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Inter-relation between self-cultivation and social Service in Theravada Buddhism

By Buddhistdoor International Rev. Amritananda
Buddhistdoor Global | 2013-05-11 |
Theravada monks meditating. From buddhism.about.com.Theravada monks meditating. From buddhism.about.com.
Therav?da Buddhism is widely recognized as a religion emphasizing personal salvation without any regard for social welfare. Therefore, it is named as the Hinay?na, which means a self-centric character, which focuses primarily on  individual salvation. This is a gross misinterpretation of facts which goes against the P?li Canon.
According to Buddhist philosophy, of course, individual development is given the priority for what we called a society is mere combination of the individuals. Without individuals the concept of  society has no existence. When a certain group of people live together by performing certain duties and responsibilities, then we called that a society. So a society is a collection of individuals bounded by reciprocal duties and responsibilities.  Therefore without individual development, no one can dream of social development.  When individuals are developed, the so-called society is also in  the process of development. So no one needs to force it. In a society, whatever an individual does is influenced by two factors:
1.    the sum total of his own experience
2.    Through the influence of a particular society where he/ she lives.
Therefore, the outcome of the everyday individual’s  behavior either positive or negative inevitably influences the society. Therefore, when individuals of a society  are developed, that society itself is also developed . When all members of a society become ethical, that society is also ethical. Nobody can develop the society without development of the individuals. According to Buddhism, all social conflicts first arise in the individuals.  When they are expressed  verbally or physically,  they become social problems. In the Madhupindika sutta of MN[1] , the Buddha explains how individual problems become social problems as follows:

Due to craving (tan
!h?) , there is searching for (Pariyesana);  due to searching for, there is concept of gain (labha); due to gain, there is attachment  (chanda; raga); due to attachment,  there is  strong clinging   (ajjhos?na); due to ajjhosana, we are covered by such views and ideas and unable to see any thing beyond that point (pariggaha); due to pariggaha there is avarice (macchariy ;due to macchariya,  there is concept  of   protection (?rakkha); due to concept of protection, there is taking sticks  ?rakkha  (dandadana), taking weapons  ( satthadana),  quarrel   (kalaha), disputes ( vivada), fight ( viggaha)   false   (mus?)  and slandering ( pisuññ?) .  The above description of the Madhupindika sutta, clarifies that all the social conflicts, violences and problems are rooted in individuals. Therefore, the Buddha endeavored to change the individuals first.
Self cultivation
In Buddhism personality development does not involve  just mechanical or outward transformation. It emphasizes transformation of  psychological aspects of an individual that enable an individual to face circumstances of life on the ever-changing face of earth and live harmoniously with nature and society.  In other word, the Buddhist personality development means ability to balance our wisdom and emotional sentiment. The ultimate purpose of personality development is to attain the eternal happiness.  Without self–cultivation, individuals are easily led by emotions. The Mangalasutta describes the personality development as “the mind is not shaken when  touched by changes of the worldly circumstances, sorrowless, detached and secure”[2] . The Buddhist personality development also involves  transforming all the negativities of  mental dispositions of an individual such as excessive greed, hatred, jealousy, ill- will and ignorance to positive qualities such as,   non-greed, non-hatred, appreciative joy, benevolent thought and wisdom. 
Personality development also includes realization of the true nature of an individual. The culmination of Buddhist personality development is attainment of Buddhahood or arahantship. This is  the highest level development of compassion and wisdom. The practical path of self- cultivation is three-fold training viz. morality (s?la), concentration (Sam?dhi) and wisdom ( paññ?). It can be further analysed into eight noble paths. When an individual attains culmination of self-cultivation viz either becomes Buddha or an Arahant, he loses the concept of self (att?) and self conceit (m?na). Therefore, he realizes the oneness with others.        
