Prof. Oliver Abeynayake
Among the Buddhist teachings on polity, the concept of Dasarâjadharma occupies a place of prominence. There, the Buddha identifies ten principles of good governance as follows: dâna, sîla, pariccâga, ajjava, maddava, tapa, akkodha, avihimsâ, khanti, avirodha.
The insight into the meanings of these terms reveals that these ten principles of good governance in Buddhism cover much more than the modern concept of the welfare state.
Dâna – Giving
This includes the practice of charity, generosity and sharing. The facilitation of basic needs of the people falls on the government under this principle.
Sîla – Moral integrity
This principle indicates the moral responsibility of the government. The rulers’ virtuous conduct paves the way for ethical progress of the entire country. At the lowest level, the rulers have to follow the five precepts to the very letter. It is emphasized that all other forms of development rest on the moral integrity of the rulers.
Pariccâga – Philanthropy
Giving up of personal pleasure and comfort and sacrifice of personal wealth for the benefit of the country are taken into consideration in this principle.
Ajjava – Uprightness
The rulers should refrain from deception, false promises and all forms of pretension. They must be sincere and act according to what they say. Transparency of action is meant here.
Maddava – Gentleness
The rulers must be soft, tender, approachable, sympathetic and kind. This is the principle which goes with the dictum: the rulers are not masters but the servants of the people.
Tapa – Self-control
Moderate living is taken into account under this principle. Self-indulgence and luxurious life are banned for the rulers. It is not the rulers but the ruled that enjoy the advantages of good governance.
Akkodha – Absence of anger
The rulers should be free from taking revenge under this principle. They should not act and speak with anger in public. Sobriety is what is expected from the rulers.
Avihmsâ – Non-violence
The responsibility of refraining from harassing others and promoting peace come within the scope of this principle. Political power is not to be used to harass others.
Khanti – Patience
The rulers should maintain a good temperament. They should always show the qualities of forbearance, tolerance, and understanding. They are not to be irritated, instigated and mislead by any word or action of their friends or foes. They should bear any form of criticism with equanimity.
Avirodha – Absence of obstruction
This principle insists that the rulers should go with the will of the people. The opposition should not be suppressed. Confrontational policies and attitudes are to be done away with. The rulers should always strive for unity, amity and concord.
What Buddhists Believe
Promoter of True Human Culture
Buddhism is strong enough to face any modern views which pose a challenge to religion.
Buddhist ideas have greatly contributed to the enrichment of both ancient and modern thought. Its teaching of causation and relativism, its doctrine of sense data, its pragmatism, its emphasis on the moral, its non-acceptance of a permanent soul, its unconcern about external supernatural forces, its denial of unnecessary rites and religious rituals, its appeal to reasoning and experience and its compatibility with modern scientific discoveries all tend to establish its superior claim to modernity.
Buddhism is able to meet all the requirements of a rational religion that suit the needs of the future world. It is so scientific, so rational, so progressive that it will be a pride for a man in the modern world to call himself a Buddhist. In fact, Buddhism is more scientific in approach than science; it is more socialistic than socialism.
Among all the great founders of religion, it was the Buddha alone who encouraged the spirit of investigation among His followers and who advised them not to accept even His Teaching with blind faith. Therefore, it is no exaggeration to say that Buddhism can be called a modern religion.
Buddhism is a well-elaborated scheme of how to lead a practical life and a carefully thought-out system of self-culture. But more than that, it is a scientific method of education. This religion is best able in any crisis to restore our peace of mind and to help us to face calmly whatever changes the future may have in store.
Without sensual pleasure, would life be endurable? Without belief in immortality, can man be moral? Without resorting to divinity, can man advance towards righteousness? YES, is the answer given by Buddhism. These ends can be attained by knowledge and by the purification of the mind. Knowledge is the key to the higher path. Purification is that which brings calmness and peace to life and renders man indifferent to and detached from the vagaries of the phenomenal world.
Buddhism is truly a religion suited to the modern, scientific world. The light which comes from nature, from science, from history, from human experience, from every point of the universe, is radiant with the Noble Teachings of the Buddha.
Religion in a Scientific Age
Religion without science is crippled, while science without religion is blind. Today we live in a scientific age in which almost every aspect of our lives has been affected by science. Since the scientific revolution during the seventeenth century, science has continued to exert tremendous influence on what we think and do.
The impact of science has been particularly strong on traditional religious beliefs. Many basic religious concepts are crumbling under the pressure of modern science and are no longer acceptable to the intellectual and the well-informed man. No longer is it possible to assert truth derived merely through theological speculations or based on the authority of religious
scriptures in isolation to scientific consideration. For example, the findings of modern psychologists indicate that the human mind, like the physical body, work according to natural, causal laws without the presence of an unchanging soul as taught by some religions.
