Buddhism and Time – an Argument against Dr. Chaiwat Satha-Anand
By: Mr. Dion Peoples
The Bangkok Post published an article by Dr. Chaiwat Satha-Anand, on 12 October 2006, titled, “Hurting, Haunting, Hoping”. In his article, he wrote:
“But Buddhism sees time differently. Time is omnipresent and eternal, but because it exists and never really changes, it can never be the cause of anything or meaningfully produce any effect. Time is not (Dhamma), which is real existence, but it appears as dependent on other components. …But for Buddhism, since time depends on other elements, it is without any will. Yet, all these different religious traditions seem to be in agreement that time is omnipresent and eternal while all things appear and move through the temporal framework. …Violence deals with Time by first freezing it. In freezing time, it forces the lives of those affected by the brutal violence… to be trapped, because for the victims of violence, time may not move.”
Buddhist Concept of Time:
I have to ignore recent scientific findings that suggests time can pause, fold or curve. If someone could prove the concept to me, Buddhism would allow me to accept the theory or law. Time (Pali: kala), for Buddhists not directly involved in science, has a different meaning - in the Abhidhammattha Sangaha, is represented as being within the compendium of six objects: objects with visual form, sounds, smells, tastes, tangibles and mental objects. These objects are aligned with our six-senses – and it is within our ability to delight or suffer in or with such objects. Four of the six objects: visible form, sound, smell and taste - originate from matter, or secondary phenomena dependent with any of the three of four primary elements: earth [[[Wikipedia:hardness|hardness]] or softness], fire [as heat or cold], air [pressure/wind], but the fourth element of water is considered to have characteristics of cohesion – which can be touched and only cognized through the mind. Soon, if global warmers have their wishes, my newborn son will never have ‘time’ to see glaciers. Besides losing their life, dead people lose their body heat, gases, and fluids over time - re-becoming compositions of minerals and a memory for loved ones ‘left behind, as if the ‘departed’ forgot to take the living with them – on the final voyage. If I attain Nibbana or even became a Sotapanna [A Stream-Enterer or a Noble Disciple of the Buddha), in this lifetime, it is certain that I will have left my wife and son behind to attain the eradication of defilements, alone. If they neglected to their personal practice, how am I to blame? I can teach them, but ultimately their determination resides solely with them.
There are 52 mental factors listed in the Abhidhamma – and through these factors, one becomes aware of their feelings, volitions and emotions. Concepts, or the class of conventional realities, do not exist in the ultimate sense – and fall into the category of mental objects. An object from the mind-door consciousness, rather: rebirth linking, life-continuum, and death – is of six types. The object can be cognized by the six-sense bases, may be present, past, or future, independent of time, or according to circumstance. According to the situation, an object is apprehended by one of the six-sense doors, in the immediately preceding existence, as either a present or past object or as a concept. This is known as kamma, or as sign of kamma, or as a sign of destiny.
The mind-door processes cognize any of the five physical sense-objects as well as mind-objects. The mind-door can also cognize an object belonging to the past, present, future or one that is independent of time. Mental ideas that are independent of time are Nibbana and concepts. Nibbana is timeless because of its intrinsic nature is without arising, change and passing away; concepts are timeless because they are devoid of intrinsic nature.
Morning, noon, day, week, month, etc., are temporal concepts corresponding to units of time. One can read the Sangiti Sutta and determine that time is something that humans can manage. There are eight occasions of indolence and eight occasions for making an effort. Time allows for an opportunity to do something later – putting off an election for example. Time also allows for the chance to do something now, for example, for the military to stage an opportune coup against a government that ran away from the principles of Thainess. Buddhists know that time is present, is impermanent, causes suffering, and is not of ourselves.
Yodhajiva, the ‘mercenary/village headman’ in the Buddhist Tipitaka cried, when the Buddha told him about the final destination of those who kill others in battle. Yodhajiva was not crying because he would go to a hell realm, but because he was tricked, cheated and deceived for a long time (holding a wrong view), by his occupational predecessors, to believe he would be reborn into a heavenly realm. Yodhajiva lost previous opportunities, but later became a lay-follower.
Time and Lost Opportunities in the Thai Political Context:
Thainess, one can see, would involve the monks who protested during the month of September 2545/2002 in Thailand for the creation of a Ministry of Buddhism, because of the fear that some unwholesome influence is infiltrating the Sangha and to a greater degree the fear that Thailand is losing the Buddhism. The monks made time to protest against something important. The continuance to secularize Thailand would make most some ideologically different nations happy. Separating Buddhism from the three pillars of Thai ‘identity’ would further lead the nation into economic whoredom – which would make many corporate capitalists satisfied, alcohol and cigarettes would be available to anyone with enough baht to purchase the intoxicants – why are there tobacco farms and alcohol factories and distributors in Thailand, anyhow? Trading intoxicants [buying, selling, storage] is a prohibitive occupation [one of five] for Buddhists. These wrongfully employed people have ‘time’ to earn their livelihood with other substances. Tobacco and alcohol are non-beneficial to society. Clean and available drinking water, in the times of annual flooding brings greater benefits. Can this excess rain water be collected, processed and bottled, as: Tropical Storm X? Maybe different storms have different flavors, dependent on the collection point?
