By Surya Vishwa/DailyFT
Colombo, May 14: These days we hear often of the word ‘struggle’ better identified as ‘aragalaya’ in Sinhala. It is associated with the external struggle – i.e. one that is associated with external needs and the frustration that corruption or nepotism may have influenced the shortage of these. While a human being needs these basic necessities, one often does not focus on the inner (spiritual/philosophical) need and because of this the inner ‘struggle’ or ‘aragalaya’ is often missed out on.
In commemorating the birth, enlightenment and the passing away of Gautama Buddha, through the Vesak festival, let us therefore remember the wisest teacher of all time who was probably the world’s first psychologist to recognise that if the ‘aragalaya’ within the human mind is quelled, much of society’s ills will be surmounted.
Let us examine how. Today, the world over, allegations of injustice are rife. Let us look at the root cause. The root cause is attachment – attachment not just to something of yours but to something that belongs to another which is how corruption begins. Even the best of us could tend to slip, if we are caught unawares and especially if we are in commanding or powerful positions it is easy for us to get waylaid by wrong actions, if we have not strived to keep to the strictest adherence to the teachings of Buddhism.
Thus someone who has not cultivated a Buddhistic mind i.e. a detached mind, will be forever clinging to the ‘maya’ of this world – i.e. the temporary glory of position, of power and money which lead to delusion (mohaya) which in turn can transform to greed ( thanhawa) which finally can lead to robbing what is not one’s own.
Hence if the ‘aragalaya’ within is achieved by all persons of a nation; i.e. a truly perfected, non-attached awareness, in adherence to duty and service with equanimity, detachment and compassion, then the reformation of a society would begin, commencing with each individual.
Thus, each particular citizen will gain true and lasting happiness, detached from the glory or monetary rewards of his service to society, and benefitting only what is due and thus not indulging in grabbing from another what is not theirs. Needless to say such a society would be one where State money need not be spent on building prisons, or locking up thousands of persons labelled as criminals, where fear and strife would be absent and society would prosper. Health would also improve as people would be devoid of stress, jealousy or anger.
There will not be poverty and everyone will be both spiritually, physically and mentally able. Does such a possibility seem like utopia? It is not because Buddhism is not a utopian myth. Such a mental state was achieved by a human being without divinity and through utmost striving alone.
A society which has addiction to that which is ostentatious and has large gaps between the rich and the poor cannot be able. Although utmost equality is not found even in socialist States, there is however the possibility of equality organically occurring when each takes only what he or she requires.
Thus during this Vesak time we could contemplate on waging the struggle or aragalaya within ourselves so that transformation takes place within each of us. This transformation is a long and possibly tiring journey but especially the Buddhist path tells us that even someone who has done the worst possible crimes can be mentally elevated to realise his mistakes and achieve a new state of being. Angulimala, a brutal slayer of humans, successfully became a follower of the Buddha because he realised the need to wage a struggle within himself.
To a certain level we are all Angulimalas. We are all slaying ourselves and each other in diverse ways because we have not realised that the primary need is to slay the mental defilements that if not quelled could manifest in unwholesome actions and be the ruin of the individual and society.
Thus the aragalaya of the Buddha is the path to true liberation from within the self that influences both actions and outer reactions. Hence in a complete spectrum the influence of these mental states steers actions and continues the cycle through life and beyond life as well as death.
It is a pity that some countries which have inherited the great legacy of Buddhism have deviated from strengthening its true path, due to coming under various influences that have operated itself through colonialism and globalisation.
Meanwhile, there is the debate whether Buddhistic ideals could be achieved outside the realm of culture and religion. The fact remains that a Buddhist ‘culture’ may be required as a route to ensuring the philosophy lasts. Why Buddhism has sustained and spread globally when Jainism had not comparatively, to the same extent, could be because a philosophy does to a large extent need a culture and affiliated rituals, etc. Therefore a pragmatic analysis may tell us that this culture and rituals can be used as a path for the highest possible purification of the mind and the proliferation of this wholesome mental science called Buddhism can occur giving utmost priority to the practice as well as rituals.
For example in Bhutan, a Buddhist country, with many cultural rituals, it is seen that everyone has a smiling face. It is a country that introduced the Gross National Happiness index to the world to change development being only measured in monetary terms.
If inquired into closely one may find out that Bhutanese Buddhistic practices make it mandatory for a child to be trained to think of death at least five times a day. This is to be cultivated as a regular habit and elders are bound by cultural mandate to see to it that children not only learn to meditate daily on death but also refuse any gift several times before it is accepted if forced to do so. It could be said that with the cultivation of these practices comes the awareness of the temporary and fickle nature of life.
Thus, wisdom dawns upon the self that undue attachment to things or craving diverse comforts inordinately is senseless. Senseless because the harder one clutches at these, the harder it will be for a person to free oneself of these clutches at death. And indeed these attachments may seem like a child’s toys for an overgrown youth, when someone realises that death and the karmic journey is a larger reality than one short lifespan.
The above example of Bhutan, a nation which has strong policies in place to ensure that it remains a Buddhist country and guards this identity carefully is important to be emulated for the purpose of enhancing the practice of non-greed, non-violence and empathy where everyone can live equally, without a threat of any sort.
Thus, to ensure the assertion of Sri Lanka as a Buddhist nation (that has a wealth of interlinked traditional and heritage knowledge) and the due protection of all Buddhistic edifices, practices, rituals, etc., is necessitated to ensure that the Buddhist philosophy and spiritual heritage survives along with its authentic practices based on the concept of loving-kindness as preached by the Buddha. This may continue to serve in the long term not only a particular country but the world at large as it has done through hundreds of years.