Guidance through example rather than by precept is the key
By Lalith Dhammika Mendis
The most significant aspect of Vesak, the Thrice Blessed Day is the enlightenment achieved by the ascetic Siddhartha who reached the pinnacle of spiritual advancement by attaining Buddhahood that is the highest possible advancement a human being could achieve. It signifies the eradication of all defilements that bind living beings to the eternal rounds of rebirth and perpetual wandering in a cycle called Samsara.
Vesak has undoubtedly become one of the most looked forward to religious events in the calendar. It is marked by large scale religious programmes taking place in every temple throughout the country and people engaging in religious ceremonies and events, displaying brightly-lit pandals, spectacular illuminations, lanterns, and stage dramas. Dansal offering food as well as refreshments to the thousands of sightseers thronging public places, streets and cities to celebrate the most sacred day are also common features on Vesak day.
On Vesak Day, scores of people worship and offer flowers and incense and light coconut oil lamps at Buddhist shrines in veneration of the Buddha. Sil is also observed by the young and old.
Whilst the overwhelming zeal demonstrated by Buddhists in marking Vesak the Thrice Blessed Day is attributable to their unyielding faith in the Enlightened One and his teachings, it is pertinent to examine if people really understand the the true significance of Vesak, that entails in the edification and the enrichment of their their lives spiritually following the footsteps of the Buddha.
Are people carrying labels keenly immersing themselves in marking Vesak are failing to see the forest? Are they being led astray from the Noble Path of the Enlightened One to get lost in the wilderness of Samsara?
Today, the overpowering influence of commercialism and rapidly spreading consumerism of profit-seeking commercial and industrial mega business empires have engulfed society. Money, extravagantly dished out, has resulted in every form of the media to be at the beck and call of commercial fat cats that exploit the media to further their commercial interests to attract people to heaps of worthless balderdash in the name of Vesak.
An unwavering commitment to unearth the cause of existence of every living being through innumerable lifecycles culminated in the Prince Siddhartha, realising the ‘Truth’ many centuries ago on a full moon day. It also featured the relinquishment of ‘Mara’ the personification of all forms of evil and temptations; greed, hatred and delusion.
Vesak offers every Buddhist a fitting opportunity to engage in selfless, analytical and objective introspection into their inner souls while steadfastly following the footsteps of the Buddha to correct their failings and defilements that cause suffering and pain.
Sadly, society is fragmented, and many are unable to see there are many negatives hovering around them. Consequently, they unwisely fall to the attraction of harmful and ingenious machinations to drive wedges among people of different ethnic groups that have their own religions and values. This country in consequence is bogged down in a turmoil that bears political, economical, social, religious and cultural undertones. Today’s friend may well turn out to be tomorrow’s foe. People’s behaviour is driven by the dictates of monetary as well as other forms of gains in the pursuit of self-aggrandisation and self fulfillment by hook or by crook rather than through wisdom, finesse, decorum, discernment and judicious reasoning.
The Buddha exemplified that example is more noble than precept and practised what he preached and preached what he practised. The Buddha brought about a social revolution by practising equality. He treated both King Bimbisara as well as Sopaka the destitute child from a low-caste family who was left in the lurch alike, demonstrating compassion, kindness and impartiality irrespective of who they were or from what backgrounds they were from. King Bimbisara contributed greatly to integrate and unify the then society that had been plagued by deep-seated social issues and prejudices, discrimination, and racism, that had divided his people.
The Maha Sangha as disciples of the Buddha have a sacred duty to guide society down a path of righteous conduct adhering to the principles of moral behavour enunciated in Buddhist teachings. In their quest for social equality, fairness and justice, the Maha Sangha cannot be divided either as evident in the conduct of some segments in saffron robes, who seem to be taking great pains to promote preferred ideologies as well as social and political agendas.
The role of the Maha Sangha should not be designed to further the interests of the laity irrespective of whatever the cause being espoused and the social status of the personalities involved, because most goals are tainted with duplicity, guile, malevolence and self-seeking, schemes rather than for the common good.
In order to usher in an era of socio-economic development and shared prosperity in an atmosphere of cohesion and harmony, it is necessary to bring about changes in attitude and the cultivation of human values and virtues that are under serious threat today. The Maha Sanga has a clear role role to play by following the hallowed tenets of Buddhist discourses.
We of a lay society, are concerned about the social and spiritual degeneration observed today and we appeal to the Maha Sangha to shelve their differences of opinions, viewpoints or approaches and come together for the sake of the people in one single voice.
There cannot be a better occasion for them than the Thrice Blessed Day to make a resolution to act in unison and convey the true message of Vesak.