Some religionists choose to disregard scientific discoveries which conflict with their religious dogmas. Such rigid mental habits are indeed a hindrance to human progress. Since the modern man refuses to believe anything blindly, even though it had been traditionally accepted, such
religionists will only succeed in increasing the ranks of non-believers with their faulty theories.
On the other hand, some religionists have found it necessary to accommodate popularly accepted scientific theories by giving new interpretations to their religious dogmas. A case in point is Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. Many religionists maintain that man was directly created by God. Darwin, on the other hand, claimed that man had evolved from the ape, a theory which upset the doctrines of divine creation and the fall of man. Since all enlightened thinkers have accepted Darwin’s theory, the theologians today have little choice except to give a new interpretation to their doctrines to suit this theory which they had opposed for so long.
In the light of modern scientific discoveries, it is not difficult to understand that many of the views held in many religions regarding the universe and life are merely conventional thoughts of that which have long been superseded. It is generally true to say that religions have greatly
contributed to human development and progress. They have laid down values and standards and formulated principles to guide human life. But for all the good they have done, religions can no longer survive in the modern, scientific age if the followers insist on imprisoning truth into set forms and dogmas, on encouraging ceremonies and practices which have been
depleted of their original meaning.
Buddhism and Science
Until the beginning of the last century, Buddhism was confined to countries untouched by modern science. Nevertheless, from its very beginning, the Teachings of the Buddha were always open to scientific thinking.
One reason why the Teaching can easily be embraced by the scientific spirit is that the Buddha never encouraged rigid, dogmatic belief. He did not claim to base His Teachings on faith, belief, or divine revelation, but allowed great flexibility and freedom of thought. The second reason is that the scientific spirit can be found in the Buddha’s approach to spiritual Truth. The Buddha’s method for discovering and testing spiritual Truth is very similar to that of the scientist. A scientist observes the external world objectively, and would only establish
a scientific theory after conducting many successful practical experiments.
Using a similar approach 25 centuries ago, the Buddha observed the inner world with detachment, and encouraged His disciples not to accept any teaching until they had critically investigated and personally verified its truth. Just as the scientist today would not claim that his experiment cannot be duplicated by others, the Buddha did not claim that His experience of Enlightenment was exclusive to Him. Thus, in His approach to Truth, the Buddha was as analytical as the present day scientist. He established a practical, scientifically worked-out method for reaching the Ultimate Truth and the experience of Enlightenment.
While Buddhism is very much in line with the scientific spirit, it is not correct to equate Buddhism with science. It is true that the practical applications of science have enabled mankind to live more comfortable lives and experience wonderful things undreamed of before. Science has made it possible for man to swim better than the fishes, fly higher than the birds, and walk on the moon. Yet the sphere of knowledge acceptable to conventional, scientific wisdom is confined to empirical evidence. And scientific truth is subject to constant change. Science cannot give man control over his mind and neither does it offer moral control and guidance. Despite its wonders, science has indeed many limitations not shared by Buddhism.
Limitations of Science
Often one hears so much about science and what it can do, and so little about what it cannot do. Scientific knowledge is limited to the data received through the sense organs. It does not recognize reality which transcends sense-data. Scientific truth is built upon logical observations of sense-data which are continually changing. Scientific truth is, therefore, relative truth not intended to stand the test of time. And a scientist, being aware of this fact, is always willing to discard a theory if it can be replaced by a better one.
Science attempts to understand the outer world and has barely scratched the surface of man’s inner world. Even the science of psychology has not really fathomed the underlying cause of man’s mental unrest. When a man is frustrated and disgusted with life, and his inner world is filled with disturbances and unrest, science today is very much unequipped to help him.. The social sciences which cater for man’s environment may bring him a certain degree of happiness. But unlike an animal man requires more than mere physical comfort and needs help to cope with his frustrations and miseries arising from his daily experiences.
Today so many people are plagued with fear, restlessness, and insecurity. Yet science fails to succor them. Science is unable to teach the common man to control his mind when he is driven by the animal nature that burns within him.
Can science make man better? If it can, why do violent acts and immoral practices abound in countries which are so advanced in science? Isn’t it fair to say that despite all the scientific progress achieved and the advantages conferred on man, science leaves the inner man basically unchanged: it has only heightened man’s feelings of dependence and insufficiency? In addition to its failure to bring security to mankind, science has also made everyone feel even more insecure by threatening the world with the possibility of wholesale destruction.
Science is unable to provide a meaningful purpose of life. It cannot provide man clear reasons for living. In fact, science is thoroughly secular in nature and unconcerned with man’s spiritual goal. The materialism inherent in scientific thought denies the psyche goals higher than material satisfaction. By its selective theorizing and relative truths, science disregards some of the most essential issues and leaves many questions unanswered. For instance, when asked why great inequalities exist among men, no scientific explanation can be given to such questions which are beyond its narrow confines.
