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Stability of Societies and of the Order

by Sangharakshita

From "Some Sayings of the Buddha" - Woodward.

THE STABILITY OF SOCIETIES
CONDITIONS OF COMMUNAL STABILITY
Now at that time the venerable Ananda was Standing behind the Exalted One and fanning
him. And the Exalted One said to the venerable Ananda:
'How now, Ananda? Have you ever heard that the Vajjians repeatedly assemble together and
in large numbers?'
'I have heard so, Lord.'
'Well, Ananda, so long as the Vajjians shall assemble repeatedly and in large numbers, just so
long may the prosperity of the Vajjians be looked for and not their decay.
... So long, Ananda, as the Vajjians assemble in harmony and disperse in harmony: so long as
they do their business in harmony: so long is they introduce no revolutionary ordinance, or
break up no established ordinance, but abide by the old-time Vajjian Norm, as ordained: So
long as they honour, reverence, esteem, and worship the elders among the Vajjians ,and deem
them worthy of listening to: so long as the women and maidens of the families dwell without
being forced or abducted: so long as they honour, revere, esteem, and worship the Vajjian
shrines, both the inner and the outer: so long as they allow not the customary offerings, given
and performed, to be neglected; so long as the customary watch and ward over the Arhants
that are among them is well kept, so that they may have free access to the realm and having
entered may dwell pleasantly therein: just so long as they do these things, Ananda, may the
prosperity of the Vajjians be looked for and not their decay.
[2]
S: Perhaps first of all we should say a few words about the background of this section. The
episode seems to belong to the later years if not the last years of the Buddha's life, the
Buddha's earthly career, and I think I have mentioned before that from a political point of
view, especially during the later part of the Buddhas career, the whole of north-eastern India
perhaps even the greater part of the whole of northern India itself is over shadowed by the
conflict that was developing between the Kingdom of Nagada on the one hand and the
Kingdom of Kosila on the other. The Kingdom of Nagada corresponding at that time to what
is now roughly what is now Bihar and the Kingdom of Kosila to roughly to what is now
Uttarapradesh. In other words north-eastern India on the one hand and northern India on the
other or north-central India even. And these two great Kingdoms were in the process of, as it
were, mopping up all the small formerly independent Kingdoms and republics and so on, and
Nagada especially was expanding rapidly and absorbing and assimilating a number of other
states and tribes and people. One of these peoples or rather group of people was known as the
Vajjians. The Vajjians were a sort of confederacy, a confederation of tribes living in
north-eastern India and bordering the Nagadian Kingdom, the Nagadian Empire as it became
afterwards, and the king of those days, the King of Nagada of those days who was Javasacra
who succeeded his father Bimbisara whom he put out of the way, this is also partly how we
know that it is towards the end of the Buddha's lifetime was expanding and he wanted to
know whether he had any chance of overcoming the Vajjian. So he sent his minister to the
Buddha to ask what the Buddha thought his chances were, rather a surprising sort of thing to
do. So when the minister who was sent, Putareka, Ananda was standing behind the Buddha
fanning him over the beginning of this section, So the Buddha didn't answer the question
directly, telling the King that he would not be able to overcome the Vajjians, but he said to
Ananda but not replying even directly to the minister, that so long as the Vajjians observe
these conditions as it were of communal stability they will prosper, they will flourish, they
will not decay. In other words the suggestion is that so long as they live in that particular way
no external power will be able to overthrow them. Unfortunately sometime later they were
overthrown presumably because they were not heeding that advice which the Buddha also
says he informally given them, were not observing these conditions, so that is the background.
And of course subsequently in the next section the Buddha applies these to the Sangha itself.
Any query or comment on what the Buddha says, so far as it pertains to the Vajjians so far as
it were as it pertains to a mundane society as it were, not a spiritual society? Or any question
even about this whole business of the mundane society as it were to some extent at least
reflecting the spiritual society on its own level. because the Buddha in a sense, clearly
regarded them as corresponding in some way, because he gives the conditions of communal
stability for the Vajjians the social, political and cultural stability and then he goes on to apply
that to the Sangha in a purely spiritual sense or at least in a more spiritual sense. So there is a
sort of vertical parallelism you could say between the two.
[2]
Chintamani: It is a question of orientation isn't it? If you are orientating in a certain direction
you make it easier for people to learn to dedicate themselves.
S: This is true, and this is why for instance the Buddha set forth the aims. "So long as the
customary watch and ward over the Arhants that are among them is well kept, so that they
may have free access to the realm and having entered may dwell pleasantly therein: just so
long as they do these things, Ananda, may the prosperity of the Vajjians be looked for and not
their decay", This is quite important. I rather think that Arhants here, is not to be taken in the
later technical sense of those who have realized Nirvana. Arhant literally means a worthy-one,
a spiritually worthy person, someone leading a spiritual life. Someone worthy of respect and
devotion, So in the early years of Buddhism this term was used in a very general sense. Before
the time of the Buddha Arhants were viewed in a rather secular sense, as I think Mrs Rhys
Davids has pointed out in a sense rather like that of "our worship" or even "His worship!' It
was applied to Aryan people, Local Worthies who were respected by the particular village or
tribe. And then of course it was taken over and given a more purely, a more specifically
spiritual meaning. So it came to mean a spiritually worthy person. So probably the Buddha
here uses it in the sense simply of the people living a full time spiritual life, especially, the
wanderers and particularly perhaps his own disciples. So it is rather interesting that the
Buddha lay this down as a condition of welfare, a condition of stability, even of a secular
society, that it gives free scope to the exercise of the spiritual life. The Buddha is not even
saying that you should believe what the Arhants teach or even that you should follow that
teaching, but at least you should look after those who are lead a spiritual life and not hinder
them, permit them to come and go freely, Presumably also support them with food and
clothing and so on. So in a sense the Buddha is saying that I have left a society, less even a
secular community, at least recognizes the existence, the importance of spiritual values, then
it is not going to be a stable society. He is not even saying that it should be a sort of theocratic
state, that everybody should be dragooned into leading a spiritual life, but at least there must
be the freedom for those who do want to lead a spiritual life to do that. A secular society, a
secular community should cooperate with them, with those who want to lead a spiritual life.
Sumedha: Does this mean a secular society which does not even tolerate or permit spiritual
people will be unstable because what immediately comes to my mind, is the example of
Communist China. Now perhaps the propaganda is biased, they do not seem to encourage
people to enter monasteries or to lead a religious life, but they seem to be remarkably stable
morally and socially. How would you explain this?
S: But how long have they been stable, if they are stable? You could say; I would be inclined
to look at it like this that in each and every human being there is a spiritual potential.
Obviously it is going to be more active and more developed in some than in others but if you
persistently sit upon that, if you regulate people to much, if you don't allow anybody to lead a
spiritual life, well what happens? That will ferment that will become a disrupting factor.
People will want to upset your stability because they are not being given the scope for their
own creativity for the leading of the spiritual life. So if they feel the urge to lead the spiritual
life or just to be different strongly enough and you are not permitting them [3] to do that, the
system which does not permit them to do it, eventually they will become enemies of the
system. So that it isn't a very stable situation if some of your best people feel that the existing
set up, even though it may be stable the time being, is threatening them and their best interest.
Sumedha: They feel spiritually frustrated, as it were!
S: Yes. In other words a society which frustrates people spiritually in the long run, actively
frustrates them spiritually, they are not permitting them to lead a spiritual life or making it
very difficult, in the long run is not going to be a very stable society.
Sumedha: Even if it is a very moral society?
S: People don't ...

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