25 October, 2020

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From Siddhartha Gautama To God- A Response To Dr. Jagath Asoka

By Mahendra De Silva

It was really interesting to read Jagath Asoka’s article on “From Siddhartha Gautama to God” and the response given by Shyamon Jayasinghe for the same. However I thought that few misleading views appearing in Jagath’s article should not go unchallenged.

I appreciate Jagath’s elegant writing and his genuine interest  to understand what is happening in our country. It is really great that although Jagath has been educated abroad and not living in Sri Lanka for a long time, he has not forgotten his roots. However when he attempts to provide his expertise on Buddhism, it would have been better if he had studied it well before expressing any interpretations or views on this subject. The basic understanding of Buddhist philosophy does not equip someone to offer interpretations on main concepts of Buddhism. Jagath has done exactly that when he tries to define Nirvana. He claims that Nirvana is a state of mind where you are not compelled by desire, fear, or social obligation, and when he plays Tennis or spends time with his Son, he obtains this state of mind. In this way all of us can attend Nirvana by engaging in activities where we enjoy most and totally engaged. He  has explained Nirvana in a short and sweet manner where as Prince Siddhartha struggled many years and made many sacrifices to achieve it.  It is true that his mind may be free of any desires.at the time playing tennis, but it is in a fully active state with plenty of sensations- actively thinking of next move in his game. The moment after the game his excitement will be over and comes back to his normal activities In contrast I believe that Nirvana is a calm and peaceful state of mind one get by the destruction of all feelings and sensations. It is a thoughtless state. States similar to that are achieved by experienced meditation practitioners by meditating for long hours. It is unwise to speculate and compare Nirvana state of mind with worldly things or pleasure creating activities.  We human beings always live unconsciously with the belief that there is a “Self” within us.  Due to this belief we are constantly bombarded with insecurity, anxiety, fear of ageing, sickness, death, separating from loved ones, encounters with the people whom we dislike and many more worries.  Until we discover that “Self” within us is an illusion and not a real entity it is unlikely someone would achieve Nirvan state of mind.

Dr. Bhante Madawela Punnaji

Dr. Bhante Madawela Punnaji

In his article Jagath describe proudly the advancement in Science and Technology and the impact it would have on mankind.  There are many who believe that soon Scientists would discover a medicine even to live for ever or avoid ageing and sickness completely. Further they think most of the   issues in the world would be solved by advancement in technology. Examine the suicide rates drug addiction, youth unrest, depression and mental illness – all are increasing rapidly in highly developed countries where they have the state of the art technology and scientific discoveries in the world. What about the huge uncertainty we have due to environmental damage, disasters associate with climate change, expansion of nuclear warheads, and constant threat of wars in the world?  Can Scientists provide solution for people to live at peace for ever? With the advancement of technology, people are being provided with more and more methods to maximise the pleasure and live longer.  The pleasure is available in open market and people are craving to have more and more. Scientists would never be able to fulfil the increasing craving for pleasure by human beings. While those who have will never be satisfied, those who do not have means will develop hatred and anger towards others. These are the evils of western societies spreading fast everywhere in the world.

