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Lumbini in the New Millennium: Youth in Buddhism

Bhikkhu Sugandha


(A theme paper for International Buddhist Conference at Lumbini, Nepal, February 1-2, 2001)

Putta vatthu manussanam
Youth are foundations of all human beings.
Evameva manussesu daharo cepi pannava
So hittatha maha hoti neva balo sarirava

One who has wisdom is considered an adult although he is young by age.
Having a big body but foolish, he is considered not an adult. (Jataka, 27/24)

Sakyarupam pure santam maya sippam na sikkhatam
Kiccha vutti asippassa iti pacchanutappati.

Who does not learn any skill when he was young to do so, later he will lament to himself that 'why did I not learn before?' Because one without skill is difficult to live. (Jataka, 27/330)

Introduction [2]
The change of anything new is always a time of great ferment and great expectations, and when the new century also marks the dawn of a new millennium our expectations are likely to be especially intense. Optimism makes us thinks that the new is always bound to be better than the old, that the arrival of the new year or century will inevitably bring our deepest dreams to fulfillment.

New millennium marks the change of time and calendar. Similarly, the state of youth [3] marks the change in human life. Youth is the period of Human life that has tremendous potentialities for its impact, good or bad, on modern societies. According to Oxford English Dictionary a youth not only indicates the changing period of childhood and adult age but also means new, freshness, vigour, wantonness, rashness, etc. which are the typical characteristics of a youth. Youth is a time when most drastic changes take place in human life both physically and psychologically. Youth is not only a crucial period of human life but they are also the future builders of a society. They are future administrators, planners, engineers, doctors, teachers, artists, religious leaders and so on. Youth are full of energy and they are the real force of changes in a society. Therefore, youth itself designates a changing force in society both progress and regress.

Prince Siddhartha who was born here at Lumbini twenty-six centuries ago renounced the life of the palace and entered the forest as a hermit seeking a solution to the problem of suffering when he was youth. Later he was enlightened and he founded Buddhism when he was still in his youthful age. It is clear from the teachings of the Buddha that he always emphasizes on the potentiality of youth. For example, Buddha says, 'Having led neither a good life nor acquired wealth (spiritual) in youth, they pine away as aged herons around a fish less pond or they lie about like broken bows sighing about the past' (Dhammapada 155/156).

In the Pali texts there are at least four synonyms for 'youth' viz. dahara, taruna, yuva and bala but the most frequently used term is bala. In linguistics, the term bala (in Pali) can mean two different meanings: bala as a young age or ignorant (often with reference to ignorance in a moral sense) and bala as a foolish, lacking in reason, devoid of the power to think and act right. It is contrasted with pandita which means wise, skilled, intelligent, etc. In a similar vein, the English term youth can also mean young in age as well as rashness or wantonness. In both language of Buddhism or English 'youth' has an ambivalent meaning, referring either to ignorance or foolish. By ignorance it means one who is destitute of knowledge or unlearned but by foolish it means intellectually deficiency or one deficient in judgment or sense. The difference between intellectual (pandita) and foolish (bala) youth is sikkha, or education, namely learning, training and development. Youth who have been trained, educated or developed are called pandita, or 'noble youth.' They know how to conduct a good life for themselves and also help their society in peace and happiness. Youth who have been not train, educated or developed are called bala, or 'foolish youth.' They are always foolish youth intellectually and in behavior regardless of their worldly qualifications.

Buddha advised (Samyuttanikaya V: 29-31) that to be truly involved in this education, youth, who are the new members of the human race, should acquire the seven fundamental qualities known as the auroras of a good life, or the dawn of education. These are the guarantees of a life moving towards full human development, to become truly noble youth and noble beings. They are: (1) Kalyanamittata (having a 'good friend'), seeking out sources of wisdom and good examples; (2) Sila-sampada (perfection of morality), having discipline as a foundation for one's life development; (3) Chanda-sampada (perfection of aspiration), having a heart that spires to learning and constructive action; (4) Atta-sampada (Perfection of oneself), dedicating oneself to training for the realization of one's full human potential; (5) Ditthi-sampada (Perfection of view), adhering to the principle of conditionality, seeing things according to cause and effect; (6) Appamada-sampada (perfection of heedfulness; establishing oneself in heedfulness; and (7) Yonisomanasikara-sampada (perfection of wise reflection), thinking wisely so as to realize benefit and see the truth.

Today, as we stand at the threshold of the new millennium, our world has become a living paradox. It is a world of immense wealth, but also of grinding poverty where many live in constant want. A world has achieved tremendous advances in medicine, health care and technology, whereas a large number of people also die annually from diseases that are easily curable, A world where the daily trade in lethal weapons numbers in the millions of dollars yet where many millions of children die of hunger each year and many millions are severely undernourished. A world where information technology disseminates information around the globe in a second while many millions of people are still illiterate and uneducated. In the religious field, there are many beautiful and huge churches, monasteries, religious buildings, icons and centers but at the same time people are morally degrading. And perhaps most alarming of all, a world bent on unlimited economic growth on a planet whose finite resources are rapidly dwindling. Thus our bold strides towards the future, our world still suffers from painful wounds, and the need for a solution, for a cure, has become ever more insistent of humanity is to survive intact through to the end of the coming millennium. Needless to say that the changes are efficient when it is done in time, when people are still youth both in energy and intellectual.

