Mission of the Buddha was for the good of many and or the welfare of many (bahujanahitāya bahujansukhāya). It was a mission to spread awareness in human society against evil things and evil deeds. He started this mission for delivering man from all kinds of sufferings. While its primary interest has been moral and spiritual, it was also related to other aspects of life including the social aspect which we are concerned with here.
Earlier to Buddha the condition of Indian society was truly pathetic. Then religion was exactly in that very form, as Marx described; religion as a means to provide psychological satisfaction and hope, although man remained actually in misery. He famously called religion as the opium of the masses. I think for that time the explanation of religion was quite suitable because religion was remain only bunch of blind faith and confusions. This was leading Indian society towards down fall.
As soon as Buddha appeared in India, the definition of religion has been changed. He destroyed that all fake believes which was exactly opium in nature. He made the religion worth full for human society. He changed the nature of religion in a form that the German sociologist, Emile Durkheim defined as a social fact, and as a means to provide social cohesion.
When the Buddha appeared on the Indian scene, masses of the country were suffering under the dead weight of the age-old caste system. While a few enjoyed all the rights and privileges, the majority were deprived of them. The irony of it was that the system was maintained in the name of religion. The Buddha was the lord of compassion. He could not remain indifferent to the injustice done to millions of people. He fought several battles against the social evils prevalent in the contemporary society and the greatest battle was fought on the caste front.
When Buddha appeared on the scene, caste system was a burning question of the day. He organised a regular movement against it. Buddha firstly tried to found out the root cause of this system. He found the main source of this mentality was lying in Vedas, which was infallible scripture for then society. Nobody can dare to raise voice against this scripture’s validity. But Buddha questioned the infallible character of the statements on caste system in the Vedas. He strongly refuted the hereditary superiority and the inherent superiority.
As hereditary teachers Brahmins also claimed that spiritual achievements could be made by them alone. Buddha refuted this claim too. He pointed out that every human being equally qualified to attain inner purity and burn the light of supreme knowledge within. In the case of animal life and plant life there are different species and varieties based on essential characteristics. But, so far as the essential characteristics are concerned, humanity is one. The distinctions sought to be maintained by the caste institution are arbitrary in character. The Buddha pointed out that the real worth of a man was to be judged not according to his birth in this or that family, nor according to the so called caste distinctions, but according to his conduct. So, the Buddha set conduct as the criterion of superiority and inferiority. This aspect has been dealt with in the Brāhmaņa-Vagga of Dhammapada and Vāseṭṭha Sutta.
Buddha not only raised voice against this social malpractice but set in his practical life in this respect. He practised what he preached. Hence he was known as ‘Yathākārī tathāvādī’. He used to have alms and used to drink water from every kind of person without any discrimination. He let open the doors of his Sanga for the members of all castes without any distinction. Thousands of so called lower caste people entered in Sanga and attained the supreme level of humanity. Thus they proved that superior and inferior is not by birth but by conduct how the one behaves his or her life. Thus, the Buddha used all possible means for the promotion of equality and brotherhood among the members of his order.
Buddha’s this revolution orthodox section of so called high caste, Purohitas, who had made priest-craft the profession of their life, strongly opposed. But the same time those great scholars who born in that high caste but not been bind by blind orthodox system; they melted down by truth presentation of Buddha. They became the best disciples and played an important role in that cultural and spiritual movement which, in course of time, was to influence the greater part of the world. Buddha’s teachings spread abroad as a cultural and spiritual force but Buddha’s own home land it spread both as a cultural force and a social movement. It worked for the removal of the evils of the contemporary society.
During the 6 th century BC, the status of women in the Indian society was servile, degraded and miserable. Not only in India it was the practice then all over the world, the people of the world scenario held a poor opinion of the intelligence and ability of women. But the Buddha and his disciple held a different opinion. He brought remarkable changes to human society in regard to the annihilation of evil customs and emancipation of women within the Buddhist world. There are several passages in Tripitika which corroborate Buddha’s view towards women empowerment. Thus he was the first in the world who gave equal position to women in human sphere.
