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We take refuge in the Lord Buddha Shakyamuni
Members of the Sangha, The Honourable Philip Ruddock, Minister For Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Councillors of Fairfield City Council, Distinguished Guests, Our Compatriots, Fellow Buddhists,
The celebration of Vesak Day 2621 in the year 2541 according to the Buddhist Calendar is jointly organised by the United Vietnamese Buddhist Congregation of New South Wales and the ACT. We are deeply honoured by your presence here today. On behalf of the organising committee we would like to thank you all for coming and celebrating Vesak with us. On the day of the full moon day in the fourth lunar month, in the Lumbini Gardens near the city of Kapilavastu located in the Himalayan foothills in what now southern Nepal the Historic Buddha was born to Queen Mahamaya and King Suddhodana of the warrior caste Shakya clan. The birth of Buddha, like that of the founders of other religions is shrouded in the myth and magical events. One of the Buddhist scriptures recounts " ...that, having thus been born, the Buddha without any help or support walked seven steps towards each quarter of the world. At every step as he walked there sprang a lotus flower from the earth beneath his feet. Then He announced " No further births have I to endure, for this is my last body. Now shall I destroy and pluck out by the roots the sorrow that is caused by birth and death (Samsara) ".
Living in a democratic society such as ours, it is probably hard to understand the complexity of Indian social structures at that time. There were four main castes (or Savarnas meaning literally "colours": the Brahmin or priestly caste who monopolised all the privileges that the White South Africans of the now defunct apartheid regime would have envied; the "Kshatriya", or warrior caste who were the ruling elite; the "Vaishya" the merchant caste and the Shudra, the artisan caste who were the working class people. There was absolutely no social mobility between these castes because one's caste was inherited at one's parents at birth, a situation that was prescribed in the Vedic scriptures, unlike the social class which is a man made institution. There is a lower caste, the Untouchables, now called "haridjan" who have been deprived of every basic human right. It was an untouchable, Ambedkar, who revived Buddhism in India which led the greatest mass conversion to Buddhism in modern Indian history.
The birth of the Buddha in a country full of social inequality must be seen as the beginning of a new era in which human dignity is respected. A new era in which human beings are no longer the playthings of omniscient deities. Human beings deserve respect and equal treatment regardless of their origins or social standing.
Buddhism is a religion of loving kindness and compassion which is not restricted to human beings. but is extended to all sentient beings. Let me recount a story of the Buddha and his cousin, Devadatta, who later became the Buddha’s adversary. One day Prince Siddharta was walking in the royal garden when suddenly a white swan pierced by an arrow, fell on the ground in front of him. The Prince knelt down, holding the quivering bird, said to it softly: " Do not be afraid. I am here to look after you. Let me see your wound" Gently He removed the arrow and tended the wound. The bird seemed to be reassured and lay quietly. Taking off his jacket, the Prince laid it over the swan to pick it up and to go to seek medical when Devadatta tushed up to Him saying; "Have you seen the swan I shot dove ?". Seeing the bird wrapped safely in the Prince's jacket, Devadatta said angrily. "It is mine. I shot it down. You have stolen my quarry" However the Prince refused to give the swan to Devadatta who eventually had to give up his prey. This is not just a story about two boys who squabble over marbles. This is a story of the two opposing forces: one protecting life and the other destroying it. I should remind you that the Buddha did not just have concern for human beings or animals alone, He talked about ALL sentient beings. To put it in more modern terms; the Buddha was concerned about the whole eco-system which includes all animate or inanimate existence. At the 14th General Conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists sixty Buddhist scholars, monks and laity proclaimed "A Green Buddhist Declaration" showing their concern about the rapid destruction of our environment in the name of development and progress.
On the path to enlightenment a follower usually starts with sila or code of ethics. To follow the Buddha footsteps we have to apply these ethical principles in our everyday life. If we appeal to others to respect our freedom and rights, we must respect theirs. If we have a look around we can see discrimination, social injustice ...which are still practised in many parts of the world. Even in many institutionalised religions, people are still coerced into accepting the absolute order from above. Bertrand Russell in his key speech delivered at Battersea Town Hall, London in 1927 said:
We want to stand upon our two feet and look fair and square at the world- its good facts its bad facts, its beauty and its ugliness; see the world as it is and be not afraid of it. Conquer the World by intelligence and not merely by being slavishly subdued by the terror that comes from it.. We ought to stand up and look the world frankly in the face. We ought to make the best we can of the world and if it is not so good as we wish, after all it will still be better than what these others have made of it in all these ages. A good world needs knowledge, kindness and courage.. It does not need a regretful hankering after the past or a fettering of the free intelligence by the words uttered long ago by ignorant men. It needs a fearless outlook and a free intelligence.
As we have said, the Buddha extends compassion to all beings. He is the greatest teacher ever of humankind and celestial creatures He is the enlightened one, while all beings have the potential for enlightenment. It is the delusion which clouds our perception. We are all suffering, defiled and unable to transcend the cycle of birth and death. Liberation from this cycle only comes when we know how to become the master of our existence.
Knowing the karmic effects of our actions, we know what existence has in store for us. There is no punishment or reward meted out to us by some God out there. What we are doing today will decide what we will become in another plane of existence in innumerable universes. Our birth may take place in different realms of existence. It is believed that there are other realms of existence in which beings manifest themselves, according to their moral or immoral karma. The Buddha's teachings are in tune with contemporary thinkers which recognise the necessity and freedom: human beings are not the play things in a hopelessly deterministic game, but they have full freedom to choose a probable course of Karmic events: they may be tied up endlessly by their own karmic actions, or they may mitigate and transform their karma by being enlightened. (Tinh Tien, Buddhism is the Liberation Path for Human Beings, in Buddhism in the New Century, Giao Diem, USA 1996, p.49)
To celebrate Vesak Day in a significant way, we must remember that Buddhism is a spiritual experimental religion. Praising the Lord Buddha is not good enough. We should start contemplating deeply in order to be able to see things as they are and then apply all the Buddhist precepts in our daily life. We have to contribute positively to our own life, to the life of our family and to society at large. We must refrain from harming not only other human beings, but to all forms of life and the environment. For example we have to refrain from needlessly cutting down trees, or polluting our air and rivers (protect our ecosystem) or hunting just for pleasure. We should choose the right livelihood (right thought, right speech, right action...)This is the best way to respect freedom and equality of all sentient beings.
With sadness we realise that a large number of people still do not enjoy basic human rights in many parts of the world, Vietnam included. I just want to quote a few simple words spoken by His Holiness Dalai Lama: Everyone wants to be happy. And they have a right to be so. Nobody has more rights than another to enjoy happiness. This is a deeply moving statement. We have to widen our vision about the world and change the way we look at other human beings. We have to look deeply into our inner world and try to discard our prejudices, transform self and develop compassion towards everyone and everything. Let everyone and everything enjoy happiness. In my opinion this is the best way to celebrate Vesak Day.
May all sentient beings persevere in following the path to enlightenment.oOo
May all beings develop love and compassion and may we all mitigate our karmic effects and transcend the cycle of death and rebirth.
We take refuge in the Lord Buddha Shakyamuni.
Bhikkhu Thich Bao Lac, Chairman of the Organising Committee
(Source: Buddhist Council of New South Wales, http://www.zip.com.au/~lyallg/index.html )