30th May 1999
By Bhikku Professor Dhammavihari
Life in the world, of man and bird and beast, exists in its own right. The universe itself, of which we are only a segment, is believed to have evolved into its present state through vast stretches of time and space. Very similar to the theory of the Big Bang, the Buddhists together with the Indians of the time, held a theory of the 'opening out of the universe' or vivattamana-kappa. Life in the world, according to this, is said to evolve while this process is at work. Possibilities of a terrestrial origin of life for the humans on this earth as well as an inter-planetary cosmic involvement in the process ( cosmic bombardment' i.e life descending here from other planets ) are both contemplated. They also know of the total disappearance of life from time to time in different parts of the universe.
On this basis, Buddhism requires that all humans respect life in all its manifestations which exists in the world around us: man and bird and beast. They pursue this line of thinking ' May all beings be well and happy' ( Sabbe satta bhavantu sukhitatta Sn. v. 145). What has come into being, i.e living things, are referred to as bhuta . It is admitted and accepted that all living things love comfort and peaceful continuance (suka kamani bhutani Dhp v. 131). They love to live (jivitukama D. II 330) and invariably dislike death (amaritukama ibid.) Therefore they are not to be beaten and harassed (yo dandena vihimsati Dhp v. 131) They love to continue their life-process and do not wish it to be forcibly terminated (Sabbe tasanti dandassa sabbe bhayanti maccuno. Dhp . v,129) Therefore the Buddhist injunction is 'putting yourself in their position, kill them not nor bring about their destruction ( Attanam upamam katva na haneyya na ghataye ibid.)
According to Buddhist teachings, it is the respect for all life around us which makes any human worthy of his name. That gives him nobility of character. That makes him an ariya. He who harasses and assaults other living things is far from being noble. He cannot be called noble or ariya (Na tena ariyo hoti yena panani himsati/ Ahimsa sabba pananam ariyo ' ti pavuccati. Dhp . v. 270= A person is not noble if he or she injures living creatures. Through abstaining from injury to all living things, one is called noble.) Victoria Moran, in her Compassion: The Ultimate Ethic, p. 29 is seen quoting these ideas of the Dhammapada with great relish (Compassion: The Ultimate Ethic by Victoria Moran 4th Edition 1997. The American Vegan Society, 56 Dinshah Lane, P.O Box H. Malaga, New Jersey 08328)
In our living world, man is regarded as occupying a prestigiously higher position on account of his greater capacity to think and act. Early Buddhism seems to uphold the wisdom of this ancient psycho-ethical concept of man (porana pana bhanati manasa ussannataya manussa. V v A 18 and KhA. 123) as against the more legendary one of presenting the human as the offspring of the First Man or Manu, created to self-created (Manuno apacca ti manussa Ibid.) He is in a higher grade than the animals who act and live within a framework of built-in reflexes. Buddhism therefore requires man to relate himself to the environment in which he lives, including the fauna and the flora, with a deeper sense of love and understanding. This would ensure the harmonious and successful continuance of man on the planet in which he is sublimely placed.
This is an idea we would do well to introduce to the world with greater emphasis in the Third Millennium.
May all beings be well and happy. May there be peace on earth and good will among men.Sabbe satta bhavantu sukihitatta
By Nalini Colonne
Born to a confused suf- fering world, was a man unsurpassed,
Let us see how Bud- dhism presents and develops its concept of love or respect and concern for all that lives. The Buddha preached and maintained that all life in the universe is a product of natural evolution, each little thing therein in the diverse eco- systems possessing its own right to exist.
This thinking blossomed out in Buddhism's greatest contribution to mankind, namely the concept of metta (Skt. maitri) or universal loving kindness. One loves every other thing in the universe in a direct relationship of one to another, without a mediator or creator. We are after all, in the world we live in, a part of a complete network. Inspite of our differences, we are integrated into a whole and each one of us loves to be loved. Therefore harmony and healthy relationships of one to another are considered a must which necessarily leads to a smooth running order in the universe. Striking a very high note, as it were, in his personal admonition to his own son Rahula in the Maharahulovada Sutta (M 1.424), the Buddha tells us that the cultivation and practice of metta or universal loving kindness, dispels the unwholesome mental frame called enmity or hostility. It eliminates the possibility of 'coming into conflict with' those around us. This conflict and confrontation is referred to as vyapada and is considered as leading thereafter to violence or vihimsa. (Mettan hi te Rahula bhavanam bhavayato yo vyapado so pahiyissati. loc. cit.).
In loving via the medium of metta, one expects nothing as a return or reward. Love in metta knows of no bleeding hearts, with or without arrows piercing through them. This concept of love also brings along with it the cognate virtue of equality (or egalite). In love, all have to become equal, and where honest equality prevails love must know no barriers, as known or unknown, friendly or otherwise. Not even as I and another. The amount of love one is required to give to others cannot in any way be less than what one wishes and expects others to bestow upon oneself.
Phrases like "He who loves himself harms not another" (Tasma na himse param attakamo as at S. 1.75) or "Taking oneself as the norm (i.e., that one likes to be loved and treated with respect) let one cause no harm or injury to others (Attanam upaman katva na haneyya na ghataye as at Dhp. v. 129) clearly indicate the Buddhist stand (atttupanayika) in the practice of love towards others. This applies to all grades of life (sabba- pana- bhuta- hita- anukampi) literally all living things.
To us, this practice of love does not appear as an injunction that one must love oneself first, and then extend love to others. The direction given is that one must love others to the same extent that one wishes to be loved by others. That is the meaning of attanam upaman katva - taking oneself as the model of loving. It certainly does not mean giving priority to oneself.
The Buddhist concept of love has the capacity to exist not only from human to animal but also from animal to the world of plants as well. There are schools of scientists in the world today who maintain that plants also yearn for love and care. They claim that plants react very specifically to human emotions like love and cruelty in their own way. Besides, the plants as an integral part of our ecosystem have to be treated with utmost respect and recognition. For in the guarantee of their survival lies our own survival. There seems to be very little doubt about that. At any rate, it appears to be the greatest day in the life of a Buddhist saint when he sees no difference between his own body of flesh and blood and the trees and the grass that grow in the wild around him. So wishes Thera Talaputa in verse No. 1101 of the Theragatha:
When will that ever be, when I can compare
In Buddhism, this practice of universal loving kindness or metta is called 'the Godly way of living' or brahma-vihara. It knows no revenge. It is one of four gradually upgraded qualities of love. Collectively they are also called 'states of unbounded or magnanimous living': appamana-vihara or appamanna. The other three are compassion or karuna, appreciative (not sympathetic) joy or mudita and equanimity or upekkha. We wish to stress here adequately the word living (vihara). These aspects of love cannot remain as mere thoughts in one's head or as mere wishes on one's lips. They must necessarily get translated into a philosophy of living. It must indeed be lived. If wishes were horses, then beggars would be kings. By virtue of their being life toners, they are literally soul elevating. They enrich our lives as we live that way. Hence they are called Brahma-vihara i.e., Godly or Heavenly Modes of Living.
At the same time, universal loving kindness (or universal acceptance of friendship with everything that lives) practised in this manner contributes to the much needed Buddhist virtue of ego-destruction or ridding oneself of the menacing notion of I and mine (ahamkara-maminkara mananusaya). This absence of ego is the basic character of the goal of Nirvana. The over- inflation of the ego or self-hood is said to stand in the way of true happiness in this life as well as in the way of final release out of the painful round of births and deaths of samsara. It warps and distorts good human relationships. It takes the lubricants off our interpersonal relationships.
-Bhikku Professor Dhammavihari
Please send your comments and suggestions on this web site to