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Buddhist Tradition and Problems of Global Warming: Relevance and Response
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Buddhist Tradition and Problems of Global Warming: Relevance and Response
Dr. Arvind Kumar Singh
Assistant Professor, School of Buddhist Studies & Civilization
Gautam Buddha University, Greater Noida, UP-201312
Global Warming or Climate Change relates to change in global weather patterns especially increases in temperature and storm activity, regarded as a potential consequence of the greenhouse effect. Global Warming is the single biggest environmental and humanitarian crisis of our time which has greater ramifications and significance in terms of all life on earth for all living beings and the natural world. Scientists warn that if we do not aggressively curb climate change now, the results will likely be disastrous. We must act now to spur the adoption of cleaner energy sources at home and abroad. As religion guides human behaviour towards a healthy and balanced way of life in face of all the challenges, Buddhism offers us easy and effective solutions by its simple and affordable perspectives on the issue. An increasing number of ecologists and scholars today view Buddhism as a profoundly ecological religion while seeking answers to stop the mindless exploitation of the planet's resources. One of the most significant aspects of Buddhism that has come to the fore in the context is its powerful expression of human identification with nature. The true connection between the religion and environmental thought is to be found in Buddhist accounts of the virtues, those traits such as compassion, equanimity and humility that characterize the life of a spiritually enlightened individual. In this atmosphere of greed and mindless misuse of resources, Buddhism offers some effective solutions like adopting a simple lifestyle. Simplicity and compassion as advocated by Buddhism can be the key words in our approach to contain climate change. The challenge is to confront the culture of consumerism in the backdrop of countries‟ apathy towards the issue and overemphasis on economic development. The proposed paper will deal with the issues of Global Warming in the light of Buddha‟s teachings and try to propose a Buddhist model to deal with the issue.
The dictionary meaning of term Global Warming or Climate Change relates to change in global weather patterns especially increases in temperature and storm activity, regarded as a potential consequence of the greenhouse effect. The evidence of first signs of climate change-increase in the air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of glaciers and ice with rising sea levels, is posing an unequivocal and irrevocable threat to our environment. Global Warming is the single biggest environmental and humanitarian crisis of our time. The Earth's atmosphere is overloaded with heat-trapping carbon dioxide, which threatens large-scale disruptions in climate with disastrous consequences. However, from a realistic perspective, the issue has greater ramifications and significance in terms of all life on earth for all living beings and the natural world. When it comes to connecting the dots between climate change, extreme weather and health, the lines are clear. The earth is saying something with record heat, drought, storms and fire. Scientists are telling us this is what global warming looks like. Scientists warn that if we do not aggressively curb climate change now, the results will likely be disastrous. We must act now to spur the adoption of cleaner energy sources at home and abroad.
As religion guides human behaviour towards a healthy and balanced way of life in face of all the challenges, Buddhism offers us easy and effective solutions by its simple and affordable perspectives on the issue. An increasing number of ecologists and scholars today view Buddhism as a profoundly ecological religion while seeking answers to stop the mindless exploitation of the planet's resources. One of the most significant aspects of Buddhism that has come to the fore in the context is its powerful expression of human identification with nature. The true connection between the religion and environmental thought is to be found in Buddhist accounts of the virtues, those traits such as compassion, equanimity and humility that characterize the life of a spiritually enlightened individual.
A Buddhist Response
In today‟s context the awareness about the dangers of climate change need to be brought to the man on the street, every individual indeed. Religion can help to spread this awareness and Buddhism and Buddhists can play a catalytic role. Champion of world peace and compassion, the Dalai Lama urges action and stresses for attitude change towards nature: There is suffering on this planet and there is a need to strengthen our love for our planet and our service to the living Earth. We think we can control nature, which is a false perception. He goes on to add rightly: This planet is our own home. Taking care of our world, our planet is just like taking care of our own home. Our very lives depend upon this Earth, our environment. When one brings the vast collection of Buddhist teachings into conversation with environmental concerns, one basic teaching stands out above all others in its relevance. In this atmosphere of greed and mindless misuse of resources, Buddhism offers some effective solutions like adopting a simple lifestyle. Simplicity and compassion as advocated by Buddhism can be the key words in our approach to contain climate change. The challenge is to confront the culture of consumerism in the backdrop of countries' apathy towards the issue and overemphasis on economic development. Some Buddhists have faced the anger of the authorities for their principled anti-consumerism stance towards life.
