- Buddhist Solutions for the Twenty-First Century
- P. A. Payutto
- translated and compiled by Bruce Evans
This is the first time[*] this century that an
international religious assembly of such magnitude has been organized. During the interval
of one hundred years since the last meeting of the Parliament, the world has undergone a
great many changes. We are now in what is called the "post-industrial Information
Society," or the Post-Cold War period. With the end of the Cold War, the tension and
fear resulting from the threat of confrontation between the two superpowers and a world
divided into ideological camps seemed to dissolve. Many people felt that in the
approaching twenty-first century the human race would be blessed with a much more peaceful
existence. But it soon became apparent that this was not to be. While the threat of total
annihilation through nuclear war seemed to have been averted, one of lesser magnitude, but
scattered over the planet in many areas, arose in its place. The wars that have since
sprung up all over the globe are much more difficult to control than the Cold War, which,
although a tangible threat, was nevertheless very unlikely to actually develop into
full-scale aggression. The threat of nuclear war itself is not over by any means. In fact,
with nuclear weapons scattered over a large number of countries, it poses an even greater
threat than before.
Although the ideological wars seem to have passed on, we now have
more wars arising from racial and religious friction, which are much more passionate and
brutal. Civil wars and racial confrontation are becoming more and more common all over the
globe. In addition, terrorism is becoming both more common and more violent. The fact that
the world has been made smaller through the development of information technology
facilitates not only travel and communication, but the spread of terrorism. Terrorism
rides the media of communications technology, making travel no safer than before, and
increasing the likelihood of danger in all countries.
Hatred and mutual distrust are intensified by the struggle for
natural resources. The avaricious race to amass natural resources not only leads to strife
within human society, but also in the natural environment, which gives the problem a
double edge. On one hand, there are problems with the environment, and on the other there
is an intensification of mutual human destruction.
The environmental crisis and the shortage of natural resources began
to become really clear only towards the end of this century, and they are going to have a
big effect on the people of the twenty-first. Twenty-first century man will inherit the
fruits of twentieth century man's destruction. The enormous amount of natural resources on
this planet amassed over hundreds of millions of years have mostly been consumed by
humanity in a period of only one or two hundred years.
All of these problems stem from aggression, which is perpetuated
under the power of what we call in Buddhism dosa, or aversion, and lobha,
desire or greed. Greed and aversion are very powerful forces in the mind. With the
development of technology, and in particular, so-called 'high technology,' which deals
with information and communications, greed and hatred have acquired much more effective
tools to work with. Technology has become a hireling of greed and hatred, and
technological progress, in the form of industrial development, has been almost exclusively
to their ends. Science, technology and the development of information and communications
technology have been used to lull humanity into heedless consumption, dullness and
intoxication, rather than for the development of the individual or quality of life. They
have been used as tools for seeking objects of desire, and in so doing have fired hatred
through the contention they generate. In racial and religious antagonism, hatred is
already in abundance. This is further intensified by the influence of greed and the
struggle for material resources.
Greed and hatred have been the cause of many problems for human
beings, both on the personal and social levels and within the environment. In order to
really address these problems, it is necessary to bring greed and hatred under control.
The natural conditions of greed and hatred would be much easier to
control, and would be much shorter lived, if it were not for the influence of a third
condition, which in Buddhism we call 'ditthi,' views and beliefs. Ideologies,
religious beliefs and social values are all aspects of ditthi. Whenever greed,
anger and hatred are reinforced with beliefs and social values, they acquire a clearer
direction, an impetus which channels them into much more destructive activities. Greed and
hatred are maintained and prolonged by the influence of views and beliefs, making them
much harder to resolve.
