The Buddha on Peace, Security and Prosperity

The Buddha on Peace, Security and Prosperity

by Ananda Guruge

It is indeed a great pleasure and privilege for me to participate with all other friends, admirers and well-wishers of Venerable Parawahera Chandaratana Nayaka Thera of France in celebrating his fiftieth birthday. I have known him for nearly twenty-five years and have marvelled at his tremendous contribution to the promotion of Buddhism in France as well as the yeoman service he renders to Sri Lanka through cultural and educational activities. He has been exemplary in his devotion to Buddhist principles and this alone has brought him significant recognition in the Buddhist world. May I wish him the best of health and long life to continue his invaluable service: sukhi dighayuko bhava.

Three levels of the Buddha’s Teachings

In dealing with the vast range of the Buddha’s teachings, as recorded in the Pali Tripitaka and the Sanskrit and Chinese Agamas¦tras, it is important to examine every admonition, concept and opinion in relation to three levels of instruction of the Buddha. The three levels, as I have observed, are the following:

  1.   At the first level, there is a unique body of teachings based entirely on the Path of Deliverance, which he presented as his strategy and process to end suffering. Soteriological in purpose and design, this body of teachings included the three marks or signs of existence, the four noble truths, the noble eightfold path, the twelve-link dependent origination, triple training of virtue, concentration and wisdom, techniques of meditation ranging from mindfulness, tranquillity and insight meditation to absorptions or jhanas of the material and nonmaterial spheres, five impediments, ten fetters and defilements, four influxes or cankers, and finally Nibbana. These teachings, which are also included in the list of 37 Bodhi-pakkhiyadhammas or requisites of enlightenment, are coherently and systematically presented and are not open to compromise. They constitute the Buddha’s prescription for the solution to the problem of suffering in the cycle of birth and death and the attainment of the ultimate bliss of Nibbana. Purification of the mind of root causes of greed, malice and stupidity and engaging the mind in eradication of ignorance dominated this process. These teachings are specifically relevant to serious seekers of liberation and, along with the Vinaya rules, are meant primarily for monastics.
  2. At the second level is a detailed moral code addressed mainly to the laity for the purpose of directing them to a life of ethical rectitude without blemishes and of spiritual commitment. The goal of these teachings was directing people to a wholesome life here and now and an afterlife in heaven (sagga) or a better rebirth as a human (sugati). This goal, as the Buddha stated, was not unique to Buddhism. A duty cast on all religious and spiritual leaders, according to Sigalovadasutta, was « showing their disciples the way to heaven. » Thus the prescription to attain such a goal was a shared one with the prevailing religious and spiritual teachers of the day. Avoiding evil (papa or akusala) and doing good (punna or kusala) was the fundamental position. Discourses such as Mahamangalasutta, Vasalasutta, Dhammikasutta, Vyagghapajjasutta, Uragasutta, Khaggavisanasutta, Muni, Amagandha, Brahmanadhammika, Rahulovadasuttas, Samanaparibbajaniyasutta, Vasetthasutta and Parabhavasutta of the Pali Canon illustrate the Buddha’s teachings at this level.
  3.   To the third level belong opinions, observations and counsels offered by the Buddha in response to questions, situations and incidents. These teachings reflect the practical wisdom, which the Buddha brought in to bear on issues presented to him by people of all walks of life. These teachings hardly had any direct bearing on the Buddha’s soteriological or salvific mission or to the goal of a better afterlife. On the contrary, the overarching emphasis was on leading a stress- and worry- free life of day-to-day benefit in harmony with family, community and society. Most of the Suttas in the Dighanikaya and many of the Majjhimanikaya fall into this level. Sigalovadasutta, in particular, is a discourse where ingredients for an ethically perfect lay life and ideal interpersonal relationships in society form the crux. Many of the verses of Dhammapada, Udana, Suttanipata and Itivuttaka present the Buddha’s views in pithy, aphoristic, quotable sayings. There is hardly any subject of human interest that is absent in teachings falling into this level.

