Monday, September 22, 2008

Let's learn about other Traditions - Buddhism

Religious Communities working together for global justice and Peace
The Buddhist Perspective

Vijaya Samarawickrama

Scope of the Paper

I propose to examine this topic from three perspectives: that of economics personal development and conflict

The Economic Perspective

Contrary to common perception, the Buddha did not preach against the acquisition of wealth. He emphasized that sufficient wealth to meet basic needs is a condition for a householder to live a noble life. In the Cakkavatti Sihanada Suttra, the Buddha declares that people resort to violence because their basic material needs are not provided for. We can easily see that the greatest conflict occurs among the poorest nations where people are ignorant, angry and frustrated because they are denied the basic necessities to live decent lives. If governments as well as multi national corporations concentrated on channeling all their resources to uplifting the social conditions of the people, then they will not need to resort to violence. We all agree that the real underlying reason for most wars today is economic—the competition for oil or the ownership of land, for example.

The Buddha declares that one must not work for the welfare of oneself alone. In order for us to ensure our own well being, we must also ensure that everyone around us is happy as well. This is realistic.The most well known Buddhist benediction is “Sabbe Satta Bhavantu Sukhitattha: May all beings be well and happy”. Note that the reference is to ALL beings and not to members of the Buddhist community alone. Every living creature that shares this planet with us has the right to protection and security. In this scheme of things, man is not seen as having any more rights than other creatures. When one sees oneself as part of a vast cosmic whole, then one will be less likely to defend one’s own interests at the expense of others.

The two key pillars of Buddhism are Wisdom and Compassion. With wisdom we learn to understand the nature of the Self and the Interrelatedness of all beings. From that wisdom arises the desire to work selflessly and tirelessly for the benefit of everything that inhabits this planet. It is by promoting the welfare of others that we can enjoy happiness. With wisdom also we extend our love not only to those who share our beliefs and concerns, but it is extended IMPARTIALLY through the practice of Metta, loving kindness, and Karuna, compassion.

Peace at the Individual level

No one can expect the community to be at peace if the individuals who form that community are disturbed or unhappy. The ultimate aim of Buddhism is to help every individual human being to attain the perfect state of nirvana, which is not someplace one goes to after death but a state of mind in this life utterly free from hatred, delusion and ill will…a state of supramundane peace. This state is to be attained by self effort through the development of wisdom and the purification of the mind from the defilements of ignorance, greed and ill-will. Religion is merely a means to an end which helps the individual to purify his or her mind, just like a raft is merely used to cross a river. The external trappings of organized religion—the temples, rituals and so on, are abandoned when one sees with wisdom that they only serve to separate mankind. At that level one does not see one’s religion as superior to others. Wisdom produces a mind which is suffused with Loving kindness, Compassion, Sympathetic Joy and Equanimity which cuts across all boundaries.

When one is at peace with oneself then one works selflessly to extend that peace towards all other beings, human and non-human.

Buddhists firmly believe that if all human beings are taught to discard their narrow sectarian loyalties, to respect all forms of life and to promote the welfare of all beings impartially then true peace can be attained at a personal level and it can be extended to encompass the entire universe.

To do this governments and multi-national corporations must develop the wisdom to create a spirit of cooperation to promote the physical welfare of all by guaranteeing freedom from hunger and poverty for the whole world. Religion for its part should strive to promote the concept of the oneness of mankind, to respect the beliefs of others, to destroy envy and hatred in individuals, to find inner happiness and in this way to ensure spiritual well being. Justice is experienced when all of humanity enjoys material and spiritual happiness.

The Perspective on Conflict

The Buddha categorically denounced all forms of aggression so clearly that he left no room for anyone calling himself a Buddhist to engage in conflict for any reason whatsoever. On one occasion, when his own relatives were poised for war to decide who had the right to use the waters of a river for irrigation, the Buddha asked. “What is more important, the waters of this river, or the blood of your kinsmen which will be shed in battle?” Note that he did not offer to arbitrate, because he clearly demonstrated that both sides were misled in resorting to violence to settle their disputes.

On another occasion he declared:

“Hatred cannot be appeased by hatred
By love alone can it be quelled”

According to the Buddha the greatest miracle (in fact the only miracle) that can be performed on earth is when the mind of a violent man is turned towards thoughts of compassion and non-violence.

The Buddha saw no benefit to be gained from going to war for any reason. To him even victory is the cause of suffering

“Victory breeds hatred
The defeated live in sorrow
The peaceful live happily
Having given up both victory and defeat”

Only by developing the wisdom to see others as ourselves can we overcome aggression:

“All fear the rod
All fear Death
Realising this
One should neither strike
Nor cause to strike”


The Buddhist perspective on this topic is that it is not religion, but the selfishness and greed of human beings which threatens peace at all levels. The solution to the problem is to empower those who work for the material benefit of all the peoples of the world impartially, and who strive to spread knowledge which breaks down artificially created barriers between nations and peoples within a nation. Religious leaders must sincerely teach that all human beings belong to the same family and are equally deserving of consideration. Some people may argue that it is unrealistic to think of a world which can exist without conflict. This is because we are so used to the idea that violence is the only way to settle disputes and conduct our affairs that we refuse to accept more civilized modes of behavior. It need not be that seeing the other person’s point of view is necessarily a sign of weakness. It calls for greater wisdom and nobility to see good in others, irrespective of their beliefs. What the world seriously needs is to develop a new mindset, to explore the possibility of living peacefully with our neighbors.

Religion is still relevant to the world today. But its relevance can only be manifested if the religious and political leaders of the world develop the wisdom to see all the members of the human race as one, with the same desire for peace, although they have different world-views. We must develop the wisdom to recognize that progress can only be possible if we acknowledge the reality that, just like the five fingers on the hand are the not the same, different understandings of the problems of human existence will prevail for a long time to come. Our hope for the future, if religion is to continue to be relevant, is to recognize the principle of unity within diversity and teach our followers to let others live in peace. As the theme of our conference iterates, religious communities must have the wisdom to work not only for the benefit of their particular religions alone, but to transcend doctrinal differences. We must recognize our common aims and pool our resources to work for the general welfare of all beings while maintaining our diverse beliefs. In Zen Buddhism, disciples are urged not to look at the finger, but to look at the moon which it points to. We all have the same aspirations for mankind, let us not waste precious energy and resources arguing about which of our scriptures can point better to the truth. At a mundane level all our religions have organizations to promote freedom from hunger, ignorance and want. What we need to do now is to come together and pool our resources if we wish to genuinely work for the welfare of humanity, with no ulterior motives. Religious organizations have an obligation and indeed, the power to persuade governments and multinational corporations to reduce their lust for profit at the expense of human and natural resources.

We salute the brave and right thinking people all over the world, irrespective of their religion and their nationality who have demonstrated that violence, hatred and selfishness will not benefit anyone. If the participants of this conference agree on that principle, then we could declare that our deliberations have been successful.

No comments: