Trướchết, sơ lược về tiểu sử của Sư Sayadaw U. Sumana.Sư là người từ Miến Điện (Myanmar) thuộc vùng Đông NamÁ. Là một trong 5 anh em xuất gia, Sư vào chùa tu khi vừa 11tuổi và đến năm 23 tuổi, Sư được bằng cử nhân Phậthọc. Sau đó Sư huấn luyện những Sa Di tại một số chùavà đồng thời học về Anh ngữ. Năm 1980, Sư tu tập thiềndưới sự hướng dẫn của nhiều vị thiền sư nổi tiếngtại Thiền Viện Mahasi. Mỗi năm, Sư hoằng pháp khắp nơitrong Myanmar và đã hoằng pháp 4 tháng dài tại Thụy Điển.Đương thời, Sư Sayadaw U. Sumana hướng dẫn thực tập thiềntại Mã Lai Á.
Phậtgiáo được thành lập do đức Phật vào thế kỷ thứ 6 trướcniên đại Thiên Chúa. Trải qua nhiều thế hệ thịnh suy, Phậtgiáo hiện tại là một trong những tôn giáo lớn nhất trênthế giới. Thể theo lịch sử, chúng ta thấy rằng có lúcPhật giáo thâu thập rất nhiều tín đồ và cũng có lúc bịcoi như là lãng quên. Hiện nay, Phật giáo giống như là mộtcon cá trong hồ nước cạn và nước sẽ tiếp tục bốc thànhhơi nếu không có bóng cây che mát hồ để tránh đi ánh nắngnóng bỏng của mặt trời. Con cá đó sẽ cố gắng tiếp tụcsống với cái hy vọng là cơn mưa sẽ đến, nếu như cơnmưa kịp lúc đến thì cá sẽ được sống cho đến khi mãnkiếp. Những người Phật tử thông thường được ví nhưlà cơn mưa làm cho hồ được đầy nước trở lại và dovậy mà Phật giáo được tồn tại dưới sự bảo tồn củaPhật tử.
Trongnhững tôn giáo lớn trên thế giới như Thiên Chúa giáo, Hồigiáo, Ấn Độ giáo và Phật giáo, thì Phật giáo có khoảng500 triệu tín đồ và được coi như là con số thấp nhấttrong các giáo phái. Vì vậy, Phật giáo được thí dụ nhưlà con cá trong hồ nước cạn và càng lúc nước càng cạnđi. Nếu chúng ta không kiểm điểm lại sự tu tập trong ĐạoPhật và để cho càng lúc càng sa đọa, thì kết quả sẽlà giảm thiểu tín đồ và tín đồ của những đạo giáokhác sẽ gia tăng do sự suy đồi của Phật giáo. Những sinhhoạt Phật giáo mang tính cách bảo tồn và duy trì Phật giáokhông được phát triển bao nhiêu và lại còn thêm vào nhữngthành phần báo hại Phật giáo bằng cách làm cho sai lạc nhữnglời dạy nguyên bản. Đây là những thành phần ví như làtia nắng thiêu đốt của mặt trời vậy. Dù sao đi nữa Phậtgiáo vẫn còn có hy vọng làm cho hệ thống chân lý đượcsống dậy cũng giống như là những hạt mưa rơi xuống làmtràn đầy hồ nước đang bị cạn.
Chonên, phần chính yếu là phải biết những cái gì nên tránhvà những gì nên gặt hái dể làm cho Phật giáo ngày càngtiến triển. Giáo lý siêu việt do đức Phật tìm ra đã trảiqua nhiều phấn đấu của nhiều thế kỷ và không thể nàođể cho chấm dứt sau một thời gian ngắn ngủi của 2600 năm!.
Tuynhiên chúng ta không nên nghĩ rằng đạo Phật sẽ vẫn tồntại nếu như mỗi người không chịu giúp đỡ và không cósự quan tâm đối với đạo giáo. Cũng vậy, chúng ta khôngnên hài lòng với những tập tục truyền thống như là tụngKinh, cúng dường, cúng kiến, v..v… Phần đông chúng ta chỉcó thể tiến hành theo phong tục tập quán, nhưng bây giờđã đến lúc phải tìm những phương cách mới để phát triểnđạo Phật.
Tronglịch sử Phật giáo, chỉ có hai công cuộc hoằng pháp làđáng kể nhất. Đó là thời đức Phật còn tại thế, ngàigởi chư Tăng đi nhiều nơi khác nhau và lần thứ hai là vuaAsoka gởi 9 nhóm Tăng sĩ đi nhiều nước khác nhau. Dù nhiềungười thời nay cho rằng Phật giáo có phát triển, nhưng khôngcó bằng chứng cụ thể để chứng minh là thật sự có pháttriển như họ nghĩ.
Phậttử phải có trách nhiệm bảo tồn và duy trì di sản Phậtđã để lại. Phật tử phải sống với triết lý của vôthường và tìm ra những phương thức mới để khuyến khíchđa số quần chúng. Thí dụ như là chúng ta có thể dựng lênnhững cơ quan quốc tế chuyên phát thanh giáo lý Phật giáođể tạo nên cơ hội hoằng truyền chánh pháp khắp nơi trênthế giới. Tất cả những mục tiêu ngắn hoặc dài hạn đềucần có những kế hoạch nghiên cứu hẳn hòi thì nền pháttriển Phật giáo mới được chính xác. Lẽ dỉ nhiên nhữngsinh hoạt Phật giáo phải nên được hội nhập vào đờisống hằng ngày, vào những chương trình hằng tuần và hằngtháng, những dịp đặc biệt, v..v… Phật tử phải biếtrõ rằng tất cả những sinh hoạt nên được khai mở vớisự hỗ trợ của những vị lãnh tụ Phật giáo.
Thếkỷ 20 đã chấm dứt và một thế kỷ mới vừa bắt đầu.Những sự kiện của quá khứ là những bài học cho thế hệcủa tương lai. Chúng ta nghĩ sao về lịch sử Phật giáo khichúng ta nhìn về quá khứ? Chúng ta nên nghĩ về những bổnphận và trách nhiệm của Tăng Ni để xem xét cái nào có hữuích trong công cuộc hoằng pháp thì nên tiếp tục làm và traudồi thêm, còn như cái nào không có ích thì nên tránh.
Vàocuối thế kỷ 20 còn rất nhiều người sống nghèo khổ, cơcực tại những nước như là Burma, Sri Lanka, Laos, Cambodia,Vietnam cho dù họ lao động rất nhiều nhưng cũng vẫn khôngcó đủ để sống cho đúng mức. Tuy họ là Phật tử, họkhông có cơ hội để học hỏi thêm về chánh pháp cao siêucủa đức Phật bởi vì họ quá nghèo. Chúng ta nên cải tiếnđời sống của họ cho đúng với tiêu chuẩn, chẳng hạnnhư cung cấp cho họ những gì cần thiết trong đời sốngthường ngày hoặc tốt hơn nữa là chỉ cho họ cách đểlàm đời sống họ được thịnh vượng hơn. Sau đó họ mớicó thể thực tập Bát chánh đạo. Thật là thảm thương khiquá nhiều người thiếu thốn về mặt vật chất lẫn tinhthần. Dù cho có sự giúp đỡ của chính phủ, người nghèovẫn hoàn nghèo. Cho nên Tăng Ni nên giúp kẻ nghèo càng nhiềucàng tốt và chúng ta nên học hỏi ở những vị lãnh tụtôn giáo khác về những cách thức hỗ trợ, khuyến khíchtín đồ trong công việc cứu giúp nạn nhân của thiên tai.
Hiệntại, ai ai cũng kiếm cách làm giàu. Thỉnh thoảng có ngườiđến hỏi Tăng sĩ Phật giáo cách thức để làm giàu và vìvậy mà các Tăng trở thành chiêm tinh gia hoặc coi bói chỉtay. Thật ra, đây là đi ngược chiều hướng với giới luậtcủa Phật giáo, nhưng người ta lại coi trọng những vị Tăngđó. Trong thời đại hoàng kim này, rất nhiều Tăng sĩ vàcư sĩ thực tập sai lạc và dùng chánh pháp để trá hìnhnhững sai lạc đó.
