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221 LESSON 08 04 2011 One Foot in the World Buddhist Approaches to Present day Problems FREE ONLINE eNālandā Research and Practice UNIVERSITY and BUDDHIST GOOD NEWS letter  to VOTE for BSP ELEPHANT for Social Transformation and Economic Emancipation to attain Ultimate Bliss-Through http://sarvajan.ambedkar.org






The Cakkavattsihanada
 (D. III, 69-74) deals with the problem of social change. As a
result of the unequal distribution of wealth, poverty becomes widespread and
moral standards deteriorate rapidly. With moral degeneration there is a
corresponding decrease in physical beauty and length of life. As time goes on
and immorality settles down, society comes under the grip of three derogatory
phenomena, namely, perverted lust(adhammaraga), wanton greed (visamalobha) and
a wrong sense of values(micchadhamma). Disrespect for family,
religious and cultural traditions becomes an accepted social phenomenon. When
moral degradation continues thus a time will come when the life- span is
reduced to ten years and the marriageable age goes down to five. By that time
food will undergo so much change that delicacies such as ghee, butter, honey,
etc. will vanish, and what is considered coarse today will be a delicacy of
that time. All concepts of morality will disappear and language will have no
word to denote morality. Immorality will reign supreme with social sanction.
There will be no marriage laws nor kinship, and society will fall into a state
of utter promiscuity, as among animals. Among such humans keen mutual enmity will
become the rule, and they will be overcome by passionate thoughts of killing
one another. A world war will break out and large-scale massacre would be the
result. After this mass blood bath, the few destitutes who are left behind will
find solace in each other’s company and they will begin to regard one another
with kindly thoughts. With this change of heart there will be a gradual
re-evolution of moral values. Step by step the good life will be restored,
physical beauty will reappear and the life-span will increase. Mental
potentialities too will gradually develop.< ?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />

Such are the
Buddhist ideas of social change. Society stands or falls with the rise or fall
of moral values.

One Foot in the World Buddhist Approaches to Present-day Problems


Lily de Silva




A Layman’s Happiness

The Mechanics of Bondage and

Understanding and Managing Stress

The Buddhist Attitude to Gain and

Livelihood and Development

Facing Death Without Fear

The Human Body

Sensualistic Social Trends and
Buddhism in Modern Times

About the Author



The dispensation of
the Buddha includes not only monks and nuns, but male and female lay followers
as well. All these four groups comprising the Buddhist community have but one
ultimate goal. That goal is the attainment of Nibbana.

Though Nibbana
means final liberation from the world, while walking along the path to
liberation a Buddhist has to live in the world and deal with the conditions of
worldly existence. This problem is likely to be felt especially acutely by the
lay Buddhist, who may find that the demands and attractions of secular life
tend to pull him away from the path to deliverance. However, the Buddha was not
unaware of or unconcerned about this dilemma confronted by his lay disciples,
but gave it his careful attention. He taught his lay followers how to organize
lay life in accordance with the ethical principles of the Dhamma and how to
lead successful lay lives without deviating from the path of rectitude.

As lay Buddhists,
we must be ever vigilant so that in our pursuit of worldly goals such as
wealth, pleasure, and success we do not lose sight of our spiritual goal.

Care should be
taken especially to avoid the violation of the basic moral principles summed up
in the Five Precepts, as such violation leads to regression on the path. We
must often remind ourselves that the first two of the four stages of holiness
can be attained by those still leading a married life; that there have been
non-returners of the third stage who continued to remain in lay life though
observing celibacy; and that the texts record instances of laymen who even
attained arahatship prior to their deaths. The Pali canon contains ample
evidence of exemplary laymen and laywomen, such as Anathapindika, Visakha, and
the parents of Nakula, to mention only the most prominent. Therefore a layman
should make every endeavour to follow the way to the end of suffering in this
very life itself, by leading a life of moderation and self-discipline and by
practicing meditation with the aim of developing insight into the ultimate
truths of life and death.

The essays in this
booklet explore various facets of experience from lay life which require the
attention of the lay aspirant to deliverance. They deal particularly with those
which have become more pronounced and urgent in our contemporary materialistic
and secularized world. My wish is to share these ideas with others who also may
be attempting to follow the Buddha’s path in the lay life, and are thus walking
with one foot on the way to Nibbana and one foot still in the world. I hope
these essays will assist them to understand and overcome the problems they may
face in their day-to- day lives.

A Layman’s Happiness   

Life in the modern
age has become particularly trying and problematic. Though it remains a fact
that the standard of living has generally improved, man is still suffering
immensely under the weight of present-day living. The physical condition of man
has been reduced to such a pathetic level that he succumbs to untimely death by
killer diseases such as cancer, heart failure, diabetes, etc. to an
unprecedented degree. Mentally, he is so tension-ridden that he has forgotten
the art of relaxing, and he cannot even enjoy sound sleep without the aid of
tranquilizers. In this set up interpersonal relations have become so brittle
and vulnerable that the divorce rate has become alarmingly high, thus letting
loose a whole series of other social problems such as uncared-for children,
juvenile delinquency, suicide, etc. Thus life has become a problematic burden
and a solution to make life more tolerable and enjoyable is a great pressing

As the word of the
Buddha is of everlasting value and universal applicability, and as the Buddha
preached not only to monks and nuns but also to the lay public as well, it is
useful to find a teaching of the Buddha which is relevant to our present-day
problems. In thePattakammavagga of the Anguttara
Nikaya (A II, 69) the Buddha preached a sutta to Anathapindika on the fourfold
pleasures of a layman. It is our considered opinion that this sutta offers
adequate insight to meet the demands of the present-day problems as well. The
four types of pleasure listed there are: atthisukha, the pleasure of
having material wealth;bhogasukha, the pleasure of
enjoying material wealth; ananasukha, the pleasure of
being debtless; and anavajjaskha, the pleasure of
being blameless. Let us take these for discussion one by one and see how these
sources of pleasure can be harnessed for leading a happy life in the
present-day world.

Atthisukha — Man should not
only have a righteous means of living, avoiding blameworthy trades such as
dealing in meat, liquor, poison, firearms and slavery, he should also entertain
a wholesome attitude towards his righteous occupation. For instance, if a
doctor welcomes epidemics in the locality in order to make much money, or a
trader hopes for natural calamities to send market prices up, the money earned
by such unscrupulous individuals is not righteous money as their intentions are
impure and foul. Also one should not deceive or exploit others in carrying out
one’s occupation. Exerting oneself with great perseverance, one should earn
one’s living, and such hard-earned wealth is called righteous wealth(dhammika
 Again one could have great wealth, but if one does
not experience a sense of contentment with what one has, one cannot really
enjoy atthisukha or the pleasure of
having. The amassing of wealth of such a person is like trying to fill a
bottomless vessel. This is one of the widespread maladies we see in the
present-day society. Inordinate expansion of wealth becomes a source not of
happiness, but of anxiety. Such wealth exposes the possessor to the jealousies
and maneuvers of other unscrupulous individuals, hence the occurrence of
blackmailing and kidnapping from time to time. But if one does have a righteous
means of earning one’s living and the correct attitude to wealth, one can
escape many of the hazards which money brings in its wake to modern man.

Bhogasukha — Wealth has only
instrumental value and the proper enjoyment of wealth is an art which is worth
carefully cultivating. Buddhism deplores both extravagance and miserly
hoarding. One must maintain a healthy balanced standard of living according to
one’s means. If, in the enjoyment of wealth, one overindulges in sense
pleasures, one is bound to run into health hazards in a very short time. If,
for instance, one overindulges in food just because one can afford it, one will
soon be overcome by diseases such as heart failure, high blood pressure and
diabetes. Such a one will be faced with the situation of “cutting his neck
with his own tongue.” Moderation in food is a virtue praised in Buddhism
and it is a health-promoting habit. Often in the name of enjoying wealth, man
cultivates unhealthy habits such as smoking and drinking. It is paradoxical
that man, who actually loves himself most, should act as if he were his own
worst enemy by indulging in habits which ultimately reduce him to a physical
wreck. It is medically established that smoking causes the highest percentage
of lung cancer, and that drinking causes irreparable damage to vital organs of
the body. If only one pauses to ponder over one’s own welfare, and if only one
entertains at least some degree of compassion towards oneself, one would not
get into the clutches of these vicious habits. Wealthy men often end up in the
pitiful plight of the ant fallen in the pot of honey. Such men did not know the
art of enjoying bhogasukha. The regard the body
as an instrument for pleasure, and they wear out and debilitate the body’s
capacity for enjoyment in double quick time, long before the natural process of
wear and tear sets in. If we love ourselves, we have to treat our bodies with
proper care without taxing it with overindulgence and deprivation. It is with
the body that we can enjoy not only the pleasures of the senses, but even the
spiritual bliss of Nibbana. Another aspect of the joy of wealth is the art of
sharing. Without being an Adinnapubbaka, a
“never-giver,” if one learns to share one’s riches with the less
fortunate have-nots, one will have the noble experience of being happy at the
joy of another. At the same time one will learn the love and good will of
others, instead of becoming the target of jealousy and intrigue.

