The Critical role of religion should be brought into full play in the construction of a harmonious society

From:Voice of Longquan     Author:Ven. Master Xuecheng     Time:2016-01-08 20:55:58
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However, judging from the status quo of credibility loss in current society, all these three types of trust are at the risk of being lost if they are not established on the basis of an individual’s inner virtue.

If thinking about a harmonious society from the perspective of religion, we will clearly understand that a harmonious society has always been the social ideal of religion; If observing religion from the point of view of a harmonious society, we will also clearly find that religion is an irreplaceablespiritual resource. Therefore, our historic mission is to ensure that society becomes more harmonious with the presence of religion while religion becomes more holy and serene in a harmonious society.

To construct a harmonious society we need socialist spiritual civilization as the driving force. We ought to mobilize all positive social factors, unite forces from all walks of life, coordinate the interests of all sectors, and maintain fairness and justice in society, thus promoting a harmonious coexistence of human and nature. In order to develop the socialist spiritual civilization, we must inherit the fine moral traditions of the Chinese nation, absorb the outstanding achievements of civilizations of all nationalities over the world, and take maximum advantage of such achievements to jointly build a holy place for the socialist spiritual civilization. During the process we should incorporate religious civilization, the incubator for humanity’s moral culture. This is of vital significance to the one hundred million religious believers here in China because “first of all, being a cultural phenomenon, religion has been fulfilling some function of universal primitive morality in a unique way in human life. Religion and morality have demonstrated characteristics of cultural twins, speaking either from a historical point of view, from the perspective of their social cultural functions, or from their inherent spiritual nature. Secondly, looking at the key factors that normally comprise one religion in general, we can see that any wholesome religious system contains strong moral concepts or moral elements. Religion itself reflects people’s inner needs for moral emotion.” (Wan 2001: 73-75) Ever since religion has come into existence in human society, religious morality has been utilized to “divinize” secular morality and to elevate the moral state of religious believers.

For instance, Buddhism has constructed a complete rigorous moral system with the following as its basic moral codes, “Do no evils, practice all good deeds, purify your own mind.” Christians have established their complete moral system with love as its core. Islam and Taoism are no exception. Religious morality plays an invaluable and irreplaceable role in cultivating the moral integrity of believers. It is even more crucial for believers to assimilate into, serve society and contribute to society with lofty religious morality and ethics, thus actively promoting religion’s adaptation to the socialist society.

Pursuit of a harmonious and glorious society is part of human instinct. Every individual hopes to leave behind suffering, and obtain peace. This has been the ultimate pursuit of human beings. In the current age of globalization when everyone is more closely interconnected, the social environment we live in has a direct impact on and consequently determines our happiness or suffering. Only a harmonious society could possibly bring us more true peace and happiness.

Confucius, revered as the greatest sage and educator by the Chinese, spent all his life pursuing the Grand Union (The Classic of Rites, Chapter Li Yun, trans. James Legge) so that a public and common spirit could rule all under the sky, while Buddhism advocates the practice of Bodhisattava path, construction of a society of the Ten Virtues and eventual realization of the perfect Buddhist Pure Land. All these goals are in accordance with the objective of building a harmonious society our government has called for.

More than two thousand five hundred years ago, Shakyamuni Buddha founded Buddhism in hope of relieving humans from afflictions and sufferings, and guiding all humans to understand the truth of life, the truth of suffering and happiness, and the path of liberation from suffering and achieving happiness, to bring people peace, serenity, and wisdom. Ever since Buddhism was introduced into China, it has gradually assimilated into the traditional Chinese culture, and become an integral part of the Chinese civilization. Since then, noble monks and virtuous people have for generations followed Buddha’s steps in pursuit of the true meaning of Buddha Dharma and lived up to Buddha’s spirit of serving the living beings, benefiting the world selflessly and impartially with compassion and mercy, and their precious lives.

In Chinese history, the general public from the common folks to the nobility have all been impacted by Buddhist ideas, and have therefore accepted Buddhist values. They have helped influence the governing class to be more politically fair and transparent and have maintained honesty and kindness among ordinary folks, thus giving rise to an environment where high values were held in esteem, and humane people with lofty ideals were cultivated. Many eminent monks and virtuous people, through their religious pursuit and practice, generated positive and far-reaching influence on the nation and society and have brought people true benefits.

