by Vidyananda

The political events over the year in Malaysia has create much uncertainty. Compounded by economic uncertainty arising fallout of large financial institutions, gives more reasons for concerns. Amidst all this, what is most fearful in the heart of many Malaysian is the unstable political environment. What concerns and upsets most is the manner so-called dissidents and oppositions are dealt with. In particular, the detention without trial – selected individuals accused of being threats to the peace of the nation. Their detention is known as Section 73(1) Internal Security Act (ISA) 1960. This act states that:

“Any police officer may without warrant arrest and detain pending enquiries any person in respect of whom he has reason to believe that there are grounds which would justify his detention under section 8; and that he has acted or is about to act or is likely to act in any manner prejudicial to the security of Malaysia or any part thereof or to maintenance of essential services therein or to the economic life thereof.”

Further in Section 8 ISA: Power to order detention or restriction of persons.

“(i) If the Minister is satisfied that the detention of any person is necessary with a view to preventing him from acting in any manner prejudicial to the security of Malaysia or any part thereof or to the maintenance of essential services therein or the economic life thereof, he may make an order (hereinafter referred to as a detention order) directing that that person be detained for any period not exceeding two years.”

As of today there are 19 known detainees remaining in detention camp in Kemunting – not given a chance at all to defend themselves through due legal process.  (A full list is available at

Some are alleged terrorists; some are accused of being spies while some are bloggers (have been released since). Some held for more than seven with no freedom in sight.

I know many Buddhist friends are greatly aware of this topic of discussion. Many of my friends take these discussions to the coffee shops, or even at private corners of Buddhist temples. One thing we cannot deny is that this issue has a greater implication to our society as a whole. To most of us, it much more than we want to know and to accept. Being a Buddhist, this Act represents a direct contradiction to the teachings and principles of the Buddha Dharma.



The overcoming of dukkha and the spirit of Siddhartha’s Renunciation

As a Buddhist it pains me to see this dukkha inflicted unnecessarily to individuals. It pains me to see one of these detainee did not get to see his daughter at her deathbed. With two daughters of my own, my heart cried to the story of Shahrial Sirin, detained for 7 years WITHOUT TRIAL under the ISA. The authorities delayed the decision to allow him to return to visit his daughter who was in coma at the Kajang Hospital. She died 3 1/2 hours after her father arrived. This is just one story. I asked myself, how can we continue to recite the following every week (daily in some cases). Yet continue to go on with life as if nothing is happening?

Jatipi dukkha jarapi dukkha maranampi dukkham
Soka.parideva. dukkha domanas. supuyasapi dukkha

(Birth is suffering, ageing is suffering, and death is suffering;

Sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair are suffering;)

Is this the thought Prince Siddhartha experienced when he saw the Four Sights that was so powerful that led him to leave the palace? Is it doing something about the dukkha in line with the spirit of renunciation? If this is the spirit of renunciation of Siddhartha, how can we, as followers of the Buddha’s teachings, sit and be quiet and continue to focus inward into our vipassana practices oblivious to what’s happening outside. Did the Buddha not speak of compassion?

There is even Pali word for it, it’s “karun?”. Karun? is one of the four “divine abodes” (brahmavihara), along with lovingkindness (metta), sympathetic joy (mudita) and equanimity (upekkha). In the Pali Canon, the Buddha recommends cultivating these four virtuous mental states to both householders and the monastic. When one develops these four states, the Buddha advises radiating them in all directions, as in the following stock canonical phrase regarding karun?:

“He keeps pervading the first direction ? as well as the second direction, the third, & the fourth ? with an awareness imbued with compassion. Thus he keeps pervading above, below, & all around, everywhere & in every respect the all-encompassing cosmos with an awareness imbued with compassion: abundant, expansive, immeasurable, free from hostility, free from ill will.” K?l?m? Sutta (AN 3.65)

In the Pali commentaries Karun? is the desire to remove harm and suffering (ahita-dukkha-apanaya-k?mat?) from others (SN-A 128).

We should do what we can to show compassion now. Show the detainees (and their families) the Buddhists do care.

Buddhism & the Overcoming of Fear

Why are we not expressing our Karun? outwardly? I organized a Puja and Meditation for the ISA detainees and hardly a handful of people turned up? No big temples or Buddhist organizations have organized such Puja at the point of writing this reflection. I spoke to some Buddhist friends and two answers came out the most. The first is often, “I am not affected (so do not need to bother)”. I will talk more about this later. The more common respond is “aren’t you afraid that YOU might arrested under the ISA too? In other words, FEAR.

