Peace and harmony through literature: Buddhism and Thirukkural
- Following is the Valedictory Speech delivered by Venerable Galkande Dhammananda at the Sydney University, Australia on 31 July
Source: Daily FT Sri Lanka
It is a great pleasure and privilege for me to have this opportunity to deliver the valedictory speech at this international conference on ‘Peace and harmony through literature: Thirukkural,’ a universal literature. Thank you for inviting me.
I like to acknowledge here with appreciation, your conference director, Dr. Chandrika Subramanian who along with Sris Ponniahpillai, one of the active organisers of this conference who were instrumental in my being here today.
In my mind, Thirukkural is a recital about life; what is and what should be. It is a guide to develop one’s mind with the aim of making an individual a better human being who understands and loves others. Such an individual will naturally influence others in a positive way for them to be better individuals.
Peace and harmony is a common topic that comes in academic forums and in international and domestic political forums. It is a very much relevant topic today more than ever before since the world is moving fast towards conflicts again. The most salient feature we can notice in the recent developments of conflicts in the world is the religious based tension and conflicts.
In this context it is very much appropriate to go back to our ancient knowledge systems and religious texts to see what knowledge we can bring forward and share to understand the conflicts and to find a way for lasting peace. Therefore, this endeavour of yours of organising this conference is very much relevant and appropriate.
Thiruvalluvar’s masterpiece and the doctrine that Buddha taught us is more than two millennia old. However, they are as valid now as they were then. They are both eternal.
Buddha’s approach towards world peace, peace in a country or in a community is to achieve peace in the individual mind. Whether it is a world war, a war between two countries, a civil war or a conflict among communities, it first starts in the minds of individuals. Therefore, the individual transformation is the key factor in achieving peace. This approach suggests that no matter how strict the laws are, without personal transformation that bring peace in the individual mind, no peace is possible.
Thirukkural too emphasises the need for personal transformation through ethical and moral conduct of the individual. It is about the everyday virtues of the individual and the concept of universal brotherhood and oneness of humanity
This is very much consistent with the teachings of the Buddha who based his philosophy on cause and effect and about leading a virtuous life without any desires and expectation of rewards for being virtuous. He based his doctrine on the thinking that “you are who you are because of who you were and who you are now”. Buddha pointed out that one achieved Peace within oneself and with others when one overcame craving and attachment.
How one can overcome craving and attachment according to Buddhism? That is by realising things are impermanent and unceasingly changing. Since everything is unceasingly changing what is ‘true’ is the present moment only. Hence, lamenting over the expired ‘past’ or getting tensed over the future that has not come is futile.
Because of the fact that things are unceasingly changing, Buddhism does not suggest that humans are helpless or has no role to play. Instead, it very much encourages to intervene and engage with the ‘present moment’ ‘mindfully’. By doing that, Buddhism suggests that humans can create a positive change. What one does now positively or negatively influences the next
Before going to discuss how one can intervene mindfully in the present moment for a positive change according to Buddhism, I like to discuss more about the past that is ‘expired’.
Buddhism does not suggest that the present moment is something that spontaneously appeared. Instead, according to the Conditional Genesis theory or Paticca Samuppada theory of Buddhism, present moment is the result of the past and the present moment is conditioned by the past. Hence, dealing with the present moment, particularly, as a peacemaker, one must be very much mindful about the past that preceded the present.
As an example, can a mother who has lost her loved one in a conflict be advised to forget that painful past and deal only with the present moment? No, it is not possible.
Then how does one go forward? What knowledge could Buddhism share to deal with such a painful past and face the present?
Four sublime states that come in Buddhism namely, Metta – unconditional love and kindness, Karuna – compassion, Muditha – sympathetic Joy or empathy and Upekkha – equanimity can be named as the guiding principles to face this situation. Particularly, in Metta Bhavana or loving kindness meditation is a guided step by step process that emphasises that no one is born to do harmful or destructive things; and that all are born as ordinary children. It is the other factors and conditions such as poverty, maltreatments, discriminations, etc. that creates someone as a harmful or destructive person. If that is the case, there is no someone called a ‘terrorist’ as such. One who takes a gun as a militant or an army soldier is a conditioned person. This meditation assists to train the mind not to hate anyone and to gradually develop necessary conditions to develop loving-kindness even to the oppressor. The teaching of Muditha supports empathy with the others. (https://suttacentral.net/arv10/en/anandajoti)
Mental wounds that are created by painful past experiences stood in the way of one’s ability to achieve peace within oneself and with others. Overcoming or healing mental wounds amongst individuals is therefore central to achieving Peace. Focus of all peace advocates and builders should therefore be about healing mental wounds that cause anxiety, suspicion, enmity and other mental states in individuals. These are hindrances to achieving peace. Unless one was at peace with oneself, he will not be able to be at peace with his fellow men, and will not be able to fulfil his family and social responsibilities, and to restrain the bitterness, conflict and violence which infect human relationships and bring such immense suffering to the individual, society, and the world as a whole.
