No. 10                                                              May 1998 
Edited by Victor Gunasekara




Religion and the Australian Constitution

A Constitutional Convention was held in Canberra in February 1998 to consider the question of the reform of the Australian Constitution. This has been rightly hailed as one of the most important events since Federation nearly a century ago. The principal tasks of the Convention were (1) to determine if a referendum is to be held on the question of Australia becoming a Republic, and (2) in that event to propose how the Head of State should be appointed. The Convention resolved that the question be put to the people, and also agreed on a mechanism to elect the President who would be the Head of State under a Republic.

While this was the main focus of the deliberations of the Convention there was also some discussion on other matters relating to the new Constitution. One of these referred to the position of religion in the new Constitution.

Most Constitutions in the world today mention religion in some way or another, sometimes giving exclusive privileges to a dominant religion. In Muslim countries Islam is given an exclusive status with Christianity and Judaism also given some recognition (as being religions of the Book ) but other religions subjected to severe discrimination. This was also the position in Europe after the conversion of Constantine. The Christians who claimed to have been persecuted under the old Roman empire now became persectors themselves exceeding anything that they may have been subjected to. Not only were the non-Christians subjected to severe disabilities but even Christians belonging to a different sect than the established one were subjected to severe penalties. The Christian pogrom against the Jews is well known. Even though in modern Europe religious tolerance has been established the old rules favouring a particular sect of Christianity continue to prevail especially in Catholic countries. Even in Protestant Europe the situation is not too different.

The American Constitution is hailed as one which separates Church from State. This is true to the extent that no particular sect of Christianity is established but there is no doubt that there is a tacit recognition of Christianity, particularly in the preamble to the Constitution, in inscriptions in the coinage ( "In God we Trust"), etc. Australia seems to have followed the American example even though the specific Constitutional forms established in 1901 were distinctively British. Today the question of Constitutional reform has been raised in connection with the move to become a republic. Some argue that this change should be kept to a minimum, e.g. only to determining who the Head of State should be and how this position should be filled. Others however argue that the opportunity should be taken to undertake a more through-going review of the Constitution to bring it into line with the current reality of Australia as a multi-cultural nation. One of the issues raised in this connection is the question whether the Constitution should give exclusive recognition to a single religion even if it is that of majority of the population.

It is generally conceded that the new Constitution should reflect the current status of Australia as a multi-cultural nation and religion is usually considered as part of culture. When the present Constitution was formulated in 1901 Australia was predominantly a Christian nation. The original inhabitants of the land, the aboriginal people, indeed had a religion which was no less sophisticated than any of the religions introduced by the new immigrants and certainly of much greater antiquity. As a religion of nature it is closer to the spirit of the modern age than the supernatural religions spawned in the Middle East. But at that stage the Aboriginals had no rights, and indeed even today they are about to be stripped of the residual rights they still enjoy.

In the present Constitution there is only one reference to religion. This occurs at the very outset, in the Preamble, and reads as follows: "Whereas the people of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, and Tasmania, humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God, have agreed to unite in one indissoluble Federal Commonwealth ..." etc. There is no further mention of religion in the Constitution mainly because the Constitution does not contain a Bill of Rights for ordinary citizens where the mention of religious freedom is usually included.

Even though Christianity is not specifically mentioned the statement in the Preamble clearly refers to Christian beliefs. The Almighty God referred to is Jehovah (or Yahweh). Muslims may see in it a reference to Allah, but that was certainly not what the fathers of the Constitution intended. Other theists may not be as happy with this choice of words. Even theistic Hindus do not use that particular epithet in referring to the Supreme Godhead of their religion. The position of non-theists is completely ignored, and indeed might even be offensive to their beliefs. Buddhists are included in this category of non-theists.

