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DateLine Wednesday, 13 June 2007

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Government Gazette

Craving grows in the passionate

For the person who is perturbed by evil thoughts, who is exceedingly lustful, who contemplates pleasant things, craving increases more and more. Surely, he makes the bond of Mara stronger.
Tanha Vagga - The Dhammapada


Religious values versus TV ads

TV ADS: Despite my hoisting the flag often for my own religion (though my participation in its boosting is pure voluntary) I have a wide circle of non - Buddhist acquaintances including Roman Catholic priests who are very curious about Buddhism. One of them once remarked:

“Your religion seems to have the Theory of Impermanence as its nucleus. Does that mean Buddhism too would cease to exist in the future?” “Yes” I said though not on solid ground “In fact the Buddha himself has said words to that effect” (Frankly speaking I was not sure of the stipulated period i.e. the span of this faith and did not wish to elaborate on the point).

“That is sad” he said “It is such a great and profound religion. And believe me, a pristine white Buddha statue seated in the so - called Samadhi posture brings so much of mental peace to the beholder.”

The exponent of this remark was none other than Dr. Baptist Croos, an eminent Roman Catholic priest, when he handed me for review a highly enlightening book written by him, “Reaching for the Stars” in his office in the church overlooking the picturesque delta of Modera and fringed by the buildings of De La Salle College that I visited when I was in the Education Ministry.

Anyway none of them ever asked me to list the causes for the possible disappearance of Buddhism which not only fervent Buddhists but even non - Buddhists who admire it do not wish to envisage.

Had I been asked to list them I may stammer out factors like the growth of an over - consumerist society, the demon of bickering politics that has seeped into lower levels too and the phenomenon of TV ads that erode almost directly noble Buddhist values, cum certain values of other religions too.

That this erosion takes place on the glamorous TV screen in front of which my families now sit and roost and “Ah! and Ooh!” at all the gimmicks going on, makes the destructive process more formidable.

The defilements of envy and greed are inculcated in many a TV ad. Take for instance the TV ad that appeared some years ago when a couple watching with grudging envy the neighbouring family unload a whole heap of electric gadgets.

The female contrives to find out how they have become so prosperous overnight and learns about the God - send, a highly advertised loan scheme.

It matters not whether they need those same gadgets, the only end is competition and they are back the next day, victory flushing their faces, with the same assortment of goods. Outdoing the Jones, no, the Punchi Appuhamys and Rosa Nonas next door and elevating themselves into the status of glorious debtors.

Then there was the hilarious ad where a female gazes enviously at the drawing room suite of her neighbour and throwing all self-respect away, when she is informed that some visitors would be arriving she negotiates with this neighbour and removes her drawing room suite and drags in that of hers.

This is openly flaunting the practice of deceit but those furniture dealers just thrived on this ad. Of course the ad could not have been the only factor, persistence and luck too playing their part. What is evil here is that the ads directly work against religious teachings, be they Buddhist, Catholic, Moslem or Hindu that cry foul against deceit and vain glory.

I wonder whether any other country in the world has TV channels that begin in the morning with religions sermons delivered by savants of all the religions flourishing in that country. We have almost set a record here and then these TV ads come on the screen to counter all that like buckets with holes that filter away all the fresh water gathered from dawn rains.

They show children who lick their fingers after eating, wipe all the slush after walloping on a crunchy chocolate or cone of ice cream or some such stuff.

Then they tell the gaping audience in whose tummies sometimes worms cry due to hunger, that unless you feed the child on a particular kind of cheese that he or she can never grow up properly or attend to studies. For balanced growth and sound education a certain kind of butter or margarine is essential the children are told.

I read the other day that the education Ministry on the initiative of the new and enterprising Commissioner of Examinations is planning a symposium to find out causes for poor exam results.

Let the advertisers too participate for they contribute enough for the devastation. What easy excuses the TV supplies the children to discourage them from studying but encourage them to fritter away their time before the great liar arisen out of modern technology.

A certain publishing house of long standing has now begun a campaign that unless exercise books with their brand name are used that the children can never go ahead. This is open lying. “Thou shalt not lie”. It also can lead to domestic squabbles when children begin demanding from parents the purchase of this particular brand of exercise book or a writing pen, if they are to go ahead.

There was once a TV ad where both father and son in turn steal from a bottle of jam.

They get into corners of the house away from the prying eyes of the overbearing female of the house and finish the stuff in stealth. Greed and unhealthy overeating are directly encouraged and the ad flouts the Panchaseela and the Christian teaching, “Thou shalt not steal and similar taboos of other religions.

Some ads simply do not make any sense.

There is the young lady seated with others at a table loaded with all the mouth watering calories filled stuff. Suddenly she slyly looks at others,” steals” a fat sausage, gets into a corner and gorges on it. Returns, takes another one and repeats the performance.

