What Buddhists Believe?
by Venerable K. Sri Dhammananda
Venerable Dhammananda was born on March 18,
1919 to the family of Mr. K.A. Garmage in the village of Kirinde, Matara
in southern Ceylon. Like most children born during the British colonial
period, he was given the English name of Martin. He was the eldest in a
family of three brothers and three sisters. He passed away on August 31,
by The Thean Choo A. M. N. President Buddhist Missionary
Life and Nature of the Buddha
Chapter 1 Gautama, the Buddha
The Founder of Buddhism
Gautama Buddha, the founder of what came to be known as
Buddhism, lived in Northern India in the 6th century B. C. His personal
name was Siddhartha, and family name Gotama. The name 'Buddha' was given
to Him after He attained Enlightenment and realized the Truth. It means
the 'Awakened' or the 'Enlightened One'. He generally called Himself the
Tathagata, while His followers called Him Bhagava, the Blessed One. Others
spoke of Him as Gotama or Sakyamuni.
He was born a prince who seemed to have everything. He
had a luxurious upbringing and His family was of pure descent on both
sides. He was the heir to the throne, extremely handsome, inspiring trust,
stately and gifted with great beauty of complexion and fine presence. At
sixteen He married His cousin named Yasodhara who bore Him a son whom they
called Rahula. His wife was majestic, cheerful day and night, and full of
dignity and grace.
Despite all this, He felt trapped amidst the luxury
like a bird in a golden cage. During a visit to the city one day, He saw
what is known as the 'Four Sights', that is , an old man, a sick man, a
dead man, and a holy recluse. When He saw the sights, one after another,
the realization came to Him that, 'it is subject to age and death'. He
asked, 'Where is the realm of life in which there is neither age nor
death?' The sight of the recluse, who was calm for having given up the
craving for material life, gave him the clue that the first step in His
search for Truth was Renunciation.
Determined to find the way out of these universal
sufferings, He decided to leave home to find the cure not for Himself
only, but for all mankind. One night in His twenty-ninth year, He bade His
sleeping wife and son a silent farewell, saddled His great white horse,
and rode off toward the forest.
His renunciation is unprecedented in history. He left
at the height of youth, from pleasures to difficulties, from certainty of
material security to uncertainty, from a position of wealth and power to
that of a wandering ascetic who took shelter in the cave and forest, with
His ragged robe as the only protection against the blazing sun, rain and
winter winds. He renounced His position, wealth, promise of prestige and
power, and a life filled with love and hope in exchange for the search for
Truth which no one had found.
For six long years, He labored to find the Truth. He
studied under the foremost masters of the day, and learned all these
religious teachers could teach Him. When He could not find what He was
looking for, He joined a band of ascetics and tortured His body so as to
break its power and crush its interference, since it was believed that
Truth could be found this way. A man of enormous energy and will power, He
outdid other ascetics in every austerity they proposed. While fasting, He
ate so little that when He took hold of the skin of His stomach, He
actually touched His spine. He pushed Himself to the extent that no man
had done and yet lived. He, too, would have certainly died had He not
realized the futility of self-mortification, and decided to practise
On the full moon night of the month of Vesakha, He sat
under the Bodhi tree at Gaya, wrapped in deep meditation. It was then that
His mind burst the bubble of the universe and realized the true nature of
all life and all things. At the age of 35 years, He was transformed from
an earnest truth seeker into the Buddha, the Enlightened One.
For nearly half a century, the Buddha walked on the
dusty paths of India Teaching the Dhamma so that those who heard and
practised could be ennobled and free. He founded an order of monks and
nuns, challenged the caste system, raised the status of women, taught
religious freedom and free inquiry, opened the gates of deliverance to
all, in every condition of life, high or low, saint or sinner, and
ennobled the lives of criminals like Angulimala and courtesans like
He was towering in wisdom and intellect. Every problem
was analyzed in component parts and then reassembled in logical order with
the meaning made clear. None could defeat Him in dialogue. An unequaled
teacher, He still is the foremost analyst of the mind and phenomena even
up to the present day. For the first time in history, He gave men the
power to think for themselves, raised the worth of mankind, and showed
that man can reach to the highest knowledge and supreme Enlightenment by
his own efforts.
Despite His peerless wisdom and royal lineage, He was
never removed from the simple villager. Surface distinctions of class and
caste meant little to Him. No one was too little or low for Him to help.
Often when an outcast, or poor and dejected came to Him, his self-respect
was restored and he turned from the ignoble life to that of a noble being.
The Buddha was full of compassion(karuna)and
wisdom(panna), knowing how and what to teach each individual for his own
benefit according to his level and capabilities. He was known to have
walked long distances to help one single person.
