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Buddhism and socio-ethical progress

Upasika Sujatha offering alms to the Buddha after He attained Enlightenment.

Some scholars with a little knowledge of Buddhism are of the opinion that there is no socio-economic and political philosophy of Buddhism. A well-known scholar, Max Weber, who is considered 'The Father of Sociology of Religion', explaining the socio-political aspect of Buddhism says: "Buddhism had no tie with any social movement, nor did it run in parallel with such and it has established no social and political goal."

He further says that Buddhism is a social and anti-political, and it can be considered to be an "other-worldly religion." This is a misleading and distorted concept of Buddhism. It is very clear, for this misleading idea that Max Weber has not deeply analysed Buddhist teachings. Buddhism is in no way another-worldly religion. It includes a well-defined socio-economic and political philosophy.

Professor D.D. Kosambi and Professor Rhys Davids accept that there is a socio-economic and political philosophy of Buddhism, and they disprove the above mentioned idea. Another misconceived idea of Buddhism says that Buddhism is such a sublime system that ordinary people cannot practise it.

One has to retire to a monastery if one desires to be a true Buddhist. This is a partial view. The doctrine of the Buddha is meant not only for Monks but also for ordinary men and women living in their homes with their family members. The Noble Eightfold Path, observing precepts, meditation on loving-kindness and the Ten Perfection are meant for all. They can be practised in anyone's daily life.

Asocial religion?

It is incorrect to say that Buddhism is asocial. Addressing the first sixty Arahants (Perfected Ones), the Buddha says: "O Monks! Walk on tour, for the good of the many, for the happiness of the many, for the welfare of the many, good and happiness of human beings and celestial beings."

This shows that the Buddha has laid much emphasis on the members of society and their welfare. Therefore, the old Buddhist monasteries became spiritual centres and the centres of learning and culture. The Five Precepts are meant for the whole human society. Any person can observe them and lead a spiritual life, and that would be of great benefit to this competitive society.

The Sigalovada Sutta explicitly explains the family and its social relationships. It gives a set of instructions and ethical teachings that pertain to man's socio-economic and spiritual progress.

Modern man can lead a very happy and prosperous life if he understands the significance of these social relations explained in the Sigalovada Sutta.

Some scholars are of the opinion that Buddhist philosophy is interested only in higher morality and it ignores the social and economic welfare. This is also another misconception of Buddhist socio-economic philosophy.

Kutadanta Sutta

The Kutadanta Sutta explains the way of developing a country with proper planning and the nature of socio-economic progress. We should not forget that the Buddha expounded these words in the sixth century BC, but even today they are of great value.


The Chakkavattisihanada Sutta explains the poverty, revolution, poverty-related crimes and the chaotic situation of a country and the reasons for those social ills. Today, our competitive global society experiences these socio-economic and political tribulations that are well-explained in the Chakkavattisihanada Sutta.

Agganna Sutta

In the Agganna Sutta we find a theory of the origin of social classes. There the Buddha explains the arising and evolution of vegetation, the origin of state, the evolution of human race and social grades, the changing nature of moral values, and the relationship between moral degeneration and the deterioration of environmental elements.

The Sutta explains how the beings (Satta) were becoming less hard-working, less honest, less ethical and how they lost their physical and mental qualities. Fundamental unreasonable concepts relating to social organisations were radically transformed by the Buddha. The Buddha explained the nature of those concepts and their connection with the Ditthis or dogmatic views of certain religious traditions.

The socio-economic and cultural transformations by the Buddha can be seen explicitly even in the present time in our Buddhist societies. Making a comment on the socio-cultural upheaval of Buddhism, Narendranath Bhatthacharya says: "The rise of Buddhism was certainly to serve some social purpose. It had some distinct social and functional role.

But very few attempts have been made to understand all these." It is true that Buddhism is capable of doing a drastic transformation of the present day competitive and war-like society. But it needs and appropriate knowledge and correct understanding of the teachings of the Buddha.

Buddha, Marx and God

The first significant work in the Buddhist social field was Die Religion des Buddha (1957), written by C.F. Koppen. In his book Koppen explains: ".... the Buddha was viewed as the emancipator of the oppressed and a great political innovator."

Here, it is very interesting to note that Koppen was a close friend of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.

Karl Marx ruthlessly criticised religion and the widely accepted concept of omnipotent God. Buddhism is completely free from that criticism, for it does not have any concept of God.

Trevor Ling in his work 'Buddha, Marx and God' explains that Buddhism is free from his critique. French scholar La Loubere says that Buddhism is totally different from other religions as it does not have a doctrine of God and it teaches rebirth (re-becoming, re-changing, re-transformation of Punabbhava) without accepting the concept of a soul.