Actually there is no taboo for her to fill her tummy at the table with the sausages but the advertising agency that designed the ad wishes to stress the delicacy of it and brings in this torrid drama of a young lady openly stealing food. Well dressed and extremely attractive she is the heroine of the piece and the young audience just relish her acts.

How nauseating is the ad where mother boasts how with the aid of her children a fowl was powdered to make sausages at home.

What a Pinkama where the whole family partakes! Compare this with a piece in a Readers Digest magazine where children of a family in England cry on bed the whole of the Christmas night at the memory of the goose they had been playing with, roasted and made the centrepiece of the dining table! Where are the true Buddhist? Here in the repository of Theravada Buddhism or in Christian Europe?

As if all this is not enough, recently the change of programmes on a certain channel is signalled by the gong of temple bells and the blossoming out of a lotus.

It is all very well if the programme to follow is a Dhamma discussion or a song recital by children or some such item but imagine the sacrilege when it is followed by a food demonstration where on a lavish table a fat roasted cock is displayed to be sliced or decorated with flowers stuck on its lifeless beak and other body parts.

Remember the famous politician who ceremoniously began to slice a young roasted pig at a sumptuous party and then went on to fix a lime on its snout for convenient use of those about to feast. The Feast proved his undoing in a Buddhist country as photographs of the little pig and the politician flashed on all the newspapers. There was no TV then.

Are we in a similar fashion to allow the uninhibited use of evilly designed TV ads to hasten the disappearance of our great religion? I am only posing a question. Or have I exaggerated the situation?


Towards a purified mind

Indonesian Buddhist monks pray in front of a statue of the Buddha during a ceremony for Waisak or the Buddha’s birthday, at Borobudur temple in Magelang, central Java, Indonesia. AP

Purified mind: Man consists of mind and body. Most people ensure that their bodies are clean for good health and to prevent discomfort for others with whom one associates. However, there is considerable neglect in the effort to maintain a clean mind. The mind is a flow of thoughts and though not visible to the human eye and its location cannot be determined, has an important role to play in the practice of the Dhamma.

In Buddhism the mind is considered the forerunner of all states of being, as mentioned in opening lines of the Dhammapada, a collection of important sayings of the Buddha.

Thoughts precede action, both physical and verbal. The exception is reflex action and there too one’s overall character would influence such reflex action. As one feels the pain of a mosquito bite, an untrained mind would by reflex action kill the mosquito. Not so the trained mind.

Full of compassion for lesser living beings, he would merely drive the mosquito away with the wave of the hand. A disciplined and controlled mind will be an asset to oneself and others while an untamed mind would be the opposite.

What is an unclean mind? It is a mind that is polluted with unwholesome thoughts and defilements. They are thoughts such as unrestrained sense - desires, ill-will, envy, anger and fear.

Polluted mind

These thoughts are harmful to oneself and others. Unrestrained desires are never fully satisfied. When one desire is realised others arise.

They are insatiable. It is compared in Buddhist literature to taking salt water to quench one’s thirst which would aggravate the thirst rather than satisfy it. Sense - desires are considered the main cause of dukkha, the unsatisfactory nature of life, together with two other root defilements, namely, hatred and ignorance.

A mind that is dominated by uncontrolled sense - desires is restless and never peaceful and content.

Even worse are thoughts of ill-will and hatred. When one thinks of a person one hates or dislikes, for whatever the reason, there is unhappiness. Thoughts of ill-will pollute the mind.

So are the thoughts of jealousy and envy. Such thoughts, comparing oneself with others, cause unnecessary unhappiness. Often the person towards whom envy is directed may have caused no harm but such thoughts disturb the tranquillity of the mind.

Anger is an evil emotion that is substantially harmful to oneself and others. The liabilities of anger are obvious. A strong sense of anger would deprive the control of oneself and could result in action, verbal or physical, that one would very much regret later. It could result in violence and in extreme cases even murder.

At such times one loses complete control of oneself. It could ruin one’s personal family life as well as ones own health. Speech or action in a fit of anger has led to serious development such as the disintegration of long standing and cordial associations and the break up of even closely knit families.

Actions dominated by intense anger could cause irreparable damage to cordial relations which may not be overcome in the lifetime of the protagonists. It becomes an intense conflict most devastating to the physical, mental and material well-being of both parties.

Fear is a disturbing mental emotion and also considered in Buddhism as unwholesome with a negative kammic impact. Largely arising due to the uncertainties of life, it affects one’s sense of security. Although measures could be adopted to mitigate against possible unsatisfactory results of uncertainties, there is no absolute guarantee that they would succeed.

This situation is aggravated if one has a high sense of ego - of me, mine and myself. Then there is greater anxiety and a greater effort to create a credible sense of security.

