Buddhism and Challenges in the 21st Century

We are stepping on the threshold of the 21 st century world which throws before us the challenges with intricate mix of economic, social and political problems fully tainted with passion, ill-will and mental confusion. The basic remedial treatment of these complexities has been explicit in the first sermon of the Buddha, the enlightened one, when hr set in motion the wheel of Dhamma i.e. righteousness, we will be able to face the 21 st century to the remarkable extent if we try to pull out ourselves form the ditches of materialistic, sensuous and worldly pleasures in which we have been submerged fully. We should gradually push ourselves to the life of purity and discipline untouched by any kind of blemishes like cankers, biases, sensual desires and fluxes.


Pancasila are the A.B.C. of the practical ethics of Buddhism which should be kept and acted on in one’s daily life. The basic and chief aims and objectives of Pancasila, i.e. five moral precepts of Buddhism, are to soften and fill the hearts of people with compassion. These precepts provide strong and sound foundation for controlled and disciplined human life. As one think about others. In another sense, neither for one’s own nor for other’s sake one should do any evil. Keeping up this Sila helps contribute stopping civil unrest, struggle for power among political parties, racial prejudices, narrow selfish motives, different religious sects, economic status, fame and war between nations.

The principle of live and let live connotes the importance of non-violence which we should imbibe in our cultural and social living. The nature has been ruthlessly exploited resulting in the highest degree of danger of extinction of animals, birds, insects and vegetation. The alarming rate of deforestation has caused scientists’ fear that tens of thousands of animals and plant species are being extinct from the world in the 21 st century. Pondering over all these, will it not be wise to move steps to save Nature and Humanity? Will it be wise to sall victim to our own sensual desires and material pursuits? Shouldn’t we do our best to control exploitation of nature?

In this context it is quite inspiring to turn to pages of history back to Ashoka the Great, who contributed remarkably to save nature and all living beings by adopting religious tolerance as the main policy and guiding factor for his administration and governance.

“This Dhamma rescript has been caused to be written by the Beloved of the gods, King Piyadasi. Formerly, in the kitchen of the of the Beloved of the gods, King Piyadassi many hundred thousands of animals were killed everyday for the sake of curry. But now when this Dhamma-rescript is written, only three animals are being killed everyday for the sake of curry, two peacocks and one deer and the deer, again not aleays. Even these three animals shall not be killed in future.

Having acquired a new territory, the conqueror shall order all prisoners to be released and the slaughter of animals to be avoided on the chaturmasyas during half a month of full moon days during four nights, on the king’s birthday and on local festivals during on night and shall prohibit the slaughter of females and their young ones and the castration of males on the same occasions.”

If the second precept of not to take anything which are not given could be applied in day-today life situation, there will be substantial decrease in economic exploitation, plundering and robbery, theft and other crimes, due to unbridled and uncontrolled expansion of people’s wishes, desires, physical needs and wants to live life of the rich and famous and the burning population explosion problems.

If we fully honour the third precept of Buddhism, i.e. the precept of chastity, we will have spotlessly clean and charismatic personality. Crimes related to sexual abuse of minors, raping of women, illegal relation with opposite sexes other than between husband and wife and other immoral acts are the consequences of dishonouring the third precept of Buddhism, that is abstaining from sexual misconduct. Even the influential personality of international stature loses face and charisma in case he violates the third precept.

Those who break the ‘Sila’ of speaking truth like politicians giving false assurances to the mass give blow to people who genuinely desire for peace in the society and those liars do not have any concern for love and fraternity vitally necessary for the society.

In the present age there are problems of drugabuse and durg trafficking, especially among youths. The Buddha had a future vision and recommended that any type of toxic substances should not be taken in any form. The fifth precept of Pancasila says that in no case, drugs and alcohol should be used. Scholars say that drug abuses are causing young population being dehumanized.

