Our Modern World's Problems: Is Buddhism the Answer?

Twenty six centuries ago the Lord Buddha entered this Samsara world with the vow the show all sentient beings the path to liberation. Nowadays humankind has made enormous technological progress. We are now able to explore outer space thousands of light years away from the planet earth, whereas our spiritual life has been almost neglected. Except for certain superficial hypotheses about our inner mind by Jungian psychologists, our spiritual life has made no progress at all. All of us must agree that we are in a spiritual crisis. Yet, more than two thousand years ago, not only did the Lord Buddha have a vision of thousands of universes in the cosmos, the Honoured One also shed light on the inner spiritual world and showed us our sources of suffering.
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In the nuclear age, there needs only a slight misunderstanding between the super powers for our planet earth to be destroyed in a blink of eye. The real danger, however, is not the bombs themselves but some sick minds behind the scene who are troubled with their inner life. To destroy the source of troubles we have to pacify our mind as the Lord Buddha taught: See your own real mind - you can realise Buddhahood. Only if we all have a peaceful mind, can lasting peace be achieved. The technological progress does not bring about peace and happiness.

Greed, Anger and Hatred are the enemies that every Buddhist must subdue. In Buddhist terminology, they are the three poisonous things that everyone must overcome. Until they are subdued no peace in mind can be achieved. The Lord Buddha taught: "The most glorious conquest is the conquest of yourself." After many years of wandering and learning different doctrines, the Lord Buddha finally found the path to liberation to cease all the suffering of the sentient beings. And the World Honoured One's teachings are very simple: "Wisdom and Compassion". Wisdom can help us to see the roots of our suffering and compassion can help us live harmoniously with ourselves, with other sentient beings and with the environment on the planet earth.

The Lord Buddha once told his disciples to recite a gatha when drinking a glass of water, because there are 84,000 living micro-organisms in it. That gatha has the power to make those living things have a better existence in the next life. Any disciple who forgets to recite that gatha when drinking water would have violated the first precept, refraining from taking life just as if they had eaten the flesh of living things. The World Honoured One likes us to respect these micro-organisms, just as we do to other living things like trees, animals or human beings!

The path to liberation is one of the most simple but the most powerful and effective in creating a loving, caring and peaceful world. It can create a humane and just society. If every one of us lives in mindfulness, cultivates our spiritual life and treats other beings with mutual respect and understanding, we would have created the Pure Land (Tinh Do) or heaven on earth. There is no need to go far way to find the solution to our society which has been riddled with violence and hatred; just go back to see your mind and subdue it.

With all humility we can say that the Lord Buddha deserves to be called the Greatest Teacher of all time. I would like to quote a European writer's opinion about the Buddha's teaching as follows: "Here is the teaching we can follow with confidence". Where in the world of religions, cults and creeds can we find a master of such brilliance? In a pageant of stars, he was a giant of the greatest magnitude. Little wonder that scientists, philosophers and men of literature have proclaimed him the 'Greatest Man Ever Born'.

The radiance of this great teacher goes through a world of suffering and darkness like a beacon light to guide and illuminate mankind. Many brilliant brains have contributed to the technological progress and the material civilisation is now at its peak and we are all proud of this. But Greed urges humankind to possess more and more. The two World Wars no doubt were originated in human greed. Even though the cold war is over, nobody can be sure that we will enjoy everlasting peace. While new technological advances continue, what does the future hold for us?

We are living in a time when individualism becomes a cult. We have created many super-human beings and put them on the pedestal: movie stars, sports stars heroes and now, we are coming to the age of communication super-highways. Youth nowadays has so many attractions in life yet there are almost no ethical models to admire and no civic lessons are taught seriously at school. We are surrounded by a culture of violence. Family life, the fabric of any society, is gradually disintegrating. This is the red alert that we must heed.

Concerning the future of humankind, a French intellectual, Pierre Garreau said: "In the time when the Lord Buddha was born, ethical guidance was needed but it is more so in our time". Our world is in a crisis and the symptoms appearing in the way of life of the young is most is most easily recognisable. We really need the total transformation of our spiritual outlook. As Andre Malraux realised that, ever since the Roman Empire, there has never been a crisis as deep as the one we have in our time. In the West this is a period of falling idols. In the 19th century, most philosophers only believed in the "ism " and many idols kept on falling or expired. The feudal world, the democratic regimes and other forms of dictatorship all crumbled. At that time people had nowhere to turn and they only hoped that, in the 20th century, science would bring in a new era. The values initiated by Buddhism are still very much attractive while many other values have quickly crumbled. Andre Malraux also commented that the Buddhist Community was established the earliest and it still survives in our time, while other idols eventually disintegrated. (Pierre Garreau- Key-note Speech on the Vesak Day 2517 at the Buddhist University of Van Hanh, Saigon)

Facing the danger which may make our civilisation as we know it disintegrate, we just can't sit there. We have to do something as in an old saying 'something is better than nothing'. We have to come back to our inner life, see our true mind and subdue it in any way we can. We have to fight against our real enemies : Greed, Anger, Hatred and Craving for all material things. To celebrate Vesak Day in a meaningful way, we should heed carefully the Lord Buddha's message of compassion, understanding, mutual respect. In that spirit we pray that the leaders of the super powers will sit down and work out a way to make our world a better and a pleasant place for us and, particularly for future generations, to live in.

- by Thich Bao Lac, Sydney, Australia, 1996.

(Venerable Thich Bao Lac is the President of the United Vietnamese Buddhist Congregations of New South Wales, Australia, and Abbot of the Phap Bao Temple in Sydney. This is his Vesak Address delivered on the 26th of May, 1996)

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