However even though the Constitution has a single oblique reference to the Christian religion much patronage has been extended to the Churches. This comes mainly by the Government refusing to exercise its responsibilities in many areas like education, health delivery or the social services. In these areas a considerable amount of public money is extended to Church organisations to run education, health and social service. While the rendering of these services by religious bodies relieves the Government for some responsibilities, and may even save money to the taxpayer, these activities are combines with the religious message of the organisation concerned.. This can only be seen as an indirect support of the particular religions that are the beneficiaries. While these religious bodies may engage themselves in the areas like education and the provision of social services for which they receive State subventions they are also using the opportunities provided in their evangelical work. The solution to this state of affairs is not to extend these privileges to other religions also but to see that these services are provided in a non-religious or secular environment.

In the deliberations of the Constitutional convention some curious attitudes were taken. One speaker claiming to be an atheist did not find anything wrong in retaining the reference to God in the Preamble. This is indeed a curious position for an atheist to take and merely shows that many people claiming to be atheists have not liberated themselves from theistic tendencies. The head of the Anglican Church in Brisbane Archbishop Hollingworth claimed that the reference to God in the Preamble was generic. This is curious claim. If it was generic it would not have been spelt as God but simply as god(s). The general reluctance of Christian churches to give a personal name to their God stems from the fact that they burrowed this God from the Jewish God Yahweh but are reluctant to use the Jewish name. It is sometimes written as Jehovah but generally God with a capital G is used. There is no doubt that the reference to God in the Constitution is to the monotheistic God of Christianity, not to the Jewish Yahweh or to the Islamic Allah (not to mention the supreme being recognised by other less well known religions).

The fact is that the new Constitution should be completely neutral not only as between the different religions but also between religion and non-religion. Some Constitutions make the separation of Church from State mandatory, and this is a good example for Australia to follow. It would be a great tragedy for Australia if the new Constitution to mark a new century of Federation should contain archaic references to theistic religion.

What is TheravŒda Buddhism ?

by V. A. Gunasekara

Generally three main schools of Buddhism have been identified. These are TheravŒda, MahŒyŒna and VajrayŒna. While this threefold classification is useful it does not encompass the totality of schools and approaches that one encounters in Buddhism, both in the historical past as well as today. For instance the term MahayŒna covers a variety of schools ranging from Pure Land Buddhism to Zen. VajrayŒna usually refers to Tibetan Buddhism, but even here we have a number of traditions and lineages. In contrast to this diversity it was thought that TheravŒda referred to a single and definitive strain of Buddhism, that which recognised the Pali Canon as authoritative. Unfortunately this is not the case. First of all there is no complete agreement on what texts should be considered Canonical, and even if there is scholars have identified a number of strata in the Pali Canon. This article seeks to explore some of the strains of TheravŒda Buddhism that we encounter.

A digression into the historical origin of Theravada may be useful. During the Buddhas lifetime the only schismatic movement was that initiated by Devadatta, but with the downfall of Devadatta this vanishes from the record. Thus at the time of the Buddha's death there was no schisms in the ranks of his disciples. So when three months after the death of the Buddha the Dhamma-Vinaya was rehearsed at the First Council held at the Saptaparna Cave near Rajagaha there was complete agreement. The Canon that was agreed to at this Council probably included only the Vinaya PiÊaka and parts of the Sutta PiÊaka. The latter probably included the first four NikŒyas of the Pali Canon (the D´gha, the Majjhima, the Aºguttara and the Saµyutta) with some of the books in the Khuddhaka NikŒya like the SuttanipŒta and the Dhammapada. They became the core of the TheravŒda Canon. There was a rapid expansion of Buddhism from its cradle in North-Central India first to Western India in the first century after the death of the Buddha, then to the South and the North-West. According to historians of Buddhism the term TheravŒda first arose in the disputes which arose about a hundred years after the Buddha's death. The first of these disputes related to the validity of certain Vinaya of practices indulged in by some monks in Central India. Some ten practices were involved, some of them rather trivial (like keeping salt in a horn) while others were more substantial (like accepting gifts of gold and silver). The Second Council was convened at Vesali to settle this issue. The views of the monks who opposed the new practices and reiterated the old Vinaya came to be known as the TheravŒda ("Doctrine of the Elders"). Thus no doctrinal issues were at stake in the Second Council and the Canon of the First Council was again recited to reiterate its validity. Even though the TheravŒda view became the official view of the Second Council a substantial number of monks continued to hold on to the new practices, and they came to be known as the MahŒsaºghika.