Thêmmột vấn đề nan giải nữa là Phật tử thời nay không theochánh đạo mà lại hay nương theo những nghi lễ cúng kiến.Những Tăng sĩ có chùa riêng vào những ngày đại lễ thìnên dạy chánh pháp cho Phật tử để họ trở nên hiếu đạohơn. Đức Phật đã nói về sự suy đồi của con người trongKinh Tiểu Bộ phẩm Varana, chuyện giấc mộng lớn (tiền thânMahasupina). Trong Kinh Tăng Chi Bộ Chương Năm Pháp, đức Phậtnói về những lý do đưa đến sự suy đồi và giải đãicủa Tăng sĩ. Khi Tăng chúng bại hoại thì giáo pháp cũng bịbại hoại. Nói chung là trong thời mạt pháp, chỉ có mộtsố 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.
Chúngta nên cố gắng gây quỹ cho những công cuộc cải tiến xãhội của người dân nghèo. Chúng ta nên nhắc nhở ngườigiàu là họ sẽ tiếp tục có đời sống giàu có bằng cáchquy y Tam Bảo. Chúng ta nên phổ biến văn học Phật giáo vàtổ chức những buổi giảng pháp vào thời khóa của sinh hoạtthường hằng. Có rất nhiều cách để phát triển Phật sựngay trong thời đại này. Nhưng dù cho ý định có xuất sắccách mấy đi nữa mà không có sự hợp tác và thống nhấtcủa những người con Phật thì chúng ta sẽ bị thối lui quáxa sau những tôn giáo khác vào khoảng giữa của thế kỷ này.
Ngườingoại đạo thời nay có sự nhận định rằng giáo lý củađạo Phật trên nguyên tắc thì rất hay nhưng thực hành thìkhông được tốt lắm. Chúng ta chỉ có thể thay đổi sựnhận định sai lầm này bằng cách thực hành giáo lý cho thậtlà hoàn hảo.
Phậttử tại gia hay xuất gia có hai thành phần: Phật tử đơnthuần và Phật tử cao cấp. Phật tử đơn thuần có niềmtin nơi Tam Bảo (Phật, Pháp, Tăng) và tin vào lý nhân quảtức là gieo giống thiện thì sẽ gặt quả lành. Vì vậy,Phật tử đơn thuần cúng dường thức ăn, đồ mặc, nơiở và thuốc thang cho Tăng chúng, thêm vào đó, họ giữ gìn5 giới, 8 giới hoặc 10 giới, tụng Kinh và tri ân Tam Bảo.Như vậy, người Phật tử đơn thuần là Phật tử đi theotruyền thống. Nhưng, làm thế nào để trở thành Phật tửcao cấp? Khi chúng ta thực thập thiền định hoặc thiền quántưởng theo như lời Phật đã dạy, thì chúng ta đạt đượctrí tuệ và đồng thời chúng ta thực tập giới, định, tuệtức là Bát Chánh Đạo như Phật đã từng nhấn mạnh trongnhững thời giảng của Ngài. Với trí tuệ sáng suốt, chúngta nhận thức được con đường chánh đạo và đạt đượcnguyện vọng của sự tu học. Lúc đó chúng ta hồi quang phảnchiếu và sẽ thấy rằng những tập khí đã được tận đoạn.Những Phật tử này gọi là Phật tử cao cấp. Là tu sĩ xuấtgia, chúng ta nên thực tập thiền quán để đạt được trítuệ sáng suốt, và chỉ có như thế, chúng ta mới có thểphổ biến chánh pháp, đem niềm an lạc, hạnh phúc đến chomọi người. Sự khác biệt giữa Phật tử đơn thuần vàPhật tử cao cấp là: “người luôn thực tập thiền địnhkhông cần phải cầu xin gì cả”. Phật tử đơn thuần vẫncòn nhiều tham, sân và không thể cưỡng lại sự bám chấpvào những gì làm cho họ vừa ý hoặc cố gắng tránh né nhữnggì làm cho họ không vừa ý. Là Phật tử nói chung, chúng tanên hiểu rõ rằng đức Phật muốn cho tất cả chúng sanhthoátkhổ, cho nên Ngài muốn chúng ta trở nên Phật tử cao cấp.Do đó, chúng ta không nên tự hài lòng chỉ làm người Phậttử đơn thuần mà thôi. Tất cả Tăng Ni đều không nhữnghọc hỏi giáo lý Phật Đà mà còn nên thực tập nữa, bởivì Tăng Ni có cơ hội lý tưởng để hành thiền mà đó cũnglà trách nhiệm chính yếu vậy. Phật tử tại gia do vì bậnrộng công việc làm ăn cho nên không có nhiều thời giờ chosự tu học, nhưng họ cũng vẫn nên hành thiền ít nhất mộtlần trong đời để được tiến triển hơn về mặt trí tuệ.Cho dù thế nào đi nữa, chỉ khi nào người Phật tử có khảnăng cao và đạt được trí tuệ đến một bậc nào đó thìmới có thể thành công trong việc truyền bá đạo Phật.
ĐứcPhật 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 caocả của đức Phật. Vì tri ân Phật nên chúng ta phải cốgắng truyền bá đạo Phật. Có rất nhiều phương cách đểtruyền bá đạo Phật. Chư Tăng Ni nên hiểu rằng giảng dạygiáo lý là điều cần thiết và cốt yếu. Có những vị tusĩ rất được nhiều Phật tử kính mến và họ nên dùngcơ hội này để tạo dựng những cơ sở làm lợi ích chodân chúng, chẳng hạn như bệnh viện, trường học, hệ thốngdẫn nước, v..v… và kêu gọi Phật tử tham gia vào nhữngviệc thiện này. Để trở nên những vị Tăng Ni có ích choxã hội và khả năng lãnh đạo, thì phải có hoài bảo vàquyết tâm. Chỉ như thế thì họ mới có thể phát triểnđạo Phật và đồng thời đạt được mục tiêu của chínhmình bất kể những khó khăn mà họ phải vượt qua.
Rấtkhó phán đoán là đạo Phật thịnh hay suy bởi vì những sinhhoạt không có hồ sơ hoặc được ghi nhận chính xác. Thêmnữa, Phật tử thường đi theo tập tục và không mấy quantâm đến sự thành công trong vấn đề tu học, không chịuhọc hỏi từ những lỗi lầm đã phạm. Đây là khuyết điểmcho phương cách cải tiến. Nếu như chúng ta không biết nhữngkhuyết điểm thì làm sao để tiến triển được. Thực tếcho thấy rằng danh lợi là quan trọng hơn hết. Một số dùngchùa để làm ăn thay vì giữ gìn giới cấm một cách nghiêmngặt và tu học để tự có một căn bản Phật học vữngchãi để giảng dạy giáo lý.
ĐứcPhật giảng dạy giáo lý tùy theo tuổi tác và địa vị củađối phương. Dù rằng điểm chính yếu của Ngài là phảiđạt giác ngộ, Ngài cũng vẫn dạy những cách thức làm chocuộc sống được hạnh phúc. Trong những thời giảng củaPhật cho thấy rằng Phật pháp không dành riêng cho Tăng Nitrưởng thành mà còn cho những người vị thành niên, do đórõ ràng Phật pháp là cho tất cả mọi người. Tại sao giớitrẻ thời nay lại không thích thực hành Phật pháp? Chínhvì sự hưởng thụ thường là nền móng của thời đại mới,cho nên trẻ và già đều thích thưởng thức nhạc, phim, thuốckích thích, v..v…và rất khó mà cưỡng lại những cám dỗ.Ai là người có trách nhiệm khi giới trẻ suy đồi? Cha mẹcủa chúng hay là cả chư Tăng Ni cũng có trách nhiệm dạydỗ? Để duy trì địa vị Phật giáo là một trong 4 tôn giáolớn trên thế giới thì chúng ta phải tuyển thêm số ngườitrẻ tham dự vào những sinh hoạt Phật giáo (Đối với Phậtgiáo Việt Nam, hiện tại thành phần Phật tử đi chùa đasố là những người lớn tuổi, khoảng từ 55 đến 75 tuổivà 95% là nữ giới ngoại trừ các trung tâm tu học của Hòathượng Nhất Hạnh). Chúng ta nên hiểu rằng giới trẻ đạidiện cho tương lai của Phật giáo, do đó nếu như chúng takhông truyền đạt Phật pháp đến với giới trẻ thì đạoPhật sẽ bị mai một. Giới trẻ sẽ là lãnh tụ của tôngiáo trong tương lai, như vậy giáo dục chúng là một điềuhết sức quan trọng. Những tôn giáo khác thường xuyên cókhóa dạy giáo lý cho trẻ em vào cuối tuần và những ngàytrong tuần, cho nên giới trẻ có niềm tin vào đạo giáo rấtlà vững vàng và không dễ dàng thay đổi tín ngưỡng. Cóngười khen rằng giáo lý đạo Phật là cao siêu nhưng họvẫn tin đạo giáo khác. Điều này cho thấy là sự hiểu biếtchân chánh về đạo Phật không được phổ biến sâu rộngmà chỉ có thực tập niềm tin truyền thống thôi. Mỗi Phậttử phải có trách nhiệm bảo trì đạo Phật bằng cách phổbiến những kiến thức chân chánh đến với giới trẻ. Nhưvậy, trẻ em phải được dạy dỗ nền đạo đức căn bảnbằng cách duy trì 5 giới, tu học 10 điều thiện và 10 điềuác. Khi có dịp, đức Phật thường khuyên răng giới trẻnên phân biệt giữa thiện và ác, rồi nên làm tất cả việcthiện và tránh tất cả việc ác. Những mẫu chuyện tiềnthân của đức Phật trong Kinh Tiểu Bộ rất thuận tiện trongcông cuộc giáo dục giới trẻ.
