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Buddhism and Education in
Contemporary Sri Lanka

Prof. Oliver Abeynayake

continued from 2008 -02-06

Convocation Address by Prof. Oliver Abeynayake on Buddhism and Education in Contemporary Sri Lanka held at the BMICH on Dec. 31, 2007.

The parents who are trapped by this wrong belief are not aware of the behaviour of their children. They are not bothered about the complaints they receive against their children. They wait till their children become good after learning. There is a dictum that they chant as a divine medicine for their psychological satisfaction. It is the age old statement: Learning gives discipline.

During my childhood, I had my primary education at the Buddhist Mixed School at Kuleegoda in the Galle District. I still remember that there were proverbs written on the wooden beams in big letters for the enhancement of knowledge of the parents as well as the pupils. The Buddhist Theosophical Society which governed this school as well as others would have thought that the exhibition of these proverbs would generate enthusiasm not only among the parents but also among the children.

The most prominent among these proverbs was Vidya Dadati Vinayam. I would like to declare that the historical role that this proverb played to instill in our parents mind that their children would become virtuous and disciplined citizens as a result of learning has been a misfortune to our nation. I understood this only after I obtained a good knowledge of Pali language and Buddhist Philosophy. Unfortunately, as you know, there are a few learned men and women who still have their faith in this proverb.

Firstly, I should mention here that the statement Vidya Dadati Vinayam is written not in Pali, but in Sanskrit. Therefore, it has no connection with Buddhism, as we think. Secondly, it was not the Buddha who stated that learning gives discipline, but the brahmins who maintained their authority through the means of education. What Buddhism reiterates is exactly the opposite of this. What is repeatedly stated in the Pali Canon is that discipline should be achieved before learning. The motto of Buddhism is first discipline, second learning. If those parents who are of the opinion that their children would be good after learning are Buddhists, to them I say that they see a dream due to the absence of proper understanding of Buddhism.

The Buddha wants the parents to restrain their children from vice and exhort them in good (papa nivarenti kalyane nivesenti) before they make arrangements for their children to learn (sikkham sikkhapenti). The teachers are also requested to train the students well suvinitam vinenti) before they make them master that which they themselves have learned (suggahitam gahapenti). The members of the clergy should restrain the laity and exhort them in good (papa nivarenti, kalyane nivesenti) before they teach the laity what they have not learned earlier and correct what they have already learned (assutam saventi. sutam pariyodapenti). This shows that the sole responsibility, according to Buddhism, of these three social strata of parents, teachers and clergy is to establish discipline.

Accordingly, Buddhism has pointed out three institutions of ethical significance as family, school and temple. In my opinion, the disaster of Sri Lanka today is that these three institutions have taken education into their hands after ignoring their direct responsibility of discipline.

What is to be understood here is that the child who is not disciplined at home cannot be transformed to a virtuous, tolerant and good citizen with any amount of learning. It is in relation to this context that a well known English author Bernard Shaw has said that the child should be given to him till the age of five. He has further said that he does not mind even if the child is given to the devil after that.

It should be elucidated here what the Buddha means when he points out that the responsibility of parents and the members of the clergy is to restrain the children and the members of the laity from vice and exhort them in good. The attention of the listeners/readers is drawn in this connection to three discourses in the Pali Canon. They are the discourses of Bahitika and Ambalatthika Rahulovada of the Majjhimanikaya and the discourse of Kalama in the Anguttaranikaya.

In the first two discourses, the Buddha states that the things that are not conducive to ones own well being or the well being of others or the well being of both are unwholesome. The things that are conducive to the benefit of oneself, others and both are good and wholesome.

Accordingly, any action in thought, word or deed that harms oneself, others or both should on no account be performed. On the other hand, the actions that are not harmful and conducive to the welfare of oneself, others or both should be performed. This is what is called discipline of life. This is what is to be told by the parents to the children, by the teachers to the pupils and by the clergy to the members of the laity before they embark on the pursuits of learning. We have already experienced in Sri Lanka that learning without discipline is neither beneficial to the country nor to its citizens.

The discourse of Kalama is known among us as a sermon of epistemological importance. It is in fact, a discourse on ethics. If I may summarise the message of the discourse of Kalama, what it emphasises is that the words, deeds and thoughts motivated by greed, hatred and delusion are vice while the words, deeds and thoughts motivated by non-greed, non-hatred and non-delusion are beneficial and wholesome.

This is the message to be conveyed before hand to the children, pupils and the laity by the parents, teachers and clergy.

The knowledge of science and technology devoid of understanding and experience of this message equals to a razor in the monkeys hand. We do not need a help of another means of knowledge to know that the words, deeds and thoughts motivated by greed, hatred and delusion are vice. Similarly to know that the words, deeds and thoughts motivated by non-greed, non-hatred and non-delusion are good and beneficial, we should not look for the help of other means of knowledge.

In this context the Buddha advises us to be cautioned of the traditional means of knowledge. Good or bad is to be known by ourselves. It is not to be accepted that harming others is good on the authority of any means of knowledge. Similarly, we are not to surmise that refraining from harming others is bad on the authority of any means of knowledge. A number of examples of this nature is mentioned in the Kalama Sutta. Even though we ourselves can judge the good and the bad, Buddhism accepts the fact that the traditional means of knowledge is essential to know the languages, sciences, religions, philosophies, mathematics and computing.

The belief that prevails among us today is that a state is essential to govern the economy and social institutions in a country. However, Buddhism declares that the role of the state too is the establishment of social discipline. Otherwise, the efforts of the parents, teachers and clergy in the establishment of discipline would become meaningless and unsuccessful.

The fact that the state, before everything else, should take steps towards the establishment of discipline among its citizens is well articulated in the Buddhist concept of Raja Cakkavatti.

This is the ideal system of governance according to Buddhism. The emergence of the rule of righteousness is well explained in the Cakkavattisihanda sutta of the Dighanikaya. Raja Cakkavatti, with his four fold army, goes to the four directions of North, East, South and West to win over the kingdoms there.

To be continued

 නවම් පුර අටවක පෝය 

 පෙබරවාරි 13 බදාදා
අපර භාග 10.08 ට ලබයි. 14 වන දා
බ්‍රහස්පතින්දා අපර භාග
07.59 දක්වා පෝය පවතී.
සිල් සමාදන්වීම පෙබරවාරි 14 වන දා බ්‍රහස්පතින්දා ය.

මී ළඟ පෝය
20 වන දා බදාදා ය.

පොහෝ දින දර්ශනය

First Quarterපුර අටවක

පෙබරවාරි 14

Full Moonපසෙලාස්වක

පෙබරවාර 20

Second Quarterඅව අටවක

පෙබරවාර 29

New Moonඅමාවක

මාර්තු 07

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