Another issue of greater doctrinal importance are the five points raised by MahŒdeva. Four of these questioned the attainments of the arhat which was the Theravada ideal. MahŒdeva claimed that arhats may be sexually tempted, had not eliminated ignorance completely, had doubts and would not have reached enlightenment by their own effort. In addition he advanced the notion of instantaneous enlightenment. These are reminiscent of later MahŒyana views but at this stage it is still too early to speak of MahŒyana.

Following MahŒdeva Indian Buddhism entered the great schismatic period. The two earlier divisions of TheravŒda and MahŒsaºghika each generated several schools. None of these however can be identified with the later MahŒyŒna. In fact scholars usually refer to them as the "HinayŒna schools". The exact number of schools have been variously counted. Some eighteen schools are identified in the TheravŒda literature as contesting one or the other of its doctrines and practices. The French scholar Bareau names some thirty-four schools.

The emergence of these new views together with the continuing violation of Vinaya rules by monks led to the convening of the Third Council during the reign of King Asoka. Moggaliputta Tissa Thera who was the leading monk behind this Council wrote the KathŒvattu to refute the new views put forward, and the monks violating the Vinaya were expelled from the Sangha.

It was during the Third Council that the final version of the Pali Canon was compiled. It added a whole new PiÊaka (the Abhidhamma) as well as several new books the Khuddhaka NikŒya. It is this enlarged Canon which was taken to Sri Lanka by the Arahat Mahinda in 246 BCE. It was committed to writing in Sri Lanka in the year 110 BCE at the Aluvihara Monastery, thus freezing it for all time.

Whether the original Buddhism should be confined only to the Dhamma-Vinaya or whether it should include the entirety of the Pali Canon as it now stands has been the subject of some debate. The term TheravŒda is sometimes used to denote the Canon as it emerged in the Third Council, while the Canons of the First and Second Canon are sometimes referred to as original (or primitive) Buddhism. If this is so then TheravŒda is not identical to original Buddhism, but it could be argued that none of the material introduced in the Third Council is in direct contravention of the the Dhamma-Vinaya established earlier.

In India itself new Pali texts came to be composed long after the Third Council. These include the Milindapa-hŒ, which is highly regarded by Theravadins, and in Burma is actually included in the Canon. After this TheravŒda Buddhism entered a phase of decline in India. However by this time TheravŒda Buddhism had been established in Sri Lanka. It was here that the Canon was first comitted to writing.

With the compilation of the commentaries, mainly through the efforts of Buddhaghosa Theravada Buddhism entered a new phase. The classic statement of Theravada as it stood at this time is contained in the Visuddhimagga (The Path to Purity) also written by Buddhaghosa Thera. This represents the final form of Theravada.

So you want to Meditate!

by Terrance McDonnell

First, put your reasons and ideas down on paper. Then put them aside and don't look at them again for, perhaps, several months.

Your perceptions of meditation, its purpose, methods, and results will change markedly during your initial and early training. The next time you read those pre-practice ideas you can have a good laugh over your, probably many, initial misconceptions.

This article sets out the general procedures and benefits of meditation but does not seek to give detailed instructions in its practice. That should be the work of a good, experienced teacher.

You don't need to be an adept practitioner of Hatha Yoga to meditate. Successful meditation work can be done sitting in a chair, cross-legged on the floor or cushion, or lying horizontal.

The usual posture is seated on a firm chair, with feet flat on the floor; bottom and thighs fully and evenly supported by the Chair; back straight without holding tense; and hands in your lap, right on left, palms turned toward the ceiling. Sensitive and sensible adjustments to this basic posture can allow for those suffering with arthritis, muscular problems, injuries, and cancer to meditate effectively. All Buddhist teaching including meditation is specifically there to reduce pain & suffering not to increase it. None of that "no gain without pain" macho rubbish! Our goal is to reduce suffering; not increase it!

There are two aspects to any effective meditational practice. These are the attainment of Calm (samatha) and Insight (vipassana). Meditation systems which purport to give you only calm are illusionary and will bear little useful fruit. You cannot reach Enlightenment (Nibbana) by the mere attainment of higher and higher states of calm (jhanas). Their effects are only temporary. So a balance of calm and insight is the way.

