ETHICS FOR GOOD LIVING / WHERE DO RELIGIONS COME IN ?
Bhikkhu Professor Dhammavihari
People today, particularly those in the world of youth, choose to challenge and reject those areas of religion which stand on myth, legens and speculation. But why should we let the baby be thrown away with the bath-water? I ask you.These new modes of thinking are stirrings of the age which are not to be brushed aside. These are areas wherein the youth as much as the older ones, the men as much as the women, clergy as much as the laity, insist that much of the awe and the mysterious elements in religion can be left behind, together with their fading out time segments which give them veneration of antiquity. They need no redecoration and no re-introductions on the windows. Religions need stronger foundations to stand firm on their own feet.
Whatever glorification we seek to bring upon religion in the eyes of the world depends on what the religions have done to improve the lot of man in the areas of family life, interpersonal relationships and in the wider segment of inter-ethnic and inter-religious co-existence. Before we go elsewhere, to a life beyond the present, we like to see here and now the benefits of the religions we so ardently follow. Religions often have a deadening way of making their adherents believe in many areas of their so-called benefits. We have very little doubt that it is after careful analysis and study that religions have come to be called the opium of mankind. Let us face up to these charges with honesty and endeavour to put things right. But whether we like it or not, we have to admit that religions of the world today, the major ones at that, do not always have a very flattering record of their performance in these areas to their credit.
It is to be admitted that by all realistic reckonings, men and women go through life in the world under many handicaps and hardships. Science and technology are developing at such a rate that we find ourselves out of step to keep track of their progress. Organ transplant is now a thing of the distant past. We should today be talking of cloning of sheep, more precisely, of humans. You would recollect having read in the news papers how a young sheep by the name of Dolly,and another by the name Polly were produced recently. Starting with Dr. Bernard Christian, the surgeons of the world have made it possible for old and mal-functioning human hearts to be replaced with new ones. Due to non-availability and inadequacy of replacements, they hit upon the bright idea of using hearts of pigs for this purpose. They even went so far as having pig farms set up to ensure adequate supplies of hearts. But they discovered early enough, to their utter dismay, the danger of those pigs carrying dangerous viruses like the HIV, with the possibility of accelerated development of Aids and infecting many more humans, without any danger to themselves. With all the so-called scientific development, the basic inherent defects and weaknesses of human life, of its very physical basis, are no better than when we started.
With a global situation of this magnitude, it makes much sense for man to face up to it with courage and wisdom. If one does so, then one knows what makes these situations better or worse. Buddhism teaches that with all those born into this world, aging is a reality. Disease and decay are well and truly dear companions of life, whether we like them or not. What any sensible person would do in these circumstances is to safeguard oneself against such situations. Not make vows and prayers at every wayside shrine. Nor make more and more halting places for visiting healers, human or believed to be divine. It is the fashion of the day for these claimants to healing to move noisily from one continent to another. Where poverty and ignorance prevail, they believe they can gather bumper harvests. But this, truly is not the way to combat disease. It is far better then to prevail upon these divine agents to operate more in the area of prevention, if they have any power at all to do so. It will save mankind a great deal more of physical and mental pain, and even a greater deal more of money and time. Let those powers whom we supplicate and to whom we address our prayers prevent those calamitous disasters and accidents in the worlds which cost the humans their lives. It would be much more profitable and much less painful than rushing around ambulances after the calamitous has happened.
On the question of life security, whether in terms of the health of oneself or family members, or in terms of employment security, or financial escalation, personal confidence or self-reliance of humans seems to be at a very low ebb, everywhere in the world. Law enforcement in the country is perhaps at its lowest by any world standards. It is at such lower-than-slum levels of thinking that people who are helplessly sunk in miserably wretched conditions or who believe themselves to be so, run in search of relief and assistance from a wide range of newly appointed divinities. They claim to be getting ahead of latest in medical research. While many are disappointed at the end of such appeals and such contracts, and nobody ever produces their statistics, a few who claim they have been rewarded do a great deal of propaganda on behalf of these divinities and a far greater deal of canvassing. Perhaps it serves both parties well.
Take a further look at ourselves in society today. No man, woman or child is safe in any other's hands, even whatever be the family relationships to one another. It is so today, whether it be in the city or the village. Incest, rape and adultery and similar aberrant sex behaviour are as bad as in the days of Sodom and Gommorah of Biblical records. What of the more trendy and publicly attractive, and at times even very much championed and tourism-wise attractive homosexuals and paedophiles? In all these adventures, better we term them misadventures, sometimes looked upon as romantic by quite a few, the material we deal with are humans. Not mere pithecanthropus erectus. Perhaps the gorillas and the chimpanzees, as Jane Goodall has demonstrated in her monumental research on the chimpanzees, have among them a much higher culture than we imagine.
