By Harsha Gunasena –
Buddhism is not a social doctrine such as Marxism. It is a personal doctrine aimed at in depth understanding of the entity called self. However, the social impact of following this personal doctrine would be immense. Therefore, exploring into the Buddhist teaching is important to understand the essence in relation to popular practices of Buddhism.
The National Council for International Affairs of All Ceylon Buddhist Congress (ACBC) organized the International Buddhist Conference 2020 titled Buddhism’s Response to Covid-19 Pandemic for two day on 7 and 8 November from 2pm to 6pm through zoom technology with the participation of eminent Buddhist scholars from Sri Lanka and abroad. Being the Chairman of the National Council for International Affairs of ACBC Prof. Lakshman R. Watawala, who is the Vice President of ACBC as well, spearheaded the organization of the event.
The conference started with the analysis of Suttas in Pali Canon such as Ratana Sutta and Girimanada Sutta but later it has devolved more time on meditation and mindfulness. It was discussed how mindfulness would remedy the mental stresses of all forms, not only that derived from Covid-19.
Even Buddha sought medical advice and followed the same when he was ill. As world renowned meditation master S.N. Goenka once said there was no point of reciting a prescription given by a doctor rather than taking that medicine.
The most welcome outcome of the conference was that the President of ACBC, Jagath Sumathipala accepted that to acknowledge the coming Poya day, November 29 be a day of mindfulness on the request of most venerable Udairiyagama Dhammajiva thero, Chief Incumbent of Mitirigala Nissarana Vanaya forest monastery. The move of ACBC towards mindfulness is most encouraging.
Mindfulness was first discussed in detail by the Buddha. In one of the discourses, Satipattana Sutta where the Buddha dealt with mindfulness, it was declared as follows at the beginning:
“This is the only way, O bhikkhus, for the purification of beings, for the overcoming of sorrow and lamentation, for the destruction of suffering and grief, for reaching the right path, for the attainment of Nibbana, namely, the Four Arousings of Mindfulness.”
In the West, there was extensive research done in respect of the benefits of mindfulness and the medical doctors prescribe mindfulness meditation to their patients in order to overcome tension and stress. In several countries, mindfulness is taught in the schools so that children at a very tender age are accustomed to it.
As Buddha said in Satipattana Sutta there are various benefits of practicing mindfulness ranging from overcoming sorrow to the attainment of Nibbana, the supreme bliss. Therefore, overcoming tension and stress can also be included in this range of benefits.
Buddhism recommends everyone to do a noble investigation (ariya pariyesana) about oneself. What are we doing every day? We get various messages through our five senses and act by giving various interpretations to them. Buddhism suggests us to observe this process closely and get firsthand information about the way this machine works. If a simple example is given, we all know that the breath taken in should be cooler than the breath sent out. The reason is that our body temperature is more than the temperature of the atmosphere. We get this knowledge by logic.
In case we closely observe this process and know it by feeling the coolness and hotness of respective breaths, then that knowledge would be a complete knowledge. There is no logic in it. Similarly, the observation can be expended to mental statuses such as stress or anger. Origin of stress is a more subtle position. If a person can observe the process from that subtle position of stress to gross outcome of it, that very observation may lead to the eradication of the same.
Buddhism says that this machine works due to the relationship of causes and effects and there is no permanent entity within, and this can be understood through a close observation of one’s basic activities.
The objective of the present day Bhikkus should be to direct the people to this close observation process rather than getting them engaged in the processes of rituals. More importantly this observation process has no religious boundaries, and it is common to all human beings irrespective of the religions they belong.
Therefore, it can be equally practiced by the members of all religions while keeping their religious identities intact. At the end they can align with the God if they so wish.
A person who goes along the way Buddha suggested by containing his ego would have very little chances of having ethnocentric or religion centric ideologies. Since he has to shed the five faculties which helped him at the beginning, faith, effort, mindfulness, concentration and wisdom at the end, he may have to shed religious and ethnic biases at the beginning.
The beauty in this process, when one is with oneself, the pain of the leg identified earlier as the pain of my leg, would reduce to a mere pain. Strong ethnic and religious identities would reduce to the level of mere human beings.
Rabindranath Tagore said: “Patriotism cannot be our final spiritual shelter; my refuge is humanity. I will not buy glass for the price of diamonds, and I will never allow patriotism to triumph over humanity as long as I live.”
It is perfectly in line with the way shown by the Buddha.
Therefore, mindfulness can be a remedy for one’s own sorrows and lamentation and also it would be a remedy for the basic social issues the country facing today. The country is deeply divided in lines of ethnicity and religion. Religion basically divides people. Mindfulness being dealing with one’s own body and mind with no religious rituals associated with it, is having a tremendous capacity of unifying all the human beings since human beings only without any discrimination can do it.
It is up to the Buddhists to get this double-edged benefit for the country and its citizens. The proposer of the day of mindfulness, most venerable Udairiyagama Dhammajiva thero is already doing this through his meditation retreats and activities of Sati Pasala focused on ground level specially aiming at school children irrespective of ethnicity and religion.
We should congratulate ACBC and its National Council for International Affairs for organizing this conference and paving the way for more important dialogue of finer aspects of Buddhism.
*The writer was the first President of Sati Pasala Foundation