I was dismayed with Jagath’s condemnation of parents who try to teach basic Buddhist principals to their children. Buddha said in several discourses that providing Dharma knowledge is the greatest gift one could give. Buddha followed it by action by ordaining his only Son Rahuala as a priest. This would be very difficult to understand for ordinary people who always think the worldly pleasure is the real happiness. The difference in Buddha’s preaching is that Buddha considered all the worldly pleasures only as an illusion and a temporally state of mind which eventually end up in suffering.   It is sad that most of the people look Buddhism through the practices exists in our part of the world and gets a negative view on everything happening in the country. It is true that Buddhist children are taught the basics of Buddhism from their childhood. They are being taught the importance of keeping 5 precepts and many more fundamentals of Buddhism when they are kids.  One could argue that despite all the Buddhist teachings given to our kids from the time of birth why our country has become such a corrupt and violent state. I believe the reason for that situation is that we confine teaching of Buddhism only to theory and not in practice to cultivate the Buddhist ideals deeply in minds. Majority of the Buddhist priests in Sri Lanka give prominence to rituals, Buddha Puja’s, Bodhi Puja’s Katina Pinkama’s etc. People are given the view that if someone participates in these Puja’s that is the greatest good Karma one can collect  They fail to provide people the most important message of Buddha that is purification of mind should be the forefront of every action. People are not advised on how best to practice morality and loving kindness in the society. In this regard I admire how Christian Missionaries went to poor African and Asian countries and did their best to uplift the standard living of the people and also to spread the word of God. It is true their ultimate intention was to spread the message of the God, which they believed would do well to everyone.  They sacrificed their lives to do good things such as building schools and civilizing people.  Buddhists in Sri Lanka condemns such missionaries and their work, but do not do anything to help their own people in remote villages who live in very much below the poverty line. Buddhists could be missionaries themselves spreading the message of peace given by Buddha and do a great service in uplifting the living standards of poor in many remote areas in Sri Lanka If there were Tamil speaking Buddhist missionaries in Sri Lanka there would have been many Tamil Buddhists in our country today.  The hatred and suspicion between communities would have been greatly reduced. Leading Buddhist schools should have sent their students to remote villages for volunteering and helping people similar to the way Sarvodaya worked in Sri Lanka. Unfortunately we do not have such an established network to allow people to practice loving kindness in Sri Lanka. Therefore for majority of people, Buddhism is nothing more than giving alms giving to priests once in a way or going to temple and offering Puja’s.  However the positive aspect of teaching Buddhism for kids is that anyone who learnt basics of Buddhism in their childhood could become interested in studying it deeply at a later stage of life. It is always better to teach the basics of all religions to kids at early stage. It will not in any way harm the kids or diminish the enjoyment as a kid.

Shyamon Jaysinghe in his response correctly suggested that Buddhism failed to take root in India and disappeared due to the rational rejection of the concept of God. Therefore with all the criticism of rituals and average person’s perception of Buddha as a God, we have to appreciate that it is only due to this fact that Buddhism is still prospering in most of the Asian Countries today. Buddhism as a philosophy is the most difficult to understand compared to other religions. It is said that Buddha himself was reluctant to preach it when he attend enlightenment. Then he looked for the wiser people who could understand his teachings. Buddha prescribed a step by step process to improve one’s wisdom to understand it.  They are Seela-Morality, Samadhi-Concentration- Pragna-Wisdom. Wisdom is the tool to purify the mind and for ultimate liberation.

I agree to some extent with the views of Sharmini Serasinghe, regarding the distorted versions of Buddhism consisting of many rituals introduced to Buddhism from Hinduism. However in my view if a person is not matured to understand the Buddhism at least doing something which gives peace happiness and relief cannot be condemned. Most of the rituals practiced by ordinary people can be ignored to the extent it is harmless to the society. Further believing in an all-powerful entity would definitely would provide a great psychological relief when a weak person has to encounter a disaster in life. But it is unfortunate if someone waste his whole life doing these rituals and not going any further towards understanding essence of Buddhism. They spend their entire life with blind faith on Buddhism, or devotion (Sardha) only.  They fail to realize that true happiness prescribed in Buddhism can be only obtained by purification of mind through the meditation.  I agree with other writers on this subject that some of the Buddhist Priests who have mixed up nationalist tendencies and Buddhism are partly responsible to the situation in our country.

Finally if anyone wants to know more about Buddhism we have plenty of resources in internet now with more and more western philosophers studying Buddhism and discussing it in the web. You can do a google search to  listen to Dr. Bhante Madawela Punnaji, Ajan Brahm and also many other scholars who have contributed greatly to the benefit of those who have a thirst to understand real Buddhism. Dr.Rick Hanson a Neuropsychologist  at Wisconsin University who has done research not Buddhist philosophy and Neuroscience, has written some excellent books starting with “Buddha’s brain “ and recently “Hardwiring of Happiness”

Useful Links;

http://www.rickhanson.net/event/buddhas-brain

 

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Latest comments

  • 2
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    I do not for a moment think that Dr Asoka is trying to ‘give us his expertise on Buddhism’. Dr Asoka is, as you say, someone torn by distance from his roots and mother culture and I take his writing as part of a journey of self-exploration and possibly something cathartic. If fate is kind to us, let us see what he writes twenty years from now.

    • 0
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      You are very correct.

      Because of the circumstances he became what or who he is.

