Unity In Diversity In Buddhism

Bridget Botejue

From "The Buddhist" November, 1931

"So long as the individuals of a nation or the members of a religious Order meet together and meet together in large numbers; so long they may be expected to prosper and not to decline." "So long as the individuals of a nation or the members of a religious Order sit together in Unity, rise up together in Unity and execute their common national or communal duties in Unity (with a united resolve, for a concerted and concentrated action, and acting as a single individual), so long they may be expected to prosper and not to decline." Thus spoke our Lord Buddha, the All-Enlightened One. No individual or a group of individuals is more fitted to take to heart these noble words than the Y.M.B.A. This Association I take it, stands for the best ideals in Buddhism. Within its fold are some of the best torch-bearers of the Dhamma. Within its walls are taught the garnered wisdom of the ages. It is for some of the well-meaning leaders to teach the pitfalls of Avijjá, Ignorance, the father of all suffering to the younger members. Had they perfect knowledge they should never err. The treading of the Eightfold Path of Purity is a pilgrimage from ignorance to self-perfection, a pilgrimage which takes many lives for the average man or woman. It is for the younger generation to set up standards. It is for them to live exemplary lives. It is for them to live up to Buddhist ideals. Lord Buddha taught a religion of Love, a religion of Compassion, a religion of Unity. He was Himself all Love and Compassion. In Him, we see through the corridors of time, an Ocean of Unity. This Unity pervaded all His teachings. Yet some of His followers do not and have not shown to the fullest extent the respect and reverence due to Him or to the "Law". Cast-cleavage is still rampant amongst us with all its evils. Caste is the worst canker eating into our society. Superiority and inferiority complex are results of it. The rich are aristocratic. The poor are not yet out of harm’s way. Lord Buddha broke caste-bondage within His realm. Ahimsá we know only in theory; it is an ideal devoutly to be wished. It is seldom acted up to for, we see Himsá all

around. Therefore the Buddhist community is split up. That this is so among the laity may cause no surprise. The monks, who should act as living examples of a united Order, have hopelessly created dissensions. Charges upon charges have been hurled at the door of the monks. Whether the monks should cover both the shoulders or one only according to the time-honoured Buddhist book of Discipline Vinaya-Pitaka is an old controversy. The Phoongyis of Burma, we are told from the famous Kalyani inscriptions in Lower Burma, have constantly quarrelled amongst themselves. They ceased to interdine. They refused to live in amity. This dispute has been further carried to modern times. Unity within the Buddhist fold has been badly damaged. That there are two great rival schools of Buddhism viz. Maháyána and Hinayana, Northern and Southern, is proof positive. Rivalry has caused enough mischief from Buddha’s time. Devadatta, ambitious to lead the Order of monks, had many a time plotted against the very life of Buddha. Ajáasatta was guilty of the same offence and many more. His has been a race of parricides. Vidudaba’s massacre brings home another example. We are told of an instance where the monks fell out among themselves and dared ask the Master to shift elsewhere to preach peace and unity. Peace was restored only by the intervention of lay people who threatened to starve them by stopping all supplies. About three months after the demise of our Lord Buddha, the saintly Theras met together at Rajagaha, the capital of Magadha, for the noble purpose of collecting His teachings to hand down to posterity. Some of them raised a dissentient voice: "The collection of the Doctrine and the Discipline which these people are preparing may be good, but we shall be satisfied with what we received from the Master’s mouth." A century hence a schism occurred splitting the Order into two sects, the Theriya and Mahásangika. It was at this time that we find the origination of the eighteen sects or schools of thought. Ever since sect and sub-sects have multiplied, mostly inimical to one another. Political Unity again has been wanting among the Buddhists. During the reign of Asoka, the great Buddhist Emperor the process of fission went much further. But he

would not tolerate it. Not for nothing that he was known as `Dhammasoka.’ At the first opportunity he issued a mandate that those monks and nuns who fermented discord should do so under pain of expulsion from the Sangha. He ordered that a copy of the mandate be sent to the Order of the monks, another to the Order of the nuns and a third to be exposed to public view. The dissenters of the Sangha took shelter in Kashmere where they had their Councils. Parakramabahu, our own king, invaded the kingdom of Pegu in lower Burma knowing full well that was a kingdom of Buddhists. A Buddhist king of Burma invaded another Buddhist kingdom of Arakan to secure a mere trifle of a Tripitaka which was the gift of Ceylon. Qublai Khan of Mongolia, also a Buddhist monarch held the neighbouring Buddhist countries like Burma, China, Korea, Japan in constant threat. All these show how the bond of political unity was broken. Buddhism, on the contrary, is not a religion of warring sects. In truth, the different schools of thought are not at loggerheads as is apparent on the surface. Scratch the surface, the truth is manifested. Buddhism, of all religions, is most singular in Unity. The varied distinctions I have just mentioned, as Paul Dahlke says, rest on trivial externalities. No religion has more Love that Blake sings of than Buddhism: Seek Love in the pity of others’ woe, In the gentle relies of another’s care, In the darkness of night and the winter’s snow, With the naked and outcaste Seek Love there

Who can say there is no Love or Unity in Buddhism when we daily witness the love and devotion poured out to His memory by the unnumbered millions of human hearts? Here lies the answer to the charge that Unity in Buddhism is a mere philosopher’s dream. The mere mention of the holy spot of the Bo-tree brings sacred memories to every Buddhist. The Bo-tree has become a common bond of sentiment among all Buddhists and is a `symbol of the glory and the history of Buddhism’. Socially our religion has no bans. If two Buddhists of two ends of the world want to interdine, we are told there are no religions injunctions to prevent them. If two Buddhist of two remote races want to intermarry there is nothing in the religion to taboo. The same religion is found in vastly different countries as Japan, China, Ceylon, India, Tibet, Burma, Korea, Java, Sumatra and in so different continents as Europe and America. With their opposite laws, customs, manners and other social conditions, Buddhism maintains a high standard of social intercourse. Liberty, equality, and fraternity are also lessons of Buddhism. Economically these countries have prospered. The height of Buddhist influence in any country marks the apotheosis of that country’s art. Politically again we see its influences. Asoka kept alliances with the neighbouring Greek kings and the Southern kings by making them observe the Dhamma. Thus we see how Unity reigns supreme. It is the magnificent edifice of profound and exalted thought. It is a Temple fashioned by Him, fashioned of Love. Centuries have rolled on; still it stands in all its bloom. We, who are succeeding custodians of that Shrine, should see it mantled, like a vine, with fresh verdure.