All the world over we read today about the life disasters of now-grown-up men and women who in their younger years have been victims of rape and paedophile like crimes. The criminality of these offenses committed by the older upon the younger of our own flock are intolerably shameful and offensive. If an animal turned upon any one of us or any one near and dear to us then, no mistake, we look around and reach for the nearest gun. Why then do we humans connive with humans in this type of gang villainy. We know what happened in Belgium recently. A string of horrendous crimes on innocent young girls which made the whole world weep. Not to protest and not to raise an alarm in this kind of highly anti-social activity, and at least gather ourselves for collective action, would be no less than actual gang villainy, though passive. Shall we be accused of this?
It is in such a world context like the present, anywhere and everywhere, that we have to generate within us such a concept like good living. The much spoken of religious identities or ethnic garnishing, should not stand in the way of such a magnanimous move. We are fully aware that tidal waves of global evangelization and trans-continental ethnic inundations are menacingly overrunning every continent and sub-continent. We know quite well that even smaller-size island countries are not spared. Most of us have seen and sensed this as something that is now happening in our very presence. But there is a definite dullness and density in our reacting to this situation. We are being indoctrinated from numerous sources to react so, in this manner.
What really is the reason for this apathy? Whether one really senses it or not, human life seems to count for nothing these days. What happened in the battle fields of World War II, both in victory and in defeat, came to be glorified as noble acts of sacrifice and patriotism.Dulce et honestun pro patria mori runs this slogan-like utterance in Latin. It means ' It is sweet and honourable to die for the sake of one's motheland.' Who achieved what at the end of it all remains the unanswered question, beautifully locked up in the black box. Then come the tribal battles of warring groups. These are colossal and wasteful massacres of human lives. While they are classed as genocide on the one side, they are much eulogized as wars of liberation on the other. Religious groups gleefully compete with one another to dispatch the war-dead to heaven or to liberation. Though not necessarily disparagingly, we were used to refer to those who were victims of such stupified thinking as cannon fodder. So with very little clear thinking, we gradually learnt to pray for the repose of the souls of those dead, perhaps once a year on a war veterans' day. This is apparently no less than allowing ourselves to be brainwashed.
The very bottom of this degradation of the worth of human life, in consequence of contemporary militant thinking, has been reached today where men and women are being freely hired or harnessed to serve as human bombs. A few of this type were known in World War II where, in the Eastern theater of war, the Japanese used what they called frogmen for under water attack on ships lying in harbours. That disappeared, more or less, with the end of the war. But suicide bombers are now the order of the day. That they are being used, both men and women, in a big way seems to be nobody's concern. If those who do it can afford it, why should it be anybody else's concern would be the challenging question. Brainwashed or otherwise, does this not make talk of human rights, as they are being discussed even in legal parlours over various issues, look utterly stupid. Who then would or should have a right to talk about slave labour, child abuse etc. ? Are the legal telescopes placed on international blind eyes? International eyes are quite often seen to pass off as blind. This is the honest impression one gets as one scans the international horizons from time to time, east or west.
It is the reality and the seriousness of this reality which makes us pick up a subject like good living and ethics for good living. Experience of humanity, living on this planet over several millennia, has produced a vast fabric yielding good samples for closer scrutiny. It is now agreed that it is the frantic search for the glory of the so-called material culture of mankind, with the like of Roman amphitheaters, that catapulted the collapse of those vast civilizations. Men and women sitting comfortably with wine and song, to gratify their sense pleasures at the expense of a few other helpless humans put into encounters of life and death in the midst of ferocious beasts. Today's sense of entertainment and enjoyment has crossed over to yet another area much more perilous than this. Not only is the entertainer in peril today.
Those who seek entertainment through these corrosive channels, not only expose themselves to enormous areas of ruin, but also expose others who are near and dear to them to similar or far greater destruction. Today's addiction to alcohol, from teenagers of both sexes to alcoholics of ripe old age, and proneness to tobacco and other drugs are inestimable in the destruction they cause to human lives. They know the destruction and damage smoke and dust causes to structures like the London Bridge. They also know of the destruction passive smoking does to the women and children who live in a smoker's home. But the positive damage to iron perhaps is more physically visible and therefore more convincing.
