By Hema Senanayake –
Are there good Buddhist monks and bad ones? A learned monk replied “Yes, of course.” As a measure to protect Buddhism and its values, Thailand had warned or sacked 300 Buddhist monks from clergy-hood in 2012. Thailand has some 61,416 Buddhist monks.
Values play a big role in anybody’s life. Values lead to somebody’s actions and behavior. Put it in a Buddhist perspective of “cause and effect.” If somebody’s actions and behaviors are the resultant effect then his perception of values is the cause. Therefore by observing somebody’s actions and behavior one might be able to determine what his values are. This might be the reasoning that used in Thailand in sacking bad monks. Some monks behaved badly and that shows their lack of respect for Buddhist values and got sacked.
On June 17, 2013 the Guardian (UK) reported “Thailand’s national Buddhism body has announced it is monitoring monks for any inappropriate behavior following complaints prompted by a video showing Buddhist monks flying on a private jet…The director general of the National Office of Buddhism, Nopparat Benjawatananun, said on Monday that the agency had warned the monks from a monastery in Thailand’s north-east not to repeat the lavish behaviour seen in the video… Last year, about 300 out of 61,416 Buddhist monks and novices in Thailand were reprimanded – in several cases removed from the brotherhood – over misconduct ranging from alcohol consumption to having sex with women and extortion.”
How about Sri Lanka? Is there any mechanism to monitor monks for any inappropriate behavior; at least to monitor monks who vandalize business properties that belonged to other religious groups?
However, I, as a man of principles, should not raise the beginning question, if I am not supportive to the spread of Buddhist values around the globe. A few months ago I was invited to deliver the key-note speech at a book launching in New York. The title of the book is “The History of Thervada Buddhism in North America and the Sri Lankans Contribution” which was authored by S. Leelaratne, published by S. Godage & Brothers (pvt) Ltd, a leading publishing house in Sri Lanka. The book has documented about 26 Sri Lankan Theravada Buddhist temples firmly established by around 2012 in the United States since 1965 in which year the first temple was established in Washington D.C. in close proximity to White-House.
Though I was born into a Buddhist family, I for a long time considered myself as a rational atheist. But I began to be interested in Buddhism recently probably due to the same reason that inspired the two main disciples of Buddha. Hence, when I made my speech on that day I had an honest feeling that I am close to a religion that preaches to be free from hatred, greed and ignorance. Forget about the religion, at least, a man without hatred and greed must belong to an advanced civilization and intuitively be respected by all people, I thought. Weeks later my pride was shattered, firstly by so called “Buddhist Bin-Laden” in Myanmar and then by Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) in Sri Lanka by seeing the level of hatred they spread. If there are real threats to Buddhists, those must be addressed in accordance with Buddhist values.
Getting back to the story of my inspiration, the Buddha had two main disciples; before their ordination one had the name called Upatissa, the other was Kolitha. One day one of them namely Upatissa saw a monk call Assaji who was a member of the ordained monks under the Buddha. Upatissa said to the monk “your face is serene, calm and radiant. It seems that you look very happy. What is the reason for it? Is it because of the teachings you follow? If so tell me who is your teacher and what does he teach?”
The monk Assaji replied “My teacher is Buddha and he teaches that there is a cause for everything that ever has come into existence or will come into existence and must ceases to exist when the cause ceases to be.” This is a very insightful proclamation and has been validated by evolving science especially in 18th century by a French Mathematician call Laplace by introducing his concept known as “determinism.” Laplace said “We may regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its past and the cause of its future.” By this thesis he rejected the notion of God, at least, a living God. A learned Buddhist monk summarized the Buddhist law of cause and effect as that “nothing will happen without the presence of necessary conditions” – a clear rejection of living Almighty God. For an example, when the engineers set the aerodynamically necessary conditions a plane will move in the sky. The disease will be cured when doctors set the necessary conditions by way of administering medications etc. And this law proclaimed by the monk Assaji has remained and will remain as an undeniable truth forever. This reply inspired the young Upatissa to go with his friend Kolitha to see Buddha. Both of them got the ordination under Buddha and later became the two chief disciples.
The said monk’s reply inspired me too and who will not? The monk said an eternal truth or in another words it is a natural law in the universe. Buddha claims what he did was the explanation of certain natural laws that exists in the universe. Quickly I realized that Buddhism is a religion that can stand alone without seeking refuge in any ethnic community to protect it.
Buddha’s teachings are known as Dhamma – And dhamma means existing phenomena. These phenomena exist all the time. For an example, the Buddha said that nothing is permanent (in Pali it is “Anicca.”). This is a natural phenomenon or an element of Dhamma, which has been revalidated by ever evolving science.
However, more elements of Dhamma are related to explain the suffering of living beings and overcoming of suffering. In Buddhism the word suffering has a deeper meaning; suffering means that certain unhappy things in our lives do happen according to certain natural laws and we do not have any control over them. For example, we get old, get sick and we die. Nobody can avoid these unhappy events and hence we are destined to suffer.
But Buddha says that you can be free from sufferings – And Buddha revealed it as another element of Dhamma or another phenomenon of natural laws. The law is that a person will be free from sufferings if he or she becomes free from hatred, greed and ignorance. Firstly, such a person will emotionally be free from unhappiness that associated with old age, sickness and death- And eventually leading him or her to attain a state of complete non-suffering which is known as Nibbana. As I said earlier certain natural laws revealed by Buddha have been validated by modern science, but this particular law of being free from suffering has not been validated by science yet. However, Buddha has provided a method to understand the accuracy of the first part of this law of being free from emotional suffering in this very life by anybody by being free from hatred, greed and ignorance. Let me explain it brief.
Buddha said that anybody can see Dhamma right now (in Pali this is known as “Sandittiko.”) One day a man went to Buddha and said “Sir, You say that Dhamma can be seen right now; I do not see it. Where can I see Dhamma?”
Rather than replying direct the Buddha asked him “Do you know that you are angry when you are angry?” The man said “yes.” The next question was that “Do you know that you are in hate when you hate something?” The man said “yes.” Buddha posed another question, “Do you know that you are in greed or lust when you are craving for something or somebody?” The man said “yes.” This went on for another few questions.
Then Buddha asked the man “Also do you know if you are not in hate, greed or lust?” The man said “yes.”
The Buddha finally explained that “if anybody practices Dhamma then that person knows that he or she is free from hatred, greed and ignorance – And that is how you see Dhamma or how you see the effect of Dhamma right now.”
Therefore, good Buddhist monks must preach the people to experience Dhamma right now by being free from hatred, greed and ignorance.
The irony is that the monks in BBS spread hatred, greed and ignorance and hence will never see Dhamma by themselves and will never allow Sinhalese to see Dhamma. This must be stopped not by banning them but by actively engaging with them.
To me that any human being without hatred, greed and ignorance belongs to a kind of advanced civilization and by intuitively earns respect from people of all backgrounds. Similarly, people with hatred, greed and ignorance should be belonged to the uncivilized past cultures even though live today or in future. In this respect Buddha’s teachings belong to an advanced civilization and have already earned the respect of all ethnicities and religions around the globe but not the teachings of Buddhist Bin Laden in Myanmar and the teachings of BBS monks in Sri Lanka.
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