Now that the auspiciously dated 9/19 coup has occurred, and sufficient economics is to be the guiding principle. King Bhumibol Adulyadej, has already taught us through the various Royal Projects, how to utilize the land for greater potentials with techniques to adapt into sufficient economics, and perhaps a Sufficient Buddhist Economics. This might be a great time to be involeved in the agricultural sciences? P.A. Payutto mentioned in this book, “Looking to America to Solve Thailand’s Problems”, [page 5], that “Thailand has many grand and fancy buildings, and virtually all kinds of luxury items which contribute to people’s comfort and convenience. When a foreign country, such as America, has something, whoop, in a flash Thailand has it too.
We have modern social and political institutions, but look at their make-up, and look at the plight of the poor and needy – there is no improvement there. The gap in status and economics grows ever wider, and society in general is pervaded by a lack of discipline, crime, drug addiction and allurements which lead to ruin; opportunities in society are not evenly distributed; development is still not balanced between the country and city, and so on. Or look at this in terms of politics; the political system has taken the shape of a democracy, but this democracy has not developed as it should. It stumbles, pulls itself up, stumbles again and gropes along.” In the past, former leaders had their chances (time) but messed things up – through their greed, hatred and delusions – leaving a mess for today’s generation to clean up, with less natural resources.
Inward is where most of our own solutions can be found. Western style, single storied homes are flooded, while Thai style homes, built on stilts, elevated off of the ground, are protected from the recent flooding – local wisdom at its best – perhaps new architects can learn lessons from nature. Instead of trying to force nature to change, building elevated housing, perhaps, is a better solution. Furthermore: One should therefore try to comprehend deficient economic conditions – many people do not have enough – rising credit card debt and poverty illustrates this. Some people might need to look inward to determine why they don’t have enough, while others should contemplate why they have too much – and think about distributing excess to those needing it the most.
The former Thaksin Shinawatra government attempted to turn surrendered militants into ‘patriots’ during a short ‘week-long’ camp – how successful this was, is anyone’s guess. Of course, aligning oneself to the construction of nationhood, the public’s mobilization through discourses of participation and democracy, is of course, only another hegemonic government act. In the past, people were forced to rally under the tired tri-pillar concept of ‘Nation, Religion and State’. This concept has been replaced by ‘Thainess’ thirty years ago, to effectively win the hearts and minds of the people.
In 1976, the National Security Council assisted in forming the National Identity Office and the National Culture Commission, both key agencies that promoted ‘Thainess,’ or the ‘regime of identification’ - through which individuals were bound to the national good. Countless articles have been written in the Bangkok Post about stateless people – the current government should not go about creating a regime of exclusion. The former National Security Council proposed as national ideology: preservation of the nation, to defend independence and democracy, protect religion, treasure and preserve the monarchy, eliminate socio-economic disparities, eliminate suffering and nourish well-being, assimilate interests, maintain rights and freedoms, create unity and integrity, uphold the identity of and promote the decent culture of the Thai people. Today, we have sufficient economics, and if the ‘pacified’ Southerners get their proposition answered, greater economic attention will come to the South, eliminating some socio-economic disparities.
Thainess, as ‘honorably intended’ is deeply ethno-centric and fails to take into account the nation’s diverse elements, recent immigrants, numerous ethnic groups, people of different religions, and different ideologies – imposing conditions or a singular xenophobic ideology that continually instigates uprisings from frustrated populations. Recognizing cultural diversities is paramount in peace-building exercises. Former Prime Minister Anand Panyarachun has repeatedly called on the entire nation to recognize cultural diversity in Thailand, decentralizing existing concepts of philosophical history, because monocultures ignore ‘diversity’, which can be valuable to nation-building. Central to the theme of national reconciliation, is recognition [timeliness] of the importance of education and economic development as vital in regional and socio-cultural development.