The implications of ecology, as of Buddhism, can be subversive in a materialistic consumerist world. Shortly after the First National Economic Development Plan was drafted by Thailand, the Bangkok government imprisoned many Buddhist monks for teaching santusthi (contentment with what one has). The authorities feared that this Buddhist ideal would interfere with their plans for economic development schemes in the Plan... There is deep fear in the centers of the new global economy for the subversive science of ecology and for subversive religions that reminds their believers of what are true core values to guide one's life. Being content with less, sharing with others, seeing clearly how our consumption wounds other living things on the planet, and our interconnectedness is a major paradigm shift but one that is required to restore the balance of people in nature.
The Buddha taught us to respect life on earth while respecting all living things and natural environment. His own life was lived amidst nature. Accounts of the Buddha's life are richly embellished with allusions to nature. As he took his first steps, lotus flowers sprang up. During childhood he often meditated beneath a jambo tree, a species of myrtle. His enlightenment took place under the spreading branches of the Bo tree-sacred to Buddhists, Hindus and Jains. When he departed this life, Sal trees blossomed out of season. Buddhism stresses the importance of nature to all beings. Buddhist texts are replete with references to the natural world. In an early text Buddha says: Know ye the grasses and the trees...Then know ye the worms, and the moths, and the different sorts of ants...Know ye also the four-footed animals small and great, the serpents, the fish... the birds... Know ye the marks that constitute species are theirs, and their species are manifold.
There is an increased interest among scholars today who are focusing on Buddhist philosophy and principles, of compassion, simplicity, generosity, contentment and the pervading interconnectedness of nature and living things, to address the ecological challenges in the light of climate change. Needless to say, the Buddhist ecological philosophy is proving inspiring and effective. On the face of it, it would seem that this very broad conception of the Mahayana as encompassing even trees, mountains and rivers would prove especially amenable to modern environmentalist concerns... Zen has proved an important source of inspiration for environmental thinkers, particularly for those towards the green pole of the environmental spectrum. History proves the Buddhist's deep ecological respect in the fact that some of the Zen masters have even gone to the extent of considering not only humans but whole of the natural world entitled for Buddhahood, including the not moving things like grass and trees. Zhan-ran (711-782) of the later school of Mahayana Philosophy impelled one to consider plants and even soil as destined for Buddhahood: In the assembly of the Lotus all are present—without divisions. Grass, trees, the soil on which these grow... Some are barely in motion while others make haste along the Path, but they will all in time reached the precious land of Nirvana... Who can really maintain that all things inanimate lack Buddhahood.
Buddhism focuses mainly on the way how human recognize the real nature of their lives and eradicate their own suffering. The Buddha refused to answer questions which did not directly or indirectly bear on the central problem of human suffering and its ending. In the modern age, there appeared so many social problems which were not discussed during the time of the Buddha. That is the reason why it is not easy to find any specific discourse of the Buddha which deals with the environmental crisis and related issues. However, as a practical philosophy, the teachings of the Buddha cover different aspects of human life and universe. We therefore can find out some of the teachings of the Buddha which we can termed them as a Buddhist response towards the environmental issues, especially the problem of global warming.
The Buddha very skillfully used ethical dimensions to enrich his ideas and exhort his followers to engage in conservation and protection of nature. The Vanaropa Sutta of the Saṃyutta Nikāya is a very good example of this. Today, due to wide spread consumerism, people have become insensitive to the needs of conserving nature. They are not concerned about sustaining nature. Instead their aim is to obtain the maximum in the present. Therefore, with the destruction of nature-forest, water reserves, mountains etc. there is an unprecedented change in climate., rapid recurrence of natural calamities, obscure rains at the proper time, earthquakes, sea-erosion and even tsunamis are the result of these massive exploitation of nature by man. This is totally contrary to the teachings of the Buddha. And many a problem of today is the result of these activities of exploitation on the part of man.
