Wisdom brings to the individual his happiness and bliss and enables
him realise the truth and reality of the universe and attain perfection.
But he has a debt to society. He must need discharge his duties
by the world. This is the function of Karuna. The tree bears fruit
for the enjoyment of birds, beasts and men. The perfected being
bears his wisdom for the benefit of his society. He lives in the
world but is not hampered by it. He is in the world but not of the
world (loke thito lokena anupalitto). The man who seeks to perfect
himself and goes out into the world to make others seek perfection
for themselves is the bodhisattva. His function is to seek to elevate
and to civilise human life at all times and everywhere. The bodhisattva
is the true disciple of the Buddha, the preceptor and the exemplar
of the life of the lotus.
Karuna makes us look at the world with different eyes. The vision
of truth gives us a passion for service to mankind. We begin to
recognise that the problems of the individual are causally connected
with the problems of the world. We begin to dedicate ourselves to
the noblest of all consecrations, namely, service to our fellow
men. Our life is a constant pilgrimage to perfection and our sorrows
are inextricably bound up with those of our fellows in society.
Inner change in head and heart is primary and necessary for individual
perfection. But for social betterment inner change alone is not
enough. We must also effect an outer change in our environment in
terms of institutions.
There are two basic tendencies at work in the historical process.
The first tendency makes us uphold and defend those institutions
which are hallowed by age and tradition. But life is in flux and
everything in our lives is subject to change. New social contexts
make older institutions futile and outmoded. Our temptation to hold
fast to established institutions makes us conservatives determined
to perpetuate the status quo. This brings about the second tendency
to react to the old order, to call its validity in question and
to seek to overthrow it in one way or another. When these two tendencies
come in conflict there is progress and betterment at the end of
debate and discussion. This is the dialectics of history as taught
by the Buddha in consonance with his dynamic view of social evolution
and functional origin of the growth of society.
Change is a simple truth but full of profound possibilities. People
change for better or for worse. Karuna gives us the determination
and resolve to make every instance of change to manifest itself
as a change for the better. The disciple of the Buddha sees in the
doctrine of impermanence the fascinating possibilities for individual
and social betterment. The conquest of the self leads the disciple
to sacrifice his career for the common good of his society and community.
The Buddha is the living embodiment of the Dhamma. The Dhamma is
likened to the lotus. The lotus dominates the symbolism of Buddhist
art. The lotus represents the Buddha and his Dhamma at once. The
Buddha statue rests on the lotus. The mural paintings in the Buddhist
temple depict the lotus. The lotus is the simile and metaphor par
excellence of the poets and writers who sing the praise of the Buddha
and his Dhamma, The lotus is the flower par excellence which the
devotee places at the feet of the Buddha in paying him homage and
INTRODUCING THE WRITER
Professor W.S. Karunaratne PhD. (Lond).
F.L Woodward Prize winner of the School of Oriental and African
Studies, University of London. Served as Professor of Buddhist Philosophy.
University of Ceylon. He passed away in 1986.
Courtesy: BUDDHIST ESSAYS Publisher: Indunil Karunaratne