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Engaged Buddhism for post-war Sri Lanka

My Dhamma greetings to you all,

As you all know, India is the birthplace of Buddhism. After the Buddha’s Mahaparinirvana, all his disciples assembled to compile his teachings. They were compiled into Buddhist canon in the Pali language, which are also known as Tripitaka. In the year 236 BE (250 BCE), Arahant Mahinda arrived Sri lanka. He said: We are the disciples of the Lord of the Dhamma. In compassion towards you, great king, We have come here from India. From that day onwards Sri Lankans were practicing Buddhism.

True to the spirit of its founder, Buddhism has been renowned throughout its history for its tolerance of other beliefs and values. We already know of Buddhist leaders like Thich Nhat Hanh who is a Vietnamese Zen master and Nobel Prize nominee. Now he is living in France. There he founded Plum Village to teach meditation. Another global Buddhist leader is Sulak Sivaraksa a Thai citizen. He worked against the negative aspects of western influence in his country. He has received many awards as well.

Tzu Chi Foundation is another example. It is a non-profit, non-governmental, humanitarian organization with four major missions: charity, medicine, education, and humanistic culture. The foundation also engages in international disaster relief, bone marrow donation, community volunteerind, and environmental protection. “Tzu Chi” means “compassion and relief.” Sarvodaya a Sri Lankan organization led by Dr. A.T. Ariya Ratne. It is working with the government and with other NGOs, and has been engaged in numerous activities with other religious groups in the era of globalization. They are actively engaging in forging new bonds of understanding and acceptance across different religious groups. In a global society, it is very important to have harmony and respect amongst the different religions. Better understanding of other religious traditions brings various social groups together. It is a means to secure greater social and religious acceptance. Communication provides an opportunity for discussion of issues of mutual interest. All religions teach moral precepts for perfecting the functions of mind, body, and speech. All religions have similar ideals of compassion, kindness tolerance and social welfare. Buddhists have a very cordial and friendly relationship with most communities like Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Jews, etc. 

Socially Engaged Buddhism, or the application of Buddhist teachings to the resolution of social problems, has emerged in the context of Human Rights, equal justice and social progress.  As a style of ethical practice, it may be seen as new paradigm of Buddhism.  

To follow Hinayana or Theravada philosophy, the aspirant must have some qualifications. They are courage, sound health and intelligence. However, Nagarjuna’s Sunyavada, which is a moderate theory of the teachings of the Lord Buddha, made it possible for all human beings to practice Buddhism. The great compassion of the Nagarjuna made possible for common people to attain Nirvana.

Anybody can follow the new movement of Socially Engaged Buddhism or Engaged Buddhism. It is a socio-political action infused with spiritual practice & thought. It is a unique opportunity to practice Panchasila (the Five Precepts). Today, Engaged Buddhism can do a lot for the social and welfare work in India as well as other countries of the world. When I was touring southern part of India many people from weaker section came to me and asked me to teach Buddhism. I asked them to practice Panchasila. I also advised them to make their surrounding fit to practice Buddha Dhamma.

The prospects for increasing contact and cooperation between Buddhists and members of other faiths are vast. Formal dialogue evolves gradually, in response to the needs and aspirations of the members of various religious groups. Buddhism is a ‘universal’ religion in the sense that it is concerned with the fundamental human condition, suffering. Since the beginning of the twenty first century, there has been a blossoming of Engaged Buddhism activity. It is heartening to know that the impetus for this movement has come from young Buddhists. The participation of young Buddhist nuns is also gaining momentum in the recent years. Activities of Engaged Buddhism can lead our society towards social harmony, understanding and friendship.

Engaged Buddhism is a term originally coined by Thich Nhah Hanh. During the Vietnam War, he and his samgha (spiritual community) made efforts to respond to the suffering they saw around them. They saw this work as part of their meditation and mindfulness practice, not apart from it. Since then, the term continues to apply to Buddhists who are seeking ways to apply the insights from meditation practice and dhamma teachings to situations of social, political, and economic suffering and injustice. The same concept can be applied to the post war Sri Lanka. However, the island is undergoing political, economical, social and religious change. At this stage those monks who are living in the society, who have not left to the forest for meditation, can apply this socially Engaged Buddhism to rehabilitate those who are hurting within. They can uplift the overall spiritual development of the Nation. 

I have been to Myanmar to practice meditation. I was there for more than fifty months. During my stay in Myanmar, I wrote articles for Burmese Journals and magazines. They have been translated into Burmese language and published. I wrote about application of Buddha Dhamma in day-to-day life. Nowadays, passion has dominated the lives of the people, replacing morality. We have forgotten the benefits of moral practice in our traditional system. Daily routine has become amoral and mechanical. Nowadays, using medicine (pills, tonic, syrup, ointments) has become a habit so we need to change our behavior. For this, we should be like a Dhamma Soldier, who fights against with evil in and around.


