THE NEW MILLENNIUM :STEPPING INTO IT WITH SANITY AND WISDOM
Bhikkhu Professor Dhammavihari
Time is a stream of continuous flow and one can undeniably step into at any point. Any divisions of it in terms of centuries or millennia are only appropriations by individuals or groups according to their own vested interests or according to historical, mythical and legendary associations. But these time slots can also be used by sensible people as convenient starting points for any new meaningful ventures or for the reformation of old structures and patterns.
Starting with the zero of the Christian era or the Anno Domini, we are now getting ready to claim with pride that we have lived through two millennia. Some come out with prophesies as to what would happen to the world at the end of the millennium, its destruction or disastrous changes within it. Yet others announce ambitious claims as to what each should achieve as world conquests in the name of their religion or ethnicity. Let us be a bit more modest about these. Let there be a little more dignified restraint. Let a bit more sanity come in, even in the name of religion or unseen powers above and beyond us.
Human civilization of a fairly high level, at least in Asia, has been through more than two millennia prior to that. But as for rapid human progress in the not too distant past, there definitely is legitimacy to these claims in terms of many areas of life activity. In terms of science and technology which are in the forefront of our lives today, we have moved much further than the post-Galilean achievements. In the field of biological and neuro-sciences, we have made incredible advances. These can and should lead to the elevation and exaltation of human life from the stage of Pithecanthropus Erectus to that of an adequately developed modern man. An elevation that should serve man, well before others elsewhere, in regions unknown and only speculated and believed in.
But what actually has happened in the world, both in the east and the west, points to the contrary. While medical sciences in their researches have considerably contributed to the prevention and effective cure of many death dealing diseases and thereby contributed to the enhancement of life expectancy of humans, many scientific discoveries of today lead, directly or indirectly to the destruction and devastation of life on earth, both of man and animal. At the highest levels, genetic engineering, bio-technology and commercially motivated pharmaceutical productions are such questionable areas.
Think next of the industrial Olympics of the arrogantly so-called developed nations, everywhere in the east and the west. Gold, silver and bronze awards in these fields, where do they lead humanity. Massive arrays of researchers and scientists who are mobilized and hired to carry out the profit motivated ambitious plans of business tycoons can in no way be said to contribute to human happiness. It is too well known now that unimaginable profits are, in most deceptive and secretive manner, siphoned into the pockets of a few misanthropists. Governments of even the biggest democracies in the world, we know, appear helpless in tackling them. They tackle the governments everywhere.
Another great disaster facing the entire world, particularly in the second half of this century, is the arms race or the competitive production of weapons of war. This dirty game, more for offense than defense, is indulged in even by the smaller nations who wish to become great ones thereby. That even after the second world war, nuclear weapons were secretly deployed by super powers in their own defense in many parts the world, even in countries like Japan who dreaded them, is now well known everywhere. In the name of God, in whose defense are they being proliferated, political ideologies, genocidal ethnicity or religious fanaticism?
But development wise, man of today is lost in the wilderness of time. He knows not whence he came, whither he goes. In this twentieth century, the last one of the second millennium, humanity has too many black marks in its name. Two world wars have charred a greater part of it. Many more regional wars are now setting it ablaze everywhere. Think of Bosnia, East Timor and even Sri Lanka. World organizations like the United Nations have not been able to stabilize these outbursts or clear human groups of their blood stains. We categorically say that the machinery of Fundamental Human Rights has miserably failed. The U.N. is often seen to be manipulated by super powers and cannot be looked upon as non-partisan. Against the villainous behaviour of political ideologies, diabolic religious fanaticism and genocidal arrogance of ethnicity, nothing short of total annihilation seems to be the inevitable result.
Let us now turn to the moral life of man, i.e. the social behaviour of our men, women and children. Call this phase of life of humans religious or spiritual or whatever you like. Do men, women and children of the world know in what relationship they should stand to one another. We unhesitatingly say that reckless new thinking in the world, sometimes backed even by religious factions, has shattered the entire network of social relationships. Like power seeking political parties everywhere, even religious groups seem to endeavour to precariously hang on to these newfangled patterns of new social thinking in the interest of their own survival.
