Trước hết, sơ lược về tiểu sử của Sư Sayadaw U. Sumana. Sư là người từ Miến Điện (Myanmar) thuộc vùng Đông Nam Á. Là một trong 5 anh em xuất gia, Sư vào chùa tu khi vừa 11 tuổi và đến năm 23 tuổi, Sư được bằng cử nhân Phật học. Sau đó Sư huấn luyện những Sa Di tại một số chùa và đồng thời học về Anh ngữ. Năm 1980, Sư tu tập thiền dưới sự hướng dẫn của nhiều vị thiền sư nổi tiếng tại Thiền Viện Mahasi. Mỗi năm, Sư hoằng pháp khắp nơi trong Myanmar và đã hoằng pháp 4 tháng dài tại Thụy Điển. Đương thời, Sư Sayadaw U. Sumana hướng dẫn thực tập thiền tại Mã Lai Á.
Phật giáo được thành lập do đức Phật vào thế kỷ thứ 6 trước niên đại Thiên Chúa. Trải qua nhiều thế hệ thịnh suy, Phật giáo hiện tại là một trong những tôn giáo lớn nhất trên thế giới. Thể theo lịch sử, chúng ta thấy rằng có lúc Phật giáo thâu thập rất nhiều tín đồ và cũng có lúc bị coi như là lãng quên. Hiện nay, Phật giáo giống như là một con cá trong hồ nước cạn và nước sẽ tiếp tục bốc thành hơi nếu không có bóng cây che mát hồ để tránh đi ánh nắng nóng bỏng của mặt trời. Con cá đó sẽ cố gắng tiếp tục sống với cái hy vọng là cơn mưa sẽ đến, nếu như cơn mưa kịp lúc đến thì cá sẽ được sống cho đến khi mãn kiếp. Những người Phật tử thông thường được ví như là cơn mưa làm cho hồ được đầy nước trở lại và do vậy mà Phật giáo được tồn tại dưới sự bảo tồn của Phật tử.
Trong những tôn giáo lớn trên thế giới như Thiên Chúa giáo, Hồi giáo, Ấn Độ giáo và Phật giáo, thì Phật giáo có khoảng 500 triệu tín đồ và được coi như là con số thấp nhất trong các giáo phái. Vì vậy, Phật giáo được thí dụ như là con cá trong hồ nước cạn và càng lúc nước càng cạn đi. Nếu chúng ta không kiểm điểm lại sự tu tập trong Đạo Phật và để cho càng lúc càng sa đọa, thì kết quả sẽ là giảm thiểu tín đồ và tín đồ của những đạo giáo khác sẽ gia tăng do sự suy đồi của Phật giáo. Những sinh hoạt Phật giáo mang tính cách bảo tồn và duy trì Phật giáo không được phát triển bao nhiêu và lại còn thêm vào những thành phần báo hại Phật giáo bằng cách làm cho sai lạc những lời dạy nguyên bản. Đây là những thành phần ví như là tia nắng thiêu đốt của mặt trời vậy. Dù sao đi nữa Phật giáo vẫn còn có hy vọng làm cho hệ thống chân lý được sống dậy cũng giống như là những hạt mưa rơi xuống làm tràn đầy hồ nước đang bị cạn.
Cho nên, phần chính yếu là phải biết những cái gì nên tránh và những gì nên gặt hái dể làm cho Phật giáo ngày càng tiến triển. Giáo lý siêu việt do đức Phật tìm ra đã trải qua nhiều phấn đấu của nhiều thế kỷ và không thể nào để cho chấm dứt sau một thời gian ngắn ngủi của 2600 năm!.
Tuy nhiên chúng ta không nên nghĩ rằng đạo Phật sẽ vẫn tồn tại nếu như mỗi người không chịu giúp đỡ và không có sự quan tâm đối với đạo giáo. Cũng vậy, chúng ta không nên hài lòng với những tập tục truyền thống như là tụng Kinh, cúng dường, cúng kiến, v..v… Phần đông chúng ta chỉ có thể tiến hành theo phong tục tập quán, nhưng bây giờ đã đến lúc phải tìm những phương cách mới để phát triển đạo Phật.
Trong lịch sử Phật giáo, chỉ có hai công cuộc hoằng pháp là đáng kể nhất. Đó là thời đức Phật còn tại thế, ngài gởi chư Tăng đi nhiều nơi khác nhau và lần thứ hai là vua Asoka gởi 9 nhóm Tăng sĩ đi nhiều nước khác nhau. Dù nhiều người thời nay cho rằng Phật giáo có phát triển, nhưng không có bằng chứng cụ thể để chứng minh là thật sự có phát triển như họ nghĩ.
Phật tử phải có trách nhiệm bảo tồn và duy trì di sản Phật đã để lại. Phật tử phải sống với triết lý của vô thường và tìm ra những phương thức mới để khuyến khích đa số quần chúng. Thí dụ như là chúng ta có thể dựng lên những cơ quan quốc tế chuyên phát thanh giáo lý Phật giáo để tạo nên cơ hội hoằng truyền chánh pháp khắp nơi trên thế giới. Tất cả những mục tiêu ngắn hoặc dài hạn đều cần có những kế hoạch nghiên cứu hẳn hòi thì nền phát triển Phật giáo mới được chính xác. Lẽ dỉ nhiên những sinh hoạt Phật giáo phải nên được hội nhập vào đời sống hằng ngày, vào những chương trình hằng tuần và hằng tháng, những dịp đặc biệt, v..v… Phật tử phải biết rõ rằng tất cả những sinh hoạt nên được khai mở với sự hỗ trợ của những vị lãnh tụ Phật giáo.
Thế kỷ 20 đã chấm dứt và một thế kỷ mới vừa bắt đầu. Những sự kiện của quá khứ là những bài học cho thế hệ của tương lai. Chúng ta nghĩ sao về lịch sử Phật giáo khi chúng ta nhìn về quá khứ? Chúng ta nên nghĩ về những bổn phận và trách nhiệm của Tăng Ni để xem xét cái nào có hữu ích trong công cuộc hoằng pháp thì nên tiếp tục làm và trau dồi thêm, còn như cái nào không có ích thì nên tránh.
Vào cuối thế kỷ 20 còn rất nhiều người sống nghèo khổ, cơ cực tại những nước như là Burma, Sri Lanka, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam cho dù họ lao động rất nhiều nhưng cũng vẫn không có đủ để sống cho đúng mức. Tuy họ là Phật tử, họ không có cơ hội để học hỏi thêm về chánh pháp cao siêu của đức Phật bởi vì họ quá nghèo. Chúng ta nên cải tiến đời sống của họ cho đúng với tiêu chuẩn, chẳng hạn như cung cấp cho họ những gì cần thiết trong đời sống thường ngày hoặc tốt hơn nữa là chỉ cho họ cách để làm đời sống họ được thịnh vượng hơn. Sau đó họ mới có thể thực tập Bát chánh đạo. Thật là thảm thương khi quá nhiều người thiếu thốn về mặt vật chất lẫn tinh thần. Dù cho có sự giúp đỡ của chính phủ, người nghèo vẫn hoàn nghèo. Cho nên Tăng Ni nên giúp kẻ nghèo càng nhiều càng tốt và chúng ta nên học hỏi ở những vị lãnh tụ tôn giáo khác về những cách thức hỗ trợ, khuyến khích tín đồ trong công việc cứu giúp nạn nhân của thiên tai.
Hiện tại, ai ai cũng kiếm cách làm giàu. Thỉnh thoảng có người đến hỏi Tăng sĩ Phật giáo cách thức để làm giàu và vì vậy mà các Tăng trở thành chiêm tinh gia hoặc coi bói chỉ tay. Thật ra, đây là đi ngược chiều hướng với giới luật của Phật giáo, nhưng người ta lại coi trọng những vị Tăng đó. Trong thời đại hoàng kim này, rất nhiều Tăng sĩ và cư sĩ thực tập sai lạc và dùng chánh pháp để trá hình những sai lạc đó.
Thêm một vấn đề nan giải nữa là Phật tử thời nay không theo chánh đạo mà lại hay nương theo những nghi lễ cúng kiến. Những Tăng sĩ có chùa riêng vào những ngày đại lễ thì nên dạy chánh pháp cho Phật tử để họ trở nên hiếu đạo hơn. Đức Phật đã nói về sự suy đồi của con người trong Kinh Tiểu Bộ phẩm Varana, chuyện giấc mộng lớn (tiền thân Mahasupina). Trong Kinh Tăng Chi Bộ Chương Năm Pháp, đức Phật nói về những lý do đưa đến sự suy đồi và giải đãi của Tăng sĩ. Khi Tăng chúng bại hoại thì giáo pháp cũng bị bại hoại. Nói chung là trong thời mạt pháp, chỉ có một số ít người là quan tâm đến giảng dạy sâu xa về giới, định, tuệ mà thôi và phần lớn chỉ chuyên cúng dường, cầu an, cúng bái.
