In relation to the prosaic affairs of everyday life, religions may take two approaches: one is to ignore them completely, to concentrate wholly on the higher aim of merging with God or realizing ultimate truth; the other is to go into great detail about such matters, telling us how to organize our will, what foods to eat and what clothes to wear. These would seem to be two extremes.
Buddhism is a teaching of moderation. As in other things, the Buddhist teachings steer a middle course, in this case between the two extremes of blindly ignoring practical daily affairs and laying down a code of rigid and inflexible rules. The Buddhist teachings offer guidelines for behavior based on timeless truthsthe positive weal created by compassionate, wise relationshipsand aimed at the ultimate goal of spiritual freedom: living in the world and yet above it.
The contents of this book are gleaned from the Pali Tipitaka and Commentaries, the texts of Theravada Buddhism, which is lived and practiced today in Thailand, Sri Lanka, Burma, Laos and Cambodia. The teachings are over 2,500 years old, but they are far from outdated. In today's egalitarian societies, in which we find all our traditional roles either torn down or under question, and in which in spite of a flood of "enlightened" ideas our lives are more confused than ever, the Buddhist teachings, dating back to a time when things were much simpler, are like a breath of fresh air in an overcrowded room. Perhaps it is time for a return to more traditional, yet more enduring, values.
When roles are based on compassion rather than exploitation, we may find that they are not the evils we thought they were, and that in fact they can simplify and harmonize our lives. Compare, for instance, the attitude of many modern people, who tend to see society as a battleground for the play of conflicting interests between the "bosses" and the "workers," with the simple teaching on "The worker and the boss".
Many people today look on life in all sectors as a struggle between conflicting intereststhe "bosses" against the "workers," the "government" against the "people," the "rich" against the "poor," and even the "women" against the "men," or the "children" against the "parents." When the aim of life is seen as material wealth or power, society becomes a struggle between conflicting personal interests, and we are in need of an ethic to protect those interests. It is a "negative ethic": society is based on selfish interests"the right of each and every person to pursue happiness"and an ethic, such as "human rights," is needed to keep everybody from cutting each other's throats in the process.
The Buddhist teachings are a "positive ethic": well-being, rather than power or riches, is the aim; society is seen as a medium through which all people have equal opportunity to maximize self-development and well-being, and ethics are used to facilitate those ends.
The teachings contained in this book are based on timeless principles: compassion, goodwill, harmony, cooperation and wisdom. To the modern cynic, they may seem idealistic, but they are not impossible. They can be put into practice. Bear in mind, however, that they are 2,500 years old. There may be one or two teachings which need to be translated into a more modern context, but I feel that the message contained herein is simple enough for the reader to glean for himself. May these teachings prove as useful to you as they do to countless Buddhists the world over.
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