With more pageantry than in previous years, pandals and lanterns, dansal and devotions, Sri Lanka is celebrating Vesak marking the birth, death and enlightenment of The Buddha.
The outward show or spectacle, if carried to extreme levels, might result in excessive commercialization which for instance has resulted in the distortion of the inner spirit of festivals such as Christmas.
The Buddha Damma, is essentially an inner journey and the gradual evolution or enlightenment of the mind, and this leads to a change of heart, character and nature, with the fruit of it being compassion to all beings and the liberation from the cycle of birth.
Buddhists especially need to observe “sil” on this thrice-blessed day so that everyone could become part of the solution, instead of being part of the problem, to Sri Lanka’s multitude of crises ranging from rampant crime and corruption to the breakdown of democracy and the rule of law. Instead of the hallowed civilization, culture and high values dating back to more than 2,500 years, we see today widespread abuse of power and the plunder of the people’s resources by the rich and powerful. Vesak needs to be a time to honestly turn the searchlight inward and obtain the enlightenment for a turnaround and transformation.
For political or business leaders and economic planners, Vesak should bring awareness of the need for an equitable distribution of wealth and resources aimed at social justice.
While super-highways and skyscrapers, international airports and ports, or beautifying of the cities are valid or necessary, much more important is the mission of providing the basic needs of millions of people-- needs such as food, shelter and clothing, healthcare and education with job opportunities that bring out the full potential of the people.
Political leaders often boast of making Sri Lanka the miracle or economic hub of Asia while opposition leaders and many independent analysts cynically ask whether Sri Lanka is becoming the kudu or casino hub of Asia.
Bhutan’s Chief Justice Lyonpo Sonam Tobgye, participating in a Buddhist jurisprudence conference held in Colombo over the weekend, stressed that democracy was part of Buddhism. Explaining how his small Buddhist country is evolving into a democratic state after being a Royal dictatorship, he said that if we wish to spread Buddhism worldwide, democratic ideals should go with it.
Therefore it would be more prudent for Sri Lanka’s leaders to aspire to make the country “the Light of Asia”. The illuminations of Vesak will then have lasting value and Sri Lanka will be able to go beyond transient or impermanent materialism and become the Light of Asia.
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