TrongKinhGiáo Thọ Thi-ca-la-việt(Singalovada Sutta của Kinh TrườngBộ, Tập 2, Kinh số 31), đức Phật dạy về trách nhiệm củacon người đối với xã hội, đối với gia đình. Nếu nhưtất cả mọi người đều thực tập như lời dạy của ngài,thì những điều nan giải trong xã hội đương thời đượcgiảm đi rất nhiều và con người có thể sống trong an hòa,hạnh phúc. Quan trọng hơn hết là chúng ta phải duy trì chánhpháp cho được nguyên vẹn với ý nghĩa mà đức Phật đãtrao truyền, nếu không thì sẽ dễ bị sai lạc và sớm bịtiêu diệt.
Phậtgiáo thịnh hành là khi mà nền tu học được duy trì ở mứccăn bản hoặc cao cấp. Phật giáo dần dần suy đồi khi giáolý không được thực hành trong xã hội một cách chân chánh,đạo đức. Nói về lòng vị tha thì không có khác biệt giữatu sĩ và cư sĩ. Có những tu sĩ nuôi trẻ em mồ côi, dạyhọc hoàn toàn miễn phí tại các trường mẫu giáo, tiểuhọc và trung học. Nhưng tiếc rằng sự yểm trợ này quáít trong khi nhu cầu lại quá cao. Cho nên muốn thành công hơnnữa thì chúng ta cần thời gian và gây quỹ thêm.
Trongthời đại ngày nay, sự thịnh hành của Phật giáo chính lànhờ vào Tăng Ni và các cơ quan bất vụ lợi của cư sĩ. Giáodục là nền tảng chính để phát triển đạo Phật đếnmức cao hơn. Nếu như chúng ta không được huấn luyện đầyđủ thì tương lai sẽ ra sao? Phần đông chúng ta không biếtcách để truyền đạt giáo lý đạo Phật theo nhu cầu củathời đại mới bởi vì hệ thống giáo dục quá yếu kém.Những cơ quan bất vụ lợi thì chịu sự thiếu thốn tàilộc và thiếu những người làm việc có kinh nghiệm trongvấn đề duy trì những chương trình hữu ích. Thêm một vấnđề quan trọng nữa là chúng ta phải có lòng cảm thông vànhẫn nại đối với nhau bởi vì sự chia rẽ là điểm chínhlàm cho Phật giáo bị suy đồi. Chúng ta hay chê bai môn pháivà thường cho rằng môn phái của mình là hay hơn hết. Chúngta không nên để cho sự khác biệt giữa tông phái càng ngàycàng tăng thêm hiềm khích mà làm cho Phật giáo phải chịusuy đồi. Giáo lý đạo Phật tuy rằng cao siêu, nhưng nếucác hành giả không chịu trau dồi đạo đức, thì thật làtủi hổ. Do đó mới thấy rằng đấng Vô Thượng Sư Phậtcủa chúng ta là đáng tôn kính biết bao.
Thườngthì những cha mẹ chỉ muốn con em chăm chỉ học hành đểtiến thân và kiếm việc làm tốt trong xã hội. Vì vậy, trẻem không mấy quen thuộc với những lời giảng dạy của đứcPhật và các em nghĩ rằng các tu sĩ chỉ có cầu an và tụngniệm mà thôi. Tất cả các tu sĩ và các bậc cha mẹ đềunên dành thời gian và tài lộc để tổ chức những khóa họccuối tuần hầu các thanh thiếu niên lưu tâm tham gia hơn. Khôngquan tâm đến dạy dỗ giới trẻ là chẳng khác nào tiêu diệtrễ cây vậy.
Nhữngý kiến được nêu ra trong bài này cho thấy rằng có rấtnhiều cách thức để khuyến khích người ta tu học theo đạoPhật. Nói tóm lại, chúng ta không nên chỉ lo duy trì ngôichùa của chính mình mà thôi, ngược lại, bằng mọi cáchchúng ta giúp đỡ những người nghèo khó, bởi vì chỉ cónhư thế thì đạo Phật mới được bảo đảm và ăn sâuvào kiến thức của họ. Ít ra, niềm tin tưởng theo truyềnthống sẽ được cải tiến thành niềm tin tưởng chân chánh.
TheDecline And Development Of Buddhism
BySayadaw U Sumana (Ye U)
Introduction:These"Essays on Buddhism" are written with the noble aim to propagate the Buddha-Dhammain many countries.
Thestandard and style of English is simple, clear and easy to understand.It has the standard required for publication.
Thesubject of the Essays are thought provoking and interesting. They can beof great help and benefit for those who want to work for the purification,perpetuation and propagation of the Buddha Sasana, since they deal withtopics such as ‘Buddhism Today’, ‘The New Millennium’, ‘YoungPeople and Buddhism’, etc., a new and stimulating interest can be arousedboth for Missionary Bhikkhus and general readers alike. We feel that itwill benefit many persons here and abroad.
Tothe following, my "special thanks" for the support and encouragement theyhave rendered in the publication of this book ‘Essays on Buddhism’.
Mydeepest appreciation for proof reading and editing to U Han Htay (ResearchOfficer); Daw Mya Tin (MA); Miss Khaw Lek Ai (Bukit Mertajam, Malaysia);Bikkhu Pesala (UK); Daw Khin New Yi (Shwepuzon); Ko Soe Naing-Ma Khin HtayYi (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 theways to prolong the present Buddha sasana to some extent. Sadhu! Sadhu!Sadhu!
Mayyou all enjoy the bliss of mettá.
VenerableSayadaw U. Sumana
Biography ofVen. Sayadaw U. Sumana
SayadawU. Sumana was born in 1951 to a religious family in Ye U Township, in upperMyanmar. He was the youngest of five brothers, all monks.
Oncompleting his primary education at the age of eleven, he proceeded tolearn Monastic education. At twenty-three, he graduated with a "Dhammacariya"degree.
Subsequently,Ven. Sayadaw U. Sumana taught Buddhism to junior monks at various templesin Myanmar for several years. During this time, he commenced studies inthe English Language.
In1980, much time was devoted to the practice of insight meditation underthe guidance of famous teachers in Mahasi Meditation Center. Having acquiredthese skills, Ven. Sayadaw U. Sumana accepted an assignment as assistantmeditation teacher in Palivijja Center in Ye U Township. A few years later,he was relocated to Mahasi Meditation Center where he took up further studiesin English in preparation for foreign missions.
Asa member of the Dhamma preacher society, Ven. Sayadaw U. Sumana, as partof his commitment, participated in taking Dhamma tours all over Myanmareach year. Occasionally, he attended short retreats in many places to teachmeditation.
Partof 1993 was spent in Sweden, engaged in missionary work for four months.Then, followed a commitment to study Buddhism in English with Sayadaw acquiringan M.A. degree at the Buddhist and Pali University in Colombo.
Atpresent, Ven. Sayadaw U. Sumana is engaged in teaching meditation at theBuddhist Hermitage in Lunas, Malaysia.
I cameto know of the Ven. Sayadaw U. Sumana in the beginning of 1998 while attendinga course in Abhidhamma conducted by Sayadaw U. Silananda at the BuddhistHermitage, Lunas. At the course, yogis were told that a very experiencedVipassana teacher would be arriving soon to be the resident Sayadaw ofthe Hermitage.
