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Singalovada Sutta and modern society
The Lake house

Colombo -- 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 world.

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.

Today the 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 spiritual.

Moreover, the 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.

Whereas 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.

Also publication 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.


Updated: 21-8-2001

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