In the present era, violence and sexual misconduct are increasing day by day in the world. A discussion of a third world war is a very bad thought. Bribery, harassment, cheating, inequalities, insecurity, etc. are common features of everyday life. The other side of the coin is sexual misconduct. It is emerging as a lawful profession in many countries. Such professions should be avoided.

Today, we are living in a mentally disturbed society. The tensions, irritations are useless thinking render one a patient. Some times, it drags one to suicide. Day to day life is filled with many kinds of bad habits like gambling (lottery, snooker/billiards), smoking cigarettes, consuming alcoholic drinks, sexual misconduct, cheating, unethical advertisements etc. It is destroying the life of present day humanity. Therefore, I want this to change as early as possible. I decided to be a soldier against evil in the future.

Noble work gives merit. Doing it is a right action. If we can keep the precepts well, we will naturally experience rewards. I think this is my rightful duty in following Dhamma.

You may think that work of soldier means fighting only. However, I am a Dhamma soldier. A Sanskrit proverb says DHAMMO RAKHATI RAKSHITAHA. It means one who protects the Dhamma will be in turn protected by the Dhamma. I will follow the four noble truths and its moral code to succeed against Evil.

Now I want to discuss how Engaged Buddhism can be applied in India, especially the areas affected with injustice and suffering.

If we need to deal with social, political, and economical suffering and injustice, we have to work out how to stop these things whilst keeping the meditation practice aside. Here we should remember the words of Lord Buddha. When one is suffering from mental or physical ailments one must give preference one of them. Afterwards he can practice Vipassana meditation in a quiet place.  However, merely engaging in helping others or taking help from others is not right for an aspirant of Theravada. Moreover, it is as an Art of living rather than religion. Therefore, they will take pause if any thing goes wrong. Engaged Buddhism is a spontaneous, often-charismatic Buddhist movements that marks a departure from traditional Buddhists of the past.

Here is an example. To understand a book, once we understand what the author meant (if we know about him) the rest will be easy for us. In the same way, Thich Nhah Hanh has given the call of Engaged Buddhism, when his brethren and fellow Vietnamese were bombed and they became homeless. He is being a leader. He responded to the situation as Dalai Lama felt responsibility for Tibetans and Tibet.

A retreat would be nice. It would be peaceful and non-distracting. However, is it practical for us everyday people? Moreover, if we are in this world, with all its distractions, then we need to make it the best world we can. Can we find stillness within while gangs shoot up our neighborhoods, the earth is raped and made into an uninhabitable desert, and the poor starve a few blocks from where the wealthy feast? That is the true challenge. Turning our backs on the world is not the answer. Doing whatever we can do, no matter how little that might be, is one path to choose.

For example, if we analyze the present political, economical, social conditions of Sri Lanka, it needs Engaged Buddhism to encourage people to practice the Panchasila. In addition, it will teach how to remove I-ness and Mine-ness.  If the Sri Lankan people follow Engaged Buddhism, then it will be a social dockyard to them. Through it, we can communicate our sufferings to the world community. There will be a chance to alleviate the suffering with the cooperation of the world community. Using scientific and technological facilities available on the Island, the volunteers of Engaged Buddhism can serve society effectively.

I am very lucky that all my personal views about society could also be found in Engaged Buddhism. In the name of Dhamma Soldier, I wrote a few articles which are my opinion about society and how to deal injustice and suffering. These ideas are ones I have found in the Engaged Buddhist movement.

Our challenges are:

1. Standards and discipline that must be developed in the universities. 

2. Social, political, economical development.

3. Rehabilation of IDPs.

4. Suppressing Violence and sexual misconduct.

Now we have the question of what to do?

(1) We have to organize Meditation camps.

(2) We have to give greater importance to practice panchsila as it is a cardinal rule.

(3) Organizing peace Marches

(4) Welcoming all religious people to work together.

(5) We will ask the people to join as volunteers.

(6) When we organize the camps we will help the newcomers and beginners to understand the profound teachings of Lord Buddha’s reference to the Four Sublime Abodes that lead man to a divine state in this life (Loving-kindness or Metta, Karuna or compassion, Mudhita or joy, upekka or equanimity).

Life is a hope.  So if one can give practicing Engaged Buddhism a fair chance, its power in one’s life will naturally grow. I am sure that every one in the Island will join in the Engaged Buddhism to live happily and to make their nation developed, peaceful and harmonious.


Ven. Sumedha


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