BUDDHISM IN PERIL
E. Rohan Amerasekera
All quotations are from "Some Sayings of the Buddha" translated by
BUDDHISM IN PERIL
THE GOOD NORM WILL NOT ENDURE
Explaining his attainment of Nibbana, the Buddha said:
"This Reality, (The Truth) that I have reached is profound, hard to see,
hard to understand, excellent, pre-eminent, beyond the sphere of thinking,
subtle and to be penetrated by the wise alone."
"Verily, if I were to teach them the Truth, this Reality others would not
understand, and that would be labour in vain for me, vexatious would it be
Brahma Sahampati, however, begged of him to preach for the sake of the few
whose sight is "little clouded with dust." This the Good Lord did but he did
not expect his teachings to endure, for when asked:
"What Lord, is the reason, what is the cause why, when the Tathagatha has
finally passed away, the good Norm lasts not for long?"
The Exalted One replied:
"With regard to this, Kimbila, when the Tathagatha has finally passed away,
the brethren, the sisters, the lay-brethren and lay-sisters dwell regardless
of the Master and disobedient to him, regardless of the Norm do they dwell
and disobedient to the Norm, regardless of the Order do they dwell and
disobedient to the Order: they dwell regardless of the Training and pay no
attention to it, and so also with regard to concentration of mind,
earnestness and friendly feeling. That brethren is the reason, that is the
cause why, after the final passing away of the Tathagatha the Good Norm does
not last for long."
2500 years after the Buddha, we not only quibble over words and phrases of
the Great Teacher but also about the very aim of his teaching. We are
unable or unwilling to live a good life, so we quibble. Those that are lazy
argue that our aim in life is to renounce life. They say that work and
happiness are things of the world and should be renounced. This way they
avoid work as well as good deeds. Others say that Desire is the cause of
suffering and its elimination is our aim in life. There is great confusion
in this way of thinking. The means and the end are all mixed up. Let us
sort these out and examine them.
Not all desires are bad. There are bad desires and good desires. While bad
desires bring unhappiness, good desires have the opposite effect. A good
desire or the very thought of doing good brings happiness. The result of a
good desire to do charity, for instance, benefits he that gives and be that
receives. Such kind thoughts and deeds improve vibrations. Good vibrations
open the doors to knowledge. The goodwill and happiness produced by good
desires spread beyond our immediate environment and often beyond national
boundaries to enrich the whole world. An evil desire has the opposite
There is good and bad in all of us. The difference is the degree, the
proportion in which these qualities are displayed in each. The layman's aim
should be to hold the bad in check, to control and, if possible, suppress
it. His aim is to activate the good in him, to encourage to bring out all
that is best. The aim in life is not to destroy, nor yet to abandon life
but live to conquer evil and give expression to the good, live to understand
the good and the bad in others and through understanding to help others both
materially and spiritually. The good, the life of usefulness must be
encouraged. The bad, the selfish life needs change.
We aim to end suffering and promote happiness. Believing that possessions
cause suffering many give up their wealth, their kith and kin and one
misguided man even gave up his clothes. This sort of thing and toying with
words will not remove suffering. To remove suffering we must know its
cause. The cause of bad desire is greed and grasping, the cause of greed
and grasping is ignorance. Hence, the removal of ignorance ends suffering
and the conquering of desires is only a means to that end.
The Buddha did not withdraw from the world. He did not lead a negative
life. He did not try to destroy happiness. He endeavoured to make others
happy and that made him the Happy One. The Holy Life is different to the
Lazy Life. The Buddha did not expect others to understand everything, but
surely, it is not too difficult to understand that the aim in life is not to
shun it but to live in a way that can make others happy. Kindness,
consideration, compassion or any action that can bring a smile or a glimmer
of happiness to another is a step towards the Path to Nirvana; Negative
living or actions causing pain or suffering lead the Other way.
The first missionaries were sent out by the Exalted One with this Great
Message "Go ye forth, brethren, on Your journey, for the benefit of the
many, for the bliss of the many, out of compassion for the world, for the
welfare, the profit, the bliss of devas and mankind."
