By Mass L. Usuf –
“All we are is the result of what we have thought, it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts. If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows him like a shadow that never leaves him.” – (Dhammapada).
The article “Cultural harmony and the middle path” (CT, 21.11.2015) referring to mine titled “Cultural invasion – in the wake of the Abaya” (CT, 19.11.2015), does not reflect a correct understanding of the views, I had expressed. Moreover, the Professor has traversed into certain areas which I had not even addressed in my article. So by way of explanation and clarification, I thought of writing this piece hoping it would be of benefit.
In this, there is no one-upmanship but the intellectual pursuit towards better understanding the different perspectives. At the very inception, I entreat all towards right view and right thinking.
What I have explained in my article is that modesty is a universal principle and that such principle is manifest in Buddhistic, Christian and Islamic practices. I have proven my statement giving the example of the dress of the Bikkhuni and the Christian nun. The bikkhuni covers her entire body except her face, wrists, ankles and her head. It does not matter if one wears the black abaya or yellow abaya, the objective is to cover oneself non-attractively.
Professor Abhayawansa states that I am attempting to make out that the black abaya accords with the middle path in Buddhism. Black, is a colour ; Abaya is an outer garment. It does not make sense for these two to accord with the middle path in Buddhism as the Professor has asserted.
It has been mentioned that if the black abaya is to comply with the Middle Path it should be a moderate dress acceptable to all. The Professor must be aware that there is no universal definition for the Middle Path. The midway between the two extremes of anything is blurry, subjective and relative. Moreover, the Professor says about a dress acceptable to all. Who sets the parameters for a dress acceptable to all? Has the Professor forgotten that we are living in a democratic country? Respectfully, it is beyond comprehension as to how the Professor can even make such a statement?
The Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta lays down what the Buddha said about the middle path:
“There are these two extremes that are not to be indulged in by one who has gone forth. Which two? That which is devoted to sensual pleasure with reference to sensual objects: base, vulgar, common, ignoble, unprofitable; and that which is devoted to self-affliction: painful, ignoble, unprofitable………”
It is clear that the middle way is the way between sensual pleasure and self affliction. Sensual pleasure with reference to sensual objects. No one can deny the fact that a woman is not a sensual being. Therefore, when a woman has covered herself the extremes of base, vulgar sensual pleasure can be avoided. That is the Middle Path. The bikkhunis rightly and respectfully cover themselves accordingly.
It may be of interest to state that in Islam, too, there is mention of the Middle Path. The Quranic equivalent to the Majjhima-Patipada (The Middle Way) is Ummatan Wasatan (Middle Nation or People of Moderation). It states:
And thus have We willed you to be a community of the middle way, so that [with your lives] you might bear witness to the truth before all mankind. (Quran Chapter 2 Verse 143)
The Middle Way is the path of avoiding extremes of anger and fanaticism and also of hedonism and asceticism. It is the path of moderation, peace and compassion.
When speaking about covering the body, Islam extends it to protecting the haya of the person i.e. modesty, shyness, self-respect, bashfulness, shame, etc. Also, the Awrah i.e. the intimate parts of the body. These principles are applicable even for the men. Even Muslim men have to wear their cloths protecting their haya and awrah. For example, you will not see Muslim men wearing shorts above their knees exposing their thighs. So this principle of modesty is common for both men and women based on the biological features.
The Professor says that the people would perceive the dress-form of covering the body as extremism. Based on this logic, we have to accept that the bikkhuni is also an extremist. She also covers her body just as the Muslim woman does; the only difference is the colour. This is the wrong perception I was referring to in my article which the Professor has apparently missed out. It is precisely on this premise I questioned what would be the reaction if the Muslim woman wore a yellow coloured outer garment.
“The Sri Lankan social context is different” writes the Professor. This is another flawed proposition. A bikkhuni visiting a micro-mini wearing western country or black abaya wearing middle-east country would wear the same coloured robe she wears? She is not going to change her robe or the colour of the robe just because the social pattern is different in those countries.
“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”. The writer is very correct. This is reason why the hejab is worn in order to avoid the sensory organ of eye from seeing and then sensualising the body and the mind.
“As long as the desire however small (of the passions) of a man towards women is not cut down, so long the mind of a man is in bondage, he is bowed like a calf tied to a cow”. (Dammapada, 284)
“If the perception leads to further proliferative activities, then it is harmful..” he writes. This supports my point. Perception is obviously not harmful in Islam too, but like the Professor correctly said if it leads to proliferative activities it is harmful. It is exactly this harm to the spiritual purity of the human being that Islam wants to protect.
The writer fallaciously states, “If one culture tries to impose…..”. No Muslim in Sri Lankan has ever imposed on any woman to wear the abaya. The writer also states that it will break the equilibrium of the multicultural society. I ask the learned Professor on what basis are you making this assumption? This is a wrong perception (sanna). How about the Muslim woman not wearing the abaya but colour their hair red, wear tattoo on their full arm etc. I am wondering if this would be questioned as breaking the equilibrium of the multicultural society.
Honestly, sincerely and without prejudice think about what has ever been said about our youth having all the funky hairstyles, wearing partly torn jeans, ears pierced and doing all the weird things blindly aping the west. Sometimes it is difficult to determine if one is a male or female. Are these not alien to our culture? No, no it is modernity. It is fashion, I believe !
The Professor speaks about the Middle Path and also speaks of ethnic squabbles. Wonder what happened to the Middle Path? In a country that is preaching Metta: loving kindness, Karuna: compassion, Mudita: sympathetic joy and Upekkha: equanimity, how can the Professor who should be promoting peaceful co-existence even suggest the “disturbance of ethnic harmony leading to squabbles and harm to the whole society”.
The black abaya per se is not the issue. The prejudice which creates the wrong perception is the problem. This is what the Buddha taught. Prejudice causes wrong perception, wrong perception creates wrong views both together causes confusion in the minds culminating in the disabling of the power of discernment and distinction.
Finally, to the skeptics out there undoubtedly, they would reflect on the Quranic Middle Path and the violent acts done under the banner of “Islam”. I must emphatically, unequivocally and unreservedly say that the type of violence perpetrated in the name of Islam, has in fact, nothing to do with Islam. There is deliberate and purposeful maligning and misrepresentation of certain Quranic verses relating to war by those who buddhistically put, harbor the wrong view or would always like to find fault even if they see the truth as clear as daylight. Also, by eclectic quoting of verses and that, too, out of context. Ultimately, making a fool of themselves.
The doctrines of Jus ad bellum (the conditions for resorting to war) and Jus in bello (regulating the conduct of parties engaged in an armed conflict) are well documented and clearly laid out principles in Islam. One may refer to Professor C. G. Weeramantry’s book titled, Islamic Jurisprudence.