Buddhism and human values

by Sukomal Barua, The Daily Star, October 3, 2009

Dhaka, Bangladesh -- Today is the full-moon day of holy Prabarana, the second-biggest festival of the Buddhist world. It is the day of fasting-breaking of the three months long Uposathabrata.

The Prabarana festival is observed in the month of Aswin, and is known as Aswini Purnima. The three months long ?Barshavasa (rain retreat) of the bhikkhus-bhikkhunis starts in the Ashari Purnima and continues up to Prabarana Purnima. The Buddha, on this day of the full moon, directed his disciples to go all around for the propagation of the dhamma -- "Carata bhikkhave carikam bahujana hitaya, bahujana sukhaya…lokanukampaya."

After attaining Buddhahood, Goutama preformed his seventh Barshavasa in the heaven of Tavatimsa. He explained the dhamma to his late mother Mayadevi with many other deities for three months. On the night of Prabarana Purnima he descended to the Sankashya Nagara from heaven. On this full-moon day, the Buddha displayed the miracles of spiritual power to his disciples. So it holds a unique position for the Buddhists.

The observance of the auspicious Kathin Civara Dana (yellow robes offering ceremony) begins from the day after this Purnima. The celebration of offering yellow robes to the bhikkhus continues for long one month in different monasteries. The day-long programme includes a religious procession with devotional songs in the early morning. Religious discussions and candle lighting are held in the afternoon and evening respectively. In the evening, balloons made of coloured paper are set free to rise towards the sky.

Buddhism is based on sila (precepts), samadhi (meditation) and panna (wisdom). According to Buddhism, the above three are the ways of salvation from all worldly sufferings. Buddhism says that the combination of sila, samadhi and panna -- the three essential qualities -- can make one a perfect human being. This is Buddha's teaching and the main words of Buddhism.

Sila, which consists of rules, principles and discipline, is the ingredient for building good nature and noble character. By practicing sila, one can keep the mind peaceful and pure, while abstaining from any kinds of unlawful deeds.

In addition to sila, there is samadhi -- using contemplation to control the mind to do right action and welfare with concentration. Meditation, bhavana, yoga and contemplation are all synonyms of the word `samadhi. Through samadhi man can achieve right wisdom or panna with effort and determination. Wisdom, on the other hand, holds the highest position among the three. Buddhism says wisdom is not for only getting salvation from suffering, but is also most essential in every aspect of our daily lives, especially to reach the goal and destination.

Buddhism is the religion of world humanity. The Buddha preached His dhamma (religion) for the good of mankind. It was not meant for a particular nation or community or beneficiary group. Buddhism attaches no importance to national narrowness or to any geographical boundary. The Buddha traveled from one place to another, from one territory to another, during his lifetime, irrespective of their political ideology, constitution or administrative.

He was equally respected by the greedy and rude emperor planning to conquer another's land and the kings engaged in war to protect the sovereignty of their people's states. The Buddha emphasised the ten duties of the kings (the ten rajadhamma, ten kingly attributes) and the seven unconquerable principles (the sapta aparihaniyo dhamma) in his preaching to the kings to protect their national integrity.

Buddha's message was for peace. This was the aim of Buddha towards all living beings. If we accept the aim of Buddha then human society would be peaceful through the practice of nonviolence, equality, brotherhood and friendship. This address was not only for the Buddhists; it was for all of human society, regardless of religion, caste and creed.

Human beings and society have a reciprocal relationship. Humans cannot live without society; but to lead a social life they have to follow social rules and regulations along with religious norms and practices. Humanity is the core of society.

Buddhism promotes the practice of five precepts prescribed by the Buddha, i.e., not to kill, not to steal, not to indulge in unlawful sex, not to tell lies and not to take intoxicating substances. It also teaches the moral values taught by Buddha, which help in abstaining from torture, adultery, trafficking, raping and robbing women and children, falsehood, slaughtering and violence, while peace, happiness and harmony etc. can be established in the moribund society. Besides, Buddha's universal theory, i.e., loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and meditation can drive away all the defilements, misunderstandings, fundamentalism and unwholesome activities from the society.

Buddhism does not support superiority or inferiority. We know that Goutam was a prince, his father Shuddhodhan was the king of Kapilavastu and he was from a Khattiya (warrior) clan by birth. But that was not his actual identity. He became known as the Buddha after attaining enlightenment (Buddhahood), it is his real identity. He traveled through villages, countries, hill and mountains to preach loving-kindness for all beings of the world, to propagate the message of "hatred to none" for the good of mankind. It is his greatest identity in the human world.

The Buddha said that self-power, self-reliance and unity were the key-points for the development of human society as well as the nation. Buddhism has given much emphasis on self-power development of mankind. Unity growing out of strength of weapons does not last long. True unity grows from courtesy and self-sacrifice. The Buddha advised the sangha to develop morality. For this, the sangha develop self-reliance and dutifulness and at last proceed towards the goal.

To control unlimited human desire and to give up greed in this world Buddha advised four types of right thinking and meditation. It is called brahma vihara in Buddhist tradition. Brahma vihara is the combination of four concepts i.e.- i) maitree (friendship): to wish happiness and welfare for all living beings in the world; ii) karuna (compassion): to feel sympathy for all and think how to reduce others' sorrow; iii) mudita (sympathy or pity without any jealousy): to feel happy for others' happiness and prosperity and not to feel jealous; iv) upekkha (indifference): to practice to be free from all anger, jealousy, ignorance, prejudice and partiality.

If human society can follow the brahma vihara qualities, then the world would be the kingdom of heaven for all beings. So, to speak in the words of the Buddha: "Na hi verena verani-sammanti'dha kudacancam, Averena ca sammanti-esa dhammo sanantano." (Hatreds never cease through hatred in this world; through love alone they cease. This is the eternal law.)

Let strict adherence to the great teachings of the Buddha, of loving-kindness for all and hatred to none, eliminate restlessness, fighting and wars from this earth and let it establish truth and good for all. May mankind be graceful with compassion and selfless love for all. Sabbe satta sukhita hontu (may all beings be happy. May peace prevail on the earth).

Dr. Sukomal Barua is Chairman, Department of Pali and Buddhist Studies at the University of Dhaka.