Apropos Panduka Karunanayake’s (PK) article under the above caption (The Island – 28.10.2021) I would like to respond as he has invited readers to do so. His is a salutary effort as he seeks a philosophy that incorporates both altruistic and self-centered behaviour as complementary facets of our lives. Altruism and self-centered behaviour could be complementary only in a limited range of activity. For instance, one of the aims of life that he mentions, “Artha” or accumulation of wealth is difficult to achieve when combined with aims of altruism.
The ancient Indian philosophy that PK has recommended is nothing but pure Hinduism that has developed from the Vedic tradition. The four hierarchical goals he mentions; Moksha, Dharma, Artha and Kaama are the four main goals in Hinduism. Different schools of Hinduism may give different weightage to these goals but basically, at present, these are the main goals of Hinduism. PK probably prefers this system due to its hierarchical nature, in the sense that a goal placed low in the hierarchy cannot be achieved at the expense of a higher goal. This arrangement, I assume, he probably thinks would prevent self-centered behaviour at the expense of altruism. There cannot be any other reason for adopting this system. However, no limit is enforced to the “Artha”, or accumulation of wealth as long as it is not carried out at the expense of Dharma. Yet, one wonders how Dharma could coexist with the greed that is necessary for accumulation of wealth.
These four goals of Hinduism developed gradually in the Vedic tradition. In the early Vedas for instance Moksha was not mentioned and Dharma was given prominence. In the later texts, in the Upanishads the concept of Moksha gradually developed. Brahmanism introduced the concept of Moksha as the final union between Brahman and Atman. It was Bhagavad-Gita which developed the three paths to Moksha; 1) Kamma marga (path of duty), 2) Gnana marga (path of knowledge and 3) Bhakthi marga ( path of devotion). The Upanishadic and Brahmanical thoughts on this subject were criticized by Buddha. During Buddha’s time the Atman-Brahman concept was being intensely debated and Buddha’s response was the “Anatta” concept and an attack on the caste system that Brahmanism advocated. The caste system was built into the religion and also into the path to Moksha. “Anatta” concept rejected the Atman theory and the attack on the caste system rejected the major tenets of Brahmanism.
Later when these theories raised their heads in the 2nd Century CE Ven. Nagarjuna, one of the greatest Buddhist philosophers who was also known as the second Buddha came out strongly against the four goals of Hinduism. Nagarjuna says Moksha and Dharma cannot coexist as partners in the same journey. He says the world of Dharma is so different from the freedom implied in the concept of Moksha. They cannot be intellectually related. Dharma needs worldly action while Moksha is unworldly understanding. He asks; how could worldly action and thought lead to unworldly state.
These three goals of Hinduism are based on its philosophy which is defined by Nithya, Sukha and Athma whereas the thrilakna of Buddhism are Anithya, Dukha Anathma which therefore are the exact opposite of Hinduism.
Buddhism which has influenced the minds of a majority of people in Sri Lanka has a solution to this problem. It proposes that people must earn a living and the earnings have to be divided into three portions, one portion is spent on the family, another portion is saved for a rainy day and a third portion is given in alms. Jeffrey Sachs the renowned economist says “Buddhist economics will give guidance to all those who seek peace, fairness and environmental sustainability”. In the Attahita sutta (Anguttara Nikaya) Buddha says the person who is embarked on the wellbeing of himself and also others is the supreme being.
Thus, there is no need for practitioners of Buddhism to adopt ideas of altruism from any other philosophy. People in this country have been moulded by Buddhist tenets and their culture is altruistic in nature. Hinduism is a great religion but there is no need for it to replace the Buddhist ethos that had been inculcated in the minds of Buddhists in this country and which have moulded them to be altruistic when the need arises.
N. A. de S. Amaratunga