Itwas 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 seriouslooking 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 duringinterviews he is the true kalyanamitta, and you have the feeling that heunderstands the great effort you are exerting and that he is always readyto give you any help that you require.
Howeverin the teaching of the practice itself, he sticks to a serious schedulewhich he seldom deviates from.
Onecould really say that Sayadaw employs a very balanced teaching method,that is easy to follow and brings positive results to the trainee.
Ithas been my privilege to have been taught by the Sayadaw and a bonus ofmerits to have the opportunity to assist him in the publication of thesevery readable and thought-provoking essays.
TheEssays are of a serious nature, written with a lot of thought, with thespecific purpose of highlighting the plight of Buddhism should Buddhistnot take a more dynamic view in its propagation.
Fromthe Essays one can discern the earnestness that Sayadaw feels in prolongingthe Buddha Sasana. He has advocated various practical approaches in thehope that these will help to arrest the decline of the sasana and one canonly believe that there will be more like minded individuals who will bemoved to initiate actions in achieving Sayadaw’s ambitions.
Withmettá to all readers and may all of us attain the bliss of Nibbána.
TheTeachings of Buddha
Buddhismwas established by the Lord Buddha in the sixth century BC and is one ofthe major world religions. It has passed through different stages of developmentand survived up to now. When we recall its history, Buddhism was sometimesfollowed 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 willevaporate 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 rainwill come soon. If it rains, the fish can survive to its natural lifespan.This is how Buddhism is just surviving under the protection of ordinaryBuddhists.
Amongthe major world religions, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism,the latter has an estimated 500 million adherents, accounting for the lowestnumbers. That is why I say that Buddhism is like a fish in a small pondthat is drying up. If the practice of Buddhism is allowed to deteriorateunchecked, the result will be a decline in the number of adherents, andother religions will flourish at the expense of Buddhism. Buddhist activitiesthat might lead to the revival and development of Buddhism are not as progressiveas they could be, and there are many who are harming Buddhism by corruptingits original message. They are like the burning sun. Yet, there is stillmuch hope for a systematic revival of the true Dhamma (saddhamma), whichwill be like the falling of the rain that will fill up the small pond tooverflowing.
Thus,it is vital to know what should be avoided and what should be cultivatedto bring about the development of Buddhism. The sublime doctrine, whichwas discovered by the Buddha after such a hard struggle for many aeonsshould not end after such a short time as 2,600 years. In my view, thepopular theory that Buddhism will only last for five thousand years afterthe demise of the Buddha is not very convincing because His Teachings areextremely practical and can be verified by one’s own personal experience.It is impossible to find other teachings that are so beneficial to humanity.
Buddhismis good for all living beings, not only for human beings. It is not theexclusive property of any particular race or nation. Such an admirablereligion must be maintained and developed. The longer it exists in theworld, the more beings will enjoy peace and happiness.
Weshould not think that Buddhism will endure without any help from us, andthat we need not be concerned about it. Nor should we be satisfied withtraditional practices such as studying Pali scriptures, chanting, offeringalms and observing the uposatha. Most of us can only manage to proceedin the traditional way, but it is time to find new ways to promote thereligion.
Weshould not utilize our time solely in the pursuit of academic knowledge.Scholars work only for the benefit of other scholars, not for the commonpeople. Professor Laksman Jayatileka made the same point when he addressedthe convocation ceremony of the Buddhist and Pali University (on 14th December1995). He said, "What we expect above all from you, Venerable Sirs, isnot 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."
Inorder to promote Buddhism, the Buddha himself sent monks to different placessoon after his enlightenment, saying, "Walk, monks, on tour for the blessingof 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 themiddle and beautiful in the end."
Afterthe Third Buddhist Council, King Asoka of India sent nine groups of monksto different countries initiating missionary work. Throughout the historyof Buddhism, only these two main instances of missionary work have beenrecorded. Though some people today claim that Buddhism is becoming muchmore developed, there is not much official evidence to prove it.
Itis up to Buddhists to protect and preserve their legacy. Buddhists haveto live by their own philosophy of impermanence and look for new methodsto stimulate the interests of the masses. For example, we could set upinternational organizations such as an International Buddhist BroadcastingService to create opportunities for worldwide dissemination of the Dhamma.
Ifthe readers feel even a slight interest in the ideas expressed herein,hopefully they too will share the opinion that the Teachings of the Buddhacan certainly endure for much more than five thousand years. If such isthe case a well researched plan, involving short, medium and long rangegoals for the development of Buddhism be formulated. Such action plansshould incorporate integrated daily practices, weekly and monthly programs,special occasions etc. all such activities should of course be initiatedunder the auspices of Buddhist leaders and widely made known to devotees.
Thetwentieth 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 atthe past? We should consider whether Buddhist monks and nuns fulfilledtheir duties and responsibilities, which were the ones most beneficialin the propagation of Buddhism. If we find that some activities were notconducive for the development of Buddhism, we should avoid them. If wesee those that were beneficial, we should cultivate them.
Inthe late twentieth century, Buddhist meditation, in both the Mahayana andTheravada traditions, has become popular, but it is unknown just how manyare interested. Many westerners are dissatisfied with their lifestyle:going to work, watching TV, drinking, etc., some are searching for a newway of life. Meditation can lead one to experience happiness in this verylife, so it may be a remedy for them. We, Buddhists, should take this opportunityto teach them meditation. Buddhist meditation will be helpful in attainingpeace of mind in the new century.
Atthe present time, many people in Buddhist countries such as Burma, SriLanka, Laos and Cambodia, though working very hard, yet can barely sustaintheir lives properly. Although they are Buddhists, they do not have muchopportunities to experience the higher Teachings of the Buddha due to theirpoverty. We should work to improve their living standards by providingthem with the basic necessities of life, or, better still, by showing themways to become more prosperous. Then, they will be able to practice theNoble Eightfold Path. Otherwise, they will be like a rich person who suffersfrom a chronic disease. It is tragic that so many people have to live inboth material and spiritual poverty.
Evenwith the help of the government, the poor will still be poor. We, Buddhistmonks 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 stimulatethem by seeing that wherever there is a disaster in the world, they arethe first to go and give aid.
Thesedays, everyone is seeking a shortcut to become wealthy. Occasionally, theyapproach Buddhist monks and ask how to become prosperous. Some monks becomeastrologers and palmists. This practice is well known to all. Actually,it is contrary to the disciplinary rules of the Vinaya, but many peopleregard 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 corruptpractice of disguising false practice as true.
Anotherproblem is that modern Buddhists are less likely to follow morality, andmore likely to depend on rites and rituals. Buddhist monks who have theirown temples should use religious celebrations to teach people the trueBuddhist religion so that they become pious. This degeneration of peoplewas predicted by the Buddha himself in the Mahasupina Jataka. The fulfillmentof His predictions can be seen today.
ThePancaka Nipata of the Anguttaranikaya is another prediction by the Buddharegarding monks.
"Inthe future, monks will put forth no effort to attain the unattained, tomaster the un-mastered, to realize the unrealized and those who come afterthe will fall into wrong views and become indulgent, lazy and degenerate.
Thus,monks, from corrupt Dhamma comes corrupt discipline, from corrupt disciplinecomes corrupt Dhamma."
Thesepredictions have come true in some places today. Generally speaking, theseare said to be times of degeneration or moral decline (Kali Yuga). Deeperteachings such as morality (síla), concentration (samádhi) and wisdom(paññá) will interest only a few people, while the majority will becontent with charity (Dana), social welfare activities (veyyavaca), recitingor listening to paritta, or paying homage to shrines and pagodas (Puja).
Weshould try to raise funds for social welfare projects to improve the conditionsof the poor and middle class people. We should remind the wealthy peoplehow they can remain rich through the power of taking refuge in the Triplegem. We should distribute Buddhist literature and organize Dhamma talksas part of our regular activities.
Theseare 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.
TwoKinds of Buddhists
In1995, I received a letter from a French tourist who had been to Kandy inSri Lanka. When he returned to France, he wrote to me. In his letter, hementioned that Buddhism is theoretically very good but practically notso good. It gave me some food for thought. I don’t know exactly why hformed this opinion, but we have to admit that some Buddhists do not followall the Teachings of the Buddha. If we practice the Buddha’s Teachingsfully, we might help to correct others’ opinions.