      What ever it is, he will carry it in his SAMSARA.

      That is QUANTUM MECHANICS or QUANTUM … what ever..

      OR in short, KARMA.

  • 0
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    Mahendra De Silva: Thank your for your links – much appreciated.

  • 5
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    Mahendra my friend,

    I understand your annoyance in what JA says about Buddha, Nirvana and the indoctrination of children by parents. But that is because you hold all what you have been taught about Buddhism as sacrosanct.

    However in the absence of any real evidence of someone having archived these so called states of Nirvana to many rational people all such talk is myth only. Buddha may have claimed that such a blissful state was achieved by him. Moses and Mohammed claimed that God spoke with them. Jesus claimed he is the son of god. These are all unsubstantiated claims. However when repeated a thousand times, strengthened by rituals and traditions, enmeshed in cultural fabrics, the irrational human brain do tend to accept all such unsubstantiated stories as true. Therein lies the danger of passing on such ancient unproven concepts to our children.

    If religion is only an opiate of the masses it can be tolerated as a harmless pastime. Unfortunately religion kills; religion makes adherents to commits mass murder, leads to commit ethnic cleansing and all the horrors that humans are capable of inflicting on each other. Therefore JA is right about conditioning the developing minds of children with such dangerous ideas.

    • 0
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      I don’t know about other religions, but in Buddhism, there is an eightfold path anybody can follow, and a clear set of landmarks one who follows the path can see. So, if those practicing Buddhists see those landmarks, that is enough to sustain confidence. Not everybody have to meet an arahat or worry whether Buddha was an arahat or not. There are advanced monks in the World right now, who says without doubt that Arahatship exists. So, that is enough for those who practice.

      What is wrong is BBS type violence in the name of Buddhism, apparently with no traces of practice. Those who become violent in other religions too are those people who claim to be guardians of those religions without a deep sense of practice.

      While religion has been one source of conflicts, man finds so many other reasons for conflicts. Absence of religion will not make this planet peaceful. Pure rationality will definitely not make this world peaceful too, because rationality is always subjective and bounded.

      • 0
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        Thrishantha,

        I respectfully differ from your stand, ‘Rationality will definitely not make this world Peaceful’. To begin with Rationals will never do Irrational things as the Religious would do. We Rationals have no agenda and treat all Humans alike. We have no inhibitions and Dogmas to protect. So think again.

    • 0
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      BBS Rep,

      You are asking and looking for “real evidence” of the “so called Nirvana” claimed to have been achieved by the Buddha fella! You also connote the idea you are being very rational.

      How do you rationally propose Buddha should have proved and established beyond any doubt what he had achieved so that rational people like you in the distant future clearly see it without any qualms and shadow of doubt about its veracity?

      Knowledge and therefore thought is never complete and perfect. Therefore how do you claim to be rational?

      You are talking Buddhism here. What qualification do you have to do that? For you Buddhism is only a harmless pastime opiate of the masses unfortunately turned violent and committing mass murders. Could this be the message of Buddha? Who is responsible for deforming Buddhism to what is today?

      “..However when repeated a thousand times, strengthened by rituals and traditions, enmeshed in cultural fabrics, the irrational human brain do tend to accept all such unsubstantiated stories as true. Therein lies the danger of passing on such ancient unproven concepts to our children..”

      Very true! This is exactly what Mahinda Rajapaksha and the gang are doing! The BBS, Ravana Balaya, Sihala Ravaya et al and the King of folly are all busy establishing the new religion of Sinhalese, Roguish Maraism.

    • 0
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      Indoctrination of Children by Parents.

      That happened all along in every world cycle.

      Just accept it.

      Try to understand what I say.

  • 0
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    Mr. Mahendra De Silva,

    I totally agree with you.

    Sharmini Serasinghe

    • 0
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      I read the Comments by Shamini Serasinghe and Jagath Asoka.

      So, what I say, even the Wasawarthi-MaraS have some GOOD in THEM.

      Anyway, Buddhism is the OLDEST “RELIGION”. It is FOR sure, that CHRISTIANISM and ISLAM had some influence from BUDDHA-DHAMMA.

  • 3
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    Mahendra De Silva:

    Good rebuttal to Jagath’s nonsense. Jagath is mad to compare Nirwana with playing tennis. In doing so he is belittling whole of Buddhism. As an academic he ought to have a better sense of judgement.