Commitment to mental purity

An important prerequisite for determined action to progress from a polluted to a purified mind is to deeply comprehend the liabilities of a defiled mind, as briefly indicated earlier, to galvanise oneself to take appropriate corrective action. In a short leaflet titled Introduction to “Vipassana Meditation”, the outstanding Meditation Master, S. N. Goenka, has stated that lasting happiness is only achieved by the purification of the mind.

Reflection on death could also strongly encourage action to cleanse the mind. The Buddha has frequently extolled His followers to keep the fact of death in the forefront of their minds and it is an important subject of meditation in Buddhism.

Reflection on the kind of life that one is leading at present and the style of life that should be adopted being acutely conscious that our body before long would perish and die and all that we could take to the world beyond is our kamma, both wholesome and unwholesome.

Material riches of this life are not valid currency in our forward samsaric journey. This would be an effective incentive to purify the mind since as stated earlier it is our thoughts that most often govern our physical and verbal actions.

Overcoming defilements

The Buddha disclosed remedies to overcome factors that pollute the mind. For excessive sense - desires the recommended answer is the reflection or meditation on impermanence - anicca.

This would invalidate the assumption that the object of desire would last for ever. If the object of desire is a living being there is the process of change all the time with living beings often facing old age, disease and decay and certainly death.

In the case of inanimate objects there is deterioration, decay and eventual destruction although not observable at a superficial level in respect of solid structures at a given point of time. The reflection on impermanence is considered an important factor in Buddhism and its contemplation is a highly meritorious action.

For ill-will, hatred and aversion, the counter mechanism is the development of metta or loving kindness or the sincere wish for the happiness and welfare of all living beings without discrimination. For the effective practice of metta an essential prerequisite is that one should have no ill-will or hatred towards any living being.

If some one has harmed us and we think that person has acted in a wrong and unfair manner, we should from a Buddhist stand point extend compassion to him and wish that he would reform himself for his own welfare and the good of others. Thoughts of metta have to be extended to all without distinction just as the sun gives its rays to all without discrimination.

The remedy advocated for jealousy is the development of the noble quality of mudita, one of the four factors of Brahma-Vihara, the art of noble living. This is the cultivation of joy at the happiness and success of others. Rather than be jealous of others’ success let us be happy about their success.

This would counter thoughts of envy that unnecessarily pollute the mind and cause unhappiness. No harm is usually done to one by the success of others. Our happiness is generally confined to the success and welfare of ourselves and those close and dear to us. We could add to our sum total of happiness by being joyful at the success and progress of all.

The Buddhist approach to overcome anger is to be aware of it in the initial stages. The earlier one is alive to the beginnings of anger the easier it is to contain and control it. Anger could be controlled to a considerable extent by the informal practice of the meditation on the breath-anapana sati - observing the in and out of the natural breath which would reduce the tension. Many who have tested this technique have found it to be most satisfactory.

One could also reflect that the unpleasant feelings caused by unjust speech or action would be the result of one’s own unwholesome actions of the past, either in this life or previous lives, under the Law of Kamma, the law of cause and effect. Thinking on those lines one could extend compassion rather than ill-will for those immediately responsible for the unpleasant feeling.

The more important battle is within ourselves, the internal struggle to overcome the rising anger and maintain a calm and balanced state of mind. Anger would only aggravate the unfortunate situation. For fear arising largely from the uncertainties of life, we could consider uncertainty as a hallmark of nature.

Actual practice

We cannot change the nature of things but could adapt ourselves to the nature of things. While taking whatever action is considered feasible to minimise the harmful effects of uncertainties, we should adjust ourselves to face possible adverse effects of future uncertainties with equanimity and balance of mind accepting them as a part of dukkha, the unsatisfactory nature of life.

This would largely reduce the fears, anxieties and worries proliferating in our minds leading to restleness and eventually in extreme cases to physical ailments such as ulcers and skin diseases.

How do we practise in our daily lives the art of purification of the mind in accordance with the teachings of the Buddha? In this respect formal meditation would be considerably helpful.


Sulugal Vihara needs urgent renovation

The eighteen feet Buddha statue disfigured by termites.
- Hiriyala Group Corr.

A number of Buddha statues in Sulugal Vihara , a historical temple at Peddawa, Mahamookalanyaya in the Ganewatta Divisional Secretariat division are being destroyed by termites.

A large portion of the frescoes too have been destroyed and now the plaster is falling off.

The ancient dagoba in the premises also lies in ruins.

According to history, this temple had been built in the Kandyan era. Several recumbent Buddha statues too have been eaten into, disfiguring them.

The Dayaka Sabha of the temple request the department of archaeology to take action to renovate these statues and frescoes.


Gamin Gamata - Presidential Community & Welfare Service

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