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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Path to ‘non extremist’ living - The Buddhist way

Path to ‘non extremist’ living - The Buddhist way

“Oh! Uncle, I stepped on that snail and it was completely crushed, I feel very bad of that.” My colleague’s 8 year old son lamented.

“Don’t worry son, you did not purposely crush the poor snail, so you would not commit a sin.” I responded to him.

“In fact, the Buddha has told us that if you kill someone by accident or without the thought of it, there won’t be a sin in it. That is why it is not an extreme religion, many things happen without our knowledge this is why we need to look around us and be vigilant.” I added.

‘Extremism’ along with ‘racism’, ‘sexism’, ‘fanaticism’ and ‘nepotism’ are some common tags we come across in the modern world. Inception of globalisation has enhanced the utility of these words among socio-political avenues.

Due to interactive media these words have been widely used to render lucrative finances for certain hidden agendas.

However, one must critically analyse why and how these concepts have unfolded over the years.

Sri Lanka, a country with a 2550-year history of Buddhism, can easily brag for its great diversity among many cultures largely due to Buddhist influence and its nature for being a ‘non-extremist’ religion.

Buddhism, as many would acknowledge, is a governing philosophy that has survived through the years in Sri Lanka despite the European invasion and colonisation for over 500 years. So it is significant how it survived in a tiny country like Sri Lanka with a clear majority of Buddhists and others who respect equally.

The Buddha has vehemently shown the lay person that ‘extreme’ nature of living is detrimental to one’s life hence the ‘Middle Path’, (Medum Piliwetha or Madhyama Prathipadawa = abstaining from addictive sense-pleasures and self-mortification) must be cultivated.

He further envisaged that the middle-path leads to Nirvana, which means following of the Noble Eightfold Path (Ari ataga maga or Arya ashtanginga margaya): right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.

The nature of the ‘non extremism’ leads to fruitful relations among various communities and most notably the multi-cultural societies of the present day.

It is believed that during the time of the Buddha there lived six known Shramanas or philosophers in India: Purana Kassapa (Amoralism - denies any reward or punishment for either good or bad deeds), Makkhali Gosala (Fatalism - we are powerless; suffering is pre-destined), Ajita Kesakambali (Materialism - with death, all is annihilated), Pakudha Kaccayana (Eternalism - Matter, pleasure, pain and the soul are eternal and do not interact), Niganta Nataputta or Jaina Mahaveera (Restraint - be endowed with, cleansed by and suffused with the avoidance of all evil) and finally Sanjaya Belatthaputta (Agnosticism - I don’t think so.

“I don’t think in that way or otherwise. I don’t think not or not not.”). The aforementioned philosophers were well respected by their followers but logically and conveniently sidelined by the Buddha’s vision of ‘middle-path’ or the non-extremism backed up by Buddhist practical living style.

This was even more obvious when the Buddha expressed that food may be required upon hunger prior to listening Dhamma.

Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike can discover more from this great vision of the middle path or the ‘Non-extremism’ for our contemporary socio-political issues too.

Prime example for such agenda is the so-called ‘war’ in Sri Lanka. The war was primarily created by a segment of separatist extremism than a meaningful justifiable cause.

It was inevitable that such wars were created in the past too by power hungry sectors of extreme nature to reap financial gain than that for constructive humanity.

Some foreign influences vie with different agendas of extremeness which leads to misconception and bewilderment of many Buddhist values to tarnish the great religion.

However, as a philosophy the greatness of Buddhism of being a ‘non extremist’ religion relies on the expediency and its followers with virtues.

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