Religious tolerance, peaceful co-existence and mutual co-operation have their origin in Buddhism. But we witness that modern day world has been characterized by strifes, struggles and unwholesome rivalries among people, races, communities, regions and nations as consequences of tendency of pride and prejudices of people to think themselves as masters and others as servants. To upgrade humanity from bestly state and to emancipate them form such enimity, evil competitions, wars and civil unrest, the urgency to include education on non-violence in the grassroot primary school curricula has been strongly felt.


In the broadest term the word ‘Panna’ refers to wisdom, supreme knowledge and enlightenment.

Panna points out the paths, guides and directs the people to lead life smoothly conducting each and every activity related to daily life like eating, drinking, clothing, settling and medical treatment in a systematic and the most harmonious way without disturbing nature and environment.

Panna enables men to understand the realities of life, nature, the cause and way to overcome sufferings in the most practical and intelligent way.

The most important and the highest aim of panna is to make people realize the impermanence of life and the world itself inspiring them to work in a noble and diligent way to attain the life of purity leading to Nibbana.

The Buddha’s sermon Jighaccha Parama Roga says that hunger is the earth which obstructs the path both material and spiritual.

Endeavour has been made by scientists to eliminate hunger by bringing revolutionary changes with the mechanization of agricultural practices, use of chemical fertilizers and improved seeds but situation does not seem imminent. Can’t Buddhist philosophy, its norms and practices in some way be helpful to solve the problem? It will not be a sensible suggestion to ask people to go deep into the sea to extract the nutrient essence and to take to fasting with a single meal a day. What can we do is just to narrow down the gap between the haves and have-nots for the social security and justice with disciplined and diligent people.

Teachings of the Buddha and Buddhist codes of conduct, rules and regulations, norms and practices could be a very effective means and remedy to prevent and solve environmental problems like landslides, soil erosions, floods, desertification, deforestation, etc.

Shakyamuni, the blessed one was born in Lumbini Natural Park in the atmosphere of peace and tranquility under the serene cool breeze of the shade of the sala tree. In the jungle of Uruvela, he took to deep meditation and at last accomplished enlightenment. Gautam, the Buddha, turned the wheel of Dhamma (righteousness) for the first time tin the perfect natural setting of the Deer Park , which might be under the tree as there is no mention of hermitage, hut or cave anywhere in Buddhist literature. The Buddha chose the open between two sala trees in the beautiful garden of Mallas at Kusinara for his ‘Mahaparinibbana’.

When there was a quarrel between Kosambi Bhikkhus, the Buddha resorted to the retreat in the forest Parileyyaka vana for quietude and solitude. The Buddha used to point out the place of “Shade under the trees with cool sweet breeze” and he used to advice his followers to practise meditation. During the Buddha’s time ranges in the middle region where there were many Vihars and places for recluse and rest with environs and surroundings diffused with sweet fragrance of beautiful and attractive flowers. During the past lives of the Buddha as Bodhisattvas he used to take initiative to dig wells and ponds and planted trees at places. He constructed roads and paths and built houses for resting. The stone inscription erected by Ashoka clearly records how his administrative system had been guided by Buddhist ideals and principles. The Beloved of the gods, King Piyadasi spoke. “Also, on the roads banyan trees were caused to be planted by me, (in order that) they would provided shade for animals and men, mango groves were caused to be planted. Also at intervals of eight kosas wells were caused to be dug by me and rest houses were caused to be built, and numerous drinking maces were caused to be constructed by me at various places for the use of animals and men”.


Human health of 21 st century is being threatened by adulterated and impure foods and drinks, tensions both physical and mental and pollution within and outside human mind. Therefore, one should take meditation and practise Bojjhanga, the factors of enlightenment gradually step by step to release tensions by achieving peace and tranquility of mind.

Production and consumption of pure healthy food stuff will not be possible until the purification of mind is accomplished by constant practices of remaining in awakened state, consciousness and alertness. Meditation helps to cure physiological suffering as well. Natthi Ragasamo Aggi is the Buddha’s invaluable sermon to his followers which means there is no fire like lust, greed or craving.