Psychologists regard youth period as a critical or turning point in life. At this stage, traditions are made and lost quickly. Psychological need also change and these changes affect attitudes towards life and understanding. Most socio-political problems like drug abuse, prostitution, AIDS, unemployment, education, theft, robbery, crime, vandalism, terrorism, political demonstration, etc. are all mostly related to youth. If we look around us all good and bad like military force, working force, students, demonstrators, thieves, sex abuser and so on are mostly youth of society. They are our sons and daughters. One who has adequate wisdom became good force of the society while one who lack such moral guidance developed to be a social problem.

'Youth are foundations of human beings,' Buddha declared twenty-five hundred years ago. At present, we also say that youth are the pillars of a nation and in a similar vein; Buddhist youth are the pillars of Buddhism. Nevertheless, the questions are hanging upon the air in every society that have we done enough for the benefit of youth? How to develop youth resources to be the efficient force of the society? And how to solve the youth problem in every society? Unquestionably, the answer to these questions is to build a good, righteous and strong youth, the foundation of all human beings, for betterment of mankind and society. That is to transform and change every youth to be a good, intellectual, wise and righteous youth. This is where Buddhist teachings come to alive and help to develop youth.

In the course of this paper I wish to formulate a Theravada Buddhist response to build and improve the youth looking through a magnifying glass of Triple Gem, the main Buddhist pillars. In Buddhist teachings, if we carefully examine the discourse of the Buddha, we would see that Buddha was keenly aware of the problems we confront in the social dimensions of human life, and he designed his teachings to address these problems just as much as to show the way to final liberation. Although these teachings remain in the background, hidden behind the more numerous texts dealing with personal ethics, mental development, and philosophical understanding, I feel they can be drawn upon for clear-cut practical guidelines for youth of today addressing the weighty problems we face today.
Buddha and youth.

The youth life of the Buddha can be an inspirational virtue for youth of today. How Buddha spent his youth period and what was the Buddha's youth spirit at his time are relevant issues for youth today to think about and take it as a model. Little detail is said in the Pali Canon about the Buddha's childhood and youth, but the given text gives an impression that he lived a life of luxury within the wall of three palaces used for each of the three seasons of Kapilavasthu in southern Nepal. The young prince wore fine garments,was perfumed with fragrances and surrounded by musician and attendants who ministered to his every need. Although these conditions might be calculated to produce the archetypal 'spoilt youth' the Buddha's character does not seem to have suffered unduly, and he is depicted as a precocious but considerate youth with a keen intelligence.

As a nature of youth he was not satisfied with what he had and what he was given by his elders. Although palace life was comfortable it was unfulfilling, and the young Buddha yearned for a deeper and more spiritually satisfying way of life. The legends represent this disaffection in a story in which the Buddha made four visits outside the place in a chariot where he happened to encounter unpleasant sights of an old man, a sick man, a corpse and a peaceful religious mendicant. Theses four signs experiences impressed upon him above all the transient nature of human existence and he realized that not even the palace walls could keep suffering and death at bay and made up his mind to leave the palace. Taking a last look at his sleeping wife and child, he departed to become a homeless mendicant while he was still young to do so.

The simple, touching story is hard to believe in he literal sense. It is hard to believe that the Buddha was as naive as the story portrays him, or that his disenchantment with palace life was nearly as sudden. If we read it as a parable in which palace life represents complacency and self-delusion, and the vision of the four signs the dawning of a realization about the nature of human life. If the Buddha were alive today he would see the four signs all around: every elderly person,every hospital, and every funeral would bespeak the brevity and fragility of life, while every temple and religious minister would be testimony to the belief that a religious solution to these problems can be found. The parable seems to suggest that although the signs are all around, most people-like the youth Buddha-construct mental barriers (the palace walls) to keep unpleasant realities at bay. Even then, there are times when the unwelcome facts of life thrust themselves upon us in a manner it is impossible to ignore, such as in sickness or bereavement, just as they did when the Buddha went forth in his chariot. For youth of every period and country such mental barriers blocks 'right path' and opens wrong path instead.
Shaken from its complacency the Buddha made the radical decision to turn his back on family life and go in search of spiritual knowledge. This decision was not unprecedented because it is a nature of youth to take such radical decision. We are witnessing everyday around us that the today's youth takes such radical decision too but sadly the wrong decision mostly. the examples of youth today taking such radical decision are to enter cult, political arena, drug addiction, sexual crime and so on. Rightly, modern psychologists regarded youth period as a turning point in life.