No person who has renounced the world and is struggling only for his own
salvation and selfish good can do anything for the profit of the many, for
the welfare and bliss of mankind. We see poverty all around us, we see
suffering, we see young and old alike in need of assistance but those of the
new religion, the religion of the easy way of life have no time for them.
There are now but a handful of devoted followers. The saffron robe is
donned by many for prestige and personal gain. The craving to noticed, to
be 'honoured' has taken the place of humility associated with the robe of
rags and the begging bowl.
Once, when he was staying at Simsapa Grove, the Buddha took up a handful of
Simsapa leaves and said:
"Now what think ye, brethren, which are more, these few Simsapa leaves that
I hold in my hand, or those that are in the Simsapa Grove above?"
"Few in number, Lord, are those Simsapa leaves that are in the hand of the
Exalted One: far more in number are those in the Simsapa Grove above."
"Just so, brethren, those things that I know by my super knowledge but have
not revealed, are greater by far in number than those things that I have
What little the Buddha taught is too difficult for the few whose sight "is
little clouded with dust", and much worse for those who do not wish to see.
The Buddha's teachings was too deep even for the Holy Men who went forth as
wanderers; the Holy Men who replaced their vanity with the robe of rags and
the begging bowl. His advice was for the wanderer who voluntarily sought
the holy life. The rigid Norm Discipline he taught was for the few. He did
not ask or expect others to renounce the world. When the wanderer, the
volunteer for the Holy Life, the highest evolved finds his great teaching so
hard to understand, and the life so difficult to lead, it is foolish and
indeed wrong to expect laymen to renounce the world. To be practical we
must accept that there are those who wish to lead the Holy Life and there
are others who desire a lay life. Both these together with the various
shades in between must exist side by side and all must continue to work as a
part and parcel of an evolving world.
"The half of the Holy Life, Lord, it is the friendship with what is lovely,
association with what is lovely, intimacy with what is lovely" said Ananda.
"Say not so, Ananda, say not so, Ananda. It is the whole, not the half of
the holy life. Of a brother so blessed with fellowship with what is lovely
we may expect this that he will develop the Ariyan Eightfold Path, that he
will make much of the Ariyan Eightfold Path."
No great religious leader lived away from the life of the world. The life
of each and every one of them was brim full of activity, full of
consideration and compassion. They lived in the world, with the good and
bad in it, up to the moment of death. They lived to make others happy.
We are all born into the world to remove ignorance, to gain knowledge; the
attempt to get away from it all is a religious practice of an ignorant mind.
Attempts to withdraw from the problems of the earth offer only temporary
solutions and are similar to men that resort to drink to forget troubles or
take to dope in search of a temporary haven. Self-deception is useless. If
we live in a rotting environment we cannot escape the stench. While there
is misery, while there is suffering in the world it is foolish to be ostrich
wise. He who works to make the world a better place to live, will gradually
clear the air in the rotting environment and make the place wholesome. He
will eventually cleanse and purify the world that all may live happily.
The Buddha asked us to avoid the extremes of devotion to the pleasures of
the sense as well as devotion to self-mortification. This is the Middle
Path. This is not renunciation but the path that leads to a good and useful
life. Let us then lead a Positive Life with it Positive Aim. Our aim is not
renunciation or resistance to the need to work. Evolution does not lead to
nothing. Nibbana is not nothingness. We have it positive aim. Our positive
aim is to end suffering.
RELICS AND SYMBOLS
"Verily, if I were to teach them the Truth, this Reality, others would not
understand, and that would be labour in vain for me, vexatious would it be
Relics and symbols soon began to take the place of the Noble Eightfold Path.
The Buddha placed no importance on relics or symbols. Non-attachment
could not possibly have been attachment to a body or a symbol. He did
anticipate that people will come on pilgrimage to his place of birth, place
of Enlightenment and place of death. He expected these places to be looked
upon with emotion but he did not expect them to take the place of the Norm.