Adherence to different ideologies and social values, be it conscious
or otherwise, becomes kamma on a social scale, which is of far-reaching
consequence. Kamma literally means action, but in the Buddhist teachings its
meaning more specifically implies intentional actions. When actions are based on bad
intentions, such as greed, hatred, fear and delusion, they are said to be bad kamma
-- they will produce undesirable results. When actions are based on good intentions, such
as generosity, goodwill, patience and wisdom, they are said to be good kamma, and
will produce desirable results. Kamma not only operates on an individual level,
but also on a collective one. Whole crowds of people can be whipped up into states of
anger, excitement or fear, and the actions they perform are accordingly defined by the
mental states that influence them. Actions produced collectively produce results that
affect the whole community. For instance, when a nation collectively adopts an unskillful
social value, such as materialism, the nation as a whole receives the results of that
social value, whether it is consciously adopted or not. How much these results affect each
individual will depend to a large extent on the amount of commitment each person has to
that social value, and the reactions each has to it. Thus, whole societies can be
propelled in certain directions through collective beliefs and social values. This is why
beliefs are considered in Buddhism to be the most powerful influences on kammic actions.
If there is wrong view, wrong belief and unskillful social values, greed and hatred will
be exacerbated and difficult to control. Conversely, if there is right view, right belief,
and right social values or ideologies, greed and hatred will arise on a much lesser scale,
and will be much easier to control or even eradicate.
In the present time greed and hatred are positively flourishing.
They are supported or based on a powerful foundation of wrong views. In the preceding
decades we experienced problems with ideologies and the world was split into two camps.
Now the contention between these ideologies has petered out, but we have not resolved the
problems of nationalism, racism and sectarianism. Ideology is a kind of view, and so we
come back to the level of views and beliefs to find a solution.
Broadly speaking, the beliefs that have held control over modern
human civilization are based on three main perceptions:
1. The perception that mankind is separate from nature, and must control, conquer or
manipulate nature according to his desires.
2. The perception that fellow human beings are not 'fellow human beings;' this
perception focuses on the differences between human beings rather than their common
3. The perception that happiness can only be found through an abundance of material
The first perception is an attitude towards nature; the second is an
attitude towards fellow human beings; the third is an understanding of the objective of
These three beliefs or perceptions have determined the direction of
human development. It is not difficult to see their role in the present time, in which
people are almost entirely dominated by them. Held under their power, our resulting
actions become kamma on the social level. Thus the development of human society
is guided by the kamma, or actions, of human beings blinded by these three
distorted views or perceptions.
When greed and hatred are founded on or supported by views, be they
religious, political or otherwise, they will be intensified and sustained, with
far-reaching results which are very difficult to put right. As long as the views upon
which greed and hatred are based are not set right, it will not be possible to remove
greed and hatred.
The sciences and academic disciplines which have led material
progress in recent times, and on which modern civilization is founded, have unknowingly
developed under the influence of these three perceptions or attitudes. The natural
sciences, for instance, have developed under the influence of the aspiration to conquer
nature, which is based on the perception of human beings as separate from nature; the
social sciences have looked on human beings in terms of their factions and power struggles
rather than their status as kinsmen or fellow residents of mother earth; the humanities
have developed under the influence of the idea that freedom and happiness are external
conditions resulting from control of nature or fellow human beings.
In coming years the population of the world will continue to
increase, the resources of the world will continue to dwindle, and the environment will
continue to deteriorate. The three distorted attitudes or beliefs will escalate these
problems to more critical dimensions. While the population increases and natural resources
dwindle, we continue to perceive our happiness as dependent on sensual pleasures and
material possessions, freedom as the power to control external conditions, and fellow
human beings as rivals and strangers. We are under increasing pressure to vie with each
other for the possession of the earth's resources. Under the mis-direction of these three
wrong views, we have also developed life-styles that lead to the proliferation of such
social ills as drug abuse, violence, stress, mental illness, suicide, and AIDS -- more
legacies of the twentieth century for the citizens of the twenty-first century to deal
In order to solve the problems of greed, hatred, selfishness and
mutual destruction, we must deal with views and attitudes. When we speak of views, we are
coming into the domain of religion. Religion deals with views and is itself a kind of
view. For religion to be effective in addressing the problems of the world it must be
based on good or right views, and must encourage the propagation of such views in the
world, rather than encouraging or teaching in accordance with the three distorted
The developed countries are in agreement that the perception of
mankind as separate from nature, and the desire to conquer nature, are a mistake.
