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Reflections on Buddhist practice, human rights

by K V Soon, The Malaysian Insider, 11 December 2014

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia -- The Buddhists have a practice known as the undertaking of Precepts. Specifically, there is a set of Five Precepts or Panca-sila.

As a Buddhist, the undertaking of the precepts is the most basic practice that cuts across all major Buddhist traditions.  As a ritual, Buddhists often recite the Five Precepts on a daily basis to remind themselves of their duties to self and society.

The Five Precepts constitute the basic spiritual training practice in the following aspects of life. They are the training to abstain from harming living beings, taking what is not given, indulging in sensual misconduct, speaking the untruth and substance abuse and intoxication.

The precepts and human rights

The first of the Five Precepts translates “I undertake the training rule to abstain from destroying lives”.

This recitation is so basic that children in temple Sunday schools can recite and memorise it. The precept tells us we should avoid harming one another – not just human beings – but also animals and all living beings.

The destruction of lives can come in many forms. The worst form is the deliberate act to end a life – killing.

There are other forms of destruction – such as physical and emotional abuse that has no place in our spiritual practice.

As Buddhists, we cannot condone such acts as, the abuse of women and children from the homes to places of work. We cannot accept the fact that harm and pain can be inflicted upon others, no one has the right to physically harm another – whatever the reason.

We cannot condone the acts such as racism, discrimination based on class, ethnicity, gender and sexuality.  Some abuses go so deep that the victim suffers physical and emotional damage.

The Third Precept provides us with a strong reminder to respect the will of others, especially those different from us. It is about appreciating others for who they are.

As we recite the precepts and reflect on the value of life, we are deeply aware that the destruction of lives happens on various levels, including political persecution, torture and death in custody.

Laws that allow the opportunity for bodily hurt, mental and emotional trauma and that remove justice and freedom must be abrogated.

I am reminded of the Fourth Precept that the value of truth. It is imperative to speak our minds to prevent the further damage and destruction to lives. Recitation of the precepts in ancient language words without the action is an empty practice.

Appreciating the value of life

The sole purpose of the precepts, beginning with the First Precept is to value life. We need to value life and all that support life. We cannot take away the right to education, cultural and religious practices of individuals.

More importantly, we must also support and sustain our ecological environment. Acknowledging and positively responding to climate change is a necessary part of our practice.

The Second Precept is a reminder that we must not take away what rightfully belongs to others. It also reminds us to of the need to develop generosity and to give without expectation of returns. True generosity is about being selfless in our generosity.

Selflessness can be achieved with a state of mind that is calm and peaceful.

The Fifth Precept reminds us of the need to have a calm mind, not quickly reacting to others is indeed a virtue.

With a calm and composed state of mind, meaningful discussions and dialogues will be able to be carried out. Truthful communication and right speech aids in the development of friendship. Healthy and positive relationships are foundations for a peaceful society.

As such it is not difficult for Buddhists to associate our practice of the precepts with the Declaration of Human Rights.

The precepts are indeed the basic building blocks of a peaceful society where human dignity, freedom and personal rights are preserved, we call this practice sila.

To practise sila is thus to train oneself in preserving one's true nature, not allowing it to be modified or overpowered by negative forces.

Acts of destruction are blinded by greed, rage or hatred. Such negative qualities as anger, hatred, greed, ill will, and jealousy are factors that alter people's nature and make them into something other than their true self. 

The practice of precepts is about returning to one's own basic goodness, the original state of normalcy, unperturbed and unmodified.

Our teacher, the Buddha, reminded us that even though we shut our eyes in meditation we cannot shut our eyes and hearts from the suffering of others.

We must strive to build a just society for our families and friends – present and future. Indeed, having a peaceful and just society to live is indeed a very high blessing. (Patirûpa dêsa vâso .... êtam mangala muttamam.)

Our spiritual and social duties are to cultivate our minds and at the same time work for the happiness and welfare of others. (Bahujana hitaya bahujana sukhaya.)

Let me conclude with a Buddhist Prayer of Loving Kindness:

SABBE SATTA SUKHITA HONTU
May all beings be happy.

SABBE SATTA AVERA HONTU
May all beings be free from enmity.

SABBE SATTA ABYAPAJJHA HONTU
May all beings be free from malice.

SABBE SATTA ANIGHA HONTU
May all beings be free from worry.

SABBE SATTA SUKHI ATTANAM PARIHARANTU
May all beings preserve their wellbeing.

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K.V. Soon (aka Vidyananda) is an executive committee member of International Network of (Socially) Engaged Buddhists.



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