Ananasukha — The pleasure of
being debtless is the third quality discussed in our sutta. Economically if one
can be completely free of debt, one is indeed a very fortunate person. To be
really debtless in society one has to discharge one’s obligations scrupulously.
As a wage earner one has to discharge one’s duties for which one is paid,
otherwise one can be indebted to the wage one gets. As a parent one has to
fulfill one’s obligations to one’s children. In our society children are taught
to worship and look after their parents, and it is well to bear in mind that
parents too have to qualify themselves for the honor they receive by being dutiful
parents. It should be emphasized that fathers who neglect their families as a
result of their addiction to vices such as drinking and gambling fall far short
of the ideal of debtlessness. One can have the satisfaction of being debtless
only if one has fulfilled one’s obligations in all social roles one has to

Anavajjasukha — The satisfaction
of leading a blameless life is the highest form of satisfaction that a layman
can have. Every society has a code of ethics to be followed by its members. According
to Buddhism the minimum code of ethics regulating the life of its adherents is
the pañcasila, the Five Precepts.[1] If one practices these virtues, one can have the
satisfaction of leading a righteous life to a great extent. Refraining from
doing to others what one does not like others to do unto oneself is the basic
principle underlying these virtues. Buddhism speaks of hiri and ottappa, the sense of shame
and the fear to do wrong, as deva dhamma or celestial
qualities. These are the basic qualities which separate man from the animal
kingdom. Unlike the animals man has a conscience which makes him squeamish
about doing wrong. Buddhism recognizes blameless mental activity as well.
Mental activities which spring from greed, hatred and delusion are unwholesome
and blameworthy. Let us see how such mental behavior is a source of
unhappiness. Take for instance the case of a person who is angry. What are the
symptoms of anger? Hard breathing, accelerated heart beat, faster circulation
of blood, feeling hot, sweating, trepidation, restlessness, etc. — these are
the physical manifestations of anger. These are certainly not comfortable
physical experiences. Each time the cause of anger is remembered, even though
the physical manifestations of anger may not be that marked, one feels quite
restless and mentally ill at ease. We use expressions such as “boiling
with anger,” “I got the devil on to me,” etc. to mean getting
angry, and these sayings are literally expressive of the situation. It is just
not possible for one to be angry and happy at the same time. An irritable
person is truly a very sad person, and what is worse he infects others around
him too with the same sadness. The cultivation of sublime modes of behavior
such as loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity are truly
conducive to happy living. Those who live with such attitudes habitually are
pleasant and amicable people who can be happy alone as well as in company.

If we truly
understand the significance of the four kinds of happiness elucidated in our
sutta, and translate them into action, life will be much more pleasant and
happy even in this modern age.

The Mechanics of Bondage and Suffering   

The Buddhist texts
repeatedly describe man as being bound and fettered to suffering. Many Pali
words are used to describe this pathetic situation, such as samyojana, bandha and pasa,meaning bond,
fetter, and snare, respectively. One sutta employs a simple simile to
illustrate the manner in which man is fettered to samsaric life. According to
this simile a black bull and a white bull are tied together with a rope. In
this situation it cannot be said that the black bull is a fetter to the white
bull, or that the white bull is a fetter to the black bull. Actually it is the
rope with which the two are tied together that constitutes the fetter. Similarly
the external world is not a fetter to man, nor is man a fetter to the external
world. It is the desire for pleasure with which man is bound to the external
world that forms the fetter. Desire is a very strong fetter which chains man to
the external world and thereby to the ever recurring cycle of births and
deaths. This strong fetter has six strands emerging from the six sense
faculties, namely, the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and the mental faculty.
The last mentioned faculty is called mano in Pali and is
regarded as the sense that unifies all other faculties.

The Pali word for
sense faculty is indriya, a very interesting
word which reveals much about our human situation. Indra means lord or king,
and the sense faculties are called indriyas
they dominate us so much. They act as our lords or masters and we slavishly
obey them. The eye wishes to see pleasant forms, the ear wishes to hear
pleasant sounds, the nose to smell pleasant smells, the tongue to enjoy
pleasant tastes, and the body to feel pleasant tactile objects. The mental
faculty which unifies all other sense faculties, gets terribly disturbed as it
is dragged in different directions by the different sense stimuli, while it has
to deal with its own share of agitations in the form of hopes, memories, and
imaginations. The Chappanaka Sutta of the Samyutta
Nikaya beautifully illustrates the struggle of the six senses with an eloquent
simile. According to this simile, six animals having different habits and
diverse fields of action are tied together in one knot by a strong rope. The
six animals are a crocodile who tries to run to the water, a bird who tries to
fly in the air, a dog who tries to run to a village, a fox who tries to flee to
a cemetery, a monkey who tries to go to the forest, and a snake who tries to
creep into an anthill. These six animals are constantly struggling to reach
their respective habitats. Similarly, the six senses are constantly seeking
gratification in their own spheres, and the man who has no control over his sense
faculties becomes terribly confused.

Through our senses
we are chained to sense stimuli. We are chained to pleasant sense stimuli by
the way of greed. We love to see pleasant objects and we spend a great deal of
time, energy, and money in our endeavour to procure as many pleasant objects as
possible. We love to hear pleasant words; if someone speaks in praise of us
once we will often recall it with pleasure and be attached to that pleasure. We
love to eat tasty food. This is a great weakness in most of us. Even when rich
food is detrimental to our health, the desire to please the tongue is so great
that we indulge in food even at the risk of our precious lives. This is how we
sometimes go to the extent of beheading ourselves with our tongues. Man’s
desire to gratify his sex desire is also so intense that he runs the gravest
risk of suffering great pain and debility with social diseases. AIDS (Acquired
Immunity Deficiency Syndrome), the present dreaded disease which is taking a
very heavy toll of human life in the West, is the latest severe penalty man is
paying for his unrestrained greed for sensuality. The plight of modern man can
be illustrated by the traditional simile of the ant fallen in the pot of honey,
bogged down and drowning in the very pleasures he is trying to enjoy.

Just as much as we
can become fettered by greed, so we can also get trapped by dislike and hatred.
Our aversion is aroused by unpleasant sense stimuli. The stronger the aversion,
the more tenaciously we become fettered to the unpleasant object. Let us take
an example. Suppose we have seen a disgusting object just before or during a
meal. Our aversion may grow so strong that we will reject even the most
delicious food. If we see a worm in a bean curry, our aversion to it may even
make us give up eating beans altogether, for each time we see beans we would be
reminded of the unpleasant experience. Let us take another example from
auditory experience. If somebody abuses us in front of a gathering, we would
indeed get very angry with the abuser. This incident would come to our mind
often and each time it came up we would experience anger. When we recall the
abuse over and over and inject negative emotions of anger and hatred into this
memory, we should know that a fetter has been formed.

By these obsessions
by greed and hatred generated through the instrumentality of the senses, man’s
freedom of activity is limited and demarcated. He becomes like an animal
tethered to a post by a rope, with its range of activity limited by the length
of the rope. Here egoism is like the post, as we are all tied to the idea of
self or “I”. The rope stands for desire or aversion, for the stronger
the idea of self, the more selfish we become, and the more selfish we become,
the stronger grow our desires, likes, and dislikes. So it goes on like a
vicious circle. Let us work out the simile in greater detail: when the rope of
desire is strong, the rope itself becomes short, restricting man’s freedom of
activity proportionally. The man with a very strong sense of ego is like the
animal who is smothered by the tightness and the shortness of the rope. The
nature of this desire-rope is such that when negative emotions of likes and
dislikes are weak, the rope itself is not only weakened but also lengthened,
giving the human animal greater freedom of activity. When negative emotions
become weak, positive emotions such as love and compassion emerge, expanding
man’s scope of freedom. The entire message of the Dhamma can be summarized as a
method of rescuing human beings from the trammels of egocentricity, negative
emotions, and ignorance, and granting them complete and unlimited freedom. In
the language of our simile, it is like cutting the rope and uprooting the post
to which the animal is tied.

The suttas also
speak of another human tendency with regard to sense pleasures: dwelling on
past sensual pleasures while even neglecting to enjoy present pleasures. The
past sense objects have already passed away and changed, but we become attached
to our memories of them and thus experience anguish. Another trap we fall into
because of our enjoyment of sense objects is the generation of the three types
of conceit. When we think that we have a greater share of sensual pleasures
than others, we develop a superiority complex(seyyamana); by considering
ourselves equal to others, we develop the equality complex(sadisamana); and by thinking of
ourselves as being less fortunate than others in the enjoyment of sense
pleasures, we develop the inferiority complex (hinamana). Thus, by using the
measuring rod of sense pleasures to quantify status, we become more and more
self-centered and suffer the consequences of all possible complexes. therefore
the Buddha calls sense pleasures the “snare of Mara,” the Evil One.

A sutta in the
Salayatana Samyutta explains the situation from a different angle. When the
sense faculties are unrestrained, the mind gets corrupted, wallowing in the
enjoyment of sense objects. Such a corrupt mind does not find pamojja, delight in those
higher noble pursuits which elevate the mind.

When this pamojja, or spiritual
delight is absent, pious joy (piti) is also absent.
When pious joy is missing there is no passaddhi, physical and mental
relaxation. He who is not relaxed, lives in tension, frustration, and misery.
This is what is called in Pali dukkha, ”suffering.”
Thus suffering is traced to non-restraint in the sense faculties.

Looking at the
problem from another perspective, the Salayatana Samyutta traces the origin of
the world to sense experience. Depending on the sense faculties and sense
objects there arises sense consciousness. The convergence of these three
factors — sense faculties, sense objects and sense consciousness — is called
contact (phassa). Contact generates
feelings(phassapaccaya vedana). In other words, if
the object is delightful we experience pleasure in making contact with it.
Feelings give rise to craving (vedanapaccaya tanha) as we tend to
desire more and more of the pleasant feelings. Craving generates clinging (tanhapaccaya
 when we try to possess the objects we crave for.
Clinging nurtures the growth of personal factors (upadanapaccaya
 which is turn causes birth (jati). Birth brings in its
wake all the ills of old age, death, grief, lamentation, etc. This is called
the arising of the world. Thus we construct our own private worlds through the
instrumentality of our sense faculties.

All this material
goes to show that we are trapped to samsara through the
domination of our senses. If we allow them free rein, we allow them to control
us. Bondage and suffering are proportionate to the extent that we allow our
sense faculties to dominate us. If we desire freedom and happiness for
ourselves we have to subjugate the senses and make them our servants.

Understanding and Managing Stress   

Stress is a term
adopted from engineering science by psychology and medicine. Simply defined,
stress in engineering means force upon an area. As so many forces are working
upon us in the modern age, and we find it extremely difficult to cope under so
much pressure, stress is called the “disease of civilization.” Philip
Zimbardo in his Psychology and Life traces four
interrelated levels at which we react to the pressures exerted upon us from our
environment. The four are: the emotional level, the behavioral level, the
physiological level, and the cognitive level. the emotional responses to stress
are sadness, depression, anger, irritation, and frustration. The behavioural
responses are poor concentration, forgetfulness, poor interpersonal relations,
and lowered productivity. The physiological responses consist of bodily
tensions, which may lead to headaches, backaches, stomach ulcers, high blood
pressure, and even killer diseases. At the cognitive level one may lose
self-esteem and self-confidence, which leads to feelings of helplessness and
hopelessness. At worst such a person may even end up committing suicide.

