(The statistics of this article are related to Sri Lanka)

“Anupubbena medhavi - thokathokam khane khane
Kammaro rajatasseva - niddhame malamattano”


By degrees, little by little, from time to time, a wise man should remove his own impurities, as a smith removes (the dross) of silver.
              Dhammapada v. 239


The Most Venerable Madihe Pannasiha Maha Nayaka Thera

The Founder of the Washington Buddhist Vihara

The wise start getting rid of their impurities gradually just as a goldsmith would do. This is the teaching of the Buddha. The goldsmith gets his nuggets in crude form. He follows a two way process of turning out attractive ornaments from the nuggets. Whilst on one hand, he removes the dirt by heating the material, he also turns out a beautiful piece of ornament by heating and shaping it. In the same manner, the wise would gradually build up good qualities by getting rid of weaknesses.

Working according to a plan is an accepted practice in the modern world. If we trace the history of this practice we stop with the Buddha. Even a casual examination of the life of the Buddha indicate that the Buddha has been working always according to a plan and a timeframe. Based on His teaching, it is possible to formulate plans for progress both for this life and the life hereafter, and for final spiritual liberation. What is token up here is a plan for life itself in five stages namely 1. Prenatal 2. Childhood 3. Youth 4. Middle age. 5. Old age.

1. Pre-natal

Life begins in the mother's womb. There were traditional practices of a mother for the protection of the unborn child. At the time of the Buddha, when a mother knew she was pregnant, she would go to the Buddha and request the Buddha to give the protection of the Triple Gem -the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha- to the child in the womb, by making the child yet in the womb to take refuge in the Triple Gem. When the Buddha was not there and during later times, it was customary to follow religious observances and seek the blessings of the Triple Gem.

The caring of the unborn child begins next. This is referred as ‘gabba parihara’ or the ‘practices for the protection of the embryo’. This involves following religious observances and medical advice by the mother. From the fifth month onwards the child is able to feel. There is a description of the suffering an unborn child undergoes in a mother’s womb in the Buddhist texts when describing the Dukkha Sacca, which is recommended for reading by all mothers. No mother would want to give pain to the child in the womb. However, due to ignorance, the child may experience much pain. The western scientists have observed with the use of equipment the suffering of a child inside the womb. When it becomes intolerable they have even observed how the child kicks in anger.

This is how a child suffers inside the womb. The unborn child is very sensitive. Even a sudden movement of the mother gives physical pain. When a mother takes food which is very hot, seasoned, or sour the child suffers inside. Therefore in the olden days, mothers were extremely careful and mindful.

It is necessary that a mother consciously acts in a manner that would help both the physical and mental development of the child. The mother must take adequate quantities of nourishing food for the proper physical growth of the child. The responsibility of providing such food rests with the father. For mental development the mother should learn to listen to and read religious and heroic anecdotes, take part in discussions on religion, culture, history etc. Suitable radio and television programs must be selected for listening and viewing. She must even be careful about what she reads in the newspapers. Scientists say that after the fifth month of pregnancy the words, kind or harsh, spoken by the mother are heard as sounds and impressions created in the child's mind. One may ask how difficult it would be to become a parent. If individuals are not prepared for such disciplining, they should be kindly admonished not to become husband and wife nor parents

It is customary among Buddhists to invite the bhikkhus to chant the Parittas, especially the Angulimala Sutta, closer to the confinement. The latter Sutta needs specially to be chanted because of its proven efficacy. It should be remembered that today, Western scientists admire and even accept the Buddhist practice of giving protection to and caring for the unborn child from the time of conception. Parents must always strive to bear children who would be of service to the country, the nation, the religion and the language.

 2. Childhood (from birth - 15 years)

Development of character and knowledge

In Sri Lanka today there are 5.8 million children who fall into this category. These children who are under the care of their parents are not yet spoilt. If their character is molded on correct lines there is a future. How can this be done? An infant is very delicate and must be fed on mother's milk. For this purpose the mother should be given nourishing food. If the mother is unable to breast-feed the child for any reason like not having adequate milk, there could be danger to life of mother. It was the ancient custom to look for wet nurses or foster mothers. When Prince Siddhartha's mother passed away a week after his birth, the prince was fed by foster mothers including Queen Prajapati.