I wouldlike to put my views according to the commentary on the Anggutaranikaya.There are two kinds of Buddhists: ordinary Buddhists and advanced Buddhists.
Accordingto the commentary, there are six kinds of right understanding (sammaditthi):-
I won’tdescribe the meaning of each of these terms in detail, but only briefly.
Theabove six kinds of right view can be divided into two groups. The firstone, kammasakata sammaditthi , forms the first group. The other five formsthe second group.
Thosewho 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 unwholesomedeeds. In other words, an ordinary Buddhist holds the view, "As you sow,so shall you reap." So, ordinary Buddhists offer food, robes, dwellingsand 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, ParabhavaSutta and so on. Teaching and learning scriptures are also includes inthe activities of the ordinary Buddhists. So, an ordinary Buddhist is atraditional Buddhist. But, how can one become an advanced Buddhist?
Whenone practices tranquility meditation (samatha) or insight meditation (vipassana)in accordance with the Buddha’s instructions, one achieves higher knowledgeof 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 practiceis higher than kammasakata sammaditthi. If one proceeds with the developmentof insight, one can attain the knowledge of the Path and its Fruition (Maggasammaditthi and phala sammaditthi). Then, one also has reflective knowledgethat so many defilements have been uprooted (paccavekkhana sammaditthi).These five right views are called advanced knowledge in Buddhism. Thosewho posses such knowledge are advanced Buddhists.
So,Buddhists, whether monks, nuns or lay people, are either ordinary Buddhistsor advanced Buddhists. We, monks and nuns especially, will have to practiceinsight meditation to realize the advance knowledge of Buddhism, only thenwill we be able to impart the understanding of the true Dhamma, and theexperience of mental peace and real happiness to others.
Westernersgenerally want to know about this higher knowledge of Buddhism to attainpeace of mind. So, Western Buddhists often ask testing questions.
"Whydo Buddhists pray before the Buddha’s statue? Shouldn’t you rely onyour own efforts? Didn’t the Buddha say that you must work out your ownsalvation?"
"Whydo you Buddhists quarrel with one another? You Buddhists should practiceforbearance." (They might have been some Buddhist monks or nuns quarrellingwith one another).
Theanswers to these questions point to the distinction between ordinary Buddhistsand advanced Buddhists. When one practices meditation, there is no needfor one to pray.
Atthe very high stage of a non-returner (Anagami), one overcomes all angerand aversion. The ordinary Buddhist is not free from anger and passion.He or she cannot yet resist attachment to pleasant objects or aversionto unpleasant ones.
Whatall Buddhists should understand here is that it was the Buddha’s greataspiration to free all beings from suffering. In other words, he desiredthat all Buddhists become advanced Buddhists. We should never remain self-satisfiedwith being ordinary Buddhists.
I wantto urge all Buddhist monks and nuns to learn the Buddha’s Teachings practicallyas well as theoretically. Lay people are pre-occupied with earning a livingso they have less time to practice meditation, but they should try to doit at least once in their life time in an effort to attain higher insightknowledge. Monks and nuns have ideal opportunities to meditate as it istheir primary responsibility.
Howevermuch one preaches and studies, I do not believe one will ever be able tospread Buddhism successfully if one is still an ordinary Buddhist. Onecan only succeed if one is an advanced Buddhist who has attained insightknowledge to some extent.
A personwho feels compassionate on seeing the immense suffering in the world todaywill surely take up meditation to obtain this advanced knowledge.
The BurmeseSatipatthána Method
Meditationis now practiced all over the world. In the latter part pf the twentiethcentury, it has been developing much more rapidly than before, both inthe 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 ofthe different meditation methods originated from Buddhism, but just asthe methods are different, so too their results and aims are different,since people have different aspirations.
Theword 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 appliedcontinuously to a suitable meditation object, there is no room for defilementsto arise. Then, the mind is said to be developed.
Thereare various definitions given by scholars. Herbert V. Guenther said, "Meditationmay be said to be a process by which an ordinarily diffused state of mindis brought into focus."* In the book, ‘Secrets of the Lotus’ editedby Donald K. Swearen, it says "The system of Buddhist meditation that wepractice is called "insight Meditation". The real meaning of insight meditationis seeing with wisdom the truth as the truth. There is perfect awareness,alertness and clarity. Otherwise, there is no seeing, only imagining andspeculating."
Amongall meditation traditions, the Burmese tradition is perhaps the most significantone. About half a century ago, some meditation masters became famous fortheir unusual experiences in meditation. Moreover, they were able to sharetheir knowledge with people who wanted to learn. Gradually, the numberof meditators increased. Now, almost every town in Myanmar has its ownmeditation center. There are also Burmese meditation centers in foreigncountries. As a result, some meditation masters have become world famousteachers, and foreigners come to Myanmar to learn from them. By conductingintensive retreats for ten days or a month in foreign countries, they havebeen able to instruct and help many meditators throughout the world.
Bythe Burmese meditation tradition, I mean the practice that is in accordancewith the original Pali texts of Theravada Buddhism. Although there arenumerous different methods, their purposes are basically the same: to attainthe elimination of mental defilements through the attainment of the knowledgeof the Path and its Fruition (Magga sammaditthi and phala sammaditthi).
Towhat extent has the Burmese tradition benefited those who have practicedit? We can quote the words of a number of authors.
VenerableNyanaponika Thera, the author of, The Heart of Buddhist Meditation, gavehis opinion in that book. "Satipatthána today is a strong force in thereligious life of Burma. There are several training centers in the countrywhere many thousands have undergone courses of strict Satipatthána practice.These courses are attended by monks and lay people alike. Prominent amongthe teachers of Satipatthána today is the Venerable U Sobhana Mahathera(Mahasi Sayadaw) who, through his personal instructions and meditationcourses and through his books and lectures, has contributed much to thedevelopment of the practice in Burma. Many thousands have benefited byhis wise and experienced guidance. Men and women, young and old, poor andrich, as well as simple folks have taken up the practice with great earnestnessand enthusiasm."
JosephGoldstein, the author of "The Experience of Insight" made a remark in thebook, "In This Very Life" that the Burmese meditation master, Sayadaw UPandita is the rarest kind of teacher, one who can show us that freedomis 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 heroicjourney of liberation.
Manypeople have been inspired by these famous teachers. That is why, in duecourse, I intend to present their life stories together with relevant backgroundinformation.
Thepresentation will be as follows:-
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.
Ambitionmeans a strong desire to achieve a desired goal. If that desire is verystrong, it is called great ambition. The greater the ambition, the moresuccessful one is. However, if that ambition is self-centered, it can domore harm than good.
Ambitionis necessary because even the Bodhisattva preserved in his ambition oraspiration to become a Buddha. Without ambition, he could not have becomeenlightened. His ambition began with a wish in the presence of DîpankaraBuddha. Pali synonyms of ambition are chando, asimsa or abhiniharo.
A commentatoronce made a remark concerning the word, adhipati: "Chandavato kim namakammam na sijjhati." It means that one who has a strong desire can achievewhatever he or she wants. One can achieve anything if one’s ambitionis strong enough.
Worldfamous generals like Napoleon and great inventors like Edison succeededin their own fields because of great ambition. Likewise, the ambition ofrocker scientists was the driving force by which they were able to reachthe surface of the moon.
Asdisciples of the Buddha, we learn the Buddha’s teaching which becomesdeeply rooted in our minds. We understand how to live properly. The Buddhagave a variety of teachings, from the most basic knowledge to the deepeststages of insight. So, we are indebted to him for his great kindness. Everyonewho has a sense of gratitude towards the Buddha should, therefore, workhard to propagate Buddhism.
Thereare plenty of opportunities to propagate Buddhism. Usually, Buddhist monksteach the junior monks and novices. They may spend their entire lives inthis 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 requirementfor the successful development of Buddhism.
InBurma, there is a monk living in Sagaing Hills who has a charismatic personality,deep knowledge of Buddhism and a melodious voice. Giving Dhamma talks ishis 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 hearhis talks again and again. Thus, he has been preaching repeatedly for morethan twenty years. The power of his preaching has influenced numerous peopleof all walks of life to do a lot of meritorious deeds and they are gladto do so. Following his good advice, people offered hundreds of thousandsof kyats to build a new hospital which has enough facilities to treat hundredsof patients. Some year ago, it was opened to the general public. Many peopleincluding monks and nuns were able to benefit from it.