In order to
understand stress let us consider the various environmental factors which exert
pressure on modern man. In this atomic age the very survival of the species is
threatened. Nuclear war threatens every single human being on earth,
irrespective of whether one lives in a country with nuclear weapons or not.
Population explosion threatens man with severe food shortages; at present even
a large segment of human population is undernourished while still others are
dying of starvation and malnutrition. Environmental pollution causes severe
health hazards and mental and physical retardation. Unemployment among the
skilled is a growing global problem. The pace of life has become so hectic that
man is simply rushing from one task to another without any relaxation. This is
really paradoxical in an age when labour-saving devices are freely available
and are in use to an unprecedented degree. Competition for educational and
employment opportunities is so severe that it has contributed to a fair share
to increase the rate of suicide. Enjoyment of sense pleasures has grown so
obsessive that it has become like drinking salt water to quench thirst.
Constant stimulation of the senses is today considered a necessity, and thus
pocket radios with earphones, chewing gum, and cosmetics are marketed
everywhere. Sense stimulation goes on unrestrained but satiation is far from
achieved. It is no wonder that man, caught up in all this, is terribly confused
and frustrated, and his life is intolerably stressful. This is the situation
Buddhism describes as “tangles within and tangles without, people are
enmeshed in tangles.”

While the above
observations were made from the point of view of modern studies and
contemporary conditions, Buddhism makes similar observations from a
psychological perspective. Man experiences stress and suffering because of five
psychological states which envelop his whole personality. They are called nivarana in the Pali
language, meaning hindrances. They hinder happiness and over-cloud man’s vision
of himself, his environment and the interaction between the two. The thicker
and more opaque these hindrances, the greater the stress and suffering man
experiences. The thinner and more sparse these hindrances, the less his
suffering with a corresponding increase in happiness. These five hindrances are
the desire for sensual pleasures, anger, indolence, worry and doubt. The Pali
canon illustrates the effect of these hindrances with the help of five eloquent
similes. The mind overpowered by the desire for sense pleasures is compared to
coloured water which prevents a true reflection of a thing on the water. Thus a
man obsessed with the desire for sense pleasures is unable to get a true
perspective of either himself or other people or his environment. The mind
oppressed by anger is compared to boiling water which cannot give an accurate
reflection. A man overpowered by anger is unable to discern an issue properly.
When the mind is in the grip of indolence it is like moss covered water: light
cannot even reach the water and a reflection is impossible. The lazy man does not
even make an effort at correct understanding. When worried the mind is like
wind-tossed turbulent water, which also fails to give a true reflection. The
worried man, forever restless, is unable to make a proper assessment of an
issue. When the mind is in doubt it is compared to muddy water placed in
darkness which cannot reflect an image well. Thus all the five hindrances
deprive the mind of understanding and happiness and cause much stress and

Buddhism puts
forward a methodical plan of action for the gradual elimination of stress and
the increase of happiness and understanding. The first step recommended in this
plan is the observance of the Five Precepts comprising the abstention from
killing, stealing, illicit sex, falsehood and intoxicants. Stress is greatly
enhanced by guilt, and these precepts help man to free his conscience of the
sense of guilt. The Dhammapada says the evil-doer
suffers here and hereafter; on the other hand, the man who does good deeds
rejoices here and hereafter.

Buddhism firmly
believes that evil increases stress while good increases happiness. In addition
to the observance of the Five Precepts throughout life, Buddhism advocates the
periodical observance of the Eight Precepts by laymen. These additional
precepts attempt to train man for leading a simple life catering to one’s needs
rather than one’s greed. A frugal mode of life where wants are few and are
easily satisfied is highly extolled in Buddhism. It is the avaricious and the
acquisitive mentality that is responsible for so much stress that we

The next step in
the process of training is the control of the sense faculties. When our sense
faculties are uncontrolled we experience severe strain. We have to first
understand what is meant by being uncontrolled in the sense faculties. When a
person sees a beautiful form with his eyes, he gets attracted to it; when he
sees an unpleasant object, he gets repelled by it. Similarly with the other
senses too. Thus the person who has no control over his senses is constantly
attracted and repelled by sense data, as during waking life sense data keep on
impinging on his sense faculties constantly. When pulled in different
directions by sense stimuli, we become confused and distressed.

Our sense faculties
have different spheres of activity and different objects, and as each sense
faculty is a lord in its own sphere, and as they can severally and collectively
dominate man, they are called in Pali indriyas, meaning
“lords” or “masters.” If we allow the sense faculties to dominate
us, we get terribly confused. If we assert ourselves and control our sense
faculties, we can have unalloyed pleasure (avyasekasukha), so called because
this pleasure is uncontaminated by defilements. It is also called adhicittasukha, meaning spiritual
pleasure. Whereas sense pleasures increase stress, this type of spiritual
pleasure reduces stressfulness and increases peace of mind and contentment.

The third step in
the management of stress is the cultivation of wholesome mental habits through
meditation (bhavana). Just as we look
after and nurture our body with proper food and cleanliness, the mind too needs
proper nourishment and cleansing. The mind is most volatile in its untrained
state, but when it is tamed and made more stable it brings great happiness.
Buddhism prescribes two fundamental meditative methods of mind-training called samatha and vipassana, calm and insight.
The former is the method of calming the volatile mind, while the latter is the
method of comprehending the true nature of bodily and mental phenomena. Both
methods are extremely helpful for overcoming stress. The Samaññaphala
 explains with the help of five appropriate similes
how meditation reduces the psychological stress caused by the five hindrances.
The man who practices meditation gains a great sense of relief and it is this
sense of unburdening oneself that the similes illustrate. They are as follows:
A man who has raised capital for a business by taking a loan, prospers in
business, pays off the loan and manages his day-to-day affairs with financial
ease. Such a man experiences a great sense of relief. The second simile
portrays a man who has suffered a great deal with a prolonged chronic illness.
He gets well at long last, food becomes palatable to him and he gains physical
strength. Great is the relief such a man experiences. The third simile speaks
of the relief a prisoner enjoys after being released from a long term in jail.
The fourth is the slave who gains freedom from slavery. The fifth simile speaks
of a well-to-do man who gets lost in a fearful desert without food. On coming
to a place of safety he experiences great relief. When the stress caused by the
five hindrances is eliminated from the mind, great joy and delight arise
similar to the relief enjoyed by the men described in the similes. The best and
most effective way of overcoming stress is the practice of meditation or mental
culture. But as a prelude to that at least the Five Precepts must be observed.

The cultivation of
positive emotions such as loving-kindness (metta), compassion (karuna),sympathetic joy (mudita), and equanimity (upekkha) is another means of
conquering stress. Strained interpersonal relations is one of the common causes
of stress in household life and in the workplace. Loving
 is the positive wholesome attitude one can
cultivate with benefit for oneself and others in all interpersonal
relationships. Compassion is the emotion with
which one should regard and help those in distress. Sympathetic
 is the ability to rejoice in the joy of another. It
is difficult for a man of mean character to entertain this attitude as the joy
of another brings jealousy to the mind of such a person. Where there is
jealousy there is no unity, and where there is no unity there is no progress.
The cultivation of these positive emotions stands for both material and
spiritual progress. Equanimity is the attitude to
be adopted in the face of the vicissitudes of life. There are eight natural
ways of the world that we have to face in life. They are gain and loss, fame
and lack of fame, praise and blame, happiness and sorrow. If one trains oneself
to maintain an equanimous temperament without being either elated or dejected
in the face of these vicissitudes, one can avoid much stress and lead a simple
life with peace and contentment. We cannot change the world so that it will
give us happiness. But we can change our attitude towards the world so as to
remain unaffected by the stresses exerted by events around us. Buddhism teaches
the way to bring about this wholesome change of attitude.

The Buddhist Attitude to Gain and Honour   

The world today has
evolved various means of bestowing honour on individuals whom society
recognizes as worthy of being honoured. The Nobel Prize is considered one of
the most prestigious, and there are various other prizes and honorific titles
that are bestowed annually or from time to time on distinguished persons. In
the scholarly world the publication of felicitation and commemoration volumes
and the conferment of honorary degrees are the usual methods of honouring
academic celebrities. In society at large we indulge in various devices in the
public display of honour and appreciation. Often we resort to overtly
ego-boosting methods. As the public display of honour and esteem has become
such an important phenomena in our social life, given much publicity over all
the media — the press, radio and television — it is timely to pause to understand
the Buddhist attitude towards the display and acceptance of such public honour.
The Pali canon uses terms such as labha, sakkara,siloka, puja and vandana to mean various
expressions of honour, esteem and reverence.

According to
Buddhism the presence of ethical and spiritual qualities is the primary
criterion for eligibility for honour. The Buddha, the Paccekabuddha, the
arahant and the universal monarch rank as the highest personages who are worthy
of honour and respect. Honour paid to those worthy of honour is listed as a
great blessing in the Maha-mangala Sutta (puja
ca pujaniyanam etam mangalam uttamam).
 The Dhammapada (vv. 105-6)
declares that honour paid to a perfected saint is far better than a century
spent in the performance of sacrifice. The same text reiterates that the merit
of one who reverences those worthy of honour cannot be measured (v. 195). In
the domestic sphere parents are greatly honoured and esteemed. As they have
done so much for the children, toiling through a whole lifetime, they deserve
to be appreciated, honoured and looked after by the children. There should be
mutual honour and respect between husband and wife. This quality helps to weave
a cohesive relationship to build a happy home for the rearing of progeny. It is
also a healthy age-old custom to honour and welcome guests as is, for instance,
maintained in the Canki Sutta (M. II, 167).
Respect shown to elders is also highly commended as is well illustrated by the
parable of the Tittira Jataka (J. I, 218). Thus
noble spiritual qualities, parentage and seniority are recognized as some of
the main criteria deserving the display of honour and respect.

Now let us turn our
attention to the attitude to gain and honour by those who receive them. Since
the Buddha’s immediate disciples were monks, who by reason of their religious
status regularly received gains and honour from the laity, it is to be expected
that his statements on this subject are addressed primarily to the monks and
their concerns. Moreover, as the monks have committed themselves fully to the
quest for deliverance, the Buddha’s advice to them naturally takes their
special vocation into account. However, while recognizing the differences in
their position, lay people can take the Buddha’s counsel to the monks as
guidelines for their own attitudes towards gain and honour.