Chúng ta nên cố gắng gây quỹ cho những công cuộc cải tiến xã hội của người dân nghèo. Chúng ta nên nhắc nhở người giàu là họ sẽ tiếp tục có đời sống giàu có bằng cách quy y Tam Bảo. Chúng ta nên phổ biến văn học Phật giáo và tổ chức những buổi giảng pháp vào thời khóa của sinh hoạt thường hằng. Có rất nhiều cách để phát triển Phật sự ngay trong thời đại này. Nhưng dù cho ý định có xuất sắc cách mấy đi nữa mà không có sự hợp tác và thống nhất của những người con Phật thì chúng ta sẽ bị thối lui quá xa sau những tôn giáo khác vào khoảng giữa của thế kỷ này.
Người ngoại đạo thời nay có sự nhận định rằng giáo lý của đạo Phật trên nguyên tắc thì rất hay nhưng thực hành thì không được tốt lắm. Chúng ta chỉ có thể thay đổi sự nhận định sai lầm này bằng cách thực hành giáo lý cho thật là hoàn hảo.
Phật tử tại gia hay xuất gia có hai thành phần: Phật tử đơn thuần và Phật tử cao cấp. Phật tử đơn thuần có niềm tin nơi Tam Bảo (Phật, Pháp, Tăng) và tin vào lý nhân quả tức là gieo giống thiện thì sẽ gặt quả lành. Vì vậy, Phật tử đơn thuần cúng dường thức ăn, đồ mặc, nơi ở và thuốc thang cho Tăng chúng, thêm vào đó, họ giữ gìn 5 giới, 8 giới hoặc 10 giới, tụng Kinh và tri ân Tam Bảo. Như vậy, người Phật tử đơn thuần là Phật tử đi theo truyền thống. Nhưng, làm thế nào để trở thành Phật tử cao cấp? Khi chúng ta thực thập thiền định hoặc thiền quán tưởng theo như lời Phật đã dạy, thì chúng ta đạt được trí tuệ và đồng thời chúng ta thực tập giới, định, tuệ tức là Bát Chánh Đạo như Phật đã từng nhấn mạnh trong những thời giảng của Ngài. Với trí tuệ sáng suốt, chúng ta nhận thức được con đường chánh đạo và đạt được nguyện vọng của sự tu học. Lúc đó chúng ta hồi quang phản chiếu và sẽ thấy rằng những tập khí đã được tận đoạn. Những Phật tử này gọi là Phật tử cao cấp. Là tu sĩ xuất gia, chúng ta nên thực tập thiền quán để đạt được trí tuệ sáng suốt, và chỉ có như thế, chúng ta mới có thể phổ biến chánh pháp, đem niềm an lạc, hạnh phúc đến cho mọi người. Sự khác biệt giữa Phật tử đơn thuần và Phật tử cao cấp là: “người luôn thực tập thiền định không cần phải cầu xin gì cả”. Phật tử đơn thuần vẫn còn nhiều tham, sân và không thể cưỡng lại sự bám chấp vào những gì làm cho họ vừa ý hoặc cố gắng tránh né những gì làm cho họ không vừa ý. Là Phật tử nói chung, chúng ta nên hiểu rõ rằng đức Phật muốn cho tất cả chúng sanh thoát khổ, cho nên Ngài muốn chúng ta trở nên Phật tử cao cấp. Do đó, chúng ta không nên tự hài lòng chỉ làm người Phật tử đơn thuần mà thôi. Tất cả Tăng Ni đều không những học hỏi giáo lý Phật Đà mà còn nên thực tập nữa, bởi vì Tăng Ni có cơ hội lý tưởng để hành thiền mà đó cũng là trách nhiệm chính yếu vậy. Phật tử tại gia do vì bận rộng công việc làm ăn cho nên không có nhiều thời giờ cho sự tu học, nhưng họ cũng vẫn nên hành thiền ít nhất một lần trong đời để được tiến triển hơn về mặt trí tuệ. Cho dù thế nào đi nữa, chỉ khi nào người Phật tử có khả năng cao và đạt được trí tuệ đến một bậc nào đó thì mới có thể thành công trong việc truyền bá đạo Phật.
Đức Phật đã giảng dạy giáo lý từ thấp đến cao, và do đó, làm Phật tử thì chúng ta phải biết tri ân lòng từ bi cao cả của đức Phật. Vì tri ân Phật nên chúng ta phải cố gắng truyền bá đạo Phật. Có rất nhiều phương cách để truyền bá đạo Phật. Chư Tăng Ni nên hiểu rằng giảng dạy giáo lý là điều cần thiết và cốt yếu. Có những vị tu sĩ rất được nhiều Phật tử kính mến và họ nên dùng cơ hội này để tạo dựng những cơ sở làm lợi ích cho dân chúng, chẳng hạn như bệnh viện, trường học, hệ thống dẫn nước, v..v… và kêu gọi Phật tử tham gia vào những việc thiện này. Để trở nên những vị Tăng Ni có ích cho xã hội và khả năng lãnh đạo, thì phải có hoài bảo và quyết tâm. Chỉ như thế thì họ mới có thể phát triển đạo Phật và đồng thời đạt được mục tiêu của chính mình bất kể những khó khăn mà họ phải vượt qua.
Rất khó phán đoán là đạo Phật thịnh hay suy bởi vì những sinh hoạt không có hồ sơ hoặc được ghi nhận chính xác. Thêm nữa, Phật tử thường đi theo tập tục và không mấy quan tâm đến sự thành công trong vấn đề tu học, không chịu học hỏi từ những lỗi lầm đã phạm. Đây là khuyết điểm cho phương cách cải tiến. Nếu như chúng ta không biết những khuyết điểm thì làm sao để tiến triển được. Thực tế cho thấy rằng danh lợi là quan trọng hơn hết. Một số dùng chùa để làm ăn thay vì giữ gìn giới cấm một cách nghiêm ngặt và tu học để tự có một căn bản Phật học vững chãi để giảng dạy giáo lý.
Đức Phật giảng dạy giáo lý tùy theo tuổi tác và địa vị của đối phương. Dù rằng điểm chính yếu của Ngài là phải đạt giác ngộ, Ngài cũng vẫn dạy những cách thức làm cho cuộc sống được hạnh phúc. Trong những thời giảng của Phật cho thấy rằng Phật pháp không dành riêng cho Tăng Ni trưởng thành mà còn cho những người vị thành niên, do đó rõ ràng Phật pháp là cho tất cả mọi người. Tại sao giới trẻ thời nay lại không thích thực hành Phật pháp? Chính vì sự hưởng thụ thường là nền móng của thời đại mới, cho nên trẻ và già đều thích thưởng thức nhạc, phim, thuốc kích thích, v..v…và rất khó mà cưỡng lại những cám dỗ. Ai là người có trách nhiệm khi giới trẻ suy đồi? Cha mẹ của chúng hay là cả chư Tăng Ni cũng có trách nhiệm dạy dỗ? Để duy trì địa vị Phật giáo là một trong 4 tôn giáo lớn trên thế giới thì chúng ta phải tuyển thêm số người trẻ tham dự vào những sinh hoạt Phật giáo (Đối với Phật giáo Việt Nam, hiện tại thành phần Phật tử đi chùa đa số là những người lớn tuổi, khoảng từ 55 đến 75 tuổi và 95% là nữ giới ngoại trừ các trung tâm tu học của Hòa thượng Nhất Hạnh). Chúng ta nên hiểu rằng giới trẻ đại diện cho tương lai của Phật giáo, do đó nếu như chúng ta không truyền đạt Phật pháp đến với giới trẻ thì đạo Phật sẽ bị mai một. Giới trẻ sẽ là lãnh tụ của tôn giáo trong tương lai, như vậy giáo dục chúng là một điều hết sức quan trọng. Những tôn giáo khác thường xuyên có khóa dạy giáo lý cho trẻ em vào cuối tuần và những ngày trong tuần, cho nên giới trẻ có niềm tin vào đạo giáo rất là vững vàng và không dễ dàng thay đổi tín ngưỡng. Có người khen rằng giáo lý đạo Phật là cao siêu nhưng họ vẫn tin đạo giáo khác. Điều này cho thấy là sự hiểu biết chân chánh về đạo Phật không được phổ biến sâu rộng mà chỉ có thực tập niềm tin truyền thống thôi. Mỗi Phật tử phải có trách nhiệm bảo trì đạo Phật bằng cách phổ biến những kiến thức chân chánh đến với giới trẻ. Như vậy, trẻ em phải được dạy dỗ nền đạo đức căn bản bằng cách duy trì 5 giới, tu học 10 điều thiện và 10 điều ác. Khi có dịp, đức Phật thường khuyên răng giới trẻ nên phân biệt giữa thiện và ác, rồi nên làm tất cả việc thiện và tránh tất cả việc ác. Những mẫu chuyện tiền thân của đức Phật trong Kinh Tiểu Bộ rất thuận tiện trong công cuộc giáo dục giới trẻ.