The teachings of the Buddha, pertaining to the first level, have seen further elaboration as a result of the scholastic activities of exegesis, analysis, synthesis and interpretation, which commenced during his lifetime. Starting with the Abhidhamma- pitaka in both Sarvastivada and Theravada traditions, these literary ventures culminated in Sastras and Sutras, which increasingly came to reflect the concepts developed within the Mahayana tradition.

Taken together this enormous literary heritage of Buddhism, preserved in such Canonical languages as Pali, Sanskrit, Chinese and Tibetan and further supplemented by works in Asian national languages, represent the overall Buddhist view on end of suffering, enlightenment and liberation. There is an intrinsic unity of content and purpose despite flagrant variations in emphasis, practice and ritual. One thing is most significant as far as the theme of this paper is concerned. As regards to peace, security, non-violence, compassion, loving kindness, tolerance, forbearance and open-mindedness, all Buddhist traditions speak clearly, loudly and eloquently in one voice.

The Buddha’s Absolute Path to Peace and Security

« The mind is the forerunner of all things; they have the mind as the foremost and are mind made, » say the opening two verses of the Dhammapada. So it is in the mind that the causes of war, crime and violence are to be sought. In a statement found in Majjhimanikaya (M. 13) and repeated elsewhere too, the Buddha’s analysis of causes is presented as follows:

Truly, due to sensuous craving, conditioned through sensuous craving, impelled by sensuous craving, entirely moved by sensuous craving, kings fight with kings, princes with princes, priests with priests, citizens with citizens; the mother quarrels with the son, the son with the mother, the father with the son, the son with the father; brother quarrels with brother, brother with sister, sister with brother, friend with friend. Thus, given to dissension, quarrelling and fighting, they fall upon one another with fists, sticks, or weapons. And thereby they suffer death or deadly pain.

And further, due to sensuous craving, conditioned through sensuous craving, impelled by sensuous craving, entirely moved by sensuous craving, people break into houses, rob, plunder, pillage whole houses, commit highway robbery, and seduce the wives of others. Then the rulers have such people caught, and inflict on them various forms of punishment. And thereby they incur death or deadly pain. Now, this is the misery of sensuous craving, the heaping up of suffering in this present life, due to sensuous craving, conditioned through sensuous craving, impelled by sensuous craving, entirely moved by sensuous craving.

The psychological foundations of conflict, war, crime and violence were further analysed. Craving, the Cause of Suffering, as embodied in the Second Noble Truth, is portrayed as the underlying cause of all ills affecting humanity. But other psychological conditions, too, had a significant contribution. Hatred, malice, aversion, and ill-will, as represented by such terms as vera (hatred), vyapada (malice), dosa (aversion), patigha and kodha (anger) and himsa (injury), are identified as causes of dissension and conflict, leading to crime and violence. (Dp. 3, 4, 5, 197, 291, 221, 222, 223, 357, 390, 400). There is no spark like hatred [to kindle dispute], says Dp. 251. « Mankind is polluted by hatred, » says Dp. 357. In these verses of the Dhammapada, the remedy urged by the Buddha is to subdue anger, hatred and malice by positive mental qualities of love (avera, akkodha), patience (khanti -Dp. 184) and non-violence (ahimsa). He presented as an eternal truth the position that hatred is not appeased by hatred and that only non-hatred or love appeases hatred. (Dp. 5) Anger likewise is to be suppressed with non-anger or compassion (Dp. 221-223). One who takes pleasure by causing suffering to others and is entangled and engulfed in hatred will never be free of hatred. (Dp. 291)