Religious groups in the world today strive to win large scale support from the lay community by siding with groups like feminist activists who are creating a bit of a stir and sensation. Considerations like premarital sex, and along with it unmarried mothers and fatherless or single-parent homes and abortion seem to compel religious groups to take up revisionist positions or break away from main stream religious thinking. In the west, there are factions of the main stream church who support, under the name of contraception, the destruction of the fertilized human egg which is on its way to get implanted in the mother's womb. This they do with an injection to the pregnant mother. The main stream orthodox church condemns this in no uncertain terms. These now lead to severe crack-ups even in the orthodox institutions.
This is what the turn of the millennium witnesses in the field of religion today. These attempts at convenient modernization and compromising moves, deviating from the orthodoxy, merely for the sake of building up party strength or increase of group numbers, are signs of dissolution and disintegration. It is time now for the Buddhists to become aware of these world trends and look out for such disastrous alien thinking within our own groups. We should guard against such action creeping into our own circles. Our groups need consolidation. Our primary need is self-awareness with regard to our own self-identity.
The turn of the century or the dawn of the new millennium, in itself, has no sanctity to us. But everyone of us can use it as a signal for a change of heart and for the commencement of a brave new line of thinking. It can be used to usher in many new changes in every walk of life which are healthy and vibrant. The Buddhists have had values laid down for them for more than twenty-five centuries. Values for the regulation of the life style of men, women and children in their day to day life. Group relationships are equally well regulated, with inter-personal relationships basically in mind. Through time and space these values spread to almost every part of Asia, from the Japanese archipelago in the east to the Caspian sea in west. By the 2nd century A.D., the Buddhists of Afghanistan, the greater part of which along with Iran and Iraq was Buddhist by then, have left for posterity Buddhist sermons in stone by way of superb Hellenistic Greek stone carvings, indicating the evils of drinking. These can be seen even today, in places like the Muse Guimet in Paris.
Let us begin with the personal life of the Buddhist. The first grim reminder to him is that he has a life which is to be lived here, to the best of his ability, within a framework of goodness which is unmistakably defined in Buddhist teachings. It is a goodness which is calculated to bring about the maximum justifiable happiness to the person who lives accordingly. This is emphatically pronounced in Pali as Dhammo suciõõo sukhamàvahàti = Dhamma well lived bestows happiness. It is stated with equal emphasis that humans, living in terms of these Buddhist specifications, reduce and eliminate the stress and strain to which society is put by the wild and unruly behaviour of its men and women, not to speak of the children. This is referred to as pa¤cabhayàni våpasantani. At this stage, we call upon all Buddhists to awaken to the reality of personal responsibility and accountability on which a very high premium is set in Buddhism.
This reciprocal awareness of the role of decent living in society, with love [ mettà ] and consideration [ karuõà ] for others, is the primary function of pa¤casãla in Buddhism. One of our main thrusts as Buddhists, on the advent of the new millennium, has to be to clarify the role of pa¤casãla and plead with all humans, Buddhists as well as non-Buddhists to endeavour to adhere to these precepts of good living which decent society unhesitatingly requires. To be honest, we know that many non-Buddhists all over the world do so to a greater or lesser degree.
Within it are brought respect for all forms of life, a concept which is gaining worldwide recognition today on account of the new awareness about ecosystems and biodiversity. Life in the world to us is a joint operation, inter-related. It has to be one of respectful co-existence. Nothing is created in the world to be destroyed and consumed by another. Such concepts, in the world today, are getting into the category of old world myths. It is neither religion nor philosophy. This consideration is essentially based on the awareness that all living things love to continue to live [ jãvitukàmà ]. They all dread being destroyed [ amaritukàmà ]. A lover of life, and everyone of us being one, shall not be a destroyer of life. Tasmà na himse param attakàmo = He who loves himself shall cause no injury to another.
It is this same principle and same consideration which requires people not to dispossess others of what legitimately belongs to them. This is what forbids theft [ adinnàdànà veramaõã ]. Have people not a heart about this? When one robs, one robs others of their source of joy and pleasure. What one needs for oneself, one must acquire through just means. Overscoring the hue and cry about ' haves and have-nots ' does not justify theft and robbery in society.