The collective Karma of a human community is the major factor responsible for their environment. Buddhist cosmology offers a comprehensive picture of different realms created by the Karma of various kinds of living beings. The Aggañña Sutta of the Dīgha Nikāya describes how a man impelled by greed begins to continuously and ruthlessly exploit nature and nature in return reacts by withdrawing away it bountifulness and abundance. The Cakkavattisihanāda Sutta is also attempted to drive this point in. It shows the exact correlation between decline in human discipline and degeneration of nature. Thus, from not giving properly to the needy, taking of life increased, and from talking of life, lying increased and of the children whose life-span had been forty thousand years remind only twenty thousand. Just as the individual, the state too is held to be responsible for the conservation of environment. This is very clearly stated in Suttas. The Kūṭadanta Sutta and Dīgha Nikāya, by discouraging the heads of states from engaging in the performance of futile sacrifices, clearly stress this point. This is made clear through the norms a Cakkkvatti-ruler has to follow. Thus the Cakkavattisīhanāda Sutta lays down this as the first of Cakkavatti’s duties. “You should establish guard, ward and protection according to Dhamma for your own household, your troops, your nobles and vassals, for ascetics and Brāhmiṇs, for beasts and birds.” The inclusion of birds and beasts is very important. It refers to the whole bio-diversity the protection which is the responsibility of the state. The state has to set an example in protecting and conserving nature. It is only then that the subjects would follow this practice. This protection is equal to protecting the lives of the people. Thus, it shows the high priority given by the Buddha and stresses on the state‟s responsibility in protecting, promoting and conserving nature and everything connected with nature.
The Cakkavattisīhanāda Sutta of the Dīgha Nikāya predicts the future course of events when human morals undergo further degeneration. Gradually man‟s health will deteriorate so much that life expectancy will diminish until at last the average human life-span is reduced to ten years and marriageable age to five years. Thus, Buddhism maintains that there is a close link between man‟s morals and the natural resources available to him. Several Suttas from the Pāli canon show that early Buddhism believes there is a close relationship between human morality and the natural environment. This idea has been systematized in the theory of the five natural laws (pañcaniyamadhamma) in the later commentaries. According to this theory, in the cosmos there are five natural laws or forces at work, namely utuniyāma (lit. season-law), bijaniyama (lit. seed-law), cittaniyāma, kammaniyāma, and dhammaniyama. They can be translated as physical laws, biological laws, psychological laws, moral laws, and causal laws, respectively. While the first four laws operate within their respective spheres, the last-mentioned law of causality operates within each of them as well as among them. This means that the physical environment of any given area conditions the growth and development of its biological component, i.e. flora and fauna. These in turn influence the thought pattern of the people interacting with them. Thus the five laws demonstrate that man and nature are bound together in a reciprocal causal relationship with changes in one necessarily bringing about changes in the other.
The doctrine of merit in Buddhism can be helpful in understanding the economic activity. Accumulation of merit by engaging in activities beneficial to oneself as well as to other-primarily to human beings, but also to animals and to other creatures as well as to the environment is the basis of the doctrine of merit. It is because of this doctrine of merit that the provision of irrigation water, the cultivation of crops and the planting of trees are referred to as meritorious acts. What is economically good and desirable should contribute to the wealth and welfare of the multitude. In this, all works of social utility were highly commended as meritorious: “Planters of groves and fruitful trees, and they who build causeway and dam and wells construct and watering-sheds and (to the homeless) shelter give-of such as these by day and night such folk from earth to heaven go.” Buddhism has something to teach in this regard. E. F. Schumacher wrote about what he called “Buddhist Economics” in the early 70s. Any search for an alternative green economics to that of capitalism or socialism with their multiplication of human wants, needs to acknowledge this. The concern with “Right Livelihood”, itself part of the Buddha‟s “Eightfold Path” is fleetingly sketched within E. F. Schumacher‟s classic Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered. Buddhist economics, according to Schumacher, seeks to move human societies away from the acquisition of material things to the cultivation of personal inner growth. Schumacher further notes: “From the point of view of Buddhist economics, therefore, production from local resources for local needs is the most rational way of economic life, while dependence on imports from afar and the consequent need to produce for exports to unknown and distant peoples is highly uneconomic and justifiable only in exceptional cases and on a small scale.” Schumacher also points out how modern economics does not distinguish between renewable and non-renewable goods because monetary price is used to quantify everything under capitalism. But for a Buddhist economics, “Non-renewable goods (e.g. coal, oil, natural gas), must be used only if they are indispensable, and then only with the greatest care and the most meticulous concern for conservation. To use them heedlessly or extravagantly is an act of violence...”. In Buddhism at the simplest level, non-harming is the fundamental ethics, once one realizes that excessive consumption and reproduction are harmful, one is obliged to limit such activities. Such advice is also in accord with the most fundamental of all Buddhist guidelines, the Middle Path between extremes. To avoid “extremes”, or to follow the Middle Way in all matters, is essential to Buddhist practice. What seems to have happened within deep ecology is that many can come to a basic eco-centric world view. But a fundamental divide occurs over whether or not the activist works inside or in fundamental opposition to industrial capitalism.