The Pali texts show
that it is possible to adopt one of the following three attitudes: (a) One
could eagerly appreciate and enjoy the honour one receives, even actively seek
it. (b) One could turn away and refuse to accept the honour bestowed. (c) One
could be indifferent and entertain an attitude of equanimity towards such honours.
We shall take these one by one for discussion.

(a) The Mahasaropama Sutta (M.I, 192)
elucidates the appreciative attitude to gain and honour with the help of a
simile. If a monk who has entered the Order enjoys the gain and honour he
receives and is satisfied therewith, he is like a man who, being in search of
timber, is satisfied with the end trimmings of a huge tree. What he looked for
is timber, but what he is satisfied with is just twigs and foliage. Devadatta
(J.I, 186) is the classic example of one who fell into utter ruin by enjoying
gain and honour. He had developed psychic powers, and he utilized these powers
for convincing laymen of his spiritual development. The most influential layman
who was thus convinced was Ajatasattu. The unconcealed display of superhuman
powers gave rise to much gain and honor for Devadatta, so much so that in his
utter stupidity he wished to kill the Buddha and usurp Buddhahood, and he
enticed Ajatasattu to kill his father and usurp the kingship. The Buddha
pronounced that it is for Devadatta’s utter ruin and downfall that he was
endowed with so much gain and honour, just as the plantain tree beats fruit for
its own ruin. (S.II, 241). The Dhammapada maintains that gain
and honour is one thing and the path to the realization of Nibbana is another.
Knowing this clearly a monk should not take delight in gain and honour (Dh.
75). According to theMilindapanha (p. 377), just as a
ship has to withstand various forces such as the force of strong currents,
thunder and whirlpools, even so a monk has to withstand the forces of gain,
honour, fame and homage. If a monk relishes these and gets a bloated ego, he
flounders and sinks just like a wrecked ship. The Milindapanha (p. 377) takes
another simile from naval experience. A ship’s anchor is able to hold a ship
fast without letting it drift along, even in very deep waters, even so a monk
must remain anchored to his purpose with great strength of character without
letting the gain and honour that comes in the wake of virtue carry him adrift.
It is no doubt the duty of the layman to honour and respect a virtuous monk,
and also to provide him with the requisites. It is the responsibility of the
monk to maintain a sane balanced attitude, without becoming elated. Buddhism
maintains that it is difficult for a man of mean spiritual development to
resist the enjoyment of gain and honour (sakkaro
kapurisena dujjaho,
 Thag. 1053). There is the great danger of spiritual
erosion when a man indulges and basks in the glory of fame and honor. One
develops a bloated ego and boastfulness creeps into his character in the most
surreptitious ways. Such men also develop contemptuous attitudes towards others
who do not get so much honor. TheLabhasakkara Samyutta sarcastically
compares him to the dung beetle who entertains contempt towards other dung
beetles for having less dung. The Anangana
 (M. I, 29-30) shows the abhorrence and disgust
towards a monk who undertakes the religious life and difficult ascetic
practices for the sake of public generosity and popularity. Such a monk is
compared to one who places the carcass of a snake or a dog in a beautifully
polished brand new metal bowl. The bowl of higher life (brahmacariya) is not meant for
storing carcass-like immoral intentions.

Monks are advised
in the most emphatic terms to guard against taking delight in gain and honour.
The Labhasakkara Samyutta works out a number
of similes in great detail to illustrate the point (S. II, 226-7). A young
tortoise who defied the elders’ advice is shot with a splinter to which a
string is attached and he is bound to be caught by the hunter in no time. The
hunter in the simile is none other than Mara himself. The splinter is gain,
honour and fame. The string attached to the splinter is the monk’s attachment
to gain and honour. Again, gain and honour are compared to a bait which greedy
monks might swallow to be utterly ruined in the hands of the trapper Mara.

(b) Now let us turn to the attitude of the monk who
refuses gain and honour. Mahakassapa was an eminent monk who eschewed gain and
honour, and found delight in helping the poor to earn merit by going to them
for alms. Once the Buddha saw him begging his alms in a locality where
poverty-stricken weavers lived, in spite of gods trying to procure for him a
fine meal. On this occasion the Buddha gave expression to an inspired utterance (Udana, p.11) in
appreciation of Mahakassapa’s simplicity. Once a famous householder named Citta
was impressed by the explanation of a knotty doctrinal point by a monk named
Isidatta in a great assembly. Citta invited Isidatta to reside in the locality
and promised him hospitality with all requisites. Isidatta seized the first
opportunity to quietly leave the locality without informing Citta (S. IV,
286-8). Such was the scrupulous reticent behavior of those who understood the
pernicious nature of gain and honour.

(c) Generally the Buddha and arahants do not fight shy
of gain and honour. They face it with the same equanimity as they face loss and
blame. The Maha-Govinda Sutta (D. II, 223)
records that gods rejoice in the Buddha because of his attitude to gain and
honour. The Buddha has received gain and fame which a king would long to have,
but with no trace of elation whatsoever he fares along partaking of only the
basic requisites. The gods declare that there was never a teacher of such
calibre before. The lotus, though born in the water, remains unsullied above
the water. Similarly the buddha and arahants rise uncontaminated above the
mundane conditions of family, prestige, gain, fame, and reverence (Milinda,p.375). “The
Unique Ones (asamasama) are worshipped by
gods and men. But they relish no honour. This is the norm of Buddhas” (Milinda, p.95). Cullasabhadda,
an upasika,observes that while
the world is elated and depressed by gain and loss respectively, the true monks
maintain an equanimous attitude in the face of both.

Buddha declares
that he has personally known, seen and understood (samam
natam samam dittam samam viditam,
 Itivuttaka, p.74) that beings
who have been overwhelmed(pariyadinnacitta) by gain and honour,
and also those who are obsessed by the lack of gain and honour, at the
disintegration of the body are born in states of woe. The desire for honour and
recognition is so insinuative that even normally upright individuals can
succumb to it. The Buddha says that there are some who would not stoop so low
as to tell a deliberate lie for the sake of silver and gold, a beauty queen,
parents, children or even life, but who would do so to gain honour and
prestige. So vicious and pernicious are the snares of gain and honour (S. II,
234, 243). Except arahants, those of the highest order who have reached the
state ofakuppa cetovimutti (S. II, 239) or
unshakable mental emancipation, all those of lesser spiritual development are
said to be vulnerable in this respect. It is no wonder that gain and honour is
a powerful member of the army of Mara (Sn. 438-9). It should be recognized by
all those who value spiritual progress as a disaster come in the guise of a

Livelihood and Development   

Right livelihood (samma
 is the fifth factor in the Noble Eightfold Path. As
a method of earning one’s living is important to every human being, whether a
member of the clergy or a layman, the correct understanding of right livelihood
is crucial. For a monk, complete dedication to the higher life constitutes
right livelihood. He then is rightly entitled to be supported by public
generosity. In this essay we shall confine ourselves to an inquiry into the
concept of right livelihood for the layman.

Right livelihood
implies that one has to avoid a wrong means of earning a living, known asmiccha
 in Pali. This includes trades which are directly or
indirectly injurious to others, be they animal or human, such as trade in meat,
liquor, poison, weapons and slaves. These are contrary to the basic five
precepts which all lay Buddhists are expected to abide by. In the world today
these trades, except perhaps the slave trade, are flourishing industries, and
much of the revenue to governments comes from these industries. This shows to
what an extent wrong livelihood is prevalent in the world today.

Even a blameless
means of living can become blameworthy if practiced with inordinate greed and
dishonesty. If a doctor in private practice makes mints of money exploiting his
patients, he is guilty of wrong livelihood even though medicine itself is a
noble profession. A vegetable dealer who cheats in weights and measures is
similarly guilty of wrong livelihood. Honest scrupulous service rendered
without exploiting the public is considered an essential feature of right livelihood.

Buddhism upholds
the quality of having few wants (appicchata) and the ability to
be satisfied with little (santutthi) as great virtues.
One has to practice these virtues not only in consumerism but in production
too; in the modern world, however, these virtues have been totally lost sight
of in both these spheres. Therefore governments as well as the private sector
aim at ever increasing development. Such development, however, has no limit.
Each time a target has been reached, the limit to possible growth recedes
further like a mirage. More and more is produced, more and more is consumed.
There is no satiation with development, nor with consumerism. This is a
limitless race in a limited world with limited resources. Therefore mankind has
to learn that the concept of development as it is understood today cannot go on
forever, it is logically and practically impossible.

Nature seems to set
its own limits to this process of escalated growth. It appears that there are
biological, psychological, social and ecological limits to growth. The physical
constitution of man seems to revolt against this limitless growth. There is an
array of diseases man readily succumbs to today related to overconsumption and
overindulgence. There are pressure-related diseases too, which affect both the
human body and the human mind. Present-day development taxes man’s endurance
enormously and he becomes a psychological wreck due to the pressures of work,
competition and maintaining standards. Interpersonal relationships have become
superficial, brittle and sour, and this seems to be a sign that society cannot
withstand the weight of its material development. In the external world too
there are unequivocal signs which portend impending catastrophe unless man
changes his course of action. There is air, water and land pollution
everywhere, and this is extremely injurious not only to human life but to all
forms of life in this planet. These are nature’s ways of expressing her
disapproval of the methods and rate of production and consumption man has
chosen today.