Thesame monk fulfilled his ambition t provide a water supply system in theSagaing Hills. Formerly, the twenty-thousand monks and nuns who lived inthe Sagaing Hills had much difficulty in getting water. Nobody was ableto solve the problem, but this monk tried very hard and at last succeededin establishing a water supply. Every temple in the Sagaing Hills now hasfresh, running water. The monks and nuns no longer have a shortage of waterand so they can study and meditate without worry.
Hehas a third plan, which is to establish an International Buddhist Academy.This may cost millions of kyats. Students at the Academy will study Buddhismin 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 inEnglish.
So,this monk is working to establish a modern monastic education system. Itis hardly possible for an ordinary monk to carry out such an ambitiousplan 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 incomparableexample and dedication towards the development of Buddhism will be rememberedfor hundreds of years. He is a shining example to Buddhist monks.
Thereare over three hundred thousand monks in Burma and about twenty thousandnuns 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 longas we maintain persistent effort, dedication and determination, we canbecome a great leader of the Buddhist community in the near future. Tobecome such a good preacher requires great ambition and determination.
I believethat if monks have ambition, they can develop Buddhism and also achievetheir own aims, no matter what difficulties they have to overcome. Thequestion that each one has to consider is what role should one play, andwhat does one intend to achieve?
SriLanka is very famous in Buddhist history, Venerable Maha Mahinda, a sonof King Asoka, introduced Buddhism to the country after the Third BuddhistCouncil, so Buddhist teachings have had a strong influence on the peopleof Sri Lanka. The literature, culture, architecture and religion graduallydeveloped until Buddhism reached its zenith. According to the commentariesmany monks achieved the stage of arahants whilst meditating in their centers,temples or forests. Even to the extent that whilst having their meals inthe dining halls, many attained Arahantship and those who had psychic powerwere so numerous that grains could not be dried in the sun because of theshadows of the monks flying overhead.
Wecan still see plenty of old religious buildings and foundations of stupasin the northern part of the country. Buddhist kings, monks and lay peoplepassed down Buddhism from generation to generation enabling people of todaythe opportunity to study the scriptures.
Duringits long history in Sri Lanka, Buddhism had faced many difficulties. Atone time, Buddhist monks from Burma helped them to revive the Sangha bythe foundation of the Amarapura and Ramanna Nikáyas which are still twomajor schools.
Letus survey the current situation of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. I am not sureif 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 brothersunder the guidance of the Buddha.
Firstof all, let us talk about the practice of collecting alms food. Traditionally,food is obtained by going around for alms (pindapata). In Burma, abouteighty percent of the monks still live in this manner. However, in SriLanka, this tradition is generally only practiced by forest monks. Elsewhere,devotees offer food in the temples. The monks, therefore, have more timeto study or practice meditation. Sometimes, they are no worries about food,thus they lead easy lives.
Otherrequisites (atthaparikara) like robes (civara) are also offered from timeto time. The High Priest of a temple has more than enough robes and sharesthem with his disciples. People also donate money to construct new buildings.
Thepeople generally go for Boddhi Puja, to listen to Paritta or to Dhammatalks and go on pilgrimages, etc. This shows that the people are well groundedin the Teachings. However, there are not so many people who take part inmeditation. There may be about one hundred meditation centers and somemonks living in the forest devote themselves to meditation. They are similarto those who practiced the Dhamma in the time of the Buddha. They do notseem to be attached to gain or fame. Their strict obedience to the Vinayarules is admirable.
WhatI like most about Sri Lanka Buddhism is the Sunday school for children.On Sundays, children of Buddhist parents attend their local temples andlearn about basic Buddhism. It is the duty of monks and nuns to impartthe knowledge rather than monks teaching in such places. The monks andnuns should be more involved in the children’s education.
Impartinga sound knowledge of Buddhism to young people is the key to the developmentof Buddhism. We should all understand that teaching children when theyare young is vital. Other religions take this matter seriously thus thereis little opportunity that their students be easily converted to Buddhism.
Whereverwe 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 Sambodhitemple in Colombo 7, for example).
Tosupport young monks in their studies, there are many colleges (pirivenas),which are supported by the government. There are Buddhist Departments atsome universities where one can study Buddhism in the English medium. InBurma and Thailand, the medium of instruction is in the local language.In Burma today, there is the International Theravada Buddhist MissionaryUniversity catering to instructions in English.
TheYoung Men’s Buddhist Association of Colombo is working for the interestsof Buddhism. We need such groups. Below is an extract from a report ofthe Board of Management for the year 1968/69.
"TheY.M.B.A. was founded seventy-one years ago by a group of enlightened Buddhistswho realized in their far-seeing wisdom that the only way to bring abouta Buddhist renaissance at a time when the Buddha sasana in Ceylon and SinhalaBuddhist society is in a highly decadent state, is by leading the Buddhistyouth of the country to ethical conduct and social service".
Underthis Association, nine branches have been carrying out their respectiveduties:
Itis difficult to say whether Buddhism in Sri Lanka is developing or notas we Buddhists, do not keep a systematic record of our activities. Whetherwe say about such development is, therefore, largely speaking, speculation.Moreover, most Buddhists follow the traditional way, not seemingly concernedwhether they succeed or not, never learning from previous errors. It isa great defect in our working methods. If we do not know our defects, howcan we progress? It seems that people have no ambition to improve. We shouldconsult with one another and practice patience. As long as we have no respectfor one another’s ability (especially among monks), we will not be ableto do anything. In practice, personal gain and fame appears to be the firstpriority for many monks.
AtSri Lanka Universities, the charges for foreign students doing Buddhiststudies are very high. If they really want to spread Buddhism, the universitiesshould not be motivated only by profit. Foreign students should be treatedas guests and representatives of their nations. The universities and collegesare where students are trained in Buddhism. It is harmful to Buddhism ifthey don’t study the original Pali texts and especially if ideas contraryto the texts are taught. Critical teaching is needed only when they havemastered the basics so that they have a strong faith in the Buddha andthe Dhamma. In my opinion, most monks do not know how to develop and protectBuddhism well because their teachers did not show the ways and the meansto do this.
Manymonks expect to posses their own temple. This is the most important thingin their lives (the same is also true of some Burmese monks). It is asif they were using the monk’s robe to make a living. If they follow theSanghika system of common ownership, there will be no problems regardingtemple 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 betweena monk and a lay person is. Is it just in our outward appearance? If thereis no respect for the rules, what will happen? It is inevitable that monkswill become accustomed to committing even serious offences. So, it is betterto follow all of the rules as much as possible.
Howcan we evaluate the current position of Buddhism?
IsBuddhism progressing through increasing the population of Buddhists?
Througherecting new buildings?
Throughproviding the best facilities for monks?
Orby explaining the essence of Buddhism to the people?
Theseare questions that should be asked if we are concerned about the futureof Buddhism in Sri Lanka. I pay my respects to those who are devoting themselvesto the welfare of Buddhists without any thought of personal gain or fame.
YoungPeople and Buddhism
TheBuddha varied His Teachings to suit his audience’s age and social standard.Although the ultimate aim of His Teachings is to realize Path and Fruitionknowledge, He also gave advice relating to worldly happiness. Buddhismis 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 clearthat Buddhism is for everybody.
Whydo young people these days seem less interested in the practice of Buddhism?Since sensual pleasures are the foundation of modern societies, there aremany things for young (and old) people to enjoy; music, videos, films andeven drugs. It is quite difficult to resist the temptation. It is naturalthat people will become slaves to enjoyment and then even basic moralitybecomes difficult to observe. Many questions arise from these problems.Who is responsible for the children? Is it only the parents or do Buddhistmonks and nuns also have a duty to help? Do we have to let children gotheir own way? What did the Buddha say? Young people includes childrenfrom the age five up to twenty.
Youngpeople are generally active with a strong a strong inclination towardssensual 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 thistrend and inculcate faith into their minds?
Toretain its position as one of the four great religions of the world, Buddhismshould recruit the young people to participate in religious activities.
Thosewho have developed their religion even at the cost of their lives, havewon the sympathy of young people. This shows the importance of religionto the masses. The increasing numbers of fundamentalists and terroristsis due to their leader fulfilling these conditions. Many Buddhists areheedless of the danger to youths. If we do not take the spiritual wellbeing of youth seriously, we are not interested in youth affairs. We shouldunderstand that youths represent the future of Buddhism; if we do not impartthe Buddha’s Teaching to the children, we are uprooting Buddhism. Youthswill become religious leaders in the future, so their education is of paramountimportance.
