What makes Buddhist concepts relevant

They are needed to calm minds in a materialistic world, stressed a panel discussion

January 30, 2020 03:48 pm | Updated 03:48 pm IST

S. Gurumurthy with Venerable Samdhong Rinpoche and Venerable Tenzin Priyadarshi at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in Chennai

S. Gurumurthy with Venerable Samdhong Rinpoche and Venerable Tenzin Priyadarshi at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in Chennai

Violence in the modern world is deliberate — in order to keep the arms industry thriving, according to Venerable Samdhong Rinpoche, leading Tibetan Buddhist philosopher and scholar. While it was perfectly legitimate for human beings to use natural resources, problems arose when people moved from being users to consumers, resulting in greedy use.

The monk, former director of the Central Institute for Higher Tibetan Studies, made these observations at “Ethics, Meditation and Wisdom in a turbulent world,” a panel discussion organised by the Maithrim Poshas Trust recently. Sharing that the title of the discussion reminded him of Buddhist terminology — sila (ethics), samadhi (meditation) and pragnya (wisdom), he spoke of people’s reluctance to stress duties over rights.

An attempt to draw up a common charter of duties failed at the World Parliament of Religions, due to lack of consensus, he said.

Venerable Tenzin Priyadarshi, Director, Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative values, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said that traditionally, meditation had been a way to acquiring wisdom. But it has now become a million-dollar industry.

Spiritual gurus are judged by the number of social media hits they have. Materially progressed societies are left with the negative by-products of their progress. Human beings are the only sleep deprived species on earth. And we take pride in depriving ourselves of sleep! We see this as an indication of productivity. Ambitious teenagers in Silicon Valley aspire to become billionaires at a young age. But ask them what they will do after that, and they will say they have not thought that far. Efficiency is all that seems to matter these days, and if only efficiency matters in life, then what is the purpose of being alive, asked Priyadarshiji. The Buddhist concepts of sila, samadhi and pragnya become important in this context, he said.

S. Gurumurthy, editor of Tuglak , who moderated the discussion, said that ethics cannot be just an individual virtue. It must be nurtured by a favourable ecosystem.

A doctor in the audience had two questions. An octogenarian patient, with many complications, came to him with a blood clot, and the family and the hospital wanted an interventional procedure. Ten years ago, the patient would have been given medicines, and they would have waited for the clot to dissolve. He wondered if technical advances had given us the urge to fix problems at once, without waiting for organic solutions to evolve. He also said that as a busy medical practitioner, he did not have the time for anything beyond packaged meditation.

Priyadarshiji said that techno-optimists had Utopian ideas. We have no answers to the question — what will you do if you live to be a hundred. Priyadarshiji said that people tried to become spiritual to manage worldly life. But the purpose of meditation was loftier.

Regarding our attitude to religion, Priyadarshiji said that for most people, interaction with the divine has become a daily exercise in negotiation — ask for a boon, offer something in return.

Mr. Gurumurthy responded that there was nothing wrong in this and that an elitist mentality in worship would marginalise the vast majority. Priyadarshiji said that the death of religion had been predicted repeatedly in the past. But all religions were growing. He spoke of how depressing the visit to an elderly care facility can be.

“We are telling our elders, ‘Your productivity is over. Live here till your end.’” N. Ravi, Trustee of the Maithrim Poshas Trust and Chairman of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, said that he was impressed with the gentle persuasion used by the panellists, which was a change from the usual cut and thrust that marked panel discussions.

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