Trong Kinh Giáo Thọ Thi-ca-la-việt (Singalovada Sutta của Kinh Trường Bộ, Tập 2, Kinh số 31), đức Phật dạy về trách nhiệm của con người đối với xã hội, đối với gia đình. Nếu như tất cả mọi người đều thực tập như lời dạy của ngài, thì những điều nan giải trong xã hội đương thời được giảm đi rất nhiều và con người có thể sống trong an hòa, hạnh phúc. Quan trọng hơn hết là chúng ta phải duy trì chánh pháp cho được nguyên vẹn với ý nghĩa mà đức Phật đã trao truyền, nếu không thì sẽ dễ bị sai lạc và sớm bị tiêu diệt.
Phật giáo thịnh hành là khi mà nền tu học được duy trì ở mức căn bản hoặc cao cấp. Phật giáo dần dần suy đồi khi giáo lý không được thực hành trong xã hội một cách chân chánh, đạo đức. Nói về lòng vị tha thì không có khác biệt giữa tu sĩ và cư sĩ. Có những tu sĩ nuôi trẻ em mồ côi, dạy học hoàn toàn miễn phí tại các trường mẫu giáo, tiểu học và trung học. Nhưng tiếc rằng sự yểm trợ này quá ít trong khi nhu cầu lại quá cao. Cho nên muốn thành công hơn nữa thì chúng ta cần thời gian và gây quỹ thêm.
Trong thời đại ngày nay, sự thịnh hành của Phật giáo chính là nhờ vào Tăng Ni và các cơ quan bất vụ lợi của cư sĩ. Giáo dục là nền tảng chính để phát triển đạo Phật đến mức cao hơn. Nếu như chúng ta không được huấn luyện đầy đủ thì tương lai sẽ ra sao? Phần đông chúng ta không biết cách để truyền đạt giáo lý đạo Phật theo nhu cầu của thời đại mới bởi vì hệ thống giáo dục quá yếu kém. Những cơ quan bất vụ lợi thì chịu sự thiếu thốn tài lộc và thiếu những người làm việc có kinh nghiệm trong vấn đề duy trì những chương trình hữu ích. Thêm một vấn đề quan trọng nữa là chúng ta phải có lòng cảm thông và nhẫn nại đối với nhau bởi vì sự chia rẽ là điểm chính làm cho Phật giáo bị suy đồi. Chúng ta hay chê bai môn phái và thường cho rằng môn phái của mình là hay hơn hết. Chúng ta không nên để cho sự khác biệt giữa tông phái càng ngày càng tăng thêm hiềm khích mà làm cho Phật giáo phải chịu suy đồi. Giáo lý đạo Phật tuy rằng cao siêu, nhưng nếu các hành giả không chịu trau dồi đạo đức, thì thật là tủi hổ. Do đó mới thấy rằng đấng Vô Thượng Sư Phật của chúng ta là đáng tôn kính biết bao.
Thường thì những cha mẹ chỉ muốn con em chăm chỉ học hành để tiến thân và kiếm việc làm tốt trong xã hội. Vì vậy, trẻ em không mấy quen thuộc với những lời giảng dạy của đức Phật và các em nghĩ rằng các tu sĩ chỉ có cầu an và tụng niệm mà thôi. Tất cả các tu sĩ và các bậc cha mẹ đều nên dành thời gian và tài lộc để tổ chức những khóa học cuối tuần hầu các thanh thiếu niên lưu tâm tham gia hơn. Không quan tâm đến dạy dỗ giới trẻ là chẳng khác nào tiêu diệt rễ cây vậy.
ý kiến được nêu ra trong bài này cho thấy rằng có rất
nhiều cách thức để khuyến khích người ta tu học theo đạo
Phật. Nói tóm lại, chúng ta không nên chỉ lo duy trì ngôi
chùa của chính mình mà thôi, ngược lại, bằng mọi cách
chúng ta giúp đỡ những người nghèo khó, bởi vì chỉ có
như thế thì đạo Phật mới được bảo đảm và ăn sâu
vào kiến thức của họ. Ít ra, niềm tin tưởng theo truyền
thống sẽ được cải tiến thành niềm tin tưởng chân chánh.
Decline And Development Of Buddhism
Introduction : These "Essays on Buddhism" are written with the noble aim to propagate the Buddha-Dhamma in many countries.
The standard and style of English is simple, clear and easy to understand. It has the standard required for publication.
The subject of the Essays are thought provoking and interesting. They can be of great help and benefit for those who want to work for the purification, perpetuation and propagation of the Buddha Sasana, since they deal with topics such as ‘Buddhism Today’, ‘The New Millennium’, ‘Young People and Buddhism’, etc., a new and stimulating interest can be aroused both for Missionary Bhikkhus and general readers alike. We feel that it will benefit many persons here and abroad.
U Han Htay
To the following, my "special thanks" for the support and encouragement they have rendered in the publication of this book ‘Essays on Buddhism’.
My deepest appreciation for proof reading and editing to U Han Htay (Research Officer); Daw Mya Tin (MA); Miss Khaw Lek Ai (Bukit Mertajam, Malaysia); Bikkhu Pesala (UK); Daw Khin New Yi (Shwepuzon); Ko Soe Naing-Ma Khin Htay Yi (Japan); and especially to the Teachings of Buddha Publishing Group, Johor and devotees of Buddhist Hermitage, Lunas, for their unstinting support.
Hopefully, all devotees may find value in reading these essays, and take note of the ways to prolong the present Buddha sasana to some extent. Sadhu! Sadhu! Sadhu!
May you all enjoy the bliss of mettá.
Venerable Sayadaw U. Sumana
Biography of Ven. Sayadaw U. Sumana
Sayadaw U. Sumana was born in 1951 to a religious family in Ye U Township, in upper Myanmar. He was the youngest of five brothers, all monks.
On completing his primary education at the age of eleven, he proceeded to learn Monastic education. At twenty-three, he graduated with a "Dhammacariya" degree.
Subsequently, Ven. Sayadaw U. Sumana taught Buddhism to junior monks at various temples in Myanmar for several years. During this time, he commenced studies in the English Language.
In 1980, much time was devoted to the practice of insight meditation under the guidance of famous teachers in Mahasi Meditation Center. Having acquired these skills, Ven. Sayadaw U. Sumana accepted an assignment as assistant meditation teacher in Palivijja Center in Ye U Township. A few years later, he was relocated to Mahasi Meditation Center where he took up further studies in English in preparation for foreign missions.
As a member of the Dhamma preacher society, Ven. Sayadaw U. Sumana, as part of his commitment, participated in taking Dhamma tours all over Myanmar each year. Occasionally, he attended short retreats in many places to teach meditation.
Part of 1993 was spent in Sweden, engaged in missionary work for four months. Then, followed a commitment to study Buddhism in English with Sayadaw acquiring an M.A. degree at the Buddhist and Pali University in Colombo.
At present, Ven. Sayadaw U. Sumana is engaged in teaching meditation at the Buddhist Hermitage in Lunas, Malaysia.
I came to know of the Ven. Sayadaw U. Sumana in the beginning of 1998 while attending a course in Abhidhamma conducted by Sayadaw U. Silananda at the Buddhist Hermitage, Lunas. At the course, yogis were told that a very experienced Vipassana teacher would be arriving soon to be the resident Sayadaw of the Hermitage.
It was in February, that I came to see him, intending to do some serious meditation. Most of the Sayadaws that I had taken training from always had very serious looking faces, however Sayadaw U. Sumana was the complete opposite of them. He always has a smiling face. He is always easy to talk to, hence during interviews he is the true kalyanamitta, and you have the feeling that he understands the great effort you are exerting and that he is always ready to give you any help that you require.
However in the teaching of the practice itself, he sticks to a serious schedule which he seldom deviates from.
One could really say that Sayadaw employs a very balanced teaching method, that is easy to follow and brings positive results to the trainee.
It has been my privilege to have been taught by the Sayadaw and a bonus of merits to have the opportunity to assist him in the publication of these very readable and thought-provoking essays.
The Essays are of a serious nature, written with a lot of thought, with the specific purpose of highlighting the plight of Buddhism should Buddhist not take a more dynamic view in its propagation.
From the Essays one can discern the earnestness that Sayadaw feels in prolonging the Buddha Sasana. He has advocated various practical approaches in the hope that these will help to arrest the decline of the sasana and one can only believe that there will be more like minded individuals who will be moved to initiate actions in achieving Sayadaw’s ambitions.