The Buddha's life story portrays that the Buddha was a good student and a quick learner. For six years he wondered, studied and mastered many subjects and fields including self-mortification. Nevertheless, it is natural that the younger generation with some education should question the decision of their elders, since policies in almost every sphere of life will affect both their present and future lives. In similar vein, the Buddha questioned all his teachers and unsatisfied with all techniques he had studied and mastered. Still the Buddha did not give up his determination. Evaluating his earlier live of self-indulgence and experience of self-mortification he came out with a 'middle way' between extreme of this kind. Channeling his youth force properly to the practice of meditation in the course of one night he attained the complete state of awakening which he sought. He became the Buddha, the Awakened One while he as a youth spirit.

Little biographical detail is available concerning the latter half of the Buddha's life. It is clear, however, that his time was taken up traveling on foot through the towns and villages addressing audiences of many kinds form different religious, social, and economic backgrounds.
Dhamma and youth

Numerically, it is said that there are 84,000 Dhammas or the teachings of the Buddha in the Pali Canon. Those teachings were taught by the Buddha to different people who have abilities to understand his teachings in different occasions and places. Those teachings of the Buddha can be used and practiced by both adults and youth alike according to an individual's capabilities not only to achieve the supreme liberation, Nibbana, but also to lead happy life and peaceful society. Nevertheless, there are some teachings that Buddha taught aiming directly to children and youth. Buddha taught these groups in a way that his listeners could understand it. For example, there is a story in the Dhammapada commentary which the Buddha taught a group of youth on the virtue of not to harm any life:

On one morning, Buddha went out for alms round the city street. Buddha saw a group of youth beating a snake with a stick. Buddha asked those youth: 'what are you doing?' 'A snake, venerable sir, beating with a stick.' 'Why ?' 'Because we were scared that it will bite us, venerable sir.' Buddha then advised them, 'he who search for his own happiness by beating animals who love happiness with a stick will never be happy. Whereas he who search for his own happiness by not beating animals who love happiness with a stick will always be happy.' listening to the Buddha, the group of youth understood and stopped afflicting any animal's life.

The most common and widely known formulation of the Buddha's teaching is that which the Buddha himself announced in the First Sermon at Benaras, the formula of the Four Noble Truths. The Buddha declares that these truths convey in a nutshell all he essential information that we need to set out on the path to liberation. He says that just as the elephant's footprint, by reason of its great size, contains the footprints of all other animals, so the Four Noble Truths, by reason of their comprehensiveness, contain within themselves all wholesome and beneficial teachings. The Four Noble Truths can be deducted into a pragmatic approach of the Threefold Training viz. morality (sila), cultivation of mind (samadhi), and wisdom (panna). Therefore, in Buddhist training morality, cultivation of mind and wisdom have significant roles. It is a procedure formula for training in Buddhism as Buddha himself used in the case of his own son Ven. Rahula.

The Threefold Training as a Systematic Training for Youth

Looking at the training profile of Ven. Rahula, the Buddha's son, who was ordained at the age of seven it is clear that Buddha taught him different teachings and training according to his physical and mental growth. However, Ven. Rahula was able to attain an Arhant when he was just about 21 years old. Obviously, there were numerous teachings which Ven. Rahula might lean from the teachings that were given one-to-one basis to Ven. Rahula by the Buddha it is clear that Buddha has developed the Threefold Training-morality, cultivation of mind and wisdom-as a systematic training for youth according to their growth of age. For younger youth Buddha emphasized the virtue of morality and gradually trained them to cultivate their mind and wisdom. In the like manner, we should reconsider this ancient educational system to apply with youth of today because Buddhism is akaliko, the timeless teachings.

The training profile of Ven. Rahula according to his age

According to discourses in the Majjhimanikaya the Buddha exhorted his son Ven. Rahula novice who was about 7-10 years old, on the necessity of observing the fundamental moral precept of truthfulness, and of practicing mindfulness, by giving the similes of the upturned water pot, the royal elephant and the mirror (see Amballatthikarahulovada sutta).

In the second stage, when Ven. Rahula was 18 years old he was taught on breathing meditation by Ven. Sariputta. The Buddha further explained to him the advantages of breathing meditation (Anapana) and gave him another discourse on the four great elements followed by many other meditation techniques (e.g. loving-kindness meditation) (see Maharaulovada Sutta).

In the final stage, when Ven Rahula reached the age of 20 years old who was then a Bhikkhu of the Order fully mature to receive the highest Dhamma the Buddha exhorted him on the cultivation of wisdom in the form of questions and answers on the nature of the Three Common Characteristics: impermanence (aniccata), suffering (Dukkhata and not-self (anattata). Consequently, Ven. Rahula attained to Arhatship after he had completed with the Threefold Training (see Cularahulovada Sutta).
In this way, the Buddha fulfilled his duty towards his son not only as a biological father alone by showing him the right path to lead his life but also as a spiritual father who trained him step by step till he was enlightened. Ven Rahula himself also behaved as a good son of the Buddha and a good youth of the society. he obediently listened to his father's instructions and practiced accordingly and he was always eager for study. Later Buddha himself praised Ven. Rahula as the young monk who is eager of study (Sikkhakama) whom every youth should take as a model.

