|Our world is ridden with problems and will be
doomed unless it changes its course. For many decades, we have lived with
the massive danger of the dozens of thousands of nuclear warheads and
deliver vehicles stockpiled by the different sides.1
While nobody really knows how many warheads have been accumulated by the
various nuclear states, who cannot be trusted to be honest about such
things, a few thousand of them are more than enough to destroy the world
many times over. (And we haven't factored in the multitude of chemical,
biological, and conventional weapons that cast a pall of fear upon our
world). This situation is a result of the selfishness of those people who
aim to rule the world. Such selfishness is rampant everywhere and, in
fact, rules the world (more than democracy or communism ever has). Let’s
consider the causes of this crisis with sufficient thoroughness to find
Selfishness originates when the instinctive sense of self gets out of control and turns into full-fledged defilement.2 Then, every activity is controlled by these selfish emotions (kilesa). When one is personally selfish, ones selfishness torments one personally, such as with insomnia and headaches. When one associates with others, ones selfishness harms and oppresses others more broadly. With democratic rights, one is free to cunningly apply ones selfishness without breaking any laws (or can get out of the consequences with expensive lawyers.) Let’s take a very good look at such behavior, which everywhere permeates our social, economic, and political relationships, and the professions of so-called educated people. This is something about which pre-historic people, were they able to come see it, would die laughing.
In our democratic system, if the citizens are selfish, they will elect selfish representatives, who will constitute a selfish parliament, which in turn will form a selfish government. Then, the whole country will be under the power of selfishness. Consequently, how many unselfish people do we have left in today's world?3
A democracy made up of selfish people is more wicked and harmful than the worst dictatorship. This is because such a democracy puts no limits on selfishness; the more intelligent a selfish person is, the wider and more profound his exploitation becomes.4 If truly unselfish, even a dictatorship will be better, for authority will be used righteously. Either way, only with Dhamma will everything be well irrespective of whether the system is authoritarian or democratic. Hence, let’s consider the benefits of unselfishness to the utmost and give unselfishness a fair chance.
Unselfishness must return in due time, before the world is ruined. People throughout the world must discover this truth and quickly find ways for the timely return of unselfishness. For example, if selfishness is hoarded, Bangkok will never be able to rid itself of mosquitoes. However, with the return of unselfishness, mosquitoes will disappear from the city in a wink.
Unselfishness is the purpose of every religion, no matter what its level, or whether it is theistic or non-theistic. Even shamanism and occult religions do not want selfishness. If all the religions cooperated in eliminating selfishness from the world, using their own particular methods, the world would be freed of selfishness and all its crises would disappear. The United Nation Organization alone, with member countries that are still quite selfish, can do little more than try to keep the skittering crabs together on the same tray.5 It should instead cooperate with the world’s religions in eliminating selfishness from the world. The religions have the broad diversity needed to satisfy people at all levels; therefore, through them there is an excellent chance of success.
Buddhism teaches not-self (anatta) as an essential principle. If one realizes the heart of Buddhism, selfishness cannot arise in one. Religions that assert some sort of self or soul may have some difficulties in teaching their followers to have selves that are unselfish. To set a good example, may the followers of Buddhism hurry to realize the essence of their religion, and thereby positively challenge and support other religions. Don't let Buddhism's great value go to waste among a populace that shows little interest in its core teachings.
Selfishness arises when the self instinct follows the wrong way, namely, the way that leads to defilement (kilesa) rather than enlightenment (bodhi).6 Because of their environment, our children grow up in ways that tend towards defilement from the time they are infants. We have traditions that nurture our babies with selfishness. We give them all the pleasant things — tasty foods, beautiful clothes, and cuddly toys — that lead to infatuation. So the children becomes possessive and greedy. Everything becomes "mine": "my father," "my mother," "my house." Whatever "I" want, I must get. No parents ever bring their children to a toy-shop full of all those wonderful, beautiful, expensive toys and say to them, "My dear child, they have all these toys here just to make you stupid." Instead, most parents tell their children to choose any toy they want, no matter how expensive, and the parents will buy it. Alternatively, they take their children to a fancy, expensive restaurant and tell them to choose any tasty food or sweet they want. No matter how exotic or expensive it is, the parents will buy it and in enough quantity that some is invariably leftover and wasted. There are many other environmental factors that strengthen selfishness as children grow older, or at least while they are under their parents’ supervision. Therefore, we should have a family culture that instills unselfishness in children starting from birth, such that it becomes their habitual character as they grow up. By the time they reach adulthood, their selfishness will be light and easily redirected. Our ancient culture did not encourage children’s selfishness nearly so much as does its present counterpart.7 Such peace and happiness are easily discovered only among people who detest and fear selfishness.