A person of forbearance, non-hatred and non-violence (khemi averi abhayo – Dp. 258) is called a wise person (Pandita); « One is rightly called an elder (thera) when one practices non-injury (ahimsa), restraint and self-control » – Dp. 261. One is called « noble » when one refrains from injuring all living creatures. (Ahimsa sabbapananam– Dp. 261). « Sages who do not yield to anger and who do no injury to anyone will attain the world of gods and grieve no more, » says Dp. 224-225. The disciples of the Buddha are described as having their minds suffused with non-injury (ahimsaya rato mano -Dp. 300).  Not insulting and not harming anyone (anupavado anupaghato) are listed as the first two of six qualities enjoined by all Buddhas (Dp. 185). A bhikkhu or a recluse is praised for « leaving aside the stick in case of all beings (sabbesu bhutesu nidhaya dandam- Dp. 142 – 405) meaning that he injures no living creature. The highest praise is also reserved for one who is tolerant among the intolerant and mild among the violent. (aviruddham viruddhesu, attadandesu nibbuta – Dp. 406). So is hailed a person who with the power of forbearance (khantibala), endures reproach, torture and bondage (vadhabandhana) without ill-will (Dp. 399).

In keeping with the Sramana tradition, as also reflected in the Jain standards of moral conduct, non-injury (ahimsa) to all forms of life and non-stealing (asteya) constitute in Buddhism the first two elements of Pañcasila, Atthangasila and Dasasila (in popular parlance the five, eight and ten precepts). The Buddhist formulation underscores each of them as a discipline of abstaining from « depriving a living being of its life » (panatipata) and « taking what is not giving » (adattadana or adinnadana).

His repeated injunction was specific: may one not kill and may one not let or get others kill (na haneyya na ghataye – Dp. 129, 130). Two reasons were given: (1) To every one life is precious (sabbesam jivitam piyam -Dp. 130) and (2) All fear death (sabbe bhayanti maccuno -Dp. 129). The injunction is reinforced with the statement that one should take one’s own love of life and fear of death as applicable to all living beings (attanam upamam katva). King Pasenadi Kosala is told to refrain from killing because to everyone there is none dearer than oneself. (Ud. V, 1) It was also pointed out that in the operation of the moral law of Kamma, a killer will be killed in turn and a conqueror  conquered. (S. I, 85) An equally forceful argument is presented in another verse of the Dhammapada: « Others do not know that here we all die (literally, goes to the realm of Yama or death). With those who know it here, conflicts are resolved thus (tato sammanti medhaga– Dp. 6)

Thus highlighting the mind and its defects, deficiencies and defilements as the ultimate causes of all forms of violence, the Buddha presented his path of purification and salvation as the ultimate solution. Once sensual craving is eradicated, the fundamental cause of conflict, war and violence ceases. One attains the state of peace (santam padam– Dp. 381). Such a person is peaceful (santa) in body, speech and mind. (Dp. 378). This is the Buddha’s absolute Path to Peace, as embodied in the first level teachings.

It is this aspect of Buddhist teachings that was dealt with by K. N. Jayatilleke who is among the pioneering Buddhist scholars to deal with the topic « Buddhism and Peace. » His presentation on April 8, 1961 at a Seminar organized by the International Fellowship of Reconciliation, held at All Souls College, Oxford University, UK was on the theme of « Religion and Peace with Special Reference to the Concepts of Truth, Justice, Freedom, and Love. »  In it, he takes peace (santi) to be the central concept of Buddhism as characterized by inward peace (ajjhatta-santi) – Sn. 837 and equates it to Nirvana or the Transcendent Reality (Jayatilleke 1962 p.2). He stresses that the Buddha’s concept of samacariya (harmonious or peaceful living = dhammacariya) sought for the first time in the known history of mankind to spread over the entire earth » the kingdom of righteousness (dhammacakkam, literally rule of righteousness). (Ibid. pp 2-3). From this point of view, he analyses the concept of Metta (translated by him as Compassionate Love). He established this concept from two quotes: « None of the good works employed to acquire religious merit is worth a fraction of the value of loving kindness » (Itivuttaka 19-21) and « One is cleansed with an internal bathing in the waters of Love and Compassion for one’s own fellow beings. » (Majjhimanikaya I, 39)