The transcendental mind developed by the Buddha is not limited to sense-data and goes beyond the logic trapped within the limitation of relative perception. The human intellect, on the contrary, operates on the basis of information it collects and stores, whether in the field of
religion, philosophy, science or art. The information for the mind is gathered through our sense organs which are inferior in so many ways. The very limited information perceived makes our understanding of the world distorted.
Some people are proud of the fact that they know so much. In fact, the less we know, the more certain we are in our explanations; the more we know, the more we realize our limitations.
A brilliant scholar once wrote a book which he considered as the ultimate work. He felt that the book contained all literary gems and philosophies. Being proud of his achievement, he showed his masterpiece to a colleague of his who was equally brilliant with the request that the book be reviewed by him. Instead, his colleague asked the author to write down on a piece of paper all he knew and all he did not know. The author sat down deep in thought, but after a long while failed write down anything he knew. Then he turned his mind to the second question, and again he failed to write down anything he did not know. Finally, with his ego at the lowest ebb, he gave up, realizing that all that he knew was really ignorance.
In this regard, Socrates, the well-known Athenian philosopher of the Ancient World, had this to say when asked what he knew: ‘I know only one thing–that I do not know.’
Buddhism goes beyond modern science in its acceptance of a wider field of knowledge than is allowed by the scientific mind. Buddhism admits knowledge arising from the sense organs as well as personal experiences gained through mental culture. By training and developing a highly concentrated mind, religious experience can be understood and verified. Religious
experience is not something which can be understood by conducting experiments in a test-tube or examined under a microscope.
The truth discovered by science is relative and subject to changes, while that found by the Buddha is final and absolute: the Truth of Dhamma does not change according to time and space. Furthermore, in contrast to the selective theorizing of science, the Buddha encouraged the wise not to cling to theories, scientific or otherwise. Instead of theorizing, the Buddha taught mankind how to live a righteous life so as to discover the Ultimate Truth. By living a righteous life, by calming the sense, and by casting off desires, the Buddha pointed the way through which we can discover within ourselves the nature of life. And the real purpose of life
can be found.
Practice is important in Buddhism. A person who studies much but does not practice is like one who is able to recite recipes from a huge cookery-book without trying to prepare a single dish. His hunger cannot be relieved by book knowledge alone. Practice is such an important prerequisite of enlightenment that in some schools of Buddhism, such as Zen, practice is put even ahead of knowledge.
The scientific method is outwardly directed, and modern scientists exploit nature and the elements for their own comfort, often disregarding the need to harmonize with the environment and thereby polluting the world. In contrast, Buddhism is inwardly directed and is concerned with the inner development of man. On the lower level, Buddhism teaches the individual how to adjust and cope with events and circumstances of daily life. At the higher level, it represents the human endeavor to grow beyond oneself through the practice of mental culture or mind development.
Buddhism has a complete system of mental culture concerned with gaining insight into the nature of things which leads to complete self-realization of the Ultimate Truth – Nibbana. This system is both practical and scientific; it involves dispassionate observation of emotional and mental states. More like a scientist than a judge, a meditator observes the inner world with mindfulness.
Science Without Religion
Without having moral ideals, science poses a danger to all mankind. Science has made the machine which in turn becomes king. The bullet and bomb are gifts of science to the few in power on whom the destiny of the world depends. Meanwhile the rest of mankind waits in anguish and fear, not knowing when the nuclear weapons, the poisonous gases, the deadly arms –all fruits of scientific research designed to kill efficiently – will be used on them. Not only is science completely unable to provide moral guidance to mankind, it has also fed fuel to the flame of human craving.
Science devoid of morality spells only destruction: it becomes the draconian monster man discovered. And unfortunately, this very monster is becoming more powerful than man himself. Unless man learns to restrain and govern the monster through the practice of religious morality, the monster will soon overpower him. Without religious guidance, science threatens the world with destruction. In contrast, science when coupled with a religion like Buddhism can transform this world into a haven of peace and security and happiness.
Never was there a time when the co-operation between science and religion is so desperately needed in the best interest and service of mankind. Religion without science is crippled, while science without religion is blind.
Tribute to Buddhism
The wisdom of Buddhism founded on compassion has the vital role of correcting the dangerous destination modern science is heading for. Buddhism can provide the spiritual leadership to guide scientific research and invention in promoting a brilliant culture of the future. Buddhism can provide worthy goals for scientific advancement which is presently facing a hopeless impasse of being enslaved by its very inventions.
Albert Einstein paid a tribute to Buddhism when he said in his autobiography: ‘If there is any religion that would cope with modern scientific needs, it would be Buddhism’. Buddhism requires no revision to keep it ‘up to date’ with recent scientific findings. Buddhism need not
surrender its views to science because it embraces science as well as goes beyond science. Buddhism is the bridge between religious and scientific thoughts by stimulating man to discover the latent potentialities within himself and his environment. Buddhism is timeless!