He did not or could not have wished his followers to change these
non-permanent and things of temporary value into objects of veneration. He
certainly could never have wished his Great Message to take second place to
these objects. Yet, this is what happens in the minds of those that profess
to follow him and call themselves Buddhists.
The following extract is worth noting. When an admirer said:
"For a long time, Lord, I have been longing to set eyes on the Exalted One."
The Master chided him saying:
"Hush, Vakkali, what is there in seeing this vile body of mine." Today, not
only parts of the same body but relics of disciples are given greater
veneration than the Noble Eightfold Path.
If stone worship helps a man to act correctly for even one hour encourage
it. For him it will do more than Philosophy in which we dissipate our
energies in talk and more talk. Let the man keep his stone, tree or other
object if that is what he needs in his present stage of development. If
objects are used as aids to concentration, keep them also. However, let us
not place the veneration of objects before the Noble Eightfold Path.
If these objects help those that are backward to evolve a little, to inch
forward a little towards the Path to
Enlightenment, encourage it. If it helps a more advanced subject to
concentrate and meditate, encourage it. Regard them as being there to help
man. Just as the Buddha used the shelter offered by the Bo tree to attain
Enlightenment, do use any object you like for your betterment.
The Exalted One learned the Truth under a Bo tree. Out of this knowledge he
gave us the Noble Eightfold Path. Today, not that Bo tree but any Bo tree,
any wild sapling gets more reverence than the Noble Eightfold Path. What is
more, this practice is seen not only amongst the undeveloped but also
intensively in those who claim to be guardians of Buddhism. Veneration for
the tree, the relic, or statue has taken such a hold on Ceylon that they
threaten the very existence of man. There are wild Bo trees everywhere and
they propagate profusely. Almost every garden, road, house, roof and wall in
Ceylon now has a Bo tree, a wild Bo tree and no one will uproot it. In fact,
more and more are being introduced by people who practice religion with
their minds. These earth bound creatures only deceive themselves. They
will certainly not attain Enlightenment this way but, on the contrary, if
this veneration of wild Bo trees is not brought to a halt, every roof, wall
and house, will soon be damaged and man in his folly will live in jungles
Leave the tree and other objects to the spiritually backward, for the Buddha
"Yet not thus is the Tathagatha truly honoured, revered, respected,
worshipped, and deferred to. Whatsoever, Ananda, be he brother or sister,
or lay-brother or lay-sister, whosoever dwells in the fulfillment of the
Norm, both in its greater and its lesser duties - whosoever walks uprightly
in accordance with the Norm - he is it that truly honours, reveres,
respects, worships and defers to the Tathagatha in the perfection of
Even the wearing of torn clothes and begging for food are often not signs of
humility and the placing of first things first through knowledge but a mere
symbol of a faith, the mere outward show. The Path to Knowledge is
overgrown with off shoots of ignorance. Arrogance and self-importance have
covered the Path to Knowledge. The temporary nature of possessions and
position are forgotten. Consideration and compassion are no more. Pride
and prejudice have taken their place.
Wearing of patched clothes given by others is continued just as the practice
of eating food others give but the humility has gone out of that practice
and a strange pride has taken its place. Only a few, a handful of those who
profess to spread his teachings, are humble. Only a few can say that they
are not attached to wealth, position and power. In fact, most people art
obsessed by power and will do all they can to surround themselves with it.
They will do all they can to increase their wealth and possessions, to
enhance their positions and power. Instead of helping the poor and
misguided they are made use of to create for themselves a position of
The compassion, the feeling for others have left us. Attendance on the
sick, the care of the helpless are no longer regarded as sacred duties. In
the midst of all the pomp, ceremony and genuflection many do not find the
time to remember that we are expected to live for the bliss of the many, for
the welfare of mankind. We have so forgotten His Teaching that communal and
religious strife and corruption have given way to peace, happiness and
glory. The robe of rags and the begging bowl are now mere symbols and not
signs of humility. Respect for the Good Life has given way to respect and
worship of the Saffron robe. The worship of symbols has become more
important than the need for good and pure living. It is the symbol, the
robe that is respected now and not the man. The man himself not only
expects respect by virtue of the robe he wears but demands it as a right.