The passage from « finite self-centered existence to Nirvana, » he says, « is pictured as one from Bondage to Freedom (vimutti) and Power (vasi), from Imperfection to Perfection (parisuddhi, paramakusala), from Unhappiness to Perfect Happiness (parama-sukha), from Ignorance to Knowledge (vijja, panna), from Finite Consciousness to Infinite Transcendent Consciousness (ananta-vinnana), from the Impermanent to the Permanent (nicca), from the Unstable to the Stable (dhuva), from Fear and Anxiety to Perfect Security (abhaya), from the Evanescent to the Ineffable (amosadhamma), from a state of Mental Illness to a state of perfect Mental Health, etc. It is a peace that passes understanding for it is the result of what is paradoxically described both as the extinction of one’s self-centred desires and the attainment of an ultimate reality. » (Ibid p.10)

In spite of the indisputable validity of this Path to Absolute Peace, which is the core and the hallmark of the teachings of the Buddha, it is neither open to all nor applicable as an immediate solution to all problems of war, violence, crime and insecurity in the real world here and now. If all could have been led to Nibbana and thus saved for ever from the ills of existence once and for all, a Buddha of the past or the historical Buddha would have attempted and achieved it.

Path to Peace, Security and Prosperity in the World Here and Now

Much of what the Buddha taught for the inner cleansing of the mind by removing the root causes of evil, impediments, fetters and defilements do apply to day-to-day practice of a virtuous life. Particularly significant are the practices he enjoined as the four Sublime States (Brahmavihara) of Metta(Loving Kindness,) Karuna (Compassion or Pity), Mudita (Sympathetic Joy or Felicitation) and Upekkha  (Equanimity and Equality) as they establish harmonious and peaceful co-existence and cooperation with others. The development of a pure mind devoid of hatred, malice, aversion, and ill-will (vera, kodha, vyapada, patigha, dosa etc.) is as much relevant to life in society as to attaining the ultimate goal of Nibbana.

It is, nevertheless, in the teachings of the Buddha falling in the second and the third levels, as discussed above, that we find practical guidance applicable to affairs of nations, communities and individuals. In these two levels, the Buddha’s analysis of the causes of conflict, crime and violence is in the sociological domain.

In Kutadantasutta of the Dighanikaya, the Buddha narrates a story to Brahman Kutadanata on how a perfect sacrificial rite was conducted by a king of the past and his chaplain. As a prelude to the sacrifice, the country had to be freed from crime, banditry and violence. Here the cause of violence and insecurity is directly related to poverty. It is said,

Thereupon the Brahman who was chaplain said to the king: « The king’s country, Sire, is harassed and harried. There are dacoits abroad who pillage the villages and townships, and who make the roads unsafe. Were the king, so long as that is so, to levy a fresh tax, verily his majesty would be acting wrongly. But perchance his majesty might think: ‘I’ll soon put a stop to these scoundrels’ game by degradation and banishment, and fines and bonds and death!’ but their licence cannot be satisfactorily put a stop to so. The remnant left unpunished would still go on harassing the realm. Now there is one method to adopt to put a thorough end to this disorder. Whosoever there be in the king’s realm who devote themselves to keeping cattle and the farm, to them let his majesty the king give food and seed-corn. Whosoever there be in the king’s realm that devote themselves to trade, to them let his majesty the king give capital. Whosoever there be in the king’s realm who devote themselves to government service, to them let his majesty the king give wages and food. Then those men, following each his own business, will no longer harass the realm; the king’s revenue will go up; the country will be quiet and at peace; and the populace, pleased one with another and happy, dancing their children in their arms will dwell with open doors. »

‘Then King Wide-realm, accepted the word of his chaplain, and did as he had said. And those men, following each his business, harassed the realm no more. And the king’s revenue went up. And the country became quiet and at peace. And the populace, pleased one with another and happy, dancing with their children in their arms, dwelt with open doors. (D. 5 Tr. T.W. and C.A.F. Rhys Davids)

What is important to note in this analysis is that the solutions offered were not law-enforcement or punishment but economic incentives to raise the living standards of the people.