Religion of Freedom
This is a religion of freedom and reason for man to lead a noble life.
Buddhism does not prevent anyone from learning the teachings of other religions. In fact, the Buddha encouraged His followers to learn about other religions and to compare His Teachings with other teachings. The Buddha says that if there are reasonable and rational teachings in other religions, His followers are free to respect such teachings. It seems that
certain religionists try to keep their followers in the dark, some of them are not even allowed to touch other religious objects or books. They are instructed not to listen to the preaching of other religions.
They are enjoined not to doubt the teachings of their own religion, however unconvincing their teachings may appear to be. The more they keep their followers on a one-track mind, the more easily they can keep them under control. If anyone of them exercises freedom of thought and realizes that he had been in the dark all the time, then it is alleged that the devil has
possessed his mind. The poor man is given no opportunity to use his common sense, education, of his intelligence. Those who wish to change their views on religion are taught to believe that they are not perfect enough to be allowed to use free will in judging anything for themselves.
According to the Buddha, religion should be left to one’s own free choice. Religion is not a law, but a disciplinary code which should be followed with understanding. To Buddhists true religious principles are neither divine laws nor a human law, but a natural law.
In actual fact, there is no real religious freedom in any part of the world today. Man has not the freedom even to think freely.
Whenever he realizes that he cannot find satisfaction through his own religion to which he belongs, which cannot provide him with satisfactory answers to certain questions, he has no liberty to give it up and to accept another which appeals to him. The reason is that religious authorities, leaders, and family members have taken that freedom away from him. Man
should be allowed to choose his religion which is in accordance with his own conviction. One has no right to force another to accept a particular religion. Some people surrender their religion for the sake of love, without a proper understanding of their partner’s religion. Religion should not be changed to suit man’s emotions and human weaknesses. One must think very carefully before changing one’s religion. Religion is not a subject for bargaining; one should not change one’s religion for personal, material gains. Religion is to be sued for spiritual development and for self-salvation.
Buddhists never try to influence other religionists to come and embrace their religion for material gain. Nor do they try to exploit poverty, sickness, illiteracy and ignorance in order to increase the number of Buddhist population. The Buddha advised those who indicated their wish to follow Him, not to be hasty in accepting His Teachings. He advised them to consider carefully His Teaching and to determine for themselves whether it was practical or not for them to follow.
Buddhism teaches that mere belief or outward rituals are insufficient for attaining wisdom and perfection. In this sense, outward conversion becomes meaningless. To promote Buddhism by force would mean pretending to propagate justice and love by means of oppression and injustice. It is of no importance to a follower of the Buddha whether a person calls himself a
Buddhist or not.
Buddhists know that only through man’s understanding and exertion will they come nearer to the goal preached by the Buddha. Amongst the followers of every religion are some fanatics. Religious fanaticism is dangerous. A fanatic is incapable of guiding himself by reason or even by the scientific principles of observation and analysis. According to the Buddha, a Buddhist must be a free man with an open mind and must not be subservient to anyone for his spiritual development. He seeks refuge in the Buddha by accepting Him as a source of supreme guidance and inspiration. He seeks refuge in the Buddha, not blindly, but with understanding. To Buddhists, the Buddha is not a savior nor is He an anthropomorphic being who claims to possess the power of washing away other’s sins. Buddhists regard the Buddha as a Teacher who shows the Path to salvation.
Buddhism has always supported the freedom and progress of mankind. Buddhism has always stood for the advancement of knowledge and freedom for humanity in every sphere of life. There is nothing in the Buddha’s Teaching that has to be withdrawn in the face of modern, scientific inventions and knowledge. The more new things that scientists discover, the closer they come to the Buddha.
The Buddha emancipated man from the thralldom of religion. He also released man from the monopoly and the tyranny of the priest craft. It was the Buddha who first advised man to exercise his reason and not to allow himself to be driven meekly like dumb cattle, following the dogma of religion. The Buddha stood for rationalism, democracy and practical, ethical conduct in religion. He introduced this religion for people to practice with human
The followers of the Buddha were advised not to believe anything without considering it properly. In the Kalama Sutta, the Buddha gave the following guidelines to a group of young people:
‘Do not accept anything based upon mere reports, traditions or hearsay, Nor upon the authority of religious texts, Nor upon mere reasons and arguments, Nor upon one’s own inference, Nor upon anything which appears to be true, Nor upon one’s own speculative opinion, Nor upon another’s seeming ability, Nor upon the consideration: ‘This is our Teacher. ’But, when you know for yourselves the certain things are unwholesome and
bad: tending to harm yourself or others, reject them. ‘And when you know for yourselves that certain things are wholesome and good: conducive to the spiritual welfare of yourself as well as others, accept and follow them.’
Buddhists are advised to accept religious practices only after careful observation and analysis, and only after being certain that the method agrees with reason and is conducive to the good of one and all.