Addressing the 'Berlin Science Academy' in 1856, Albrecht Weber explained that Buddhist teachings were so helpful for social reformation and it had accepted the equality of all human beings.

The equality of all human beings is explained in the Vasetta Sutta, Ambatta Sutta, Assalayana Sutta and some other places.

Karl Marx and meditation

Karl Marx, writing a letter to his daughter Laura Marx, on March 20, 1866, said: "Most of my time I'm walking and breathing fresh air. I read nothing and write less. I go to bed at 9.00 p.m. Generally, I subside into the emotional state of non-existence that Buddhism considers to be the height of human delicacy."

This statement clearly suggests that Karl Marx tried to practice Buddhist mindfulness and meditation in his final days. A well-known political philosopher who wanted to change the world society with revolutionary measures apparently changed his mind and came to the spiritual path.

Buddhism is the most socially-oriented religion. Therefore, the early Buddhist monasteries were celebrated seats of learning which functioned to a great extent like the modern universities.

Buddhist education paved the way for righteous (dhammic) existence and welfare of various societies. A more favourable socio-economic system for the world has been shown by the teachings of the Buddha.

Buddhist art

The contribution of Buddhism in the field of art cannot be explained in words. It is inexpressible. Millions of pagodas and statues speak volumes for the immeasurable kindness and pure motivations of the human heart. Those statues were able to tame the minds and change the hearts of human beings. This is a silent revolution for the welfare of all living beings.

The very great and astonishing creations of Buddhist art can be seen in India, China, Central Asia, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Burma, Thailand, Japan, Korea, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Cambodia and in some other countries.

The Borobudur Tope Complex in Central Java is a very wonderful creation of the Buddhist mind. Today, modern architects try to explain how they built it.

The only thing that we can do is to admire and be astonished by seeing it. The immensity and beauty of these structures puts the observer in awe of the intense dedication and inspiration of the people who built them.

Candi Sewu, Candi Mendut and Candi Plaosan in Central Java are also very astonishing Buddhist complexes. Why do so many people visit these artistic creations?

They definitely pave the way for mental peace and mental harmony of the visitors.

Contribution to sociology

The society in which we live today is highly competitive and money-centered. That very competition and money-centeredness takes a lot of time, energy and effort, and results in mental stress and physical distress. So, where do we find the proper medicine for this inconvenience? If we look at those ancient statues in a silent place, they infiltrate love, compassion and peace into the pure side of our hearts.

A society would be a very pleasant place if many human beings have pure hearts. The greatness of Gotama the Buddha's contribution to sociology as a psychotherapist is admitted by Dr. Robert H. Thouless, the well-known psychologist of Cambridge.

If we carefully investigate the teachings of the Sutta Pitaka (Discourses) and the Vinaya Pitaka (Discipline), we certainly would find many fundamental theories of sociology in them.

Buddhism is certainly a socio-ethical movement and it appreciates and promotes nothing but socio-ethical progress. Material development without ethical foundation is of no use. R. R. Bhole says, "Buddhism spread after first century AD to Middle Asia, China, Mongolia, Japan and Southeast Asia and triumphed as a far-reaching social humanistic movement."

Cultivation of Samma Ditthi (Right View)

Samma Ditthi which is translated as Right View, occurs at the very beginning of the Noble Eightfold Path, thus, the importance of its cultivation for the realisation of the path and its fruits.

The Venerable Sariputta explains right view in the Saccavibhanga Sutta (Majjima Nikaya 141) as knowledge of suffering (Dukkha); knowledge of the origin of suffering, knowledge of the cessation of suffering, and knowledge of the way leading to the cessation of suffering.

It should be noted that the truth of Dukkha is translated in many ways, as suffering, unsatisfactoriness conflict etc, but it would be more appropriate and helpful to understand it in the manner explained by the Buddha himself and in the Dhamma Sakkapavattana Sutta and likewise by the Arahath Sariputta in the aforesaid Sutta as "Birth is suffering, aging is suffering; death is suffering; sorrow Lamentation, pain, grief, and despair are suffering; not to obtain what one wants is suffering; in short the five aggregates affected by clinging are suffering."

Development of Right View

The various ways in which Samma Ditthi could be cultivated has been set out comprehensively by the Arahath Sariputta in the Samma Ditthi Sutta (Majjima Nikaya No. 9) as follows:-

Understanding the unwholesome (Akusala) the root of the unwholesome (Akusala Mula), the wholesome (Kusala) and the root of the wholesome. What is unwholesome? Killing living beings; taking what is not given, misconduct in sensual pleasures, false speech, malicious speech, harsh speech, gossip; covetousness, ill-will, wrong view: and the root of the unwholesome is greed (Lobha) Hatred (Dosa) delusion (Moha).