To gain a measure of calm you must develop a functional level of Concentration (samadhi). This, generally, is a matter of assiduously Letting Go of Interruptions (from your surroundings) and Distractions (from your mind). You will be shown how to use a multitude of objects on which to place your Attention. These "working grounds" will be the base to which you return if interrupted or distracted. The Breath is the primary object of attention.

I recommend using the Rising-and-Falling movements of your unrestricted belly as the focus point of Attention to the Breath. This focus point has many advantages over the nostrils, upper lip, etc. It has intrinsic calming properties. It is never distressing (as sometimes happens at the nostrils) nor productive of illusions (as occurs when following the breath from the nostrils to the navel and back).

Begin by taking your seat, adopting your posture, letting go and attaining as much reduction of tension as you can in one to two minutes. Then be aware of the movements of your chest and belly. They will be quite coarse at first. Encourage the belly if you tend to be a chest breather. Gradually, as the body quietens down, your breathing will slow and become shallower until the chest ceases its movement. The belly only is now gently rising and falling. The movements are powered by the diaphragm - that great sheet of muscle attached to the lower ribs and the back sealing the lungs off from the abdomen. Women will notice particularly how much less energy is needed to breathe in this way. This is because their breasts are not continually being hoisted up at each and every in-breath. This method with this and several other postures are advantageously practiced nude outdoors in clement weather and indoors at any time.

It is not recommended that you practice meditation with incense burning or music quietly playing. Though incense can be effectively used in the Smoke or Incense Meditation (see my Guide to Buddhist Meditation). If you do, you may find after quite a short time that you are unable to meditate without them. Normally if you practice correctly these interruptions will cause annoyance and decrease the depth of calm and insight you can attain. Likewise meditate in the same spot or chair at home but do 'work' elsewhere to obviate the possibility that you can only practice in that one place. But wait until your technique and first 'working ground' i.e. the rise and fall of your belly is established.

Thinking actively is not meditation. Creating pleasant images in your mind is not meditation. Feeling merely calm during a session and for a short time later is not meditation. Using drugs in your practice is not meditation. But being interrupted by cats jumping onto your lap, dogs barking, traffic, is meditation if you return promptly or in a short time to your subject. Or, if distracted by your thoughts and immediately, if not sooner, return to your subject is meditation.

Before long, you will find that you can observe your thinking; but not allow it to inveigle you into being absorbed by it and thus losing sight of your goal. You will gain freedom from the following. For example, you are sitting perfectly still attending to your subject when you recall that you have not put corn flour on your shopping list. This causes you a little concern. You try to visualise yourself selecting the packet of corn flour from the supermarket shelf. This being one of your excellent memory strategies. The dinner you are going to prepare tomorrow for some old friends ie Judy, Sam, Henry and Elizabeth. Elizabeth has not been well lately. She was to consult a specialist the day before yesterday. Or was it last Wednesday? You must ask her the result. You have horrible thoughts about diseases ...

It's certain that you have experienced similar trains of thought thousands of times. But you can train your subconscious to automaticly alert you to the fact if you do stray from your subject in this way.

Once you have practiced 'letting go', and thus maintaining your attention to a single object, you can graduate to Moment-by-Moment Meditation in which you can deal with the myriad of interruptions and distractions which abound in daily life.

Before long, if you practice no less than three times per week you will find that you can observe any one of a multitude of things closely while putting aside, just for the time being, your prejudices, either for or against. An observation made under such conditions is thus much more objective than is normally achieved. These new insights are taken into your psyche and become part of your "world view". This leads to both small and profound changes in your attitudes. Changes that would not be achieved by any amount of study, discussion or argument. After this you will be able to use your mind (now acting on solid facts , not hearsay) to intellectually, rationally think on the matter brought into clarity.