We Thai people need some elements in our culture and Thai identity — which have Buddhism as the inner core — that will eliminate or lessen selfishness for the sake of our own well-being. The core of our Thai identity must be unselfishness — or an ever-present smile that is based in unselfishness rather than the intention to trick somebody — instead of superficial things like classical Thai music, classical Thai dances and plays, Siamese cats, fighting fish, and the like. If we consider our cetiyas8 and temples as the symbols of our country, we must substantiate them in the Dhamma of unselfishness.
Our education process must be complete, that is, once it makes people clever, it also must oversee that intelligence so that it is in line with morality and does not fall under the power of selfishness. Nowadays, we have education systems so advanced that they lead to many miraculous things, such as going to the moon as easily as stepping out into ones own backyard, but there is no educational process whatsoever to keep people’s cleverness under moral control. I have been severely criticized for calling our present education system "tailless-dog education" and "spireless-cetiya education."9 What is one to do when the facts are thus? One can only speak the truth forthrightly. There has been much talk in this country about expanding the education system; however, we should not expand this kind of education further until we have improved it sufficiently. We must be careful not to expand it without first improving the education process in line with its actual problems. (Now that education reform is a major initiative in Thailand, it needs to reform morally and spiritually.)
We must have the kind of young men’s "ordination for learning" in which they are rigorously trained in unselfishness. Such ordination can be said to mean the study not only of the religion but also of how to work for others without expecting any benefit, not even a word of gratitude, in return.10 At Suan Mokkh, we have a day of labor so that the monks and novices can bathe in sweat and learn to honor sweat as the god that helps save them. Later on, they will not be idle, thus causing no problems for society or themselves. Whatever work one will do, one must see clearly that one works for the Buddha in helping the religion to continue in all respects. What we will call the "Single Bowl of Sauce" is unselfishness; it solves all the problems of individuals and society. At Suan Mokkh, we practice self-contentment as expressed in the slogan "Eat from a cat’s plate, bathe in a ditch, sleep in a pigsty, and listen to singing mosquitoes!" Some people shake their heads at this and decline to stay with us. We must eat frugally and aspire to the highest activity, for if we selfishly aim at good eating, we will progress in nothing except the accumulation of selfishness.
A complete "university for temple boys," in which I have been fortunate to study, deserves a great deal of attention. If I had not graduated from such a “university,” the person now known as “Buddhadāsa” might never have occurred in this world. Please consider this carefully, for it has nurtured people like myself. The life of temple boys is a complete system of round-the-clock learning that thoroughly digs out selfishness "down to the bones."
We temple boys had to rise for work before all of the chickens got out of the coop. If anyone was still sleeping, his friends had the right to pour water over him. (Sometimes, one of us would clear out the coop early in order to soak his sleeping friends, which was a training in the highest sporting spirit among friends and cannot be found among athletes nowadays.) After waking, we boys went into the village to fetch tiffin carriers of food for the monks. Back at the monastery, we prepared everything for the monks to eat without any mistakes. We waited on them — none of us could disappear for a moment — until the monks finished eating. Next, we fed the cats making sure that each got a share of the leftovers. Finally, we ate ourselves, following the traditional etiquette, for example, not blowing noses while eating. After the meal, we cleaned up and put everything away, then studied in tandem, always on the lookout for the switch, which often fell upon us unjustly. We repeated the serving process while the monks had lunch. Following that was another study session.
Late in the afternoon, close to evening, we tended the garden, mostly growing yams, looked after eggplants and peppers next to the pond, or gathered fruits to give to the villagers in gratitude for the food they offered each day. We also cared for the temple animals, such as chickens and dogs. (My temple also had a pig, which was rather special. It scared off chicken thieves at night so well that the abbot treated it as an angelic pig. It never dug up our yams, which it could have eaten easily, because it was marvelously unselfish.) We took turns fetching water and filling the line of water jars, but small boys like myself were exempted from this duty because the well was deep and the distance far. Instead, we smaller boys had to prepare garlands for the monks to use at the morning and evening chanting services.
At night, we massaged our teachers with hands and feet, while they told us strange and interesting tales and fables. Apart from the routine chores, we temple boys also had to keep the grounds clean, sweep out the buildings, and pull out the weeds. We sometimes drilled in Thai boxing to preserve the cultural tradition because we frequent got in arguments with boys from other monasteries. Another rigorously enforced rule we temple boys had to follow was to greet the elderly with a "wai," that is, putting both hands together in a lotus bud gesture of respect. This had to be done to all senior citizens regardless of their mental condition or social status. This was troublesome as many people regularly passed through our monastery. We had put down our work tools often and greet the elderly passing by. It was very painful to greet the old men who smoked marijuana, who did not seem worthy of our respect, but it was probably a good way for us to reduce our self-centeredness. I lived like this for two years and "graduated" with the self-conferred "diploma of perfect temple boys, servants of the world." After that, I went on to study in the government school.