Youth is the changing period form physical and psychological perspectives and it is the period of learning and studying. Therefore, every youth should try to be a Sikkhakama or an eager person of studying as Ven. Rahula. Every youth should train to use a reflecting mirror of the Buddha, the mind mirror. Use it to reflect and examine one's acts or kamma. Seeing it one should purity it like we take bath to clean our bodies and look at a mirror to spot the one's cleanness. therefore, youth should purify one's mind as we clean our bodies and should multiply happiness as age increases.

Another popular example of Dhamma for youth widely referred in Buddhism is the teaching given by the Buddha on the laymen's ethics of discipline to a householder youth named Sigala. It is described by Emperor Asoka as the code of discipline (Vinaya) for the laity, paralleling that for monks and nuns. In it, Sigala represents a typical youth not only of the past but also of today.

Sigala was the son of a Buddhist family residing at Rajagaha. His parents were devout followers of the Buddha, but the son was indifferent to religion. the pious father and mother could not by any means persuade their son to accompany them to visit the Buddha or his disciples and hear the noble Doctrine. The son thought it practically useless to pay visits to the Sangha, as such visits may entail material loss. He was only concerned with material prosperity; to him spiritual progress was of no avail. Constantly he would say to his father : "I will have nothing to do with monks. Paying homage to them would make my back ache, and my knees stiff. I should have to sit on the ground and soil and wear out my clothes. And when, at the conversations with them, after so sitting, one gets to know t em, one has to invite them and give them offerings, and so one only loses by it."

Finally as the father was about to die, he called his son to his deathbed, and inquired whether he would at least listen to his parting advice. "Most assuredly, dear father, I shall carry out any order you may be pleased to enjoin on me," he replied. "Well then, dear son, after your morning bath worship the six quarters." The father asked him to do so hoping that one day or other, while the son was so engaged, the Buddha or his disciples would see him, and make it an occasion to preach an appropriate discourse to him. And since deathbed wishes are to be remembered, Sigala carried out his father's wish, not, however, knowing its true significance.

One morning Sigala was caught in the net of the Buddha's compassion; and with his vision the Buddha, seeing that Sigala could be shown a better channel for his acts of worship, decided: "This day will I discourse to Sigala on the layman's Vinaya (code of discipline). That discourse will be of benefit to many folk. There must I go." T he Buddha thereon came up to him on his way for alms to Rajagaha; and seeing him engaged in his worship of the six quarters, delivered this great discourse which contains in brief, the whole domestic and social duty of the layman. In the Buddha's interpretation, the six directions become metaphors for different social relationship.

The discourse of Sigala in brief (Digha-nikaya III. 180)

The youth Sigala used to worship the six cardinal points, named the East, the South, the West, the North, the nadir and the Zenith in obedience to the last advice given by his dying father. the Buddha explained to the young man that according to his Teaching, the six directions were: the East standing for parents; the South for teachers; the West standing for the wife and children; the North standing for friends and associates; the Nadir standing for servants, employees; the Zenith standing for brahmans and mendicants.

The Buddha explained further that the six social groups mentioned in the discourse were to be regarded as sacred and worthy of respect and worship. One worshiped them by performing one's duties towards them. Then these duties were explained to the youth Sigala. (see Sigalovada Sutta) .

Commenting on this discourse, the Venerable Buddhaghosa says, "Nothing in the duties of a householder is left unmentioned. This discourse is called the Vinaya of the householder. Hence one who practices what he has been taught in it, growth is to be looked for, not decay."

Sangha and youth

The social nucleus of Buddhism is the order of monks and nuns (sangha) founded by the Buddha. while the Buddhist Order is the central social institution, however, Buddhism is not just a religion for monks. Early sources offer a sociological classification of Buddhism as 'The Fourfold Order', consisting of monks, nuns, and devout male and female lay disciples (Upasaka/upasika). Over centuries, and in many lands, Buddhist monks and nuns have acted as 'good friends' to the laity in a variety of ways, starting with being good examples and thus fruitful 'field of merit.' The main traditional role of Buddhist monks is to give sermons and to teach to the laity on Buddhist teachings and meditation. However, in terms of responsibility over Buddhism it falls over all the Fourfold Order.

As I have discussed above, youth as a changing force of the society. Such change is not only limited within the laity but also to the Sangha, the Order. Looking at Buddhist history, it is clear that most radical changes took place by the initiation taken by youth monks. For obvious examples in Nepal, they were Nepalese monks in their youth spirit who revived the Theravada Buddhism eight decades ago. Reading autobiographies of elder Buddhist monks of Nepal and struggled to establish the Theravada Buddhism. Although they were objected by the governmnert of the time they were succeeded in winning the hearts of laity and able to make a prosperous as we are witnessing at present. One of the hidden truths behind their success over such radical and daring transformation and change of the Theravada Buddhism in Nepal is their youth spirit and youth force. For examples, the late Ven. Pragyananda, Ven. Mahapragya, Ven. Amritananda, etc. on male side and Ven. Dhammawati and others on female side all were quite young when they begun to revive Buddhism in Nepal. They took a bold and daring decision to join the religious group against their families' will which was possible because of their youth blood. Similarly, an introduction of practicing meditation among laity was first introduced by youth monks of the time. Not only they themselves were youth they were also able to attract many new laity youth to join the Order and become a devout Buddhist and became pillars of the Therevada Buddhism in Nepal.

