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 7 - Welcoming The New Year Or The New Century?
A people with an identity of their own do invariably reflect that distinctness in their thought and action. There is every possibility of this being pursued with offence to none, group or individual, by whatever yardstick one measures such a line of action. This depends of course, entirely on the sanity of the philosophy on which this distinctness of a people or country is based. Aggression, arrogance, and avarice certainly have to be ruled out of such a universally benevolent system of thinking. People of Sri Lanka whose culture is deeply rooted in Buddhism should certainly rank very high in this category. Observations of outsiders who show no traces whatsoever of vested interest, made with perfect detachment from very ancient times to the modern, amply corroborate this. Professor John Lindsay Opie, writing in Roloff Benys Island Ceylon, as late as 1972 says:
The unity as well as the continuity of the old life produced by a handful of simple principles. A superior religion, Buddhism, in its Theravada expression of well nigh Grecian restraint and purity, which conferred effective meaning on every department of life. Theocratic kingship clarified by the Buddhist notion of the Cakravartin, righteous and pacific monarch. A modified system of caste with social but not religious sanction. And a closed agricultural economy based on an astonishingly complex system of irrigation, of canals, enormous reservoirs, and artificial water works of every kind. Together, these axioms and their deductions led to a level of rich prosperity and to long unbroken tracts of peace, in spite of the frequent skirmishes and palace squabbles which explain the reputation of Lanka, even among the disabused Chinese travelers of the past, as the very land without sorrow." [p.25]
Therefore as a year draws to a close and we set our thoughts on the advent of another, let our remarks and observations on it resound and reverberate with Buddhist values, which are vitally the backbone of our people and our country. The world at large, with its evident sanity and intellectual honesty, does not seem to lose sight of the fact that Buddhist culture with its vastness both across time and space, over almost the whole of Asia for more than twenty five centuries, is not only something to reckon with but is also something which should be hopefully retrieved. The contribution which Buddhism made to countries like Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq well before the advent of Christianity, as recorded by the Islamic historian Abul - Rayhan Muhammad al- Biruni more than a thousand years ago [For more details see Encyclopedia of Buddhism, Vol. IV. Fasc.I. p.21ff.], and substantiated by archaeological evidence even today, should serve as a model for the functioning of any culture, any where. That makes a live phenomenon of culture, guiding and directing our lives as humans as we live it.
Looking at the process of the passage of man through time the Buddhists make this very interesting observation, which comes to us from the Samyutta Nikaya.
The hours pass by. Nights drive us ever on.
Stages of life in turn abandon us.
K.S. I. p.4
What this means is that our lives which we choose to call our own and the world we live in are both incessant processes which are at work We cannot call a halt to the nature or the functions of the world. In order to avoid conflict in our lives we have primarily to make the changes ourselves, and within ourselves. And this we must do, here and now, while we come to grips with life. The antithesis of a here and a hereafter [Sinh. melova paralova] is not truly Buddhist. My emphasis here is deliberate. But it must be remembered the denial is of the antithesis, i .e. the apparent assumption as though there were only two worlds or states to reckon with. There is absolutely no question about the idea of a life after or paralova. It is an incalculable string of lives one has to face, all linked together. What is to be emphasized is the multiplicity of such states of existence, using the plural of the word paralova. Paralova implies a whole chain in the likeness of the present one, propelled by it and cast in its mould.
That this restructuring and correcting of life must be done with urgency and maximum efficiency is hinted at in the line Stages of life in turn abandon us. To the Buddhist, if reckoning of time in this context [ accenti kala tarayanti rattiyo ] has any meaning or significance, it is on account of this urgency to fulfil a mission with minimum delay. Delay and neglect, according to Buddhist philosophy, or better we say according to the Buddhist way of thinking, are virtual death. We have either died almost in our cradles or are not truly born at all. If we have not learned this from the Dhammapada when it says ye pamatta yatha mata [ Dhp.v. 21 ] = The heedless are like unto the dead , and have not put ourselves on the right gear so that we drive our carriage of life to maximum benefit, then we have to lament that we have heard all our sermons in vain.
Let us now focus attention on another Buddhist theme, which has a relevance to the present discussion. Talking very briefly of the past, present, and future, the Buddha says:
They make no lamentation oer the past,
They yearn not after that which is not come,
By what now is do they maintain themselves:
Hence comes it that they look serene of hue.
Atatau nanusocanti nappajappanti nagatau
Paccuppannena yapenti tena vaooo pasadati.
The negative of this is put even more effectively saying that the fools wither away, pining over the dead yesterdays and unborn tomorrows, withering away like the bamboo, cut down green.
Etena bala sussanti nalo va harito luto.
These statements with regard to the validity of time reckoning have in fact, when examined more closely, a third dimensional religio ethical significance. They really constitute the Buddhas reply to a question as to how the forest dwelling monks living in tranquility fare so well, subsisting on one meal a day [S.I.p.5 quoted above]. The bare truth of this is that the strain of time is on account of its stored up bulk and weight. Time must be allowed and given the freedom to wear itself out. It is in the sensible severance of the linkage [the real meaning of viveka in both Pali and Sinhala being this] of the present with its menacing partners, the past, and the future.