It is not possible to reduce suffering of mankind until people tear down the shroud of ignorance owing to which they mistakenly take ‘lust’ as energy vital for life because of mistaken notices, expenditure is being made lavishly for entertainment purposes organizing dances, singing songs and cultural shows. To lodge protest against such unnecessary materialistic expenses, all the religious groups of the world should hold hands together to clear the paths of spiritual awakening.

Even one percent of expenditure made on national and international games as Olympics and World Cup Football will contribute a lot if it could be allotted for the cause of religion to solve the problems of physical and mental health of people. Religion has no direct relation with the problems of environment like polluted rivers and seas, chemical effluents, depletion of ozone layer, increase of carbon dioxide and monoxide in the air; acid rains, nitrogen deficiency in the soil and others. But different types of problems related to drug abuse could be tackled effectively with the help of religion in a planned way by imparting religious education to the drug addicts.

“Natthi dosasamo Kali” is the Buddha’s proclamation of the truth for all the time. Shakyamuni Buddha says that there is no crime like Kali. In general term Kali is a piece of bad luck and it is a crime too. But in the broadest term kali is the aggregate of all the defilements, evils, bad qualities and sins. Kali becomes horrible and terrible when it is pulled forth by greed and pushed from the back by delusion, suspicions, doubts and lust.

This Kali led the war, mass killing and destruction of humanity as the consequence of excitement, selfishness and narrow national pride. The makings of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons have not ceased rather they always threatened the very existence of humanity. The example are Nagasaki and Hirosima atomic disasters.

There had been chains of atomic tests in the recent past on 11 th May 1998 . It is very ironical that the test was conducted on the holiest “Buddha Purnima” the Full Moon Day of Vaisakha as in the first test with the code word “The Buddha is smiling”. As a result it instigated another country to follow the suit with the series of tests.


The Buddha used to give sermons and dhamma talk too the disciples enveloping all of them in “Metta” i.e. loving-kindness and compassion.

When the Buddha was followed by a group of prejudiced people uttering the words to shower disfavour on him from Rajgriha to Nalanda, the enlightened one gave advices to the Bhikkhus to reform themselves.

Even at the time when the intoxicated and raged elephant Nalagiri violently came towards the Buddha, he was not disturbed at all and walked calm. His loving-kindness “Metta” held sway over him and the elephant cooled down to normalcy.

The Buddha put Rahula, his son, Devadatta and Angulimala on the equal footing and he did not make any discrimination between them. Before the Buddha’s compassion and loving-kindness Devadatta, the symbol of malice and enemity, Angulimala who represented violence and ruthlessness and blindness and Rahula are equal.

It is the gift of the Buddhist principle that the torch bearer bhikkhus have proved successful to spread the light of Buddhism far and wide all over the world and the Asian continent breaking language barriers and binding Asians and the people of the world too in the Buddhist spirit and feelings.

Because of Buddhist philosophy there is peace in the region. From the very period of the origination of Buddhism to the present, there has not been a single instance of bloodshed and use of force and money in the name of Buddhism.


As a farewell gift of 20 th century or as an inherited wealth for 21 st century let’s try to develop a new concept of institutionalizing Buddhist works and services in a way the UN and the UN related organizations like UNESCO, WHO, FAO, Rotary Clubs, Lions and Leo clubs, Jaycees, NGOs and other national and international are doing. The activities those institutions are conducting have to be brought and moulded into the religious spirit in the most informal way by changing people’s behavious and attitude from their very core of heart. Buddhism should be able to play an active, vital and remarkable role to help in the development of human values and character.