However, in dawn of this new millennium, it can be heard that there is an increasing apathy among youth, a part of the Fourfold Order, that they are running away from religion and more inclined towards materialism, culture of consumerism rather than spiritualism. We can always hear youth complain about visiting to a monastery for religious purpose as an outmoded act and it is a culture of the old people of other excuses like the youth Sigala of the Buddha's time. Listening to these critiques it sounds like Buddhism is outmoded amongst youth of today and Buddhist institutions need some transformations in its application of teachings in a way that youth can accept it and involve in it. I discuss below on the roles of both youth monks and youth laity on reinterpretation and application of Buddhism among youth of today.

Role of youth in Socially Engaged Buddhism for the new millennium [4]

Religious traditions are not static. they respond to social, economic, and political change; indeed, they help shape such change. for Buddhists and practitioners of the other world faiths, it is no longer possible to measure t he quality of human life primarily in terms of an individual's observance of traditional rites, such a prayer or temple ritual. Now there are widespread forces at work, many of them humanly created, that separate the world into sectors of relative safety and comfort, and much larger, regions of poverty, oppression and war. Even within the borders of "the West," as the comfort zone is called, the number of citizens who face poverty, marginalization, and the denial of hula rights continues to increase.

To encounter with modern social problems the socially engaged Buddhism [5] --  the application of the Buddhist teachings, to the resolution of social problems --has emerged in the global context of conversation on economy, development, technology, human rights, distributive justice, ecology and social progress. These reinterpretation and application of an ancient path to solve modern problems are getting very efficient, success and popular among Buddhist societies. Moreover, these innovations and changes were in hands of youth as they are the one who is encountering with the consequence of so called development. It is their future that needs reshaping. It is their future that needs balancing between material and spiritual development. In modern Buddhist societies there are a strong urge and feeling among both Buddhist leaders and practitioners that religion should not be limited only within the wall of a temple, a monastery or in books but rather socially engaged as Buddha himself engaged at his time. Buddha's teachings are not only relevant to monks but equally to householders and youth. the Buddhist teachings are not only aiming for the final liberation of Nibbana but also for happiness and peace of this very life. There are numbers of teachings aiming directly for the happiness and prosperity of a householder that can apply modern economy, development and technology. In modern societies, the roles of monks and laity have changed. For monks despite being a religious leader who promotes spiritual development now there is a constant need for changes in their traditional values. Similarly, laity needs to engage himself not only in donation and ritual performances but engage himself with the application of Dhamma in his everyday life. This changing and improvising of the roles of the Fourfold Order are most efficient when it is done by the youth of the society because they are the one who can make and break the traditions.

The Changing Role of Youth Monks

It is into such a world that socially engaged Buddhism began to make its appearance in the last century. A major aspect of the changing place of the monks and laity in Theravada countries has been the active leadership role taken by men and women in the formation of various movements and associations devoted to education, public welfare, social service, and political activism.
In one of the Majjhimanikaya of Pali scripture provides relevant background information about the place and role of the Buddhist monk in the society of the Buddha's time. The Buddha's blessed disciple Ananda had a dialogue with a military general. The general expresses his appreciation for the presence of the sangha; Ananda, in turn, thanks the general for his protection, which enables monks to pursue their practice in a peaceful society. The picture that emerges from this selection of canonical references is that the practice of Buddhism depends on peaceful, prosperous social conditions. The monk's involvement in politics was on the personal level, advising individual rulers to promote more enlightened policies. In short, the Theravada scriptures provide us with a picture of he monks actively involved in the social, economic, and political life of its day, not merely an institution pursuing narrowly construed religious ends.

From modern histories of Buddhist countries, it is certainly the case that youth monks are engaging in a range of activities previously seen as being outside the realm of legitimate monastic activity. They provided leadership in the independence movements in Myanmar and Sri Lanka in the early twentieth century. Vietnamese monks protested against the corrupt Diem regime in the late 1960s through dramatic acts of elf-immolation. In the mid-1970s Thai monks became active on both political left and the right. Theravada monks (mostly youth) in South and Southeast Asia are speaking out on a variety of contemporary social and economic issues, including the increasing gap between the rich and the poor in the developing world, the exploitation of women in the workplace and as prostitutes, the scourge of AIDS, and the destruction of the natural environment.
There are many examples in Buddhist countries (Thailand, Myanmar, and and Sri Lanka) where youth Buddhist monks have been and continue to participate in programs of rural and urban uplift and social welfare. Despite many monks working closely for economic uplift, community development, ecological preservation and social welfare there are also numbers of Buddhist monks in their youth who are trying to deal with the most dangerous and crucial social problems of today i.e. drug addict and AIDS. In Thailand, there is a world-renowned Buddhist monastery where a treatment for drug addicts are given by applying Buddhist teachings, disciplines together with herbal remedies. Similarly, there is a Buddhist monastery where monks give refuge to AIDS patients bay taking care of them and teaching them to cope with it with the help of Buddhist teaching and meditation together with modern medicine and heal remedies. This might be a coincident that these changes of roles initiated by monks were all in their youth.

