Vesak and Happiness

The Daily Mirror, May 9, 2009

Colombo, Sri Lanka -- It is not every hour that one is reminded of the impermanence of life. Sometimes for days people forget that we are here for a short period. They flow with the ups and downs of  life as they are to live forever.

People loathe reflecting on the transience of life for the fear that it will make one feel miserably helpless. Buddhists who believe in rebirth try to console themselves thinking that there’s life after death while those from other faiths prefer to reason that death will give them an opportunity to meet the maker. All these groups more often than not engage in various feel-good rituals which give them comfort and a sense of security.

As Buddhists all over the world - including those in Sri Lanka, Nepal, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Indonesia, India, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore - observe the birth, enlightenment and the passing away of Buddha on the full moon day of May in grand style, rituals and celebrations dominate the season.

Happiness and peace of mind derived from religious rituals have never been looked down upon in Buddhism. However it has always emphasized the fact that self-improvement, by way of trying to understand the reality of life, is far better than engaging in rites and customs.

This does not necessarily mean that the religion or philosophy is all about giving up lay life and taking into robes. It’s about controlling one’s mind and treading on the middle path.

Those who have the strength of the character derived from the fact that they have led noble lives enjoy a self confidence that cannot be shaken by anybody or anything. The knowledge that one hasn’t brought misery to another’s life, one has been kind, helpful and modest bring out a certain degree of serenity that can be noticed by having one look at a person. Even in the hustle bustle of the stressful life, the confident, honourable people enjoy their  peace of mind while the others, the vulnerable, continue to look for short cuts to happiness and end up feeling miserable.

A fallacy about all religions is that one is expected to be heavy headed, dogmatic and prudish if one is to practice a religion. The truth however is otherwise. Religion makes one feel light and happy. One becomes easy going and his or her confidence derived from the  knowledge that one is leading an honest life, becomes infectious. It is up to the individuals to make full use of the flexibility of a religion and apply that to life rather than wearing it on the sleeve.

Religion is about treating others how you want to be treated. It’s also about realizing that good and bad exist in life and we are fortunate to know the difference. It is to be understanding of those who may hold resentment towards you and think that it’s part of their journey and not yours.

In short religion is about being the best person one can be, everyday.