Last weekend Buddhists in Sri Lanka celebrated Vesak. Vesak is the day when Buddhists recount the three most significant events of the life of Gauthama Buddha. It is the day when the Buddha was born, won over his greed and attained Nirvana; breaking the suffering, the cycle of life and rebirth and passed away leaving the Dhamma or discourses of sense, truth and wisdom behind.
On this very weekend of Vesak, we as a nation were once again at crossroads. On the one hand the nation’s collective conscience was seeking brisk ways to bring relief to the suffering of our Tamil brethren trapped in the Northern war front. Lives were being taken not only of those who have sought violence but also of innocents on all sides.
We have the stark reality that people are used as human shields by those who sought and continue to seek terror as a way to resolve issues for over two and half decades. The mistakes made by all of us over the years are many.
The resolve to end terror and seek ways different to that of the past to find genuine reconciliation, building trust and confidence is looming. Yet, the suffering on the ground is real with pain, loss of life and survival touching those who are victims of circumstances. Healing deep wounds beyond the current suffering is the challenge we, as a nation face.
Practising a true Buddhist way of life and seeking the true meaning of Vesak will, in the columnist’s mind give the Sri Lankan nation a way forward when we take on the task of reconciliation based on the principles of Karuna (Compassion), Mettha (Loving Kindness), Muditha (Sympathetic Joy) and Upekkha (Equanimity).
What the Buddha sought, found and taught is that, there is a way beyond the suffering and pain, where hope of an enlightened way is possible. The way proposed is primarily a way for each which then will form the collective character of the way forward, be it for a nation, region or for the world.
Transforming the way of the Buddhist discourse to that for lifestyles and economics will be the challenge before us. In times and circumstances where small, self- reliant and sufficient economies present, desirable and rational alternatives to the globalised, greed driven. ‘Big is Better’ type social and economic models, this may well be the way forward for us all.
The immediate needs will be related to attending to the injured, sick and the traumatised. Survival needs of providing a sense of security and safety, preventing the spread of diseases through maintenance of good sanitation, feeding, clothing and the like will be vital.
It will be months if not years before even a semblance of normalcy can be attained for those who are now displaced from their land and adobe. Rebuilding and reconstruction of lives and a fresh socio-economic web will be a slow and painful process.
The need of the hour is for a united and unified effort of all. Raging fires of hatred must be doused at the local and international levels and licking of wounds must be replaced with solid, effective frontline action aimed for the welfare of the displaced, injured and the hurt.
Issues of establishing ownership of land of the displaced, providing them a sense of confidence of the genuineness of the intentions need be carried through on the fast-forward mode with credible and neutral institutional mechanisms. This in turn will help bring about a change of their mindsets about whom they perceived as the oppressor for this long,
They will seek to create tension through misinformation and attempt to deliberately design chaotic and undesirable circumstances. Anticipation of the modus-operandi of such and being ready to counter them will be the responsibility of all citizens as well as the Diaspora of this country.
What we now need is genuine care, vigilance and a sense of protective giving from all alike, regardless of whatever differences of views there may have been in the past among us.
Critical to such process when we rebuild lives with trust and faith in each other, reaching out to each other, is the need to have a conceptual basis to that effort.
It is important that it has moral and ethical credence that can rise above and beyond the mistrust, misinformation and misadventure scenarios of the past.
The leadership of the nation building apparatus need to articulate the basis for the model, positioning it transparently but away from any chauvinistic overtones of being a vehicle for propagating a religious identity.
Being traditionally a majority Hindu Community, the Tamils have at the root of their social fabric an acceptance of the basis of the true Buddhist way of life and that of the Gandhian philosophy of prudent and simple living.
This can be a major platform articulated through sharing and understanding among local leaders and social workers regardless of them being Hindu, Christian, Muslim or Buddhist. Such an initiative in-turn can be a way to cement a neutral conceptual base for the rebuilding effort.
In this context, Buddhism also can help us to focus on the system and its structural violence, instead of blaming or condemning ourselves or others within that system.
The teachings can encourage an understanding of the many complex ways we affect others and our environment, and encourage empathy and a profound affirmation of life. Only by recognizing how we are all part of this system, can we actively work together to disengage from these life-denying structures.
The philosophy of Buddhism, also in its holistic approach, can help us to understand and realise how various symptoms are interrelated; how the crises facing us are systemic and deeply rooted in economic and social imperatives.
Understanding the myriad connections between the problems can prevent us from wasting our efforts on the symptoms of the crises, rather than focusing on their fundamental causes. Under the surface, even such seemingly unconnected problems such as ethnic violence, terrorism, climate change, poverty, pollution of the air and water, pandemics, disruption of social institutions, and cultural disintegration are closely interlinked.
In a crisis of this nature, being faced with a never-ending string of seemingly unrelated and un-surmountable problems can be overwhelming, but finding the points at which they converge can make our strategy to solve them more focused and effective.
It is then just a question of pulling the right threads to affect the entire fabric, rather than having to deal with each problem individually.
A fine focus on the Four Noble Truths of Dukkha: or realisation of suffering; Samudaya: cause of suffering as the desire to have and control things; Nirodha: effective action to ease it with Nirvana; and Magga; or the way through the eightfold path leading to the cessation of suffering can be an effective way forward for the conceptual base model for strategic decision making in rebuilding our once lost nation.
Useful Web Addresses:
A comprehensive TV Channel of Buddhist resource links - www.buddhistchannel.tv
Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies - www.ocbs.org
Journal of Buddhist Ethics - www.buddhistethics.org/2/rightbib.html
Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance - www.religioustolerance.org/buddhism3.htm
Ministry of Resettlement and Disaster Relief Services - www.resettlementmin.gov.lk
Internally Displaced Persons; Human Rights Commission Sri Lanka - www.idpsrilanka.lk
Ministry of Defence, Sri Lanka - www.defence.lk/english.asp