Here, I would like to present with an example of a youth monk who has successfully socially engaged in applying the Buddhist teachings to youth prisons in Great Britain as how one can re-channel the role of youth in today's need. He is a British monk Van. Khemadhammo, the founder and spiritual director of 'ANGULIMALA,' the Buddhist Prison Chaplaincy Organization founded in February 1985. He was a youth of 27 years old when he took drastic change from an actor to a peace loving Buddhist monk in Thailand in 1971. In pursuit of the story of the Angulimala in Buddhism where the Buddha compassionately changed the murderer Angulimala to be a successful Buddhist monk Ven. Khemadhammo initiated to preach Buddhist teachings and meditation to prisoners in different prisons of Great Britain from 1977.

Writing about its establishment, Ven. Khemmadhamma writes, "The story of Angulimala teaches us that the possibility of Enlightenment may be awakened in the most extreme of circumstances, that people can and do change and that people are best influenced by persuasion. The Buddha explained his teaching in its simplest and most universal form as, 'Give up what is unwholesome and wrong, cultivate what is skillful and good and purify your mind-this is the Teaching of all the Buddhas.' It reminds us that behind the exoticism and intellectualization, the need for practical application lies at the core of everything the Buddha said."

The story on how the youth Ven. Khemmadhammo, a monk of meditation came about to apply the Dhamma to prisoners in UK is an inspirational story for all youth in itself. He changed the role of a temple from waiting for people to come to the temple, for prisoners he took the temple to them in prison. This is an example of how a role of youth can bring a big change in society. He recalls:

When I decided to respond to those original requests back in 1977, I had to consider what I had to offer people locked up in prison. I, after all, had never been incarcerated, I had never been in a prison, I didn't know where they were and I wasn't even sure I had ever seen one. When I sat down to think about it I realised that I had also spent quite a lot of my time shut away in small spaces and I too had had to face myself in that solitude. There were differences of course. I had made that forest monastic seclusion my choice and as I sat and faced myself I had had at my disposal an armoury of meditation techniques as well as the guidance, the example, the wisdom and the support of those who taught me. I had also been purposefully seeking to understand my life. There were differences but there were similarities. I too had been uncomfortable and it was my sense of unease that had led me to look beyond the then narrow confines that restricted me for answers. Yes, I realised, I did understand something about imprisonment. And after all, aren't we all imprisoned by our greed and aversion, by our ignorance, and our prejudices and attachments. And it was my belief then, as it is now, that while I have yet to pass through the gate that is Liberation, Buddhist techniques equip me with the means to do so. Thinking along these lines, I decided that I did have something to offer those in prison.

The Changing Role of Youth Laity

As a part of the Fourfold Order in Buddhism it is not only monk who actively played role in disseminating, reinterpreting and applying Buddhist teachings to solve today's problems. Equally there are laity who have played such significant roles. These stories not only tell us the role of youth for the new millennium but those activities can inspire youth of today . The contributions and roles played by the traditional Buddhist youth groups and modern applications of Buddhist youth groups in many Buddhist societies are praiseworthy. They are also models for youth of today to take further steps and take equal share in Buddhism. Each story of Buddhist youth group tells us not only the traditional roles of youth in propagating Buddhism but succeeded in re-channelling the efficient Buddhist youth force for political awareness and social uplifts.

At a time when all the national races were engaged in armed resistance against the imperialist British, religious associations were established in major cities in Myanmar beginning in 1897. In 1906 Young Men's Buddhist Association (YMBA) was formed in Yangon. Perhaps this is the first of its kind for Buddhist communities. Though it was a Buddhist association, it took part in political movement, organizational matters and struggle to set the nation free from the British rule. It also protested the British imperialists' scheme to prolong the enslavement. Fighting against the British imperialists changed from armed struggle to political tactics.

The Eighth Conference of YMBA was held in Pyay in 1920. At that time, national spirit was aroused in the whole country. Branches of YMBA and kits members were increasing day after day. Naticnalist farmers in rural areas, merchants and brokers in urban areas, teachers, lawyers and small industrialists began to support YMBA. Members of the Sangha also supported it.

Likewise, in 1919, Young Men's Buddhist Association was established in Colombo. the YMBA in Sri Lanka played another role in establishing Buddhist educational centers throughout the island of Sri Lanka from the beginning of twenty-seven schools in 1919 to more than 3,000 by 1966. Later this kind of organizations playing significant roles in disseminating, promoting and applying Buddhist teachings for social benefit among youth are developed and established in every country where the Buddhist population exist. This kind of groups were also emerged among youth in universities.
Moreover, the role of Buddhist youth has widespread into different fields of society. The famous examples are the founding of the Sarvodaya Shramadana movement of volunteer work-camps in Sri Lanka in the late 1985s, which applied traditional Buddhist principles to the alleviation of rural poverty; and the founding of the School of Youth for Social Service and the Tiep Hien Order (Order of Interbeing) by the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh and nun Chan Khong, who responded to the ravages of the war in their country by organizing volunteers in the rebuilding of bombed villages, starting farmers' cooperatives, establishing clinics,and lobbying in the West for an end to the war.