In the Aggannasutta of the Dighanikaya, which is an allegorical rather than a historical or sociological view of « the moral fall of man, » the section dealing with the rise of crime and violence and the steps taken to curb them through kingship and government presents an equally informative viewpoint:

« Now some being of greedy disposition, watching over his own plot, stole another plot and made use of it. They took him and holding him fast, said: Truly, good being, thou hast wrought evil in that, while watching thine own plot, thou hast stolen another plot and made use of it. See, good being, that thou do not such a thing again! Ay, sirs, he replied. And a second time he did so. And yet a third time. And again they took him and admonished him. Some smote him with the hand, some with clods, some with sticks. With such a beginning, did stealing appear, and censure and lying and punishment became known.

« Now those beings gathered themselves together, and bewailed these things, saying: From our evil deeds, sirs, becoming manifest, inasmuch as stealing, censure, lying, punishment have become known, what if we were to select a certain being, who should be wrathful when indignation is right, who should censure that which should rightly be censured and should banish him who deserves to be banished? But we will give him in return a portion of the rice.

« Then those beings went to the being among them who was the handsomest, the best favoured, the most attractive, the most capable and said to him: Come now, good being, be indignant at that whereat one should rightly be indignant, censure that which should rightly be censured, banish him who deserves to be banished. And we will contribute to thee a portion of our rice. » (D. 27 Tr. T.W. and C.A.F. Rhys Davids)

Here the solution to disorder was the institution of good government.

A far more dramatic sequence of circumstances is narrated in the Cakkavattisihanadasutta of the Dighanikaya, where the « fall of man » and his subsequent rise are presented in economic and moral terms:

  • Inequitable distribution of goods in society and the consequent deprivation of the destitute cause poverty;
  • Poverty increases stealing; from the prevalence of stealing grows violence and destruction of life; and from the frequency of murder span of life and physical beauty of humans wane;
  • Through inequitable distribution of goods and the deprivation of the destitute, poverty spreads; from poverty arises stealing, violence, murder, falsehood, evil speech, adultery, abusive and frivolous talk, covetousness, ill-will, false views, incest and perverted lust until finally filial and religious piety and respect for leadership disappear.
  • The depth of moral degeneration, so set in motion, is marked by the disappearance of the ten wholesome conducts (i.e. non-killing, non-stealing etc. constituting the ten kusalakammas) and there would not be even a word in human vocabulary for morality. Society would praise persons who have neither filial and religious piety nor respect for elders.
  • Humans at this stage would be so debased as to be promiscuous like goats, sheep, fowl, swine, dogs and jackals and mutual enmity, ill-will, animosity and murderous thought would make humans kill parents, siblings and children with insensitivity of a hunter to animals.
  • Looking upon each other like wild beasts, humans would engage in a war of mass destruction with dangerous weapons and only a few who seek refuge in mountain fastness and the like would survive the war.
  • The sutta continues to portray what would happen after this cataclysmic war:
  • Those who survive would be happy to find others who had similarly survived and would embrace and comfort one another expressing sheer joy that they were alive.
  • The recognition that evil ways had led them to the destruction of their kith and kin, would make humans abstain from taking life. As a result their life span and physical beauty would increase.
  • The realization of the good results of changing their ways, humans would abstain from stealing, adultery, evil, abusive and idle talk, covetousness, ill-will, false views and perverted desires. They would also respect parents, holy persons and elders.
  • Humans would morally progress and there would be only three kinds of diseases – desire, hunger and old age.

The Utopian result of moral regeneration of humans is described in this Sutta as follows:

The world will be powerful and prosperous. Villages, towns and royal cities would be so close that a cock would fly from housetop to housetop. (D.26)

The overall message of these three Suttas is that the Path to Peace, Security and Prosperity in the world here and now is twofold:

(1)    Eradication of poverty through such measures as ensuring equitable distribution of goods (i.e. wealth and services), subsidizing agriculture, providing capital to businesses and paying living salaries to public employees; and

(2)    Introduction moral values based on sanctity of life and property, sexual purity, right speech, respect to parents, elders and holy persons and the practice of loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity.








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