Theleaders of other religions understand the important role of children, sothey do their best to teach religion to their children, not only at weekendsbut also on other days. Thus, their religion is deeply impressed on thenext generation. These young people believe firmly in their own religionso it is difficult for them to be converted to other religions. Havingbeen thoroughly indoctrinated, most refuse to see the good side of Buddhism.Yet, some who talk about the supremacy of Buddhists sometimes embrace otherreligions. What a pity it is! This shows that a proper understanding ofBuddhism has not been deeply conveyed to all Buddhists but just traditionalpractices and beliefs. Every Buddhist has a responsibility for the protectionof Buddhism y imparting a sound knowledge to the young generation. Then,Buddhist culture will be stable and free from the danger of fundamentalists.
Letus consider what the Buddha said to youths. In the Dhammapada, there isa story about some youths who were beating a snake. Once, when the Buddhawas going for alms in Savatthi, he came across a number of youths beatinga snake with sticks. When questioned by him, the youths replied that theywere 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 shouldnot harm others. If you harm others, you will not find happiness in thefuture." All the youths attained the stage of stream-winner.**
Inthis story, the Buddha stressed that one should put oneself in other’sshoes. It is an easy message for youths to understand. If you do not likeany action that hurts you, then others will not like it either. Only wickedpeople have no consideration for others. The same principle applies toall immoral actions: killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, abusing,backbiting, etc. Every child should be taught to follow the basic moralityof the five precepts (pancasila). It is our duty to teach children Buddhistethics, such ass the ten good conducts and the ten evil conducts.
TheBuddha gave instructions to children whenever the occasion arose. The AmbalathikaRahulovada Sutta of the Majjhima Nikáya also concerns young people. Inthis discourse, the Buddha taught his son who was then only seven yearsold. The Buddha said, "Rahula, you must be mindful of whatever you areabout 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 shouldnot do it but if it will not be harmful then you may do it." Thus adviceto Rahula is a simple way to discriminate between good and bad. It is necessaryfor every Buddhist to understand this fundamental knowledge.
Youngpeople 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 attractedto him, Khema committed adultery without compunction. The king’s menarrested him three times for adultery and brought him to the presence ofthe king. When informed that Khema was the nephew of Anathapindika, theking did not punish him but only reprimanded him. When Anathapindika cameto know his nephew’s misconduct, he took him to see the Buddha who admonishedKhema on the depravity of sexual misconduct and the seriousness of theconsequences. Khema mended his ways and observed the five precepts.
Itis noteworthy that the Buddha and Anathapindika did not turn a blind eyeto Khema’s misbehavior but showed their compassion by admonishing him.Anathapindika knew that the Buddha’s admonishment would be very effective.
Manymodern problems are the direct or indirect result of lack of restraintin sexual matters. AIDS has spread rapidly due to promiscuity. Teenagepregnancy causes much unnecessary sufferings in western countries. Divorcerates are also much too high because of infidelity. Many couples separatesoon after marriage, often leaving children with only one parent. Theseproblems are all related to the excessive addiction to pleasure.
Forthe Buddhist, adultery is strictly prohibited. If one commits it, he orshe is guilty of a serious misconduct and will suffer bad consequencesboth in this life and the next. The Buddha’s advice can restrain peoplefrom over indulgence in sexuality but those with little knowledge of Buddhismare vulnerable to temptation. So, all young people should study the Buddha’steaching on this matter.
Aswell as the teachings already quoted, the Singalovada Sutta, ParabhavaSutta, Mangala Sutta and many of the Jataka stories are good sources forteaching youths about ethics. Among them, the Singala Sutta is well known.
Singalawas the son of a Buddhist family residing in Rajagaha. His parents weredevout followers of the Buddha but he was indifferent to religion. Theparents tried to persuade their son to accompany them to visit the Buddhabut to no avail. The son thought it was useless to visit the Sangha, assuch visits meant having to give something, entailing material loss. Hewas only concerned with material prosperity and he didn’t understandabout spiritual progress. He would say to his father, "I don’t want anythingto do with monks. Paying homage to them makes my back ache and my kneesstiff. I have to sit on the ground and so my clothes become soiled andworn. During conversation with them, one gets to know what they need andso one only losses by it."
Finally,as the father lay on his deathbed, he asked his son to at least obey hisparting advice. His son agreed, so the father told him, "Son, every morningafter your bath, worship the six directions". The father hoped it wouldprovide 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.
Oneday, on his way for alms, the Buddha met Singala and seeing him worshippingthe six directions, delivered the famous Singala Sutta which contains inbrief the entire domestic and social duty for a lay person. Commentingon this discourse, G.P. Malasekera quotes Mrs. Rhys Davids, "The discourseis an exposition of the whole domestic and social duty of a layman accordingto the Buddhist point of view and as such it has become known as the householder’sdiscipline". (Gihivinaya)
Thereis no other discourse that mentions the obligations of lay followers insuch detail. Although this advice was given only to Singala, it is applicableto all Buddhists. If they follow this advice, there will hardly be anysocial problems at all. If we follow this advice, we will naturally cultivateloving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity.
Howevergood the teachings are, we will get the benefits of social harmony onlyif we fulfill our duties. Statistics show that 25% of children in the USAhave no father at home, so the fathers are not fulfilling their duties.Many children in the world have only one parent. Buddhism is totally opposedto this selfish attitude. That is why the Buddha talked about the variousduties between parents and children, between husband and wife, betweenteachers and pupils, etc.
Thosewho understand the value of the teachings in the Singalovada Sutta encouragetheir children to live by them. The traditional culture of Burma is basedin 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 developmentof Buddhism, we should know ways and means that will be effective, as Singala’sfather managed to do. We must ensure that the Buddhist knowledge and cultureis handed over in its pristine purity to the next generation. Otherwise,the teaching will soon become corrupt and disappear.
Thereis no excuse for us, Buddhists. The solution to these problems can be foundby cooperation and discussion. We must not under-estimate the task, norover-estimate our own achievements. We should always be on the lookoutfor ways to improve our methods and practices.
Weshould expect Buddhism to become the greatest of all world religions again,which is certainly possible, provided that Buddhists realize things asthey really are.
TheDecline And Development Of Buddhism
WheneverI visit a Buddhist community in any country, I would take note of the organizationsinvolved in the development of Buddhism and I would enquire about theirreligious activities for each week and month. In this article, I wouldlike to survey the state of Buddhism. Whether my observations are corrector otherwise depend on how objectively one views it. I am neither a pessimistnor an optimist. My aspiration is to share the Buddha’s Teaching withall living beings.
Withregards to this topic, I believe there is a need to clear the doubts aboutthe decline and the development of Buddhism.
Aslong as Buddhism is practiced at the basic or higher level, it is saidto be development of Buddhism. Any form of Buddhism, if it is not practicedsocially, ethically, morally or through meditation amounts to a decline.It is literally called Lingasasana (superficial Buddhism devoid of followingthe Buddha’s advice).
Firstof all, we find that those who carry out their Buddhist activities correctlyand devote themselves sincerely to the welfare of people are the best examplesfor us. They provide excellent role models as their first priority is toconsider the well being of others. There may not be differences betweenmonks and lay people in practicing altruism. Anyone can do it. Motivesand propensity make them different. Some monks in Myanmar are looking afterchildren who are orphans or who come from impoverished homes. Some establishprimary schools to give free education. There are also free tuition classesfor middle or high school students conducted by monks. However, these kindsof activities are small in numbers compared to the demand. In order tosucceed, we need time and the necessity to raise funds. I have been observingthese efforts for about thirty years.
Themost successful endeavors in Myanmar are meditation retreats. All overthe country, young and old people have the inclination towards meditationalpractices. Occasionally, they participate in retreats to have a betterunderstanding of Buddhism. It is believed that many young people are practicingit too. Consequentially, they have the opportunity to embrace Buddhism.Otherwise, they remain just so-called Buddhists. Hopefully with the practiceof meditation, both young and old will make further progress.
WhereverI go, I usually enquire from the native monks about their daily life. Amonk’s life in countries like Thailand, Sri Lanka and Malaysia is muchbetter than in Myanmar. In the first two, both the government and devoteessupport the Sangha in various ways. However, the monks in those countriesfail to contribute spiritually to the people as much as they should becausetheir devotees are so generous that those monks live easy lives. However,some forest monks over there follow the Vinaya rules very strictly andpractice meditation seriously. Such monks, even though few in numbers,have the opportunity to lead the people to better conditions. This is becauseofferings to monks endowed with morality is more meritorious.
