Today is Vesak, the day on which the birth, the Enlightenment and the passing away of the Enlightened One occurred within a span of eighty years over two and a half millennia ago. This year, there has been a rare occurrence. Vesak has coincided with the International Workers` Day. The religious significance of Vesak being fairly well known, we choose to venture a comment on the overlapping of a holy festival and a mundane event in view of the decision of workers` unions to have their May Day celebrations on some other day.
We don`t question the workers` right to do so but cannot help wondering why they should dissipate their energies and time on such gimmicks without observing Vesak. Workers belonging to other religions may be justified in doing so, as they may not be aware of the relevance of the Buddha`s teachings to workers` rights, ethics and obligations and those of the employers.
The best antidote to the modern day labour disputes, which arise from deep seated mistrust and animosity between the employer and the employee is found in the Buddha`s teachings, which show the path to workers` liberation without bloody revolutions. The Singalovada Sutta is a case in point. In this famous sutta, the Buddha stresses the need for the employer to look after the employee by guaranteeing the latter`s right to remuneration and leave. The employer should, the Enlightened One says, assign only viable tasks to the employee, provide medical care and even share tasty meals with him. In short, he says the employer should treat the employee in such a way that the latter will feel he is being treated like the master`s own child! And in the end he must permit the employee to retire at an appropriate time. This should be food for thought for the employers who pretend to be the greatest upasakas but treat their employees to Barmicide banquets, milk them dry and discard them when they become old and feeble.
The Buddha also spells out the duties of the employees as manifest in his advice that workers should go to sleep after their masters and wake up before them. The employee, he says, must abstain from taking anything other than what is given to him and work according to the employer`s satisfaction. Let that be heeded by the clock watchers, free-loaders and trouble makers hell bent on extracting as much as possible from their paymasters without giving them enough in return.
The Buddha also imparts a lesson in economic management and shows the path to a happy life, free from debt. He points out the need to divide one`s income and use parts thereof for consumption, saving and investment. Let the credit card holding fraternity and hire purchase freaks who have become paupers in all but name due to unbridled consumerism make note of it!
The Buddha has stressed the need to manage one`s time efficiently, without trotting out various excuses for procrastination. If workers could learn from his teachings and avoid waste of time?something that Sri Lankans are notorious for the world over?the country will be able to clear a big hurdle on its path to development.
Thus, the Buddha has shown how to forge a human bond between the employer and the employee rather than a legal contract! Isn`t that the best way to rid this country of trade union actions such as many a gherao, ca`canny, strike etc. plaguing the national economy?
However, if the aggressive types among workers given to muscle flexing think Buddhism has no place for protests against injustices, they are mistaken. Buddhist literature has reference to a protest that the Buddha had staged in a previous birth as Bodhisatva. The Nandivisala Jataka tells us about a Brahmin and a bull called Nandivisala.
The Brahmin got Nandivisala, when he was only a calf, and looked after him well. Having grown up to be a bull of extraordinary strength, Nandivisala thought of showing his gratitude to the master. He asked the Brahmin to put a wager to prove he had the strongest bull capable of pulling five hundred loaded carts. A big show was organised and people poured in from all directions. However, the Brahmin happened to use some unkind words on the bull and, to his surprise, the animal refused to move. He lost the wager. Later, Nandivisala approached his crestfallen master, who wanted to know why he had been let down. The bull said his action had been a protest against the unkind words and offered to perform the task, provided an apology was tendered, which was immediately done. At the next show, the Brahmin doubled the wager, bedecked Nandivisala with flowers and politely urged him to pull the carts. The animal readily obliged and carried the weight, as promised!
Let this be a lesson for the modern day Brahmins and bulls, who have made a mess of their workplaces by engaging in perennial disputes.
A Happy and peaceful Vesak!