With mettá to all readers and may all of us attain the bliss of Nibbána.
Buddhism was established by the Lord Buddha in the sixth century BC and is one of the major world religions. It has passed through different stages of development and survived up to now. When we recall its history, Buddhism was sometimes followed by large numbers of people and sometimes largely ignored and unknown. It is now like a fish in a small pond with little water. The water will evaporate if there is no nearby tree to shade it from the burning sun. The fish tries to remain alive as long as possible and hopes that rain will come soon. If it rains, the fish can survive to its natural lifespan. This is how Buddhism is just surviving under the protection of ordinary Buddhists.
Among the major world religions, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism, the latter has an estimated 500 million adherents, accounting for the lowest numbers. That is why I say that Buddhism is like a fish in a small pond that is drying up. If the practice of Buddhism is allowed to deteriorate unchecked, the result will be a decline in the number of adherents, and other religions will flourish at the expense of Buddhism. Buddhist activities that might lead to the revival and development of Buddhism are not as progressive as they could be, and there are many who are harming Buddhism by corrupting its original message. They are like the burning sun. Yet, there is still much hope for a systematic revival of the true Dhamma (saddhamma), which will be like the falling of the rain that will fill up the small pond to overflowing.
Thus, it is vital to know what should be avoided and what should be cultivated to bring about the development of Buddhism. The sublime doctrine, which was discovered by the Buddha after such a hard struggle for many aeons should not end after such a short time as 2,600 years. In my view, the popular theory that Buddhism will only last for five thousand years after the demise of the Buddha is not very convincing because His Teachings are extremely practical and can be verified by one’s own personal experience. It is impossible to find other teachings that are so beneficial to humanity.
Buddhism is good for all living beings, not only for human beings. It is not the exclusive property of any particular race or nation. Such an admirable religion must be maintained and developed. The longer it exists in the world, the more beings will enjoy peace and happiness.
We should not think that Buddhism will endure without any help from us, and that we need not be concerned about it. Nor should we be satisfied with traditional practices such as studying Pali scriptures, chanting, offering alms and observing the uposatha. Most of us can only manage to proceed in the traditional way, but it is time to find new ways to promote the religion.
We should not utilize our time solely in the pursuit of academic knowledge. Scholars work only for the benefit of other scholars, not for the common people. Professor Laksman Jayatileka made the same point when he addressed the convocation ceremony of the Buddhist and Pali University (on 14th December 1995). He said, "What we expect above all from you, Venerable Sirs, is not so much deep knowledge of books and academic literary source materials, but a way of life that can shed light on our hearts and minds."
In order to promote Buddhism, the Buddha himself sent monks to different places soon after his enlightenment, saying, "Walk, monks, on tour for the blessing of the many, for the happiness of many, out of compassion for the world, for the welfare of gods and men. Let not two of you go the same way. Monks, teach the Dhamma which is beautiful in the beginning, beautiful in the middle and beautiful in the end."
After the Third Buddhist Council, King Asoka of India sent nine groups of monks to different countries initiating missionary work. Throughout the history of Buddhism, only these two main instances of missionary work have been recorded. Though some people today claim that Buddhism is becoming much more developed, there is not much official evidence to prove it.
It is up to Buddhists to protect and preserve their legacy. Buddhists have to live by their own philosophy of impermanence and look for new methods to stimulate the interests of the masses. For example, we could set up international organizations such as an International Buddhist Broadcasting Service to create opportunities for worldwide dissemination of the Dhamma.
If the readers feel even a slight interest in the ideas expressed herein, hopefully they too will share the opinion that the Teachings of the Buddha can certainly endure for much more than five thousand years. If such is the case a well researched plan, involving short, medium and long range goals for the development of Buddhism be formulated. Such action plans should incorporate integrated daily practices, weekly and monthly programs, special occasions etc. all such activities should of course be initiated under the auspices of Buddhist leaders and widely made known to devotees.
The New Millennium
The twentieth century has come to an end and a new century has just begun. The events of the past should serve as a lesson for future generations. What do we think of the recent history of Buddhism when we look back at the past? We should consider whether Buddhist monks and nuns fulfilled their duties and responsibilities, which were the ones most beneficial in the propagation of Buddhism. If we find that some activities were not conducive for the development of Buddhism, we should avoid them. If we see those that were beneficial, we should cultivate them.
In the late twentieth century, Buddhist meditation, in both the Mahayana and Theravada traditions, has become popular, but it is unknown just how many are interested. Many westerners are dissatisfied with their lifestyle: going to work, watching TV, drinking, etc., some are searching for a new way of life. Meditation can lead one to experience happiness in this very life, so it may be a remedy for them. We, Buddhists, should take this opportunity to teach them meditation. Buddhist meditation will be helpful in attaining peace of mind in the new century.
At the present time, many people in Buddhist countries such as Burma, Sri Lanka, Laos and Cambodia, though working very hard, yet can barely sustain their lives properly. Although they are Buddhists, they do not have much opportunities to experience the higher Teachings of the Buddha due to their poverty. We should work to improve their living standards by providing them with the basic necessities of life, or, better still, by showing them ways to become more prosperous. Then, they will be able to practice the Noble Eightfold Path. Otherwise, they will be like a rich person who suffers from a chronic disease. It is tragic that so many people have to live in both material and spiritual poverty.
Even with the help of the government, the poor will still be poor. We, Buddhist monks and nuns need to help the poor as much as we can. In these situations, we can learn how other religious leaders support their followers and stimulate them by seeing that wherever there is a disaster in the world, they are the first to go and give aid.
These days, everyone is seeking a shortcut to become wealthy. Occasionally, they approach Buddhist monks and ask how to become prosperous. Some monks become astrologers and palmists. This practice is well known to all. Actually, it is contrary to the disciplinary rules of the Vinaya, but many people regard such monks as worthy of the highest respect. In this new millennium, there may be many monks and lay people who seek to continue this corrupt practice of disguising false practice as true.
Another problem is that modern Buddhists are less likely to follow morality, and more likely to depend on rites and rituals. Buddhist monks who have their own temples should use religious celebrations to teach people the true Buddhist religion so that they become pious. This degeneration of people was predicted by the Buddha himself in the Mahasupina Jataka. The fulfillment of His predictions can be seen today.
The Pancaka Nipata of the Anguttaranikaya is another prediction by the Buddha regarding monks.
"In the future, monks will put forth no effort to attain the unattained, to master the un-mastered, to realize the unrealized and those who come after the will fall into wrong views and become indulgent, lazy and degenerate.
Thus, monks, from corrupt Dhamma comes corrupt discipline, from corrupt discipline comes corrupt Dhamma."
These predictions have come true in some places today. Generally speaking, these are said to be times of degeneration or moral decline (Kali Yuga). Deeper teachings such as morality (síla), concentration (samádhi) and wisdom (paññá) will interest only a few people, while the majority will be content with charity (Dana), social welfare activities (veyyavaca), reciting or listening to paritta, or paying homage to shrines and pagodas (Puja).
We should try to raise funds for social welfare projects to improve the conditions of the poor and middle class people. We should remind the wealthy people how they can remain rich through the power of taking refuge in the Triple gem. We should distribute Buddhist literature and organize Dhamma talks as part of our regular activities.
These are some ways we can promote Buddhist affairs now and beyond this new Millennium. However noble our ideals are, without cooperation and unity among Buddhists, we will be left far behind by other religions by the middle of this century.
Two Kinds of Buddhists
In 1995, I received a letter from a French tourist who had been to Kandy in Sri Lanka. When he returned to France, he wrote to me. In his letter, he mentioned that Buddhism is theoretically very good but practically not so good. It gave me some food for thought. I don’t know exactly why h formed this opinion, but we have to admit that some Buddhists do not follow all the Teachings of the Buddha. If we practice the Buddha’s Teachings fully, we might help to correct others’ opinions.
I would like to put my views according to the commentary on the Anggutaranikaya. There are two kinds of Buddhists: ordinary Buddhists and advanced Buddhists.
According to the commentary, there are six kinds of right understanding (sammaditthi):-
1. Kammasakata sammaditthi
2. Jhana sammaditthi
3. Vipassana sammaditthi
4. Magga sammaditthi
5. Phala sammaditthi
6. Paccavekkana sammaditthi
I won’t describe the meaning of each of these terms in detail, but only briefly.
The above six kinds of right view can be divided into two groups. The first one, kammasakata sammaditthi , forms the first group. The other five forms the second group.