The wholesome is the abstention of the aforesaid action, and the root of the wholesome is non greed, non hate and non delusion.

Then, Understanding Nutriment (Ahara ie. Edible food, contact, mental volition and consciousness:) the origin, by Craving. The cessation, by cessation of craving and the way leading to the cessation of Nutriment is The Noble Eightfold Path: Thereby one develops right view.

Understanding the four Noble Truths, ie Dukha, its arising by craving, cessation, by Eradication of craving, and the way leading to its cessation ie. the noble eightfold path. Likewise the following conditions should be understood.

Understanding Ageing and Death The ageing of beings in the various orders of beings, their old age, brokenness of teeth, graying of hair, wrinkling of skin, decline of life, weakness of faculties.

The passing of beings out of the various orders of beings, their passing away, dissolution, disappearance, dying, completion of time, dissolution of the aggregates, laying down of the body, is called death.

By the arising of birth, there is the arising of ageing and death, with the cessation of Birth, there is the cessation of ageing and death and the way leading to its cessation is the noble eightfold path.

Understanding Birth (Jati), The birth of beings into the various orders of beings, their coming to birth, precipitation (in a womb), generation manifestation of the Aggregates, obtaining bases for contact.

With the arising of being, there is the arising of birth. With the cessation of being there is the cessation of Birth.

The other conditions could be summarised as follows:-

Being (Bhave) - Sense - sphere beings, fine material, immaterial Arising by clinging, cessation by non clinging

Clinging (Upadana) - Clinging to sensual pleasures, to views to rituals and observances, to a doctrine of self.

- Arising by craving, cessation by eradication of craving

Craving (Tanha) - Six classes: craving for forms, sounds, odours, flavours, tangibles, mind-objects. Arising by feeling, cessation by eradication feeling.

Feeling (Vedana) - Six classes: Feeling born of eye-contact, ear-contact, nose-contact, tongue-contact, body-contact, mind-contact.

-Arising by contact, cessation by eradication of contact

Contact (Phassa) - Six Classes: Eye contact, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind.

- Arising by six fold base, cessation by eradication of six fold base.

Six Fold Base (Salayatana) - Six Bases: Eye-Base, ear, nose tongue, body, mind.

- Arising by Mentality - Matiality cessation by eradication of it.

Mentality-Materiality (Nama-Rupa) - Mentality: Feeling, perception, volition, contact, attention.

- Materiality: four great elements (patavi, Apo, Thejo, Vayo) and the material form derived from them.

- Arising by consciousness, cessation by eradication of it.

Consciousness (vinnana) - Six classes: Eye consciousness, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind

- Arising by Sankharas (Formations) cessation by eradication of it.

Formations (Sankharas) -

3 kinds: Bodily formation, verbal and mental.

- Arising by ignorance, cessation by eradication of it.

Ignorance (Avijja) - not knowing the four nobel truths.

- Arising by taints, cessation by eradication of it.

Taints (Asavas) - 3 taints: taint of sensual desire, of being and ignorance Arising by ignorance, cessation by eradication of it.

Thus the aforesaid conditions should be understood and the way leading to the cessation of them would be the noble eight fold path. Therefore by any of the aforesaid ways one could arrive at right view.

Conditions for the arising of Right View

1. Voice of another (Parato Ghosa) i.e. by listening to a sermon, dhamma discussion etc.

2. wise attention (Yoniso Manasikara) These conditions have been set out in the Mahavedalla sutta, No. 43 in the Majjima Nikaya.

Levels of Samma Diththi (Right view)

The Mahacattarissaka Sutta (Majjima Nikaya) Sutta 117, (Translation of Bhikkhu Bodhi) gives the two levels of right view.

1. Right view affected by the taints, partaking of merit, ripening on the side of attachment:- There is what (Atthi dinnam) is given and what is (Atthi rettam) offered and what is sacrificed (Atthi Hutam), there is fruit and result of good and bad action; there is this world and the other world; there is father and mother, there are beings who are born spontaneously; there are in the world good and virtuous recluses and Brahmins who have realised for themselves by direct knowledge and declare this world and the other world.

2. Right view, that is, Noble, taintless, supramundane, a factor of the Path. The wisdom, the faculty of wisdom, the power of wisdom, the investigation of states enlightment factor, the path factor of right view in one whose mind is noble, whose mind is taintless, who possesses the nobel path and is developing the noble path.

Thus it would seem that there is kind of right view that it purely of a mundane nature, while the attainment of the supramundane path would require the cultivation of the higher level of right view.

The cultivation of right view of the higher level would firmly set one on the correct path and be the stepping stone to the practice of the other seven factors of the noble eightfold path which would ultimately result in the attainment of Nibbana.

A study of the Sammaditthi sutta and the Mahacattarissaka sutta would be greatly beneficial to those in the quest of emancipation.