A true Buddhist does not depend on external powers for his salvation. Nor does he expect to get rid of miseries through the intervention of some unknown power. He must try to eradicate all his mental impurities to find eternal Happiness. The Buddha says, ‘If anyone were to speak ill of me, my teaching and my disciples, do not be upset or perturbed, for this kind of reaction will only cause you harm. On the other hand, if anyone were to speak well of me, my teaching and my disciples, do not be over-joyed, thrilled or elated, for this kind of reaction will only be an obstacle in forming a correct judgment. If you are elated, you cannot judge whether the qualities praised are real and actually found in us.’ (Brahma Jala Sutta)
Such is the unbiased attitude of a genuine Buddhist. The Buddha had upheld the highest degree of freedom not only in its human essence but also in its divine qualities. It is a freedom that does not deprive man of his dignity. It is a freedom that releases one from slavery to dogmas and dictatorial religious laws or religious punishments.
‘Go forth, O Bhikkhus, for the good of the many, for the happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world, for the good, benefit, and happiness of gods and men.’ (The Buddha)
When we turn the pages of the history of Buddhism, we learn that Buddhist missionaries gave the noble message of the Buddha in a peaceful and respectable way. Such a peaceful mission should put to shame those who have practiced violent methods in propagating their religions.
Buddhist missionaries do not compete with other religionists in converting people in the market place. No Buddhist missionary or monk would ever think of preaching ill-will against the so-called ‘unbelievers’. Religious, cultural and national intolerance are unbuddhistic in attitude, to people who are imbued with the real Buddhist spirit. Aggression never finds
approval in the teachings of the Buddha. The world has bled and suffered enough from the disease of dogmatism, religious fanaticism and intolerance. Whether in religion or politics, people make conscious efforts to bring humanity to accept their own way of life. In doing so, they sometimes show their hostility towards the followers of other religions.
Buddhism had no quarrel with the national traditions and customs, art and culture of the people who accepted it as a way of life but allowed them to exist with refinement. The Buddha’s message of love and compassion opened the hearts of men and they willingly accepted the Teachings, thereby helping Buddhism to become a world religion. Buddhist missionaries were invited by the independent countries which welcomed them with due respect. Buddhism was never introduced to any country through the influence of colonial or any other political power. Buddhism was the first spiritual force known to us in history which drew closely together large numbers of races which were separated by the most difficult barriers of distance, language, culture and morals. Its motive was not the acquisition of international commerce, empire-building or migratory impulse to occupy fresh territory. Its aim was to show how people could gain more peace and happiness through the practice of Dhamma.
A sparkling example of the qualities and approach of a Buddhist missionary was Emperor Asoka. It was during Emperor Asoka’s time that Buddhism spread to many Asian and western countries. Emperor Asoka sent Buddhist missionaries to many parts of the world to introduce the Buddha’s message of peace. Asoka respected and supported every religion at that time. His tolerance towards other religions was remarkable. One of his scripts engraved in stone on Asoka Pillars, and still standing today in India, says: ‘One should not honor only one’s own religion and condemn the religion of others, but one should honor others’ religions for this or that reason. In so doing, one helps one’s own religion to grow and renders service to the
religions of others too. In acting otherwise one digs the grave of one’s own religion and also does harm to other religions. Whosoever honors his own religion and condemns other religions, does so indeed through devotion to his own religion, thinking, ‘I will glorify my own religion.’ But on the contrary, in so doing he injures his own religion more gravely, so concord is good. Let all listen, and be willing to listen to the doctrines professed by others.’
In 268 B.C., he made the doctrines of the Buddha a living force in India. Hospitals, social service institutions, universities for men and women, public wells and recreation centers sprang up with this new movement, and the people thereby realized the cruelty of senseless wars.
The golden era in the history of India and the other countries of Asia – the period when art, culture, education and civilization reached their zenith – occurred at the time when Buddhist influence was strongest in these countries. Holy wars, crusades, inquisitions and religious
discrimination do not mar the annals of Buddhist countries. This is a noble history mankind can rightly be proud of. The Great Nalanda University of India which flourished from the second to the ninth century was a product of Buddhism. It was the first university that we know of and which was opened to international students.
In the past, Buddhism was able to make itself felt in many parts of the East, although communication and transport were difficult and people had to cross hills and deserts. Despite these difficult barriers Buddhism spread far and wide. Today, this peace message is spreading in the West. Westerners are attracted to Buddhism and believe that Buddhism is the only
religion that is in harmony with modern science.
Buddhist missionaries have no need or desire to convert those who already have a proper religion to practice. If people are satisfied with their own religion, then, there is no need for Buddhist missionaries to convert them. They give their full support to missionaries of other faiths if their idea is to convert the wicked, evil, and uncultured people to a religious way of
Buddhists are happy to see the progress of other religions so long as they truly help people to lead a religious way of life according to their faith and enjoy peace, harmony and understanding. On the other hand, Buddhist missionaries deplore the attitude of certain missionaries who disturb the followers of other religions, since there is no reason for them to create an unhealthy atmosphere of competition for converts if their aim is only to teach people to lead a religious way of life.