There are two approaches to meditation which are usually quite unfruitful. The first is to merely 'experience' aspects of the mind but learn nothing from them because you don't think about the results. This can lead in the worst scenario, to following cult-ish behaviour such as the Om Rikyo and the mass Jonestown suicides and murders. The other is when, often high-school teachers, try to armchair think their way along the meditative path. First of course they don't accept the fact that you cannot do this. That would be akin to expecting a Martian to know what the taste of an orange is without first tasting it with his tongue.

When discussing 'thoughts' in this article I have not defined such. For the purposes of Buddhist meditation and the Dhamma we consider that input into the 'conscious' mind comes from six sources. These are: Sight, Smell, sound (audition), taste, touch (all the various other senses eg Pain, balance, position of joints, tension on muscles, deep and light pressure, heat, and cold, etc), and material coming from the memory, imagination, and cognitive portion of the cerebral cortex. Each of these inputs has its own, unique nature. The other five can be imitated by the cerebral one. For our purpose this is the only one spoken of as 'thought'. By exploring each of these sense modalities in your meditation the nature of your perceptions (sanna) will become clearer. This will bring your perceptions of the world closer to things-as-they-really-are. Body Meditation ie close examination of the touch input will in time allow you to use your body more effectively, with less distress, illness, or injury. It is possible to be made aware of oncoming illness sufficiently early to ward it off by a change in behaviour or, often, simply telling your body that you do not need this illness. In this way, attacks of Herpes (simple and genital), Shingles, and many infections can be aborted.

Pain from chronic conditions such as whiplash, spinal lesions, 'phantom limb', and some forms of cancer can be immediately eased. With persistent application lasting reduction in severity, and often complete lasting cessation of these symptoms. By observing the pain-in-the-pain (Dukkha-dukkhata) this can be done. The first result is, as I said, instantaneous (if you call two to fifteen minutes instantaneous. For a chronic debilitated, desperate sufferer, that is.

The many other outcomes of the assiduous practice of meditation are: obvious Peace (khanti) through wisdom (panna); reduced anger (lobha) ill-will (dosa), and clearer thinking; enhanced ability to 'walk in the other's moccasins'; increased loving-kindness toward all things (metta), weakened jealousy and increased Joy-in-Another's Gain (mudita); lowered tendency to panic and enhanced Equanimity in volatile situations; and you are less likely to act with cruelty; and since more is known, more is understood, you experience a reduction in Fear.

Further, though nothing may appear to happen during a particular session it does not mean that advances have not been made. When next doing something routine, eg buttering bread, washing the dishes, or sitting on the toilet insights will come to you without apparent effort. On desperate occasions you might find that time seems to expand and you will have 'more' time to consider and act appropriately rather than merely reacting, possibly disasterously.

After observing hundreds of my students, and others, over the past decade or so I have come to the conclusion that daily meditation sessions are not advisable. In far too many cases this practice leads to a complacency in which one's discriminatory facility is allowed to become blase. Finally the 'meditation' session degenerates into merely a quiet period with lowered alertness. It soon becomes a bad habit and ends in the inability to meditate properly until given assistance from an expert. A tendency to scramble or forget essential parts of technique become noticeable to the trained observer.

Keep it to three 45 minute sessions per week and you will progress at the maximum rate, lose less spare time, and avoid becoming stale.

OK! After several weeks, or even months, you have developed technique and insight to the point where you can competently observe "body" (First Foundation), Feelings ie pleasant, painful, and neither (Second Foundation), and to some extent Mental States (Third Foundation). Now you can consciously attend to the "thought contents" (Fourth Foundation). This is, in many ways, the most difficult. You will have already had some success here but have easily got into trouble. For example, got lost in the content of a thought an wandered off down the paths that its contents lead you, allowed emotions created by you reacting to thought content, degenerated into "the Monkey Mind" ie hopping from this subject to that incessantly, or merely thinking on the Thought Content rather than simply observing it. One excellent way of avoiding these traps is to continue with basic "Letting Go (detachment) practice and test the Thought Content against Dhammic doctrines. These are eg. Change in all conditioned things (Sankharas), basic or underlying Dissatisfaction (Dukkha), essential non-selfness, are you acting or merely re-acting, how much are the Defilements present, etc? Use any doctrine that comes to mind or one particular one held up against all thoughts during, perhaps, one session.