(Bhikkhu Bodhi's translation of the Suttas have been utilised for this article.)

Vesak Poya

Significant and historical aspects:

 A sculpture of Dipankara Buddha from Gandhara, present day Afghanistan

The young ascetic Sumedha was committed to achieve the highest spiritual realm, only a few could reach. That day he heard Dipankara Buddha was visiting his town. What he wanted was a definite prophecy that he would be a Buddha in eons to come.

However the place was congested with people and the young man could hardly reflect a way of seeing Dipankara Buddha. When he spotted the muddy road, his mind worked in a different plane.

He requested the Great Teacher and his retinue to walk over him. Dipankara Buddha saw the young man's thought in his divine eye, and knew the youth's wish will materialise in uncountable eons to come.

Dipankara Buddha prophesied ascetic Sumedha would be a Buddha named Gotama in the future. The day Buddha declared the solemn prophecy to his twenty-fourth successor was a Vesak Full Moon Poya day.

Three major events in the Buddha's life

From then Sumedha had been reborn in many existences. He had to complete the 30 Paramitas, perfections. And before his final birth, the Bodhisatva, or Buddha-to-be, was born in Thusitha heaven.

The divine creature inquired five affairs before expiring for the final birth: right time, right area, right continent, right cast and right mother. Then, as any Buddhist knows, the fully mindful divine being entered the womb of Queen Mahamaya. A prince was born on a Vesak Poya day to the Queen and King Suddhana and was named Siddharth, one who has found meaning of existence. The Queen passed away seven days after the prince's birth.

The whiz kid declared the glorious verse, customary for all Buddhas, just after the birth: "I am the chief of the world. There is no equal to me. I am supreme. This is my last birth. No rebirth for me." The teacher worshipped the teacher of the world, and the father worshipped the son.

Siddharth Gotama's life was spent amid royal luxuries until he realised life's true nature. Moments later Prince Siddharth renounced the princely life on a Vesak poya day. Ascetic life was not a simple thing for the prince.

The robed Gotama was trained in various mental skills under many teachers, only to get disillusioned that they do not have the truth he looks for. The right way to achieve the truth dawned on him one day. He directed the mind in the right meditation path. Moments later he reached Enlightenment and conquered the world of sorrows on a Vesak Poya day.

The Conqueror was heading to the city of Kusinara, when he met Pukkusa. Pukkusa listened to the Dhamma and offered the Conqueror two golden robes: one worn by the Blessed One and the other by His assistant Ven. Ananda.

 Sumanakuta or Adamís Peak

When the Conqueror was robed, his skin became clear dazzling the robe. Ven. Ananda was amazed and the Conqueror declared that the skin of a Buddha will be remarkably bright on two occasions: the night he attains enlightenment and the night he passes away.

80-year old Gotama Buddha then announced his passing away, Parinibbana, would take place on the third watch of the night at Sal grove of Malla royal family, and it happened to be a Vesak poya day.

Buddha visits the land of Nagas

The Buddha visited Sri Lanka on three occasions: first to Mahiyangana in January, second to Nagadipa in April, and third to Kelaniya in May, Vesak.

On the second visit made to Nagadipa, King Maniakkikha invited the Blessed One for a third visit to Kelaniya. And the Blessed One visited Kelaniya three years after his second visit, with 550 Arahants.

However Nishantha Gunawardena, a Sri Lankan historian living in US, mentions an interesting find in his 'The Lost Dynasty'; Buddha was not invited by King Maniakkhika but by a king named Panitha and his daughter princess Abhi Upaliya. Nishantha cites rock inscriptions at Balaharukanda and Bambaragastalawa that corroborate this find.

"...the rock inscriptions are more accurate due to the difficulty in changing or forging them. It was the national King Panitha who invited Gautama Buddha the second time. The regional King Maniakkhika is mentioned in a few other records.

But it was not until the December 2004 tsunami hit, the King reintroduced himself. As the tsunami tore through the island it exposed several rock inscriptions. Two of them bore the name King Maniagiya and his mother's name. This is, in fact, King Maniakkhika." (82pp)

King Maniakhikha is commonly mistaken as a Naga (snake) king, but scholars believe the king belonged to a clan named Naga. Following the Buddha's sermon in Kelaniya, the king erected a shrine with the Buddha's hair, utensils and the seat buried inside. However the foreign invasions have resulted in damaging the original shrine.

The Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara became more sacred following the Ven. Mahinda's arrival in Lanka to establish the Dhamma wheel officially. Mahavamsa, the official chronicle on Sri Lankan history written in the 5th century CE, states King Devanampiyatissa's brother Uttiya renovated the Dagoba along with the first quarters of the Monks, Shrine.

