The new government should restore Buddhist-Hindu amity and trust by educating the public on the similarities between the path to liberation shown in Dhamma and Dharma
Posted on August 15th, 2015
By Shelton A. Gunaratne Professor of communication emeritus, MSUM
If the Tamil community of Sri Lanka would follow the advice that Lord Krishna gave warrior Arjuna in the battlefield as explained in the Bhagavad Gita, they could rub shoulders with the majority Sinhalese as equal citizens in a united country exemplifying diversity within unity much sooner than by insisting on a federal structure, which the Buddhist Sinhalese are unlikely to concede in the foreseeable future short of another tragic ethnic war.
The close cultural and religious bonds that the Tamils and the Sinhalese in
Sri Lanka share call for greater cohesion of the two communities rather than separation through a dubious federal structure that is unlikely to produce a lasting solution for current Tamil grievances. Separation entails divisiveness, conflict, rivalry–reflected in the three mule (unskillful roots) of lobha/raga (greed), dosa (aversion/anger), and moha/avijja (delusion) unleashed by the humans’ uncontrolled tanha (craving/desire) and upadana (clinging/attachment)–that are likely to place more roadblocks on the path toward ethnic peace and harmony. Tamil leaders must take the blame for leading their community along the wrong path toward separatism to achieve Eelam irrespective of how it might affect the other communities. The same suffering afflicts the Sinhalese and other communities because all human beings are composites of the Five Aggregates of craving — material form, feelings, perception, mental dispositions and consciousness.
A main priority of the new parliament/government should be to set up an inter-ethnic expert group to establish similarities between the path toward salvation/liberation as outlined in Buddhism and Hinduism, as well as the Abrahamic religions, if deemed necessary. If my understanding of these “religions” is correct, such an expert group is likely to document that both Hinduism and Buddhism follow a similar path toward attaining liberation from dukkha (suffering /unsatisfactoriness) inherent in samsara (cyclic existence), the vortex of punarbhava (re-becoming) or rebirth/reincarnation depending on one’s belief.
Historians have failed to trace the exact beginnings of Hinduism because it evolved as time and culture impacted the religious ideas of early India. Patheos Library <www.patheos.com> identifies Hinduism as “a collective term applied to the many philosophical and religious traditions native to India” with neither a specific moment of origin nor a specific founder. It is backed by a collection of sacred texts known to constitute the Sanatana Dharma (The Eternal Teaching).
Thus, Hinduism “encompasses a number of major sects, as well as countless subsects with local or regional variations. However, the Hindu worldview is grounded in the doctrines of samsara (cyclic existence) and karma (the universal law of cause and effect), which hold that one’s actions (including one’s thoughts) directly determine one’s life, both current and future.” Hinduism is divided into four major sects: Shaiva (devotees of the god Shiva), Vaishnava (devotees of the god Vishnu), Shakta (devotees of the goddess), and Smarta (those who understand the ultimate form of the divine to be abstract and all encompassing, Brahman). More than two-thirds of the 2.6 million Hindus in Sri Lanka, about 90 percent of whom are Tamils, belong predominantly to the Shaiva sect.
These Hindus share with the Buddhists the doctrines of samsara and karma, which appears as the fourth of the Five Aggregates (panca khandha) and the second of the 12 nidanas (in paticca samuppada) bearing the identity sankhara (volitional action/ dispositions).
The Buddhist path to escape samsara and attain nibbana (non-existence) is remarkably similar to that of the Hindu to attain moksha (union with the Brahman). A comparison between the Dhammapada and Bhagavad Gita, the two jewels of Buddhism and Hinduism respectively, makes this absolutely clear.
The primary sacred texts of Hinduism are the four Vedas (the Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda, and Atharva Veda), the Upanishads, the Puranas, the Epics (Mahabharata, and Ramayana), and other texts like the Laws of Manu. Bhagavad Gita constitutes a part of Mahabharata. Because Buddhism arose from the Vedic background, doctrinal similarities undeniably exist between the paths to salvation articulated in the two complementary religions.
If Buddhists and Hindus follow similar paths to reach their spiritual goal of attaining nibbana or moksha, it’s time that they realize that they could follow the same steps in attaining their socio-political goals of liberation. Sixty-seven years after independence, the Sinhalese and the Tamils have been unable to see each other as mere composites of the Five Aggregates that have to be disciplined through mind consciousness by following the three-dimensional path of panna (wisdom and compassion), sila (ethics and morality), and samadhi (mindfulness and concentration).
The Bhagavad Gita asserts: “A person who has given up all desires for sense gratifications (kaman), who lives free from desires (nihsprhah), who has given up all sense of proprietorship (nirmamah) and is devoid of false ego (nirahakara)–he alone can attain real peace” (BG 2: 71). A more comprehensive comparison of the two jewels appears in the excursus to chapter 3 of our book Mindful Journalism and News Ethics in the Digital Era: A Buddhist Approach (Routledge, 2015).
The current demand of the Tamil political parties for a separate federal state comprising more than a third of the territory of Sri Lanka shows excessive desire, proprietorship, and false ego of the Hindus. The reluctance of the Sinhalese Buddhists to concede reasonable Tamil grievances also shows excessive craving and lack of wisdom and compassion. The result of these conflicting defilements has been increasing dukkha of all Sri Lankans.
The expert group I have suggested would be able to provide a spiritual approach to diminish the dukkha that the ethnic problem has engendered. Educating the people on the similarities between the Buddhist and Hindu paths to liberation should unite the minority and the majority in a manner that is alien to the strategies borrowed from secular (Western) political science.