Environmentalists stress that we must begin to look on human beings as part of nature and
that human beings must learn to live peacefully with it. This is a very good sign. It
shows that we are beginning to address the first of these three pernicious views. Although
it is a beginning, it is not yet enough. The three views are all interrelated, and all
must be addressed in order to really solve the problem.
Another factor involved in modern day problems is the way we look on
each other. This is the second attitude which must be rectified. Our different religions
are meeting together today to seek ways of helping human beings to live together in peace
and relieving the suffering in the world. This is a very noble objective, a very timely
effort -- perhaps even a little overdue -- but among religious circles it must be conceded
that religions have played a major role in creating many of the problems I have been
speaking about. Religion has up till now been one of the major causes for disunion and
discord, even war and atrocity, in the world. In order to really address these problems we
must be bold enough to speak up and look honestly within ourselves before we can really
teach or appeal to others. We must turn around and search within our religions to find the
causes, the reasons, that in the past people have killed each other and gone to war over
religion. If we can find that point, we can then address the problem.
How do our religions teach us to look on people of other faiths? Do
they teach us to look on others with mutual respect, fraternity and concord, or do they
teach us to look on others as inferior, as sinners or heathens, or something which should
be destroyed? Most religions have tended to help only select groups of people, fostering
harmony and friendship within their own group, but greeting others with hostility. This is
why religion has been such a divisive force in human history, a catalyst for war and
Many teachings which were suitable for small groups of people are no
longer effective in today's "Global Village." They are not relevant to the
current situation. Material development has led to a planet linked by rapid
communications, but religious teachings are still sectarian and do not prepare us for
living together on the global level. It seems that personal human development is not
commensurate with the physical world situation. Religions are not yet attuned to
addressing the needs of people on a global level. Instead of being factors for mutual
peace and harmony in the world, we find that religions are a cause of more and more
contention and strife, war and bloodshed.
We must reappraise the role of religions, and reexamine our basic
views and attitudes. If religions are to play a constructive role in human development,
the foundation of views upon which they are based must be sound. People must be encouraged
to look on each other as equals, to respect and accept each other, and to look on each
other with attitudes that are harmonious.
As long as it is not yet possible to look at others in this positive
way, we can at least address the negative situation by teaching that to kill other human
beings is a sin or an unskillful act. That is, to kill a human being, of no matter what
description, denomination, race or group, is always a sin. Let us begin with this basic
Our lives are characterized by contention and conflict. If we look
into the social situation deeply we will see that the reason that such values as human
rights and religious tolerance are so important in this age is because we do live in such
an age of contention, and our thinking is so divisive and factional. While the importance
and esteem of concepts such as human rights and religious tolerance must be acknowledged,
we must also recognize that their importance is based on a world still under the influence
of divisive ways of thinking. Human thought is still largely rooted in dualism. Human
rights are our guarantee of not destroying each other while we are still under the
influence of such divisive thinking.
The concept of human rights arose from a historical background of
division, segregation and competition. They are a necessary protection from aggression
from other parties, an answer to a negative situation: when civilization is plagued by
aggression and contention, some form of protection is necessary. The cause of human rights
has led to the establishment of laws and regulations in an attempt to maintain harmony
within our society. Within developed countries these qualities are very effective and as
such are very useful to the global situation. While human rights are useful within the
environment of dissension, they are not the ideal. They are only a compromise. Compromise
is not capable of leading human beings to true unity and harmony. Compromise is a
situation in which each side agrees to give in a little to the other in order to attain
some mutual benefit. A quality of force or mental resignation is involved.
In essence, the concept of human rights has three major flaws:
Firstly, the concept itself is a result of division, struggle and
contention. The idea of human rights has been established to ensure self-preservation and
protection of mutual interests. Human rights are usually obtained by demand.
Secondly, human rights are a convention, purely human inventions
which do not exist as a natural condition. They are not "natural rights." Being
a human invention, they are not firmly founded on truth. They must be supported by laws
and they must be accepted by all parties in order to work. If human rights are to be
lasting and firm they must be connected to natural reality, and to do this human mentality
must be developed to a stage where people are prepared to honor human rights. Only in this
way will human rights be based on a natural truth and thus sustainable.