    However, we should not expect much from this writer for he starts his article with Buddha and ends it with Ranil Wickramasinghe. He doesn’t know anything about politics either. If he did, he won’t contemplate on using CBK to unseat MR.

    One “Sunila Mendis” commenting on Buddha’s life in response to Shamini’s article says: “Moreover, as. a Teacher I have seen children hating siddhartha for deserting the mother and child……. Therefore children in the primary schools need to experience kindness, sharing, helping the feeble etc that would bring out the goodness of being human. aesops fables and stories from Buddhist literature! bible stories! Stories from other religious texts can be shared with the small children so that they will learn that the ethical side of all religions are more or less similar. From the secondary school “comparative religion” can be introduced.”

    In short, don’t teach Buddha’s life story to children but teach Aesops fables and bible stories instead — because small children hate Buddha! Less said the better where Sunila Mendis is coming from…

    Sunila mendis better not try to teach Bible stories and Aesops fables to Muslim or Hindu children for her popularity as a commentator here in Colombo Telegraph will drop drastically!

  • 1
    1

    Thank you for writing this interesting article;.I sincerely enjoyed reading your comparisons. Thanks, again.

  • 2
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    Truly an excellent and educating reply for all those willing to go further in understanding Buddhism.

  • 3
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    Mahendra de Silva
    :”It is unwise to speculate and compare Nirvana state of mind with worldly things or pleasure creating activities”

    Then,what do we compare Nirvana with? After if must talk about Nirvana and want to explain it to the untutored,we must compare it to something and since worldly things are the only thing we can know…
    This kind of mystification won’t do in a rational discussion. And this style of discourse is to which defenders of religion ultimately resort.
    One cannot claim that something is rational and then claim that some its claims are ineffable.
    Ultimately everything is expessible only in words and metaphors including religious discoures.

    • 2
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      R S Perinbanayagam,

      You have ears to hear. Our hearing audio frequency range is said to be roughly from 20 to 20000 hertz. Can you hear below or above this range? And because you cannot you hear outside that range can you deny that noises exist outside that range? Do you know there are animals that can hear what we cannot hear? This Nirananic phenomenon is also like that. It is outside human mind’s comprehension. You cannot experience or touch that. That is why it is said to be sacred and timeless too because it is not in the realm of our perishable consciousness level.

      • 0
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        Silva:
        Your comment clears everything up!As the poet said

        “Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
        Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;”

        • 1
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          R S Perinbanayagam

          If you want to look at Silva’s comment in an alternative way here is something useful:

          There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.

          Donald Rumsfeld

  • 0
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    Mr.Mahendra de Silva

    Thank you Sir , for your well written article . We need more of you to come forward to defend this wonderful philosophy from pseudo Buddhist
    pundits who are on a campaign of disinformation and distortion .

  • 4
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    “One could argue that despite all the Buddhist teachings given to our kids from the time of birth why our country has become such a corrupt and violent state. I believe the reason for that situation is that we confine teaching of Buddhism only to theory and not in practice to cultivate the Buddhist ideals deeply in minds.”
    Dear Mahendra, No, it is not.
    Teachings are for, 1) Protect Dharma (Dharma is not teaching or religions. Dharma is natural low of universe. Teaching of Dharma include respect everything in this universe and accept we all are part of this universe. Respect low and righteousness) 2) Realising the self and attain Nibbana or realising God. (Whatever word you want to use).
    Whole process is something to do with inner transformation. If permits, I shall tell “Transforming from mind consciousness to Heart consciousness. Harsh truth is Theravada tradition has nothing to do with inner transformation. That is why we are still in animal consciousness even after 2600 years.

    • 1
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      Excellent ! Inner Consciousness/ Transformation is the key ! Thank you KH !

  • 1
    1

    ‘Nirvana’ is not a state of mind, but a realm the soul, spirit or whatever enters and cease to be born again in any form thereafter. Further the desire to achieve Nirvana, is also a yearning of the mind which others crave for worldly objectives or spiritual otherwise. The Human mind to pursue anything, there has to be desire. If not for desire the Humans will cease to exist.

