Dousing the fires of hatred

On the fourteenth of April at the auspicious hour the national new year’s celebrations will begin as is customary. This year ofcourse the actual celebrations of preparing for the festival season earlier, making sweetmeats, purchasing gifts for the family, buying of new clothes and in certain instances even repainting of the house may be reflected with the escalating costs of living.

Essentially however looking back to the traditional value systems that prevailed in the earlier years when we seniors were young and were more concerned with the waiting till the new year commenced to taste the aromatic food that had been prepared, the elders of those eras, the grand parents and the parents rigidly observed that nonagathe period with religious observances.

The dousing of the fires on the hearth signalled the death of an old year. Traditionally and ethically it meant not the mere cleansing of a fireplace and the absence of the preparation of any food in the house after the period of nonagathe began, but it was a time for reflection, a spiritual cleansing of oneself.

Symbolically the literal dousing of the fires meant that one’s thought of anger, hatred and revenge were doused by spiritual meditation. So often on radio and TV we hear so many erudite monks speaking of the need to forgive and forget past wrong doings and restart one’s life contemplating as one should that all material things are temporary and power, wealth and ambition are as transitory as life itself. After all as Lord Buddha said “He who has destroyed craving overcomes all sorrow” Dhammapada. Craving is a fire which burns in all beings: every activity is motivated by desire. To satisfy desire, human beings fight, kill, cheat, lie and under the delusion of one’s ego, a person clings to things which are impermanent, changeable, and perishable.

Unfortunately very often we celebrate with rigid tradition the customs attached to the celebration of the New Year. But how few of us really consider the significance attached to the tradition. Today while on the one hand some politicians are vying with each other trying to claim that all the shortcomings that the people face are not due to their own inactivity and their craving for power and wealth bur rather due to the failure of the previous governments. In their speeches delivered at any opportunity they get whether it is to a horde of students who quite do not understand what they are talking about or newly recruited State employees who are anxious to obtain their perks politicians often just list out grievances that people have and state how effectively they will solve them all. The City of Colombo will be planned and programmed and high rise apartments will be put up for the marginalized shanty dwellers, but  one wonders whether anyone bothers to ask the people is that what they want.

The first teachings of the Buddha, the Four Noble Truths, follow this pattern. First, the insight that “life is dukkha”. Dukkha is variously translated as suffering, pain, impermanence; it is the unsatisfactory quality of life which is targeted here — life is often beset with sorrow and trouble, and even at its best, is never completely fulfilling. We always want more happiness, less pain. But this ‘wanting more’ is itself the problem: the second noble truth teaches that the pain of life is caused by ‘thanha’ — our cravings, our attachments, our selfish grasping after pleasure and avoiding pain.

Perhaps this New year let us all attempt to teach a generation that appears to be growing up with the absolute conviction that power and wealth, regardless of how one gets it is the only thing that matters that all things are transitory and the greatest lesson that one can learn is that one must douse one’s ambitious desires which lead to corruption anger violence hatred, revenge and realize all things can be conquered only through love and compassion.

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