By Kapila Abhayawansa –
The article “Cultural invasion – in the wake of the Abaya” that appeared in the Colombo Telegraph attempts to justify make out that the phenomenon of the Black Abaya accords with the Middle Path in Buddhism. The Buddhist Middle Path constitutes a rejection of two mutual opposite extremist positions. Buddhism praises the middle way when it is practiced in human behaviour; it does not exclude even the acts of dressing and eating. ‘Black Abaya’ mentioned by the writer, Mass L. Usuf , if it wants to be to comply with Middle Path, should be a moderate dressing acceptable to all. However, people in Sri Lanka would perceive such a dress – form as extremist by itself since it goes overboard in covering the modesty and simplicity of a woman. The Sri Lankan social context is different.
The writer correctly says that man in Buddhism is analyzed into five groups of aggregates known as Pañcupadanakkhandha one of which is the aggregate of perception (saññaā). Perception arises from form (rāpa). This explanation right. However, the intention of the writer by presenting this Buddhist principle appears to be to justify the Black Abaya by suggesting that it prevents the occurrence of inappropriate perceptions (sanna) relating to the woman’s form (rupa). In this regard I have a doubt the that the writer has correctly understand the Buddhist analysis of Rūpa.
In Buddhism Rūpa does not mean only the outer form or shape, of a person, but it includes all the five sensory objects namely, rūpa (Form), sadda (sound), gandha (smell), rasa (taste) and poṭṭhabba (tangibles). Perception arises on all the five kinds of sensory object. If the writer accepts that the black Abaya can stop the perception arising from form, then how can one stop the other kind of perception arising from woman’s sound, smell, taste and tangibles. That is something like keeping close one avenue while opening out four other avenues.
According to Buddhism perceptions based on sensory objects cannot be avoided. as long as sensory objects come into the path of sensory organs, namely eye ear, nose tongue, body and mind. Perception is a recognition, without recognitions people cannot maintain communication with each other. Perception itself is not regarded as a “sin” in Buddhism. If the perception is leads to further proliferative activities, then only will that become harmful to the spiritual purity recognized by middle path.
Buddhism never tries to turn the whole world into a meditation centre where people can have only the meditative objects. Instead, Buddhism shows how a man should look at the things while avoiding greed or hate. That is why the Buddha said: “Whatever beautiful things there are in the world, they are not, in themselves lustful things (kāma). It is the greedy thoughts of man (sankappa-rāgo) which makes them lustful. The beautiful things in the world remain as they are, while the wise men restrain their desires.”
Every object in the world can generate greedy or hatred thought depending on how man looks at it. Because of this reason we cannot cover the whole world in order to prevent the people from lustful or hateful thoughts. There is a Buddhist saying: “The entire world is full of thorns where nobody can walk on it. Seeing this, one man thought that I cannot remove all those thorns in the world . If I wear a pair of shoes then I can walk everywhere in the world”. Therefore, what we should do is not to change the environment but to make change ourselves according to the environment.
Writer says that, I have noticed people curious about the prevalence of the Black Abaya – clad women in our streets. Really people would have been curious at it is strange to Sri Lankan culture. In a country there can be many cultures. But among them there should be a cultural harmony. If one culture tries to impose totally new traits into the broader society then the equilibrium of the multicultural society would be broken. Besides,such a thing would cause to disturb cultural harmony and in turn lead to ethnic squabbles which may result in devastating harm to the whole society.
On the other hand, a patterns of dress is mainly determined by the geographical conditions. In the middle east desert countries, people cannot live without fully covered bodies mainly because of the dusty storms. But to a country like Sri Lanka, it is not appropriate at all. We have to live in the world in the way that other people can recognize us. Otherwise, it would be a cause for many unnecessary problems.
We must accept the truth. Nobody would entertain lustful thoughts while looking at a well-dressed and well cultured woman.