By Visakha Tillekeratne - a Buddhist knowing a wee bit of this great philosophy
(Apology to the Mahathma in adapting the saying “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated” Mahathma Gandhi)
The greatness of Buddhism
The 2600 Sambuddhathwa Jayanthi was a landmark for introspection for all who respect “humaneness”. Buddhism should signify the highest qualities of humaneness that accompany this most tolerant practicing philosophy. Buddhism and its great humanist elements are not comparable to any organized religion which denigrates actions of beings to the mundane controls and rituals of institutions.
The 4 Divine Emotions (Sathara Brahma Viharana)
Within such a context, let us examine the greatness of a nation – Sri Lanka, against the 4 Divine Emotions of Metta (loving kindness), Karuna (compassion), Muditha (sympathetic joy) and Upekha (equanimity). These are the four divine emotions by which one is supposed to embrace the world and abide by at all times.
Metta, karuna, mudita, upekkha provide a reflection: they form a sequence of how to relate to the human realm, to the animal kingdom, and to nature.
Metta is very much how we should relate to ourselves, too. It’s how to relate to ourselves, with kindness and acceptance rather than with aversion and judgement. Metta is about turning the other cheek!
Metta implies that we accept something that may not be very nice – like if you have physical pain or things that aren’t very nice about your body, or your character.
This is because with metta such things are seen as no longer personal, Metta is having perspective and not creating a problem even about the unfairnesses, injustices, inadequacies and so forth,. With metta there’s always the ability to forgive and start anew and to recognise the way things are and not expect everything to fit the ideals we have regarding how things should be. It doesn’t mean that we fatalistically resign ourselves to mediocrity and tyranny and stupidity, but it means that we aren’t caught in the pattern of ignorance conditioning mind formations. So we can bear with the problems of life with kindness and acceptance.
Tolerance and Acceptance
How kind and accepting are we of all communities and events of recent history of the country.
Do we, the Sinhala Buddhists really accept the Hindus. Muslims, Christians and any others as our own Sri Lankans and vice versa. Isn’t nation building and uniting for the country based on being kind and accepting of all? How much do we know of each other except a few customs at various festivals celebrated during the year? In our innermost self do we accept all – communities and animal life as being equally important in this great cosmic cycle? Or is there a slight disdain of other religions and communities as being inferior to this superior Sinhala race and puritanical Buddhism that is thought to be practised by the pillars of Buddhism in Sri Lankan Society? As the greater in number in this country, should not the Buddhist extend the olive branch to others?
As a Buddhist, however nominal, I am deeply ashamed of the slogans that are sent around these days on Halal practices, showing the face of a Muslim with that of a dog, requesting boycotts of Muslim businesses. Are we going back to another conflict? Are we going back to a primitive age. This is extremely dangerous.
Take the conflict of the past thirty years. This is a case of tit for tat. Constant comparison of the behavior of a legitimate government and the LTTE. Sorry to say that the behavior of the government has been as bad as that of the LTTE. This is evinced by the last phase of the conflict, where both parties were shooting into the “NO FIRE” zone. If the LTTE alone was guilty, well these are terrorists and one expects no better. But for a government that fought a “humanitarian” conflict this is not good enough. Let it suffice to say that in the spirit of loving kindness – metta, let bygones be bygones and move forward embracing all. Then what are the triumphalist symbols expending large sums of money such as victory parades, stamping on the very spirit of the community under consideration.
The way animals are treated
Let us turn to animals. As Maneka Gandhi says about some who utter this popular phrase about animal lovers that is “such people care more for animals than children” Mme Gandhi says so what? We must care for animals as much as possible as these are the voiceless. Do we accept all animals? the ugly, the maimed, the ones with bad skin, the taprobane terriers (the so called mongrel or pariah) with loving kindness? How come we have so many pedigreed dogs in this country when there are enough and more taprobane terriers to go around? Would we have so many street dogs if this was the case?
Stigma, Discrimination and Degradation
On another frontier, Sri Lanka released its stigma index in HIV and AIDS a few years ago. We do not augur favourably in this index. This is just an illustration of where Sri Lanka stands in the way we look at those infected and affected by HIV which is just one of the issues, however minute the incidence of HIV is in Sri Lanka.