In Buddhist treaties there are lots of teachings on fraternity, unity and equality. Buddha emphasized on these qualities. He said these are very fundamental qualities, if a nation wants to have prosperity in own country. once while sojourning at Vaishāli addressing the Vajjis Buddha said- “as long as they would continue to hold their Assembly meetings regularly-as long as they would meet in concord, rise in concord, and carry out their undertakings in concord-as long as they enact nothing not already established, abrogate nothing that has been already enacted, and act in accordance with the ancient institutions of the Vajjis-as long as they honour, esteem, revere and support Vajjian elders, and hold it a point to listen to their words of wisdom-as long as their women and girls are honoured-as long as they honour and support their shrines-as long as they provide rightful protection and support to saints visiting and residing in their country, so long as they would continue to prosper and not decline.’ In fact the sincerely observance of these conditions would make for unity and solidarity of any society. Buddha strongly recommended to the laymen to inculcate the five rules which would lead to peace, happiness and prosperity of the individual and the society. The house-holder has been strongly advised to shun the association of evil companions and cultivate the friendship of good people.[footnoteRef:1] Buddha gave an elaborate explanation of the duties of children and parents, pupils and teachers, husbands and wives, friends and colleagues, masters and servants, devotees and saints. In each case the duties have been specified. The principles enunciated in Buddha’s teachings are as much valid today as they were more than twenty five centuries ago. [1: Chulpuņņam Sutta, Sappurisa Sutta – Majjima Nikāya]
No society can be stable without some moral principles. Every religion has laid down rules of conduct for its followers. While some are narrow others are wider in scope, Buddhism is said to be an art of living life. This way is represented by the Noble Eight-fold Path.
Thus, immense value of Buddhism lies in stressing the moral background of political, economic and social problems. Its plea for the elevation of moral personality can alone be the solid citadel on which political, economic and social peace can be built.
New Ground Covered in Present Studies
Buddhism has indeed created a social pattern according to its own convictions of goodness and rightness; and in this pattern there is certain social philosophy. This philosophy Buddhism is now seeking to articulate, implement and relate to the present situation. To the consideration of that philosophy and its implementation we shall now turn in what follows:
We may begin by noting that the general cultural context out of which Buddhism developed was religio-pilosophical rather than socio-political in its genius and outlook. And though Buddhism had important social repercussions, it was not basically or consciously a social reform movement aiming at the production of a certain type of society. Buddhism deals not with man in society or among his fellows, but with the individual man facing his eternal destiny. And it turns man supremely towards seeking a good above all space and time order.
Here in my work, I have tried to find out the answers of these questions: Does personal virtue carry directly over into social virtue? And are the two actually the same in fact? Does individual progress mean the same as social progress?
The individual progress is, indeed, the social progress. In other words the goodness of society is but the sum of the goodness of its component individuals. Good personal character will result in good community character; which will in turn result in good national character; which will in turn produce good international relations. If every individual gains peace within his own heart, then world-peace will come spontaneously. Therefore, the method of working for social goodness/afflux and world-peace is primarily to cleanse one’s own heart of greed, hatred, and delusion. And since these latter are nourished by the illusion of the reality of the self, one should begin to work for world-peace by purifying himself of the error of self-illusion through meditation. In Buddhism core of the ignorance is self-illusion. Ignorance of self-illusion is the root cause of every mischievous thing. It is said in Bodhicaryāvatāra thus:
“All the joy the world contains
Has come through wishing happiness for others.
All the misery the world contains
Has come through wanting pleasure for oneself.”[footnoteRef:2] [2: Bodhicaryāvatāra. Śānti Deva, Chapter 8 th, verse No. 129.]
No one can permanently free from problems until or unless this ignorance is been uprooted. Antidote of this Ignorance is wisdom. Wisdom is only cure for this mental disease. For this reason Buddha emphasized strictly on cultivating of wisdom. Or in other words we can say the Buddha emphisize on education, education for everyone, so that one can understand what is to do and what is not do, or what is good to do or what is not good to do, or what brings happiness or what brings suffer.
When we go through the various teachings of Buddha, it becomes very clear that whole Buddha’s teachings are somehow, directly or indirectly focusing on to cultivate the wisdom. That is why Ācārya Śānti Deva said,
“All these secondary factors are preached by Buddha in order to awakening the wisdom. Therefore those whosoever wants to get free from suffering must cultivate the wisdom by any means.”[footnoteRef:3] [3: Bodhicaryāvatāra, 9 th Chapter, verse no. I st]
Wisdom is nothing but to know the reality of existence as it is. That is called right view. And to see the things beyond from their reality that is wrong view, which is the cause of suffering. Therefore, here with full of conviction, It can be said that the wisdom is the key factor of Buddha’s teachings. And this is the core factor of Buddhist education. from getting Enlightenment to till Māhāparinirvāņa, Buddha’s primary mission was to educate the society by teaching how to cultivate the wisdom or right view, so that they can free themselves from social and individual turmoil. Ācārya Śānti Deva lucidly explained thus;
“For beings long to free themselves from misery,
But misery itself they follow and pursue.
