Sunday, February 11, 2007

World Peace Ethics Quiz

Last weekend I joined about 3,000 people in numerous countries taking part in the inaugural World Peace Ethics contest (WorldPEC), an examination based on the Maha Mangala Sutta ([Great] Blessings of Life), one of the teachings expounded by the Buddha Gotama. What is a blessing in this context? Essentially what brings happiness, prosperity and success in material and/or spiritual matters. The sutta is actually very short, consisting of 38 blessings, almost just one per line, as you can see in e.g. a translation by Ven. Thanissaro.

The Dhammakaya Foundation has been the prime mover behind an annual contest in Thailand based on the Mangala Sutta, in which millions have participated across many public sector organisations. Official details are available on the Dhamma for Peace web site. The English-language version is testing the waters, so the first contest is based on material concerning the first 10 blessings, whereas the Thai version is based on all 38 blessings.

As the sutta is short, it may sound like that there's not much to prepare, but in fact the sutta is a very concise précis. Over the years, the Ven. Dattajeevo, Vice-Abbot of Wat Phra Dhammakaya gave many teachings elaborating on each of the blessings (I think he used to give lot of these on the radio). When written down, these amounted to several hundred pages in Thai. Now there is an English-language manual, A manual of peace: 38 steps towards Enlightened Living, available as a free download This version is also a substantial tome, so if you wish to read a physical copy you can buy one through Amazon or make a visit to a Dhammakaya Centre and they'll very likely have a copy available there.

One of the distinguishing features of the new addition is its orientation towards the West: as explained in the introduction, in Thai society certain notions of respect are natural and taken for granted, but in the West more justification is needed. However, overall, I guess it's very substantially equivalent. Early attempts to present the material started with a literal translation from the Thai and if you're keen with the help of Google and the Wayback machine you can still find copies of materials that were hosted on a Belgian site!

So what was format of the quiz? I travelled down to Wat Phra dhammakaya in Woking, one of several UK test centres. Shortly after 1.30pm, the Thai exam commenced, followed about 2 hours later by the English-language exam. Tables were laid out in rows. You sat down, listened to the instructions, waited whilst papers and response sheets were distributed and at the given time, you were allowed to start. Facing us were 100 multiple choice questions (just 1 correct answere out of 5) plus a short tie-breaker essay. Time available: 80 minutes(!)

For many it felt like going back to school and for quite a few that was a long time ago! However, although the format was quite formal, it's a light-hearted activity because you and your friends are all in the same boat and shortly before the exam it was nice to go through materials and coach eath other. It's a very wholesome activity that makes you reflect on how you conduct yourself and you soon find out some of your faults together with more beneficial patterns of behaviour.

Actually, my preparation was far from ideal. I started looking at the manual on Wednesday and the exam was on Saturday! I read through once, skimping on the last couple of chapters and then revised a few sections on the train. I don't recommend this approach and hope that next year I'll be much better prepared. It didn't really reassure me when friends were said that I should have no problems given my background. However, I am fortunate in that I'm already attuned to this kind of thinking, so for me it was more a question of remembering particular details.

So now you may wonder what the questions were like:-) Here is a sample question:

1. Which of the following shows the most intimate degree of association?

a. Someone who starts lending, chatting on the same subject and sharing the same pastimes as someone they meet.
b. Someone who meets up with someone and has a feeling they like them.
c. Someone who gives someone else respect and moral support.
d. Someone who joins in with someone else and allows that other person to influence their behaviour.
e. Someone who does all of the above.

This is based on the first blessing, not associating with fools, and is about watching your interaction with others. There are quite a number of different levels, ranked in order of closeness. All of the above represent some degree of association, so I expect the net effect of doing them all represents the greatest degree, so I think the answer is e).

A lot of these should be answerable by common sense, but some depend upon a particular context. Results will be released later this month.

Fancy having a go? :-)