The same is equally true of the pursuit of sex. Whether one calls sex a primary instinct or not, now the world is reaching a stage, when the need is felt to set limits to its pursuit and enjoyment. The social disruptiveness of the wild chase for sex gratification as well as the equally disastrous damage it does to the health of humans, even across generations, as in the case of AIDS, is all too well known. Abortion, together with problems of unmarried mothers and single parent homes, not only call for comment but for serious study at all levels of religion and society. We are proud indeed that teenage girls of the United States of America, backed by the Methodist Church in that country, are genuinely and adequately vociferous in their protest against teenage sex and sex exploitation. It is they in America, specially their psychologists and psychiatrists who now tell the world about such concepts like aging and sageing, about the need to instruct children about delaying gratification. Beneath these new trends in thinking which show themselves up in the western world, we discern a new ray of hope for the future of the world, i.e. for the survival humanity on this earth.It is here that we wish to invoke the religions of the world to step in to fulfill honourably the role which devolves upon them by virtue of what they claim they stand for. We have to believe that they are not down here on earth to serve a God above at the expense of man. We must understand our prime duty to be to make life of men and women down here on earth to be divinely acceptable for the benefit of one another. A kingdom of man amongst us has to be our first priority. This is the way the Buddhists are taught to look at this problem. It is the goodness of humans as humans, achieved through a clearly laid down process of self-correction, that elevates them to higher levels of divine living here and now.
These are what the Buddhists refer to as Brahma-vihàra or divine modes of living. Universal loving kindness, in a spirit of amity, is our starting point. It is a two-way love of direct friendship, without a mediating third party. That directness is explicitly contained in the wordmaitri or mettà. It is love that knows no bounds. The Metta Sutta refers to it as asambàdhaü averaü asapattaü. This is followed by loving thoughts of compassion to relieve those in pain and misery and in less fortunate circumstances. Friendship of loving kindness has already preceded it. In such a loving, well-wishing amicable community, Buddhist thinking leaves no room for jealousies and competitive rivalries. So we have the third virtue that grows up in this series in mudità which we would choose to translate as appreciative joy. We are not very happy with its current translation as sympathetic joy.
A frame of mind of this sort, with a deep-seated sense of love for amity [metta ], of compassion for sympathy [ karuõà ] and a joyous appreciation of the success of others [ mudità ] will very naturally promote the growth of a social ethic which will successfully handle multiple areas of human relationships. These will invariably lead to harmonious community living, with a real and serious concern for the weal and welfare of every other person in whose midst we live, and have to live, as social beings. The Buddhist teachings refer to the absence of such a robust ethic as a state of anarchy in society where dread and fear [ that is bhaya ] as well as enmity and hostility [ vera ] reign supreme. Buddhist teachings, both in the interests of their transcendental aspirations as well as in their interests of social well being, insist on the elimination of these out of the human community. They speak of the våpasamana of these pa¤ca- bhayàni and pa¤na-veràni. The way to achieving this is given as the social restraint achieved via the moral rectitude of the pa¤casãla.
Let me wind up my appeal to you today with a very brief introduction to this area of Buddhist ethics. Buddhism offers it to the world in a very magnanimous way, very gently and respectfully via the concept of the Universal Monarch or Cakkavatti King. What is meaningfully interesting and seriously applicable about it is its relevance to the world situation today. It reckons with humanity as a totality, a global community at that, without any regional differences on the basis of ethnicity, political ideology or religious creeds followed. All manner of rulers from the east and the west, the north and the south come to the Cakkavatti and invite him to instruct them as to how each one of them should rule their land.
What is amazing in this context is that what goes out from this one central authority of the Cakkavatti has one unmistakable dominant note. It insists : Never mind the political pattern you have followed so far. Carry on as you have done before. But guarantee that social justice and moral order prevail within your kingdoms. Buddhist teachings attempt to achieve this through the propagation of what is known as thepa¤casãla. We have already referred to the need in society of these fivefold restraints of 1. respect for life of all sorts, 2. respect for the other's ownership of his legitimate property, 3. respect for the gender roles of men and women and the consequent regulation of sex behaviour in society, 4. respect for decency in honesty of word or deed, and 5. respect for maintenance of sanity of judgement by avoidance of drugs and alcohol. This we bravely call the Fundamental Human Rights Charter of the Buddhists, issued to the world as a whole well over twenty-five centuries ago. Until we are clever enough to evolve anything acceptably better, why not give it a decent trial? Make up your mind, right now.
May all beings be well and happy. May there be peace on earth and good will among men.