Beware, the ‘enemy’ within | Page 3 | Daily News

Beware, the ‘enemy’ within

Picture by Saman Sri Wedage
Picture by Saman Sri Wedage

Protecting Buddhism; a personal reflection

One of the issues being widely discussed today is how to protect Buddhism. As I have been a Buddhist for nearly 45 years it is an issue that greatly interests me and I would like to say something about it. But before doing so it will be necessary to ask and then try to answer the question: “Is Buddhism threatened and if so by what or whom?” In my four decades as a monk I have travelled to every Buddhist country, living in some of them, and most regions where Buddhism prevails. And in some of these places I have seen evidence that my religion is under very real threat. The ones that I noticed most were these: an indolent and ignorant Sangha; the promotion of various superstitions rather than the Dhamma; a devout but ignorant laity; and the squandering of resources on showy but ultimately useless projects (gigantic Buddha statues, lavish temples, colourful but empty rituals, etc.), rather than activities that can help promote genuine Dhamma knowledge. Just recently I met a Thai monk who had told me that he had been in the Sangha for 19 years and during our chat he mentioned that he had hardly ever read a book on Dhamma and never read the Tipitaka.

I was really taken aback by this admission but he just laughed and shrugged his shoulders. I later learned that he makes a fairly good living selling the supposedly protective magic charms which are popular in Thailand. Years ago when I was studying in Kandy, the temple I was staying in had a regular although rather lacklustre dhampasala. One Sunday I noticed that no children turned up for the usual Dhamma activities and I asked the loku hamuduruvo why this was. He seemed rather embarrassed and just mumbled something about “problems”.

In fact, the previous Sunday he had sent the children home with a note for their parents saying that the dhampasala was permanently closed. The abbot has decided to rent out his hall for tuition classes and sure enough, the following Sunday the temple became the venue for English, Econ 1, Econ 2 and Maths classes. These and other similar incidents have made me come to the conclusion that yes, Buddhism faces several quite serious threats and needs to be protected from them.

Offer guidance and advice

Just recently a Sinhala friend passed me a Colombo newspaper and in it was a report about someone, a monk as it happens, claiming that Buddhism was in imminent danger and what he and his supporters were going to do about it. To my amazement some of the actions he was proposing were a march and a demonstration, and he ended by even suggesting that this might include violence. I thought I had read the passage mentioning this incorrectly. “A Buddhist monk, a bhikkhu, a representative of the Buddha, threatening violence? No that can’t be right,” I said to myself. So I re-read the section only to discover that I had read it correctly first time. Politicians threatening violence I could understand. Overly excited sports fans becoming violent I have heard of before. I know gangsters quite often threaten or resort to violence to get what they want. But a Buddhist monk! I could hardly believe my eyes.

During my life I have often found that when I am confronted by some problem or some quandary that I can usually find something the Buddha said that can offer me guidance and advice. So after reading the article I started looking through the suttas to see if the Buddha said anything about some of the problems this person said was endangering Buddhism and what can and should be done about it. I turned to the Buddha’s third discourse, the Fire Sermon (Adittapariyaya Sutta) and I read his powerful and poignant words: “Burning, burning! The whole world is burning! Burning with what? Burning with greed, hatred and delusion.”

In its simplest terms this pinpoints the root cause of all our self-inflicted problems. One person’s greed, hatred or delusion evokes similar reactions in the person who it is directed towards. Someone who takes the Dhamma seriously has the courage, the wisdom and the patience to break the cycle by not giving in to those three ugly qualities. This reminded me of what the Buddha said in the Dhammapada: “Hatred never ceases through more hatred. It is through love that hatred ceases. This is an ancient truth.” And of course greed and delusion likewise never peter out by being more greedy or more ignorant.

This Dhammapada verse in turn reminded me of something somewhere in the Samyutta Nikaya which I spent 15 minutes trying to find and eventually did. It says this: “Worst of the two is he who retaliates when abused. He who does not retaliate wins a battle hard to win.” These and other things the Buddha said are talking about solving or at least skilfully managing problems on a personal level, but I wondered if he ever said anything about protecting the Dhamma from threats it might encounter. So I called on my good friend Ven. XYZ, a Sinhala monk I have always respected for his considered and practical wisdom.

