A New Undertaking
Bhikkhu Bodhi

This year has been a time for the BPS to initiate new undertakings. Having outgrown our home of the last twenty years, we recently moved into spacious new quarters equipped with the larger facilities our expanding work requires. Another new undertaking inspired by our growth is the issuing of this newsletter, to accompany each of our future mailings. The newsletter gives expression to our wish to establish closer contact with you — our members, readers and friends. In these columns we will be providing you with information concerning our activities and publications, as well as book reviews, news notices and short Buddhist essays.

Perhaps we can best begin this regular essay column by exploring the purpose which guides our work at the BPS today. Put quite simply, that purpose is to offer to the world the teaching of the Buddha as set forth in the oldest collection of Buddhist scriptures, the Pali canon. However, we do not aim merely at providing objective factual accounts of the Buddha's teachings of interest solely to Oriental scholars and their students. Our purpose, we candidly admit, is advocative and prescriptive: we are convinced that the Dhamma communicates a message which is still very much alive and relevant, and through our publications we seek to make that message widely known.

In line with this aim it is essential for us that the Dhamma be addressed not only to its original and primary task of indicating the timeless path to deliverance, but also to those vexing existential problems posed by the particular circumstances of our age. Prominent among these is the widespread moral and spiritual deterioration evident in so many spheres of human life. For increasing numbers of people both East and West, cynicism, skepticism and a narrow fixation on material goals have toppled traditional views and values without offering any satisfactory alternatives to replace them. Thus, while our sciences unlock the most obscure secrets of nature and yield its powers to our control, we find ourselves beset with a sense of inner poverty, destitute of those fundamental guiding principles which can give a deeper and richer meaning to our lives.

At the root of our current spiritual disorder lies a distorted conception of value which locates the ultimate end of human activity in the satisfaction of personal desire. Tacitly accepted and adhered to without reflective awareness, this thesis has become the dominant working basis for contemporary civilization. Mobilizing individuals, ethnic groups and nations alike, it draws them into an enervating chase after the achievement of power, wealth and pleasure, and pits them against one another in a struggle for supremacy marked either by cool suspicion or by vehement hate. Given a creed of self-fulfillment in an age of declining moral vigor, it is not astonishing that in the midst of plenty we witness all around us a frantic search for instant gratification and a rising tide of destructiveness unconstrained by even the least human sympathy.

To remedy this disturbing situation, moralistic preaching will not suffice, nor can much be expected from economic, social and political reforms isolated from more fundamental changes. For at its core our crisis is a crisis of consciousness. Its real origins go deeper than our institutions, deeper than our cultural norms, deeper than our avowed motives and goals. Its origins lie in the hidden strata of the mind, in the breeding place of those tumultuous emotional and volitional forces which the Buddha summed up in the three "roots of evil" — greed, hatred and delusion.

What is most crucial, therefore, if there is to be any change in the direction of the world, is a change in those who make up the world, that is, in ourselves. To achieve our own genuine welfare and effectively promote the welfare of others, we require the acumen to distinguish clearly what is truly in our interest and what may be immediately pleasurable but ultimately harmful; and we require too the stamina to undertake the work of liberating our minds from the bonds of greed, hatred and delusion. Admittedly, the number of those who will see the need for inward change and make the appropriate effort will always be small. However, the difficulty does not annul the necessity. For those of clear vision who are responsive to the call of the good there can be no choice but to take up the long hard task of self-transformation.

If the work of inner cultivation is to come to full fruition, it must begin with and be guided by correct understanding, by that discernment of the true nature of existence which is called in the language of the Dhamma "right view." The unfailing pointer which the Buddha has provided for right view is the teaching of the Four Noble Truths. It is this perspective of the Four Noble Truths, with the light it sheds on the perplexing relationship between desire, happiness and suffering, which may be the most important contribution the Dhamma can make toward dispelling the rampant confusion of our time. In contrast to the whole world, which stands on the assumption that happiness is to be achieved through the satisfaction of desire, the Buddha teaches that the entire enterprise aimed at appeasing desire is doomed to futility, that the pursuit of desire leads not to happiness but to suffering. In the teaching of the Enlightened One the way to genuine and unshakable happiness lies in the restraint and mastery of desire. It is only by training ourselves to resist the lure of pleasure and power, to abandon the quest for self-aggrandizement, and to relinquish our hold on our attachments, that we can find for ourselves the indestructible peace of deliverance. And it is only thus that we can act with true compassion for the benefit of others, for the good, welfare and happiness of the world.