Social service 
Buddhist teaching treasures the possibility of services rendered to society for the betterment of entire human race. Therav?da Buddhism believes that without personality development, it is difficult to serve society in the real sense of term.   After attaining self-mastery through mediation, one has to go into the society for the welfare and betterment of   people.  The Buddha advised the sixty disciples who had attained the arahantship thus, “O monks! Travel around for the benefit of multitude of human beings … (caratha bhikkhave c?rikam bahujanahit?ya bahujanasukh?ya ……)”[3] . This is the Buddhist concept that is found for the first time in the religious history of the world which touches upon the concept of social service. With the help of this message, he expounded the value of benevolence, and social service.
According to Buddhist teaching, for a complete realization of Nibb?na, wisdom has to be necessarily coupled with  compassion. They are complementary in the sense that they watch each other like  silam, one hand washing the other hand (s?laparidhot?hi bh?hm? paññ?paridhota[4]   ) Compassion cultivated without wisdom could easily lead to emotional and sentimental involvement. Therefore, one has to cultivate both the wisdom and compassion equally. Compassion is based on the idea of the interrelatedness of person to each other. The individual’s the existences are mutually linked or related to each other and therefore, naturally are reciprocal obligations to each others. In other word, our existences appear meaningful if they are put in reference to each other.  Buddhist teaching of social welfare is based on this nature of interrelatedness. Man is not a separate person; he is a part of society. Therefore, he has to respect and concern about the welfare of others. The Buddhist concept of duty and responsibility is based on this virtue. This type of virtue is symbolized as a relationship between man and society. It is a clear factor that thinking of promoting one’s own welfare is not possible without cultivating altruistic virtue. According to Buddhism, one cannot put through his own egoistic disposition without acknowledging the aims of others. The moral goodness is identical with altruism. The Buddha held that the person who worked for the good of oneself as well as that of others was the best person (att?hit?ya ca patipanno parahit?ya ca)[5] .   
Buddhist ethics is the foundation of the personality development. Ethics cannot be performed without the medium of society. Therefore, ethics can be applied to society in the forms of manners; negative and positive.  The five precepts are taken upon in order to abstain from some types of actions - those that are harmful to society. It is one kind of social work, but positively the person can exercise  some virtues which are good for the society. There are such 10 actions called dasapuññ?kiriya:
1.    d?na – liberality
2.    s?la – morality
3.    bh?van? – concentration
4.    apac?yana – paying reverence to deserving ones.
5.    veyy?vacca – rendering service to those it is due, retinue.
6.    pa??id?na – transference of merit
7.    patt?numod?na – rejoicing in and receiving others’ merits.
8.    dhammasavana – hearing the Doctrine
9.    dhammadesan? – Educating others
10.di??hijjhu –    self confidence
In this context, d?na and veyy?vacca can be taken into consideration that the Buddha really wants everybody to do other regarding actions. Almost all the lists of good actions incorporated in Buddhist teachings begin with charity. For instance, in dasap?ranit?, charity has been mentioned; in the pañcadhamma (sadd?, sIla, sutta, c?ga, paññ?), charity is again mentioned. Charity is not confined to the donation of material things. It finds expression in various forms, because social service cannot be of one form. As long as there is diversity in the society, human needs too will be diverse. Therefore, social service has come to them in different ways. In this sense, Buddhist concept of d?na too has the meaning of assisting others in different ways.
Buddhist concept of social service cannot be made intelligible without clarifying its value system. For, any concept of service presupposes an underlined system of values. According to the scheme of Buddhist values, the personality appears to be recognized as a key part of social work. It is mentioned that personality should be endowed with certain qualities. They are the four bases of benevolence – catt?ri sangahavattuni:
1.    d?na – charity,
2.    piyav?c?n? – pleasant speech,
3.    atthacariy? – useful service,
4.    sam?nattat? – equal privilege and respect for all.
D?na is a readiness to sacrifice one’s labour, wealth, knowledge, skill etc. Piyav?c?n? is affability. The individual has to be friendly and approachable. Dedication to the service of others is the third quality. Social worker has to put aside all discriminations, and adopts equal treatment for all. It is sam?nattat? that has to be undertaken. This is the application of virtue of equanimity. In service, social worker has to abandon four forms of injustice (agatigaman?y?ni): favourism ( chanda), Prejudice  (dosa), fear  (bhaya), and ignorance ( moha).  When one turns one’s attention to abovementioned  factors of personality advocated in Buddhism, there appears to be compatibility with the service and with the doer.