For instance, Venerable Master Xuanzang travelled thousands of kilometers despite all hardships to India in order to bring back the Buddhist scriptures, which promoted communication, understanding, transmission and exchanges between the two nations. He translated Buddhist scriptures and promoted Buddhism, making great contributions to social stability, economic prosperity and cultural development of the Tang Dynasty. Venerable Master Jianzhen traveled eastward six times to Japan at the risk of his own life, endured many hardships and finally brought Buddha Dharma successfully to ancient Japan along with culture, art, architecture, medicine and pharmacy, science and technology of the Tang Dynasty, which greatly advanced the harmony and progress of the entire Japanese society. He was therefore regarded as the great benefactor of the Japanese culture.

In particular, over the past two decades since China’s reform and opening up, the national policy on freedom of religious belief has been continuously implemented comprehensively and correctly, the positive aspects of Buddhism that are beneficial to social development and progress have been continuously valued and the social function of Buddhism fulfilled. The development of Buddhism has been able to well integrate into the harmonious socialist society. Meanwhile, the self-development and promotion of Buddhism to benefit all living beings, the social charity work as well as international communication and overseas friendship activities have made great contributions to the stability, harmony and prosperity of society and will continue to do so.

Humanistic Buddhism aims at building a pure land on the earth. Under current circumstances, we respond actively to the government’s call for constructing a harmonious society, which echoes with the idea of building a pure land on the earth in terms of direction, objective and implication.

From the events Buddhist circles have sponsored successfully in 2004, we can see the positive contributions Buddhism has made in building a harmonious society. Last year, the Buddhist Orchestra from the mainland of China and Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Choir from Taiwan, formed a united Chinese Buddhism Music Orchestra for the first time. The Orchestra traveled to Taiwan, Macau, Hong Kong as well as the United States and Canada in two separate tours and gave nine joint performances, generating enormous impact and achieving great success. These events have produced positive results in promoting the Buddhist culture, enhancing national sentiment, strengthening Dharma ties and kinship among Buddhists across the Straits and promoting the great cause for peaceful reunification of the country. It has also demonstrated to the world the unity and integration between the Buddhist circles across the Straits and greatly advanced the internationalization of the glorious traditional Chinese culture.

Last October, the Seventh Conference on Friendly Exchanges of Buddhism for China, Korea and Japan was held in Beijing and has successfully achieved important goals. At the conference, the importance of the Golden Bond between the Buddhist circles in the three countries was highly recognized for helping maintain peace in Asia and the world as a whole. Featuring the theme of “New Vision for the Golden Bond,” the conference summarized the prolific achievements and fundamental experiences accumulated over the past ten years since the first such conference was held. Venerable masters from the four locations across the Taiwan Straits (the mainland of China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan) have called for the World Buddhism Forum to be held in China in due time, which received unanimous support and enthusiastic response from the delegates.

On December 26, 2004, a strong earthquake in the waters off the Sumatra Island in Indonesia triggered a great tsunami which affected 12 countries and regions in South Asia and Africa, claiming the lives of over 200,000 people, and leaving several millions homeless. It was one of the rarest and gravest natural disasters that ever happened worldwide. On December 28, the Buddhism Association of China immediately sent condolence messages to the Buddhist organizations in the disaster-stricken countries. Meanwhile, it issued emergency notices to the Buddhist associations and major temples in all provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities nationwide calling for the fourfold assembly of disciples to hold Dharma assemblies for expiating the sins of the dead and relieving suffering and praying for blessings, as well as to raise funds and make contributions out of compassion for the victims affected by the earthquake and tsunami.

On January 1, 2005, the Buddhist Association of China held at the Lingguang Temple in the West Mountains in Beijing the “Great Assembly of Thousands of Monks from Hundreds of Temples across the Straits Donating Ten Million for Relieving Sufferings and Disasters and Praying for Blessings.” Almost 10,000 people, including relevant government leaders, representatives from all sectors of society, venerable masters and virtuous people from across the Straits, and fourfold assembly of disciples of Buddhism attended the Assembly despite the severe cold. Donations of 9.93 million RMB were collected right on the spot and were transferred to the victims in respective countries through the Red Cross Society of China. Among all social organizations, the Buddhist Association of China was the first to hold such an assembly and to call for donations. The sum raised was the largest among the donations the Red Cross Society of China had received. It set a good example and generated positive and far-reaching influence in society.