Mahavamsa interestingly relates how the Blessed One headed to Adam's Peak or Sumanakuta from Kelani on the Vesak Poya day. The 7359-ft-tall conical mountain has a historic significance as Buddhists believe it has the Buddha's footprint on it.

 Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara

The mount is normally known as Adam's Peak for Christians and Shivan Adipatham (Shiva's footprint) for Hindus. The mount obviously has become the meeting place for people of diverse religions and ethnicities.

In Sinhala the mount is known as Sri Pada, a term derived from Sanskrit denoting the Sacred Foot. The Sinhala Samanala Kanda, or Butterfly Mountain in English, is named thus because of the butterflies annually migrating to the region.

Legend has it that the Buddha placed his left footprint on the hill summit and then strode across to Thailand, then Siam. In Siam the Buddha is said to have left the impression of the right foot; this is called Phra Sat, similar to Sri Pada. In his Bharhut Stupa General Sir A. Cunningham has details about footprints: "Footprints of the Buddha were most probably an object of reverence from a very early period - certainly before the building of the Bharut Stupa - as they are represented in two separate sculptures there. In the sculpture the footprints are placed on a throne or altar, canopied by an umbrella hung with garlands.

A royal personage is kneeling before the altar, and reverently touching the footprints with his hands. The second example is in the bas-relief representing the visit of Ajata-satru to Buddha. Here, as in all other Bharut sculptures, the Buddha does not appear in person, his presence being marked by His two footprints.

The wheel symbol is duly marked on both' (112pp). A cave temple called Diva Guhava is recognised as the place the Buddha had a rest during his Sripada Visit along with his retinue. The cave is said to have the capacity to provide shelter for over 500 people.

Siripa samaya, the season of Sripa pilgrimage starts in December and ends in May. "When the Teacher, compassionate to the whole world," goes on Mahavamsa, account of the great clan, "had preached the doctrine there, he rose, the Master, and left the traces of his footsteps plain to sight on Sumanakuta.

And after he had spent the day as it pleased him at the foot of this mountain, with the brotherhood, be set forth for Dighavapi."

Some historians however see the Buddha's visit to Dighavapi far from being likely. As the chronicle states, the Buddha had Himself visited the village and meditated consecrating the place. A shrine was later erected on the place the Blessed One meditated.

Many works including Samantha Pasadika and Dipavamsa contain allusions to Dighavapi.

The works mention the inhabitants of Dighavapi were Yakkas, with links to pre-Aryan Kirat people in Northern India. As a legend goes, while a novice monk was repairing a part of the shrine, he fell from the top. He heard the shouting of his colleagues to recall Dhajagga Paritta, a Sutta reciting the great qualities of the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. And finally, it is said, the novice monk was saved miraculously. The area was later reconstructed by King Saddhatissa.

Some sources indicate that the Buddha set foot on Kataragama following the visit to Dighavapi. Legend has it that the Buddha met King Mahasena (some sources identify the king as Mahaghosha) in Kataragama.

The King listened to the Buddha and erected a shrine - now known as Mangala Ceitya - on the place he preached. The place is now called Kiri Vehera, located close to the Hindu temple built by the same King.

According to a source discovered by Nishantha Gunawardena the Mangala Ceitya contains the sword that Prince Siddharth used to cut his hair in renouncing. However, as Nishantha adds, the source is yet to be verified.

Vijaya arrives in Tambapanni

Prince Vijaya's visit to Sri Lanka - then called Tambapanni, an island with golden sand - happened on a Vesak Poya. As commonly known, Vijaya was exiled to Tambapanni because of the dreadful behaviour of him and his associates.

His father, Sinhabahu, had no option other than exiling him, his followers and their families numbering about 700, to the island shaving half of their heads as a sign of disgrace. Vijaya's ancestors came down from the kingdom of Kalinga, known as Orissa to the ancient, and Vanga in Bangladesh and in eastern part of India.

The king of Vanga was married to the daughter of the king of Kalinga, named Suppadevi. Mahavamsa then relates the episode of Suppadevi having a sexual affair with a lion ending up with two children: Sihabahu, lion-arms, and Sihasivali.

The lion had the family life in a cave, covered by a large rock to block any attempt of escapade. But turn of events took a different shape as the lion's family had escaped from the cave, and Sihabahu killing his father with an arrow. Following the patricide, Sihabahu married his sister and formed a kingdom in Sihapura city. The royal couple had a series of twins, of which Vijaya was the eldest.

Rajavaliya, the chronicle on Sri Lankan kings, mentions Vijaya's entourage spotted Adam's Peak and landed in Southern Sri Lanka - the area that later became the Kingdom of Ruhuna. H. Parker, a British historian, however, mentions it is the mouth of Kirindi Oya.