This leads us to the third flaw of the concept of human rights,
which is that they are merely conventions for social behavior. They do not delve into the
question of mental motivation. Social behavior is always connected to mental motivation,
by which it is both created and directed. If the mental foundation is faulty, even
seemingly well-intentioned acts will lead to contention.
While we must acknowledge the demands of human rights activists, we
must also analyze their quality of mind before we can clearly understand the situation.
When we look into the mental motivations behind many demands for human rights, we find
that they are often based on or influenced by aversion, resentment or fear. As long as
such feelings are there, it will be very difficult to obtain a truly good result from
human rights activities, because the basic feeling behind them is not truly harmonious.
When human rights activities are motivated by unskillful drives, the resulting behavior
will be too aggressive to obtain the required result.
Abuses of human rights must be addressed within the basic state of
mind of each individual, and this is a concern of human development. It is necessary for
us to proceed to a way of thinking, or a perception of human relations, which is more
positive. That is, we must see human beings as neighbors of this world. We are all equal
in the eyes of the natural laws, we are equally subject to the laws of nature.
However, this in itself is not yet truly positive thinking. We must
see human beings as both equal and united. There has been much talk of equality in recent
times, but it tends to be a divisive or contentious kind of equality. Such a perception of
equality leads to a competitive attitude to equal rights. It is an equality that is based
on greed, suspicion and fear. Unity is needed in order to prevent the drive for equality
from being divisive. Unity is the desire and inclination to live together, an attitude
that leads to cohesion and alliance. It is not simply a compromise on competition -- it is
the development of cooperation into harmony.
Competition must be balanced by cooperation and supported by what we
call in Buddhism metta, unlimited, unconditional, universal love. Few people
really understand goodwill or love. They may have love, but it is divisive, conditional,
exclusive and discriminative -- they have love for their own group, but not for others.
Love or goodwill must be spread everywhere, regardless of boundaries, towards all lives
that exist within the domain of the natural universe.
This does not mean that we can no longer preserve our unique
traditions and cultures. Accepting that we do have different birthplaces and backgrounds,
preservation of traditions and ethnic cultures may continue. Adapting and fitting in to
our native environments leads to harmony and well-being within that particular
environment. Ethnic cultures can and should be preserved, being intermediate unitary
stages toward the consummate global unity. Thus we have diversity within unity.
Preservation of traditions must be done with wisdom and understanding, not with delusion
or blind clinging.
If we practice correctly in regard to human development, the
population will grow from isolated groups into a more global community, one which is
harmonious both on the communal and global levels.
Well-developed human beings will be free of the quality we call in
Buddhism macchariya, covetousness or grasping, on five counts.
The five kinds of possessiveness are:
1. Grasping or avarice of locality and country.
2. Grasping or avarice of group or family, including ethnic and religious groups.
3. Grasping or avarice of material wealth.
4. Grasping or avarice of class or caste, including social standing, skin color and so
5. Grasping or avarice of knowledge and learning, including intellectual achievements
True human development is characterized by an absence of these five
kinds of avarice and culminates in their complete abandonment. When gauging human
development, the presence or absence of these five kinds of avarice should be taken into
The time has come for us to do away with these five kinds of avarice
in order to save the world from the threat of war and destruction. However, in the present
time it seems that the opposite is the case. Unlike technological development, which has
been for increased communication and interdependence, the basic mental attitude of people
in the present time is one of aggressive competition, self-preservation and protection of
personal interests at the expense of others. Human rights have become tools for protecting
personal interests. They serve to hold the world together while it lives under the
domination of divisive thinking.
I have spoken about two important attitudes or views which have
influenced human action in the present age: the antagonistic attitudes or perceptions that
view life as a struggle against fellow human beings on the one hand and the natural world
on the other. The basic human attitude is one that seeks to conquer. This kind of attitude
is no longer viable. We must learn to live harmoniously, both with each other and with the
natural environment. We have these two "friends," the human friend and the
environmental friend. They are not rivals or enemies which must be conquered, but friends
with whom we should learn to cooperate.
