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Wesak: A time for reflection

by Phra Paisal Visalo, Bangkok Post, May 22, 2005

Some thoughts on how best to celebrate the most important date in the Buddhist calendar

Bangkok, Thailand -- Wan Visakha Bucha is a time for Buddhists everywhere to reflect on the Buddha and his heritage. Indeed, this can be considered as the day of the Buddha as it commemorates three separate events: his birth, enlightenment and passing. The question, however, is how best to remember him.

One way is to think of him as a great man who once walked this Earth and dedicated his life to dispensing teachings which have since developed into Buddhism, as we know it. Remembering him this way will make us feel grateful to him and make us want to express that gratitude through merit-making or the practice of dharma.

Another way is to remember the Buddha by his virtues and by the dharma which is his legacy. For, as he once said, "Those who see dharma will see me." Remembering him in this way will remind us to adopt his qualities as a guide for our lives. It will inspire us to follow what he preached and to keep on developing ourselves so that we can reach the level that he achieved.

The Buddha was a great man with many noble qualities. Which ones should we celebrate today? For me, the answer lies in the practice of panya (wisdom) and karuna (compassion). Wisdom connotes a clear understanding of the realities of life and the ways of the world. We attain wisdom when we clear our minds of ignorance and self-attachment. Wisdom means complete freedom from suffering. It brings us to the ultimate peace, which is nirvana.

Karuna is an unbounded love for all life, a selfless wish to help other people get out of suffering.

Wisdom and compassion are attributes that we should always carry as a compass. They help us face sadness _ departure and loss _ without losing ourselves. With these two qualities, we will be able to maintain our equanimity amid change, while reserving enough energy to keep on creating what is good and beautiful for the world, without despairing.

Panya and karuna are also necessary for our modern world, which is currently under threat from the twin cultures of greed and hatred. These major forces are spreading rapidly around the globe and causing immense suffering to all forms of life. In fact, they are jeopardising the very survival of our planet.

The culture of greed is easily seen in the consumerism which evokes violent desires in human beings. It not only burns people's hearts but also leads to intense competition. Individuals take advantage of and abuse one another for their own benefit. Not only have crime rates been rising, but the income gap is also widening. Poverty is everywhere. Each year, millions of people die of starvation while hundreds of millions are condemned to subsist on meagre rations.

The culture of hatred is dividing people on every strata, from the international down to the community level. Differences in race, religion, language, skin colour and beliefs are turning neighbours into enemies. It is not only science and technology that is used for killing, but also religion.

The two cultures _ greed and hatred _ are expanding in our country and they are more dangerous than any epidemic. Under these circumstances, it is imperative that we develop both panya and karuna as a shield to protect us from falling victim to the trend.

Wisdom is necessary because, when we have it, we realise that true happiness does not lie in the consumption or possession of material objects; rather, it can be found in peace of mind and in the maintenance of harmonious relationship with our environment and the people around us. When we attain wisdom, we will be able to see through the myths and prejudices spun by advertising and propaganda. We will see that all people, regardless of which religion they believe in, are friends in suffering. Human beings have more similarities than they have differences. We may disagree on certain things, but we have no other means to settle these disagreements than non-violent ones. Violence may rid us of bad people, but it won't make bad things go away.

Compassion, meanwhile, helps our hearts to touch the pure joy that we can receive from giving, from receiving the good will of others. It opens our mind so that we are ready to forgive. Karuna is the foundation for non-violence. In practice, compassion is the easiest way to get rid of your enemies: you use it to win over their hearts and turn them into friends.

Since this country is facing many challenges, particularly the violent conflicts in the South, the power of wisdom and compassion should be adopted as guiding principles, principle that will lead our society to permanent peace and happiness.

If we believe that panya and karuna can make human beings realise the Buddha within themselves, we should also believe that these two qualities can turn a land beset by conflict into a place of peace.

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The above is a translation of a piece written by the author in Thai.


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