The Four Noble Truths centers on the suffering, which is caused by our desires, anger and ignorance. In our consumer societies, we can become overwhelmed by all forms of encouragement to acquire well beyond our needs. And it is this consumerism, our desire for an excessively affluent way of living, which now threatens our home, our world. Our economy in many countries is based on promoting affluence as a virtue. The Buddhist path is one of choosing the middle way, where we consume only what we really need, where we choose products mindfully and with consideration of their impact on others and the planet. The Buddha taught the middle way and the Eightfold Path which offers guidelines for our journey to a more sustainable way of living by following middle way and eightfold path we can help reduce our global warming problems.
- 1. Right Understanding: How do we become more aware, how do we learn about the climate changes that are happening and the implications for us all?
- 2. Right Intent: Do we want to be part of the problem or part of the solution? What is our intention?
- 3. Right Action: We all have a part to play in this challenge, what is yours? How can we make a difference?
- 4. Right Effort: What is the most positive action, in every day and in our community? How can we engage others so that the effort becomes more effective?
- 5. Right Speech: How do we inform and engage others in a way that moves forward and builds bridges from past habits to a new model for sustainable business practices and sustainable consumerism?
- 6. Right Livelihood: Is the type of study, work, or home duties that we currently undertake consistent with a future which must generate a cleaner environment and depend more on green energy?
- 7. Right Mindfulness: How do we remain calm, caring and mindful of others and of all life on this planet, even those who are not yet on the same path to a sustainable future?
- 8. Right Concentration: What is the best way to reach our inner stillness and use this to focus our hearts and minds so that we can be most effective in addressing global warming and its implications?
The Four Noble Truths, often characterized as basic to Buddhism, which provides an environmental ethic even though these teachings may not be applicable to environmental ethics directly. The First Noble Truth states that conventional lifestyles inevitably result in suffering; the Second Noble Truth states that suffering stems from desire rooted in ignorance. The Second Noble Truth, with its emphasis on desire as the cause of suffering, is the key to a Buddhist environmental ethic. The first noble truth applies to the natural environment with recognition that nature is suffering as a whole and that serious deep ecological crisis is appearing locally and globally everywhere. With the recognition that life is suffering, with exploitation and insensitivity towards the living environment, cannot help humans escape the natural law of impermanence. Moreover, the second noble truth marks the origin of dukkha as taught by the Buddha that it is „desire‟ or attachment, the source of all passions, suffering, and defilement. Desire or attachment is the root cause of suffering and origin of all evils. According to Buddhism, the entire set of problems stems from aggression, which is perpetuated under the powerful forces in the mind, what we call dosa, hatred or aversion; and lobha, craving, desire or greed. The Buddha‟s emphasis on desire, craving, attachment, etc. and his practical measures for overcoming them, have enormous potential for the removal of the human causes of environmental degradation. The Buddha, in a discourse in the Aṅguttara Nikāya, even hints at the ecological devastation that is caused by a willful exploitation of the resources when lust, greed and wrong values grip the heart of humanity and immorality becomes widespread.
The third noble truth is the cessation of all dukkha achievable through detachment or release from all attachments. The Buddha said that the all suffering of the world have three cause i.e. greed, anger and delusion, which are the real cause of all injustices. The Buddha‟s message of the third noble truth from ecological point of view is “Spiritual seekers and even great accomplished masters do not understand that the essence of ecology is not cleaning the physically polluted environment, but something deeper re-establishing the balance between human and nature”. As the deep ecological crisis has brought about an enormous sea of new suffering, the ecological cleansing is the vehicle of the cessation of suffering.