    Mahendra says that the veracity, truthfulness of the Philosophy of Buddhism does not rest on Mahawamsa but on Thripitaka. Thripitaka again was chronicled long after Buddha’s demise, again by a set of Buddhist Priests in Sri Lanka, far away from the land Buddha lived. Besides Buddha never wrote his Autobiography nor his Philosophy. However today we have Buddha’s life story from before birth to death as if some one was there to take notes everyday of his life. This was never the case while Buddha was living.

    Coming back to Mahawamsa, according to Mahawamsa Buddhism, it is believed that Maithree Buddha is yet to come. This is like the belief of the second coming of Jesus among the Christians. Now the issue is when? Is it going to be during the time of the present Humans or after the present Human Race perish and another Human Race is born? If the Mahawamsa Buddhists believe that there were Buddhas prior to Gauthama, what happened to the Buddhism that existed prior and those Humans that lived at that time? Were the societies divided then as well and were fighting like the Sinhalese and the Tamils? Is it the same Philosophy that Gauthama preached or is it something different? What is the source of evidence to prove the existence of such Myths? What were the Nationalities of the previous Buddhas? What will be the Nationality of Maithri Buddha? What if Maithri Buddha is born as a Tamil and the Tamils hijack Buddhism as Tamil Buddhism? Then there will be no Sinhala Buddhism. What will happen to the Sinhalese without Buddhism in the future? Leave alone Sinhalese without Buddhism, I wonder whether there will be a Sinhalese Race in another couple of hundred years. See what happened to the Red Indians?

    What all these Religious Bigots have to understand is the Laws of Impermanence that Buddha preached. Religions are no exception to Impermanence not even Buddhism.

  • 2
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    Thank you Gamini, for your comment. I have not talked about Mahavansa or Maitri Buddha in my article. For me it does not matter whether actually Dhamma as it is told by Buddha or someone has invented it. I examine the Sutra’s and many more concepts in Buddhism myself and see whether there is any sense in it. I have found that most of the concepts are quite compatible with latest scientific discoveries on human brain and how we think. For example there is no question for Neuroscientists that “Soul” is only an activity of the brain and it is not a permanent thing. At the same time they have discovered that good thoughts- loving kindness, meditation can do dramatic changes in your brain. I am least bothered about Matitri Buddha. Talking of such hypothesis is only a wastage of time. We have plenty of good stuff in Buddhism to agree and benefit. In Kalama Sutra, Buddha said the same thing asking people not to believe even someone says that it is Buddha’s word. What we have to do is just examine and take what we can take and reject and ignore other stuff. It is not necessary to argue on what other people ignorantly believe. We need not imagine the state of mind at Nirvana when we have not even taken first few steps towards it. First study 8 noble path and 4 noble truths and let me know whether you disagree with any of those.

  • 2
    1

    Jagath forgot to say that the main point of Buddhism is to kill all the Tamils in Sri Lanka and if possible the Tamils all over the world as well.

  • 0
    0

    Thanks Mahendra for this well written article, the added links are much appreciated too.

    First, for Jagath to mix the teachings of Buddha to the current political wisdom in Sri Lanka does not make any justice to all of us who are here for some intellect – purely on Buddhism.

    In my opinion, appreciating a human being for his/her yeoman service does not equal to the immense sacrifices Buddha undertook in enlightening us to spiritual peace.

    Nirvana is freedom from all worldly defilements, it is explained as an “eternal” bliss, therefore how can this state be parallel to a “state of mind attained by totally engaging in some kind of deed”?

    Buddha explored and realised that the mind is the stumbling block towards total realisation and eliminated all obstacles in mind and attained Liberation – “Nirvana”.

    Mahendra has explained this philosophy against the temporary sensations one attain by engaging in an “activity”

    Also the fact that religion can be used in constructive ways to achieve harmony amongst communities is very timely; this actually is what we lack in our motherland. Though certain individuals and a few organizations do engage, this is marginal compared to what we could do. There is no point in blaming and bashing what others such as missionaries are doing, they are just filling a vacuum.

    Finally on a personal note, encouraging children to follow principles of ones’ religion is not about giving break, it is just to balance their lives with intellect and sanctum – religion can shed a life, can be a guidance path.

    Thank you…

    “Our life is shaped by our mind.
    We become what we think.
    Suffering follows an evil thought
    as the wheels of a cart follow the oxen that draw it.
    Our life is shaped by our mind.
    We become what we think.
    Joy follows a pure thought
    like a shadow that never leaves.”