Thainess, or today’s equivalent, must include ‘coups’, for instance, account for the numerous changes in the Ayutthaya Era’s monarchs – numerous kings were usurped by someone unrelated or within the monarch’s own family. King Taksin lost his life in a coup… and post-1932 Thailand has faced numerous coups and constitutions. This is the politically accepted style of governance. The theory of impermanence (Pali: annica] is alive in Thai politics. Thaksin Shinawatra was actually correct to state that ‘democracy is not the goal.’ There are other political ideologies that can operate and bring benefits to the people without restricting ‘human rights/freedoms’ – but people should also be respectful to basic universal laws. Disregarding a political system in favor of another is a minor issue in life. The boldest and strongest leader must recognize that s/he could lose all, when one’s moral legitimacy has been compromised.
A weak or bad [wrong] government is replaced when it loses its legitimacy. In a purely speculative scenario: a coup in America would save billions of war-dollars used to pacify Islamic nations. That money could be better used to rebuild hurricane devastated areas. Today, democratically elected leaders have the power to make war, and only after four years of time can the power to ‘influence’ the world, be removed. Popularly supported coups, in the case of Thailand can benefit a nation: The coup leaders of Thailand gave the nation two weeks to find a new Prime Minister - a task completed, and a year for constitutional reforms and democratically elected leaders – an ongoing procedure. I welcomed the coup, and took my nine-month old son to visit the soldiers [all with unloaded M-16s!], guarding the non-strategic Bangkrabu intersection, near my home. After serving ten years as an Intelligence Analyst in the United States Air Force, I learned how to identify a real threat. Additionally, Thailand is already a militarized society. Schoolboys must attend weekly training, younger students must belong to the scouting organization, and even young monks are not immune from being drafted; countless education days are lost to military/scouting activities.
Towards a Solution:
Interestingly, Dr. Chaiwat Satha-Anand neglected to account for Surah 45/24: “And they say: There is nothing but our life of this world, we die and we live and nothing destroys us except Ad-Dahr (time). And they have no knowledge of it: they only conjecture.” That was the statement of the non-believer, for example – a Buddhist could have said that. In response to the non-believer, The Qur’an states: “Say [to them]: Allah gives you life, then causes you to die, then He will assemble you on the Day of Resurrection about which there is no doubt. But most of mankind know not.” There is also the Hadith, from Sahih Al-Bukhari, Vol. 6 Hadith No. 351, that states: The son of Adam annoys Me, for he abuses Ad-Dahr (time) though I am Ad-Dahr (time); in My hands are all things, and I cause the revolution of day and night. The commentary states or explains that: ‘I am Ad-Dahr’, means, I am the Creator of Time, and I manage the affairs of all creation including Time.’ One should not attribute anything whether cheerful or disastrous to Time, for everything is in the Hands of Allah and only He is the Disposer of everything.
In pre-modern times, people attributed the unknown to a ‘higher or mystical power’. The first portion of the above Surah, could indeed be similar to something a Buddhist would utter, surely it summarizes impermanence. Buddhists, however, do have a deeper concept of time, and this is found in the dependent origination formula, often representing the past, present and future lives, although modern interpretations insist that dependent origination can occur here and now – in a short amount of time. Time, according to Buddhism, is something rationally utilized by humanity. Time is something that we all recognize ‘having’ and is a concept that we choose to manipulate in our political, economic, personal and even romantic lives. It is not just ‘time’ that is standing still for Chaiwat Satha-Anand, for Thongchai Winichakul and other October Activists, what is standing still is: their lives and their grasping of past consciousnesses. Today there is a new era, a new chance at a peaceful society – the peace activist was invited to participate, but declined! The scholar of peace declined ‘time’ to influence the current wave of decision-makers, instead he only influences other like-minded students or interested foreigners, likely never to hold any political power. Dr. Chaiwat Satha-Anand was given an opportunity (time) to work with the new leadership ‘counsel’ to directly give them advice, but declined, out of disagreement with the method of gaining power. Was this an act of civil disobedience? What did the coup leaders do, to disrespect those who sit in academic positions, some living abroad? This respected academic had the chance to work together with the coup leader – a fellow brother in Islam, but declined the chance (time) to let the wisdom of Islam illuminate a Buddhist nation, and I my respect for Dr. Chaiwat Satha-Anand deteriorated when he refused to cooperate with the new leadership, as the press reported.
Theravada Buddhists are liberated from concepts of a God, and there is no time to waste – liberation can be won here and now, if we practice before the time is lost. Recall that Buddhadasa taught this and other similar concepts in several of his lectures and publications. National economic development should not be postponed in the South or other areas, because some people cannot wait, and have been suffering for too long. The auspicious coup of 9/19 has its opportunity (time) to practice what it is preaching. Martial law, and other restrictions of freedoms – I am not seeing this from my Bangkrabu neighborhood. I walk freely to where I need to go, and come home daily to my wife and son, and there is absolutely nothing to hinder a responsible foreign man doing his best effort to support his family in Thailand. Time is given to us now, to handle our responsibilities; for teachers – we must also act outside of the classroom.