Thereis a more effective venture currently in Malaysia; this involves the publishingof Buddhist books by some Buddhist organizations and individuals specializingin this activity. Every year, thousands of ringgit are spent on this noblepurpose. All the publications are distributed to Buddhist organizationsand meditation centers in Malaysia and abroad. This has proved to be themost effective mechanism for the propagation of Buddhism. No other Buddhistnation can do it like Malaysia. It is very commendable.
Upto now, I have given some information about Buddhist activities. More extensiveresearch is needed as it is not proper to criticize without knowing thefacts. I have some ideas for an appropriate education system in Buddhistnations.
BuddhistEducational System and the New Era
Letus look at the current situation of Buddhism again. Development of Buddhismis mainly dependent on monks, nuns and lay organizations.
Monasticeducation should precede missionary work. We don’t have any researchon such education and we do not know whether our education system is effectiveor not. Education is the keystone to the advancement of Buddhism. If weare not properly trained, what will become of our future? In Myanmar, as I know, a student monk and nun has to take more than ten years to passfive grades. Ability to deeply understand the Pali language is not foreverybody. Under such a system most Myanmars are not able to study thePali Canon (Pali text) in depth. Self study must be continued, as it ismandatory for a student to study fifty percent of the Suttas and Vinayas.A thorough understanding of the Pali grammar is necessary. This is becausewe now face the problem of wrong interpretations presented by so calledscholars. It is our duty to address these but with our unsatisfactory educationsystem, what can we do for Buddhism. Most of us do not know how to disseminateBuddhism according to the needs of the modern age, due to the weaknessof our educational system. In some Buddhist nations, lessons for studentsare neither based in morality nor are they guided by exemplary teachers.Many student monks in Myanmar and Thailand have very limited command ofa foreign language.
Welose a lot of energy by spending a long period of time studying. It ishigh time that the old monastic education system be changed for a betterone. If we modify it in time, Buddhist history may change with the adventof the new millennium.
Inevery Buddhist township, there are lay Buddhist associations conductingvarious 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 widespreadand well known. Not much information is available about this in Thailand.In Malaysia, some are very active; they offer a different program or classeveryday. Many others lack the financial means. Even with adequate funds,there is a lack of expertise in their administration to implement and maintaineffective programs. Almost every group has its own library and Dhamma tapeswhich can be borrowed. A few of them have monks coming from Myanmar, SriLanka and Thailand. There are some local monks who do not want to joinlay associations. In my opinion, there must be a consensus between themonks and the committee members in the administration of the association.Mutual understanding and patience for the sake of Buddhism are also importantfactors. If each and everyone understands one another and learn to giveand take, the future of Buddhism in Malaysia will certainly flourish. Weshould never forget that disunity among Buddhists is the main reason forthe decline of the Buddha Sasana.
Negligenceof Future Generations
Teachingbasic Buddhism to the young is mostly conducted in Sunday schools. Everywherethis training has become weaker and weaker. Parents want their childrento emphasize on school education merely to get good jobs. Many of the youngdo not attend the Sunday classes. They are not familiar with the Buddha’sadvice. They think that temple monks only give blessings and do chantingwhen the need arises. Both monks and parents should spend time and moneyon Sunday classes to attract the young. Not taking an interest in teachingthe children is similar to destroying the root of a tree. Nevertheless,it is up to us to make it possible.
Wedon’t have any short or long term plan for missionary work. It is veryhard to come on an agreement because some religious leaders are conceited;self-esteemed spirit is rooted in them. They cannot acknowledge the achievementor success of others. Some, not being broadminded, are using Buddhism toearn a living. Some are so attached to their region that only someone belongingto their township has the right to take an interest in them. Some so-calledchief monks discriminate between insiders and outsiders (a sort of nepotism).Some chief monks or executive committee members do not seem to know howto run their organization; their primary aim appears to be a desire tobe in control, regardless of the opinions of other members. It is verystrange to me that such persons can own a nice place complete with buildingsin the center of town which has good transportation and everything. Howfortunate for them but how unfortunate it is for Buddhism. If only theyhave adequate skills to manage the organization or temple properly, itwill be so much better for all.
Eventhough we are followers of the Buddha and usually talk about overcomingselfishness or egoism, we are more inclined to self-interest especiallymaterially. As long as we do not have brotherly love among fellow members,monastic life will be devoid of peace of mind.
MahayanaBuddhists are extremely successful in carrying out social work. It is thesame as sharing Buddhism with other people. In my opinion, Buddhist teachingmust be reasonable. We should not go beyond that which is acceptable.
Somepeople think they are better than others and tend to blame other schoolsof thoughts. We should not let the differences between Theravada and MahayanaBuddhism escalate as this will beget aggressiveness which will lead tothe decline of Buddhism. It is regrettable that we cannot establish goodwillamong Buddhist nations. However noble Buddhism is, if the followers (practitioners)do not become superior morally we will be looked upon with contempt. Itis shameful. Hence, let us have high regard for the matchless Buddha.
I wouldlike to classify all monks into two groups.
1.The first group of monks follow the Buddha’s teaching correctly in keepingmorality and practicing meditation. They should be left to practice asthey are spiritually helping the devotees. There is no need for them todo more.
2.The second group of monks do not spend sufficient time in practicing meditationand are not attentive in the keeping of precepts. For this group, it isbetter to lead the people to a better life by giving them social and educationalsupport. These days, these tasks are important in order to propagate thereligion. From the Buddhist’s point of view, there will not be any seriousobjections. Since this group is in constant contact with people, it mustbe extremely mindful, to ensure that rules are not broken or serious offencescommitted.
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, activitieswhereby students can learn writing, reading and speaking English at diplomalevel. Primary and middle schools need to be established to cater to thesepressing needs.
4.In the establishing of homes to care for orphans, maintenance expensesare usually high, therefore soliciting for funds is of prime importancehere. 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, repairingwatches, television, bicycles, radio-cassettes, motorcycles and so on shouldbe done. By so doing, we can provide the needy with opportunities for betterlives. In between time, we can teach basic Buddhism, two to three timesa week. This is a good way of introducing Buddhism to those who have apoor knowledge of Buddhism.
6.For able monks, they should set up health-care service centers such asclinics and hospital. Only famous meditation teachers and famous preachersmay establish these as they have more funds as a result of being supportedby many devotees. Many Buddhists from the Mahayana society set up suchhealth-care service centers which are acknowledge by the government. Inactual 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 communitiesin 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 whichthey may not be financially capable of. We have seen some of these beingleft 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 systemsthat will serve to help us keep abreast with the international scene.
Itis natural for devotees to be biased in the performance of Dana, howeverin the interest of the development of Buddhism as a whole, a devotee shouldsupport more the recipient who undertakes and is keen on the developmentof Buddhism, with the understanding that this monk or nun is really doingsomething good for the sasana (Buddha’s Teachings).
A usefuladvice to devotees is not to easily believe in whatever is said as it maysometimes be more harmful than good. A good devotee must have the knowledgeof being able to distinguish between good and bad spiritually.
Inthis modern age, people are occupied with endless social attractions tofulfill the needs of life. As the standards of living rise, people havedifficulties keeping up because new inventions are being churned out constantlyfor enjoyment; they cannot stop their attachment to luxury. They are forcedto earn more and more money throughout their lives. At the same time, theyface problems relating to crimes and dreadful diseases that they have neverbeen exposed to before. For these reasons, we cannot hope that the majorityof people will have a deeper understanding of Buddhism sorely through thepractice of meditation.
Thisis why I have presented ways and means which are useful to encourage peopleto practice Buddhism. (Moreover there are monks and nuns who are playingan important role by way of teaching young fellow monks and nuns).
Tosum up, we should not be satisfied with merely maintaining our own templeonly. Working for the needy in every possible way is imperative for onlythen will Buddhism take hold and be rooted in their mind with a deeperunderstanding. At the least, their traditional belief may be transformedinto genuine one.
Thepopulation of Buddhist monks is about four hundred thousand all over theworld. On third of them are wholeheartedly carrying out some of the ideaswhich I have mentioned in this article. The rest of them can maintain thestatus quo without making a special effort or worrying about Buddhism inthe new millennium.