In order to really address these two distorted views or attitudes,
we must delve into the third basic attitude that has colored human perception, which deals
with our understanding of the basic meaning or objective of life. People have long aspired
to freedom, but their definitions of freedom are not clear or consistent. The perception
of freedom prevalent in modern civilization is absence of external restrictions, the
ability to control other people and the natural world. Such a perception of freedom
conditions the way we see other qualities in life, such as happiness. If we see freedom as
the ability to control or manipulate other things, such as by amassing material
possessions or controlling nature, then we will feel that the more material possessions we
have, the more happiness we will have.
This kind of perception has bogged down in the present time with the
deterioration of the environment, and we find that the natural resources are no longer
able to support it. It has led to a situation where we are forced to compromise. In much
the same way as we are forced to compromise with each other, we are forced to compromise
with nature. If we were to consume or seek happiness as much as our desires directed us
to, there would be no end to the ways we would manipulate nature. By doing so we would
endanger ourselves -- as world resources are depleted and the environment is damaged, our
security is threatened. And so we are forced to compromise. In order to allow nature to
continue and allow ourselves to survive, we agree to forego some of our personal
pleasures. This kind of compromise is done out of necessity, we are not truly happy with
it. It is a sacrifice made in order to survive. The reason we have reached this situation
is because of our wrong attitude.
Simply speaking, for human beings to live happily there must be
freedom on three levels.
The first freedom is the freedom to live with nature and the
environment. We could call this physical freedom. This is freedom from want and
deprivation, an adequate supply of the four basic necessities of life -- food, clothing,
shelter and medicine. This includes freedom from natural dangers, and the ability to deal
with such problems when they do arise.
Secondly, we must have freedom in our relationship with our fellow
humans. That is, to live safely together without being exploited by others.
However, these first two kinds of freedom will not be truly
effective if they are not connected to the third kind of freedom, which is inner freedom,
or personal freedom. Human development on the personal level, that which leads to inner
freedom, is the most important task for humanity now. Having physical and social freedom,
we must learn how to live independently, to be happy and contented within ourselves. This
is inner freedom. It is a happiness that is independent of externals, no longer dependent
on having to exploit nature or our fellow beings. We become more and more capable of
finding contentment within our own minds and through our own wisdom. This ability to be
contented without having to exploit nature or our fellow humans is a kind of independence
from natural and social conditions. With a more independent kind of happiness, social and
physical freedom are more assured. We will then have the best possible relationship with
both the natural environment and human society and will no longer feel the need to exploit
Internal freedom is the guarantee on which social and physical
freedom can be grounded. Without it, happiness must depend on exploitation of the external
environment. As long as there is such exploitation, physical and social freedom will not
be feasible realities. At best, there must be compromise, a situation where people are
forced to do -- or refrain from doing -- something in order to preserve the state of the
environment. If, however, there is inner freedom, a harmonious attitude to the external
environment will be possible, and humanity will attain to a true kind of happiness that is
possessed of both harmony and balance.
Human beings possess a potential for a very high level of freedom,
but because of the delusion that happiness lies in material possessions and consumption of
sense experiences, our happiness is very much tied to material objects. People these days
find it impossible to experience contentment within themselves, and they are forced to
exploit nature and their fellow human beings. Lacking the ability to be happy within
themselves, they must seek it in external conditions. The more people do this, the more
problems arise. Not only do we lack true freedom and happiness within our own lives, we
lose freedom on the physical and social levels also. Thus it seems that the more material
progress there is, the more we lose our ability to experience happiness within ourselves.
With right understanding of the meaning and objective of life and
the nature of freedom and happiness, we will relate to the physical environment in a
harmonious way. Any material possessions accruing to us will be an augmentation, rather
than the crucial factor, of our happiness.
Ultimately, human development leads to freedom from the internal
"enemies," to minds that are completely freed of the oppressive influence of
greed, hatred and delusion. When our minds are completely freed of mental defilements, we
will also be freed of mental suffering, which is the main cause of problems with the
physical and social environment. With internal freedom, it is no longer necessary to
exploit the external environment; we can instead live in a way that is truly beneficial.
Our relationship with the natural environment should be a balanced
one, one that avoids extremes. One extreme is to concentrate wholly on manipulating the
external environment. The other extreme is to completely disregard it.