Agriculture is
recognized in Buddhism as a noble means of making a living, but what has
happened in this sphere? Prompted by population pressures, and encouraged by
the ever-expanding vistas of scientific knowledge, traditional methods of
tilling the land have given way to mechanized industrial agriculture. Vast
acres are ploughed by machines; chemical fertilizers are applied freely;
weedicides, insecticides and pesticides are used indiscriminately; and large
harvests are gathered. More and more research is going on in agricultural
engineering to produce better seeds which promise higher yields. Though
production has increased, prices remain at a constant high level. In some
countries when the price level threatens to go down due to overproduction, the
products are methodically destroyed or dumped into the sea despite the fact
that large masses of people in the world today are undernourished and some are
actually starving to death. It is blatantly clear that the whole industrialized
agricultural policy is prompted by inordinate greed and it is far from right

From the Buddhist
point of view this whole system is wrong. On the one hand it has resulted in
the erosion of moral and human values. It has deprived man of sympathy for his
fellow sentient beings as is evident from the large-scale use of insecticides.
Economic gain seems to be the only criterion by which man is prompted to
action. Blinded by short-term economic gain, man seems to turn a blind eye to
the long-term repercussions of his aggressive policies on this planet. In the
wake of the avaricious and aggressive industrialization, the crime rate has
risen to an unprecedented degree, and this is a clear index to man’s moral
degeneration. On the other hand, the natural ecological balance of the earth
has been disturbed to an alarming degree. Chemical pollution of land and water
has affected bacteria, insects and fish. While some of these forms of life
useful to man have died or are dying, others, especially insects dangerous to
man have become resistant to insecticides. As more and more effective chemicals
are produced, these creatures become immune to them and the vicious circle goes
on without any practical solution in sight. The natural fertility and the
organic balance of the soil also diminish as more and more chemical fertilizers
are applied throughout the years and thus a vicious circle gets formed there

All this evidence
clearly shows that man cannot dominate and subjugate nature. In the long run
nature emerges triumphant and man becomes the loser. Instead man must learn to
co-operate with nature. Here we are reminded of an admonition given by the
Buddha that in amassing wealth man must exploit nature as a bee collects
pollen. The bee harms neither the beauty of the flower nor its fragrance,
similarly man must not pollute or rob nature of its richness, beauty and its
rejuvenating and replenishing capacity. This is the real implication of right
livelihood when it comes to the utilization of natural resources.

It should be
reiterated that the whole modern concept of development, which seems to have
nothing short of the sky itself as the limit, is severely antithetical to
Buddhist values. Buddhism sets the limit at the other end: it advocates that we
feed our needs and not our greeds. Man needs the basic comforts of food,
clothing, shelter and medicine. It is the responsibility of the rulers to
provide avenues of employment so that the average man can afford to have these
needs satisfied with a fair degree of comfort. As man is naturally prone to
greed, Buddhism emphasizes the value of having few wants (appicchara). Contentment(santutthi) is also a much
valued virtue in Buddhism. Care is taken to see that these virtues do not
degenerate into apathy and cause social stagnation. Buddhism encourages the
layman to be industrious, to forge ahead in his chosen blameless occupation(utthanasampada). Wealth earned by
sheer perseverance, by the sweat of one’s brow, is highly praised as well
gotten righteous wealth. It is even recommended that a layman should invest
half of his earnings for improvement of his industry. Laymen are also exhorted
to save(arakkhasampada) their hard earned money, and to lead a comfortable
life consonant with earning capacity, avoiding both extremes of miserliness and
extravagance/over-indulgence. thus the tension between having few wants (appicchata) and contentment (santutthi) on the one hand,
and industriousness (arakkhasampada) on the other, helps
to keep society at a practically comfortable level of development which can be
sustained for a long time. When these economic ideas are reinforced with the
other moral values inculcated by Buddhism, a stable society with harmonious
interpersonal relations can be expected.

The modern concept
of large-scale industries and factories also does not agree with the Buddhist
concept of right livelihood. These large industries and mechanized labour have
made a few people enormously rich and thrown millions of employable people out
of employment. Thus wealth gets concentrated among a few factory owners and
businessmen while millions can barely eke out an existence. Maldistribution of
wealth is regarded in Buddhism as a social evil which paves the way to crime
and revolution. Moreover machines have robbed man of his creativity and left
him terribly frustrated. This may be one of the reasons why the youth of today
have turned to drugs to find an easy escape route.

The concept of
right livelihood works with the notion that man is the central concern in
economy as producer as well as consumer, not the profit made in the process of
products changing hands. The skills and talents of the producer should be
enhanced in the process of production and he should have the satisfaction
derived from his output. The producer, not an employer above him or a
middleman, should get a fair return commensurate with his labour and sufficient
to afford him a decent living. The consumer, on the other hand, should get
quality and quantity for what he pays. In sharp contrast to this ideology, the
profit made by the employer is the central concern today: both the producer and
the consumer are subservient to the profit motive. Therefore right livelihood
would opt for small-scale industries which would satisfy the creative instinct
of man and the basic needs of many more people, and would also ensure a more
equitable distribution of wealth in society. It is better to have a large
number of skilled cobblers than a well equipped mechanized shoe factory.

As right livelihood
is a part and parcel of the Noble Eightfold Path, when it is rightly practiced
it leads to the elimination of greed, hatred and delusion (S. V, 5). Just as
the river Ganges is inclined towards the east, he who practices the Noble
Eightfold Path is inclined towards Nibbana. Thus the correct understanding of
right livelihood is essential for the Buddhist layman who is bent on his
spiritual welfare.

Facing Death Without Fear   

Death is the only
certain thing in life. It is also the thing for which we are least prepared. We
plan and prepare for various other things — examinations, weddings, business
transactions, building houses — but we can never be certain whether our plans
will materialize according to our wish. Death, on the other hand, can come any
minute, sooner or later; it is the most certain event in life. Just as the
mushroom raises itself from the ground carrying a bit of earth on its hood, so
every living being brings with himself the certainty of death from the moment
of his birth.

The Anguttara
Nikaya (IV, 136) illustrates the uncertainty and the evanescent nature of life
with the help of a few evocative similes. Life is compared to a dew drop at the
tip of a blade of grass: it can drop off any moment and even if it does not
fall off, it evaporates as soon as the sun comes up. Life is also as fleeting
as a bubble of water formed by the falling rain or a line drawn on the water.
The text points out that life rushes towards death incessantly like a mountain
stream rushing down without stopping.
The Dhammapada compares the
fragility of the body to foam (v 46) and to a clay water pot (v 40). Thus with
various similes the uncertainty of life and the certainty of death are
emphasized over and over again in the Buddhist texts.

It is accepted as a
general truth that everybody fears death (sabbe
bhayanti maccuno
 — Dh 129). We fear death because we crave for life
with all our might. It is also a fact that we fear the unknown. We know least about
death, therefore we fear death for a duality of reasons. It seems reasonable to
conjecture that the fear of death, or the fear of harm to life, lurks at the
root of all fear. Therefore each time we become frightened we either run away
from the source of fear or fight against it, thus making every effort to
preserve life. But we can do so only so long as our body is capable of either
fighting or running away from danger. But when at last we are on the deathbed
face to face with approaching death, and the body is no longer strong enough
for any protest, it is very unlikely that we will accept death with a mental
attitude of resignation. We will mentally try hard to survive. As our yearning
for life(tanha) is so strong, we will mentally grasp (upadana) another viable
place, as our body can no longer support life. Once such a place, for example
the fertilized ovum in a mother’s womb, has been grasped, the psychological
process of life (bhava) will continue with
the newly found place as its basis. Birth (jati) will take place in
due course. This seems to be the process that is explained in the chain of
causation as: craving conditions grasping, grasping conditions becoming or the
process of growth, which in turn conditions birth. Thus the average man who
fears death will necessarily take another birth as his ardent desire is to

Let us probe a
little further into the process of death, going from the known to the unknown.
We know that in normal life, when we are awake, sense data keep on impinging on
our sense faculties. We are kept busy attending to these sense data, rejecting
some, selecting some for greater attention, and getting obsessed with still
other things. This is an ongoing process so long as we are awake. In the modern
age man is reaching out and seeking more and more sense stimulation. The
popularity of the portable radio with or without earphones, chewing gum,
cosmetics and television is a clear indication of the present trend for more
and more sense stimulation. By all this we have become alienated from
ourselves; we do not know our own real nature, or the real nature of our mind
to be more precise. Moreover, we go about our business in social life wearing
masks appropriate for each occasion. We often do not show our true feelings of
jealousy, greed, hatred, pride, or selfishness. We hide them in socially
accepted ways of formalized verbal expressions such as congratulations, thank
you, deepest sympathies. But there are times when our negative emotions are so
acute that they come into the open in the form of killing, stealing,
quarreling, backbiting, and so forth. But generally we try to keep these
venomous snakes of negative emotions inhibited.

Now let us see what
happens at the moment of death. We believe that death is a process and not just
a sudden instantaneous event. When the senses lose their vitality one by one
and they stop providing stimulation, the inhibitions too fall away. The masks
we have been wearing in our various roles get cast off. We are at last face to
face with ourselves in all our nakedness. At that moment if what we see are the
venomous snakes of negative emotions of hatred, jealousy, etc., we would be
laden with guilt, remorse and grief. It is very likely that our memories too
will become quite sharp, as all the sensory disturbances and inhibitions which
kept them suppressed have fallen off. We may remember our own actions committed
and omitted during our lifetime with unpretentious clarity. If they are morally
unwholesome we would be guilty and grief stricken (S. V. 386), but if they are
morally wholesome we would be contented and happy. The Abhidhammattha
 speaks of the presentation ofkamma or kammanimitta at the mind door on
the advent of death. This seems to be the revival in memory of an actual action
or action veiled in symbols at the onset of death. It is said that rebirth will
be determined by the quality of thoughts that surface in this manner.

Death is as natural
an event as nightfall; it is but one of the manifestations of the law of
impermanence. Though we dislike it immensely we have to orient ourselves to
accept its inevitability, as there is no escape therefrom. The Buddhist texts
advocate the cultivation of the mindfulness of death often so that we are not
taken unawares when the event does take place. To face death peacefully one has
to learn the art of living peacefully with one’s own self as well as with those
around. One method of doing so is to remember the inevitability of death, which
will deter one from unwholesome behaviour. The practice of meditation is the
best technique which will enable one to live peacefully with oneself and

The practice of
loving-kindness (mettabhavana) is an effective
method of meditation. One of its special advantages is the ability to face
death un-deluded (asammulho kalam karoti).

In one sutta (A.
III, 293) the Buddha explains how to prepare for a peaceful death. One has to
organize one’s life and cultivate an appropriate attitude for this purpose. The
instructions given there are as follows:

 (1) One should not be fond of a busy life involved
in various activities.

(2) One should not
be fond of being talkative.

(3) One should not
be fond of sleeping.

(4) One should not
be fond of having too many companions.

(5) One should not
be fond of too much social intercourse.

(6) One should not
be fond of daydreaming.