“It has always been the social ideal of human beings to realize social harmony and to build a splendid society,” said President Hu Jintao.② According to the new requirements of China's economic and social development of the new stage in the new century and the new trend and features appeared in our society, we should construct a harmonious socialist society that is democratic and law-based, fair and just, trustworthy and friendly, full of vigor and vitality, secure and orderly, and in which man and nature are in harmony. To be democratic and law-based means that the socialist democracy is fully implemented, the fundamental strategy of governing by law is widely practiced, and all positive factors from different sectors are fully utilized. To be fair and just means that interests among all sectors are coordinated, internal contradictions among people and other social contradictions are fully addressed, and social fairness and justice are safeguarded and fulfilled. To be honest and friendly means people of the entire society help each other and are honest and credible, equal and friendly, thus living in harmony. To be full of vigor and vitality means that every initiative to promote the progress of society is respected, every act carrying out such initiatives is supported, innovative capacity is promoted, and innovations acknowledged. To be secure and orderly means that the social mechanism is wholesome and solid, social management is comprehensive and refined and social order is well-balanced, with all people living and working in peace and contentment, making the society stable and united. That man and nature are in harmony means that productivity is increasing, people are living wealthy lives in a balanced ecology. All these basic characteristics are interrelated and interactive and we need to take a holistic view in the process of building a well-off society in an all-round way.

Buddhist monasteries are not only the holy places where monastic Buddhists practice the Way, but also the place where lay people come to attend religious activities for rich spiritual and cultural lives. Through learning and experiencing the primitive simplicity, peace and serenity of the temple life they are relaxed both physically and mentally after intense work. What’s more, Buddhist monasteries are important vehicles of traditional cultures, where people get nurtured, learn more about Buddhism, and get inspired by the wisdom of the ancient nobles and sages. Their hearts get nourished, with inner pains and afflictions resolved.

As monastic Buddhists who administer the temples and maintain the Buddha Dharma, we must fully promote the positive functions of the temples. This is in fact protecting the good nature of people and the harmony of society. Buddhism’s most crucial missions include educating, guiding and assisting the fourfold assembly of disciples. First is the mentoring of the monastic Buddhists. The goal is to cultivate them into outstanding religious teaching staff with wisdom, compassion, being able to adapt to today’s society through preaching and learning of Buddhist scriptures and sustained religious practice. Second, it is a must for the Sangha to educate lay Buddhists, and a major part of its job of promoting Buddha Dharma and bringing benefits to all. Buddhism educates lay people to love their country and religion, comply with laws and rules, and implement the pure and perfect teachings of the Buddha in their social practice “Do no evils, practice all good deeds,” and conform to the Five Precepts and Ten Virtues as their behavioral norms. Inspired by religious beliefs and striving to do all that is good, lay Buddhists are creating a harmonious and wonderful environment for themselves, their families and society. In addition, Buddhism actively encourages all major monasteries across the country to hold different kinds of Dharma assemblies on traditional Buddhist holidays, such as Dharma assemblies to set captive animals free. Such assemblies can influence people, educate them to respect and cherish lives, and to protect the environment, thus helping facilitate harmonious relationships between man and nature, and among all sentient beings.

The assemblies can also help guide and educate the fourfold assembly of disciples and all participants to learn about compassion and wisdom of the Buddha, to behave compassionately towards others, to have afflictions purified and mind uplifted. This is to understand and solve the issue of suffering and happiness in our life at a profound level, and to care for and provide spiritual assistance to all sentient beings. Only with a peaceful and kind heart will it be possible to have harmonious families and happy lives, and to construct a harmonious society.

It is the foundation of a harmonious society to establish a harmonious relationship between people, and further among all social sectors, different ethnic groups and professions in our society. As for the realization of harmonious interpersonal relationships, Confucius said, “What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.” (Confucian Analects, Chapter 15 Wei Ling Gong, trans. James Legge) Buddhist scripture,Jataka Tales tells us, “Who knoweth this great Truth — that Life is one/In all, and how all pain originates,/He hurteth not his one hand with his other,/Knowing that he himself will suffer pain.” (403, cf., Rost 2000: 41) All great religions hold teachings asking people to get along well with others, to treat each other with equality, to be understanding and tolerant, to show compassion and love for all. The broad masses of religious believers in China have proved this with their own practice.

It is a systematic project to build a harmonious socialist society, and it requires concerted efforts of all sectors of society to share the responsibility. In this process religious circles have always been entrusted with a high sense of social responsibility and historic mission.

Religion is not, as some people hold, just a harbor for a lost empty heart, nor only a nice set of guidelines for ethical and moral standards, nor should we reduce it to just an argument for justifying supernaturalism. Instead, religion vigorously admonishes people to keep the right attitude towards living, that is, to love people, cherish things and revere the Creator. It not only encourages people to seek Heaven or the Pure Land of Bliss after death, but also advises them to value and cherish life at the present moment. It provides comfort and encouragement for an empty heart and advocates the Golden Rule that “one should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself.” in response to daily life dilemmas. It also offers supernatural responses and the ultimate homeland in response to the feeling of being lost in face of impermanence in the present-day world. All of these are the positive social function of religion.