Don't get put off. Keep meditating steadily. Remember the lottery sales pitch, ie If you are not in it, you can't win it.

May you be happy, and subject to less Suffering. Metta!

The Pañcasîla in Buddhism

by Ven Bhikkhu Dhammavihari

This article is taken from Ven Bhikkhu Professor Dhammavihari's booklet entitled A Universal Ethic of Good Living, where it forms the concluding section, entitled "A philosophy and a religion as a way of living: Buddhism". The pañcasîla are the five ethical precepts of Buddhism.

Let us attempt a brief assessment of the value of pañcasîla as an instrument of religious discipline in Buddhism. It should be quite clear to every student of Buddhism that it offers nothing to the humans of the world by way of religion which is not directly involved in some way with elevating the quality of life on earth, of man and bird and beast, here and now. Early Buddhism, as Sakyamuni Buddha himself has taught it, is totally a gradual and sustained process of culture, of culturing at the very outset, the physical basis of human life, i.e. its proper control and management [bhŒvita-kŒyo], of culturing moral values [bhŒvita-s´lo], and developing the domain of wisdom [bhŒvita-pa--o ... A.I.249]. Therefore all the social benefits of pañcasîla which accrue to mankind in this very social context of ours, in our lives in this world, both individually and collectively, are organically part and parcel of Buddhism as a religion.

Buddhism's message is that, based on this springboard of life-correction and life-adjustment while one is in the present human existence of this visibly known world, one must gather the necessary power and momentum for his or her leap to leave saµsŒra behind and speed in the direction of Nirvana. We use the verb speed here deliberately, because we are assured that after the real take off from the launch pad at the stage of stream-entry or sotŒpatti, one does not keep going on in saµsŒra any more than seven births before reaching the goal of Nirvana. They go not into an eighth birth, it is declared in the Ratana Sutta [Na te bhavaµ aÊÊhamaµ Œdiyanti Sn. V. 230]. It is this process of getting in to orbit whilst journeying to Nirvana, with a very strict reckoning of time-space considerations [that there shall be no birth in a lower state of existence called apŒya and that there shall be no incurring of an eighth birth], that we call religious discipline and religious culture in this context.

It is astonishing how Buddhist texts, including some of the earliest like the Samyutta Nikaya among them [see S.II.68; V.345, 356, 371, 387. See also A.III.35; IV.405f], tie up the perfection of the pañcasîla with the attainment of sotŒpatti which ensures the unfailing ascent to enlightenment in the state of Nirvana [niyato sambodhiparŒyano]. The enlightenment is the gaining of wisdom [sammŒ -Œöaµ pahoti] is avowedly the precursor to release of vimutti [Skt vimukti] in Nirvana [sammŒ-anassa sammŒvimutti pahoti. See D.II.217; M.III.76]. We must emphasise here that this is a perfection which is not second to the highly precise count down of a space shuttle on the launch pad, prior to its being fired off from earth and put into orbit.

The pa-cas´la in this context is referred to in this context as being beloved of the noble ones [ariyakanta-s´la], and the high degree of its perfection in quality and accomplishment is referred to in such terms as 'not being broken or violated' [akhaö¶a], 'not having any flaws' [acchidda], 'not speckled or spotted' [asabala], and 'not besmeared or stained' [akammŒsa].

Thus we see that pa-cas´la provides a closely watched and direct process of development and perfection of humans and that the goodness of humanity and the goodness of the world wherein they dwell rests and sits pretty entirely on the humans and not on any other above or beyond humanity. This is why we laid emphasis at the very outset on the role of the individual, at the down-to-earth human level, stressing that personal self-culture is the very basis of religious life in Buddhism. We could finally sum up the position by quoting the Dhammapada which declares it unequivocally thus:

One is one's own Savior. Who else
Or where else could there be another?
AttŒ hi attano nŒtho ko hi nŒtho paro siyŒ (Dhp. V. 160)

Buddhism is unequivocal in its rejection of a Divine Guardian who presides and sits in judgement over the good and bad doings of humans [AttΚo loko anabhissaro]. Ethics are a part of human concern calculated to serve its own purpose of well being in the world in which we live and for the higher purpose of transcendence from it on the detection of its limitations. This is the ethic of good living we seek.