So started Vijayan dynasty, a reign of a King with a positive attitude towards Buddhism, making the path clear for an official introduction during King Devanampiyatissa's reign.

King "Beloved of the Gods" consecrates

 Kataragama Kirivehera

King Devenampiyatissa - meaning 'beloved of the gods' - had his second coronation on a Vesak Poya day. Mahavamsa goes on to describe the moment of glory: "Grand miracles occurred during the consecration of King Devanampiya Tissa. Jewels buried in earth rose to the surface, pearls in deep oceans were washed ashore and piled up and bamboo trees started to look like they were made out of silver. King Devanampiya Tissa thought that these pearls and gems should be sent to his great friend, King Dharmashoka of India.

King Dharmashoka and King Devanampiya Tissa were great friends for many years but had never seen each other."

King Dharmashoka by this time was sending Buddhist missionaries to countries around the world. He selected his son Mahinda Thera to be sent to Lanka with the message of Buddhism.

Mahinda Thera and four other theras started out from India to visit Lanka and ended up in "Missaka Pavva" (Mihintale). At this time King Devanampiya Tissa was conducting a deer hunt close to Mihintale.

The god of the mountain wanted to show Mahinda Thera to the King and disguised himself as a deer. King Devanampiya Tissa and his men chased the deer. When the deer came near the mountain where Mahinda Thera was standing, the deer disappeared. King Devanampiya Tissa saw Mahinda Thera standing on the mountain.

Such is the meaningful influence of Vesak Poya day that intermingles the events of both religious and historical significance.



What happened on Vesak Poya day?

Dipankara Buddha prophesies ascetic Sumedha.

Three major events in the Buddha's life: Birth, Enlightenment, Passing away

Buddha's third visit to Sri Lanka: Kelaniya, Sumanakuta, Dighavapi and Kataragama

Prince Vijaya lands in Tambapanni.

King Devanampiyatissa consecrates for the second time.

Benevolence and discovery of Nirvana

Among the Buddhists in Sri Lanka the tendency is to ask the last question first. They all want to know what Nirvana is, the supreme state of mind, which the Buddha achieved over 2500 years ago in India. The Buddhist texts show the names of a large number of early disciples of the Buddha who achieved that state as well.

The Buddha never described what Nirvana is since it cannot be described in a manner an ordinary mind could comprehend. However he showed the way, and the conditions necessary for achieving it. The Buddha's Enlightenment means knowledge and vision of absolute reality pertaining to man, society and the universe.

The central philosophy of Buddhism is that nothing happens in the world without a cause. It is a particular cause that gives rise to a particular effect. The result is always formulated by the cause itself.

"When this exists, that comes in to being; with the coming in to being of this, that exists. When this does not exist that too does not come in to being; with the cessation of this, that too ceases to exist."

This is the formula of causality in its simplest form which explains the central philosophy of coming into being.

How does the average Buddhist set about to achieve this goal in life? Firstly it is a subject of study in schools, Sunday schools conducted in Buddhist temples, seats of higher learning like the Pirivenas and Universities, attending Buddhist discussions, listening to sermons, talks, observation of Sil on Poya days in the temples, Meditation retreats and in particular more serious following meditation courses offered under different meditation masters.

With so much of Buddhists ethics imparted to the people from their young age, one does not see the desired effect in proportion to the quantum of subject matter of inputs they receive. On the contrary, sad to say, it looks more sterile than fertile. Every day one reads in the newspapers in TV and Radio about the amount of violence directed by man against man and animal.


Theft, robbery, murder, rape, drug and alcohol addiction, contract murders, and worst of all incest, that is having sex with one's children, which is something that happens among the animals. Father murdering the son, son murdering the father, members of the same family murdering each other are incidents reported in the newspapers every day. Then there is suicide, in hatred towards society. Unfortunately Sri Lanka records one of the highest rates of suicide in the world.

Degeneration has reached such low depths that one reads of how Buddhist monks are murdered within the temple compounds and theft, looting and pilferage of temple property takes place, antique Buddhist images are taken away for sale and export.

Something is wrong somewhere, unless we remedy this situation, no amount of building temples or constructing huge Buddha images, conferring titles on Buddhist monks, and engaging in Buddhist pilgrimages and promoting Buddhist missionaries abroad to spread the word of the Buddha, is going to help.

One of the main reasons for this state of affairs is that the ethical transformation of the society based on the impact of the Buddhist temple on the society has failed to have its desired effect.

If one listens to the sermons of an average Buddhist monk it is all 'Dana' or gifting by the people to the monks and temples to obtain best rewards in the next life. In other words it is an investment-oriented Buddhism.

Hence the average man gives with the hope of getting something back. It is not an act of selfless giving, but selfish act of getting more in a life unknown and unseen. The end effect of such an act is the development of an unwholesome thought, which is totally opposite the concept of giving up greed as the first step in the path to enlightenment.