Those who have a knowledge of kammasakata sammaditthi are called, "Ordinary Buddhists." Therefore, an ordinary Buddhist believes in the Triple Gem: the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha and believe that there are results of wholesome and unwholesome deeds. In other words, an ordinary Buddhist holds the view, "As you sow, so shall you reap." So, ordinary Buddhists offer food, robes, dwellings and medicine to the monks and observe the five precepts, the eight precepts, the ten precepts or the Vinaya rules. They recite parittas and some Suttas, remembering the attributes of the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. Moreover, they live up to the teachings of the Mangala Sutta, Singala Sutta, Parabhava Sutta and so on. Teaching and learning scriptures are also includes in the activities of the ordinary Buddhists. So, an ordinary Buddhist is a traditional Buddhist. But, how can one become an advanced Buddhist?
When one practices tranquility meditation (samatha) or insight meditation (vipassana) in accordance with the Buddha’s instructions, one achieves higher knowledge of jhana (jhana sammaditthi) or insight knowledge (vipassana sammaditthi). Thus, one is simultaneously developing morality, concentration and wisdom, which is the Noble Eightfold Path emphasized by the Buddha. This practice is higher than kammasakata sammaditthi. If one proceeds with the development of insight, one can attain the knowledge of the Path and its Fruition (Magga sammaditthi and phala sammaditthi). Then, one also has reflective knowledge that so many defilements have been uprooted (paccavekkhana sammaditthi). These five right views are called advanced knowledge in Buddhism. Those who posses such knowledge are advanced Buddhists.
So, Buddhists, whether monks, nuns or lay people, are either ordinary Buddhists or advanced Buddhists. We, monks and nuns especially, will have to practice insight meditation to realize the advance knowledge of Buddhism, only then will we be able to impart the understanding of the true Dhamma, and the experience of mental peace and real happiness to others.
Westerners generally want to know about this higher knowledge of Buddhism to attain peace of mind. So, Western Buddhists often ask testing questions.
"Why do Buddhists pray before the Buddha’s statue? Shouldn’t you rely on your own efforts? Didn’t the Buddha say that you must work out your own salvation?"
"Why do you Buddhists quarrel with one another? You Buddhists should practice forbearance." (They might have been some Buddhist monks or nuns quarrelling with one another).
The answers to these questions point to the distinction between ordinary Buddhists and advanced Buddhists. When one practices meditation, there is no need for one to pray.
At the very high stage of a non-returner (Anagami), one overcomes all anger and aversion. The ordinary Buddhist is not free from anger and passion. He or she cannot yet resist attachment to pleasant objects or aversion to unpleasant ones.
What all Buddhists should understand here is that it was the Buddha’s great aspiration to free all beings from suffering. In other words, he desired that all Buddhists become advanced Buddhists. We should never remain self-satisfied with being ordinary Buddhists.
I want to urge all Buddhist monks and nuns to learn the Buddha’s Teachings practically as well as theoretically. Lay people are pre-occupied with earning a living so they have less time to practice meditation, but they should try to do it at least once in their life time in an effort to attain higher insight knowledge. Monks and nuns have ideal opportunities to meditate as it is their primary responsibility.
However much one preaches and studies, I do not believe one will ever be able to spread Buddhism successfully if one is still an ordinary Buddhist. One can only succeed if one is an advanced Buddhist who has attained insight knowledge to some extent.
A person who feels compassionate on seeing the immense suffering in the world today will surely take up meditation to obtain this advanced knowledge.
The Burmese Satipatthána Method
Meditation is now practiced all over the world. In the latter part pf the twentieth century, it has been developing much more rapidly than before, both in the East and the West, and is practiced by both Buddhists and non-Buddhists. The practice of Yoga is also very popular, even with Westerners. Many of the different meditation methods originated from Buddhism, but just as the methods are different, so too their results and aims are different, since people have different aspirations.
The word bhávaná is usually translated as meditation but strictly speaking, it means mental development. In worldly beings, minds are usually undeveloped, thus are defiled with unwholesome thoughts. However, if the mind is applied continuously to a suitable meditation object, there is no room for defilements to arise. Then, the mind is said to be developed.
There are various definitions given by scholars. Herbert V. Guenther said, "Meditation may be said to be a process by which an ordinarily diffused state of mind is brought into focus."* In the book, ‘Secrets of the Lotus’ edited by Donald K. Swearen, it says "The system of Buddhist meditation that we practice is called "insight Meditation". The real meaning of insight meditation is seeing with wisdom the truth as the truth. There is perfect awareness, alertness and clarity. Otherwise, there is no seeing, only imagining and speculating."
Among all meditation traditions, the Burmese tradition is perhaps the most significant one. About half a century ago, some meditation masters became famous for their unusual experiences in meditation. Moreover, they were able to share their knowledge with people who wanted to learn. Gradually, the number of meditators increased. Now, almost every town in Myanmar has its own meditation center. There are also Burmese meditation centers in foreign countries. As a result, some meditation masters have become world famous teachers, and foreigners come to Myanmar to learn from them. By conducting intensive retreats for ten days or a month in foreign countries, they have been able to instruct and help many meditators throughout the world.
By the Burmese meditation tradition, I mean the practice that is in accordance with the original Pali texts of Theravada Buddhism. Although there are numerous different methods, their purposes are basically the same: to attain the elimination of mental defilements through the attainment of the knowledge of the Path and its Fruition (Magga sammaditthi and phala sammaditthi).
To what extent has the Burmese tradition benefited those who have practiced it? We can quote the words of a number of authors.
Venerable Nyanaponika Thera, the author of, The Heart of Buddhist Meditation, gave his opinion in that book. "Satipatthána today is a strong force in the religious life of Burma. There are several training centers in the country where many thousands have undergone courses of strict Satipatthána practice. These courses are attended by monks and lay people alike. Prominent among the teachers of Satipatthána today is the Venerable U Sobhana Mahathera (Mahasi Sayadaw) who, through his personal instructions and meditation courses and through his books and lectures, has contributed much to the development of the practice in Burma. Many thousands have benefited by his wise and experienced guidance. Men and women, young and old, poor and rich, as well as simple folks have taken up the practice with great earnestness and enthusiasm."
Joseph Goldstein, the author of "The Experience of Insight" made a remark in the book, "In This Very Life" that the Burmese meditation master, Sayadaw U Pandita is the rarest kind of teacher, one who can show us that freedom is as immediate as breathing, as fundamental as a footstep. In his book, he describes the path of the Buddha and calls all of us to that heroic journey of liberation.
Many people have been inspired by these famous teachers. That is why, in due course, I intend to present their life stories together with relevant background information.
The presentation will be as follows:-
1. Historical background.
2. Biography of the meditation master.
3. Details of his method.
4. The influence he has had.
5. Meditation centers he has established.
6. What the future holds for them.
7. Comments on them.
Ambition means a strong desire to achieve a desired goal. If that desire is very strong, it is called great ambition. The greater the ambition, the more successful one is. However, if that ambition is self-centered, it can do more harm than good.
Ambition is necessary because even the Bodhisattva preserved in his ambition or aspiration to become a Buddha. Without ambition, he could not have become enlightened. His ambition began with a wish in the presence of Dîpankara Buddha. Pali synonyms of ambition are chando, asimsa or abhiniharo.
A commentator once made a remark concerning the word, adhipati: "Chandavato kim nama kammam na sijjhati." It means that one who has a strong desire can achieve whatever he or she wants. One can achieve anything if one’s ambition is strong enough.
World famous generals like Napoleon and great inventors like Edison succeeded in their own fields because of great ambition. Likewise, the ambition of rocker scientists was the driving force by which they were able to reach the surface of the moon.
As disciples of the Buddha, we learn the Buddha’s teaching which becomes deeply rooted in our minds. We understand how to live properly. The Buddha gave a variety of teachings, from the most basic knowledge to the deepest stages of insight. So, we are indebted to him for his great kindness. Everyone who has a sense of gratitude towards the Buddha should, therefore, work hard to propagate Buddhism.
There are plenty of opportunities to propagate Buddhism. Usually, Buddhist monks teach the junior monks and novices. They may spend their entire lives in this way. This kind of life does not appeal to me, as it seems rather limited. On the other hand, teaching is very necessary. It is a basic requirement for the successful development of Buddhism.
In Burma, there is a monk living in Sagaing Hills who has a charismatic personality, deep knowledge of Buddhism and a melodious voice. Giving Dhamma talks is his favorite occupation. Since his teaching is clear and pleasing to hear, he is famous as a good preacher. All over the country, people want to hear his talks again and again. Thus, he has been preaching repeatedly for more than twenty years. The power of his preaching has influenced numerous people of all walks of life to do a lot of meritorious deeds and they are glad to do so. Following his good advice, people offered hundreds of thousands of kyats to build a new hospital which has enough facilities to treat hundreds of patients. Some year ago, it was opened to the general public. Many people including monks and nuns were able to benefit from it.