In introducing Dhamma to others, Buddhist missionaries have never tried to use imaginary exaggerations depicting a heavenly life in order to attract human desire and arouse their craving. Instead, they have tried to explain the real nature of human and heavenly life as taught by the Buddha. The Buddha did not discover dukkha. Everyone before and in his time knew there is dukkha in existence. What he discovered was the structure of the arising and cessation of dukkha. He realized that whenever a ‘thing’ is dependent on some ‘other thing’ and when this ‘other thing’ is impermanent, the ‘thing’ upon which the ‘other thing’ depends too is impermanent; and whatever is impermanent is dukkha. This is the fundamental structure of dependent origination of existence or being, of birth, decay, death and dukkha.
‘When this is this is. When this arises this arises. When this is not this is not. When this ceases this ceases’. So, upon what precisely is this ‘thing’ dukkha dependent? The Teaching of the Buddha for 45 years is the answer to this question. In Dhamma, dukkha is defined in a variety of ways. The conventional and easily understood definition is that dukkha is sorrow and lamentation, pain, grief and despair, separation from loved ones, from associating with those you do not like and from not getting what you want.
After describing this worldly concept of dukkha, the Buddha made a quantum leap and declared, ‘In short, the five aggregates of form, feeling, perception, determinations and consciousness affected by holding are dukkha.’
No one before the Buddha, in this epoch, had made the stunning statement that this body in fact is dukkha. Since dukkha is feeling, and since there must be a person that feels, it follows that so long as there is a person who thinks ‘this body is mine or it belongs to me’, there shall always be dukkha. In other words, dukkha depends on the persistence of the primordial ignorance that this body is not ‘mine’. The word ‘dukkha’ cannot be expressed in any other one word to capture the full spectrum of its meaning as taught by the Buddha. In addition to sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, despair, it describes dissatisfaction, discontent, frustration, disappointment, un-fulfillment and suffering. It refers to conflicts that arise within ourselves and with others from adherence to feelings, perceptions, intentions, conceit, ideas, views and opinions of ourselves and of the world around us. It refers to problems, disputes and all unprofitable things that originate from in-born tendencies to like and dislike, from inclinations to cling, want and appropriate. It refers to the danger of attaching ourselves to sensual desires that change, fade and do not last. ‘I do not see a single form, Ananda, from the change and alteration of which there shall not arise dukkha in one who desires and lust for it’ says the Buddha. Dhamma is about the nature of this body and its interaction with the world around it – and with nothing else. It is wrong to extrapolate it to things such as politics, psychology, science, evolution and so on. The Buddha thus frequently tells his disciples, ‘Both formerly and now, what I teach and describe is dukkha and the cessation of dukkha…Virtue, learning, discussion, serenity and insight lead to right view and penetration of the Dhamma…Meditate. Do not delay or you will regret later.’ Finally, a few minutes before he passed away he repeated what he had also said on many occasions, ‘It is the nature of determinations to disappear. Strive with diligence.’ [Vayadhamma sankhara, appamadena sampadetha.]
We can now take a look at dukkha in the precise unique way of the Buddha. The key word is ‘determinations’ or sankhara in Pali. That is why he chose it to phrase his last words. Determinations are one of the five aggregates affected by holding [upadana]. The five aggregates [khanda] themselves are not dukkha. There is dukkha only when they are affected by holding. The result is dukkha. The feeling of dukkha arises only when we are attached to them and delight in the khanda. Why is that? Why is delight and holding to this body dukkha? The answer is far from obvious. In fact it seems preposterous that delight or pleasure or desire is dukkha. The secret of the Dhamma is in this riddle. Its core understanding is to unravel it. In a periodic statement the Buddha says, ‘All things have desire for their root, attention provides their being, contact their origin, feeling their meeting place, concentration confrontation with them, understanding is the highest of them and deliverance is their core.’ Let us now understand sankhara, one of the five khanda, conjoined in consciousness with feeling and perception. Determinations are things upon which other things depend. Thus, feelings depend on contact. Contact depends on the five senses. The five senses depend on consciousness. Birth depends on holding to desire for being. Aging and death depends on birth. In this fundamental structure of dependent arising [and cessation], for example, ‘contact’ as we have seen is the determination or necessary condition for what it determines, namely feeling. In other words, determinations determine the determined – and determinations are themselves determined by other determinations. Determinations are bound with what they determine. They are not what they determine. As the Buddha says, ‘Determinations determine the determined. That is why they are called determinations.’