Greed manifests differently, under different circumstances. When the Buddha despatched the first set of 60 Buddhist missionaries to the world, the advice to them was not to go and explain what Nirvana is but to engage out of compassion for the welfare of the many. The psychology of one who considers the welfare of others over his own is a manifestation of what is called a wholesome thought.

It is the constant ability to cultivate wholesome thoughts, which will lead to wholesome acts which will pave the way for that supreme state of bliss, Happiness which is Nirvana.

When the petroleum sector or the transport sector launches a strike action to win over demands for the betterment of their lives, they have caused immense misery to the rest of the society.

Welfare of others is of no consideration to them. When Universities are closed due to the actions of a group of students, intellectual welfare of others is of no consideration. Of all the strikes, the Hospital strikes are the worst.

These very people who are striking through an immense sense of greed add to the suffering of those who are already suffering, and have no conscious feelings of pity and sympathy for whom there is no other hope.


Ironically they, strikers themselves may have observed Sil on the Poya day, done a number of 'Bodhi pujas' seeking relief for their own problems or to pass their examinations, and to ward off illnesses of their relatives, or to rid them of bad planetary effects.

The Buddha has not recommended these as a means to Enlightenment. I think while being engaged in Sin to seek protection from the Divine is spiritual hypocrisy, unlikely to be pardoned by the Gods to whom they pray.

What did the Buddha do when confronted with the sick? It is said in the Buddhist texts that sometimes the Buddha visited people on purpose to instruct them. Some of them whom he visited were sick with some grave illness.

Once in a young monk named Putigatta Tissa an eruption broke out which covered his body with sores. His fellow monks, unable to look after him, abandoned him. The Buddha visited this monk, washed him with boiled water and attended on him like a good doctor before teaching the Dhamma.

Prince Siddhartha having acquired the secular knowledge in the royal household of King Suddhodana, being fit enough to rule his father's kingdom was not very happy with all what he experienced. Hence he decided to go in search of happiness by taking to the path of mendicancy.

Having experimented out all the known ascetic practices for seven long years, finally discovered the path to happiness in the middle way. The Buddhahood was entirely acquired through empirical means without the help of any being, divine or otherwise.

The Buddha did not stay in the forest where he discovered his own enlightenment, on the contrary he came back to the very society he left to share his new found wisdom, out of compassion for the suffering mankind he once lived with.

The Buddha wanted to establish a society where maximum conditions for the elimination of misery, due to selfishness, would be present.

According to the Buddha, only such a society upholding the value of Human Ethics, could provide the suitable environment that would pave the way to the establishment of a society, where the supreme ideal of human happiness, Nibbana could be achieved.

Professor W. S. Karunaratna describes the characteristics of the basic changes necessary, in the following passage: "Granted the possibility for perfectibility of human life there have been, in the history of human thought, two alternative answers to the question as to how this perfection was to be realised.

One view is that human life can be perfected by an inner evolution in the individual in terms of a thorough going catharsis of his mind and spirit. The other view is that human life can be perfected only by an outer revolution in the environment in terms of institutional change.

The first view is largely the one adopted by the exponents of the religious life whereas the second view has largely been adopted by politicians and Statesmen of all times and climes. In the teachings of the Buddha we have a harmonious combination of these two views in so far as the social philosophy of Buddhism is concerned."


Footsteps of this ethical pathway being with the five precepts: 1. abstinence from destruction of life, 2. abstinence from taking what is not given, 3. abstinence from sexual misconduct, 4. abstinence from speaking falsely, 5. abstinence from drinking intoxicating strong liquors, which is the cause of sloth.

The first two may be regarded as guarantees for the safeguard of life and property. Thirdly when women are regarded like our own mothers, sisters, or daughters according to their respective age, there is no breach of faith of marriage, husband and wife can have perfect trust in each other, the sacredness of home will be perfectly retained and peace will prevail.

Fourthly Truth is the final end of Buddhism as a science, which is the final standard of Buddhist morality. Fifthly intoxicating strong liquors causes torpidity and sluggishness of the mind. Buddhism teaches us to be constantly vigilant and have awareness all the time.

These five precepts are basic to all who profess the Buddhist faith, throughout life. This is followed by eight precepts which are voluntary to be observed on special occasions like Poya or Full moon days. The five precepts are moral precepts, eight are religious vows.


Another category of Virtuous conduct, 'Ten good actions' differs from the preceding two sets because these 'good actions' do not merely include bodily 'actions', but also those of speech and thought. Speech inherent in the human being helps to communicate thoughts and feelings to others. It is well as long as it is used rightly and properly.