Another sutta (A.
I, 57-8) explains that if one avoids unwholesome wicked activities through
body, speech and mind, one need not fear death. The Maha-parinibbana
 (D. II, 85-6) categorically states that those who
are evil in character face death with delusion while the virtuous face death
free from delusion. Thus if one leads a simple virtuous life one need not fear

Once Mahanama Sakka
(S. V. 369) disclosed to the Buddha that he was worried where he would be
reborn if he were to meet with a violent death in a road accident. The Buddha
explained that those who have cultivated the qualities of faith, virtue,
learning, generosity and wisdom for a long time need not entertain such fears.
To illustrate the position further the Buddha employs a simile. If a pot of oil
or ghee is broken in deep water the potsherds will sink to the riverbed and the
oil or ghee will rise to the surface of the water. Similarly in such a tragic
situation the body would be discarded and may be devoured by vultures and
jackals, but the mind will rise and progress upwards.

The account of the
illness of Nakula’s father (A. III, 295) is another interesting episode
regarding the Buddhist attitude to death. Once Nakula’s father was seriously
ill and his wife noticed that he was fretful and anxious. She advised him that
death with anxiety is painful and is denounced by the Buddha. Therefore he must
compose himself. Comforting him, she said that he might be worried about the
family income and the task of bringing up the children after his death. She
assured him that she was capable of spinning and weaving and thus she could
provide for the family and bring up the children. He may be anxious that she
would remarry after his death. She said that he knows just as well as she that
she has never been unfaithful to him ever since they were married at the age of
sixteen, and she pledged that she would remain loyal to him even after his
death. Perhaps he may worry about her spiritual development and she assured him
that she would continue to be earnest in her spiritual welfare. Therefore he
must face death, if need there be, with no anxiety. Such was her advice to her
husband who was fatally ill. It is said that he regained self- composure and
thereby good health too. The matter was later reported to the Buddha, who
commended Nakula’s mother for her wisdom and composure.

The suttas also
discuss the advantages of the regular contemplation of death (A. IV, 46-48; S.
V, 344,408). The mind gets divested from the love of life, and being
intoxicated with the zest of life, men commit various atrocities. That can be
prevented by the habit of practicing mindfulness of death. If we only remember
that we have not come to this world to stay forever, we would take care to lead
much better lives. If, when we take stock, we find wicked negative emotions
such as lust, hatred and jealousy in us, we should immediately take steps to
eradicate them as we would try to put out the flames if our head were to catch
fire (A. IV, 320).

Thus the Buddhist
texts tirelessly reiterate the positive benefits of the regular contemplation
of the inevitability of death. It helps one to lead a more wholesome life and
also to face death, the one and only certain event in life, with calm composure
and fearless confidence.

The Human Body   

When alive the
human body is the most precious and the most mysterious object in the whole
world. We regard it as beautiful and spend much time, energy, and money to make
it more beautiful. We regard it as an instrument for pleasure and spend nearly
all our lives in procuring objects of pleasure. We assume it is a vital part of
ourself. It would be useful to discuss the validity of these attitudes and
assumptions from the Buddhist point of view.

The human body is
the most intricate machine in the world. Each human body is unique not only in
appearance but also in its biochemical structure, sensitivity of sense
faculties, disease resistance, disease susceptibility, etc., and hereditary
laws alone are incapable of offering a satisfactory explanation. Buddhism holds
that the body and its sense faculties have been so structured as the effect of
former kamma. From the dawn of civilization man has tried to understand the
mystery of the human personality and he has given rise to various sciences and
religions. In one sutta the Buddha says that within this fathom-long sentient
human body is found the whole world, its origin, its cessation and the path
leading to its cessation. In a way this means that the world of experience is
within the human body. In another sense it means that if one were to understand
the mystery of the human body, that would amount to understanding the mystery
of the world. In fact the external world is nothing but what we get to know
through the instrumentality of our sense faculties. If we understand the sense
faculties and sense data, we have understood everything.

The relationship of
the body and the mind is most elusive. According to the Samaññaphala
 this relationship can be understood only after the
attainment of the fourth jhana. The adept can then
see consciousness established in the physical constitution just as one can see
a coloured thread running through the aperture of a transparent gem. Another
sutta explains the interdependency of body and mind through the simile of two
bundles of reeds placed against one another supporting each other. Emotional
changes in the mind affect body chemistry, and fluctuations in body chemistry
affect the mind. As a gross example we can take the negative emotion of anger.
Anger triggers off glandular secretions which alter body chemistry considerably
to bring about changes such as trepidation, sweating, feeling hot, etc. On the
other hand, changes in body chemistry produced, for instance by the intake of
alcohol or drugs affect the mind to bring about appropriate mood changes,
euphoria and hallucinations. According to a sutta in the Anguttara Nikaya (A.
IV, 385 f.) all thoughts are translated into sensations (sabbe
dhamma vedanasamosarana).
 This shows the extent to which the body is
influenced by the mind. Buddhism has clearly recognized this interdependency
and utilized that knowledge in its path to liberation. The body is disciplined
through morality (sila) and is thus
maintained at a reasonably healthy biochemical level. The mind is disciplined
with meditation (bhavana) to produce healthy
psychological changes and thereby reinforce a more healthy biochemical
composition of the body. This process goes on until the attainment of
arahantship, when the biochemical composition has undergone such a radical,
irreversible change that an arahant is said to be incapable of certain
physiological functions which are antithetical to spiritual development but
normal in average human beings.

Though the sentient
human body is most precious, no precious material goes into its composition. It
is precious because, through its instrumentality, man is able to probe into the
deepest mysteries of the universe and of himself, into the meaning of life and
the enigma of death. When we stand by the ocean in the evening twilight and
gaze at the vast ocean as far as the horizon, or at the star-studded firmament
receding into infinity as far as the eye can see, we are awe-struck by the
magnitude of the universe. Compared to that man is but an infinitesimal speck
of dust in size. But when we pay attention to the potentialities of man, it is
he who can even conceive of this mighty universe, it is he who can unravel its
mysteries. Though part and parcel of the universe, though subject to natural
cosmic laws, man has the capacity to transcend the natural material world and
can even reach Buddahood. Therefore man is supreme and the sentient human frame
is precious.

It is true that we
generally look at the human body as a thing of beauty. We speak of beautiful
eyes, teeth, face, hair, and figure. But Buddhism looks at the human body from
a realistic point of view. The body is a bag of filth, it is full of
impurities. The Buddhist texts dealing with the thirty-two parts of the body
spell out in detail its foul material constituents. If we only pause a moment
to consider attentively the state of the face prior to a wash in the morning,
we can gain a fair idea of the body’s repulsive nature. It exudes so much dirt
from its major nine apertures and numerous pores that it needs constant
cleaning. Just imagine how intolerable the body would be if we neglect to clean
what it discharges from the outlets even for a single day, let alone for a long
period. Great care has to be taken to keep the body clean, so that it is not
offensive to oneself and others. If no regular cleaning is done, it can be the
home of various parasites, and thus a public nuisance. We have to understand
the real nature and the composition of the body in order to reduce and
eliminate our infatuation with it.

We have to feed the
body very carefully throughout life. However well the body is fed, it grows
hungry over and over again. Hunger is the worst disease says the Dhammapada.
is no end to feeding the body until death. The stomach is like an open sore
which needs careful periodical dressing. Gross food is but one of the
nutriments the body needs according to Buddhism; contact with the environment (phassa), volition (manosancetana),and consciousness (viññana) are the other three
nutriments. All these four forms of nutriment are essential for the continuance
of the body in health. The body also needs to be protected from heat, cold,
rain, injurious germs and external harm. We have to be ever alert to protect
the body from these various sources of external danger. For these reasons
Buddhism says that the body is a source of great anxiety — bahudukkho
ayam kayo.
 Great is the hardship man has to undergo just to
keep the body viable, clean and healthy.

The body is endowed
with sense faculties and they are ever in search of pleasure. The eye is in
search of pleasant forms, the ear of pleasant sounds, the nose of pleasant
smells, the tongue of pleasant tastes and the body of pleasant tactiles. Most
of our life is spent in the pursuit of these pleasures. But it remains a fact
that the body texture is such that it does not tolerate excessive pleasure.
However desirable pleasure may be, the body falls ill when overloaded with
them. For instance, however palatable rich food may be, when it is taken in
excess, the body becomes a victim of killer diseases. Similarly, excessive
indulgence in sex causes social diseases, of which the most dreaded today is
AIDS. Acquired Immunity Deficiency Syndrome, for which a cure has not yet been
found. Therefore restraint in the enjoyment of sense pleasures is the best
course of conduct for those desirous of health and long life.

When we look at the
body in its various postures of standing, sitting, walking and lying down, we
realize that the body can tolerate these postures only for a very short time.
Even if we are sitting in the most comfortable seat, we continue to remain in
the same position without moving around only for a short time. Automatically we
move about adjusting our limbs to more comfortable positions in a constant
search for pleasure. But pleasure is short- lived; pain raises its head and we
move and adjust ourselves again to eke out a little pleasure. Thus the search
for pleasure goes on and we delude ourselves saying that we enjoy life. The
basic truth is that the body is a source of misery, but we prefer to turn a
blind eye to this fact and cling desperately to fleeting pleasures. The Buddha says
that there is no doubt an iota of pleasure appassada, but the misery is
far in excess of this pleasure,bahudukkha.

The body in its
various stages of growth also brings much pain. Birth causes excruciating pain
both to mother and babe. The infant is completely at the mercy of others around
it. If its needs are not duly attended to, it experiences much misery, which it
expresses by pitiful cries. Teething is a significant landmark in the series of
growing pains. All attempts to master the various physical postures contribute
their own quota of hardships to infancy. Puberty and adolescence are also
harassed by the growing pains appropriate to those ages. Old age is
particularly notorious for aches and pains. The sense faculties are on the
decline, sight fails, hearing becomes short and other senses too diminish in
their acuity. Various joint pains and body aches become more constant and the
body strength ebbs away. Even the Buddha in his old age said that his body was
like an old worn-out cart which could be kept going only with much repair. He
added that he enjoyed physical comfort only when he spent time injhanic ecstasy. Such is
the nature of the body in old age. We cannot forget that the body is prone to
various diseases during all stages of its growth.