He was affectionate and devoted to His disciples,
always inquiring after their well-being and progress. When staying at the
monastery, He paid daily visits to the sick wards. His compassion for the
sick can be seen from His advice, 'He who attends the sick, attends on
me.' The Buddha kept order and discipline on the basis of mutual respect.
King Pasenadi could not understand how the Buddha maintained such order
and discipline in the community of monks, when he as a king with the power
to punish, could not maintain it as well in his court.
In the Three Greatest Men in History, H. G. Wells
states, 'In the Buddha you see clearly a man, simple, devout, lonely,
battling for light, a vivid universal in character. Many of our best
modern ideas are in closest harmony with it. All the miseries and
discontents of life are due, he taught, to selfishness. Before a man can
become serene he must cease to live for his senses or himself. Then he
merges into a greater being. Buddhism in a different language called men
to self-forgetfulness 500 years before Christ. In some ways he was nearer
to us and our needs. He was more lucid upon our individual importance in
service than Christ and less ambiguous upon the question of personal
The renunciation of Prince Siddhartha was the boldest step that a man has ever taken.
Critics have condemned Siddhartha for His manner of leaving home and Kingdom. Some described it as a 'callous abandonment of wife and family'. Yet what would have happened if He had not left so stealthily and had approached His loved ones for a formal farewell? They would, of course, have implored him to change His mind. The scene would have been hysterical, and quite possibly the little domain of His father Rajah Suddhodana would have been thrown into turmoil. His intention to seek the truth would have had to be aborted by His father and wife who would prevent Him from His renunciation plans. At the age of 29 years, Siddhartha was a full-blooded young man in the prime of life. As it was, the temptation not to abandon all He had know and loved in order to seek the truth must have been formidable. During His final moments in the palace, He visited His bedroom and looked at His slumbering wife and their newborn child. The great impulse to remain and abandon His plan must have caused Him agony. Certainly in those days in India, it was considered a noble thing for a man to forsake home and loved ones to become an ascetic to lead a holy life. All things considered, it would seem that Siddhartha was right in boldly and quickly achieving His plan.
He renounced the world not for His own sake or convenience but for the sake of suffering humanity. To Him the whole of mankind is one family. The renunciation of Prince Siddhartha at that early age was the boldest step that a man could have taken.
Detachment is one of the most important factors for the attainment of Enlightenment. The attainment of Enlightenment is by way of non-attachment. Most of life's troubles are caused by attachment. We get angry, we worry, we become greedy and complain bitterly. All these causes of unhappiness, tension, stubbornness and sadness are due to attachment. When we investigate any trouble or worry we have, the main cause is always attachment. Had Prince Siddhartha developed His attachment towards His wife, Child, kingdom and worldly pleasures, He would never have been able to discover the remedy for suffering mankind. Therefore, He had to sacrifice everything including worldly pleasures in order to have a concentrated mind free from distractions, in order to find the Truth that can cure humanity from suffering.
In the eyes of this young Prince, the whole world was burning with lust, anger, greed and man other defilements which ignite the fire of passions. He saw each and every living being in this including His wife and child, suffering from all sorts of physical and mental ailments. So determined was He to seek a solution for the eradication of suffering amongst suffering humanity, that He was prepared to sacrifice everything.
Two thousand five hundred years after His renunciation, some people shed crocodile tears or criticize Him for His action. His wife, however, did not accuse Him for desertion when she realized the purpose of His renunciation. Instead, she gave up her luxurious life to lead a simple life as a mark of respect.
Here is how a well-known poet saw the renunciation of the Buddha:
'Twas not through hatred of children sweet,
'Twas not through hatred of His lovely wife,
Thriller of hearts-not that He loved them less,
But Buddhahood more, that He renounced them all.
'Understood are the things to be understood,
Cultivated are the things to be cultivated,
Eradicated are the things to be eradicated,
Therefore Brahmin, I am the Buddha.'(Sutta Nipata)
'As long, brethren, as the Moon and Sun have not arisen in the world, just
as long is there no shining forth a great light of great radiance. There
prevails gross darkness, the darkness of bewilderment. Night is not
distinguishable from the day, nor the month, the half-moon and the seasons
of the years from each other.
'But, brethren, when the Moon and Sun arise in the world then a great
light of great radiance shines forth. Gross darkness, the darkness of
bewilderment, is no more. Then are months and the half-moon and the
seasons of years.'
'Just so, brethren, as long as a Buddha, who is an Arahant, a Buddha
Supreme, arises not, there is no shining forth a great light of great
radiance. But gross darkness, the darkness of bewilderment, prevails.
