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Natural Law Says It All

Because everything is in flux, it’s silly to shout for lasting solutions

| by Shelton A. Gunaratne*

( April 20, 2014,Colombo , Sri Lanka Guardian) The above headline should not come as a surprise to anyone living in Sri Lanka irrespective of his/her religion or ethnicity. It sums up a natural law that anyone can test through personal experience: Everything in this world is inconstant (anicca). Therefore, nothing is permanent; and it’s the mistaken belief in a permanent self when the fact is there is no self (anatta) that impels us to crave for and cling onto things that cause all the unsatisfactoriness (dukkha) in the world.

Buddhist phenomenology asserts that inconstancy, no self, and unsatisfactoriness are the three marks of existence. This was Buddha’s personal discovery, not something passed on to him by a transcendental force.

On the basis of this natural law, existence is coterminous with unsatisfactoriness. Thus, it’s silly to clamor for permanent solutions to problems that make everyone happy. Supreme happiness is possible only in a state of non-existence. Whatever pleasure (physical) or happiness (mental) one enjoys in the course of existence cannot last too long.

Existence is a continuous process that will continue through time and space in a never-ending circle. As quantum physics testifies, everything in existence is a manifestation of energy, matter and information. Buddha identified these as the Five Aggregates: matter, sensation, perception, mental formations, and consciousness.

All “beings” are a composite of these interconnected and interdependent aggregates, which interact continuously to deny the emergence of a permanent self. “We” are conditioned by these five aggregates of attachment although “we” have some control of them through “our” mind consciousness. 

Thus, every “being” is in a state of flux from birth to death. The aggregates continue to function after death to produce a new cycle of re-becoming (punabbhava). However, this is not the same as rebirth or reincarnation, which presumes a permanent self. This is a fundamental difference between Buddhism and Hinduism. The reality is that the “being” at death is not identical to the “being” at birth. Nor is it identical to the “being” that will re-become.

The very same natural law applies to ideas, thoughts and theories as well. Let us look at the unsatisfactoriness relating to the ethnic/language/religious problems in Sri Lanka.

The Buddhist Sinhalese, who constitute the large majority of the population, think that unsatisfactoriness is the natural law. Therefore, no amount of concessions is likely to satisfy the Hindu/Christian Tamils, who believe in a permanent self. They see the Tamils’ demand for Eelam as excessive greed because of failure to comprehend the decimation of their population resulting from war and massive emigration.

If the Hindu/Christian Tamils were to look at the problems from the Buddhist Sinhalese perspective, and if the Buddhist Sinhalese were to look at the same problems from the Tamil perspective, Sri Lanka might be able to derive more satisfactory results in the short run. This is the little leeway they have of using their mind consciousness to control the aggregates of attachment.

Will their unsatisfactoriness cease if the Tamils were to achieve their Eelam? I have great doubts. By then, they would face a new set of similar problems: an unfriendly Sinhalese nation trying to undo Eelam; coalescing with Tamil Nadu to dislodge Hindi as the dominant language; becoming a vassal state of Tamil Nadu after its separation from India; and so on.

Wisdom, ethical/moral conduct, and mental cultivation constitute the path to happiness. I ask the Buddhist Sinhalese and the Tamils and Moors to enter into a dialogue with no buts and ifs rather than crossing cudgels. Aggressive demands and provocations through external intervention will merely prolong the life cycle of these problems thereby engendering further unsatisfactoriness.

*Dr. Gunaratne, who lives in the United States, was the first journalist from Ceylon to win a World Press Institute Fellowship in 1966-1967. The WPI will celebrate its 50th anniversary in St. Paul, Minn., June 12-14.

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