The fourth noble truth leads to the realization of nirvana. On the basis of the Buddhist ethics, the Eight fold path that leads to complete freedom, extinction of suffering and to discernment and enlightenment. The four noble truths focus attention on suffering as the fundamental problem from which sentient beings seek liberation and Buddhist ethics regards compassion for the suffering of all sentient beings as the supreme ethical virtue.
Next comes the Buddhist teaching of interdependence, which is also one of the most basic aspects of the Buddhist worldview, a view held in common by all forms of Buddhism. Simply put, interdependence means that nothing stands alone apart from the matrix of all else. In fact, interdependence is to date the most commonly invoked concept in Buddhist environmental ethics. Deep ecological ethics can be observed through the practical application of Buddhist tenets of Paṭiccasamuppāda (Theory of Dependent Origination). In general reference, this tenet means “when that exists, things comes to be; on the arising of that, this arises. When that does not exist, this does not come to be; on the cessation of that, this ceases”. It is recognized that each of the factors of dependent origination is conditioned as well as conditioning. Consequently they are all relative, interdependent and interconnected and nothing is absolute and independent. Thus, no first cause is acceptable in Buddhism. It is a remarkable contribution of the Buddha that helps to realize the change and continuity in visualizing ecological harmony of the universe through causal changes and their respective effectuation.
One of the very important teachings of the Buddha which is quite relevant in the present context of environmental crisis is Brahma Vihāra which may be rendered as modes of sublime conduct, sublime states or divine abodes. Brahma Vihāras are described as four virtues or perfect states in Buddhist literature. These four are the sublime states of living or supreme source of purification of mind consisting of loving kindness or goodwill (mettā), compassion (karuṇā), sympathetic joy (muditā) and equanimity (upekkhā) which will help a great deal to foster and cement harmonious interpersonal relations. The need of the hour is a holistic approach towards problems with a genuine sense of universal responsibility based on love and compassion. The Karniyamettā enjoins the practice of Mettā towards all living creatures. While the Mettā Sutta, the blue print of loving kindness, tells us how this boundless compassion should be cultivated towards all living beings without any distinction whatsoever such as the Buddha‟s Mettā, in the Saddharmapuṇḍarika Sūtra, is like dhamma rain which gives life to plants fertilizing everything around them and that makes everyone happy, taking them towards Nibbāna as well.
The Buddha strongly upheld the purity of heart filled with loving kindness marked with the principle of „live and let live‟ to promote tolerance, compassion and love for all creatures. If we practice the Buddha‟s teachings and truly follow the principle of love and compassion towards all living beings including forests and their inhabitants, that would create a balanced and happy environment which means each of us must makes a sincere effort to take seriously our responsibility for each other and for the natural environment. From Buddhist point of view Karuṇā means compassion which is the sublime emotion that impels one to help another in distress. In the Vajracheddikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra the Buddha says, „The great friendliness marked by providing what is beneficial; the great compassion by protection‟. He also taught His disciples to have „compassion on all creatures‟ and „never to destroy the life of any living creature, however tiny it may be‟. The Buddha‟s age old teaching of compassionate love has refreshing relevance to the modern world which creates the foundation for a balanced view of the entire world and of the environment where we live.
Muditā or sympathetic joy is the third component of the Brahma Vihāra which is the wholesome attitude of rejoicing in the happiness and virtues of others or the gladness one experiences in the happiness of another. This idea is beautifully expressed by the description of an arhanta, who is said to go about in the manner of a bee collecting honey from flowers without harming them in any way. The fourth sublime state is upekkhā or equanimity which may be achieved only when man tries to satisfy his need and not his greed. The Aggaññasutta of the Dīgha Nikāya relates the episode of the evolution of the world and society emphasizes the fact that moral degeneration causes the degradation of personality as well as the environment. So the Buddhist needs cultivate all of the four sublime states simultaneously to take care of environmental crisis. That is why we call the compassion culminates with equanimity.
