Lam Shenphen Zangpo answers basic questions that every Bhutanese man, woman, and child on the street wants to know. This is an excerpt from the weekly Kuensel.
Recently a question was answered regarding how Buddhism can counter addictions. The answer was given on a personal level. How can Buddhism help on a national level?
In today’s climate, this is a very relevant question. Actually, Buddhism is very well disposed to offer the wisdom that can deal with a rise in rates of addiction.
One of the main tenets of Buddhism is that all things exist in interdependence. While this might sound complicated, in reality it is not. Take a tree as an example. Even if the seed is healthy, in order to develop its full potential it requires many contributing factors, such as sufficient moisture, warmth and nutrition. All phenomena arise in a similar way. From a molecule to a planet, things only exist when a certain combination of factors join together. Lacking an electron, a molecule cannot be formed. Lacking gravity, planets are unsustainable.
Society is the same. If the right ingredients are in place, communities develop harmoniously. When something is lacking, they incur abnormalities. In terms of increased incidences of drug addiction, we need to remember that babies are not born with a greater propensity to develop these traits now than in the past. It is not that human beings’ genetic structure has changed. The shift has occurred in the dynamics of society as a whole, not the individual. Therefore, nurturing and transforming society should be the primary focus of our attention.
Some people may decry this as allowing individuals to avoid personal responsibility, but this is not the case. People still have to be made accountable for their action but, at the same time, we cannot deny the influence of society on their behaviour. If it were purely the fault of the individual, then the number of addicts would be equally distributed throughout the world. Yet, we know this to be untrue. The US and Brazil, for example, have a high percentage of drug addiction, while Taiwan and Japan report relatively low rates. If we discount the influence of society, then the only other explanation is that more babies are born with genetic tendencies towards addiction in the former two countries than the latter two. Logic dictates that this cannot be the case.
Ok, so we agree that to stem the rise in drug addiction requires transforming the dynamics of society as whole, but how do we accomplish this? Basically, what are the ingredients of a healthy society and how do we put them in place?
Well, there is no standard answer for this. However, as all action begins in the mind, developing a correct view is obviously the first step to finding solutions.
In this regard, perhaps it is helpful to think of the greater community as a human body, and ourselves as the individual organs. While each part has a separate classification, such as heart or liver, in reality the organs and the body are one and same. Continuing this allegory, if one organ, for example the liver, is sick, then the whole body suffers. No one will say, “I am healthy, but my liver is sick”. Likewise, we cannot claim to live in a happy society if a segment of it is suffering with the lack of freedom and mental constraints imposed by drug addiction. It affects all of us and so we each have a responsibility to nurture the soil of our community.
With this view, it becomes obvious that close knit families and stable communities are the bedrock of a society. Consequently, the Far Eastern proverb, ‘A tree that grows in a forest grows straight’, could perhaps be used as a benchmark for policies.
Following on from this, housing complexes could perhaps be designed to retain the communal spirit of traditional villages, with apartment blocks being built around green spaces that include play areas and prayer wheels. In this way, our urban landscape can actually help develop a sense of belonging and well being rather than creating divisions, which modern towns tend to do.
To return to the question, Buddhism can definitely help combat a rise in drug addiction because it offers us the means to develop a correct view and understanding. When we are in sync with the world around us, we will naturally create a healthy environment for our youth to develop into confident and dignified adults Until we gain these insights, we are like the man who mistakes a piece of rope for a snake – all our responses are inappropriate and ineffective.