"SELF DETERMINATION IS KEY TO THE WORLD PEACE"
[Madeleine Wightman, The Guardian, 28 April 2010]
On the island of Sri Lanka, Buddhism is not the bloodless intellectual exercise that it appears in Britain
A couple of months ago I arrived in Sri Lanka and visited a Buddhist temple for the first time. I had discarded my fascination with Eastern philosophies and religions when I became a Christian in my early 20s. Yet over the years I continued to encounter friends and relatives who practised Buddhism. It seemed mysterious and dangerous for a Christian to take an interest in Buddhist belief systems. However I absorbed enough to understand that for most Western adherents, Buddhism is a rather hip philosophy rather than a religion.
It is easy to see how a belief system which has no absolute moral arbiter to defer to and no threat of everlasting torment could be seen as a pleasant alternative. Following trips to Asian countries, western converts seeking peace often found it (and themselves) through Buddhism. It seem that it could provide guidelines whilst avoiding tough moral demands and threats of eternal punishment. On the downside, it failed to deliver anything like the astounding promise of eternity in heaven for Christians.
Fast forward a decade to this year. As I walked around Gangaramaya, the largest temple in Colombo, I noticed to my astonishment a number of large, illustrated plaques warning of hellfire and damnation. At first I thought it was my imagination, yet as I continued to read it was unmistakable: "Those who rate sensual pleasures as the highest bliss will find them a path to Hell".
I wondered briefly whether "Hell" simply meant enslavement to addictions leading to sorrow in this current life; losing your job, money, house and friends. Yet the next plaque was just as clear "A sinner who coveted the wife of another is still suffering in Hell for that crime" and "Once an aesthetic scolded the Sangha with harsh words. He suffered in Hell and was reborn there as an evil spirit".
Horrific descriptions, like something from Dante’s Hell. Yet it got worse – pictures of people in gorgeous clothes, drinking and carousing, juxtaposed by images of the same characters writhing naked in flames, tormented by devils with pitchforks and snakes with multiple heads. The tolerant hippy "Buddhism’s a philosophy man" began to sound hollow.
I arranged an appointment with the temple to satisfy my curiosity and grilled the English speaker who had been assigned the inquisitive foreigner. He explained that in Buddhism there is no creator but that the following five precepts are the tenets which lead to a good life; no killing, stealing, coveting, bearing false witness or ingesting intoxicating substances.
I asked how, since there is no creator, we can what is "good" in absolute terms. He explained that this is determined by society in order that it can function smoothly and that people can lead prosperous and happy lives. The hellfire references were not in fact, literal warnings about eternal consequences of sin. Rather they symbolise the mental anguish in this life that can result from unwise choices and actions.
This did nothing to convince me; I came to the conclusion that the fear of hellfire may well have been borrowed from Christian neighbours as a means of effective social control. That would be consistent with the fact that a specific brand of Sinhalese, nationalistic Buddhism has been endorsed by the government. It is a is a political ideology which combines a focus upon Sinhalese culture and ethnicity with an emphasis upon Theravada Buddhism. It originated in part as a reaction to the colonisation of Sri Lanka by the British Empire and became increasingly assertive in the years following the independence of the country. A far cry from the brand of Buddhism espoused by many Western converts.
My host presented me with a comprehensive book outlining rites and rituals for Sri Lankan Buddhists. This was written by a monk with a PhD in Theravada Buddhist practise and contains very specific instructions. The book clearly urges Buddhist adherents to worship the Buddha, to remember to make food offerings at the temple and chant in order to keep evil spirits at bay. On closer inspection, I realised that there is a concept of a real hell yet is is temporary hence the reference to rebirth as an evil spirit there. Once the evil spirit has suffered sufficiently, it can get out, making hell a temporary condition, closer to the idea of purgatory. What is certain though is that mainstream (Theravada) Buddhism is clearly a religion and not simply a philosophy as commonly assumed in western countries. It is unlikely that western converts will pass up their gentle philosophical version of Buddhism for the more frightening Theravada variety any time soon.
Global Peace Support Group UK Ltd is a registered organisation based in London. The organisation dedicated to be involved in humanitarian and other related issues. We also work along with other similar organisations to promote peace and harmony among various societies..
GLOBAL PEACE SUPPORT GROUP - UK - TIRELESSLY WORK ON THE CONCEPT OF:
"SELF DETERMINATION IS KEY TO THE WORLD PEACE"
MOURNS ON THE CONTINUED TRAGEDY OF THE PEOPLE OF North & East of Tamil EELAM WITH THE HOPE OF ALL OF OUR ENDEAVOURS WOULD BRING AN END TO THOSE SUFFERING DURING THE YEAR AHEAD.
The International community has a duty towards the long suffering Sri Lankan Tamil population to restore their rights of SELF DETERMINATION.
Global Peace Support Group - believes that this is the ONLY way for a permanent PEACE in Sri Lanka.