The Buddhist requirement of propriety in respect of sexual relationships [ kàmesu micchàcàràveramaõã ], touching on areas of pre-marital sex, conjugal fidelity, and adulterous behaviour savors on the one hand of this respect for what legitimately belongs to others. The other, of course, is the restraint in the gratification of the senses. In Buddhism, sexual love, marriage and reproduction seem to be closely interconnected. Thus homosexuality is to be viewed in this light. This also glorifies the position of woman in Buddhism.
The fourth precept of the pa¤casãla deals with honesty which is a vital ingredient in all social transactions. Breach of trust at domestic, public, political and all levels stands in the way of social continuity. It is viewed as a despicably low weakness and Buddhism declares that in its presence no act of meanness is impossible [ natthi pàpaü akàriyaü ]. In resorting to dishonesty, the end cannot be held to justify the means.
Finally we are reminded of the need for humans to safeguard sanity of judgement by keeping away from drugs and alcohol [ Kin nu kho bhikkhave taü pàtabbaü yaü pività visa¤¤ã assa = Should anyone ever take anything which puts one out of one's senses? ]. Many people take up the mistaken position that drinking is a social requirement. It takes them quite some time before they realize that drinking also turns out to be socially menacing, for the individual, family and society.. We have already indicated at the very outset that Afghanistan Buddhists, nearly two thousand years ago, fully appreciated the worth of this teaching. They transmitted it to posterity through their famous stone carving entitled Family Drinking Scene, now preserved in the Muse Guimet in Paris.
What we have attempted today is to portray to our Sri Lankan readers the current world situation with regard to different vital areas of decay in social relations, moral standards and religious values. At world level, honest endeavours are being made both by religious institutions and powerful groups of social scientists to arrest these. As we indicated above, the dawn of a new millennium is an opportune moment for people with a distinct identity and a world record of powerful philanthropic thinking to reassert their basic teachings. This message is to the Sri Lankans, and to the Buddhists in particular, who have more than twenty-three centuries of Buddhist culture to their credit.
Commencing with the respect for life, life of man and bird and beast [ which is enjoined in the first precept of the pa¤casãla ], let us call upon all Sri Lankans, without any discrimination of religion, caste or creed to observe from the commencement of the new millennium one vegetarian day every week. Let us do this with a firm resolve to reduce violence in the land. 1.1.2000 is a Saturday. Can not every family in Sri Lanka keep the Saturday of the week a vegetarian day? It must be planned to be a joint family activity, when the children of the household look up to their father joining the mother to plan a day of vegetarian cooking for the family.
This immediately makes the family energetic and enterprising. Something good for the new millennium! A new approach, with a great deal of imagination, has to be undertaken. An attractive and an equally delightful menu has to be prepared, one or two, not forgetting the dinner. Recipes have to be sought, cooking material have to be found, form your own garden, pola or even the Super Market, which in the 1990 's is your more popular resort.
Once you start on this line of thinking, you turn out to be wonderfully resourceful. You would want your own garden to produce at least half the vegetables you need, starting with your green chillies and karapinca, your curry leaves. Your whole household, particularly the children, even with their tuition classes and home work, would clamor to join in. What a loving and cooperative family unit as a result of planning for a vegetarian day?
If you need some planting material, I am sure we can arrange it for you. I can give you some vegetable seeds out of what I have brought for you from United States. But first comes first serve. In many states there like Dallas and Carolina , I found our Sri Lankans growing a large variety of vegetables plentifully, including Patola, Karavila, Vatakolu, Malu Miris, Wattakka Takkàli etc, etc. This line of action at domestic level would invariably open new avenues for peace and prosperity in the land.
One more request I would like to make. That is in the direction of personal self discipline. We humans need to assess from time to time as to how much inner strength we possess. Buddhism, together with some of the other Indian religions, had recognized this need very early and recommended ways to achieve it. It is the exercise of upavàsa or fasting. It would do well for all adults, male and female, to undertake a fast at least once a week. Forego at least one dinner a week. We would thereby learn to develop an inner strength to withstand challenges from the world outside. These are only some suggestions for cooperative thinking and fruitful action in the new millennium. Let us try. I wish you success.