Though the body is
thus a source of great misery we cannot afford to hate it. To have a healthy
attitude towards the body we should avoid both extremes of being infatuated
with the body and hating it. We should have metta, a friendly attitude
towards the body. Realistically understanding its nature, we should avoid
misusing it as an instrument only for pleasure. We should be very careful not
to form habits which are injurious to the body, such as smoking, drinking, and
the excessive indulgence in sensual pleasures. The body becomes a prey to
self-inflicted diseases if we fail to cultivate an attitude of friendliness
towards it. If we want to enjoy a reasonably healthy body as a vital part of
our self. When we say: “I am tall, I am fat, I am fair, I am beautiful or
ugly,” we really mean that the body has these attributes. But as we keep
on using the pronoun “I” we get caught in the grammatical subject and
assume the existence of an ontological subject such as the soul or the ego.
Therefore we establish a relationship of identity and possession with the body.
Thus the body becomes a vital part of the self. The Buddha argues that if the
body is really ours as we assume it is, it should behave according to our
wishes. It should remain young, healthy, beautiful and strong as we always wish
it to be. But the body hardly behaves according to our wishes and we come to
grief when it goes against our wishes and expectations. The Buddha points out
that the body really does not belong to us, nor is it really our self or a part
of our self. We should therefore give up craving for it, we should cease to
identify ourselves with it. Giving up craving for the body results in much
happiness and peace. In order to wean ourselves from our habitual
identification and ownership we have to impress the repulsive and alien nature
of our bodies into our minds with deep sensitivity, so that an attitudinal
change takes place in us with regard to the body. Observation of the repulsive
and misery-producing nature of our bodies repeatedly, over and over again, is
one sure way of gaining the realistic perspective. This is the path leading out
of misery.

Sensualistic Social Trends and Buddhism in Modern Times[2]   

Causes for
Sensualistic Social Trends[3]

Scientific and
technological advancement has brought about widespread changes in the lifestyle
of modern man. Changes have been so rapid and overwhelming during the 20th
century, that this century seems to far outweigh all other centuries put
together in this respect. Man’s attitudes, values, goals and ideals too have
undergone radical change. Scientific knowledge regarding the nature and
evolution of the universe, man, society, culture and civilization has unsettled
many of the old certitudes and undermined the very basis and authority of the
Western theistic religious traditions. With the loss of respect for authority
and tradition, the validity of moral values too came to be questioned. Ever
renewing scientific knowledge, which exposed traditional beliefs one after
another as superstitious or mythical, gave a halo of superiority to modernity.
Nurtured in such an environment, the younger generation became alienated from
the lifestyle of their parents and the age-old generation gap assumed
unprecedented proportions.

While scientific
knowledge rendered man a skeptic alienated from his cultural heritage,
technology robbed him of his creative ability. The machine with its vast powers
of production reduced man to a button pusher and threw millions of workers out
of employment. Their muscular and creative powers were left unharnessed,
thwarted and frustrated. As a result the indigenous folk arts and crafts of all
nations, which were in fact expressions of sublimated emotions, became almost
extinct. Man in his admiration for creativity and feeble struggle for
self-expression has now become an antique collector.

The next force
which completely overwhelmed modern man was the tyranny of commercialization
and advertising. When production exceeded consumption man had to be persuaded
into consuming more, lest trade suffer with a backlog of unconsumed stockpiles.
Deliberate and calculated attempts were made to change traditional frugality
into an ethic of consumption. Mass media were utilized to convince the people
of the virtues and necessity of increasing consumption to maintain the newly
acquired standard of affluent living. Research into motivational and behavioural
psychology betrayed the susceptibilities of man, and advertising agents made
capital by playing upon these weaknesses, namely, man’s innate greed for
sensual pleasure, personal property and social prestige. Unleashed as he was
from his cultural moorings, and frustrated as he was in his creative urge,
modern man succumbed to the attractive appeals of mass media and plunged into a
life of self-indulgence.

Harmful Effects on Individual and Society

Having thus briefly
outlined the main causes responsible for modern sensualistic social trends, it
is useful to glance at the effects they have produced on the individual and
society of today. Venereal diseases have become rampant; it is reported that
there was an increase of 300% within one decade in the United States. The ever
widening field of psychiatry shows that mental health is rapidly deteriorating.
Alcoholism and drug addiction are major health problems. The crime rate is ever
mounting. Bonds of wedlock have become sadly brittle and the divorce rate is
alarmingly high. The family as a viable institution is threatened, according to
some sociologists, with extinction in the not too distant future. Disruption of
family life has affected child life most pathetically. A British report of
Health Economics published in January 1976 informs us that babies are the most
common homicide victims in Britain since the early 1960s. They are battered to
death at times of family stress. Teenage drug addictions and juvenile
delinquency have become alarming problems of the day. These social phenomena
are directly related to man’s attitude towards sense pleasure and serious
rethinking seems most urgent today if man is to be saved from the imminent
danger of self- destruction through sensuality.

Can Buddhism Help?

Buddhism has been a great civilizing force and a
guiding principle for millions of people during the last twenty-five centuries.
It would be useful to see what light Buddhism sheds on the present chaotic
situation, and what wisdom it offers for self-adjustment under modern
conditions and for healthy family and interpersonal relations. Though criticism
is often levelled that Buddhism is a life-denying ascetic ideal, and that it is
antisocial and anti-political, it should be remembered that Buddhism embraces
in its dispensation not only monks (bhikkhu) and nuns (bhikkhuni), but also male and
female lay followers (upasaka, upasika). The intellectual
and disciplinary training of the laity is as important a concern in Buddhism as
that of the monks. Therefore Buddhism offers a social and a political
philosophy, the goal of which is the creation of a society where human rights
are safeguarded, human enterprise is the key to success, resources are well
distributed and justice reigns supreme. As Trevor Ling too maintains, Buddhism
is not just a religion or a philosophy, it is in fact a whole civilization, a
full fledged multi-faceted philosophy of life designed to meet the secular and
spiritual needs of man.[4]

Sensuality and Human Ambitions

According to
Buddhism ambitions of man center on the acquisition of wealth, pleasure, fame,
longevity and happiness after death. (A. II, 66-68). Accepting these as human
aspirations and goals of human endeavor, Buddhism advocates a way of life to
help man realize these aims. For the danger is ever present that man in his
pursuit of pleasure will in the long run defeat those very aims. Wealth and sex
are two important means of acquiring pleasure. A prudent attitude towards them
would go a long way for the realization of the other three human ambitions as
well. As most of the social ills of today are attributable to the mishandling
of these two, a correct understanding of the Buddhist attitude towards them
would be most profitable.


The Buddhist
attitude towards wealth is such that it has never prescribed a ceiling on income.
What it has prescribed is that wealth should be acquired through righteous
means and expended also in a righteous manner. Wealth earned by the sweat of
one’s brow without harming, deceiving or exploiting others is highly commended.
It is always emphasized that wealth has only instrumental value. It should be
utilized for (a) living in comfort making one’s family, parents, dependents and
friends happy, (b) insuring oneself against possible calamities through fire,
water, etc., (c) performing one’s duties to relatives, guests and state, and
for religio-cultural activities, and (d) patronizing those engaged in spiritual
advancement. According to one’s means, on a large or very small scale, one
should try to make the best use of one’s resources in the most righteous

What is deplored in
Buddhism is the excessive acquisitive greed and the hoarding habit. While
niggardliness is held in contempt, frugality is extolled as a virtue.
Wastefulness is a deplorable habit and it is even regarded as anti-social. Once
Ananda explained to a king how the monks put the gifts offered to them to
maximum use. When new robes are offered the old ones are taken as coverlets,
the old coverlets are utilized as mattress covers, the former mattress covers
are used as rugs, the old rugs are taken as dusters, the old tattered dusters
are kneaded with clay and used to repair cracked floors and walls (Vin. II,
291). Such was the Buddhist monks’ conscientious use of resources. The same
frugality has influenced the laity too and the famous episode of a wealthy
merchant who bade a servant to collect a drop of ghee off the floor, lest it be
wasted, is a very fine example. The same merchant was so generous that his
largesse surprised the recipients (Vin. I, 271). Though frugality and generosity
appear to be incompatible, they are recognized as commendable virtues in their
own right to be cultivated by one and all. When these simple virtues are
compared with the information revealed to us, for instance, by Vance Packard’s
epochmaking eye-opener The Waste Makers, one begins to
wonder whether sanity and common sense have left the knowledgeable man of
science today. Some investigators estimate that American consumption of the
world’s resources within forty years is equal to what mankind has consumed
during the last 4000 years. As the earth’s resources are not unlimited, it is
high time that modern man did some re-thinking and cultivated some economical
Buddhist habits at least out of sympathy for posterity. It is true that
oceanography opens unexploited resources to man, but it must be remembered that
the ocean too is not unlimited, whereas man’s greed knows no limit nor


Buddhism recognizes
the sex attraction as a universal reality. Among animals the sex impulse is
regulated by nature and thus their mating and breeding are seasonal. Among
humans there is no such natural mechanism, and man has by a long process of
experiment and adjustment arrived at certain taboos, rules and regulations to
handle his sex drive in a manner appropriate to himself and his fellow beings.
Though these rules differ according to times and place, on the whole they have
helped man to emerge from savagery to civilization.

According to
Buddhism monogamy is the ideal form of marriage, while chastity and fidelity
form ideal behaviour before marriage. This alone is not sufficient for success
in married life. Mutual confidence (saddha), morality (sila), self-denial (caga) and prudence (pañña) are emphasized as
virtues which ensure conjugal happiness and success. In other words, mutual
confidence means dependability, morality implies strength of character,
self-denial or the joy of selfless service to the beloved denotes emotional
maturity, and prudence shows intellectual maturity. These qualities bring the
spouses so close to one another, it is said, that the relationship could
persist even after death in a future existence. Nakula’s parents are portrayed
in Buddhist literature as an ideal couple who, in their old age, expressed the
wish that their love should survive death. The Buddha replied that the wish
would materialize if the above qualities are equally shared by both partners
(A. II, 61-61).