There is no proclaiming, no teaching, no showing forth, no setting up, no
opening up, no analysis, no making clear of the Four Noble Truths.
'What Four? The Noble Truth of Suffering, the Arising of Suffering, the
ceasing of Suffering, and the approach to the ceasing of Suffering.
'Wherefore, brethren, do you exert yourselves to realize 'This is
suffering; this is the arising of Suffering; this is the ceasing of
Suffering; this is the approach to the ceasing of Suffering.'
The above words give us a clear picture of the great value of the arising
of the Buddha to the world. The Buddha arose at a time when Western
Philosophy as inaugurated by the Greeks, was led by Heraclites who gave a
new turn to the early religions of the Olympian gods. It was a time when
Jeremiah was giving a new message among the Jews in Babylon.
It was a time when Pythagoras was introducing a doctrine of reincarnation
in Italy. It was a time when Confucius was establishing the national life
of China by his ethics of conduct.
It was a time when India's social fabric was heavily encrusted with
priest craft, self-mortification, caste distinctions, corrupt feudalism,
subjection of women and fear of Brahmancial dominance.
He was a great man who wielded an extraordinary influences on others even
during His lifetime. His personal magnetism, moral prestige and radiant
confidence in His discovery, made Him a popular success. During His active
life as a Teacher, the Buddha enlightened many who listened to Him. He
attracted the high and low, rich and poor, educated and illiterate, men
and women, householders and ascetics, nobles and peasants. He went in
search for the vicious to teach, while the pure and virtuous came in
search of Him to learn. To all, He gave the gift of the Truth that He had
discovered. His disciples were kings and soldiers, merchants and
millionaires, beggars and courtesans, religious as well as deluded people.
When people were deluded, He enlightened them. When they were inflamed
with rage and lust, He gave them the cooling water of Truth. When they
were forsaken and wretched. He extended to them the infinite love of His
He did not set out to remold the world. He was 'Lokavidu'? 'The knower of
the world.' He knew the world too well to have any illusions about its
nature, or to believe that its laws could be completely refashioned to
suit the desires of man. He knew that the world does not exist for the
pleasure of the man, He knew about the nature of worldly conditions. He
realized the vicissitude of worldly life. He knew the futility of human
imagination or day dreaming about the world.
He did not encourage wishful-thinking in terms of establishing a worldly
Utopia. Rather, He told each one of the Way by which one could later
conquer one's own world? the inner subjective world that is everyone's
private domain. In simple languages, He told us that the whole world is
within us and the world is led by the mind and that mind must be trained
and cleansed properly.
His teaching was basically simple and meaningful: 'To put an end to evil;
to fulfill all good; to purify the mind. This is the advice of all the
Buddhas.' (Dhammapada, 183).
He taught the people how to eradicate ignorance. He encouraged them to
maintain freedom in the mind to think freely. Rigid rituals, rigid dogmas,
blind faith and the caste system, all had no place in His way of life. All
people were one in the eyes of the Buddha.
By every test of what He said, did and was, He demonstrated Himself to be
the preeminent man in His day. He declared a faith of service, a ministry
of sacrifice and achievement. He advised us to start our life from today
onwards as if it is the beginning of our life, and to fulfill our endless
responsibilities and duties of daily existence here and now without
depending on others to do it for us.
He gave the world a new explanation of the universe. He gave a new vision
of eternal Happiness, the achievement of perfection in Buddhahood. He
pointed out the way to the permanent state beyond all impermanence, the
Way to Nibbana, the final deliverance from the misery of existence.
His time was 2,500 years ago. Yet, even today this great Teacher is
honored not only by the religious-minded people, He is also honored by
atheists, historians, rationalists and intellectuals all over the world
who have acknowledged Him as the Enlightened, most liberal minded and
'Sukho Buddhanam Uppado.'
Happy is the birth of the Buddha. (Dhammapada 194).
Was Buddha an Incarnation of God?
Never had the Buddha claimed that He was the son or a messenger of God.
The Buddha was a unique human being who was self-Enlightened. He had no
one whom He could regard as His teacher. Through His own efforts, He
practised to perfection the ten supreme qualities of generosity,
discipline, renunciation, wisdom, energy, endurance, truthfulness,
determination, goodwill and equanimity. Through His mental purification,
He opened the doors to all knowledge. He knew all things to be known,
cultivated all things to be cultivated, and destroyed all things to be
destroyed. Indeed, no other religious teacher was comparable to Him in
terms of cultivation and attainment.