The same monk fulfilled his ambition t provide a water supply system in the Sagaing Hills. Formerly, the twenty-thousand monks and nuns who lived in the Sagaing Hills had much difficulty in getting water. Nobody was able to solve the problem, but this monk tried very hard and at last succeeded in establishing a water supply. Every temple in the Sagaing Hills now has fresh, running water. The monks and nuns no longer have a shortage of water and so they can study and meditate without worry.
He has a third plan, which is to establish an International Buddhist Academy. This may cost millions of kyats. Students at the Academy will study Buddhism in English. In Burma, Buddhism was never before taught in the English medium. Though there are many scholar monks, only a few can speak and write in English.
So, this monk is working to establish a modern monastic education system. It is hardly possible for an ordinary monk to carry out such an ambitious plan but we are all expecting his Academy to be completed in a few years. We are proud of his abilities. Even if he should pass away, his incomparable example and dedication towards the development of Buddhism will be remembered for hundreds of years. He is a shining example to Buddhist monks.
There are over three hundred thousand monks in Burma and about twenty thousand nuns but such a good preacher is very rare. However, according to the saying, "One can achieve anything if one’s ambition is strong enough", as long as we maintain persistent effort, dedication and determination, we can become a great leader of the Buddhist community in the near future. To become such a good preacher requires great ambition and determination.
I believe that if monks have ambition, they can develop Buddhism and also achieve their own aims, no matter what difficulties they have to overcome. The question that each one has to consider is what role should one play, and what does one intend to achieve?
Sri Lankan Buddhism
Sri Lanka is very famous in Buddhist history, Venerable Maha Mahinda, a son of King Asoka, introduced Buddhism to the country after the Third Buddhist Council, so Buddhist teachings have had a strong influence on the people of Sri Lanka. The literature, culture, architecture and religion gradually developed until Buddhism reached its zenith. According to the commentaries many monks achieved the stage of arahants whilst meditating in their centers, temples or forests. Even to the extent that whilst having their meals in the dining halls, many attained Arahantship and those who had psychic power were so numerous that grains could not be dried in the sun because of the shadows of the monks flying overhead.
We can still see plenty of old religious buildings and foundations of stupas in the northern part of the country. Buddhist kings, monks and lay people passed down Buddhism from generation to generation enabling people of today the opportunity to study the scriptures.
During its long history in Sri Lanka, Buddhism had faced many difficulties. At one time, Buddhist monks from Burma helped them to revive the Sangha by the foundation of the Amarapura and Ramanna Nikáyas which are still two major schools.
Let us survey the current situation of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. I am not sure if my statements are completely accurate but I am giving my honest opinion. I have no prejudice against Buddhists in Sri Lanka because we are all brothers under the guidance of the Buddha.
First of all, let us talk about the practice of collecting alms food. Traditionally, food is obtained by going around for alms (pindapata). In Burma, about eighty percent of the monks still live in this manner. However, in Sri Lanka, this tradition is generally only practiced by forest monks. Elsewhere, devotees offer food in the temples. The monks, therefore, have more time to study or practice meditation. Sometimes, they are no worries about food, thus they lead easy lives.
Other requisites (atthaparikara) like robes (civara) are also offered from time to time. The High Priest of a temple has more than enough robes and shares them with his disciples. People also donate money to construct new buildings.
The people generally go for Boddhi Puja, to listen to Paritta or to Dhamma talks and go on pilgrimages, etc. This shows that the people are well grounded in the Teachings. However, there are not so many people who take part in meditation. There may be about one hundred meditation centers and some monks living in the forest devote themselves to meditation. They are similar to those who practiced the Dhamma in the time of the Buddha. They do not seem to be attached to gain or fame. Their strict obedience to the Vinaya rules is admirable.
What I like most about Sri Lanka Buddhism is the Sunday school for children. On Sundays, children of Buddhist parents attend their local temples and learn about basic Buddhism. It is the duty of monks and nuns to impart the knowledge rather than monks teaching in such places. The monks and nuns should be more involved in the children’s education.
Imparting a sound knowledge of Buddhism to young people is the key to the development of Buddhism. We should all understand that teaching children when they are young is vital. Other religions take this matter seriously thus there is little opportunity that their students be easily converted to Buddhism.
Wherever we go in Sri Lanka, we can see young people learning Buddhism on statistics. In Burma, we have classes for school pupils during the Summer holidays. In Sri Lanka, there are classes in the English medium too (at the Sambodhi temple in Colombo 7, for example).
To support young monks in their studies, there are many colleges (pirivenas), which are supported by the government. There are Buddhist Departments at some universities where one can study Buddhism in the English medium. In Burma and Thailand, the medium of instruction is in the local language. In Burma today, there is the International Theravada Buddhist Missionary University catering to instructions in English.
The Young Men’s Buddhist Association of Colombo is working for the interests of Buddhism. We need such groups. Below is an extract from a report of the Board of Management for the year 1968/69.
"The Y.M.B.A. was founded seventy-one years ago by a group of enlightened Buddhists who realized in their far-seeing wisdom that the only way to bring about a Buddhist renaissance at a time when the Buddha sasana in Ceylon and Sinhala Buddhist society is in a highly decadent state, is by leading the Buddhist youth of the country to ethical conduct and social service".
Under this Association, nine branches have been carrying out their respective duties:
1. Religious activities
2. Dhamma examinations
3. Sports (Fort)
4. Sports (Borella)
5. Literature (Sinhala)
6. Literature (Englsih)
8. Social Service
It is difficult to say whether Buddhism in Sri Lanka is developing or not as we Buddhists, do not keep a systematic record of our activities. Whether we say about such development is, therefore, largely speaking, speculation. Moreover, most Buddhists follow the traditional way, not seemingly concerned whether they succeed or not, never learning from previous errors. It is a great defect in our working methods. If we do not know our defects, how can we progress? It seems that people have no ambition to improve. We should consult with one another and practice patience. As long as we have no respect for one another’s ability (especially among monks), we will not be able to do anything. In practice, personal gain and fame appears to be the first priority for many monks.
At Sri Lanka Universities, the charges for foreign students doing Buddhist studies are very high. If they really want to spread Buddhism, the universities should not be motivated only by profit. Foreign students should be treated as guests and representatives of their nations. The universities and colleges are where students are trained in Buddhism. It is harmful to Buddhism if they don’t study the original Pali texts and especially if ideas contrary to the texts are taught. Critical teaching is needed only when they have mastered the basics so that they have a strong faith in the Buddha and the Dhamma. In my opinion, most monks do not know how to develop and protect Buddhism well because their teachers did not show the ways and the means to do this.
Many monks expect to posses their own temple. This is the most important thing in their lives (the same is also true of some Burmese monks). It is as if they were using the monk’s robe to make a living. If they follow the Sanghika system of common ownership, there will be no problems regarding temple ownership.
Nowadays, many monks think that some Vinaya rules are outdated and should be ignored. This idea is quite popular but we should consider what the difference between a monk and a lay person is. Is it just in our outward appearance? If there is no respect for the rules, what will happen? It is inevitable that monks will become accustomed to committing even serious offences. So, it is better to follow all of the rules as much as possible.
Evaluation of Progress
How can we evaluate the current position of Buddhism?
Is Buddhism progressing through increasing the population of Buddhists?
Through erecting new buildings?
Through providing the best facilities for monks?
Or by explaining the essence of Buddhism to the people?
These are questions that should be asked if we are concerned about the future of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. I pay my respects to those who are devoting themselves to the welfare of Buddhists without any thought of personal gain or fame.
Young People and Buddhism
The Buddha varied His Teachings to suit his audience’s age and social standard. Although the ultimate aim of His Teachings is to realize Path and Fruition knowledge, He also gave advice relating to worldly happiness. Buddhism is not meant only for adult monks and nuns as some people might think. Discourses to young people can be found in many places which makes it clear that Buddhism is for everybody.
Why do young people these days seem less interested in the practice of Buddhism? Since sensual pleasures are the foundation of modern societies, there are many things for young (and old) people to enjoy; music, videos, films and even drugs. It is quite difficult to resist the temptation. It is natural that people will become slaves to enjoyment and then even basic morality becomes difficult to observe. Many questions arise from these problems. Who is responsible for the children? Is it only the parents or do Buddhist monks and nuns also have a duty to help? Do we have to let children go their own way? What did the Buddha say? Young people includes children from the age five up to twenty.
Young people are generally active with a strong a strong inclination towards sensual pleasures and they generally resent being restrained by their elders. So, religious leaders should be concerned about their spiritual development. Since many young people often have little natural inclination towards religion, they can easily become non-believers or skeptics. How can we reverse this trend and inculcate faith into their minds?
To retain its position as one of the four great religions of the world, Buddhism should recruit the young people to participate in religious activities.