If Siddhartha feared for his life and feared the loss of his lifestyle, he would not have left the comfort of His palace. We would have NO Buddhism today! This article and magazine would not exist! The Buddha said that fear is an obstruction to the development of calm and insight.

Let me share this article. Taken from a lecture entitle The Psychology of Emotions in Buddhist Perspective by Dr. Padmasiri de Silva:

Fear is often caused by strong desires (ta.nhaaya jaayati bhaya.m) [Dhp 216] Strong desires and attachment to either persons or things cause fear because if we cling to some precious and valuable object, …………….

???? It is the same with the attachment to one’s own self: a threat to one’s life, sickness, the threat of losing one’s job or reputation ? all these situations are conditions for the emergence of fear. It is due to the strong self-preservative drive (bhavata.nhaa) which in turn is fed by the bhavaraaga anusaya (the lurking tendency to crave for existence) that fear becomes such an agitating condition……..

….Thus restlessness and worry blind one’s vision of oneself, and form an obstruction to the development of tranquility and insight. [AN 5.193] 


We cannot stick our heads in the sand believing everything is okay, hiding in the thought that our private meditation practice is more important. This mindset is call delusion. We must strive to overcome FEAR. This fight however, is rooted in calmness of insight and meditation.

Buddha Dharma = Freedom

The Dharma that the Buddha discovered expounds several important principles beginning with freedom and the cessation of dukkha. The ultimate aim of Buddhism is to achieve absolute freedom from the cycle of life and death, this freedom is known as Nirvana or Nibbana. Achieving this means have the right conditions.

Hence, I personally feel that it is our right to speak up, support and provide some form of solidarity to people who have been detained under this Internal Security Act (ISA). We need to strive to create the right conditions for our practice now, we cannot wait for these conditions to appear. How can we truly practice when there is fear. Some have argues with me that, ?look we are free to practice and have our temples, why stir up problem?. My response is simple, this called ?being selfish? and against the teachings of the four Brahmaviharas.

We must do something. Making an effort is ?karma?. Karma is not waiting for something to happen to us ? and we decide if it is good or bad karma.

It is very clear that making effort to change is a blessing. The Buddha in the Maha-Mangala Sutta advised us that Patirupadesavaso ca (To dwell in a suitable locality is a supreme blessing). If any of our detainees are relatives, we will think and act differently – what if they are our relatives, brothers and sisters in this same house called Malaysia. We would do something for our relatives. In the same Sutta, the Buddha also advised that Naatakaana~n ca sa”ngaho: Helping one’s relatives is a supreme blessing. Aren’t we all related in one way or another?

We do not help our relatives by taking to the streets and cause chaos, we just need to focus on our minds and send METTA to those who are detained – and to make it known that our Buddhist brothers and sisters are in support.

In the same way, we must not forget the people who signed the arrest orders including the people that executed the orders. They too need our METTA. There are no enemies according the Buddha?s teachings ? just people who have not seen certain wisdoms yet. In the Maha-Mangala Sutta as well, we are reminded of Khanti: Patience and Tapo: Energetic self-restraint. That?s the way we show, support and solidarity.

There is so much more to write about this as it is the topic right now. Suffice that as Buddhist, we are also citizens of this country that wants a country to be ruled by the rule of law and justice and there is way to do it. This message is even more powerful in the Mahayana tradition, where a Bodhisattva vows:

I vow to liberate all beings, without number ??????? 


Let?s begin by looking at our own backyard in a place called Kamunting. In this place, people are detained and held with no opportunity of justice bestowed upon them.

What we do nor indeed affects our future, our children and their children. Doing something today is Pubbe ca katapu~n~nataa: Having made merit in the past. What we do today is the past that affects our future. This is the land where we and our children (and their children will be). Doing something can make a difference!



Lastly, I leave you with this prayer:

Evoking the presence of the great compassion, let us fill our hearts with our own compassion – towards ourselves and towards all living beings. 

Let us pray that all living beings realise that they are all brothers and sisters, all nourished from the same source of life.

(Buddhist Prayer on World Peace Day, 2007)




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