    DHAMMAPADA

  • 2
    0

    Mahendra, I do not wish to draw swords and dispute your stand. However I do not blindly believe in anything even Buddhism, as then I would be violating Buddha’s own principle of evaluation, although for you, it does not matter whether actually Dhamma as it is told by Buddha or someone has invented it.

    I saw your link above and have many an issue to raise, reference the sermon delivered. Yet I would refrain as it will be too long a post and lead to ridicule in the end. I call this ‘Moda Bana’. I am amazed that there are educated people who listen to such sermons and get carried away and heap praise without question. So what can we expect from the average Upasakas who chant Sadhu! Sadhu! Some of these Priests use these platforms to spread hatred, intolerance and enmity as witnessed starting from Soma Hamuduruwo to BBS/Ravana.

    I have found this weakness of being carried away by Sermons not only among the Buddhists, but in all Religions. To illustrate I like to recall a personal experience. Having contracted a mixed marriage being married to a Catholic I used to accompany my wife to Church at the beginning with her family. The subject of discussion soon after Sunday mass on the way back home in the vehicle is, ‘Oh! what a beautiful Sermon it was’. So one day I quietly asked, what was so beautiful about the Sermon. She retorted, Why, didn’t you hear the Priest say, how people practice hypocrisy? How people are selfish? The low level of Morality in society etc. etc. Then I asked her whether she was unaware of such lapses committed by the so called pious in society until the Priest pointed out the same? Now almost fifty years being married, my family including my children have never visited a Church or a Temple since and are contended in life.

  • 0
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    Gamini,

    Responding to your comments on para 3, born a Hindu and a practising one – I am also interested in learning from other religions and cultures too. Educated in a Protestant Colombo school, I have benefited also from the Catholic religion – where I used to accompany friends to All Saints, Borella and listen to those beautiful and inspiring speeches. I also took the chance to pray at the Blue Mosquein Istanbul when I visited that area – since I was interested also to learn from Islam and Sufi mysticism. For a long time I have benefited from Buddhist sermons on Saturday noons at Bambalapitiya in Colombo. I have met, spoken and have followed Jittu Krishnamurthi’s speeches in Colombo.

    The idea in this plural pursuit is to learn from all these great religions. I am convinced that the object of these religions is to teach man to live his life peacefully. I am convinced historical factors and turning religion into instruments of political power create most problems associated with religion. But thanks to debates such as the one we are engaged in, I am convinced,
    many will religion the path to a relative tranquil life. I do not dispute those with an atheistic inclination do and can contribute to a more tolerant world.

    I have two children – both adults and professionals abroad. They are proud to be Hindus. I have in no way tried to influence them in my way of thinking. They have close friends in all major religions and conduct a more materialistic life with their families. But, if you like, they are less Hindu than I am. But I believe they consider themselves privileged to be part of the family religious tradition.

    It is my humble view we move towards peace and happiness in a plural society if we actively learn from other religions and make them feel we respect their way of life.

    Senguttuvan

  • 0
    0

    Mr. Mahendra,

    I can’t understand why you posted those two videos because they are quite ordinary lectures. The second endless one was a hopeless rubbish package which in the monk’s own words may be termed “chicken shit” which I did not go on watching the whole of it while the first one would send the most insomniac person to a long sleep. The only positive message the first one had was at the end part it shed light on the importance of relying on one’s own ability and pursuit without submitting to the authority of any external entity. In fact your very article is hundred fold better than these two videos.

  • 0
    0

    I reiterate, just because we humans have achieved technological advances does not mean we are capable of reasoning all issues. Our brain is still in the developmental stage.

    I say so because many of the commenters here believe in one form of deity or another. The Buddhists play it both ways, sometimes claiming the existence of god and at other times denying it. Even in the present day of emancipation we humans still tend to believe in fantastic claims made by ancient men even though such claims were and are baseless. There is no evidence to suggest the existence of any god and yet our immature brain tends to think there is.

    Those claiming to be Buddhists go to extreme lengths in explaining that there really is a state of Nirvana though none could explain what this is.

    We humans demand solid evidence before we believe in everything else other than when it comes to religion.

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