In this era of outward appearance, era of show without, meaning, force and
compulsion have taken the place of example. The correct leadership, the
correct example from the Holy Men can make bad change for the better but
compulsion can achieve nothing. Talk without example is useless. It is the
good example set by those that live a simple, honest life, that will change
the bad and make the good better. It is not the clothes we wear nor
positions and possessions that attract respect. True respect is not that
which can be bought, but that which flows freely from the heart. A simple
person, honest, sincere and true in thought and action will invite more
respect than any other. Thousands will pay homage to such good people.
When such a person is in a temple crowds will flock to see and hear him,
however distant and difficult the way to that temple may be.
The Venerable Ananda said:
"Wonderful Lord! Marvellous Lord! How deep is the causal law, and how deep
it seems! and yet, do I regard it as quite plain to understand!"
"Say not so, Ananda, say not so. Deep indeed is the Causal Law, and deep it
appears to be. It is by not knowing, by not understanding, by not
penetrating this doctrine, that this world of men has become entangled like
a ball of twine, become covered with mildew, become like munja grass and
rushes, and unable to pass beyond the doom of Waste, and Way of Woe, the
Fall, and the Ceaseless Round of (Rebirth)."
Our minds, for selfish gain, corrupt religion and misconstrue every saying
of every Teacher. The voices of suffering hearts crying for compassion fall
on deaf ears. "Love thy neighbour as thyself" is taken at best to mean do
no harm to your neighbour. Let us post the question: Who is my brother? Is
he my brother in a past birth, my brother in this birth, or he that will be
my brother in the next or any future birth. Is there anyone in the whole
world who has not at some time been my brother? In Karma we cannot choose
our birth, family, race, country or position which select themselves
automatically according to our past actions. Every birth is a lesson.
Therefore, every being according to the needs of that lesson will be a
potential mother, father, brother, sister, wife, son, daughter, or other
relation. In this way you will some day be born in the same conditions as
your neighbour. If your neighbour and his family are in a bad plight, in
your own interest, lift them up if you wish to avoid a similar plight in a
future birth. This is the way to happiness. Compassion and consideration
for all is the way to lasting happiness. True happiness can only be found in
a world without sorrow.
THE EIGHTFOLD PATH
Right View, Right Aim, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Living, Right
Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Contemplation. This is the Path. This is
the Path to Enlightenment. Search your hearts laymen and priest alike. Can
we honestly say that this is our religion? Surely, we cannot say that we
follow the Eightfold Path. We cannot say that even one out of those that
make the loudest noises practice Buddhism. These are, in fact, enemies of
One of the Five Lower Fetters or obstructions on the layman's path to
Knowledge is "the moral taint of dependence on rite and ritual." Today,
rite and ritual receive more respect than the Eightfold Path. The saffron
robe receives more respect than the man that wears it, the relics are
respected more than the Buddha. The Bo tree more than the Dhamma. Alas!
The good Norm cannot last long. Unless the few whose sight is little
clouded with dust activate themselves the Good Norm will be no more: unless
Holy Men can cleanse the Sangha, from within, the Dhamma will perish. In
this country goodness is a casualty. Unless the Sangha sets the good
example, that laymen can follow, goodness will surely die. Buddhism is in
"Just so, brethren, the mighty ocean hath no part nor lot with a dead body,
for whatsoever dead body is put into the mighty ocean, straightaway it
washes it ashore and throws it up on dry land. Even so, brethren, whatsoever
person there be of evil conduct, or wicked nature, an impure and suspicious
liver, one who is unchaste though claiming to be chaste, one inwardly foul,
fall of lusts, a sink of filth, with such a one the Order of Brethren hath
no part nor lot, but straightaway, on meeting with him rejects him. Though
seated amid the Order of Brethren yet far is he from the Order, and far is
the Order from that person. In as much, then, as such a person is rejected
-this is the third marvel and wonder of this Norm discipline seeing which
again and again brethren take delight therein" said the Exalted One. So be