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  The contribution of Buddhism towards global peace

Speech made in Balgalore, India recently commemorating Buddha Poornima Festival

June 2, 2006

By Bradman Weerakoon

I am conscious of the unique privilege and blessing I have this Vesak Full moon evening - the Buddha Poornima - of addressing you, Brothers and Sisters in the divine presence of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba whom we all follow - the living-Avatar.

Tonight in our country - Sri Lanka and in many lands where Buddhism is practiced, in the homes of millions of our people and in the public streets through the lighting of countless lamps, elaborately sculpted decorative lanterns, the erection of colourful 'pandals' illustrating important events in Lord Buddha's life, and through the offering of 'dana' of food and drink in wayside dansalas and by a multitude of pilgrims and devotees in pure white dress thronging the temples, VESAK Day 2006, the 2550 anniversary of the Birth, the Enlightenment and the Passing away of the Blessed One is being symbolized, commemorated and celebrated with great joy and devotion by our people.

Momentarily at least, we hope the guns and bombs which disturb our joy and peaceful contemplations, will be silent. This drama, which is being today played out so poignantly in Sri Lanka - of a people grappling simultaneously with the profound paradoxes of war and peace (of conflict and harmonious living) is not only of concern to our country. It is a common challenge of all humanity.

My purpose in touching on the dilemmas which we have faced and continue to face in Sri Lanka in reaching a durable, just and honourable peace is to provide a platform for reflecting on the immense potential and contribution that Buddhism and today, the teachings of the Bhagawan which so frilly encompasses that message, can make to global Peace.

I think we could all agree that the concept of global peace must include not only peace in the world but peace and contentment within each nation, each community, each family and indeed in each individual. It is the unique contention of Buddhism and emphasized in the cultures of particularly the Asian countries that inner peace - the spiritual advancement which gives a person freedom from greed (Iobha), hatred (dwesha) and delusion (maya) - is an absolutely necessary condition to begin to think about the welfare of others with empathy, in a spirit of brotherhood and in tranquility. Indeed this tenet of Buddhism, and expressed eloquently in so many of Swami's sayings, have been explicitly captured in the First Article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which starts off.

"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act with one another in a spirit of brotherhood"In this great land of India - 'Dambadiva to our countless pilgrims' - where the Buddha walked and preached, and to Sri Lankans their spiritual home, the epic story of the Emperor Asoka converting to the Dharma and to becoming Dharmasoka - the prince of peace - after experiencing the carnage and suffering of the Kalinga war is a supreme example of how a truly enlightened individual, especially a leader of a country can influence the choices between peace and war.

In the modem age this choice can be a crucially difficult task because conflicts arise not so much between nation states as within the boundaries of one state. Such armed conflicts between those who are virtually brothers and sisters sharing the same land, resources and culture introduce complex dynamics different from those that arise in the traditional wars between States.Today reportedly there are 60 countries in which internal conflicts keep burning at differing levels of intensity. Dealing with such conflicts which have sometimes caused great loss of life and suffering requires great patience, personal courage and commitment. Fortunately we have several good examples of such leadership in several of the countries represented here - Indonesia, Thailand and Sri Lanka in recent times and from elsewhere around the world. Once again we find in the Buddha's words, and in Swami's sayings, the profound thought that 'war begins in the heart of man but that only in the mind of man can the defences of peace be built'. A concept being reflected lucidly in the preamble of the Charter of the United Nations.

Allow me to repeat at this point a small but well known event from our nations history that illustrates the important contribution that Buddhism can make to building peace in our time. It was 1951 and the occasion was the signing of the Peace Treaty with Japan in San Francisco at the end of the terribly destructive Second World War. Reparations or compensation for the damage caused by Japan during its aggression in Asia which included Sri Lanka - then Ceylon - was the subject. The victor nations were for imposing the most onerous terms on Japan then desperately poor and reeling from the effects of the war and the atom bombs. The young Finance Minister from Ceylon, - the Honourable JR Jayewardene, later the country's President for many years, electrified the gathering with his quotation from the Dhammapada pleading for compassion in the treatment of the defeated country.

"Hatred ceases not by Hatred but by Love" was his plea.

His words received sympathetic consideration and Japan was relieved of crippling and humiliating impositions. The action validated another Truth embodied in the Dhammapada, that without compassion

"Victory breeds hatred and the defeated live in pain."

Japan has never forgotten the compassion Karuna- extended to it by Sri Lanka over 50 years ago. Japan remains to this day our helpful friend.

The modem age we live in promises to be the most complex and difficult, and also the most exciting, millennium in human history. The unparalleled advance of science and technology has given mankind the power to either destroy itself or make our world a veritable heaven of plenty and contentment, peace and harmony where all the world's people can become, as we are here, truly brothers and sisters.

The Buddha's Doctrine of compassion and Love - Metta (Loving Kindness) and Karuna (Compassionate Action) has a refreshing validity and relevance to today's world. The Buddha's concept of Metta -LOVE, like that of the Bhagawan, is universal and all encompassing. It includes every living thing; not only ones family, or race, or caste, or religion but everything that is sentient, including the animal world. It is founded on the principle of non violence - ahimsa movingly and tellingly employed by modem India's greatest sons - Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru in the march to freedom and beyond.

However as the Buddha and the Bhagawan have shown sustainable peace in justice and dignity cannot be realized especially where there have been the seeds of earlier conflict, without alleviating the causes of the conflict. Buddhism advocates the method of negotiation, as the Buddha personally did in settling the dispute between the waning Lichchavi princelings. The Buddha advocated that the parties to the dispute;

"Meet in amity, work in harmony and depart in peace"

Procedures of negotiation that embody the principles of equality, tolerance of dissent, and freedom of thought, - the fundamental human rights of today - which have been adopted by the Council of Europe as the foundation for its democratic functioning. It is recorded in the Mahavamsa the historical chronicle of our island that this negotiating process was practiced by the Buddha during his third visit to Lanka to similarly settle a long standing dispute between the warring tribes in the north of the country in Nagadipa.

The heart of negotiation is the mutual understanding of the problem as perceived by the other. According to the Buddha there is no problem however complicated that cannot be resolved with Right Understanding and Right Effort. Every problem it is said, contains within itself the means for its own resolution.

The point I wish to make here is that the road to Peace, as expressed in Buddhism needs to have two pathways. The first is the cultivation of the right mental attitudes. The second is the resolution through right effort of the underlying material conditions which gave rise to conflict; whether of poverty, or under-development or alienation or exclusion. Improving the human condition so that the poor and the deprived in our societies are provided with the basic necessities of life - like food, drinking water, health facilities and education of the children, which the Bhagawan has engaged in so resolutely, is in total fulfillment of this second pathway, so complementary and so essential to building, sustaining and strengthening global peace.

Among the many divine qualities of the Bhagawan is the extraordinary ability he possesses of expressing the most profound thoughts in the simplest and clearest of language. Nothing can express more directly and lucidly the points I have laboured to make above than the eight words below which represent His universal agenda for Peace and Right Conduct.

[Speech made in Balgalore, India recently commemorating Buddha Poornima Festival]

Source: http://tamilweek.com/news-features/archives/403


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