The most radical and renown example of socially engaged Buddhism of he twentieth century is the Sarvodaya Shramadana, a rural self-help program. It has developed the most ambitious volunteer service organization and work projects in over 10,000 villages. the projects have included agriculture, village infrastructure, health, pre-school education, and women's health and welfare. To date the Sarvodaya movement has involved over 800,000 volunteers in its programs. Its founder, A. T. Ariyaratne when he was a youth, claims that his efforts are inspired by the Buddha's teaching to strive for awakening. For Ariyaratne the primary meaning of sarvodaya is liberation, first form "the defilements within one's own mind... and secondly, form unjust and immoral socio-economic chains." Ariyaratne grounds awakening or liberation in individual transformation, but expands the concept to a universal utopian vision that moves form individual to village, and form community to nation and finally encompass the world.

The philosophy of Sarvodaya is grounded in basic Theravada teachings: the three characteristics of existence (impermanence, suffering, not-self), the mutually interdependent and coarising nature of reality, the Nobel Eightfold Path encompassing morel virtue, meditation, and wisdom, the mental perfections of loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity, and the moral precepts (Sila). However, Ariyaratne extrapolates classical Buddhist teachings as practical action guides to meet current needs. The Four Noble Truths are given social correlates: (1) there is an unproductive village; (2) there is a cause for this lack of productivity; (3) there is a hope that the village can renewed; and (4) there is a way to the renewal of all. In short, Ariyaratne's view of Buddhism is consistent with the modern, reformist tendency to interpret the tradition in pragmatic, ethical terms suitable for youth of today and future.

In Nepalese perspective, there are several examples of Buddhist youth groups (Young Men's Buddhist Association (YMBA), Buddhist Youth Group (BYG), etc.) continue playing significant roles in disseminating the Buddhist teachings. Whereas the YMBA of Nepalese chapter is popular for their traditional role of propagating Buddhism by organising public talks, arranging pilgraimge, printing magazines, social services, etc. The BYG, in addition, have played significant role to be a instrumental for the awareness of religio-politics in Nepal by organizing peace demonstration, initiate Buddhist awareness among different ethnic groups of Nepal, etc. Similar Buddhist youth groups have emerged in major regional centers (e.g. Pokhara, Dharan) and district centres (e.g. Butwal, Palpa, Bhaktaput).

Youth: The vital link

While Buddhism has begun to gain a firm foothold in the West, its fate in its traditional Buddhist homelands has been moving, sadly, in the opposite direction, towards atrophy and decline. Even among many Buddhists countries where majority of population profess Buddhism, the Buddhist teachings no longer occupy the same sovereign place in people's hearts that it held in the last millennium.

Among the changes taking place in current patterns of thinking, perhaps the most detrimental to Buddhist teachings has been the rise to prominence of a materialistic world view and consumerism. Often a curious ambivalence prevails in our minds, where with one part of the mind we profess our confidence in the lofty principles of the Buddhist teachings, while with the other we think the achievement of worldly success were the true mark of the accomplished individual.

The rapid spread of the materialistic world view has in turn brought about a far-ranging secularization of values that invades every nook and cranny of our lives. this transformation of values gives precedence to goals and attitudes diametrically opposed to those advocated by the Buddhist teachings, and under its impact the scales have tipped far away even from a reasonable balance between material and spiritual goods. Now we see acquisitiveness replacing contentment as the reigning ideal, competition taking the place of cooperation, fast efficiency the place of compassionate concern, and selfish indulgence the place of abstinence and self-control.

The attempt to live simultaneously by two conflicting sets of principles-- those being ushered in by secular materialism and those grounded in the Buddhist teachings--generates a tension that contains within it a seed of very destructive potential. Often the tension is only dimly felt by those in the older generation, who accept the new out look and values without clearly perceiving the challenge they pose to traditional Buddhist ideals. It is when the contradiction is pushed down to the next generation, to the Buddhist youth of today, that inherent incompatibility of the next generation, to the Buddhist youth of today, that the inherent incompatibility of the two perspectives comes into the open as a clear-cut choice between two alternative philosophies of life--one proposing a hierarchy of values which culminates in the spiritual and sanctions restraint and renunciation, the other holding up the indulgence and gratification of personal desire as the highest conceivable goal. Since the later appeals to strong and deep- seated human drives, it is hardly puzzling that so many young people today have turned away from the guidance of he Buddhist teachings to pursue the new paths to instant pleasure opened up by the consumer society or, in their frustration at missed opportunities, to take to the path of violence.