My school had no janitors then. We schoolchildren had to come to school very early in the morning and joyfully contested with one another in sweeping the grounds and buildings. We had to keep everything clean by ourselves. Sometimes we were asked to help carry things up to the monastery from boats in the canal; we always did this whenever we had the chance. Other times we helped in turning the winch used to pull wood planks up from the canal; it was always a lot of fun. All of these activities were excellent spiritual lessons in eliminating selfishness. There are no such lessons in present-day schools, where there are janitors to do such work. Thus, the children nowadays are more selfish and delinquent than in the past. This "diploma of perfect temple boys, servants of the world" is the single bowl of sauce that can solve the problems of society and the world.
The single bowl of sauce is the nam prik or shrimp-paste sauce that is an indispensable part of traditional Thai meals. Our ancestors, who never tasted exotic Chinese or Western foods, ate this staple throughout their lifetimes and thus learned to be unselfish and to love others. However, they have given birth to children and grandchildren who eat fancy and expensive foods, becoming increasingly selfish every day. They are most cunning in their selfishness and never think of serving anybody except themselves. Some even think of conquering the whole world, because they have never been to the "University of the Single Bowl of Sauce."
We must have an education process that does not serve the democracy of selfishness, of people whose cleverness is completely unrestrained. They are great thinkers, speakers, and doers, but are stuffed full of the most cunning selfishness. The more educated and clever they are, the more deeply and profoundly selfish they become, eventually transforming themselves into crooks and con men before they know it, even in the schools and universities. Our universities graduate only those who refuse to eat the single bowl of sauce or are unable to swallow it. We only have the kind of education that serves economics and politics, while not serving morality. Thus, morality is disappearing. There are violent rivalries and quarrels among school students nowadays, even in the universities.
Nowadays, we educate the girls to refuse being women and mothers, and the boys to be unable as men and fathers. The modern education causes men and women to compete for each other's work, under the banner of human rights, so that everybody ends up sexless or neutered. Among married couples, there are the most ridiculous arguments over who will be the elephant’s front legs (leader) and who the hind legs (follower). This problem did not exist among our ancestors who ate the single bowl of sauce. They left matters in accordance with idappaccayata, the law of interdependent conditionality; each family could agree on who was most suitable to play which role.11
We must have the kind of education that does not lead to men and women taking work from each other. Let women have the livelihood of mothers and men the livelihood of fathers. The father takes on the burden of providing for the family so that the mother does not have to work outside the home. If she has some income generating work, she does it at home. This enables her to take care of the children fully, bringing them up to be good human beings and good citizens who will not bring tears to their parents’ eyes.12 The world, then, will have peace because its citizenry is fitting. The children will be brought up correctly, so that both the boys and the girls are unselfish. There will be no sexually stimulating and provocative activities, such as the sexually oriented beauty contests that encourage shamelessness among both contestants and spectators. Such activities represents the worst kind of selfishness, for it erodes morality and trains young people to become slaves of defilement, thus becoming a menace to society and harming themselves in the process.
Whenever Buddhism is the basis of our education process, Dhammic Socialism will easily arise as our political system, for it is correctly in accordance with nature’s requirements. The socialism of the egoist cannot create world peace, only a socialism based in Dhamma and unselfishness can genuinely do so. The latter fosters love among fellow human beings as profound comrades in birth, aging, illness, and death. This accords with the ideal of Sri Ariyametteya, whose coming is hoped for by those who know what she is about.13 The essence of this, again, is the single bowl of sauce — unselfishness pure and simple.
In conclusion, our ancestors’ single bowl of sauce — unselfishness — is needed in every activity that aims to promote the conditions for peace and the corresponding national cultures of peace. This Dhamma is the essence of every religion that aims at eliminating our world’s evils and is suitable as the central theme of morality and ethics. In other words, for human beings in this scientific era it is sufficient to practice a single precept — unselfishness. Please think about it. Once you have no selfishness, you will automatically follow all the precepts and be free from all moral problems. Naturally, economics, politics, and government won’t have any more problems either. This is how the single bowl of sauce can solve all the problems in the world.
Kamma in Buddhism | Help, Kalama Sutta, Help! | Let's All Be Buddhadasas
Education Critique | Nibbana For Everyone | Notes
Updated 26 August 2001 © by Evolution/Liberation.