While advocating a very practical and sensible approach to the immediate problems of day to day life, these words also seem to lay down a policy for a more stable philosophy which would elevate the quality of life both materially as well as in terms of extra material values. To begin with, the reality and supremacy of the present moment is here emphatically announced. This immediately ties itself with the question of urgency, which we discussed earlier. Moments, fruitlessly and unproductively allowed to drift away become the property or stock in trade of the lamentable past. Here are recurrent inspiring refrains from the Buddhist books, which stress the need for this alertness. Let no moment be wasted. = Khaoo ve ma upaccaga. [Dhp.v.315]. Highlighting the painful consequences of its neglect, it is said: Those who have wasted their precious moments or opportunities lament when they face the reality of their own decline. = Khaoatata hi socanti nirayamhi samappita. [Ibid.]
This should make it clear to us that when the Buddha says They make no lamentation over the past there is absolutely no attempt to smuggle in any idea of being reconciled to the lot of ones past, or using a less meaningful phrase, ones fate. There is no surrendering here to a fatalistic theory of karma, or accepting without a tear in ones eye, what one is destined to suffer." An unquestionably honest attempt should be made to harness the present moment profitably in every sense, so that when it passes over to a point instant which would be reckoned as past, its results would yield both profit and pleasure. That is the Buddhist norm in terms of which action would be declared good and bad. Here, I quote to you from the Dhammapada.
That deed is well done, when after having done it
One repents not. And when, with joy and pleasure
One reaps the fruit thereof.
Dhp. v. 68
With equal emphasis verse 67 of the same text supplements this idea by defining what would be termed bad action.
The wisdom of the Buddhas instruction about not lamenting over the past comes out more poignantly when we take the following into consideration. Not ignoring the oft argued impact of society on the individual one has also to logically trace the behavior pattern of society to the behavior of guided or misguided individuals who constitute that society, reckoning at the same time the accelerating power of their numerical strength. Thus, through pressure or persuasion, if it were possible to get individuals to be conscientiously responsible in their behavior, there would be little need to grieve over the past. There should be the genuine consolation that whatever lapses there are either in the life of the society or of the individual; they are unavoidable sins of omission than of commission. There would also be the genuine consolation that in spite of the accelerated speed at which the society is moving, an endeavor would be made, benefiting from the experience already gained to avoid repeating in the present the mistakes of the past.
So, at any stage in the history of a people, if resolves and aspirations are to be made, it should be to plan and determine the activities of the present in such a way as to leave no room for regrets or remorse of the unborn tomorrow. Basic ingredients for this are correct and right action. That is why the Buddhist upholds that no correct or justifiable way of living will ever commence without correct views or judgment. Thought and action follow this. Now it should be clear why the Noble Eightfold Way, the one and the only way to release or nirodha, i.e. the Ariya annhaigika magga begins with samma dinthi and leads thereafter to samma saukappa.
In Sri Lanka where we are ranked among the developing nations of the third world, many drastic changes are necessarily taking place every day. The world is reaching a stage of consciousness when, in the interest of humans, nature and environment have to be treated with great respect, because in polluting it man is polluting himself. According to Buddhism, this is true not only physically and materially but also psychically or spiritually or by whatever other name you choose to call this less recognized area of human life. The Buddhist would look upon this as the psychical corrosion that comes through greed and hatred, the unwillingness to share, and unwillingness to tolerate. This is a serious crime against society, the crime of polluting the social environment with drastic consequences. This also causes serious imbalance in the world society and its disastrous consequences are being witnessed every day. The world can well afford to put into the pool a great deal more of love and generosity and redistribute it among those who urgently need to benefit from it.
The Sri Lankans, to whatever reforms they subscribe, reforms initiated from within or without, would do well to remember this. Old world monstrosities in the realm of thinking like affluence, power, aristocracy, leadership, supremacy and monopoly which lead to social discrimination and exploitation, internationally or within nations, have to be relentlessly rejected before we welcome another year or the twenty first century. For victory breed"s hatred [jayau verau pasavati and the vanquished lies dejected: dukkhau seti parajito. Dhp. v. 201]. In a truly Buddhist atmosphere one can steer clear of these. Only one should not be fooled by Utopian schemes, which neither correctly analyse nor assess true human nature, its strength, and its failings. For the efficacy of the remedy, i.e. contemplated reforms will seriously depend on the diagnosis of the disease and the competence of the reformists to handle it.
This is what prompted the late Dr. Raphaelo M. Salas, the U.N.Expert on Population, to declare at the University of Colombo - Special Convocation at the BMICH in August 1979 that Sri Lanka should give to the world as its message for the twenty first century this utterance of the wise old sage of India, uttered over two thousand five hundred years ago. It reads as follows:
Whoso in the world overcomes this base and unruly craving,
From him sorrows fall away like water drops from a lotus leaf.