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4 Foundations for Social Unity by Ven Payutto

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  • Antony Woods
    All in all, contrary to the widespread image of Buddhism as a passive religion encouraging inaction, responsible social action is rather encouraged in the
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 1, 2006
      "All in all, contrary to the widespread image of Buddhism as a
      passive religion encouraging inaction, responsible social action is
      rather encouraged in the Buddha's teaching. There are numerous
      teachings given on factors encouraging social concord, such as the
      four sa"ngaha vatthu, the Foundations for Social Unity: dana,
      generosity: piyavaca, kindly speech; atthacariya, helpful action; and
      samanattata, impartiality or equal participation.

      However, in Buddhism, all action should ideally arise from skilful
      mental qualities. A seemingly well-intentioned action can be ruined
      by the influence of unskilful mental states, such as anger or fear,
      or it can be tainted through ulterior motives. On the other hand,
      simply to cultivate skilful mental states without resultant social
      action is not very productive. So we can look at virtue on two
      levels: on the mental level we have, for example, the Four Sublime
      States (Brahmavihara). These are the bases of altruistic action, or,
      at the least, of harmonious relations on a social level. On the
      second level we have the external manifestations of these skilful
      qualities, such as in the four sangaha vatthu, the Foundations of
      Unity. These two levels of virtue are interrelated.

      The Four Sublime States are:
      metta, goodwill, friendliness;
      karuna, compassion, the desire to help other beings;
      mudita, sympathetic joy, gladness at the good fortune of others; and
      upekkha, impartiality or equanimity.

      Metta, goodwill, is a mental stance assumed towards those who are in
      the normal condition, or on an equal plane with ourselves;
      karuna, compassion, is a proper mental attitude toward those who are
      in distress;
      mudita, sympathetic joy, is the attitude toward those who are
      experiencing success;
      upekkha, equanimity or impartiality, is even-mindedness toward the
      various situations in which we find ourselves.

      Now these four qualities, when looked at in practical terms, can be
      seen to manifest as the Four Foundations of Social Unity.
      Dana, giving or generosity, is more or less a basic stance towards
      others in society, an attitude of generosity, which can be based on:
      metta, giving through goodwill;
      karuna, giving through compassion; or
      mudita, giving as an act of encouragement.
      Although this giving usually refers to material things, it can also
      be the giving of knowledge, labour and so on.

      The second foundation of unity is piyavaca, kindly speech, which is
      usually based on the first three Sublime States.
      Friendly speech, based on metta, as a basic attitude in everyday
      kindly speech, based on karuna, in times of difficulty, as with words
      of advice or condolence; and
      congratulatory speech, based on mudita, as in words of encouragement
      in times of happiness and success.
      However, when confronted with problems in social situations, piyavaca
      can be expressed as impartial and just speech, based on upekkha.

      The third factor is atthacariya, useful conduct, which refers to the
      volunteering of physical effort to help others. In the first factor,
      generosity, we had the giving of material goods. In the second
      factor, kindly speech, we have the offering of gentle speech. With
      this third item we have the offering of physical effort in the form
      of helpful conduct. This help can be on ordinary occasions, such as
      offering help in a situation where the recipient is not in any
      particular difficulty. Help in this instance is more or less
      a 'friendly gesture,' thus is based on metta, goodwill. Help can be
      offered in times of difficulty, in which case it is help based on
      karuna, compassion. Help can be offered as an encouragement in times
      of success, in which case it is based on mudita, sympathetic joy or
      gladness at the good fortune of others. Thus, atthacariya, helpful
      conduct, may be based on any of these three Sublime States.

      Finally we have samanattata, literally, 'making oneself accessible or
      equal.' This is a difficult word to translate. It means to share with
      other people's pleasures and pains, to harmonize with them, to be one
      with them. It refers to sharing, co-operation and impartiality. We
      could say that it means to be humble, such as when helping others in
      their undertakings even if it is not one's duty, or to be fair, such
      as when arbitrating in a dispute."
      From: Kamma on the Social Level by Bhikkhu P.A. Payutto
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