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Aspiring to be governed by the Buddha Dhamma-EDITORIAL

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In the afterglow of the all-party approval given to the crucial 19th Amendment on Tuesday to lay the foundation for a new era and a new political culture, millions of Buddhists in Sri Lanka and elsewhere will mark the thrice-blessed day of Vesak tomorrow. Vesak this year also comes about two weeks after the people of all races celebrated the National New Year, wishing each other happiness and prosperity. This wish would become a reality only if we lived the message of Vesak not just tomorrow but everyday.

The message of this momentous day marking the birth, enlightenment and parinirvana of Siddartha Gauthama the Buddha is that the authentic way to happiness and wellbeing (dukkha-nirodha) is the liberation from greed (tanha nirodha).  Vesak revolves round a three-dimensional message: First, Prince Siddhartha Gautama was born to discover this eternal truth and thus become the Buddha; second,  he attained nibbana  by practising it; third,   the Buddha departed  after leaving this Teaching (Dhamma) as the moral guide to humankind.  

Hence the question, what is the prosperity that we wished one another on New Year’s Day and how have we sacrificially and sincerely worked for the fulfillment of that wish in the spirit of Vesak?  Is elimination of poverty the dawn of prosperity? There is a confusion here which the Buddha has clarified for both our people and our politicians. If poverty increases, the blame goes to the State, according to the Chakkavatti-sihanada Suttanta; but he never said that the ultimate root cause of social evil is poverty. He maintained, in  the Aganna Sutta,  that the ultimate root-cause of the spread of  poverty is greed. Therefore it is clear that the solution to poverty is not to produce more wealth, because the rich and the powerful often grab that extra wealth to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. The lasting solution to poverty is justice, which President Maithripala Sirisena and the Yahapalanaya government have pledged to restore and consolidate after the enactment of the 19th Amendment which is the beginning of a new chapter in Sri Lanka’s history.

In this new era, our leaders and people need to be aware that unless we are gradually liberated from greed, no package of development projects can bring happiness and well-being. We need to take an example from our small neighbour, the Buddhist majority Bhutan whose Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay visited us on the eve of the National New Year. Bhutan which has committed itself to totally organic agriculture without the use of poisonous agro-chemicals, does not give much priority to GDP or GNP figures but focuses and ranks high in the Gross Domestic Happiness (GDH) index.

We need to be aware that development projects themselves can be an occasion for the greedy to be what the Buddha has referred to as  ‘bahubandika’ or amassers of wealth at the expense of the poor.  The promotion of a life without greed needs a fresh start at each Vesak. It is the duty of all religious leaders, Buddhist and non-Buddhist. Even Hindu spiritual masters advocate greedlessness or vairagya  as liberation. Jesus did not mince his words when he warned against covetousness,  according to Luke’s Gospel. From a theistic point of view, greed is a form of idolatry. For greed creates deities out of frail humans, such as the Hitlers, the Pinoches or Mugabes. Greed creates deities also out of things, such as money, which is the prime dictator in the world today.

Therefore we need to deeply meditate on the way we celebrate Vesak. We agree that Bhakti Gee foster serenity. Jataka stories do have a spiritual value. Pandals and lanterns and Vesak Kalapa do create a festive mood while dansals do provide an occasion for sharing food and drink. Offering flowers and lighting lamps are quite helpful and even necessary to foster devotion to the Buddha. Yet to restrict the celebration of Vesak to such activities, which are  known as amisa-puja,  does not bring us to a life without greed, the centerpiece of Buddhism.

If Sri Lanka is to really become the land favoured by the Buddha our political leaders need to renounce greed for power and wealth and become the humble servants of the people, as President Sirisena repeatedly proclaims. Thoughts and hate speech among races and religions also need to be renounced. So must the delusion created by class and caste consciousness or racial and religious bias. Then Vesak will not be confined to a day or a week but its deep message will become the foundation of a new Sri Lanka.

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