A thought-provoking collection

A fine mix of articles for Vesak reading is once again found in 'Vesak Lipi' published for the 19th successive year. The mix offers a choice to the reader from light articles to fairly heavy material.

The 'Eight Meritorious Acts', for example offers the reader a practical approach to "yield great and substantial merit which enables us to attain the cherished goal of Nirvana". Pannala Sumedha Thera identifies the eight acts and explains them in detail. The eight are offering Kathina Cheevara (robe offered after 'Vas') Astha Pariskara (Atapirikara - the eight objects used by a monk), Avasa Dana (offering a residence), Sanghika Dana (alms to monks), Dhamma dana (publication of the Dhamma), offering of land, Patima Karana (constructing a shrine room for purposes of veneration by devotees) and providing needs for sanitation like building toilets for the Sangha.

This year's 'Vesak Lipi' introduces the reader to Jataka tales - birth stories of the Buddha in His past lives related to the disciples, mostly while residing at Sravasthi (Jetavana monastery). Explaining their significance, the editor says that the noble thoughts chiselled in creating these wonderful stories have for generations been told and retold to inspire the world of man with high ethics, bringing out the Buddhist outlook of dana (giving), compassion and endurance. The Vessantara Jataka and the Kurunga Miga Jataka (about three clever friends) have been included.

Buddhist scholar Raja Kuruppu discusses how to overcome pain in the Buddhist way. He reminds how in Myanmar, a meditation master underwent a hernia operation without an anaesthetic and how meditating monks have their teeth extracted without painkillers. He says that one could have relief from physical pain by engaging in 'anapanasati' - the meditation on in and out breathing which calms the mind.

"Buddhism deals with 'dukkha', the unsatisfactory nature of life. Pain is included under 'dukkha' which is explained as old age, disease, decay, death, suffering, lamentation, pain, grief, not getting what one wants, parting from loved ones and being compelled to associate with the disliked. So pain is part of life. One cannot do away with pain but one could wisely understand pain, accept it as a part of life and fully or partially relieve the pain by wise attention and meditative concentration of the minds", he says.
Among other well thought out articles are 'Thoughts on Nibbana' by Professor P. D. Premasiri, (see box) 'Gods in the life of a Buddhist' by E.M.G. Edirisinghe, 'Hells and Heavens in Buddhism' by A.G.S. Kariyawasam and 'The Validity of the Buddhist approach to reality' by Professor Emeritus Carlo Fonseka.

Editor Upali Salgado profiles 'Admirable Buddhist Women (1910-1950) and includes Helena Wijewardene of Sedawatta, Mrs. Jeremias Dias of Panadura, Mallika Hewavitarana of Matara, Lady Sarah Soysa of Kandy, Lady Evadne de Silva, Mrs. H.M. Gunasekera and Constance Gunasekera of Colombo, and Catherine de Silva from Moratuwa in the list.

Touching on overseas Buddhist activities, Dr. Lorna Dewaraja writes on links between Sri Lanka and Myanmar. There is also mention of the services rendered by Asoka Weeraratne and the German Dharmaduta Society.

The story on the brutal slaughter of cattle with photographs taken on the spot will move the reader. So would Mallika Wanigasundera's 'story of great compassion' relating the efforts by Atambaskada Kalyanatissa Thera in Vavuniya looking after orphaned Tamil children. She also mentions the services rendered by the leading social welfare organization, 'Success' in helping this project.

This handy Buddhist digest has been a bilingual publication all these years. This year compiler/editor Upali Salgado has published two separate issues - one in English and the other in Sinhala.

Both are distributed free and will be enjoyed by anyone wanting to spend the Vesak season reading and contemplating.

Thoughts on Nibbana

Prof. P.D. Premasiri
According to the most authentic teachings of the Buddha, descriptions of Nibbana are given to ethical and psychological terms. It is described as a state of moral purification, knowledge and happiness. The Buddha was interested in a positive characterization of Nibbana only to the extent that it is attainable in this very life. He did not attempt, nor did He think it profitable, to speculate on the after-death state of a person who has attained Nibbana. Suffering resulting from factors which are not within the power of the human will to avoid, such as old age, decay and death that we inherit with birth, all being instances of the transient nature of things, can, according to Buddhism, be totally ended only by ending the process of samsara.

Ending the process of samsara occurs with the eradication of greed, hatred and delusion, which is the same as the attainment of Nibbana. This signifies a radical, moral and psychological transformation of the individual amounting to a total elimination of unwholesome mental traits and the perfection of wholesome mental traits. This latter aspect of Nibbana has significant implications for the social life of this world.

Human suffering with the exception of that part of it which is brought about by natural material causes, is to a large extent a result of human action itself. Interpersonal relationships, particularly in terms of the workings of human social institutions are largely determined by the sort of individuals of which society is constituted. Harmony and conflict, war and peace, justice and injustice depend largely on the general moral standards prevailing in human societies.

The bulk of human suffering is, according to Buddhism, produced by human depravity. Violent and aggressive acts of war and terrorism, deprivation of basic human rights by dominant groups exercising political authority, drug addiction, alcoholism and sexual crimes are but a few glaring examples of social evils of the contemporary world. Buddhism sees these evils as rooted in greed, hatred and delusion, which are antithetical to the traits of character to be developed by those pursuing the goal of Nibbana. According to Buddhism, a person who is greedy, hateful and deluded, overcome by greed, hatred and delusion not only commits deeds which cause suffering to oneself and others, but also encourages others to behave as one does.

Buddhism believes that the cultivation of wholesome traits of character and the elimination of unwholesome ones by each individual is essential for the promotion of a harmonious social order. In so far as Nibbana involves the elimination of greed, hatred and delusion and the path leading to it is a progressive fulfillment of the ideal of perfection, the pursuit of the goal of Nibbana has important social implications.

If it is agreed that human depravity consisting of unchecked greed and hatred, fed by delusion are the universal causes of social conflict, suffering and evil, then one cannot deny the universal social relevance of the Buddhist concept of Nibbana for the betterment of the affairs of this world.

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