STEP IN TO ARREST THIS MORAL DECAY
MARCH POYA SERMON - 31- 3 - 99
Bhikkhu Professor Dhammavihari
It is my intention today to share this Full moon day sermon not only with the Buddhists, but also with the leaders of all religious denominations in our country. In their alphabetical order, the major religions here could be listed as Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Islam. In the field of Indian studies, world scholarship does not imply by the term Hinduism the whole range of Indian religious thought as represented by the Vedas, Brahmanas and the Upanishads. It is generally agreed that Buddhism appeared on the Indian scene contemporaneously with the early Upanishads, i.e. about the sixth century B.C.
At any rate, all these four religions hold sway in the world today as major religions. As far as Buddhism, Christianity and Islam are concerned, we know through historical records, that they appear in the world in succession time wise, one after another, in different parts of the world, with almost five hundred year intervals in between. History also shows us their sway over the world, at different times in different places, with different records of their achievements and performance.
At the very outset, I wish to briefly deal with the issue as to what place religions, as social institutions, should occupy in the lives of people in whose midst they spring up and experience their growth to full maturity. As Buddhists, we are inclined to say that history of man precedes the history of religions in the world. It should also be true to say that religions primarily have their origin among humans to provide answers to questions which they have to face in their day to day living. Anything that was difficult to explain, even as simple as the presence of the sun and the moon in the sky, needed an explanation. According to some forms of religious thinking, they were either divine beings in themselves, deva and devatà, like Savità or Sårya, sitting there in their own right, or were placed there by another divinity who was greater than the rest, and consequently came to be viewed as the creator of all.
In early Indian religions, like the religion of the Vedas, a principle called rita governed the whole of this cosmic relationships. Great and powerful gods of the times like Indra and Varuna safeguarded this law. Hence these gods came to be called Ritasya gopau. Indian religions like Jainism and Buddhism upheld that all life in the universe, of man and animal, was life to be respected by man. And therefore not to be assailed or destroyed by man at his own sweet will, with or without divine sanction.
This respect for life and therefore non-violence or compassion came to be upheld as the ultimate ethic in life. They went even further and insisted that plants were living things too. Out of a sense of peaceful co-existence, the Buddha went along with the Jains so far, and insisted that at least the monk order in Buddhism respected this concept and refrained from causing damage to plant life.
There are other religious systems which uphold that man is the center of the whole creation and that all other life here is for his utilization and was created for that purpose. But a third new generation of modern scientific thinkers in the world now put forward the view that all life, both macro and micro are all inter-related. They speak of eco-systems and bio-diversity, and in works like Biophelia Hypothesis speak of the need to respect and safeguard all forms of life for sake of man's own survival on earth. In the destruction of one lies the destruction of the other, they maintain. That would be the doom's day.
Thus a blue print for religion did not precede the presence of man on earth. It evolved out of a need for man's guidance. Guidance, so that man may himself live well and also live well along with others in whose midst he finds himself. This harmonious living alone should the pave the way for happiness for men and women in this life and in a life beyond this. Let us straightway say that history has played a stupid role in justifying, i. e. if they ever did, justifying bitter and wild fighting by warring groups, sometimes by different religious groups and at other times by sub-groups within the same main stream religion, for religious expansionism and the establishment of religious domains on earth down here.
This harmonious living is historically the position which we would expect religions to play in moulding the lives of the people in the world as they live here. But this ideal does not appear to have been lived up to in history. This is what has led religion in the world to being called the 'opium of the masses'. Inter-religious relationships in Sri Lanka has deteriorated far too fast in recent years. Empire-building and territorial expansion by each religious group, specially by the contending so-called minor ones has led to a great deal of unethical behaviour, both as defensive and offensive. We have lost sight of the island-wide breakdown of morality, sex wise and age wise which is taking place all around us. We believe a greater part of this is due to the wide spread use of many high potent drugs by everybody in every age group in the country, both male and female. Does anybody ever stop to ask where do they come from or whoever brings rhem here. The answers are too well known.
This is why we stress the need in Sri Lanka today for all religious denominations, large or small in strength of numbers or world resources they can harness, to unite for the fulfillment of a local need, through loyalty to the land where they literally belong and have acquired their present stature. They need to retrieve and stabilize the moral tone of the country which unquestionably is descending to its lowest depths, whether it is use of drugs, sex offenses or other violent crimes. It is not a problem only of the major religion. It is indeed a creation of everyone,
Depending on the soundness and strength of thinking in different religious traditions, man assumes different levels of prestige and positions on this earth in relation to the other components of life around him like men, animals and plants and even other resources like water and air. In some cases, unfortunately though, man has secured authority to utilize all other forms of life and assumed superiority as chosen people.