It is worth noting that those who aspire to conquer nature and
manipulate it to their needs tend to see nature as an entirely external object. When
confronted with problems pertaining to internal human nature, such as when asked why they
do not do something about selfishness and hatred, they tend to counter that these things
are natural conditions for human beings. They feel that this internal nature should be
left to operate unrestrained. Thus, their perception of nature is inconsistent. Aspiring
to conquer only external nature, they do not consider that internal nature is also a
natural condition which can be conquered.
On the other hand, to simply leave nature to wander as it will is
also a mistake. The work of addressing environmental problems, seeing to the body's basic
needs of food, clothing, shelter and medicine, are necessary duties. For a correct
relationship with nature, we must see our situation in a more profound way. We must see
ourselves as part of the whole interrelated natural world, not as separate entities or
owners or controllers of nature. If we have the insight that we are part of nature, and we
see that changes in nature must also have an effect on us, our actions will be
constrained, clearly defined and balanced. In our interaction with the natural
environment, we will take into account the widest range of factors possible, enabling our
actions to be most beneficial for all concerned, including the natural environment. A
balance will be achieved. As long as we are aware of our position within the overall
natural process, we will be able to successfully act as a factor within that process. Our
actions will be guided by wisdom and right view.
In the present time there is a lot of talk about sustainable
development and gearing the economy to the ecology. For the economy to be healthy, nature
must also be healthy. This is a recognition of the necessity for compromise, as I have
mentioned earlier. True success in this regard lies with our ability to change our basic
views on the objective of life and our concepts of happiness and freedom.
Here, we cannot overlook the crucial role of the mass media in
inducing and influencing social values and the views of the general public. If the
potential of mass media and information technology is directed toward encouraging the
three fundamental skillful views and their compatible social values, instead of inducing
and intensifying greed, hatred, delusion and all manner of undesirable social values (in
which they are currently so skilled), they can be of great help in the solution of global
problems and human development.
More fundamentally, although of less prominent influence than the
mass media, is education, which should mean more than merely preparing for a job and
serving the old competitive system. It should also play a role in human development, in
which the encouragement of the three skillful attitudes or views is the objective. Right
view can be established in society through such education.
In the field of politics, democracy now rides triumphant. In
reality, however, its merit is not yet beyond question and its saving power still
doubtful. So long as democracy is dominated by the three wrong views, it will not lead us
to real peace and security. Its ideological foundation must be rectified before democracy
can realize its ideal.
Today, there seems to be an attempt to pair or even identify
democracy with capitalism, as in "democracy and the free market economy" and
"free market democracy." It is doubtful whether democracy can be ultimately
paired or identified with capitalism, or whether in fact democracy paired with capitalism
is really desirable. Capitalism and socialism, ostensibly two different and opposing
systems, are both, in reality, united under materialism and are both founded on the three
types of aggressive and divisive thinking. The collapse of communist socialism does not
spell the soundness of capitalism. On the contrary, it implies that, of the two
predominant forms of materialism, as the failure of one has been witnessed, that of the
other can be expected. Too obvious now are cries and complaints about the detrimental
effects of economic growth under the capitalist economy. In order for democracy to be
sound, it has to clear itself of such harmful elements and establish itself on a sound
ideological foundation. Economics needs not only reformation or transformation, but a
conversion in its theoretical foundation.
In essence, it is necessary to pursue economic development
concurrently and in balance with human development. Otherwise economic growth is illusory.
Sometimes economic growth is at the expense of destruction of the natural environment,
sometimes it is at the expense of one's neighbors, while sometimes it is at the expense of
human dignity. A simple example of this is in the profession of prostitution, where a
human being agrees, or is forced, to sacrifice self-esteem for purely financial
considerations. Economic growth is also illusory in that some countries with high economic
growth have very low economic security, in which case no economic growth and high economic
security may be the better alternative.
The situation now is that in order to provide happiness for a small
group of people, the larger group of people and the natural environment at large must
suffer. Even if the whole of nature were destroyed in the process of seeking happiness, we
would not find it. The Buddha once said that even a whole mountain of gold would not be
enough to keep a human being satisfied. Even were they to fight each other until the whole
of society disintegrates, people would find no happiness. Everybody is searching and
struggling for happiness, but few find it.
