by Ven. Prof. B. Wimalaratana, Department of Pali and Buddhist Studies, Sri Jayawardhanapura University, Sri Lanka.
This article is reproduced from BUDDHISM, SOCIETY AND ENVIRONMENT written by Ven. Dr. B. Wimalaratana
The Vesak Full-Moon-Day is a very important day for Buddhists. Vesak is a day of three-fold significance. In other words three important incidents took place on this day. They were the birth of Prince Siddhartha, His enlightenment in his 35th year and His passing away in His 80th year. Should we confine Vesak celebrations to their commemorative function? It is traditional to commemorate the significant past. But if it is merely a celebration, a commemoration then it is of no significance at all, although it is customary to do so.
We must take it for granted that Vesak day should be devoted to religious contemplation on ourselves. We have to peep into yesterday and check the sort of lives we have spent, whether wholesome or unwholesome. Then, we can adjust ourselves for to-day and tomorrow. The Buddha's main aim was to make people enlightened, in finding their own way, in terms of refraining from evil, doing good and purifying the mind. His whole mission through his 45 years of service was totally devoted to this purpose. It is the foremost duty of the followers of the Buddha to enrich themselves with the prime factors explained in Buddha's teachings.
According to Buddhism, all unenlightened individuals are garbed with illusion, hatred and desire. It is very difficult to get rid of these evils. As explained in the Dhamma it is possible to overcome defilement only at the moment of the attainment of Nibbana, the ultimate goal. But nevertheless we have to be very persistent in trying to do away with them.
The main purpose should be to achieve the perfect understanding of the actual facts, in which none of us is very accurate. We understand that Buddha's teaching according to the capacity of understanding of each individual. We cannot completely rely on our own knowledge as it is sometimes inadequate to understand the true form of existence. Among us there are many who are very pertinacious though they do not know that they are wrong. This feature is not characteristic only of the present but also of the past: there were many superstitious minds, and those who claimed that they were perfect.
The Buddha's teachings are in a way a review of that sort of view point.
There are many religions in the world and the ways of relief from dissatisfaction showed in them are different from each other. It should be the main concern of the person in search of the truth to investigate and to grasp which is more appropriate.
The Vedic religion in the 15th century B.C. said that Sun, Thunder and Lightning must be revered for the benefit of man.
Zoroaster says that the Creator Ahuramazatha should be worshipped and the purity of mind, word and action is essential in order to be released from suffering.
Sankhya philosophy says that the realization of 25 factors is the only way to Nibbana.
Jaina philosophy says that the objective realization of life (soul) and non-life is the exact way to release.
In Christianity, belief, hope, acceptance and sacrament towards Father, Son and Spirit are essential for the release.
Charvaka philosophy says that there is no other world beyond, therefore we must eat, drink and enjoy the sensual pleasures until we die. It says that the world is nothing but the four great elements: solidity, liquidity, heat and motion.
The Buddha's path was basically different from those of other philosophers and spiritual leaders. He founded his teachings based on all-pervading truth. Why does man need a religion at all? It is a very fundamental question. One needs a religion when one realizes that the world is full of misery, jealousy, conceit, restlessness etc. These monsters hinder the progress of man, and inborn happiness, and destroy the freedom of mind.
When one has realized the presence of these unhealthy factors then one must have a way of counteracting them. It is rather difficult to make this point clear that the world is suffering. Many of us tend to think when we are physically healthy and endowed with wealth that we are all right and do not even think that there is suffering. The reason for this is the misunderstanding of suffering. We are so attached to the secular life and misled by its temporary comforts. Since we are involved in entertaining ourselves we do not explicitly see the real nature of ourselves and the world around.
It is logically agreeable to admit if there is suffering, there should be a release of suffering. The Buddha justifies his arguments the pointing out that there is a cause for every result. The world is nothing but relative process between cause and effect.
When one is mortally shot by an arrow it is not necessary to find out whether it is shot from the East or West, who the parents of the person who shot the arrow are etc.. There should be immediate treatment for the wound. The Buddha's teaching is like an immediate remedy. He never tried to solve the unanswerable questions such as the beginning and end of the world etc.
This reveals an interesting fact: that the Buddha's teachings are the direct way to the perfect understading of nature, instead of complicating one's mind.
The insects such as ants, beetles etc. become a prey to lizards; lizards become a prey to snakes; snakes to the pigs; pigs to man; man to tigers, wolves etc.; sometimes man is defeated by another man. One nation will successfully attack another and keep the whole nation under their control, and conversely the defeated nation may counteract and enjoy the victory. This is a never ending struggle. That is why the Buddha said: "When sense impressions cease the chains snap. Illusion disappears when comprehension brings release. But those who cling to 'views' and things of sense spread discord all around'. (Suttanipatha)
We all have sense impressions. We perceive the corresponding objects of our sense organs. It is very natural for individuals to grasp what they perceive firmly. Grasping creates immeasurable troubles because we gradually become attached to what we perceive. We enjoy them. We do not want to depart from them. So we are linked with many observable and perceptual things and consequently bound to pleasurable things. Our ties are so strong that we fail to untie them. Our framework is so limited as we don't see beyond this. If one is courageous enough to look at objects factually and to do away with sense impressions, then one will definitely untie the ties.
As mentioned earlier, illusion has covered our observability and hence look at things in different angles and see them accordingly in different shapes. Wisdom, or put differently the comprehension that reveals the actual nature of things, brings release: the illusion disappears.
As we cling to views and things of sense our bonds become more firm; the more they are firm the more there arises conflict. When there is conflict the world that is the individual is of a discordant nature, which leads him to be impure internally as well as externally.
Therefore it is our duty to try to attempt to understand the real nature of ourselves and the world around us. We may fail in our first attempt but there is no reason to feel disheartened. We have to try again and again until we are directed to the correct path led by in-born guidance, because Buddha said when you do something wholesome do it over and over again.
Hence the main purpose of celebrating Vesak should be the clearance of the way to achieve perfect understanding. The Buddha's life was full of examples for ordinary society. If we try to emulate the Buddha by following this path promulgated by him to the best of our ability, it will be the greatest honour, respect and celebration one could ever do.
05 May 1997