At this point, let me digress for a moment and point out both to the Buddhist and to the non-Buddhist researchers who attempt to bring forward a fantastic new theory for the twenty-first century that Buddhists cannot afford to drink even cold water because it contains living organisms. Please note that it would be more than ridiculous to think of re-educating the Buddha himself and Buddhists and attempt to regulate their life style outside their own perimeter of thinking.
Back to our subject of world religions and their message to mankind for healthy growth and peaceful co-existence. These religions have had their origins at different times and in different climes, sometimes far removed from one another. When both these factors of time and place are put together, a period of five centuries between them is of considerable importance.
In the sixth century B.C., if you remember right, the Gangetic plain in India nurtured fairly peaceful agricultural communities. The family names of the Buddha's ancestors are all related to rice or odana as in Suddhodana, Dhotodana and Amitodana. True enough, one hears at times of destructive plans like that of Ajatasatthu, scheming to overrun the neighbouring republican territory of the Vajjis. But they were hardly part of the racial unconscious.
Elsewhere, in the more desert like lands, one hears of constant tribal wars all the time. The spirit of the community had to be to bond all membership together to fight the enemy and secure survival. The larger the community, the chances of survival were better. One had to get more and more members over to one's side, winning them over religion wise or ethnicity wise, particularly in the face of constant enemy attack. It had to be in their spirit to kill and destroy those who thought differently from them, invariably to safeguard the chances of survival. If they did achieve victory, and in the process did survive, then they had to offer thanks to those above for their victory in battle by killing some of their fattened animals.
Thus we are not surprised that the cultural milieu in which a religion grows up determines the nature of the ethics which it nurtures for its people. Even in India, during the period of the Brahmanas when the priestly hierarchy had ascended to power, to a point of almost sweeping away everybody else from the scene, including women and those of the lesser classes, animal sacrifices had reached its high.
It needed powerful and uncompromising protestant movements like Jainism and Buddhism to fight against this inhuman and meaningless massacre of animals in the name of religion. For the first time, the Jains waved the Banner of Peace across India with the words Ahimsà Paramo Dharmah inscribed on it. Buddhists rightly launched their moral build-up or sãla with their first precept of 'abstinence from destruction of life' or pàõàtipàtà veramaõã.
This not only prevents the Buddhist from killing for his table, for his daily meal, from out of his newly promoted backyard pond or his poultry pen, but also encourages the development of love towards all living things. This is clearly laid down in the second half of the fist precept quoted above as pàõàtipàtà veramaõã. It specifies that one lays aside all weapons of destruction - nihita-sattho nihita-daõóo. And positively promotes love towards all living things as sabba-pàõa-bhåta-hitànukampã viharati. These words and their meaning must be live and vibrant on the lips of those who preach in the name of Buddhism and equally well a living reality in the hearts of those who flock in large numbers to hear those who preach.
But how lamentably time has stolen on us in Sri Lanka today. We do many things now we are not expected to do within the framework of our culture and religion. We do so, blindfolded perhaps. Or more positively due to the cultural denudation that has come upon us through centuries of colonial rule and unguarded cultural intermingling which the Sri Lankans have miserably accepted with open arms. With this indiscretion and lack of awareness of our own worth, and I say our multi-cultural worth specially in terms of Hindu Buddhist assimilation, we have admitted into our midst many vicious items which are internationally recognized as sources of corruption.
We maintain that Sri Lanka holds a very enviable multi-ethnic and multi-religious composition which it derived through history over the centuries. If times and circumstances were watched diligently and with magnanimity and sympathy, one would have expected the delivery of a healthy baby out of this, quite some time ago. Even a village midwife could have done it, as in the good old days. But unfortunately, it did not happen, not even through a Caeserean.
One good example in this direction is the degree to which the nativization of the Christian church in Sri Lanka had proceeded since the days of Sri Lanka'a independence. Even Virgin Mary appearing like a Sri Lankan lady. Church architecture and church ritual accepting a great deal of native garb, with gokkola and pun kalas and many others. This did please many of us who loved a mixed community life and we were respecting one another from where we stood. So was the sharing of Hindu and Buddhist religious rituals, in a modertae way with Ganesh, Saraswathi and even Skanda considerably assimilated, without any sense of loss to either party. There never was a feeling of plunder, or stealing or tearing away on any side.
We guess and would love to believe that there never was then an urge for any ethnic or religious group in this country for empire building, felt from within or pressurized from outside. The church then undoubtedly was the bastion of the ruling class. But there were great gentlemen of the church then who are now dead and goe. So was the saner leadership in the minor ethnic groups of the time. We use the term minor here in no derogatory sense at all, except to indicate their relative percentage strength, then as well as now.