Buddhism suggests changing the factors and conditions that break the peace in the society by intervening in the present moment mindfully. Most important thing to keep in mind is to intervene with Metta or unconditional loving-kindness, without a slightest thought of hatred even before the risk of losing one’s own life.
In Samyukta Nikaya, Punnovada Sutta, there is a discussion between the Buddha and a monk who wishes to go and serve in a region where some rowdy people believed to have lived. Buddha asks what if they attacked the monk when he goes there. The monk says even if they kill him he will not hate them and still develop the loving-kindness to them. Buddha applauds the monk’s attitude and gives him permission to visit the region. (https://suttacentral.net/sn35.88/en/bodhi)
This is explained much clearer language in the Kakacupama Sutta or the discourse of the Simile of the Saw in Majjhima Nikaya. In this Sutta Buddha teaches that ‘Even if low-down bandits were to sever your limb from limb, anyone who had a malevolent thought on that account would not be following my instructions. If that happens, you should train like this: ‘Our minds will remain unaffected. We will blurt out no bad words. We will remain full of compassion, with a heart of love and no secret hate.
We will meditate spreading a heart of love to that person. And with them as a basis, we will meditate spreading a heart full of love to everyone in the world—abundant, expansive, limitless, free of enmity and ill will.’ That’s how you should train. (https://suttacentral.net/mn21/en/sujato).
This teaching clearly suggest that it is better to die without harming the other or having hateful thought to the other.
This is exactly what is suggested in chapter 33 Kural no. 7 and chapter 32 Kural no. 4 in the Thirukkural. They are:
“Refrain from taking precious life from any living being, even to save your own life”
“The proper punishment of those who have done evil (to you), is to put them to shame by showing great kindness to them”
Thirukkural never encourage even a thought of violence. Why do both these great traditions suggest not to go for even violent-thought and instead go for love and kindness even at the risk of losing one’s life? Because, if one responds violently then that person becomes someone who start the violence circle. Once that circle is started it creates necessary conditions for violence to continue. Hence, violence cannot be stopped by violence.
Now, it is very clear that the path to peace upheld by both these traditions is very similar. Both suggests to engage with each other free from hatred and violence and full of love and kindness.
If this is the case what would be the way forward to bring peace into our societies? It is very clear; we need to be practical; to develop practical models that is to be implemented going beyond boundaries such as ‘we’ and ‘them’ divisions. Is that possible? Yes, I already see one such organisation here in Sydney named Vanni-Hope, an organisation based in Australia that works with both the communities that were divided by the conflict for three decades in Sri Lanka.
Many in this organisation, led by individuals like Ranjan Sivagnasunderam and Lalitha Mahadevan are working with both communities in Sri Lanka. I have met others who works with both the divided communities with similar love and care, one such individual is your own Sris Ponniahpillai who is a great friend of the Walpola Rahula Institute. Amongst you is another individual, Niranjan Selvadurai who has helped to bring Buddha’s message of awakening to the truth to a wider, English speaking audience by translating the original Sinhala version of Sathyodaya or Truth Awakening written by my teacher late Venerable Walpola Rahula to English. There are many others, and just to name one, Mahal Selvadurai, who are using their knowledge and experience in practical ways and who are dedicated to the cause of advancing peace amongst both communities.
So, I see that the path to peace shown by both these ancient traditions is practical; it can be implemented if we are genuinely dedicated. If we leave these traditions just to their theories, the benefit to mankind will be very minimal.
I like to end my speech with one of my own experiences.
I am from Ampara, Eastern Sri Lanka. My elder brother who studied up to advanced level was trying to get a government job. His dream was to become a school teacher. He worked in the village school for more than a year as a volunteer teacher. Then the government decided to recruit the volunteer teachers as permanent teachers. However, my brother was not made permanent because a politician favoured someone else. At the end he joined to police. One could join police and army without the support of politicians. While he was working at Mahaoya Police station he and 22 other police personal were ambushed and they lost their lives.
Losing elder brother was not easy. It hurt a lot. One evening I tried Metta meditation which I had learnt as a Buddhist monk, but only as a ritual, thus far.
There I developed my thoughts keeping in my mind the way Buddha has advised. There I developed my thoughts as “whoever who happened to take a gun against my brother, may he or she be well, May he or she be happy, may not he or she feel guilty. If that person also is no more, then, may that person also find the ultimate peace as I wished my brother would.”
That day I was relieved from the pain I was suffering for months. That became a starting point of a new journey; a journey of healing.
Therefore, I suggest, with my own experience, what comes in these two ancient traditions to build a peaceful society is truly beneficial if we put the theory into practice.