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What is meant by Social Welfare ?

by Prof P.D. Premasiri Ph.D - Courtesy Vesak Lipi

As seen by some observers of the relationship between Buddhism and society, Buddhism advocates a worldview that promotes the lone pursuit of escape from suffering by means of developing an attitude of indifference towards everything outside oneself. The Buddhist ideal is seen as non-engagement in the conflicts and turmoil characteristic of social living so that individual seekers °f inward peace could strive to achieve their goal in the cloistered environment of the forest hermitage. It is seen as promoting a |jfe of total withdrawal from social concerns for the pursuit of self-interest This way of looking at the Buddhist ideal is based on the assumption that there is a fundamental incompatibility between one's own well-being and the well-being of others.

The Buddha classified persons into four kinds on the basis of one's attitude towards one's own interest and one's attitude towards the interest of others. The first type of person is referred to as one who adopts a way of life that conduces, neither to the welfare of oneself nor to the welfare of others (neva attahittaya Patipanno no parahitaya). The second type of person is one who adopts a way of life that does not conduce to one's own welfare but conduces to the welfare of others (parahitiya patipanno no attahittaya). The third adopts a way of life that conduces to one's own welfare but not to the welfare of others (attahitaya patipanno no parahitaya).

The fourth is one who adopts a way of life that conduces, to one's own welfare and the welfare of others, (attahitaya ca patipanno parahitaya ca). According to the Buddha, it is the fourth type of person who is most praiseworthy. The first kind of person is the most blameworthy. In the comparative evaluation of the second and the third type of person, the Buddha takes the position that the third one is better than the second. The question is whether in view of such an assessment of the worth of persons in terms of their way of life, Buddhism expresses a preference to the pursuit of self interest over the pursuit of the welfare of others.

What is Meant by "Welfare?"
In order to understand the significance of the above classification it is important to consider what Buddhism means by 'welfare' in this context. In the Kalama Sutta it is noted that there are three mental qualities that arise in people, which are detrimental to their welfare. They are greed, hatred and delusion. Overwhelmed by these three mental qualities people destroy life, they steal the belongings of others, and they indulge in the wrongful enjoyment of sense pleasures and speak what is false. They commit acts that produce suffering to themselves and suffering -to others. According to Buddhism, the self-interest of a
oerson consists in the- cultivation of a personality that is perfect in moral goodness and insightful understanding of reality. The influence of such persons on society is twofold. On the one hand the behaviour of such persons does not have the consequence of producing suffering to the rest of the society because they are never motivated in their behaviour by what Buddhism describes as the roots of unwholesome action. On the other hand by virtue of the fact that they have perfected the qualities of mind that are considered as wholesome _(Kusala) such as mindfulness, equanimity, kindness and compassion whatever they do is beneficial to the rest of the society.

Such persons are considered in Buddhism as the ethical models that the rest of the society should emulate. According to the Sigalovada Sutta, a community of such persons is an essential component of a harmonious and prosperous society."'' Wherever such persons live that location is said to be delightful. They are not to be conceived as persons who have escaped from the dutiful engagements of the social life to live an indolent, self centred and care free life which is supported by others who have to toil in order to procure the material needs of their life. They are looked upon as the rich fields for others who live the lower life of sense-pleasures to sow their seeds of meritorious deeds.ix Social well-being requires the maintenance of such a community paying high respect and veneration to, members of that community.x The implication of these ideas is that Buddhism does not conceive of the possibility of promoting the welfare of a community in the absence of a social structure and a network of social relationships in which there is adequate provision made for the giving and receiving of moral guidance in the conduct of its affairs.

Traditional Buddhist societies have shown the highest veneration to members of this community and some aspects of the current social crises experienced by such-societies under the rapid social changes that have recently taken place may be attributed to the break down of the structure and relationships that existed in the past. Coming back to the issue of giving priority to one's own welfare over the welfare of others, Buddhism is evidently drawing attention to the necessity of dealing with a person's inner nature as a prerequisite for 9enuine social commitment. This is in recognition of the fact that Persons whose inner nature is defiled produce more harm to society *nan good when they interact with society. Social action, if it is to be Productive of social welfare has to be motivated by what Buddhism describes as the roots of wholesome action (Kusalamula). The cultivation of kusala is what ultimately benefits the individual as well as the society. Hence Buddhism defines kusala as that which does not result in harm to oneself, harm to others and harm to both (attabyabadhaya na samvattati, parabyabadhaya na samvattati ubhayabyabadhaya samvattati), and is conducive to the production of happiness (sukhudrayam sukhavipakam). In the Sallekha Sutta the Buddha points out that it is not possible for someone who is stuck in the mud to pull out another who is stuck in the mud. >

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