They long for joy, but in their ignorance
Destroy it, as they would their foe.”[footnoteRef:4] [4: Bodhicaryāvatāra. Śānti Deva, Chapter Ist, verse No. 28.]
Buddha himself says in some of his teachings that he sees no single factor so responsible for the arising of unwholesome states of mind as wrong view, and no factor so helpful for the arising of wholesome states of mind as right view. Again he says that there is no single factor as responsible for the suffering of living beings as wrong view, and no factor so potent in promoting the good of living beings as right view. For that reason Buddha always did effort to eradicate the wrong view or ignorance and cultivate the right view or wisdom in human being so that they can get free from suffering.
Today in this contemporary life many of us may not be seeing the significance of Buddha’s teachings in social life, but the truth is; today its significance has multiplied than the Buddha’s time. It is because all illusions and delusions and defilements are due to ignorance. Due to ignorance defilements arise in mind. When mental defilements get arise, they project out as evil deeds, which create chaos in one’s personal life and as well as in society. Compare to Buddha’s time, today’s problems are much more severe and in large quantity. And we are always being evidence of these problems by mass media or facing in our own day to day life. In ancient time problems of one state might not be the problem of other state, because of lacking communications and transportation. But today in this science and technology era, though sufferings are same as mental suffering and physical suffering, but the reason of sufferings have alarmingly multiplied due to blind modernization and globalization. Means today we are much more interdependent to each other, whether it is about countries matter or individuals. Here the aspect of interdependent origination of Buddhist philosophy has become one annotated social philosophy, understanding this one can solve many individual and social problems. And to understand this reality we need to cultivate the right view. If we deeply contemplate, we can see all over the world facing this problem in many different forms, are just because of wrong view. So, as an antidote of this causes of today’s world is to spread the knowledge of right view and let all worldwide human beings to cultivate the right view, so that we can able to stop our world entering in dangerous future.
The Buddha once said that the mind is the forerunner of all actions’[footnoteRef:5]. Hence, all hopes for peace and liberation should be placed on training of mind. The Buddha further said that all troubles and conflicts in the world, whether small personal quarrels in the family or great wars fought between the nations, arise because of selfishness and craving. Therefore, the people should be concerned about mental pollution. Mind is the dynamic force in the world because a singles thought can either save or destroys the family, country as well as the world. Man’s mind pollutes the whole world with anger, jealously, hatred and various other evil forces. The negative mental energy can influence the moral and cosmic energy and disturb the universe. Therefore, the main concern we must have is to tame our mind. [5: Dhammapada, Chapter Ist , verse No. 1-2.]
Though we are longing for happiness from birth to till death, but we always run towards opposite direction. Happiness and craving are opposed to each other. Where there is craving, there is no room for happiness. The so called quest of happiness in the material world is in fact the running after satisfaction of greed and pleasurable material objects. But, this is a misguided search. Śānti Deva said;
“So, you thoroughly confused mind,
By the piling up of whatever objects You are attached to,
Misery a thousand fold will ensue.
Hence the wise should not be attached,
(Because) fear is born from attachment.
With a firm mind understand well
That it is the nature of these things to be discarded! .”[footnoteRef:6] [6: Bodhicāryāvatāra, Chapter 8 th, verse No. 18-19.]
Mahatma Gandhi also says that ‘in this world we find everything to satisfy our needs but we cannot satisfy our greed’. So, however hard to convince the temporal leadership-political, social or religious that neither nuclear power, wars, accumulation of wealth nor conversions can bring peace and harmony in human society, as great scientist Albert Einstein said that ‘ even atomic energy, which has shaken the whole world, cannot train a man’s mind’. But taming, training and purifying the mind and cultivation of Bodhichitta (compassion +wisdom) alone will solve the problem. Because all problems are from within mind and all peace and happiness are also within Mind only.