Youth in Buddhism

From Sri Lankan Sunday Observer – ‘Youth are foundations of human beings,’ Buddha declared twenty five hundred years ago. At present, we also say that youth are the pillars of a nation and in a similar vein, Buddhist youth are the pillars of Buddhism.

Nevertheless, the questions are hanging in the air in every society whether we have done enough for the benefit of youth? How to develop youth resources to be an efficient force of the society? And how to solve the youth problem in every society?

Unquestionably, the answer to these questions is to build a good, righteous and strong youth, the foundation of all human beings, for betterment of mankind and society. That is to transform and change every youth to be a good, intellectual, wise and righteous youth. This is where Buddhist teachings come to life and help develop youth.

In the course of this writing I wish to formulate a Theravada Buddhist response to build and improve the youth, looking through a magnifying glass of the Triple Gem, the main Buddhist pillars.

In Buddhist teachings, if we carefully examine the discourse of the Buddha, we would see that Buddha was keenly aware of the problems that we confront in the social dimensions of human life, and this he had designed his teachings to address these problems just as much as to show the way to a final liberation.

Although these teachings remain in the background, hidden behind the more numerous texts dealing with personal ethics, mental development, and philosophical understanding, I feel they can be drawn upon for a clear-cut practical guidelines for youth of today addressing the weighty problems we face today.

The youth life of the Buddha can be an inspirational virtue for youth of today. How Buddha spent his youth and what was His spirit at that time are relevant issues for youth of today to think about and treat it as a model.

Little detail is said in the Pali canon about the Buddha’s childhood and youth, but the text gives an impression that he lived a life of luxury within the walls of the three palaces used for each of the three seasons of Kapilavasthu in southern Nepal.

The young prince wore fine garments, was perfumed with fragrances and surrounded by musicians and attendants who ministered to his every need. Although these conditions might be calculated to produce the archetypal ‘spoilt youth’ the Buddha’s character does not seem to have suffered unduly, and he is depicted as a precocious but considerate youth with a keen intelligence.

As a nature of youth he was not satisfied with what he had and what he was given by his elders. Although palace life was comfortable it was unfulfilling, and the young Buddha yearned for a deeper and more spiritually satisfying way of life.

The legend represent this disaffection in a story in which the Buddha made four visits outside the palace in a chariot where he happened to encounter unpleasant sights of an old man, a sick man, a corpse and a peaceful religious mendicant.

These four signs experiences impressed upon him above all the transient nature of human existence and he realised that not even the palace walls could keep suffering and death at bay and made up his mind to leave the palace.

Taking a last look at his sleeping wife and child, he departed to become a homeless mendicant while he was still too young to do so.

The simple, touching story is hard to believe in the literal sense. It is hard to believe that the Buddha was as naive as the story portrays him, or that his disenchantment with palace life was nearly as sudden.

If we read it as a parable in which palace life represents complacency and self- delusion, and the vision of the four signs the dawning of a realisation about the nature of human life.

If the Buddha was alive today he would see the four signs all around: every elderly person, every hospital, and every funeral would bespeak the brevity and fragility of life, while every temple and religious minister would be testimony to the belief that a religious solution to these problems can be found.

The parable seems to suggest that although the signs are all around, most people-like the youth Buddha-construct mental barriers (the palace walls) to keep unpleasant realities at bay.

Even then, there are times when the unwelcome facts of life thrust themselves upon us in a manner it is impossible to ignore, such as in sickness or bereavement, just as they did when the Buddha went forth in his chariot. For youth of every period and country such mental barriers blocks ‘right path’ and opens wrong path instead.

Shaken from its complacency the Buddha made the radical decision to turn his back on family life and go in search of spiritual knowledge. This decision was not unprecedented because it is a nature of youth to take such radical decision. We are witnessing everyday around us that the today’s youth takes such radical decision too but sadly the wrong decision mostly.

The examples of youth today taking such radical decision are to enter cult, political arena, drug addiction, sexual crime and so on. Rightly, modern psychologists regarded youth period as a turning point in life.

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