Stigmatising and stereotyping ails us all. A woman should look this way, she should behave in this way. If not, well, lots of if nots!. A man must behave like a “man” with a set list of characteristics. Tamils are this way. Burghers are that way. Stigma and discrimination truly is an enemy of Karuna and Upekha both.
Extreme degradation of women is at its worst as can be seen from rates of violence. Two gang rapes within a month in the Western province! What about the other Provinces? No basic Karuna is shown.
Karuna or the lack of it
Turning to the second Brahma Viharana, Sri Lankans were known to be extremely compassionate, showing karuna to all. There are situations where Sri Lankans have been and are outstandingly compassionate. The self mobilization of communities during the Tsunami is a case in point.
What needs attention and correction are the glaring aberrations of extreme compassion to unimaginable cruelty. Some of these examples are the lack of attention or minimum kindness to the differently abled – sometimes locking away such people, lack of attention and compassion towards domestics, the nation’s almost callous disregard of the plight of migrant workers, the neglect of plantation workers, seeming ignorance of the lot of free trade zone workers and even trying to take way their life savings, increasing incidence of child abuse and neglect, one of the highest percentages of domestic violence in the world and the inhumane slaughter of animals especially cattle and animal sacrifice, the abject cruelty to the elephant population and state terrorism in various forms with the citizens of the country tolerating these acts.
As was said by a British statesman about the Irish conflict – if one were to ignore the situation and carry on one is complicit to the act by ignoring. Should we not, as a nation have a “Sangayana”, admit the problems we have as a nation and cleanse ourselves?
The third Brahma Viharana, Muditha or Sympathetic joy is reflected in the ability to be truly happy when another rejoices or to be happy helping another. This is the most difficult of the 4 Brahma Viharanas to be understood and practiced. It is easy to practice at an individual level, but how do we achieve this at community or national level?
In the neighbourhood, what is the genuine response to an achievement of a family or household? In the work place how supportive are staff members of one who has the ability to achieve? Is it Muditha that is practiced or is that person as the popular adage goes pulled by the leg in order not to achieve? Do politicians, especially those holding portfolios genuinely have sympathetic joy in the achievement of a fellow politician? Are academics and professionals happy to see the outcomes of good research and the recognition of colleagues? Perhaps we need to evaluate these personally, as communities and as a nation?
STOP being in denial.
If Emperor Asoka could change from bloodshed to Buddhism and as a result Sri Lanka received this sublime gift of Buddhism, why cannot we change?
The last of the Brahma viharanas is Upekkha or equanimity which is treating all beings with no difference in other words equally and with calmness. Arguably none of these ideal behaviours exist in the world. However a nation’s greatness is in achieving at least some semblance of these. Alas Sri Lanka’s method of recruitment to high posts for examples is nepotism. There in lies no equanimity on the part of the state. If you are a friend or relation of the powers that be there is no upekka whatsoever.
On a personal level we have different yardsticks for treating those below and above us. Different values to the gifts we give and the way we entertain people is very different. On a scale of one to ten, in that ten being the best if one is a male and very rich treatment is very grand and if one were a domestic and female especially from an estate treatment is less than one, in fact, it goes into minus.
There can be a debate on the aforementioned behaviours with the popular phrases of so what? This is the same in many countries and among communities, Sri Lanka has great Sinhala Buddhist values and we are superior – we are a shreshta nation. We have a great culture and a long history Of course we have been and can be great once again.
The key to the Brahma viharanas is tolerance.
Let us seem to and be tolerant. At the moment finding tolerant behaviour is like finding a needle in a haystack. Or at the very least don’t try very hard “JUST DO NOT HARM ANOTHER”
To fellow Buddhists, before going after other religions, seek introspection and let us reform ourselves among the Buddhist community.
If Bodu Bala Sena is going to engage in this introspection, very good. However if Bodu Bala Sena is on a witch hunt of Muslim businesses, examining construction of mosques and declaring sacred Buddhist areas while pushing out churches, kovils and mosques, changing demography by encouraging 5 marraiges for Buddhists, well, a good re-think is necessary.
The communities other than the Buddhists too, should self analyse and cut out the rot. Fundamentalism is rearing its head from all corners. Together we have to build this country. This after all is a land like no other and we love our country.