But we do remember and recollect the early rumblings from within and know very well what underground pressures pushed them to the intensity of present violent quakes. Leaders then wished to be insensitive to them. Politics in the Asian region, in India, Pakistan, Burma and other areas was highly infected and disruptive. Division of well-knit units into disintegrating fragments was rapidly taking place. We were not sensitive enough to feel the need for immunization against these and welding ourselves together and consolidation. Let us be honest enough and ask our selves whether there were Neros here then in our midst who kept fiddling while Rome was burning.
Leaving these grim stories now to a forgotten past, let me put before you a few points of view from Buddhism. We look upon human life from two distinct angles. First from that of the society to which each one of us belongs. For the most part we are what we are because we belong to a particular social set up. We need to respect it and safeguard it. Everyone within it should feel safe and secure. That essentially depends on the way we conduct ourselves within it. The way we think and the way we do things should bring no threat to the lives of those who live with us. This is the respectful relationship in which humans shall hold the others in society. So should their attitude to others' property be regulated. Of course, both these are taken care of at world level under fundamental human rights. But we are sad that it is only on paper. Very few countries in the world have enough nerve to implement these.
This is what requires the Buddhist to observe the pa¤ca-sãla in his every day life, in order that there is peace and harmony in society. Its observance takes out of society what is called the five fears or pa¤ca bhayàni. It is also remarkably well observed that when humans inflict this on society, they are also building within themselves the most corrosive elements called the five angers or enmities called pa¤ca veràni. They are five in number because they relate to the five offenses listed under the pa¤ca sãla. We could not imagine there being any Buddhist who does not know them. Buddhists as well as non-Buddhists should be knowing equally well their social desirability, whether it be respect for life, respect for genders or need to safeguard one's sanity against drunkenness.
Therefore we call upon all Buddhists to review their attitude to the observance of pa¤ca sãla and not garrulously talk in schools and homes, and that in the company of children, that sãlas are good but difficult to observe and to keep. Think of the irresponsibility and the extent of the damage you cause by talking like this. Please think of the societal relevance of the pa¤ca sãla and think of the better world of love and geneosity we can build thereby for our fellow humans, without too much begging and borrowing, even from the IMF and the Wrold Bank.
I should also seriously remind you that while pa¤ca sãla plays such a desirable role of social correction for bringing about collective peace and harmony, is also basically the bedrock for building up personal and individual character. The very motivation for social well-being, is in itself a corrective measure for ego-reduction and altruistic motivation. These are the bases of social building. We should constantly remind our children of the worth of pa¤ca sila in society. Parents must be an example of their regular observance, not of their breach, whether it be the mother or the father.
But this is only the foundation. This not at all sufficient for graduation in the school of Buddhism. We do need to graduate. It would be shameful to discover too many drop-outs, particularly among the grown ups. We should, in the course of our living as adults, be able to push this up by three more items of senior sãlas. This brings us to the region of seasonal sãlas like the aña sil which we take upon on special days of the moon, observing the lunar calendar. Please note with adequate seriousness that English Buddhists at the Amaravati Buddhist Centre in England have already returned to the lunar quarters or the four poyas of the month.
Let us learn for once what each one of us wishes to do by observing the eight precepts, or those three additional ones. It is a wish to be adults or grown ups, with a desire for self-determination and self-maturity. We wish to check our ability to forego a meal and starve once in a while with fair regularity. Have we the strength and determination to undertake such a small thing as that. Or are we miserably incapable. The precept by which we pledge to undertake the fast is what we say in the morning as the first of the aña sil saying vikàla-bhojanà veramaõã. Do you and the monk who gives it to you, both know what you are saying? Even in ignorance do not be guilty of deliberate lying. You do not want to be accused so. So please be honest. Do not claim to take aña sil frivolously or having taken them, do not breach them.
The next refers to entertainment and self beautification for a single period of twenty-four hours. How much of will power or resolve have you? I dislike to have your reply as 'none at all'. The last of the eight sãlas is the comforts of a night's sleep. Imagine you are camping out somewhere, sleeping in a hammock. No hot-water bottles and no teddy bears to hug. That experience is fully worth having. You may soon be completely denied of them.
With the third millennium round the corner, do feel you are already grown up men and women. Acquire some healthy resolves and firm determination to be smarter than you are, for your sake and for the sake of the world you live in. Be ye regular and honest aña sil observers, once or twice every month.
May all beings be well and happy. May there be peace on earth and goodwill among men.