I emailed him about what I was looking for and within a short time he got back to me with two references from the Samyutta Nikaya. I looked them up and the first one said this: “Earth, water, fire or wind cannot make the good Dhamma disappear. But foolish people right here will make it disappear.” Startling words indeed, and ones that every Buddhist should ponder very carefully. According to the Buddha, external objects or events cannot make the Dhamma disappear but foolish people (mogha purisa) actually within Buddhism can.

If the Buddha is correct this would mean that we should be paying attention to individuals within Buddhism rather than outside it as the possible threat to the religion. How could they do this? By giving it a bad reputation through their words and actions? By failing to put it into practice? By using it for their own aggrandisement rather than for helping others? Possibly by all these things and more.

Protect Dhamma

Then I looked up the second reference my friend sent me. It said: “Someone asked the Lord, ‘What is the cause, what is the reason, why the good Dhamma does not last long after the Tathagata has attained final Nirvana?’ The Lord replied, ‘If the four foundations of mindfulness are not developed and cultivated the good Dhamma will not last long’.”

This seems to both add to and confirm what the first passage says; that the best way to ensure that the Dhamma flourishes and lasts long is to practice it. As individuals we may not be in a position to have an impact on the many problems the country faces but if we practice the Dhamma at least we will not be making these problems worse. And more importantly, we will be helping to protect the Dhamma.

The simple truth is that you cannot “protect” Buddhism by not practising it. And even the most ill-informed person knows that inflammatory language, threats of violence, acting without thinking first, anger and hatred, are about as far from the gentle wisdom of the Buddha as it is possible to get.

Sri Lanka faces numerous problems, many of them longstanding and complex, and there is no easy solution to some of them.

However, to jettison Buddhism as soon as one is confronted by problems and fall back on anger and hatred is definitely not the way to go. During a crisis is the very time to look to the life skills the Buddha offered us.

Possible solutions need to be considered in a spirit of kindness; they need to be implemented with fairness; adversaries need be reasoned with or appealed to; negations need be conducted with mild language; digging up the past and allotting blame need to be avoided; getting all the facts should be done before making accusations; and most importantly, those who deal with division and hatred should not be listened to.

Now is the time when the contents of a hundred banas, a thousand dhampasala classes, and ten thousand Dhamma books need to be taken seriously. 



There are 4 Comments

For Buddism to be prevelant the first step is to increase the Buddist population in this country as a percentage , when that happens next think of Buddhas message to be spread by word and not by sword.

Well put

While I respect and thank Bhante Dhammika for the above article I also wish to raise a few thoughts and questions on the subject. We are all aware that Buddhism was the foremost religion in several parts of Asia, and the Middle East etc. including countries like Sri Lanka, Burma {now Myanmar], Afghanistan, Indonesia, Korea, China, Viet Nam etc. for hundreds or thousands of years. The demise or almost extinction of Buddhism in most of the said countries did not happen due to the "Enemy within" of Buddhists but due to the aggressive and virulent nature of the followers of other religions and despots who ruled in those times. The compassion and tolerance extended by Buddhists enabled others to establish themselves well in Sri Lanka, Myanmar etc. The destruction of Nalanda and annihilation of all the Buddhist monks therein did not occur due to "the enemy within" but the "ENEMY WITHOUT". It is the same phenomenon that is repeating itself in most Buddhist countries like Sri Lanka and Myanmar. If Buddhists keep looking at the "Enemy within" and do nothing we could all imagine the result. Is there an answer to this please?

Totally wholly educational functional practical wise words said to all humanity if read understood practiced. I like most wonder that most called themselves Buddhists really follow Buddhism it's teachings politicians army police citizens to all who are Buddhists if you really understood Buddhism like rest who claim as Buddhists the country never never reached a state where each and everyone shocked dismayed by all atrocities committed cities houses destroyed corruptions greed everywhere especially within higher status individuals bond scams etc citizens in camps prisons with no definite charge revenge punishment due to age appearance linguistic influences


Add new comment