-- The contents of the above named Sutta is mentioned when and where there is an alms
giving ceremony (Sangika Dana) by the lay to the Sanga in Sri Lanka. It occurred to me to
reflect on this subject with my experience in the post modern practice of Buddhism in the
West. With its interest in encouraging what we call "Family Man" to create space
from the family, in order to strengthen and deepen ones practice.
My interest in the
subject and the conclusions that I have come to became more convincing when looking at the
lives of my professionally and academically trained colleagues and friends. The cream and
the gifted people in the traditional Buddhist countries are almost sleeping when I, with
my limited experience, look at their counterpart in the West.
What actually is the
background of the Singalovarda Sutta? Once when the Buddha was walking, we are told, he
saw a young Bhramin, who after his ritual bath, worshipped six directions. The Buddha
advised this young man to worship his six areas of life rather than the directions of the
They are, we are
told, his social, economic and spiritual relationships such as family (parents, children,
wife) teachers, friends, employees, servants and holy men.
This shows the
importance given by the Buddha to all these areas. It is not just his family, but the
other five areas, all given the same importance by the Buddha.
At that time the
Indian society was composed, as it is today, of these six areas and Buddha advised him to
worship all directions equally. Social structure was such that it was much easier than
today to do so. There was a large extended family in the first place, and men, and women
had their own friends and much more of their time was spent in single sex activities.
Whereas in the modern society, the equal emphasis which should be given to these six
areas, has shifted into one area (i.e. nuclear family), and it is becoming increasingly
problematic in the modern society. We are somewhat lucky, we still have some kind of an
extended family, when compared to the modern West.
However, when other
factors such as economic pressures and our obsession for pushing our children, without
regard to their abilities, for sophisticated professions is taken into consideration,
modern man in the West has more conducive conditions to be "creative" than in
the developing world, despite the fact that he has almost no extended family.
significance of the nuclear family (mother, father and two poor three children) has spread
all over the world. Added to this, the economic pressures, higher standards of living and
expectations of each family is so prominent that there is hardly any time for one to think
away from one's own family.
2500 years ago man
and woman in India had more other friends, and they spent more time out of their family.
Today conditions are such that the husband and wife depend on each other much more.
The husband expects
his wife to perform all the roles, such as mother, wife, sister, friend, teacher etc. and
vice versa. This over- emphasis appears to make man and woman less creative and less
influence of the Christian missionaries during the last 500 years in Sri Lanka is so big
that we Buddhist, who used to consider marriage a social contract, tend to think as
Christians. That is to say that Marriage is a sacrament (a contract made with the God).
Monogamous marriage-one wife one husband- is a Christian idea and any other arrangements
are considered a sin.
traditionally Buddhist countries accepted other form of sexual relationships. There seems
to be a total reversal. Most families, in traditional Buddhist countries go on living
together amids increasing unhappiness and conflicts. How can there be peace, freedom and
creativity in these conditions? In contrast to the West, there is little interest in the
marriage and a tendency to consider it a social contract.
In addition, in the
post modern West the views on other forms of sexual practices, such as homosexuality are
increasingly becoming liberal and accepted. Whereas traditionally Buddhist countries,
which used to be more tolerant than the West, such practices are almost taboo now.
Buddhism talks about
masculine and feminine energy - Chinese call it Ying and Yan - and it is said that serious
Buddhist practice will lead one to integrate the two energies. Once fully integrated
opposite sex becomes a non issue. Hence, space between man and woman is a pre-requisite,
and living in a nuclear family situation seems to work again this process. It seems to go
in the other direction, rather than helping to integrate, spending more and more time with
one's wife tends to polarize the masculine and famine energies.
In the post modern
western ideas, such as these are given more prominence. For instance people like Robery
Bly, poet in the US talks about the loss of manliness in the modern world. He shows
compellingly how the modern man depends so much on the opposite sex.
such as Ball Breaking convincingly demonstrate, how the modern man has become emotionally
dependent on women. Women have little to celebrate as it goes against the independence of
women as well.
The Sutta was
important during the Buddha's time, where people had space and time away from their
families. Now the social structure is different, we have been drawn into the nuclear
family and to a large extent have lost the other five areas.