In the global community the old way of thinking, with its
sectarianism and rival factions, is no longer viable. It will not allow the world to live
in peace. Ethical systems in the modern world, such as restraint toward nature, religious
tolerance and human rights, are merely a compromise made to preserve or sustain the world.
They must be supported by more positive ethical standards and a new way of thinking.
In this regard, Buddhism teaches that:
1. Human beings are one element within the whole natural system of
cause and effect, in which all elements play a part. All actions within it should
therefore be harmonious and beneficial to that system.
2. All beings, both human and animal, are co-dwellers within this
system of natural laws. All living beings desire happiness and shun suffering, and all are
afraid to die. They are all the same in this, equal and sharing. There is no distinction
or segregation before the natural laws. It is not good to destroy living beings of any
description; we should rather encourage universal love and harmony, mutual help and unity.
3. The finest and noblest kind of life is that which is endowed with
freedom, and this is true happiness. Over and above external freedom, which is related to
the natural environment and the four necessities of life, and freedom from social
harassment, is the highest level of freedom -- the inner level, which results from inner
development. It is mental and intellectual maturity. This leads to an increasingly
independent kind of happiness, and this in turn enables us to relate to our external
environment and social situation in a much more constructive way.
It must be acknowledged that we do depend on our natural and social
environment, so that the first two kinds of freedom are very necessary conditions on which
to develop inner freedom. Inner freedom, in turn, is the foundation on which physical and
social freedom are based, and it is their guarantee. If human beings develop themselves
and achieve more of this inner freedom, it will no longer be necessary for us to demand
freedom from the external environment. Instead, positive ethical values will be developed.
There can be harmony without having to compromise.
In such a situation, economic growth will be balanced by human
development, which is in accordance with the objective of our meeting together as the
Parliament of World Religions, with its purpose of supporting "future collaboration
and action together for peace, the relief of suffering, and the preservation of the
If we adhere to our old views and perceptions, our striving for
happiness will ruin these three noble objectives. On the other hand, if we adopt skillful
and harmonious views and encourage the development of inner happiness, we will be able to
In Buddhism we say that a human being who has reached the highest
level of development will have completely destroyed inner greed, hatred and delusion.
However, the training is a gradual one, it requires time. For people in general, the
surest gauge of development is the absence of wrong view. If wrong view can be given up
and right view developed, then even though greed and hatred still exist, even though there
is still some selfishness, they will be on a much lesser scale. Since they are not
supported by or founded on views, they will not persist on into long-term and widespread
levels. Conversely, if greed and hatred are reinforced by views, they will have much more
intense and far reaching effects. This is why the Buddhist system of human development
stresses the elimination of wrong view.
If right view were to be incorporated into sciences and learning,
they would be well-based. The physical and applied sciences and technology would be
motivated by a pure desire for knowledge and quality of life rather than a desire to
exploit nature for selfish gain. The social sciences would not look at mankind with a
reductionistic view of human society disconnected from nature, as a collection of
scattered factions caught up in power struggles, but would instead see them as fellow
citizens of the natural world. The humanities would concern themselves with the human
effort to realize the highest quality possible for a human being, which is inner freedom.
This will in turn become a foundation for the proper development of the natural and social
Human beings in the twentieth century have created much bad kamma,
which is going to exert an influence on humanity of the twenty-first century. It is a
legacy of problems with which the citizens of the twenty-first century will have to deal.
In order to help solve these problems and ensure that the twenty-first century will be a
safe one, we must discuss ways of addressing the problems right now. If we can adapt our
views as I have mentioned here, there is a possibility that we will be able to solve them
The three views I have described here are particularly relevant to
our time and age, when the natural environment is in such a state of deterioration and
depletion. The human social world is shrinking. The time has come for us to learn to live
together, and this will only be possible when we are able to develop the freedom that is
not dependent on the external environment, and instead learn to help and support it. In
this way we will be able to experience the taste of true freedom and true happiness.
[*] Address to the 1993 Parliament of the World's
Religions in Chicago. [Back to text]
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