The question can now be asked, ‘Are there determinations that do not determine anything’? The answer is that there cannot be because determinations must determine something. Furthermore, determinations are negative. They deny the existence of the positive as when the determination ‘altruism’ denies the existence of ‘selfishness’. But while a determination is negative, it immediately asserts the existence of and essence of the positive. Altruism implies selfishness. When we know what ‘altruism’ means, we shall know what ‘selfishness’ means.
When we come to understand dukkha, we shall arrive at experiencing bliss. Since feelings are bound to this body and this body and feelings are impermanent, we shall experience why what is impermanent is dukkha. The Buddha says, ‘This world is unstable.’ When we understand why what is dependent on some other thing is unstable, we shall understand why what is unstable is dukkha. When we understand that this body is unstable and impermanent, we shall understand that it is foolish to be attached to the body from regarding it as belonging to me. All our vicissitudes, our likes and dislikes, our natural ingrained habit of making inferences from this body, arise from determinations or intentions of one sort or another. Thus, the Buddha says, what is volitional is dukkha. It is the gist of the insight of dukkha. This is the unique description of dukkha by the Buddha: ‘All determinations are impermanent. All determinations are dukkha’.
To ladies, from Buddhism with love
For centuries prior to the advent of the Buddha in India in the sixth century BC, the Brahmanical hegemony had reduced the Indian female to a servile position in society. The Indian law-giver Manu had laid down this menial position as the woman’s due in his law-book called the Manusmriti, which guided the destinies of Brahmanical social policy in the contemporary Indian society. Accordingly, these laws had dispossessed the Indian woman of her rights to any type of independence. Even the practice of religion in the form of rituals and observances had been made taboo to her. The one and the only way a woman could achieve any future happiness was solely through the submissive obedience to her husband.
Thus Manu prescribes: « The woman has no right to practice any religious ritual or observance on her own: the only way to heaven for her is the total submission to her husband. » The worst insult was that even in her death she had no freedom of her own because she had to immolate herself by jumping into the raging flames of her husband’s funeral pyre under the obnoxious practice called the sati poojaa. Any unwilling woman was thrown into it by force. This type of tragic situation had made the birth of a girl a misfortune in a family.
Freedom of individual
It was in such a backdrop that the Buddha promulgated his doctrine of freedom of the individual, which freedom had been severely curtailed by means of two main barriers imposed by the hegemonistic Brahmin priests – that of caste and that of sex. Quite in contrast, the Buddha was a democrat who revolted against these two anti-social institutions that had been hindering the progressive march of Indian society at the time. By claiming that they were the gods on earth the Brahmins had only added an insult to injury.
Confining ourselves to the chosen topic of discussion let us initiate the main theme with the story centering around King Pasenadi’s expression of disappointment and dislike when he was informed in the midst of a discussion of his with the Buddha that his chief queen Mallika had given birth to a baby girl.
Queen Mallika’s baby girl
Even Pasenadi’s great love to Mallika had become strained as he thought to himself « I have raised this Mallika from a poor family to the position of the chief queen; if she had given birth to a son she would have received from me much greater honor; but now she has lost that opportunity as she has brought forth a daughter and not a son for me.
Observing Pasenadi’s disappointment the Buddha made the following observation: « O King, you should not become displeased at the birth of a daughter; bring up her well; if a woman is clever, virtuous, well-behaved and faithful she would be superior to a man; such a woman can become the wife of a great king and give birth to a mighty ruler. » And, as a matter of fact this girl, who grew up under the name Vajirie, became the queen of Magadha as the wife of Ajatasatta. The above observation of the Buddha is a one that can be cited for all time as a glaring instance for the Buddha’s unprejudiced fairness in treating womankind as against the undemocratic or even the inhuman view of the Brahmin priesthood.
Unblemished in character
Here, let the girls note, that the Buddha’s advice to them is quite clear; in a girl’s primary and natural role as wife and mother at times she can supersede man for which achievement she has to be primarily unblemished in her character, while being clever and wise as well. A good wife is bound to be a good mother as well and if a girl can fulfil these two roles satisfactorily she can be content as having primarily fulfilled her mission in life. Other activities such as social service etc can be added as additional embellishments. The Buddha has emphasized very often that a girl’s main concern should be the maintenance of an unsullied character as expressed in the Dhammapada; « The absence of chastity is the taint in a girl’s life » – malitthiyaa duccharitam; stanza 242.
In the Maatugaam Samyutta of the Samyutta Nikaya, the following aspects of a girl’s personality have been highlighted and these topics summarize the instructions the Buddha has to give to any girl of any time or clime:
Religious devotion: any girl should give pride of place to the religious aspect of her life; from the Buddhist point of view this amounts to the observation of the Five Precepts and engaging in rituals like worship, pilgrimages etc. with saddhaa so that they serve as means of purifying and fashioning one’s life in the proper way.
Sense of shame and fear: these two ethical concepts should serve as ornaments to a girl because it is fear and shame of doing wrong things that make them recoil from any immoral action. A girl devoid of them would end up in moral depravity. They should remain as two important ‘administrative regulations’ in a girl’s life.