The guidelines for selection of foster mothers is mentioned in our ancient literature. One criterion is the quality of breast milk. Breast milk could be heaty, cold or sour. The milk of mothers who are dark in complexion is mentioned as more nourishing. If the wet nurse is extra tall it is mentioned that it will strain the neck of the child when suckling. If extra short it will stunt the child's neck. In this manner, the physical features too should be heeded when selecting a foster mother. Once the period for breast feeding is over and the child is a little bigger, the child may be given cow's milk or other forms of milk.

The pre-school system introduced by the Europeans has become popular. If we trace its history it again stops with the Buddha. He treated every home as a pre-school. Hence the parents were referred to as the first teachers (pubbacariya). In this capacity they had two basic topics to teach. One was to make the child avoid bad qualities. The other was to train the child in good qualities. This education has to be imparted by the parents through example and precept. The little child tends to imitate the elders both in good and bad deeds. Therefore the parents should be always careful to speak and act mindfully and wisely.

It is customary to read the first letters before the child completes three years. The child can then be sent to a nursery. As this is the most impressionable age, it is very important that the nursery that is selected conforms to one's own culture and religion. In pursuance of this, the Dharmavijaya Foundation has prepared a scheme for setting up nurseries to be called ‘Ladaru Guru Sevana’ in association with temples. A hand-book has already been published. The present government has also accepted the proposal to link primary education with religious institutions.

Buddhist education is imparting knowledge with moral training. Therefore molding character and imparting knowledge should be the main objectives of an education system for children below the age of fifteen. Religion is for molding character. Schools are for imparting knowledge. In the past, when the temple was the center of religious and secular education molding character and imparting knowledge were simultaneous. Today religion is taught only as a subject. Children may have acquired knowledge of their religion, but would not have acquired a religious feeling. The harmful effects of the present education system which produces a so-called educated generation with no feeling for the country, religion or language, are already visible.

There are about six thousand Dhamma Schools today. Around 130 thousand children attend these schools. It is observed that even in Dhamma Schools, because of the organizing of competitions, lesser attention is being paid to the more important aspect of character formation. This trend should be discouraged. The time has come when children in both daily and dhamma schools are trained in the following manner:

  1.  to revere their  religious  preceptors, parents, teachers and elders;

  2.  to practice simple and harmonious living;

  3.  to exercise proper conduct, discipline and gain knowledge of the Dhamma;

  4.  to practice one’s religion, to observe the five precepts regularly and the eight precepts on Poya days;

  5.  to develop correct attitudes for building a generation of religious, patriotic and national minded children.

 3. Youth (from 15 - 30/35 years)

Development of character, knowledge and economic self-reliance

Adam's Peak.  According to a legend, when the Buddha visited Ceylon he planted one of his foot on this mountain (Sumana-kuta)


hight; 7,360 feet; 2,243 meters.


The youth should train and be trained to use their strength and energy for the benefit of themselves and the others in society. If this period of 20 to 25 years is spent wrongfully the future life would be lamentable. If it is spent rightfully, the future life is bound to be bright.

During one's youth there should be three developments. These relate to character, knowledge and economic fulfillment. Religion and education help to develop the first two, whilst income generation accomplishes the other.

Knowledge of one’s religion and respect for one's culture imbued during childhood should be further developed. This is the period when there is planning for higher education.

One desirous of higher education has to face two public examinations. Those who are keen to gain admission to a University have to face severe competition. Annually around 30,000 students pass with adequate entry qualifications at the G. C. E. Advanced Level Examination. However, only about 6000 students gain admission to Universities. Some may attempt for a second time, which is good. Others should divert themselves to improve their knowledge and generate income in varied ways.

The present university system must be improved. It should be done on the model of the Nalanda University after going back 1500 years in history. Nalanda was the world's first University. Europe’s first University, Bologna in Italy, was started 700 years after Nalanda, in the 12th century.

