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The Buddhist approach to social welfare

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

For the ongoing conflicts and wars, acts of terrorism, exploitation of various social groups, social injustices etc. that hinder social welfare, human beings themselves are responsible. According to Buddhism all such social crises are ultimately traceable to the moral depravity of man. Social Welfare could be promoted not merely by dealing with the symptoms °f deep-rooted psychological insanity that find expression in the social behaviour of mankind, but by treating the internal sources of such insanity. Buddhism offers the most experimentally testable and systematic path for the gradual elimination of the roots of evil conduct in human beings. Its impact on social welfare could be tremendous. It has much greater value than all the effort that people make to deal with the material conditions of human beings.

The Buddhist approach to social welfare is sometimes viewed as ineffective because Buddhism does not seek to redress the suffering of people through violent demonstrations, vociferous protest movements, and incitement of people to violence and armed conflict. Instead Buddhism advocates pursuing the gentle way of appealing to the moral sentiments of people and educating people in what is right and wrong, just and unjust, fair and unfair. The Buddha set the first example of promoting social welfare by such means. Other ways of attempting to promote social welfare sometimes produce more suffering than they eliminate. Buddhism does not take the position that the end justifies the means and adopt any means to achieve a desirable end. It adopts only non-violent and peaceful means. Hence Buddhism considers as its most usable tool of social change the effort to educate and enlighten people on the realities of life. It does not appeal to people's basec emotions and incite them to violent responses, but encourages people to deal with the most perplexing crises and challenges of life with mindfulness, equanimity and insight. It is this approach to social welfare that is needed today, in which there's a tendency to proliferate collective enmity and anger in the-name of achieving social justice.

It was noted that those who have removed the defilements in their minds and attained perfect freedom of mind through insight need no further incentive to devote themselves to social welfare in the Buddhist sense. By virtue of the fact that they have already transformed themselves into persons who are free from greed, hatred and delusion and possessed of the wholesome qualities of mind such as kindness, sympathetic concern for the suffering of other beings, compassion, uanimity, mental composure and insight their commitment to social welfare becomes effortless and spontaneous. Their conduct conforms to the two most basic principles of morality, namely the principle of doing no harm and the principle of promoting beneficence.

However those persons who are not so fully liberated need an incentive to motivate themselves to perform acts of social welfare. It is this aspect that is covered by the Buddhist concept of the performance of meritorious deeds (punna). Acts of punna are acts of social welfare productive of happy consequences to the agent. On the part of the doer they involve the sacrifice of one's possessions and energies for the welfare of others. Since these acts involve the negation of the ego with the intention of promoting the welfare of another they are effective in cleansing a person's mind by reducing greed, hatred, enmity miserliness etc.

By the performance of acts of punna and the avoidance of acts of papa one contributes to social welfare while gradually transforming oneself in such a way that noble qualities of mind conducive to produce the maturity and insight that bring full liberation of the mind could sooner or later be attained. Until such time as one attains the final liberation, acts of punna protect a person from falling into unhappy rebirths and furnishes one with all the desirable material conditions of living. Buddhism provides a great incentive to believers by emphasizing the effects of punna deeds to engage in acts of social welfare. >

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