A WEEK OF VESAK THINKING
Bhikkhu Professor Dhammavihari
A Thought for the Day 1
By the benevolence of the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha, may all beings be well and happy. It is at a time like this, during the month of Vesak in May, that the world, through the appearance of the Buddha, had the gift of a message which revolutionized its thinking. It was a message from one born in this world as a human, not a divine emissary, who by his sheer diligent striving rose from his mundane limitations to transcendental heights. This revised thinking gave a new sense of direction to the life style of humans in the world. Time wise, it was more than twenty-five centuries ago and place wise it was in a limited region in the Gangetic plain in India. It was the message of Gotama the Buddha, the Lord of Peace, whom the entire thinking world today adores as Shakyamuni, the symbol of human perfection.
Within the first five hundred years, owing to the goodwill missions of Emperor Asoka, this message spread westwards in Asia beyond Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq. Incontestable evidence, both literary and archaeological, testify to the fact that these countries had all become Buddhist before the commencement of the Christian era. The giant Buddha statues of Bamiyan in Afghanistan reconfirmed this evidence not long ago when they came to be threatened with destruction by rebelling political groups there, in their battles against each other. In the east, Buddhism gained acceptance in China, Korea and Japan, about the same time, reaching China in 50 A.D., during the reign of Emperor Ming Ti.
The Buddha broke through traditional Indian thinking when he dauntlessly declared that peace on earth and goodwill among men are man made. It is we who guide our lives, to fortune or to misfortune. Man has no divine protection to seek, outside himself. Attàõo loko - the Buddha clearly declared. Man has to seek it within himself. Why have we to endlessly debate on this subject these days ? Are we caught up in a futile, eternal tangle ? Turn to the Raññhapàla Sutta of the Majjhima Nikaya and there you have it, as we have quoted here .
"O man, correct thine own self first. Then turn to guide others. A wise man shall not let himself get tarnished." This is the sound advice of the Dhammapada verse 158.
Learn this in its beautiful Pali version and have it written in gold on your bed-head.
Attànameva pañhamaü patiråpe nivesaye
Atha ' amanusàseyya na kilisseyya paõóito.
This is where the Buddhist concept of self assessment, self-detection and self-correction has to come to the fore. And I say remain there all the time. This is the basis of sãla, this is the foundation of the good life in Buddhism which leads to Nibbana. In the homes, in the schools and in work places, people cannot be excused for breaking these basic five precepts of the pa¤ca-sãla.
In the more civilized countries of the world, persons who throw litter in the streets, or smoke in forbidden paces or display sexual vulgarity in public places are liable to be prosecuted. In Sri Lanka, let us say the five precepts are the basics of civilized and decent behaviour, in public or in private. What do we do with their breach ? Just grin and say ' They are difficult things to observe'. This is why we reckon that we in Sri Lanka today are in the midst of lawlessness and anarchy, by whatever world standards we reckon.
Buddhist teachings adopted this attitude very early. They accepted sãla as the basic ingredient for social harmony as well as for peace and security in the land. Social insecurity is envisaged under the concept of bhaya or pa¤ca-bhayàni and it is finally traced to the breach of the precepts of the pa¤ca-sãla. It is interesting and vitally important to note how far they go ahead of the Fundamental Human Rights which come on the scene only twenty-five centuries later.
The two major items of 1.Respect for one's life and 2.Respect for one's property of the Fundamental Human Rights are already contained under our first two precepts. Respect for genders, particularly the respectful attitude towards the woman in society, is provided for under the third precept, which safeguards marriage at all levels as pre-marital, marital and extra-marital. Of this, the world is not yet convinced or even sensitive enough. Evils of dishonesty are far too many to list here. Finally the endeavour in Buddhism to safeguard sanity and mental soundness of mrn and women through rejection of drugs and alcohol anticipates the drug menace well ahead of time. We Sri Lankans should also become aware, even at this rather late stage, that even their sale is banned in Buddhism under the five-fold forbidden trades.
In an essentially Buddhist country like Sri Lanka, it is more than urgent that the rulers and the ruled awaken to the calamitous and disastrous situation which we are facing today on account of the breach of these five precepts of decency. It is time for us to make a collective all out endeavour for a total purge. We wish everybody victory in this battle.
May all beings be well and happy. May there be peace on earth and goodwill among men.