| by Shelton A. Gunaratne*

( December 26, 2013 – Colombo – Sri Lanka Guardian) Eastern philosophies, particularly Buddhism, have caught the attention of the American public even though the U.S. mass media have failed to highlight this processual development.


Although some might construe Buddhism as an Oriental intrusion intended to discombobulate the predominantly Judeo-Christian culture of the Occident, those who revere the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution are most likely to appreciate the contribution that Buddhism could make to remove the mental fetters that have caused much agony and discontentment (dukkha) among people living in a society driven by excessive materialism.

The Union-Tribune San Diego has estimated that in 2012 the United States had 1.2 million Buddhists, of whom 40 percent lived in Southern California. This number does not represent conversions from Abrahamic religions to Buddhism. Rather, it reflects the religion of the East Asians—primarily Chinese and Japanese—who migrated to the U.S. since the mid-19th century, and the influx of South and Southeast Asians following the abolition of the National Origins Formula in 1965.

Some authorities speculate that the number of American Buddhists to be more like 4 million. This is entirely possible because many Americans who have adopted Buddhist practices do not to identify themselves as Buddhists. Buddhism does not require formal conversion and allegiance to Buddha, who realized Nibbana (cessation of cyclic existence) upon reaching Enlightenment—knowledge of the Four Noble Truths.

The goal of a Buddhist is to realize Nibbana (Sanskrit: Nirvana) that Buddhist scholar Lily de Silva describes as “a state to be attained here and now in this very life and not a state to be attained only after death.”

Nibbana is the state of the mind resulting from uprooting the three poisons or unwholesome roots called kleshas: ignorance (avijja), clinging (upadana) and craving (tanha)—later extended to 10 defilements by the commentators to include hate (dosa), greed (lobha), delusion (moha), conceit (mana), wrong views (mitccaditthi), doubt (vicikiccha), torpor (thinam), restlessness (uddaccam), shamelessness (ahinkam), and recklessness (anottampam).
The crux of Buddhism is wrapped up in the Four Noble Truths:

1. The truth that life in the world is dukkha (suffering, distress, unsatisfactoriness, etc., associated with birth, old age, sickness and death).
2. The truth of the arising (samudaya) of dukkha, the main cause of which is ignorance (avijja) conditioned by desire (tanha) and other defilements.
3. The truth of the cessation (nirodha) of dukkha.
4. The truth of the way (magga) that leads to the cessation of dukkha.

Thus, the Buddhist’s goal is to follow the Noble Eightfold Path (or the magga or the fourth noble truth). The magga provides a set of

• Three principles for cultivating moral/ethical living (sila dimension): right speech (vaca), right action (kammanta), and right livelihood (ajiva).
• Three methods of meditation (samadhi dimension) to purify the mind: right effort (vayama), right mindfulness (sati), and right concentration (samadhi).
• Two mental steps (paññā dimension) essential to become an arhant, “a perfect one” thereby ending dukkha to realize Nibbana/Enlightenment: right understanding (ditthi), and right intention (sankappa).

The Four Noble Truths (including the Noble Eightfold Path) is the foundation of all three major schools of Buddhism—Theravada (in South and Southeast Asia), Mahayana (in East Asia) and Vajrayana (in Tibet, Bhutan and Mongolia). The differences have arisen because of adjustments to culture in the practicing countries.

All elements in the magga are interdependent, interconnected and interactive as in any living system. Thus, Buddha emphasized the need to cultivate all eight elements of the eightfold path simultaneously.

The Sila dimension of the magga provides a magnificent code of conduct for the international journalistic community. The responsibility of implementing this code lies with the journalist himself or herself, and not with a press council, an ombudsman or an editor. The magga provides the middle path between any two extremes as understood in the yin-yang dichotomy in Daoism.

In a secular sense, the samadhi dimension of the magga empowers the journalist to make sound decisions on the ethical aspects of managerial demands, advertiser pressure, and the complications arising from the rise of citizen journalism and machine-produced copy in the digital age. Any adherent from any religion could practice the eightfold path and enjoy the bliss of mental purity to realize the ineluctable Nibbana.

*The writer, a professor emeritus in communication, conducts a Buddhist discussion group in Moorhead, Minn., every second Saturday of the month.

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