“Life is full of funny things,” he said. “One can laugh at anything. When one smiles, a lot of energy is created, and when one is happy, the brain works well. Happiness is the nutrition that opens doors to discover new things.”
Sri Lankan-born Sumanasara, who has a 30-year attachment to Japan dating back to post-doctoral studies at Komazawa University in the early 1980s, says anguish and a lot of unhappiness comes from materialism.
“Many people have too much attachment to things, he said. “That’s why they suffer when they lose something. If you can reduce your attachment, you won’t need to suffer.”
He noted that one’s desire for money doesn’t ever change.
“Although many people have the things they want, usually they cannot get it all,” Sumanasara said. “There is pain in not getting what one seeks. Even if people have everything, new desires are born. There is no end to our desires.”
On social ills
To solve social ills such as divorce, domestic violence, poverty, suicide or murder, one needs to look outside oneself, according to the Buddhist scholar.
“For example, the Japanese need to be more open-minded, talk to other people, learn to sympathize and understand them,” he said. “People are not related only through familial ties, but with other people, nature and everything in this world.”
It is the egoistic mind, Sumanasara says, that destroys family and human relationships.
“It’s important to realize that we are different and, at the same time, we stand on the same ground,” he said. “Everyone has problems and suffers in their daily lives. This realization is the key to go beyond our problems.”
On Japanese Buddhism
Sumanasara has been critical of Japanese Buddhism in his books, lectures and TV appearances, saying religion does not do enough for the country.
“I want Japanese Buddhism to work harder for the present society,” he said. “Traditional Japanese Buddhist temples make a lot of money through ritual performances, but I wonder what they are doing for the modern people? Times are changing. The people and their needs are changing.”
He added that religious people should provide answers for universal human suffering and must advise people to help alleviate their sufferings. For example, Buddhist monks and priests are working hard to help victims of the current disasters through various volunteer activities; however, they should always be active in society whether a crisis exists or not.
“Generally speaking, Japanese can be called Buddhist,” he says. “But they are not seriously practicing or doing meditation.”
Although Buddhism is a part of Japanese culture the temple in Japan is dying because the priests are not active enough, according to Sumanasara.
“However, the Japanese people are religious,” he said. “They also respect many types of religions. There are Shinto shrines everywhere in Japan. Japan is not anti-religious.”
On the other hand, Sumanasara says the Japanese do not have religions involving prophets, such as Christianity or Islam, which promise an afterlife but place strict conditions on getting there that make lifestyles small, narrow and strict due to various religious duties and obligations.
“A non-prophecy religion is not strict and gives us a free lifestyle, so I like this free perspective.”