While religion has been playing positive role in human society, there is no denial that there are some chaotic phenomena, such as making huge profits illegally, violating relevant laws and regulations, or gathering a crowd to make trouble; all of these events conducted in the name of religion have more or less cast a layer of shadow on religion. It’s true that one may see the disappointing, negative side of religion when one is trying to seek help from it for the fundamental issues of life. But if one still feels drawn to joining a religious organization and to believing in a religion or sect despite the conflicts between the positive and negative sides of religion, then that’s what is called faith.

However, one’s religious faith should not be just confined to being touched emotionally, or acquiring theoretical knowledge or thoughts. He needs to go further and take real actions in real life. He shouldn’t join a religious community just because of feeling touched, or having a sense of recognition with its religious teachings. Instead, he should observe and practice the religious precepts, rules and ethical standards, and devotedly participate in religious work and activities. Not only should he apply vitality he draws from religion to personal ethical and moral life, but also participate in activities caring for others at different social levels. Thus, one’s religious belief will be reflected in his everyday life, and vice versa.

As the crystallized human wisdom and the major achievements of human civilizations, what roles do traditional religions play in modern society? What enlightenment will they offer for humans today to confront dilemmas and crises? To take contemporary China as a specific case, what kinds of unique spiritual resources can religions offer to the construction of a harmonious society? These are all big tasks before us requiring us to make unremitting efforts to come up with a satisfactory answer that will not fail this great time.

Let’s first take a look at the concept of equality. As far as we know, liberty, equality and fraternity, the core concepts of modern morality in the West, originated in Renaissance humanism between the end of the 14thcentury and the 16thcentury in Europe, developed further in social and political theories and moral philosophies in Britain and Continental Europe in the 17thcentury. They finally acquired their full expressions during the Age of Enlightenment and the French Revolution during the 18th century. They have been established by Western society as core values during the subsequent 300 years. Many scholars have noted that the core values of the modern Western morality have their roots directly in Christian civilization and the Medieval Scholasticism. The Old Testament says: “He (God) will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death. He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight.” (Ps. 72:13-14 New International Version) The New Testament states, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt. 22:39) The Galatians says, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:26-28)

From this we can tell that Christian love is the love of God, which encompasses all human beings and transcends gender, ethnic groups, religious sects and regions,and manifests the spirit of equality in Christianity. In Islamic doctrine, man is created by Allah and all are equal. Taoism holds: “Heaven, Earth and I come into being together, and all things and I are one,” (Chuang Tzu’sDiscussion on Making All Things Equal, trans. James Legge) which highlights the spirit of equality.

Here I’d like to mainly elaborate on the Buddhist view on equality. Buddhism, based on the insights of “all sentient beings possessing Buddha nature” and of “the equality of Buddha nature,” has reached the conclusion that “all sentient beings are equal.” Daosheng, an eminent Buddhist scholar in the Six Dynasty Period, said inCommentary on the Lotus Sutra, “Thus I heard that all sentient beings are bound to achieve Buddhahood.” Therefore, the concept of equality is not only an extremely important means of observing the world, but also should be the genuine experience after discovering the Mind and seeing the true nature.

Observing the world on an equal footing means understanding everything from the viewpoint of generality other than individuality, ultimately realizing indiscrimination among the mind, the Buddha and all sentient beings. Following the concept of equality come naturally the Six Principles of Reverent Harmonies as the living and organizational principles of democracy and equality for the Sangha.③ Hence,naturally appears the Karma system that fully reflects the internal equality and democracy within the Sangha, and the idea of cherishing lives and non-killing. The concept of equality in Buddhism is not based on such perspectives as external equality of economic or political status, equal opportunity for receiving education, equal rights for men and women or equal legal status, nor is it obsessed with being equal on the starting point, on the rules to play by, on the outcomes or opportunities. Instead, Buddhism seeks after the ultimate, complete equality which exist in its whole process and work on us first from our inner nature and the ultimate value of life. Although these concepts of equality across different religions differ in perspectives and foci, all are inspiring and referential to the construction of a harmonious society, and offer direct guidance for religious believers.

Next, let’s turn to the concepts of honesty and credibility. We all know that honesty and credibility are the foundation by which one lives and a nation stands. As social capital honesty and credibility are of vital importance to the economic development and social harmony of a country or an ethnicity. Therefore, all great thinkers since ancient times have attached great importance to honesty and credibility. The elaboration about them has appeared as many as 38 times in theConfucian Analects.