Marital bonds of
modern man are so brittle and fragile because these cohesive emotional forces
are lost in sensuality. Much emphasis is laid on carnal pleasure while
personality adjustments and emotional involvement which call for sacrifices and
selflessness respectively, are ignored or neglected. Though sex is an important
basic requirement in marriage, it is certainly not the be-all and end-all of
family life. Indulgence in sex for its own sake never brings satisfaction,
whence fulfillment? The insatiability of lust is disdainfully illustrated in
Buddhist literature by the traditional simile of a dog licking a bone to satisfy
hunger. But sex as an expression of conjugal love is a satisfying emotional
experience. If sex was the only concern, man need not have evolved an
institution like the family. Animals too satisfy their sex instinct, but
nothing compared to the human family has evolved in the animal kingdom. The
important function of family life seems to be to teach man a great moral lesson
to overcome his egocentric nature. Man starts life in his mother’s womb as the
most selfish parasite. He then passes through the emotional stages of
self-love, conjugal love and parental love. As a mature man and a parent he
completely loses himself in the service of his offspring. His self-denial is
such he even relinquishes his personal possessions, acquired through the toil
of a lifetime, in favor of them. Finally he makes an emotional self- sacrifice
when he gets a partner for his child to love and cherish. In his old age he
regards his offspring with equanimity and contentment. This emotional maturity
and fulfillment is utterly impossible if sensuality is regarded as the goal of
married life.

Fame and Longevity

These two ambitions
of man depend to a very large extent, as mentioned earlier, on the manner he
handles his wealth and pleasure. Special mention should be made that liquor, like
sensuality, is a great betrayer of all human ambitions. It has been aptly
remarked that a man’s conscience is soluble in alcohol. According to Buddhism
both liquor and sensuality destroy man’s physical and mental health, drain his
resources, spoil his public image and distort his intellectual capacities (D.
III, 182-184).

Happiness After Death

In this age of
material pleasure, man is not much concerned with a life after death. The
Buddhist axiom is that a man reaps what he sows. If one has led a useful moral
life and reached old age with a sense of fulfillment, contentment and
equanimity, one has no regrets. A well-spent blameless life has, according to
Buddhism, happiness beyond the grave. Such a person is said to progress from
light to brighter light (joti joti parayano, A. II, 86).

Sensuality and Intellectual Maturity

Another noteworthy
ill effect of self-indulgence is the inhibition of intellectual capacities.
Buddhism emphasizes that obsession with sensuality prevents clear thinking,
distorts vision, clouds issues, inhibits wisdom and destroys peace of mind.
While these observations were made twenty-five centuries ago by the Buddha, the
inhibitory effect of sex on brain activity seems to be indicated quite
independently by medical research on the pineal gland.

In man, the pineal gland is a pear-shaped midline
structure located at the back of the base of the brain. This gland synthesizes
a hormone called melatonin which affects behaviour, sleep, brain activity, and
sexual activity such as puberty, ovulation and sexual maturation. While
melatonin stimulates brain activity, it inhibits sexual activity. Again it has
been recognized that light, dark, olfaction, cold, stress and other neural
inputs affect the pineal function. Exposure to light reduces the synthesis of
melatonin and depresses pineal weight. On the other hand light accelerates
sexual maturation activity.[5]

It will be useful
to compare this medical information with Buddhist ideology. Buddhism maintains
that sense stimuli disturb mental activity. If the sense doors are well guarded(indriyesu
guttadvaro hoti),
 i.e., if visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory and
tactile inputs are controlled, a corresponding degree of concentrated mental
activity becomes possible.Cittassa ekaggata or the ability to
fix the mind on one point is greatly determined by the control of the sense
faculties. In terms of physiology it seems to mean that such sense control
helps the synthesis of melatonin in the pineal gland, which stimulates brain
activity and retards sexual activity. Thus, with the help of medical research
it seems possible to confirm the buddhist point of view that sensuality
inhibits intellectual maturity.

Sensuality and Culture

According to the Aggañña
 which gives an account of the evolution of the
world and society, the earliest inhabitants of the earth were mind-made and
self-luminous beings who subsisted on joy and moved about in the sky. After a
long time they tasted something extremely flavoursome and were delighted with
this new gustatory sense experience. Craving entered into them and they went on
tasting food in this manner. Consequently their bodies became coarser and
coarser; they lost their radiance and the ability to subsist on joy and to
traverse in the sky. (D. III, 84-86).

Now what is
important for us here is not the authenticity of this evolutionary process, but
the point that sensual desire has caused the loss of higher mental and physical
capacities which man is supposed to have once possessed.

The Cakkavattsihanada
 (D. III, 69-74) deals with the problem of social
change. As a result of the unequal distribution of wealth, poverty becomes
widespread and moral standards deteriorate rapidly. With moral degeneration
there is a corresponding decrease in physical beauty and length of life. As
time goes on and immorality settles down, society comes under the grip of three
derogatory phenomena, namely, perverted lust(adhammaraga), wanton greed (visamalobha) and a wrong sense
of values(micchadhamma). Disrespect for family, religious and cultural
traditions becomes an accepted social phenomenon. When moral degradation
continues thus a time will come when the life- span is reduced to ten years and
the marriageable age goes down to five. By that time food will undergo so much
change that delicacies such as ghee, butter, honey, etc. will vanish, and what
is considered coarse today will be a delicacy of that time. All concepts of
morality will disappear and language will have no word to denote morality.
Immorality will reign supreme with social sanction. There will be no marriage
laws nor kinship, and society will fall into a state of utter promiscuity, as
among animals. Among such humans keen mutual enmity will become the rule, and
they will be overcome by passionate thoughts of killing one another. A world
war will break out and large-scale massacre would be the result. After this
mass blood bath, the few destitutes who are left behind will find solace in each
other’s company and they will begin to regard one another with kindly thoughts.
With this change of heart there will be a gradual re-evolution of moral values.
Step by step the good life will be restored, physical beauty will reappear and
the life-span will increase. Mental potentialities too will gradually develop.

Such are the
Buddhist ideas of social change. Society stands or falls with the rise or fall
of moral values.

It is noteworthy that some present-day sociological
studies too have revealed that morality and culture are causally connected.
William Stephens observes that primitive tribes have great sexual freedom,
premarital as well as extramarital, when compared with civilized communities
which have tight sex restrictions.[6] Dean Robert Fitch has connected the decline of the
Roman civilization with the deterioration of their sexual morality.[7] The most important contribution in this respect is
made by J.D. Unwin in a study called Sex
and Culture.
[8] He has conducted a
survey of the sexual behaviour and the level of culture of eighty uncivilized
tribes and also those of six known civilizations. He concludes that there is a
definite relationship between permissiveness and primitiveness, and sex
restrictions and civilization. Sexual freedom gives rise to what he calls a
zoistic (dead level of conception) culture where people are born, they satisfy
their desire, they die and are forgotten after the remains are disposed of.
They are not able to rationally find out the causal connection between events.
When afflicted by illness, for instance, they resort to witchcraft and nothing
more. When a certain degree of sex restriction, occasional, premarital, or
post-nuptial, is present, the result is a manistic culture where ancestors are
worshipped at times of crisis, but without a definite place of worship. Strict
sex regulations as in monogamy produce a deistic culture with definite places
of worship. Culture in the sense of the external expression of internal human
energy resulting from the use of human powers of reason, creation and self
knowledge becomes possible only with strictly enforced monogamous sex mores.
The mechanism of this operation is not known, just as it is not known how
carbon placed under different settings turns to coal or diamond.[9] All that can be said is that there is a definite
causal link between sexual behavior and the culture pattern. As Unwin comes to
this conclusion after conducting exhaustive methodical investigations, it is
possible to maintain that scientific inquiries too have confirmed the Buddhist
point of view regarding the relationship between morality and culture.

Sensuality and Environment

The Anguttara
Nikaya (I, 160) maintains that rainfall decreases when society comes under the
sway of perverted lust, wanton greed and wrong values. Drought causes famine as
a result of which the mortality rate goes up. Though it is difficult to
establish a direct connection between immorality and lack of rain, an
interpretation of the five natural laws mentioned on the commentaries might
offer a plausible explanation.

In the cosmos there are five natural laws or
forces, namely utuniyama (lit. season law),bijaniyama (lit. seed-law) cittaniyama, kammaniyama, and dhammaniyama.[10] These can be
translated as physical laws, biological laws, psychological laws, moral laws,
and causal laws. While the first four laws operate within their respective
spheres, the last law of causality operates within them as well as among them.
Thus the physical environment or ecology affects living organisms, i.e.,
biology; this influences psychology, which determines the moral force. The
opposite process also operates with harmful or beneficial results depending on
the nature or the forces at work. Perhaps the operation can be illustrated with
a concrete example. Man’s greed for luxury, wealth and power has caused the setting
up of vast factories. They created the problem of air, water and noise
pollution, which have adversely affected both fauna and flora.[11] The inadvertent modifications of atmospheric
properties and processes caused by human activities is intensively studied by
scientific bodies today. It is complained that although the effects of
pollutants and smog upon people, plants and economic activities have been
extensively studied, relatively little attention has been paid to the effects
of pollution and smog upon climatic patterns. It is well known that many
climatic elements such as radiation, cloudiness, fog, visibility and the
atmospheric electric field are affected by pollution. Temperature and humidity
are influenced indirectly and effects on precipitation are also suspected.[12] Science will reveal in the course of time whether
pollution is definitely responsible for weather and climatic change, but it
remains a fact that the world is already confronted with an acute shortage of

It is no secret
that man uses his inherent powers of reason, intelligence and creativity to change
his environment for his advantage. But man is not aware that the moral force he
himself creates brings about corresponding changes in his environment to his
weal or woe whether he likes it or not.


Concluding this essay, it should be emphasized that
there is a Cosmic Moral Force which profoundly influences man. According to
Buddhism it is this Cosmic Moral Law or Force which makes the world and mankind
go on: kammana vattati loko, kammana
vattati paja
 (Sn. v 654). This Cosmic Moral Force is generated
by none other than man himself, for the Buddha maintains that human thoughts
are a moral force (cetanaham bhikkhave kammam vadami,A III, 410). It is
also more directly said that thoughts (or ideologies) make the world go on(cittena
ni yato loko,
 S. I, 39). Therefore man has to discover his own
inherent powers which are, at present, mostly dissipated on alcohol and
sensuality. The discovery of the potentialities of The
World Within
 is the most urgent need of today as modern man
living inSick Cities, lost in a Sexual
 unaware of The
Hidden Persuaders,
 is being slowly but surely reduced to a Naked

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