S. Sivaraksa

Religion – Blessing or Curse of Mankind
October 14, 2006, 5:20 pm
Filed under: Buddhism, Engaged Spirituality

It is debatable whether one calls Buddhism religion or not. However as an organized creed practiced by many peoples in Asia and now in the west too, it contributes both a blessing and a curse to mankind.

My late spiritual teacher, Bhikkhu Buddhadasa, whose centenary this year is recognized by UNESCO as a man who contributes so much for peace in the world, has warned his disciples that we should understand the best in Buddhism, that is how to transform greed into generosity, hatred into loving kindness and delusion into wisdom or proper understanding.

He also says that Buddhists must respect other religions – not just tolerance – as much as our own.

People with different religions must collaborate together and with atheists and agnostics too, in order to overcome the new demonic religion of materialism and consumerism i.e. to liberate mankind from greed, hatred and delusion.

The hard core of the Buddha’s teaching is skillful means to reduce selfishness to serve all sentient beings yet all through these years, Buddhism has compromised itself with superstition, nationalism, feudalism, male chauvinism and lately with economism. As an institution Buddhism contributed negatively to mankind too. Baker Roshi will no doubt confirm the information in the book Zen at War that Japanese practitioners of Buddhist meditation used that technique of inner strength to kill the enemy more effectively, even with the loss of their own lives, for the sake of the Emperor and the Empire.

In Sri Lanka , many Sinhala Buddhists are against the Tamil Hindus on the island very violently. Likewise in my own country, quite a number of Thai Buddhists are not at all tolerant towards the Malay Muslims who are also citizens of Siam.

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One could add more curses of mankind committed in the name of Buddhism, although those violent acts come out more from nationalism, economism and the like. The good Buddhists would say that crisis arises from greed, hatred and delusion – the three root causes of suffering. The Buddhist contribution to overcome world crisis is that one should cultivate peace within first.

The Dalai Lama says that world peace will not be possible unless each of us cultivates peace within. Although this is a very difficult task, His Holiness opines that it is the only way.

If we consider this seriously we may have to agree with this simple Buddhist monk who asks all of his followers not to hate the Chinese, despite their ruthless aggression in Tibet and to the Tibetan people.

The Dalai Lama argues that whether one believes in any religion or not is not as essential as the fact that one should learn to be kind, to cultivate loving kindness and compassion to all beings.

The first truth of the Buddhist teaching is the truth of suffering, personally, socially and ecologically. The Buddha recommends that we should confront suffering and be aware of it – not to get away from suffering as the new demonic religion of consumerism and globalization would like us to do.

The second truth is to find out the cause of suffering which links directly or indirectly with greed, hatred and delusion, which is now personified in economism, imperialism and main stream education and the mass media.

The third truth is the cessation of suffering through the fourth truth of the nonviolent way to overcome personal crisis as well as world crisis.

John B, Cobb Jr., a leading American Theologian who started a Buddhist-Christian Theological encounter over two decades ago, stated that Buddhism is perhaps the clearest in identifying TANHA – craving – as the most dangerous cause of crisis. It creates the sense of lack. Globalization and consumerism use this psychological fact to steer people to crave more, especially in materialism, whereas the teaching of the Buddha points the way to tame craving and to overcome it. Yet traditional Buddhists seem to be unable to see the danger of consumerism or neoliberalism. Indeed the Buddhists or anyone interested in contributing to change crisis into opportunity has to understand structural violence which helps the rich and the powerful at the expense of the poor and the environment. Yet the rich are not happy either.

Cobb went on to say that the Bush Administration makes it clear that no country will be allowed to challenge the supremacy of the American Empire, which will dominate the world with the most sophisticated weapons and the mass media. Together with Transnational Corporations the US will push more for a monoculture of Americanization which is called globalization.

Cobb argues that this will be destructive more and more to ecological balance and the poor will suffer beyond imaginable.

Cobb feels that the only way to confront and overcome American imperialism is through spirituality, moral courage and resistance nonviolently. Cobb is sad that most religions institutions compromise the teaching of their founders so much that religions lose its moral courage of speaking truth to powers and fail to show alternative way to the mainstream culture of materialism and consumerism.

Cobb proposes that if religious leaders would allow some members of their institutions or organization, especially the young to use spiritual force, with effective disobedience and non-operative on nonviolently. This may be the way to overcome world crisis, personally, locally and globally.

As a Buddhist I organized an International Network of Engaged Buddhists to confront social suffering with alternative economic, politics and education. We work with Christians and Muslims as well as with those of other living faiths and ideologies. We collaborate with the Royal Bhutan government in proposing Gross National Happiness instead of Gross National Products. We admire the Tibetan Government in exile for their experiment with the essence of Buddhist democracy which the west may need to learn form. We work with the poor of Siam that they are now empowered spiritually and economically to challenge the oppressive system. However we learn not to hate the oppressors, but to overcome the oppressive system. We also work with leading business people and set up Social Venture Network that those engaged in commerce work for their personal spiritual growth as well as for the well being of their employees as well as their clients and the environment, beyond mere profit; compassion becomes more effective them competition.

What I have said briefly is some Buddhist contribution to change the world in crisis to the world of opportunity beyond the American Empire.

Johan Galtung, a Norwegian Buddhist, predicts that American hegemony will end by the year 2020. Whether this prophecy will be true or not is besides the point. If we prepare ourselves with the culture of awakening from hatred, greed and delusion nonviolently and specifically, we can certainly contribute towards blessing for mankind.

Through the Mind and Life Institute, the Dalai Lama has also worked with leading scientists, so that a number of scientists have now become more and more humble and admit that science should go beyond materialism. Buddhism also welcomes scientific approach in helping to strengthen spiritual depth vis-à-vis life and death as well as transcendental wisdom. This is indeed unique for science and religion to collaborate constructively for the benefit of mankind and all sentient beings.


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