It will be useful to carefully study the account made by the Chinese Buddhist monk traveler Hsuan-Tsang (Xuan-Zang) of his visit to, the Nalanda University. At the time he visited the University, there were around ten thousand in residence. The student population was around 7000. The academic staff comprised of 1500 and the balance formed the minor staff. There were fifty different subjects taught in the University.  In the academic sfaff, there were 1000 who were proficient in 20 subjects and 500 in 30 subjects. There were 10 who were proficient in all 50. There were 100 lecture halls and even nine-storied buildings. The roof top balconies were used to teach meteorology. From there the students used to observe eclipses, wind direction, cloud formation etc.

The administrators were Buddhist monks and they followed the principles of Buddhist education. The head of Nalanda University at the time of Hsuan-Tsang's visit, was Venerable Seelabadra. The descriptions by Hsuan-Tsang, Lord Zetland (a British Viceroy in India) and Rev. Carpenter who made a specialized study of Nalanda, bear ample testimony to the discipline, peace, unity, and high academic standards prevalent due to the Buddhist system of education and administration. While emphasizing the need for Sri Lanka’s Universities to follow the systems that were prevalent at Nalanda, it must be mentioned most unequivocally that this will not become a hindrance to introduce courses of study to suit today's needs.

Buddhist texts refer to five means of livelihood. They are 1) agriculture 2) trade 3) dairy farming 4) industries 5) employment in Government and private sectors.

The first four categories relate to self-employment. Employment opportunities as well as incomes are limited in the fifth category. It is difficult for salaried employees in Government and private sectors to manage without extra income. In the case of self-employment, progress depends on one's own drive and initiative.

Unlike in the case of salaried employees, there are no limitations on the earning capacity of those who are self-employed. Even to day, the richest persons are those who had strived on their own. The Buddha Dhamma, whilst advocating a fair and equitable distribution of wealth, places no restrictions on anyone even becoming a billionaire, utilizing one's knowledge and initiative rightfully.

An organization called ‘Thurunu Savlya’ was started in 1963 for the training of youth for service to oneself and to others. In 1971 a 420-page handbook was published. The first section gives guidelines for developing character. The next section is for developing knowledge. The final section is for developing economic self-reliance and rural development. As much as 79 pages were devoted to outline self-employment projects. In addition to details on home gardening, horticulture, floriculture, the cultivation of chilies, onions, lentils etc., 81 small industries, which could be organized on a self-employment basis, were identified and outlined. If sufficient attention was paid  by  the administrators to these self-employment schemes, at that time or later, most of today's problems relating to unemployment and poverty may not have arisen.

For the development of character, knowledge and economic self-reliance, youth should practice and train themselves in the following.

  1. to generate income by righteous means, to conserve what is produced and to live within one's means;

  2. to be restrained in one's thoughts, word and deed;

  3. to be helpful to others, even in a small way, at least once a week;

  4. to maintain good relations with one’s neighbors;

  5. to always encourage justice and fair play;

  6. to revere one's religious preceptors, parents, teachers and elders;

  7. to serve one’s country, race, religion and language;

  8. to appreciate good literature and the arts;

  9. to spread goodwill among everyone and associate with worthy friends;

  10. to dedicate one's efforts towards the development of the nation.

 4. Middle Age (From 35 to 60 years)

Progress in both this world and the next

If the progress during the three earlier stages was on the lines discussed there is no need for a new code of conduct for the middle age. However, it is likely that most persons may not have led according to the norms set out above. In Buddhist literature the life of a person is divided into 10 decades. The decade of power (bala) and the decade of wisdom (panna) are included in the middle age. During this stage one has to earn as much money as needed through righteous means for the future of one's spouse and children and for use during one's old age. This is also when planning one’s expenditure according to one's earnings and making savings for the future are most required. One must avoid alcohol gambling, debauchery and other vices, to as the jaws of decadence.

One must consciously dedicate one’s physical and mental strengths towards the well-being of oneself, one's family, country, religion and language, based on the principle that a country's material development with moral decadence is not development. Country's development should be the development of man himself.

There are four factors of development for this world, which were taught to laymen by the Buddha, and three factors of development for the next existence or world, taught to both laymen and the bhikkhus. Development for this world is fourfold, namely, economic, educational, health and moral Dana, sila, bhavana, would benefit the next world. The following would help one's development both in this world and the next.