Since it is the youth that forms the vital link in the continuity of Buddhism and society, connecting its past with its future, it is of paramount importance that the Buddhist youth of today should retain their fidelity to the Buddhist teachings. The Buddhist teachings should be for them not merely a symbol of cultural and ethnic identity, not merely focus point of sentimental piety, but above all a path to be taken to heart, personally applied, and adhered to in those critical choices between present expediency and long-range spiritual gain. The problem, however, is precisely how to inspire the young to look to the Buddhist teachings as their guide and infallible refuge.

It must be stressed that our present dilemma goes far deeper than a breakdown of moral standards, and thus that it cannot be easily rectified by pious preaching and moral exhortation. If conduct deviating from the Buddhist teachings has become widespread among today's youth this is because the Buddhist vision has ceased to be meaningful to them, and it has ceased to be meaningful not because it has lost its relevance but because it is not being presented in ways which highlight its timeless and ever-immediate relevance.

The most urgent task facing those concerned with the preservation of Buddhism must be the attempt to communicate to the young the central vision at the heart of the Buddhist teachings, the vision from which all the specific doctrines and practices of Buddhism issue forth. This does not require a mastery of the technical details of the Buddhist teachings, but it does require that we ourselves understand the Dhamma's essence and are actively striving to make that understanding the foundation of out lives. Both by precept and example we must show that true freedom is to be found not in uncontrolled license, but in the control and mastery of desire; that true happiness lies not in a proliferation of goods, but in peace and contentment; that our relations with others are most rewarding when they are governed not by conflict and competition, but by kindness and compassion, and that true security is to be achieved not by the acquisition of wealth and power, but by the conquest of self with all its ambitions and conceits.

As religious leaders, what role should they now play? Should the religious institution remain a conservative and abhorring change, or should it revert to a socially engaged religious institution for to achieve their ideals. A conference such as this would be a very good platform discussion of this crucial question. Can the religious force effect a creative tension between imagination and tradition, between innovation and the status quo?

What we have to consider now is how to review, refine and strengthen the role of youth in the creation of a new and different world. This may mean institutional changes; making it possible for youth to assume greater responsibility earlier in life. We must recognise and encourage thoughtful young people to build more networks or relationships nationally, inter-regionally, inter-regionally and internationally. The problems of youth are our problems, and we must think of them in terms of the totality of our communities and our societies.

Lumbini is recognised by the world as the fountain of peace and Buddha himself as apostle of peace who dedicated his life to promote peace and happiness to mankind. Lumbini echoes the essence of the Buddha's message to this world. However, we should not forget that Lumbini also represents the Buddha's youth. It is in the areas of Lumbini and Kapilavatthu where the Buddha spent his 29 years of his youth as Prince Siddhattha. He gained, prepared and developed his mind for his enlightenment from the social conditions he lived during his youth in this very land. With the right view and right channelling of youth force Prince Siddhattha succeeded in Becoming the Buddha, the apostle of world peace.

In addition to Lumbini being the fountain of peace we should also consider to develop it as the international youth centre for disseminating the message of peace and happiness. Drawing inspirations from the Buddha youth we could develop Lumbini as the training centre of peace related activities for international youth. We could develop this very Lumbini as the centre for promoting and strengthening among the younger generations observance and practice of the teachings of the Buddha; inclucating piety towards the Triple Gem, parents, and elders; securing unity, solidarity and brotherhood among Buddhist youth; organizing and carrying an activities in the field of social, economic, educational, recreational, cultural, ecological and religious and other humanitarian services; working for securing peace and harmony among youth, etc. This will not only fit with the historical significance of Lumbini but it will also serve the global community for present and future needs.

The Buddha said, "Youth are foundations of all human being." What better place can Lumbini be than the center for youth, the foundations of all human being?



[1] Bhikkhu Sugandha (Anil Sakya), Assistant Secretary to His Holiness Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara, the Supreme Patriarch of Thailand, graduated MPhil from Cambridge University and Ph. D. in social anthropology from Brunel University, United Kingdom.

[2] I would like to thank O. P Gauchan, L. D. Bajracharya, G. Chitrakar, Prof. T. C. Majupuria, Dr. D. N. Gellner and Dr. K. M. Shakya for helpful comments on the process of writing this paper.

[3] Socio-biologists usually divide human life into the following stages viz. infancy, babyhood, childhood, adolescence and adulthood. For purpose of this paper, the term 'youth' here refers to marginal men who stand somewhere between childhood and adulthood going through a period of apprenticeship to assume adult roles. Between childhood and adulthood, there stretches a longish period in a person's life. In many socio-religious context youth age generally ranges from age 14 to 40 although socio-biologically youth age is ranged from 12 to 21. In this paper I imply the former sense of youth, i.e. the socio-religious context.

[4] Thich Nhat Hanh first introduced the term "engaged Buddhism" in the 1960s.

[5] When people ask me, as they quite often do, What is an engaged Buddhist? I feel awkward. The phrase seems to imply that there are, can be, disengaged Buddhists. That is not something I feel it is polite, or politic, to admit. This becomes clearer if we use the Dalai Lama's alternative expression, "Universal responsibility." Would it sound okay to say, "We are the responsible Buddhists, they are the irresponsible ones"?


Source: Lumbini - The birthplace of the Lord Buddha,

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