In the present context, Buddhism and Buddhists world over can help spread awareness among all the beings towards their natural surroundings. To have a strengthened sense of oneness with one's natural surrounding is the response which Buddhism could effectively offer in the form of ideals of simple life and compassion. A sense of duty towards society and natural world has to be created in living an ecologically sound way of life. We should deal with nature the way we should deal with ourselves; we should not harm nature... Human beings and nature are inseparable. Buddhism offers man a simple moderate lifestyle avoiding both extremes of self-deprivation and self-indulgence. Satisfaction of basic human necessities, reduction of wants to the minimum, frugality, and contentment are its important characteristics. Each man has to order his life on normal principles, exercise self-control in the enjoyment of the senses, discharge his duties in his various social roles, and conduct himself with wisdom and self-awareness in all activities. It is only when each man adopts a simple moderate lifestyle that mankind as a whole will stop polluting the environment. The Buddha also taught dependent origination, and that every thought, every action has a consequence. What we do today will create our global future - each thought, each action, however small, has a major impact. It is just up to us to choose our thoughts and actions. Man has to understand that global warming has been caused because there has been psychological pollution within him. If he wants a clean environment he has to adopt a lifestyle that springs from a moral and spiritual dimension. So, if we just follow these simple rules we can be part of Global warming campaign. They only require a minimal change in the existing lifestyle and are consistent with a simple and frugal lifestyle recommended by the Buddha.
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- Ibid. p. 70.
- Emilio К Moron. People and Nature: An Introduction to Human Ecological Relations.
- Kindness to the Earth Focus of Dalai Lama's Australia Tour. Environment News Service. hup://www.ens-newswire.com/ens/apr2007/2007-0'l-l9-01.asp
- Theragātha Pāli, Verse No. 22, Nalanda edition, 1959
- Aggañña Sutta, Dīgha Nikāya, Vol. III, Sutta no. 27, Nalanda edition, 1956.
- Cakkavattisihanāda sutta, Dīgha Nikāya, Vol. III, Sutta no. 26, Nalanda edition, 1956.
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- Walshe, M., (trans.), The Long Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Digha Nikaya, Wisdom Publication, Boston: 1995: 401.
- Kumar, Bimalendra, „Abhidharma Ecology‟ in Madn, G. R., (ed.), Buddhism: Its Various Manifestation, Mittal Publication, New Delhi: 1999: 119.
- Ibid: 66-70
- M. II. 267.
- S. I. 33.
- Schumacher, E. F., Small is Beautiful, London: Blond & Briggs, 1973: 49.
- Ibid: 50.
- Henning , Daniel H., Op. Cit.: 21.
- Henning , Daniel H., Op. Cit.: 21.
- Skolimowski, Henryk, Dharma, Ecology and Wisdom in the Third Millennium, New Delhi: Concept Publishing Company, 1999: 111.
- Henning , Daniel H., Op. Cit.: 21.
- Henning, Daniel H., Buddhism and Deep Ecology, Polson, Montola: Xlibris Corporation, 2001: 72.
- Pathak, S. K., (et al), Buddhism and Ecology, New Delhi: Om Publication, 2004: 8.
- Saṃyutta Nikāya.IV.204, 254 & 227; Harvey, B. A. Ronson, Love and Sympathy in Therevada Buddhism, Delhi: Motilal Banarasidass, 1980: 8.
- Tenzin, P. Atisha, On the Environment, Dharmashala: Department of Information and Internal Relations, Central Tibetan Administration 1994: 30-31.
- Aṅguttara Nikāya.IV.302.
- Sutta Nipāta. 151.
- Soothill, W. E., The Lotus of the Wonderful Law, Delhi: Motilal Banarasidas, 1956:122-125.
- Batchelor, M and Brown, Kerry, (ed.), Buddhism and Ecology, Delhi: Motilal Banarasidass, 1994: 112.
- Saṃyutta Nikāya. V. 98-99 & 136-137.
- Ibid. 241.
- Sarao, K.T.S., The Origin and Nature of Ancient Indian Buddhism, Delhi: Eastern Book Linkers, 1989: 50.
- Humphreys, Christmas, The Wisdom of Buddhism, London: Promilla and Company, 1987: 90.
- Silva, Lily De, Essays on Buddhism Culture and Ecology for Peace and Survival, Dehiwala: Buddhist Cultural Centre, 2001: 114.
By Dr. Arvind Kumar Singh