  1. to be of service to the community;

  2. to practice one’s religion, to frequent one’s place of worship, to observe the five precepts and practice meditation;

  3. to be restrained in one’s thoughts, word and deed;

  4. to avoid wrong means of livelihood including the five prohibited trades, to increase production, to conserve what is produced and to live within one's means;

  5. to observe noble practices;

  6. to promote concord amongst all people, irrespective of race and religion;

  7. to contribute towards a savings scheme and a self-denial fund; and

  8. to dedicate one's efforts  towards  the development of the nation.

 5. Old Age (beyond 60 years)

Period of retirement and meritorious work

Those in lay life have many bonds. The Buddha's advice is to reduce such bonds. Children are one such bond. Finding suitable spouses and giving away one's children in marriage is an important obligation of parents. One should fulfill this obligation suitably. The wealth one possesses is another bond. The Buddha's admonition is to distribute one's wealth and property among the children at a suitable time. Inheritance by children after one's death is not the same as dividing the wealth suitably at the proper time. However one should be cautious in distributing everything one has among one’s children. This has created problems to parents in the past. Even in the present day there are parents who suffer by such imprudent actions. Hence distributing wealth and property must be done with circumspection. Those who have more than one child should distribute a portion of it early and leave instructions as to how the rest should be divided after death. This is how one ‘retires’ from one's wealth and property,

We Buddhists believe in karma and re-birth. Unless we attain Arhanthood during this birth, we will definitely be reborn. If one is able to at least be a Stream-enterer there is an assurance that one will not be reborn in one of the four ‘nirayas’. If not, no one can predict where one will be reborn. If one leads a life of piety, with mindfulness and wisdom, there is a chance of being born in the human or deva worlds.  On the contrary if the life that is  led is callous and reproachful the life to come is bound to be full of suffering.

Today, in the western world, the intelligentsia and the scientists have accepted the phenomenon of re-birth. However certain educated but misguided persons, because of their garrulity and foolishness, raise unseemly questions about re-birth and the existence of hell. Such persons are bound to end up in no other place than hell.

A person who is reckoned to have a fortunate birth in this life is one  a) who possesses sufficient wealth to conduct one’s affairs,  b) is born without physical disabilities and  c) has sufficient intelligence without being mentally retarded.  What actions in the previous births result in giving to a person these three gains for a fortunate birth in this life?  They are dana (generosily), sila (morality) and bhavana (mental development).  Dana or generosity has the karmic potency of making a person to be rich.  Sila helps one to be born without physical disabilities. Bhavana leads to intelligence. The cumulative effect of developing dana, sila and bhavana is the realization of the ultimate goal - Nibbana.

The knowledge required to explain the future Karmic effect of actions comes within the purview of Buddha's Knowledge. Hence it is difficult for us to say definitely what the effect of a particular action would be. Hence what is stated now is only a surmise. Today there are many who have amassed wealth. Of them some do not practice generosity nor do they observe the silas or meditate. Their future i.e. their next birth is indeed very gloomy. There are some who give to others but have no regard for sila or bhavana. They may be born rich but may have physical and mental disabilities. There are some who practice dana and sila but have no regard for bhavana. They are likely to have the first two gains in the next birth but may be mentally retarded. Hence it behooves on everyone to be diligent in practicing dana, sila and bhavana.

The Karmic potency of actions diminishes like money when spent. We earn money and we spend. Again we earn and spend. This is a repetitive process. If we do not earn to match the spending the result is nothing but grief. We perform good deeds. Consequently we reap good results. Again we perform good deeds and we reap good results. If we do not perform good to match what we reap the future will indeed be gloomy.

One must ponder over these matters and plan to spend the latter stages of one's life, freeing oneself gradually from the bonds of children and wealth and devoting more time to practicing dana sila and bhavana, which are beneficial for your next existence. Spend your time to read and understand the Dhamma and keep repeating the words ‘Arahan, Arahan’ to be always reminded of the Buddha. This will help you to be conscious of the Buddha even when you breathe your last.

2532 (1989) March 7.