Evil comes when it is misused or abused, as the Buddha says: "To every man that is born, an axe is born in his mouth, by which the fool cuts himself, when speaking bad language". Lying, slandering, abuse and foolish talk perhaps comprise the most serious cases of evil belonging to speech; when we abstain we shall be free from the evil of speech.

Mere knowledge that the cessation of existence is Nibbana does not amount to attaining to Nibbana. So says the Buddha: The most important thing with spiritual enlightenment is therefore to experience it in our own person. This is true of Buddhist morality too. Mere knowledge is of no use.


In the Patika Sutta of Digha Nikaya we find the Buddha admonishing Bhaggava, the Wanderer, saying: "Hard it is, Bhaggava, for you holding as you do, different views, other things approving themselves to you, you setting different aims for your self, striving after a different aim, trained in a different system, to attain to and abide in the deliverance that is beautiful. Look therefore to it, Bhaggava, that you foster well this faith of yours in me."

Again the Buddha tells Nigrodha, the wanderer: "Difficult it is, Nigrodha for one of another view, of another persuasion, of another confession, without practice and without teaching to understand that wherein I train my disciples, etc.".

In 262 B.C. eight years after his coronation, Asoka's armies attacked and conquered Kalinga. Having got horrified by the after effects of war, Emperor Asoka embraced Buddhism and dedicated the rest of his life applying Buddhist principles to the administration of his empire.

Edicts of Asoka are found in more than thirty places in India, Nepal, Pakistan and Afghanistan. In his edicts were to be found principles for state morality and individual morality. Both these types of morality reflected the Buddhist values of compassion, moderation, tolerance, and respect for all life. He undertook cultivation of medical herbs, building of rest houses, digging of wells, planting of fruit and shade trees.

Asoka made frequent tours inspecting his projects and meeting people to see to their welfare. He also protected wild life. Asoka ensured protection of all religions, their promotion, and fostering harmony between them. Asoka recommended kindness, self-examination, truthfulness, gratitude, purity of heart, enthusiasm, strong loyalty, self-control and love of the Dhamma. In other words what Emperor Asoka did was to promote Benevolence.

To undertake meditation to attain Nirvana without benevolence as an ethical prerequisite, may lead to hallucinations and illusions, and scrutiny of Buddhist texts to discover Nirvana will lead to delusions. Perhaps this could be the reason why non of the edicts of Asoka has any reference to Nirvana. Need of the hour is to know and cultivate benevolence, which is the pathway to Nirvana and not to seek the definition of Nirvana.


The fragrant abode which is my heart

It was by nectar of the Nine-fold
exalted doctrine of Buddha
which is spoken by the Eight-fold
sweet sounds of Brahma,
that peaceful serenity occurred in a ten billion heads
Somewhere in the Three Worlds,
the Ghost Realm, the Animal Creation and Hell.

When the holy feet of Buddha
is bathed with the rays of the crest-jewels
lined one after the other,
like auroras that give forth waves
that move on pressingly
goes in rolling-form beyond the shores
of the horizon of the great ocean.

Oh! The Buddha, Supreme Enlightened One,
No mind is not bent in reverence
to My Lord,
who showed forth the Noble Path of Purity
and Eternal verities and become the Buddha
by comprehending all their fullness
which should be known
and proclaiming the omniscience,
Numerous memberless masses should be trained
by the vivid meanings of realisation
through Omniscience,
Everything till the end.

The coolness of the springs
of nectar that flow non-stop
from the waterfall of the Four Noble Truths
that motivate like the top of a shrub
which is well-covered
with blooming flowers and fragrance
in the first month of the summer season
gives so much pleasantness.

How can it be determined
that there exists a Nibbana
which was not quenched by calm,
Realisation, Supreme Enlightenment
not appeased by the streams of Bliss
given by the leaderless Leader
who lead all beings.

It is a miraculous doctrine unheard before
That exhibited the Cycle of Life
with a Three-fold achievement
expressing a Twelve-fold manifestation
and a chain of independent origin
Portraying a wisdom of absolute Truth
devoid of problems and conflicts.

I worship the flower of Devotion
at the feet of the Enlightened One,
who forever lives in the fragrant abode
which is my Heart,
with the light of the mustard-oil lamp,
avoiding the darkness in it
that illuminates
from rows of fumigated containers
which bring out spirals of fragrance.

Till I live on this earth,
I fall on my knees
and with hands held up in reverence,
I bathe in the rays
that emanate from the toe-nails
of the Buddha's feet,
by adorning the caskets
With flowers of Compassion, Kindess and Thought,
and by restraining the three doors
of the Mind, Body and Word by praise
of the Three-fold minds
From beginning through the middle to the end.

Wimal Abhayasundera



Gamin Gamata - Presidential Community & Welfare Service
Ceylinco Banyan Villas

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