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"Heavenly abodes and human developm

The Tablet 
8 November 1997

Buddhist heroine gives CAFOD lecture

"Heavenly abodes and human development" was the theme chosen by the Nobel
Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi for this year's Pope Paul VI Memorial
Lecture in London.  In it she described the Buddhist approach to charity and
social justice.  It is the first time that a non- Christian has given the
lecture.  As the leader of Burma's pro-democracy movement she is not
permitted to travel abroad by the country's military regime, so the lecture,
organised by the Catholic aid agency CAFOD and sponsored by The Tablet, was
delivered by her husband, Dr. Michael Aris, of ST. Anthony's College, Oxford.

>From a Buddhist perspective, Aung San Suu Kyi said, compassion and common
sense should underlie the struggle for social justice.  She sincerely
believed that "all peoples and creeds can coexist in peace, that whatever
our race or religion we can all learn to agree on certain basic values
essential for the development of human society".  She spoke, she said, as an
"ordinary, imperfect human being with an ordinary, average knowledge of the
religion into which she was born".  But though not an expert, she was "a
concerned participant in the process of human development".

Besides its economic, social and political aspects, true development should
include spiritual cultivation, she argued.  She described the "heavenly
abodes" or divine states of mind which Buddhists recognize.  The first,
metta, or loving kindness, she linked to Christian love.  It was, she said,
"a love that seeks to give and to serve, rather than to take and demand".

Those with responsibility for development projects should bear in mind that
people need "the balm of loving-kindness to withstand the rigours of human
existence".  "Projects undertaken for the sake of upping statistics", she
said, "or for love of grandiosity or praise, rather than for the love of
live human beings with bodies that can be hurt, minds that can be damaged
and hearts that can be bruised, seldom succeed in fostering the kind of
development that enhances the quality of life."

"Charity" meant "love" she pointed out, and nothing could make up for the
lack of it ? "no amount of money or technical expertise or scientific
knowledge or industry or vision."  Perfect metta could not fail, for it
implied a balance, "a state of mind that embraces all beings with loving
kindness, favouring neither oneself nor others."

The second "heavenly abode" was compassion, karuna.  It had been defined as
"the quivering of the heart in response to others' suffering, the wish to
remove painful circumstances from the lives of other beings".  It was one
aspect of Enlightenment; the other was wisdom.  "Compassion must be balanced
by wisdom and wisdom must be balanced by compassion."  She told the Buddhist
story of a dragon-king who lived at the foot of the Himalayas.  One day, a
holy man, or Bodhisattva came by who showed no fear of the dragon-king's
penchant for turning people to ashes, and gave him "a brief sermon on the
joys of non-violence and compassion".  The dragon- king was converted.

When the children who lived nearby learned how peaceful the dragon-king had
become, they grew in confidence and began to ill-treat him.  When the
Bodhisattva came again, the dragon- king complained how unhappy he had
become as a result of his new-found non-violence.  The Bodhisattva replied
that "this had come about because the dragon had not balanced compassion
with wisdom: when the children became unruly he should show his fire to stop
them from proceeding to cruel acts."  Aung San Suu Kyi noted that in the
world of charities and development work,  compassionate people who lack
wisdom can be taken advantage of.

The third "heavenly abode" was sympathetic joy or mudita.  Aung San Suu Kyi
said that development projects should lead to greater happiness, and that
those who planned them should feel mudita about the good fortune of the

Fundamental to the sort of development which enhances the quality of life is
justice, she said; hence the importance of the struggle for human rights in
which she had been so deeply engaged.

Democratic development meant "development of the people, for the people, by
the people".  It was "the antithesis of the idea that development should be
defined and directed by governments"..  There were people in East and West,
she said "who think the worth of a society is measured by its material
wealth and by impressive figures of growth, ignoring the injustices and pain
that might lie behind them".  But development "must be measured in terms of
human happiness, of peace within the community and of harmony with the

She declared: "All barriers of race and religion can be overcome when people
work together on common endeavours based on love and compassion.  Together
we can help to develop a happier, better world where greed and ill will and
selfishness are minimised.  This is not impractical idealism: it is a
down-to-earth recognition of our greatest needs."

It might be necessary to defy despotic governments, to stand up to
oppression.  The planet could be made a better place "by constructing the
heavenly abodes of love and compassion in our hearts".  Beginning with that
inner development, people could go on "to the development of the external
world with courage and wisdom."

The annual Paul VI Memorial Lecture was started by CAFOD to commemorate Pope
Paul VI's encyclical letter Populorum Progressio ("On the development of
peoples") Previous lectures have included the then President of Ireland,
Mary Robinson; Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns of Brazil; ;the then president
of the European Commission, Jacques Delors; the liberation theologian Jon
Sobrino SK; and the late Archbishop Derek Worlock of Liverpool.