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Monday, July 30, 2007

Buddhism - a realistic philosophy

Buddhism - a realistic philosophy

(By Ven. Pandit Eluwapola Pagngnarathana Thera, Viharadhipathi of the Brescia Italy-Sri Lanka Buddhist Cultural Institute)

It was on Esala full moon day that the Buddha made his first sermon, Dhammachk-kappavattana Sutta comprising the ‘Four Noble Truths’ and the ‘Eightfold Path’ which together founds the base of Buddhism
Many describe Buddhism as a pessimistic philosophy which relates to births hereafter. While some other Buddhists among us believe that Nirvana, the ultimate goal itself is achievable only in a future birth, certain intellectuals regard Buddhism as a mystical religion. All these concepts are misnomers as labelled by those who have not studied Buddhism deeply or who have misunderstood the reality enunciated by the Enlightened One.

Fundamental codes of conduct

Wise people who study ancient Buddhist scriptures will come across sermons of Buddha which are rich in advise and guidance to live a peaceful and successful life. This is why Buddhism gained ground in India during the early stages in the birth of Buddhism. Buddhism introduced a blissful way of life within the reach of laymen who were burdened with family responsibilities and social obligations. For instance, the basic moral code of conduct which advocated the five fundamental abstinences, when followed, guarantees immediate benefits in reciprocation. When the precept of abstinence from killing is observed, it protects your own life as well as the lives of others. When the precept of abstinence from stealing is observed, your own properties as well as those of others are protected. When the precept of abstinence from wrongful pursuit of sensual pleasures is observed, your own family members as well as the family members of others become secure. When the precept of abstinence from lying is observed, you are assured of truth and honesty in your dealings with other people. Similarly, when the precept of abstinence from intoxicants is observed the society at large including yourself achieve freedom from anti-social behaviour, and disharmony. Parallel to these five abstinences, Buddhism advocates five other practices which promote the five abstinences. Practice of universal compassion promotes abstinence from killing, practice of charity promotes abstinence from stealing, practice of celibacy promotes abstinence from wrongful pursuit of sensual pleasures, truthfulness promotes abstinence from lying and practice of temperance promotes abstinence from intoxicants.

Practical solutions as taught in Buddhism

Buddha’s teachings contain guidance towards a successful family life, to political and economic welfare as well as to social harmony. If the rulers follow these advices, it will promote good governance for the benefit of the ordinary public and develop the country as a whole. Buddhism provides practical solutions to miscellaneous social, political, economic and psychological problems of mankind. Sathara Sangraha Vasthu, Sathara Brahma Viharana, Pancha Seela, Ari Atangi Maga, Dasa Raaja Dharma, Dasa Sakvithi Vath, Dasa Kusal, and Dasa Punyak Kriya are elementary factors which may be applied even by modern rulers to build a harmonious society and a prosperous country. Buddha’s sermons like Sigalovada Sutra, Yagga Pajja Sutra, Parabhawa Sutra, Mangala Sutra encompass ingredients for a peaceful and successful life.

The written sermons

From the inception Buddha’s teachings remained in verbal form. They were also memorised by generations of disciples until they were written down for the first time in Sri Lanka, 600 years after Buddha’s passing away. The writings came under three main divisions or Nikayas, Sutra, Vinaya and Abhidarma.
The three Nikayas put together consisted of 31 volumes containing thousands and thousands of guiding sermons for the welfare of a human being both in this life as well as in lives hereafter. The majority dealt with matters relating to the existing life. These codifications are applicable with no discrimination of time and space. They are applicable for all ages, groups or kinds of people.
The guidance given in Dhamma Pada and Jathaka stories and contents of Paali scriptures like Anguttara Nikaya and Sangyuktha Nikaya are of immense value to lead a peaceful and successful lay life.

Mangala Sutta contains 38 traits which cause beneficial effects. While 15 features are mentioned in the Karaneeya Metta Sutta to radiate universal compassion in all living beings, the Rathana Sutta is a recitation for the elimination of the triple catastrophes of famine, disease and evil spirits afflicting human beings.Chanting of Angulimaala Piritha appeases the pains women undergo at child birth.
In this manner, through a number of other Suttas there is ample evidence to explain that Buddhism is not meant for this life but for future births as well.

Buddhism, the realistic philosophy

Buddhism in fact is not a pessimistic philosophy nor an optimistic one. It can be best described as a realistic philosophy. It admits the fact that the cycle of birth and rebirth is a cycle of suffering but explains the cause of suffering and prescribes the remedy for the cessation of suffering. The remedy prescribed is the eightfold noble path often referred to as the middle path which in Pali is called the Arya Astangika Marga. Buddha identified the fact of suffering, the causes of suffering, the possibility of avoiding this suffering and the way to attain that goal. In short, Buddha explained that the cycle of birth is a cycle of suffering, caused by craving and the bliss on the cessation of suffering which could be attained by escaping from the bondage of craving.

The ‘Lord of Medicine’

There could be a physician who would regard an ailment as incurable and not prescribe treatment. He falls in to the category of a pessimist. There could be another physician who would treat the ailment as non-existent and refuse treatment. He falls in to the category of an optimist. There is a third physician who will examine the patient thoroughly and diagnose the disease accurately and prescribe treatment and cure the patient. Buddha falls into this third type of physician who recognised and understood reality. Therefore, Buddha is often referred to as the Bhisakka or the Bhaisajjaya Guru - the Lord of Medicine.
In this way, it is very clear that Buddhism is not a pessimistic philosophy but a realistic one which must be followed by a wise person to achieve a state of ‘well being’ mostly during this life time while aiming at the ultimate goal of attaining Nirvana.

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