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Buddha, Dhamma and Politics

When the Wheel of Dhamma was set in Motion (Original Title – Daily News)

K. K. S. Perera

Independent India’s First Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru says in his famous book ‘The Discovery of India’…, “Some of his recorded words would come like a distant echo through two thousand five hundred years ago.”– That is how he comprehended the Buddha preaching his first sermon at Saranath near Baranasi, in the Game Refuge at Isipatana.

An eventful month of July 2018, ends with Esala Poya; A strong sense of uncertainty that loomed large over Sri Lanka is fading away—

Prince Siddhartha, son of King Suddhodana and Queen Maha Maya lived in three deluxe palaces provided by his father. He was not pleased with these pleasures, and at 29, on realising that he would fall ill become aged and that one day he will breathe his last. An urge to discover the truth emerged— he finally takes a decision. It was exactly, 2614 years ago, Siduhath abandoned the worldly possessions to become an ascetic. He undertook this Great Renunciation on Esala Poya day in search of truth.

‘If a person foolishly does me wrong, I will return to him the protection of my boundless love. The more evil that comes from him the more good will go from me. I will always give off only the fragrance of goodness.’ – The Buddha

Significance of Esala

The other significant events associated with Esala Fullmoon include:

Renunciation by Siduhath; The conception of the Bodhisatta in Queen Maya’s womb; The performance of the Twin Miracles (yamaka-patihariya); Preaching Abhidhamma in the Tavatimsa heaven for Maathru-divya [mother] and foundation laying for Ruwanweli dagoba in Anuradhapura. The Inauguration of the Siam Maha Nikaya.

Inauguration of the Siam Nikaya

In 1753, exactly 265 years ago, on Esala Poya, the great restoration or Theravada Buddhist Reformation of the Maha Sangha took place at Malwatte Temple (Pushparama Maha Vihare), in Kandy. The Most Venerable Upali Maha Thera, on receiving an invitation from King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe, along with his junior pupil came to Kandy from Siam, (now Thailand) and administered Higher Ordination (Upasampada) in a Seemamalaka built at the lake for the purpose. Ecclesiastical title of “Sangharaja” was conferred on Ven. Welivita Saranankara Thera by the Royal Court who initiated this grand occurrence. The Shyampoli (Siyam) Maha Nikaya was born on July 17, 1753, at this historic occasion.

Dhammachakka Pavattana Sutta

Dhammachakka Pavattana Sutta was preached to the five ascetics, Kondanna, Bhaddiya, Vappa, Mahanama and Assaji, at the deer park, at Isipatanaramaya in Baranesa. The Sangha Sasana that established on this day spread over South-East Asia during King Dharmasoka.

“There are these two outermost that are not to be reveled in by one who has gone forth. Which two? That which is attached to sensual pleasure with reference to sensual objects: base, ignoble, vulgar, common, unprofitable; and that which is devoted to self-affliction: painful, ignoble, unprofitable. Avoiding both of these extreme ends, the middle way realized by the Buddha — producing vision, producing knowledge — leads to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding”. – The Buddha

Dhamma and politics

Politics is Greed and Power, whereas Dhamma is Morality and Purity. Cosmic Law of Cause and Effect or Karma is the law of moral causation. Those who make an effort to combine or interact Dhamma with politics, an inborn problem with some politicians, should appreciate that the basis of Dhamma is ethics, purity and morality, while that of politics is greed for power. There is sufficient evidence in world political history, where religion has as a practice been used or misused to justify exercise of authority by those in possession of it, particularly for waging wars, atrocities, rebellions, destruction of culture and demolition of religious places of worship. Religion had been ‘employed’ to pander to political needs; worldly political anxieties have superseded religion’s morals and just principles.

There is a limit to what a political system can safeguard the happiness and prosperity of its people. Though it appears to be complete with perfect policies and principles and an ideal system, they cannot bring about contentment and harmony as long as the people are subject to hatred, greed and illusion. Promises on basic human rights and checks and balances to the use of power are characters of a good and just political system. Creation of new political establishments has nothing to do with Buddha Dhamma; Political institutions have a sacred duty in improving equitable sharing of resources, welfare of the society, and guiding the people towards superior humanism.

Politics in temples

Only in the minds which are conflict free, one can find total freedom; it cannot be established in any political structure like democracy, communism or socialism. To be free, we have to look within our own minds and work towards freeing ourselves from the chains of unawareness, ignorance and craving. The Buddha, never chose to influence political power to introduce his dhamma, although the Blessed One closely associated with kings, ministers and princes; nor did he allow the teachings to be misused or abused for gaining benefit for aspiring political power.Many politicians of competing factions today, are dragging the Buddha and his Dhamma into politics by quoting and mis-interpreting the Sutras.Quite a few temples have become central propaganda offices of political interests. Recognised political organisations persuade Sangha units within party machinery while a few saffron robed extremists’ elements have formed political units to assist politicians contest elections.

‘Let us live happily, not hating those who hate us. Among those who hate us, let us live free from hatred. Let us live happily and free from ailment. Let us live happily and be free from greed; among those who are greedy.’ — Dhammapada- stanza -197-

People today are restless, fear and unhappiness reign. They are intoxicated with craving to gain power, wealth and fame. They are forever under doubt and insecurity. Peaceful coexistence among fellow countrymen have become an extremely difficult task in this time of confusion and disorder and crisis.

Buddhist view on tolerance

The expression tolerance here includes open-mindedness in sympathetic understanding of other religions without prejudices, judgement, or bias. The open-minded person will have more liberty in his mind for other races, religions and cultures: on the contrary, for a narrow minded person, it is impossible to respect any other religions and cultures. According to Dhamma, attachment to views, beliefs and opinions are defilements that causes narrow mindedness. The Buddha never taught his disciples to get attached to his teachings with blind faith. He persuaded those who believe in a faith not to attach with blind faith, but with wisdom. (Kalama sutta)

Monks, if anyone should speak in blame of me, of the Teaching or of the Order, you should not be angry, resentful or upset on that account. If you were to be angry or displeased at such blame, that would only be a hindrance to you. For if others blame me, the Teaching or the Order, and you are angry or displeased, can you recognize whether what they say is right or wrong?….

Monks, if anyone should speak in praise of me, of the Teaching or of the Order, you should not on that account be pleased, happy or elated. If you were to be pleased, happy or elated at such praise, that would only be a hindrance to you. If others praise me, the Teaching or the Order, and you are, you should acknowledge the truth of what is true… Monks, if anyone should speak in blame of me, of the Teaching …. you should acknowledge the truth of what is true…– The Buddha

May all beings be happy!