Be positive and heedful
May I propose adding ‘Be Positive and Heedful’ to Ajahn Buddhadasa’s
description of Buddhism, ‘Be Peaceful and Useful’ ?
The teaching of the Buddha could be considered as the most optimistic
of all religious doctrines. When Western scholars began to study
Buddhism they at first believed that Buddha preached only about
suffering and the inevitability of Kamma.
Today people are talking about Positive Buddhism. It is probably
because they are still under the misconception that Buddhism is
negative. Buddha’s teaching does not need any epithet, because it has
always been Positive.
Following the five precepts should be natural more than
“Buddhist optimism is not the escapist optimism of those who throw up
their hands and say, ‘Somehow or other things will work out.’ Rather it
means, clearly recognizing evil as evil and suffering as suffering and
resolutely fighting to overcome it. It means believing in one’s ability
and strength to struggle against any evil or any obstacle. It is to
possess a fighting optimism.” Daisaku Ikeda (Buddhism Day by Day)
But optimism and pessimism are Western labels, which would not be
able to explain the Buddhist attitude, in the same way the English
language is unable to provide one word to explain Dukka. We could say
that Buddha showed us the reality, so Realism, is the word we should use
instead of optimism or pessimism.
It is the realist who sees that the light at the end of the tunnel is
an oncoming train and knows how to avoid being run down.
Buddha talked about suffering in the Four Noble Truths. but He also
showed us how to end man’s suffering through the Noble Eightfold Path.
We have to see this as a positive action. It guides us to do what is
right. We should not look at it as abstention from what is wrong. Right
View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood,
Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration. We need not
think of abstention from anything as wrong or harmful.
The five precepts could also be looked at in a positive manner. The
Precepts need not be about just abstention, but can be pro-active
1. Extend loving kindness (Metta) to all living beings. A person who
shows true loving kindness would never even think of hurting or killing
another living being.
2. Be satisfied with what we have. Then we would not have a craving
to take what does not belong to us or what is not given to us.
3. Respect all life. A person who shows loving kindness to all other
human beings and other life forms, and who does not wish to hurt any
person physically or mentally, would never resort to sexual misconduct.
A person who has respect for others would not think of abusing them.
4. Always be truthful. When we show loving kindness to all, and we
are satisfied with what we have, we can always be truthful.
5. Be Heedful. Since intoxicants, among other vices, lead to
heedlessness, once a person decides to be heedful always, he would never
seek the false-pleasure from intoxicants.
“those wise in heedfulness
rejoice in heedfulness,
enjoying the range of the noble ones”.
(Dhammapada, Appamadawagga, Thanissaro Bhikkhu translation)
When we try to show loving kindness, to be peaceful, useful and
heedful then we are automatically following the Five Precepts and we
need not recite them day in and day out.
Dr E W Adikaram believed that once a person has undertaken to follow
the Five Precepts, it was not necessary for him to keep on reciting the
precepts every day.
Thich Nhat Hanh, the Zen Buddhist monk from Vietnam, now residing in
France, has proposed Five Mindfulness Training, in place of the Five
Precepts so that they would fit into the modern world and its needs. He
has also introduced the term Engaged Buddhism for the use of insights
from meditation and Dhamma teaching to situations of everyday life in
the modern world. Thich Nhat Hanh needs these words and concepts as he
is addressing people who have grown up in the West, who are not familiar
with the culture of Ahimsa and Metta. That is also probably the reason
why he has to offer six months of training on Five Mindfulness.
Unfortunately we do not have a more positive term than non-violence
in the English language, but in Sinhala or Pali, there is no need to
have a separate word as an equivalent of non-violence, because it is
inherent in the word Metta or Maithree, according to Dr. Harischandra
Wijayatunga. The West needed a negative term like non-violence only
because in their culture, violence and war were positive concepts.
In the Samyutta Nikaya, Aranna Sutta, Buddha explains the pleasant
countenance of those who live in the forest and partake of only one
meal. ‘They don’t sorrow over the past, don’t long for the future. They
survive on the present. That’s why their faces are bright & serene. From
longing for the future, from sorrowing over the past, fools wither away
like a green reed cut down.’
Rollo May has said that moral courage is, as a rule, born out of
empathetic compassion for those who suffer, it means “identification
through one’s own sensitivity with the suffering of one’s fellow human
beings.” In other words, in moral courage we put ourselves into another
person’s shoes, we feel her or his suffering.
The Dhammapada could also be read for the positive verses only,
because if we understand and follow them, we need not even read the
“Society is too much absorbed in the enjoyment of sense pleasures,
the gratification of the senses has become the be-all of life. Science
has made wonderful progress in the physical plane. Luxuries in manifold
forms have been introduced by physical scientists. Morality is on the
decline. Wealth and pleasure are what the people seek wherever they go.
The one idea is how to increase the delights of the senses.” The above
passage is from an essay written by Anagarika Dharmapala in 1915, and he
is not describing the society of 2011!
We should strive to be satisfied with what we have, without craving
for better or for more. Luxuries are not necessary even for our physical
comfort or mental peace. The Buddha’s own example provides the original
impetus for such locations: “Seeking the supreme state of sublime peace,
I wandered . . . until . . . I saw a delightful stretch of land and a
lovely woodland grove, and a clear flowing river with a delightful
forest so I sat down thinking, ‘Indeed, this is an appropriate place to
strive for the ultimate realization of . . . Nirvana’” (Ariyapariyesana
Sutta, Majjhima Nikaya, 26).
Pursuit of pleasure is endless. As Prof. Padmasiri de Silva explains,
“The pleasure drive always renews itself by searching for new and
variegated forms of pleasure. When boredom breaks in one direction, man
searches for novel forms of satisfaction in another direction. When
obstruction to the pursuit of pleasure sets in he becomes restless,
angry and discontented”.
Once we accept this, then we need not try for the control of our
desires, or for cessation of desire, but for the absence of desire. Be
Positive and Heedful.