Socialist Anthony Giddens believes that trust is a type of structure, that is, for what do we believe? He holds that there are two major structures of trust. One is the personality trust, and the other is the institutional trust, which consists of the trust for currency and the trust for experts. (Of course all of the three types of trust can be regarded as simplified institutions as addressed by Niklas Luhmann. Giddens believes that personality trust in fact is the trust in acquaintances; and trust in currency is a kind of trust that goes with the crowd while trust in experts is a system of Trinity that consists of scientific knowledge, diplomas and peers. However, judging from the status quo of credibility loss in current society, all these three types of trust are at the risk of being lost if they are not established on the basis of an individual’s inner virtue.

Common phenomena of cheating acquaintances, typically the pyramid selling schemes where even relatives and friends fall victims, and the delivering of counterfeit currency, plus a variety of malpractices such as using personal connections to alter scores on qualification tests, results in thesis defense for master and doctoral degrees and evaluation of professional titles, etc., all suffice to kill any of the above mentioned trust system. Of course, the establishment of the credit investigation system, the default punishment mechanism, and the credit supervision system are of crucial importance to the formation of social credit. But it’s all the more essential to cultivate one’s inner honesty and morality, for credit cannot be implemented in many fields of social life including one’s emotional and family lives and interpersonal communication. Cheating others’ feelings, playing two-sidedness, and betraying others are all beyond the realm of social credit system, and thus cannot be restrained. Furthermore, any sound credit system will either be shunned by dishonest people, or been taken advantage of due to gaps in the system and the absence of an individual’s inner credibility.

However for religion, credibility is directly established on the basis of one’s inner beliefs and manifested through one’s inherent virtue, therefore it stands unbreakable and solid. The Quran stresses that Muslims must be honest, “O ye who believe! Fear Allah and be with those who are true (in word and deed). (The Quran, Al-Tawba 9:119, trans. Abdullah Yusuf Ali) “O ye who believe! fulfil (all) obligations.”(The Quran, Al-Ma’ida 5:1, trans. Abdullah Yusuf Ali) Taoism asks people to match their words with action and be honest. (The Corpus of the Scripture on Great Peace) The Bible holds, “The Lord preserves the faithful.” (Ps. 31:23) “The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in people who are trustworthy.” (Prov. 12:22)Buddhism lists abstinence from false speech as one of the Five Precepts.Maha-ratnakuta Sutrasays never to tell a lie even if that means to risk one’s life. All the traditional religions require their believers to build their honesty around their beliefs and regard it as the entry point for their religious practice. This has exerted direct and profound impact on the formation of the disciples’ honesty and morality, and the great effects are obvious for all to see. To a true disciple, the first and foremost is to be an honest person.

Buddhism came into being at a time when the slave-owning system was prevalent in India. In order to maintain their reign and protect the slave system, the Aryans implemented a rigid hierarchy, i.e. the caste system across all Indian states. The priestly caste was called Brahmana, the caste of warriors was Ksatriya, the caste of peasants, merchants and artisans was Vaisya and finally the caste of aboriginals and slaves was Sudra. Brahmanism declared that Brahma, the superior lord who created the entire universe, gave birth to Brahmanas from his mouth, Ksatriyas from his shoulder, Vaisyas from his knees and Sudras from his feet. The social status, noble or humble, honorable or wretched, was thus determined. Brahmana and Ksatriya comprised the ruling caste of the society and exploited the slaves from the caste of Sudra ruthlessly.

The Manu Code stipulates that it’s forbidden to offer any advice, any leftover on one’s table, or any sacrifices to Sudras. Anyone that kills a Brahmana will be executed but Sudras can be expelled or massacred at will. The religious tradition requires only one simple bath after one kills a Sudra. Sudras who were known as Dalits suffered not only physically, but also spiritually. Only the top three castes were allowed to read the Veda, the scripture of Brahmanism, and the humble had no access to it. The first two superior castes and the last two inferior castes were not allowed to intermarry, and share food or drink together.

This shows that Indian society at that time was not very harmonious, with social interest not well coordinated, social contradictions sharp and complex, social castes hostile towards each other, and social order unstable. Witnessing this situation, Shakyamuni Buddha founded Buddhism with great vows of compassion, dauntless spirit and broad mind. He advocated equality of all living beings and peace between all states, and called for mercy and compassion benefiting the world with loving-kindness and compassion, quenching the flames of hatred, greed and ignorance burning within the hearts of every caste in society with his refreshing Dharma rain and sweet dew. He provided the remedy for Indian society at that time and an immortal spiritual resource for future human society to live in harmony as well.

Published onThe Voice of Dharma,Journal of the BAC, No. 256, Dec., 2005.

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