For this, different sects of Buddhism should work together for solidarity establishing a very good relationship between themselves. Attempts should be made to get rid of expansionist attitude, unwholesome rivalry between the sects. Bhikkhus, Bhikkhunis, Anis, Novices, Anagarikas, Silavatimatas, Tilashin, Mechi all should be very alert, mindful, and conscious of “Dhamma Vinaya”, Buddhist code and conduct, rules and regulations, norms, traditions and practices. Ordination in one sect and preaching vinaya of another sect cannot lead to coherence and peaceful religious co-existence. Buddhist disciples and lay devotees should try to be sincere in their habits, thinking and behavious while honouring ‘Sila’.

We should have more and more servicw-oriented planning, programmes and projects giving up were paperwork. We should be guided and directed by the motto of ‘plain living and high thinking’ i.e., simple life style. Our tendencies to build and increase the number of big and grand Viharas, huge idols and images should be moulded to perform good services to humanity and all the living beings. For this WFB and WFBY could be our powerful bases of work to start with.

Peaceful co-existence of different religions of the world, although not an impossible task, is a very complish mission to accomplish. In this context it would be quite appropriate to relate here my experience regarding the matter. In 1984 in my capacity as religious advisor to the youth seminar on world religions, my responsibility was to execute the proposal of giving prayer for World Peace in one’s own way, language, according to own belief. It was decided to hold first prayer in the church located near Trinity College of Washington DC. There was a sensation among multi-language and multi-religious groups there. Hesitation and uneasiness prevailed over there to enter into the church for world peace prayer. Even though freedom was there to conduct the prayer in one’s own way they showed their unwillingness to step into the church as a mark of orthodox attitude inherent in them. Understanding their feeling of them I gave up the idea. At last amidst the applause it was decided to hold prayer in the green meadow of Washington DC , Trinity College . Prayers for worldpeace were held at different places at the top of the green hill of Isreal, Open Courtyard of Istanbul, on the Subine hill of Rome, sea coast of Madras , Rose Garden of Bangkok and near the stream of the state guest house for visiting foreign dignitaries of Beijing .


I believe that if the joint effort could be put by all religious groups, various problems like poverty, mass migration environmental degradation, AIDS epidemics, new pandemics could be alleviated to the remarkable extent. Mobilization of different financial resources from domestic and international sources and work allocation of budget for the promotion and development of different religions, have become challenging responsibilities for the religious groups.

If the programme of Beauty Contest Pageant, Fashion Show, World Cup Football, Olympics is possible financially, we can seek compulsory financing for the work of peace. Joint efforts for peace are the demands of time to prevent all evils caused by blind loyalty to certain political, cultural, social and economic groups.

Campaign against the crimes of killing, black mailing and kidnapping of innocent people like intellectuals, journalists, children, women etc. should be launched effectively by the various religious groups demonstrating their solidarity for the right cause. The need for active involvement of the religious groups in such activities has been felt seriously.

The only one and the chief aim of ‘Dhamma’ is to give salvation to the whole world from calamities and destruction of human civilization, culture and humanity itself. The responsibility of religions of the whole world in the 21 st century is to protect ‘Dhamma’ and fulfill that aim. Computers, TV, Remote Controllers, Rockets and other materialistic luxuries have been lavishly used by people these days just to feed the five senses letting themselves fall to cob-web of spiders.

I call for the joint action and solidarity of all the religions of the world to erect the defensive wall or castle against the sea of storms and hurricanes of sensual lust and hankering after materialstic gains and pursuits.

Lastly I beg your permission to conclude this paper with the invaluable words of Samyaka Sambuddha “Appamadena Sampadetha”. Let us be heedful. Let us follow the path of purification. Let’s be good and wholesome in speech mind and body.

(Bhikkshu Sudarshan Mahasthvir was a lecture of Nepalese history, culture and archaeology at Tribhuvan University . He is also Chairman of the Central Advisory Committee of Dharmodaya Sabha. The chief Abbot of Srikirti Vihar, Kritipur, he is a great scholar and writer.)

By Bhikshu Sudarshan Mahasthavir

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

For security, use of Google's reCAPTCHA service is required which is subject to the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.

I agree to these terms.