Free from malice, animosity etc: without harboring these unethical qualities a girl should learn to practice equanimity towards her enemies.
Free from jealousy: as an evil mentality jealousy in any form would make a girl unsocial and ugly in appearance as well.
Free from niggardliness: let a girl remain large-hearted but intelligently; let her not be stingy.
She should be learned: a good education is a must for a girl; it need not be professional but should serve as a strong base for the ‘battle of life’.
She should be zealous, ardent: she should not be lazy or sleepy; no should she be a lover of constant company; she should be energetic and active in all the stages of her life.
She should cultivate mindfulness: presence of mind at all times makes even an ugly girl spiritually beautiful. The statement that « there is no worse evil than a bad woman and no higher blessing than a good woman » sums up the Buddhist concept of « womanhood ».
The Buddha’s service to womanhood in establishing the Bhikkuni Order can be summarized by attributing the following words to him: « I am doing something unique: for the first time in the history of religions anywhere in the world I am according to you a very high place in society: no religion has recognized the importance of the ability of women in this manner: it is in recognition of women’s potentiality for spiritual achievements that I have given you this honor: I recognize the capacity of women for penetrating wisdom on the same level as men: you should make full use of this privilege: you should never stoop to abuse it?
The fact that the Buddha was correct in these expectations and also the fact that early women have lived up to them have been proved beyond doubt by the paeons of joy of those Arahant Theris as recorded in the Theri-gatha literature. Studying and trying to emulate these characters would be a rewarding experience to the modern girl. But I wonder as to whether she has at least heard about them. If she were to follow the « women’s lib », movement imported from the West, she is sure to end up in the wilderness of absolute self-alienation.
Today’s girls should also be aware of the fact that they are the weaker sex by nature. This fact should never be a cause for worry as it is what Nature meant them to be and, as if to compensate for that, they are treated as the ‘fair sex’. It is also a fact of Nature that there are some frailties inherent in them which only serve as warnings for them to be on the guard at all times and places. Once this fact is well understood and borne in mind, girls can play their roles well in all their activities. Thereby they can become extensively admired and enjoy their roles, while adding color and beauty among their lack-luster male counterparts.
Visakha, the Buddha’s chief lay patroness, needs no introduction here. A piece of literature quite relevant here is the ten maxims of advice given to her by her father, the treasurer Dhananjaya, as a « going-away message », on the day of her marriage to Punyavardhane, just prior to her leaving to her husband’s home. They are given in a metaphorical form as follows: 1. Do not carry outside the indoor fire. 2. Do not take inside the outdoor fire 3. Give only to those that give 4. Do not give to those that do not give 5. Give both to those that give and do not give 6. Sit happily 7. Eat happily 8. Sleep happily 9. Tend the fire 10. Honor the household divinities.
Their implied meaning is as follows: 1. a wife should not speak ill of her husband and in-laws with whom she is living in the household. She should also refrain from reporting elsewhere their shortcomings or household quarrels. 2. A wife should not engage in gossiping and listening to the reports and quarrels and such other stories of other households 3. Things should be lent only to those who return them 4. Nothing should be lent to those who do not return the borrowed things 5. Poor relatives and friends should be helped even if they do not repay 6. A wife should sit in a becoming way: also she should stand up in the presence of her husband and in-laws 7. Before partaking of her meals she should find whether her husband and in-laws are served and also whether the servants are well-cared for: before retiring to bed at night a wife should see that all doors are securely locked from inside, that the furniture is safe, that the servants have performed their duties and that the in-laws have retired: as a rule the wife should rise early in the morning and, unless unwell she should not sleep during daytime. 9 in-laws should be regarded as fire and they should be dealt with care as if dealing with fire. 10. Husband and in-laws to be regarded as deities.
It should be remembered here that Visakha was going to live in her husband’s parental home and as such she had to live with her parents-in-law as well. As for the theme under discussion it would be quite unfair `not to include the Buddha’s advice to Khema, because it is a lesson with an everlasting value as it refers to the infatuation that sets in those girls who are especially beautiful. More often than not such girls are innately subject to this weakness. So let them learn a lesson from the Khema’s case.
The Buddha taught her the vanity and the danger inherent in this attitude by practically demonstrating that even the best of beauties become decayed with ageing and as such the mere physical looks of a girl should be viewed realistically.
A girl is lucky to be beautiful but let her not rave over it and become unnecessary infatuated.
A commentary is deemed unnecessary to see the value of the maxims of advice to Visakha even in the context of today’s Society. Our wish is that let the girl of today also benefit from what has been said in this monograph.
In conclusion let a statement of Visakha herself be quoted here: » as an unmarried girl I have to take care of myself as if tending merchandise offered for sale, so that I may not suffer damage and become useless ».