Those who have developed their religion even at the cost of their lives, have won the sympathy of young people. This shows the importance of religion to the masses. The increasing numbers of fundamentalists and terrorists is due to their leader fulfilling these conditions. Many Buddhists are heedless of the danger to youths. If we do not take the spiritual well being of youth seriously, we are not interested in youth affairs. We should understand that youths represent the future of Buddhism; if we do not impart the Buddha’s Teaching to the children, we are uprooting Buddhism. Youths will become religious leaders in the future, so their education is of paramount importance.
The leaders of other religions understand the important role of children, so they do their best to teach religion to their children, not only at weekends but also on other days. Thus, their religion is deeply impressed on the next generation. These young people believe firmly in their own religion so it is difficult for them to be converted to other religions. Having been thoroughly indoctrinated, most refuse to see the good side of Buddhism. Yet, some who talk about the supremacy of Buddhists sometimes embrace other religions. What a pity it is! This shows that a proper understanding of Buddhism has not been deeply conveyed to all Buddhists but just traditional practices and beliefs. Every Buddhist has a responsibility for the protection of Buddhism y imparting a sound knowledge to the young generation. Then, Buddhist culture will be stable and free from the danger of fundamentalists.
Let us consider what the Buddha said to youths. In the Dhammapada, there is a story about some youths who were beating a snake. Once, when the Buddha was going for alms in Savatthi, he came across a number of youths beating a snake with sticks. When questioned by him, the youths replied that they were beating the snake because they were afraid that it might bite them. The Buddha admonished them, "If you do not want to be harmed, you should not harm others. If you harm others, you will not find happiness in the future." All the youths attained the stage of stream-winner.**
In this story, the Buddha stressed that one should put oneself in other’s shoes. It is an easy message for youths to understand. If you do not like any action that hurts you, then others will not like it either. Only wicked people have no consideration for others. The same principle applies to all immoral actions: killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, abusing, backbiting, etc. Every child should be taught to follow the basic morality of the five precepts (pancasila). It is our duty to teach children Buddhist ethics, such ass the ten good conducts and the ten evil conducts.
The Buddha gave instructions to children whenever the occasion arose. The Ambalathika Rahulovada Sutta of the Majjhima Nikáya also concerns young people. In this discourse, the Buddha taught his son who was then only seven years old. The Buddha said, "Rahula, you must be mindful of whatever you are about to do and reflect whether it will be harmful to yourself or to others. If you find that the deed will be harmful to yourself or others, you should not do it but if it will not be harmful then you may do it." Thus advice to Rahula is a simple way to discriminate between good and bad. It is necessary for every Buddhist to understand this fundamental knowledge.
Young people naturally have a strong sexual desire. There is a story in the Dhammapada (vv.309-310) about a man who was attractive to women.*** His name was Khema (Khemaka in Burmese editions). Knowing that women were being attracted to him, Khema committed adultery without compunction. The king’s men arrested him three times for adultery and brought him to the presence of the king. When informed that Khema was the nephew of Anathapindika, the king did not punish him but only reprimanded him. When Anathapindika came to know his nephew’s misconduct, he took him to see the Buddha who admonished Khema on the depravity of sexual misconduct and the seriousness of the consequences. Khema mended his ways and observed the five precepts.
It is noteworthy that the Buddha and Anathapindika did not turn a blind eye to Khema’s misbehavior but showed their compassion by admonishing him. Anathapindika knew that the Buddha’s admonishment would be very effective.
Many modern problems are the direct or indirect result of lack of restraint in sexual matters. AIDS has spread rapidly due to promiscuity. Teenage pregnancy causes much unnecessary sufferings in western countries. Divorce rates are also much too high because of infidelity. Many couples separate soon after marriage, often leaving children with only one parent. These problems are all related to the excessive addiction to pleasure.
For the Buddhist, adultery is strictly prohibited. If one commits it, he or she is guilty of a serious misconduct and will suffer bad consequences both in this life and the next. The Buddha’s advice can restrain people from over indulgence in sexuality but those with little knowledge of Buddhism are vulnerable to temptation. So, all young people should study the Buddha’s teaching on this matter.
As well as the teachings already quoted, the Singalovada Sutta, Parabhava Sutta, Mangala Sutta and many of the Jataka stories are good sources for teaching youths about ethics. Among them, the Singala Sutta is well known.
Singala was the son of a Buddhist family residing in Rajagaha. His parents were devout followers of the Buddha but he was indifferent to religion. The parents tried to persuade their son to accompany them to visit the Buddha but to no avail. The son thought it was useless to visit the Sangha, as such visits meant having to give something, entailing material loss. He was only concerned with material prosperity and he didn’t understand about spiritual progress. He would say to his father, "I don’t want anything to do with monks. Paying homage to them makes my back ache and my knees stiff. I have to sit on the ground and so my clothes become soiled and worn. During conversation with them, one gets to know what they need and so one only losses by it."
Finally, as the father lay on his deathbed, he asked his son to at least obey his parting advice. His son agreed, so the father told him, "Son, every morning after your bath, worship the six directions". The father hoped it would provide an opportunity for the Buddha or His disciples to teach his son. Singala carried out his father’s last wish and worshipped the six directors (north, south, east, west, above and below) daily.
One day, on his way for alms, the Buddha met Singala and seeing him worshipping the six directions, delivered the famous Singala Sutta which contains in brief the entire domestic and social duty for a lay person. Commenting on this discourse, G.P. Malasekera quotes Mrs. Rhys Davids, "The discourse is an exposition of the whole domestic and social duty of a layman according to the Buddhist point of view and as such it has become known as the householder’s discipline". (Gihivinaya)
There is no other discourse that mentions the obligations of lay followers in such detail. Although this advice was given only to Singala, it is applicable to all Buddhists. If they follow this advice, there will hardly be any social problems at all. If we follow this advice, we will naturally cultivate loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity.
However good the teachings are, we will get the benefits of social harmony only if we fulfill our duties. Statistics show that 25% of children in the USA have no father at home, so the fathers are not fulfilling their duties. Many children in the world have only one parent. Buddhism is totally opposed to this selfish attitude. That is why the Buddha talked about the various duties between parents and children, between husband and wife, between teachers and pupils, etc.
Those who understand the value of the teachings in the Singalovada Sutta encourage their children to live by them. The traditional culture of Burma is based in this discourse and many people still follow its advice to the letter.
So, now we know the important role that young people have to play in the development of Buddhism, we should know ways and means that will be effective, as Singala’s father managed to do. We must ensure that the Buddhist knowledge and culture is handed over in its pristine purity to the next generation. Otherwise, the teaching will soon become corrupt and disappear.
There is no excuse for us, Buddhists. The solution to these problems can be found by cooperation and discussion. We must not under-estimate the task, nor over-estimate our own achievements. We should always be on the lookout for ways to improve our methods and practices.
We should expect Buddhism to become the greatest of all world religions again, which is certainly possible, provided that Buddhists realize things as they really are.
The Decline And Development Of Buddhism
Whenever I visit a Buddhist community in any country, I would take note of the organizations involved in the development of Buddhism and I would enquire about their religious activities for each week and month. In this article, I would like to survey the state of Buddhism. Whether my observations are correct or otherwise depend on how objectively one views it. I am neither a pessimist nor an optimist. My aspiration is to share the Buddha’s Teaching with all living beings.
With regards to this topic, I believe there is a need to clear the doubts about the decline and the development of Buddhism.
As long as Buddhism is practiced at the basic or higher level, it is said to be development of Buddhism. Any form of Buddhism, if it is not practiced socially, ethically, morally or through meditation amounts to a decline. It is literally called Lingasasana (superficial Buddhism devoid of following the Buddha’s advice).
First of all, we find that those who carry out their Buddhist activities correctly and devote themselves sincerely to the welfare of people are the best examples for us. They provide excellent role models as their first priority is to consider the well being of others. There may not be differences between monks and lay people in practicing altruism. Anyone can do it. Motives and propensity make them different. Some monks in Myanmar are looking after children who are orphans or who come from impoverished homes. Some establish primary schools to give free education. There are also free tuition classes for middle or high school students conducted by monks. However, these kinds of activities are small in numbers compared to the demand. In order to succeed, we need time and the necessity to raise funds. I have been observing these efforts for about thirty years.
The most successful endeavors in Myanmar are meditation retreats. All over the country, young and old people have the inclination towards meditational practices. Occasionally, they participate in retreats to have a better understanding of Buddhism. It is believed that many young people are practicing it too. Consequentially, they have the opportunity to embrace Buddhism. Otherwise, they remain just so-called Buddhists. Hopefully with the practice of meditation, both young and old will make further progress.
Wherever I go, I usually enquire from the native monks about their daily life. A monk’s life in countries like Thailand, Sri Lanka and Malaysia is much better than in Myanmar. In the first two, both the government and devotees support the Sangha in various ways. However, the monks in those countries fail to contribute spiritually to the people as much as they should because their devotees are so generous that those monks live easy lives. However, some forest monks over there follow the Vinaya rules very strictly and practice meditation seriously. Such monks, even though few in numbers, have the opportunity to lead the people to better conditions. This is because offerings to monks endowed with morality is more meritorious.