Therefore, O human, to thine own self be true.
There shall never be another to whom you could confess
Your crime against humanity, in order that you may reduce
Your own guilt or relieve the pain of the other.

One final word from the Anguttara Nikaya about humanity's need to be honest to humanity. Let us not turn our back on self-scrutiny and self-examination and deceitfully present to the world a self-assumed goodness and greatness:

Natthi loke raho nŒma pŒpakammaµ pakubbato
AttŒ te purisa jŒnŒti saccaµ vŒ yadi vŒ musŒ
KalyŒnaµ vata bho sakkhi attŒnaµ atima--asi
Yo santaµ attani pŒpaµ attŒnaµ parigèhasi (A. I. 149)

To him who does evil there's no place
Where he can keep it a secret
Your own self, O man, will know
Its truth or its falsehood.

Trying to hide from yourself the evil
That's really within you, O friend,
You are only flattering yourself to be a virtuous self. (Translated by the author).

News and Comment

The BSQ Vesak Celebration. This year's Vesak celebration of the Buddhist Society of Queensland was held on the third Sunday of May as part of its usual monthly meeting. The stalwarts of the Society were present as well as some new faces. The celebration took the usual form with emphasis on meditation and on the significance of the event rather than on devotional or ritual matters.

Buddha Birthday Festival. This festival was held for the second time on 3rd May at the Flag Court, South Bank, Brisbane. It was organised by Buddha's Light International Association of Queensland and the Chung Tian Temple in Brisbane. The festival was supported a number of sponsors with the Brisbane City Council as the major sponsor. The dignitaries present included the Lord Mayor Cnr Jim Soorley. The festival lasted the whole day and was concluded with a fireworks display. The central ritual was the Bathing of the Buddha. Several thousands participated in this ritual in which each participant makes three vows to eliminate evil thougts, to cultivate good deeds and to help all living beings. The Festival is becoming an annual fixture in the Buddhist calendar in Brisbane.

Buddhist Art Exhibition. An exhibition of contemporary art entitled A Door to Enlightenment was held at the Stephen's Gallery, Brisbane City Hall 11-15 May. The Exhibition commemorated Vesak this year as well as the 20th anniversary of the Buddhist Study Centre ("Dhammadinna House"). The exhibition features the work of Klaes de Jong, a local Buddhist. Klaes had exhibited previously in Friesland in his native Holland as well as in Brisbane. This is his first exhibition on a Buddhist theme representing the basic tenets of Buddhism in contemporary Western art.

Vesak Greetings from the Vatican. The Buddhist Society of Queensland has received a Vesak Message from Cardinal Francis Arinze, President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue at the Vatican. This refers to an "ongoing dialogue" between Buddhists and Christians thorough the "Intermonastic Spiritual Exchange" and the "Monastic Hospitality Programme", claiming that both religions emphasise the "contemplative dimension". The Cardinal writes:

"Hope rescues us from discouragement. We are enabled to begin anew by perceiving around us numerous "signs of hope": the growing solidarity among people in our time, especially with the poor and destitute, the desire for justice and peace, voluntary service, the return of the search for transcendence, an awareness of human dignity and the rights which flow from it, attention to the environment, etc. I wish to mention here a particular sign of hope, which Pope John Paul II has underlined, namely interreligious dialogue."

But it is only a few years back that the Pope in his Towards the Threshold of Hope made some inaccurate and misleading references to Buddhism against which Buddhists in many parts of the world protested. That was certainly not the way to carry on an interreligious dialogue. On that occasion the Pope did not formally apologize for his comments. If the issue of Vesak greetings to Buddhists marks a change in this attitude it is indeed to be welcomed.

Death of Maurice Walsh. We are sorry to learn that Maurice Walsh the author of several tracts on Buddhism and the translator of the Long Discourses of the Buddha passed away early this year. He was in his 87th year. For several years prior to his death he was a Buddhist monk.. May he attain NibbŒna!