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DateLine Sunday, 11 May 2008

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The way to happiness

The world we live in today can be divided into two parts - the world of plenty on the one hand and the world of deprivation on the other. In the former material wealth with excessive consumption signifies the good life.

The occupants of this world have plenty of everything they feel necessary for the good life - the choicest food and drink, fashionable clothes of special brands, modern housing, powerful and extra comfortable vehicles, and all manner of entertainment with many channels that can be changed with the touch of a button.

The children of this world are inundated with plenty of food, clothes, toys that donít hold their interest for long. Yet they lack creativity and are often bored.

In this commercial culture the search for pleasure and entertainment has become an intimate part of their lives. The insatiable craving for luxury, power and status are the driving forces of this urge. And behind this, creating the wants are the promoters of commercial advertising. They entice you not to buy what you need but what they want to sell. They are guided by the profit motive.

Money is king in this world. The mass of people not aware they are being led astray take unnecessary loans they are incapable of paying back, indulge in shopping sprees and social activity led by their ignorance of what constitutes the good life. They crave to satisfy their mistakenly thought of pleasant experiences.

Craving or Thanha increases but this gives no satisfaction. There is physical as well as mental suffering. Boredom sets in. There is competition and a ruthlessness to achieve a position of power by means that are not fair but foul.

On the other side of the scale is the world of deprivation, occupied by millions who do not have even the bare essentials of living. In certain parts of the world there are millions with no water which is a basic need of life. They have no food, save a few scraps that do not satisfy their hunger, no fuel to cook their scanty meal, no shelter from sun, wind and rain and worst of all ethnic violence leading to bloodshed and death.

Corrupt leaders of these countries have not attempted to solve the peopleís problems. They are more occupied with their search for power. Opposition is not tolerated, violence erupts, terrorism rears its ugly head and innocent people are killed.

Furthermore, nature has been violated resulting in floods, drought and natural disasters.

In both these worlds if one were to look at closely there is suffering - both material, physical and mental.

Even the youth of the former group, following in the footsteps of their parents and leaders resort to means that are neither fair nor just to achieve what they consider are essential. Those on the other side who lack the basics of life naturally feel envy and resentment.

Unsatisfactoriness in various guises

Greed for the mundane things of life and the craving for power are built upon illusions and ignorance, known as Avijja, and hatred and greed. All this leads to the breakup of family ties and a society whose members suffer due to greed and selfishness.

This unsatisfactoriness has gone on from the beginning of time, in various guises. It is not just a feature of this century, or these times. Fortunately for humanity there came to this earth a human being who showed us the way to end this suffering. He was no ordinary person.

He was a prince of royal blood, Prince Siddhartha, of India. He was born on the auspicious day of Vesak, a little over 2,500 years ago. Although he was provided with all worldly comforts and sensual pleasures that a prince was heir to, he realised that wealth, pleasure and worldly comforts do not provide happiness. He understood the realities of life, that all existence is suffering or Dukkha for we are all subject to old age, sickness and death.

After a great deal of consideration and contemplation he renounced all worldly pleasures. By his wisdom he understood that the root cause of suffering was craving. He was able to point to his followers - who at first disbelieved him - that to overcome suffering one must abandon craving, selfishness and greed, and to achieve the highest bliss of Nibbana one must understand the Four Noble Truths he enunciated after he himself realised the truth. It was on another Vesak day that he attained Enlightenment and delivered his first sermon to a group of five ascetics with whom he had associated.

He was called the Buddha, the Enlightened One. His teaching is known as the Dhamma. It teaches us that nothing is permanent. It helps us reduce our desires. He helped us to gain insight into the constantly changing world. He showed us the way to let go of all that we cling to and find ultimate peace.

He gave us a formula to be followed, the Four Noble Truths. They are:

1. The Noble truth of suffering - Dukkha

2. The Noble truth that suffering arises because of craving - Tanha.

3. The Noble truth that suffering ends with the removal of craving - Nirodha.

4. The Noble truth that there is a way, a path to be followed to release us from suffering.

The Enlightened One pointed out that our suffering is due to our clinging not only to worldly things but also to persons due to our ignorance that all things are permanent. We must cleanse our minds of wrong ideas and beliefs and get rid of defilements and delusions. Then only can we lead a life free of anxiety.

He showed us how to avoid extremes of pleasure and indulgence on the one hand and self mortification and denial of essentials on the other. He showed us a clear cut path, the Middle way - Majjima Patipada. He practised this for he himself realised on his own that both excesses are misleading.

He showed us that we undergo physical and mental suffering due to birth, sickness, old age and death. Due to ignorance-Avijja - we donít understand the reality of life- that no condition is permanent.

The way to end suffering is to eliminate the causes of suffering - the defilements in our life, which are desire- Raga, anger, hatred and illwill-Dosha, and ignorance- Moha of the transitory nature of conditions and life in this world.

By leading a life of good conduct and morality - Sila, mental development by the study of the Dhamma - Samadhi, and Wisdom - Pragna and finally meditation - Bhavana - we can get rid of the fetters that bind us to worldly things.

We shall gradually get rid of greed, vanity, heedlessness and jealousy. We can let go of our desires and replace them with generosity, love, kindness, equanimity, truthfulness, humility, patience, compassion, crowned with the knowledge of the sublime Dhamma.

It is the destruction of these fetters that lead us to the final blissful state of Nibbana. When we have achieved spiritual development we will realise the bliss of Nibbana that can give inner happiness, peace and contentment in this existence itself.

Courtesy - Daily News Vesak Annual 2008

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