The most ideal self-cultivation in Buddhism is the path of Bodhisatta. The Bodhisatta’s career is absolutely dedicated to the social service in the highest sense. The sole objective is to serve all beings to free from the suffering . Saving others spiritually is the culmination of great compassion.   In Therav?da Buddhism, the bodhisatta career  consists of  fulfilling the ten perfections (paramita).  They are; charity (d?na), morality (S?la), Renunciation (nekkhamma), effort (viriya),truthfulness (sacca), patient (khanti), determination (addhittana), Wisdom (paññ?), Equanimity (upekkh?) and thought of loving kindness (Mett?)[6]
Though these practices are aimed at self-cultivation, these can not be practiced without a society. Therefore, while an individual is self-cultivating, at the same time he or she  is serving the society. This is the greatest social service because a Bodhisatta services expecting nothing in return from the society.   The Bodhisatta is even ready to sacrifice all his comforts and happiness in his life for the welfare of others.  
In Sig?lov?da Sutta, the Buddha emphasizes that rights and justice are interrelated . When the rights are not well reciprocated by  justice,   moral imbalance is bound to result. Social service, according to Buddhist ethics, is a kind of duty. Compassion and loving-kindness are derived from above consideration.
Buddhism teaches two sets of virtues that are said to have important social implication. Both these sets of virtues are to be cultivated for the welfare of others. The first set is known as the four sublime abiding (catt?ro brahmavih?r? ) that consists of the cultivation of mental attitudes:
1.    Loving-kindness (mett?),
2.    Compassion (karu??),
3.    Sympathetic joy (mudit?), and
4.    Equanimity (upekkh?)
The first factor serves as a strong motivation that compels an individual towards beneficial deeds. The social worker should possess the fitting moral attitude of mind. The second involves developing a compassionate heart. It motivates him to social action.   The third factor is to have a mentality to share the happiness of others.  If a social worker is inflicted with dispositions, such as jealousy, and malice,  he or she cannot do social work. In actual fact, social service is dedicated to uplift living conditions. Therefore, he should cultivate mudit?. Upekkh? is a stable personality trait which enables a person to maintain a stable state of mind despite changing circumstances of life. When an individual practices the four altruistic virtues, there is no distinction between oneself and others in the ultimate level.
The above short description shows that there is no justification to criticize Therav?da Buddhism  as self-centre religion or rather individualistic religion. It is true that Therav?da emphasizes self– cultivation first, before rendering social service.  Without self – cultivation, we are unable to serve the society in the real sense of the term. An individual without personality  development and without realizing his true nature  can easily be  perturbed by emotional sentiments and worldly circumstances. They   lead to corruptions. When an individual realizes that his existence is related to others in the society, he voluntarily works for the welfare and happiness of others. There is no egoistic centre so that  an individual can feel the oneness with others. Therefore the problem of others becomes his own problems. So a self-cultivated person motivated by compassion strives  his or her best for the welfare and happiness of others. He or she  unperturbed  by worldly circumstances, such as gain, lost, fame, defame, praise,  blame,  sorrow and happiness. This is the highest form of social service in Buddhism. The more interesting thing is that the process of self -cultivation itself is great social service. Without society, an individual is unable to develop himself. Therefore, in Therav?da Buddhism, self- cultivation and social service are mutually related to each other. 
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Mahavagga pali from Sa
??hasanbgayana CD,            
Biswas Kurmar Arun, Dr, Buddha and Bodhisattva a Hindu view, Cosmo             Publication New Delhi     
Ven. Pategama Gnanarama Ph.D An approach to Buddhist social philosophy, Singapore 1996
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Siddhi Butr Indr M.A, D.Litt - The social philosophy of Buddhism – 
Thailand   1995  
Galmangoda, Sumanapla, Prof.  Buddhist social philosophy and Ethics Singapore, 2006 
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