There is a more effective venture currently in Malaysia; this involves the publishing of Buddhist books by some Buddhist organizations and individuals specializing in this activity. Every year, thousands of ringgit are spent on this noble purpose. All the publications are distributed to Buddhist organizations and meditation centers in Malaysia and abroad. This has proved to be the most effective mechanism for the propagation of Buddhism. No other Buddhist nation can do it like Malaysia. It is very commendable.
Up to now, I have given some information about Buddhist activities. More extensive research is needed as it is not proper to criticize without knowing the facts. I have some ideas for an appropriate education system in Buddhist nations.
Buddhist Educational System and the New Era
Let us look at the current situation of Buddhism again. Development of Buddhism is mainly dependent on monks, nuns and lay organizations.
Monastic education should precede missionary work. We don’t have any research on such education and we do not know whether our education system is effective or not. Education is the keystone to the advancement of Buddhism. If we are not properly trained, what will become of our future? In Myanmar, a s I know, a student monk and nun has to take more than ten years to pass five grades. Ability to deeply understand the Pali language is not for everybody. Under such a system most Myanmars are not able to study the Pali Canon (Pali text) in depth. Self study must be continued, as it is mandatory for a student to study fifty percent of the Suttas and Vinayas. A thorough understanding of the Pali grammar is necessary. This is because we now face the problem of wrong interpretations presented by so called scholars. It is our duty to address these but with our unsatisfactory education system, what can we do for Buddhism. Most of us do not know how to disseminate Buddhism according to the needs of the modern age, due to the weakness of our educational system. In some Buddhist nations, lessons for students are neither based in morality nor are they guided by exemplary teachers. Many student monks in Myanmar and Thailand have very limited command of a foreign language.
We lose a lot of energy by spending a long period of time studying. It is high time that the old monastic education system be changed for a better one. If we modify it in time, Buddhist history may change with the advent of the new millennium.
Lay Buddhist Organization
In every Buddhist township, there are lay Buddhist associations conducting various religious activities. For example, offering food to the monks, celebrating special Buddhist occasions, Dhamma talks, conducting retreats, Dhamma classes and so on. In Sri Lanka, Y.M.B.A. movements are widespread and well known. Not much information is available about this in Thailand. In Malaysia, some are very active; they offer a different program or class everyday. Many others lack the financial means. Even with adequate funds, there is a lack of expertise in their administration to implement and maintain effective programs. Almost every group has its own library and Dhamma tapes which can be borrowed. A few of them have monks coming from Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand. There are some local monks who do not want to join lay associations. In my opinion, there must be a consensus between the monks and the committee members in the administration of the association. Mutual understanding and patience for the sake of Buddhism are also important factors. If each and everyone understands one another and learn to give and take, the future of Buddhism in Malaysia will certainly flourish. We should never forget that disunity among Buddhists is the main reason for the decline of the Buddha Sasana.
Negligence of Future Generations
Teaching basic Buddhism to the young is mostly conducted in Sunday schools. Everywhere this training has become weaker and weaker. Parents want their children to emphasize on school education merely to get good jobs. Many of the young do not attend the Sunday classes. They are not familiar with the Buddha’s advice. They think that temple monks only give blessings and do chanting when the need arises. Both monks and parents should spend time and money on Sunday classes to attract the young. Not taking an interest in teaching the children is similar to destroying the root of a tree. Nevertheless, it is up to us to make it possible.
We don’t have any short or long term plan for missionary work. It is very hard to come on an agreement because some religious leaders are conceited; self-esteemed spirit is rooted in them. They cannot acknowledge the achievement or success of others. Some, not being broadminded, are using Buddhism to earn a living. Some are so attached to their region that only someone belonging to their township has the right to take an interest in them. Some so-called chief monks discriminate between insiders and outsiders (a sort of nepotism). Some chief monks or executive committee members do not seem to know how to run their organization; their primary aim appears to be a desire to be in control, regardless of the opinions of other members. It is very strange to me that such persons can own a nice place complete with buildings in the center of town which has good transportation and everything. How fortunate for them but how unfortunate it is for Buddhism. If only they have adequate skills to manage the organization or temple properly, it will be so much better for all.
Even though we are followers of the Buddha and usually talk about overcoming selfishness or egoism, we are more inclined to self-interest especially materially. As long as we do not have brotherly love among fellow members, monastic life will be devoid of peace of mind.
Mahayana Buddhists are extremely successful in carrying out social work. It is the same as sharing Buddhism with other people. In my opinion, Buddhist teaching must be reasonable. We should not go beyond that which is acceptable.
Some people think they are better than others and tend to blame other schools of thoughts. We should not let the differences between Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism escalate as this will beget aggressiveness which will lead to the decline of Buddhism. It is regrettable that we cannot establish goodwill among Buddhist nations. However noble Buddhism is, if the followers (practitioners) do not become superior morally we will be looked upon with contempt. It is shameful. Hence, let us have high regard for the matchless Buddha.
I would like to classify all monks into two groups.
1. The first group of monks follow the Buddha’s teaching correctly in keeping morality and practicing meditation. They should be left to practice as they are spiritually helping the devotees. There is no need for them to do more.
2. The second group of monks do not spend sufficient time in practicing meditation and are not attentive in the keeping of precepts. For this group, it is better to lead the people to a better life by giving them social and educational support. These days, these tasks are important in order to propagate the religion. From the Buddhist’s point of view, there will not be any serious objections. Since this group is in constant contact with people, it must be extremely mindful, to ensure that rules are not broken or serious offences committed.
3. Usually, a monk can take part in many activities, such as giving free tuition (especially English). This will be welcomed by many. In particular, activities whereby students can learn writing, reading and speaking English at diploma level. Primary and middle schools need to be established to cater to these pressing needs.
4. In the establishing of homes to care for orphans, maintenance expenses are usually high, therefore soliciting for funds is of prime importance here. An orphanage should be built in every township. In this respect, it is suitable for the nuns to take care of the girls or the parentless. In the beginning, there may be difficulties but with persistent effort, problems can be overcome.
5. Opening technical schools for commercial arts, or skills like sewing, repairing watches, television, bicycles, radio-cassettes, motorcycles and so on should be done. By so doing, we can provide the needy with opportunities for better lives. In between time, we can teach basic Buddhism, two to three times a week. This is a good way of introducing Buddhism to those who have a poor knowledge of Buddhism.
6. For able monks, they should set up health-care service centers such as clinics and hospital. Only famous meditation teachers and famous preachers may establish these as they have more funds as a result of being supported by many devotees. Many Buddhists from the Mahayana society set up such health-care service centers which are acknowledge by the government. In actual fact, monks or nuns need not get themselves involved in such activities, except to manage them.
7. Contribute to a central fund for the assistance of all Buddhist communities in the country, should they be in need of funds for any worthwhile projects. This program will enable the poor societies to carry on with projects which they may not be financially capable of. We have seen some of these being left in bad conditions.
8. As to the future ahead of us, we must be involved with the Electronic Age, computers, websites, and all other forms of electronic communication systems that will serve to help us keep abreast with the international scene.
Devotees and Charity
It is natural for devotees to be biased in the performance of Dana, however in the interest of the development of Buddhism as a whole, a devotee should support more the recipient who undertakes and is keen on the development of Buddhism, with the understanding that this monk or nun is really doing something good for the sasana (Buddha’s Teachings).
A useful advice to devotees is not to easily believe in whatever is said as it may sometimes be more harmful than good. A good devotee must have the knowledge of being able to distinguish between good and bad spiritually.
In this modern age, people are occupied with endless social attractions to fulfill the needs of life. As the standards of living rise, people have difficulties keeping up because new inventions are being churned out constantly for enjoyment; they cannot stop their attachment to luxury. They are forced to earn more and more money throughout their lives. At the same time, they face problems relating to crimes and dreadful diseases that they have never been exposed to before. For these reasons, we cannot hope that the majority of people will have a deeper understanding of Buddhism sorely through the practice of meditation.
This is why I have presented ways and means which are useful to encourage people to practice Buddhism. (Moreover there are monks and nuns who are playing an important role by way of teaching young fellow monks and nuns).
To sum up, we should not be satisfied with merely maintaining our own temple only. Working for the needy in every possible way is imperative for only then will Buddhism take hold and be rooted in their mind with a deeper understanding. At the least, their traditional belief may be transformed into genuine one.
The population of Buddhist monks is about four hundred thousand all over the world. On third of them are wholeheartedly carrying out some of the ideas which I have mentioned in this article. The rest of them can maintain the status quo without making a special effort or worrying about Buddhism in the new millennium.