recommend it to all mankind, irrespective of the differences in social and political ideologies. The non fulfillment of the ethics contained therein leads to corrosion of life in this very existence or as the Dhammapada puts it digs up his roots here itself [ idh ev eso lokasmim malau khaoati attano. Dhp. v. 247 ]. The Cakkavatti king of Buddhist tradition insists on their observance when he says to all those who come under his domain that Life should not be destroyed [ Paoo na hantabbo ] etc., irrespective of the political creed they uphold, whatever it be [ yatha bhutta_ca bhu_jatha. D.II.173; III. 62 ]. Obviously, brand names like democracy or communism which loom large in our minds today mattered very little to the Buddhists whose total vision of human goodness overrode those petty divisions born of egoistic arrogance, both at individual and national levels. This is clearly seen in suttas like the Mahasudassana and Cakkavattisihanada which deal with the religio political organization of the Cakkavatti king [ See D.II. l96-199 and D.III. 58-79 ]..

In Buddhism what would be called the essentially religious life, not the mere acceptance of or conversion to the faith which is referred to as paoupetau saraoau gato [M.II 145, 213 ], begins thereafter with the taking upon oneself of the ethical injunctions of the pa_ca sala in their true spirit. The Mahasakuludayi Sutta speaks of Buddhist disciples who giving up their higher life as monks return to lay life as taking upon themselves and living in accordance with the pa_casala. In doing so, they remain in the status of aramika and upasaka, by which are meant the more earnest and dedicated lay disciples [...te aramika bhata va upasaka bhata va pa_casu sikkhapadesu samadaya vattanti.. [ M. 11. 5 ]. Many references in the Therigatha call upon those in lay life who wish to avert the displeasures and discomforts of life to choose to be guided by the Buddha, the dhamma and the saigha and take upon themselves the moral precepts, i.e. saraoagamana and salasamadana.

Sace bhayasi dukkhassa sace te dukkhau appiyam
upehi saranam buddhau dhammam saigha_ ca tadinau
samadiyahi salani tau te atthaya hehiti.

Thig. 249 & 288

For peace, harmony, and social well being in the world these basic rights of life and property [more specifically referred to today as fundamental human rights] have to be universally respected. The disrespect for these by any single individual or any single group sets in motion a series of events. Obviously they are action taken to safeguard the first or the second or both together. Manifestations of this type of defensive action, relative to the degree of disregard for the above discussed basic human rights, can certainly appear offensive and threatening to those very rights, which are being championed. This is why universally extensive honest acceptance of the pa_casala, or basic human rights in other words, is needed for international and inter religious peace. Not the demand to wage holy wars in defense of fanciful action and behavior of sectarian groups, religious or otherwise. This call for unity in the name of religion, in support of internationally un defendable or humanistic ally insupportable lines of action, would [and should] look blatantly unacceptable in the eyes of the divine, who must necessarily be above board in his patronage of humanity.

Two millennia and a half have passed since Buddhism offered this charter to mankind for its healthy growth and progressive march, for mankind as a whole and not for its petty and militarily [or industrially or economically] glorious encampments as superpowers. Should mans insatiable desire for supremacy to bring mankind under the banner one single religion or one political ideology lead to an insane rape of man? In both these areas one often sees frantic attempts at welding together of even unrelated fragments, merely for the love of an impressive array. But these attempts at unification are also seen blowing up in volcanic explosions under the slightest provocation. On the hand, should not the wisdom of man, if he is believed to have any at all, be diverted first to the establishment of a kingdom of man earth, where man is worthy to rule man, decentralized to any desirable extent, on account of his primary virtue of mutual respect.

This is what the Buddhists would offer to the world as Metta or maitra, universal loving kindness for practice among themselves, one and all, in a universally extensive manner.

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