|Sunday, 3 March 2002|
Buddhism and psycho-social needs
by Senarat Wijayasundara
What is Buddhism? That is a question that has been asked ever since its appearance in the world throughout history. Various answers have been given. But even today it is asked and tomorrow also it will be the same. Some answers will be offered leaving open room for fresh attempts. Why it is so? The nature of Buddhism being such and that of those who follow it being such that there is no wonder for this position.
This shows that the message of the Buddha can be viewed in a number of ways. For instance to some it is a philosophy whereas to some others it is a religion. And to others it may be this or that. There are thus so many ways of understanding the teaching of the Buddha. When we consider the vast number of discourses the Buddha preached during the forty-five years of his ministry at different occasions to different people from all walks of life all these views about Buddhism seem to contain some but not the whole truth.
One is reminded here of the ancient story of the blind men and the elephant. Their opinions about the elephant contain only a partial truth and not the whole truth. In the same way one may say that Buddhism is a way of life meaning thereby being a Buddhist one accepts the teaching of the Buddha while trying to practise it in his life taking the Buddha as his ideal.
This view does no doubt cover a larger area of the content of Buddhism. If one goes by this description of Buddhism one has to put into practise the instructions given by the Buddha.
It is this approach that modern society would like to take towards Buddhism as it will bring in much benefits to the larger section of society. After all Buddhism has been preached for the good of the many and out of compassion for the world.
Two main principles of Buddhism are wisdom and compassion. These can be called the two pillars on which Buddhism rests. Through wisdom one understands the nature of the world, how it functions and what are the contributing factors involved. In understanding the world, Buddhism regards it as conditioned by various causes and conditions. This way of looking at the world is known as Theory or Dependent Arising.
It is on the basis of this theory that Buddhism maintains that suffering is removable first by identifying the relevant causes and conditions and then eliminating them by an effective methods.
The Buddha has shown how to do it. And through compassion towards oneself and others one tries to change the world for better. This task appears to be not just limited to one single life long carrier of a person practising Buddhist. But as Buddhism accepts the cycle of birth and death (Samsara) it has to be carried out through more lives till the ideals is attained.
It is well known fact that Buddhists claim that the Buddhism appear in the world for the good of the many. And it is with this purpose that the Buddhas as teachers have given the world such a message embodying wisdom and compassion. An Indian follower of Buddhism who came to Sri Lanka for studies composed a Book of Poems under the caption Hundred Verses of Devotion.
There the Author declares that doing service to the world is a way of honouring the Buddha whereas disservice to the world is a crime against him. Thus he has taken Buddhism as a way life. The Buddha in one of his former lives as ascetic Sumedha had the opportunity of attaining Nirvana then and there but he willingly wished to postpone it for the happiness of others and entered Samsara. Thus he undertook to suffer a lot in order help others.
We Buddhists of all schools of Theravada Mahayana and Tantrayana have this noble ideal to pursue.
Our society as it stands is not at all satisfactory. Though some are happy and contended a large number of men and women are faced with various sorts of problems. Here is an opportunity for the more fortunate to come forward to help the less fortunate.
Particularly it should be the unfailing duty incumbent upon all Buddhists. It was our Buddha who did not preach to the hungry farmer until a sufficient meal was provided for him. In another instance the Buddha permitted a young monk to look after his old parents while remaining in robes. This attitude is permeated everywhere in Buddhism where problems are dealt with.
In addition to such problems there were some cases where the Buddha sought to help the individuals to develop a positive outlook so that they could remain unshaken in these situations.
The story of the Dead Child and Mustard Seeds is one such case. The Lady who lost her only child had become frantic and distraught. She was looking for a physician to get the child some medicine. When the Buddha met her He advised to bring a few mustard seeds from a house where no one had died.
After a few attempts on her part she was convinced of the universality of death. The case of Patacara is another instance. She had lost everything. Troubles had come tumbling one upon the other. She had become so distraught she did not even know that her clothes had fallen away. When she came to the Buddha he addressed her with words of consolation.
The result was she regained her mind. Another instance. That misguided yet intelligent student Angulimala was put on the right tract with a few simple but highly meaningful words. Thus the Buddha was a psychiatrist par excellence. By applying the Buddhist theory of cause and effect to such situations we can identify the problems people are faced with and try in our way to help them to alleviate their suffering.
We know that the health situation in the world is far from satisfactory. According to recent medical studies one in every four people develops one or more mental or behaviourial disorders at some stage in the life, both in developed and developing countries. These disorders thanks to the development of science and technology can now be diagnosed. Some disorders can be prevented all can be successfully managed and treated. This been such we have to consider the situation in Sri Lanka.
Therefore, those of us keen to do counselling can be highly benefitted from that rich Buddhist store of data and practices including meditation. For this it is always wise to get together and co-ordinate the efforts for the purpose. In this context it is a welcome sign to find that an organisation has already been established and has the intention of extending its activities to areas we in Sri Lanka have to give much attention. It has a very wide yet useful program of action.
It intends to bring under its organisation all those who are dedicated to social service irrespective of caste creed and sex. For this noble work they no doubt need a Centre to get all these good services going for the sake of those who are in difficulties.
Already they have taken the preliminary step by starting the construction of a building to house all these activities. so they welcome the public support in whichever way so that they can go ahead with it. It is advisable that this organisation which is meaningfully named Suhada Social Service Foundation (Suhada means good hearted, friendly) starts its work at the earliest opportunity. The Centre is located at Samagi Mawatha Hokandara, Thalawatugoda ,Battaramulla, Sri Jayawardenapura, Sri Lanka.
Looked at from this perspective the services that Centre Director Ven. Tissamaharamaye Punna Thera is offering can be seen how much beneficial could be to society at large. Having followed courses on counselling, he is thus knowledgeable and rich in experience in many areas related to his project.
It is encouraging to see that he has found a good team of social workers with much understanding and knowledge behind him to look for. He has as one of his advisors no less a person than Ven. Aggamahapandita Madihe Pannasiha Mahanayaka Mahathera. Dr. Dhammika P. Bibile who has spent much of his time for social services functions as Secretary to the Foundation.
Produced by Lake House