Vesak Reflections | Daily News

Vesak Reflections

“Of all the paths the Eightfold Path is the best; of all the truths the Four Noble Truths are the best; of all things passionlessness is the best: of all men the Buddha is the best.” (Maggavagga, Dhammapada)

“Hatred does not cease by hatred, but by love alone”. These immortal words of the Buddha ring true today more than ever, at a time when our Nation has been literally engulfed in flames as a result of recent socio-economic and political upheavals. As the Buddha often advised, violence is never the answer to conflict. Hence, on this Vesak Poya Day, it is important for all to remember these timeless words and heal ourselves through compassion. It is only then that we can go forward as a Nation.

Ours is a society that sorely needs compassion, judging by the recent sordid events. These incidents, based on completely man-made divisions such as politics, would not have happened if the perpetrators had actually listened to the Buddha’s timeless words on compassion to all beings, human and animal. The Buddha eschewed such divisions and enunciated that we all belong to one race – humanity. This is the lesson that we should heed as we strive to achieve lasting peace and reconciliation in our island emerging from a 30-year conflict and now, a political conflict.

Now is the time for all peoples and forces to come together, putting aside the unfortunate events of last week and yes, last decades. Vesak gives us an ideal opportunity to do so. Vesak is primarily a Buddhist celebration, but in our multi-ethnic, multi-religious milieu it has become a truly national event. Non-Buddhists actively participate in and organise many Vesak events such as pandals and dansals. Religious coexistence is as important as ethnic harmony and they are often intertwined. Vesak, just like the Sinhala and Tamil New Year celebrated last month, is an event which strengthens the bonds among various communities.

The world has moved on since the days of the Buddha more than 2,600 years ago. We see much material development – from skyscrapers to airplanes, there are thousands of things that did not exist at the time the Buddha lived in India. But have we developed spiritually? That is the question we have to ponder on, this Vesak. The Buddha too asked the same question all those years ago and discovered that the route to emancipation lay through the Four Noble Truths and the Eight-Fold Path. His solution was simple – end the Circle of Suffering through the Samsara to seek emancipation.

We are all mortal beings and it is not quite possible to give up all attachments of life. The key to understanding the Buddha's philosophy is realizing the virtue of getting away from Lobha (Greed), Dosha (Hatred) and Moha (Delusion). These are the evils that keep us in the Samsaric journey. This may seem difficult, but why not strictly adhere at least to the basic Pancha Seela (Five Precepts) at first? This will make a difference to our lives and moral values will emerge naturally.

Hence, on this Vesak Day, we should focus on acquiring more merit instead of material goods. We cannot take any material things to the grave – rather, only the good that we have done will follow us through the Samsaric journey. But this does not mean that we should think about death and not enjoy life. In fact, the Singalovada Sutta contains advice to lay persons on how they should conduct themselves in life. The crux of the Buddha’s advice is that we should always follow a middle path in every aspect of life. To give just one example from real life, one should not eat like a glutton, but should not also eat very little. The correct amount is somewhere in-between. This example is applicable to every other thing we do.

Unfortunately, most Buddhists have been veering away from the words of the Buddha. One of the main reasons for the rise of vice in our society is the huge gulf between religion and individuals. The temple used to be the focal point of the village – it should once again be. There are many values that our society has lost sight of in the relentless pursuit of material wealth. This is not surprising in a highly commercialised world, where money is generally regarded as the only thing worth striving for.

In fact, the Vesak festival itself is commercialized to such an extent that many have forgotten its very purpose and foundation. We see the glitter and glamour in the illuminations and the pandals but fail to turn the light inwards to our inner selves with a view to purifying our thoughts, words and deeds. Devotees should be more focused on spiritual offerings. We should indeed see beyond the decorations and strive to understand the Buddha Dhamma and how it relates to our day-to-day lives. This Vesak, all Buddhists must be determined to engage in more meritorious acts. It is the only path to true salvation.

“To avoid all evil, to cultivate good, and to cleanse one's mind — this is the teaching of the Buddhas.”

(Buddhavagga, Dhammapada)

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