Buddhism, its relevance to the 21st century
Buddhism, as one of the four major religions in the world today, is an empiricistic and antimetaphysical religion .It does not accept anything which cannot be experienced either through the senses or extrasensory perception. People in the world are hurriedly getting ready for the next millenium or the 21st century. Our prime intention here is to identify the relevance of the teachings of the Buddha for this modern so called scientifically and technologically developed world.
The Buddha was born in the 6th century B.C in India. He discovered the reality behind phenomena in our Universe. In the world there is nothing permanent as well as nothing isolatedly existing but everything co-exists. He realized this .Interdependence is the great truth of life. He was not a divine being, nor a man as we know him, but a man par excellence (accariyamanussa). There is no equivalent in a western language for this concept accariyamanussa. This means not thought of, a not comparable kind of being. There is no word in English unless use the term Buddha with this concept in mind. His teaching is mainly focused on man himself. People are born again and again, and die again and again. There is no ending to be cognized. This was the question which arose in him and which he found a positive answer . That is why he is a Buddha.
He realized that it was not only man but the whole Universe that is composed of ever-changing phenomena. When this truth arose in his mind he contemplated and reasoned out a solution through his intuitive wisdom . He comprehended that it was because of birth that one has to face decay, death, lamentation, despair and all types of unsatisfactoriness. He saw this causal relationship in phenomena and realized that the way to end decay death and unsatisfactoriness is to end birth. So he grappled with what might be the cause for birth. He realized that its cause was becoming .And becoming arises because of grasping. Why do we grasp things in the world. Because of craving. That was the causal relation he unraveled.
Today in this scientifically and technologically developed global village, though there are many amenities, for easy living and pleasure , people are both physically and mentally not satisfied and do not have a feeling of security . Both satisfaction and security are experience of the mind. Safety can refer to freedom from physical danger. When the mind is satisfied that the person is free of physical danger, the mind produces an experience of safetyness. When one does not feel mentally secure, one is unhappy. In society there are many people who are not secure. They are always in fear and dread. This was crystal clear during the time of the JVP insurgency in 1988-89.We know very well that most of the high personages(VIP) of this country , even though they had a number of security personnel and perhaps two three houses to change to, from time to time, were mentally insecure . Not only such high personages but also most ordinary people in the country were panicking at that time. The reason was that they were not feeling mentally secure. The Buddha said "Mind is the forerunner and mental states are mind made".
So, mind is the most significant thing in one's life. According to the teachings of the Buddha, man is the component of five aggregates, namely: form, feeling ,perception, volition, and consciousness. Of the five only form is physical and the other four are mental. These mental faculties are very important in contemplating man. But in modern science and technology, which produce many things for the physical benefit of man the mental factors are not sufficiently recognized.
I think this is because of the philosophy behind science. However, it is one of the fundamental principles of science that we do not accept anything un-experimented with or and un-observed . This is the time for scientists to open out and think of the other dimensions of life such as Religion. A Religion like Buddhism, cannot be set aside any more. Most of the world population follow a religion. Therefore scientists should give a place to the experience of religion and should consider religious teachings as being integral to man. We can be certain, that Buddhism provides vast knowledge about man and his mental and physical development .
In the world today , there are many multinational and multi purpose projects which are vast for the development of countries. But people are not satisfied with what they have. There is no contentment. Craving, grasping, and arising and perishing are the main features in the world. As science is predominant in the world today, scientists can take a new step for the advancement of science through a recognition of ethical and religious dimension. The Dhamma taught by the Buddha is not some thing out side the world and beyond experience .Therefore it is not contrary to science. The Dhamma realized by the Buddha is a discovery of the existing phenomena in the Universe. It is ,therefore a Universal truth, an everlasting truth about the Universe.
Science today has already established that certain teachings of the Dhamma are correct beyond doubt .But it took a long time. It would take similarly a long length of time to obtain scientific proof of other aspects of Buddhism too. Consider a case of a man walking through an unknown jungle who has no food to satisfy his hunger; suddenly he sees a tree full of ripe fruits which he had not seen before. He has a doubt whether it is poisonous or tastes bad. He takes a small bite of the fruit and finds its sweet. Being a careful man, he waits quite a long time to see whether it has harmful effects on him. After a considerable length of time, he finds that the fruit is not poisonous nor harmful . Then he eats the whole fruit.
Similarly, instead of wasting time to obtain scientific proof of the other aspects of the Dhamma, would it not be wise to straightway accept that the whole of the Dhamma as a true teaching, and a way of life for mental and physical development, and which if followed would bring solace to mankind.
Even the span of life of a human being is limited .So an individual cannot wait to follow the Dhamma till the whole of the Dhamma is proved by science. It also must be mentioned that there are certain aspects of the Dhamma ,which are extrasensory perceptional and are entirely beyond modern science.
What the Buddha taught is not only for the 6th century B.C. but it is relevant to this modern world too. As it is a timeless (akalika) teaching ,surely it can be practised by the wise during the 21st century as well and in many more centuries or milleniums to come.
By Bhikkhu Seelananda , Paramita kadugannawa .09.04.2000