So special was He and so electrifying His message, that many people asked
Him 'What(not so much as Who) He was'. Questions on 'Who He was' would be
with respect to His name, origin, ancestry, etc., while 'What He was'
referred to the order of beings to which He belonged. So 'godly and
inspiring was He that even during His time, there were numerous attempts
of others to turn Him into a god or a reincarnation of god. Never did He
agree to be regarded as such. In the Anguttara Nikaya, He said: 'I am not
indeed a deva, nor a gandharva, nor a yaksa, nor a manusya. Know ye that I
am the Buddha.' After Enlightenment, the Buddha could no longer be
classified even as a 'manusya' or an ordinary human being. He belonged to
the Buddha Wangsa, special race or species of enlightened beings, all of
whom are Buddhas.
Buddhas appear in this world from time to time. But some people have the
mistaken idea that it is the same Buddha who is reincarnated or appears in
the world over and over again. Actually, they are not the same person,
otherwise there is no scope for others to attain Buddhahood. Buddhists
believe that anyone can become a Buddha if he develops his qualities to
perfection and is able to remove his ignorance completely through his own
efforts. After Enlightenment, all Buddhas are similar in their attainment
and experience of Nibbana.
In India, the followers of many orthodox religious groups tried to condemn
the Buddha because of His liberal teaching which revolutionized the Indian
society. Many regarded Him as an enemy when increasing numbers of
intellectuals as well as people from all ranks of society took up the
religion. When they failed in their attempt to destroy Him, they adopted
the reverse strategy of introducing Him as a reincarnation of one of their
gods. This way they could absorb Buddhism into their religion. To a
certain extent, this strategy worked in India since it had, through the
centuries, contributed to the decay and the subsequent uprooting of
Buddhism from the land of its origin.
Even today there are certain religionists who try to absorb the Buddha
into their beliefs as a way of gaining converts among Buddhists. Their
basis for doing so is by claiming that the Buddha Himself had predicted
that another Buddha would appear in this world, and that the latest Buddha
will become even more popular. One group named a religious teacher who
lived 600 years after Gautama the Buddha as the latest Buddha. Another
group said that the next Buddha had already arrived in Japan in the 13th
century. Yet another group believed that their founder came from the
lineage of great teachers (like Gautama and Jesus) and that founder was the
latest Buddha. These groups advised Buddhists to give up their old Buddha
and follow the so-called new Buddha. While it is good to see them giving
the Buddha the same status as their own religious teachers, we feel that
these attempts to absorb Buddhists into another faith by misrepresenting
the truth are in extreme bad taste.
Those who claim that the new Buddha had already arrived are obviously
misrepresenting what the Buddha had said. Although the Buddha predicted
the coming of the next Buddha, He mentioned some conditions which had to
be met before this can be possible. It is the nature of Buddhahood that
the next Buddha will not appear as the dispensation of the current Buddha
still exits. He will appear only when the Four Noble Truths and the
Eightfold Path have been completely forgotten. The people living then must
be properly guided in order to understand the same Truth taught by the
previous Buddhas. We are still living within the dispensation of Gautama
the Buddha. Although the moral conduct of the people has, with very few
exceptions, deteriorated, the future Buddha would only appear at some
incalculable period when the Path to Nibbana is completely lost to mankind
and when people are ready to receive Him.
The Buddha's Service
The Buddha was the embodiment of all the virtues that He preached. During
His successful and eventful ministry of 45 years, He translated all His
words into actions. At no time did He ever show any human frailty or any
base passion. The Buddha's moral code is the most perfect the world has
For more than 25 centuries, millions of people have found inspiration and
solace in His Teaching. His greatness still shine today like a sun that
outshines the glow of lesser lights. His Teachings still beckon the weary
pilgrim to the security and peace of Nibbana. No other person has
sacrificed so much of his worldly comfort for the sake of suffering
To the Buddha, religion was not a bargain but a way to enlightenment. He
did not want followers with blind faith, He wanted followers who could
think freely and wisely.
The entire human race has been blessed with His presence.
There was never an occasion when the Buddha expressed any unfriendliness
towards a single person. Not even to His opponents and worst enemies did
the Buddha express any unfriendliness. There were a few prejudiced minds
who turned against the Buddha and who tried to kill him, yet the Buddha
never treated them as enemies. The Buddha once said, 'As an elephant in
the battle-field endures the arrows that are shot into him, so will I
endure the abuse and unfriendly expressions of others.(Dhammapada. 320)
After attaining Nibbana, the Buddha left a deathless message that is still
with us. Today we are confronted by the terrible threat to world peace. At
no time in the history of the world is His message more needed than it is
According to some beliefs, a certain god will appear in this world from
time to time to destroy wicked people and to protect the good one. Buddha
did not appear in this world to destroy wicked people but to show them the
In the history of the world until the Buddha's time, did we ever hear of
any religious teacher who was so filled with such all-absorbing sympathy
and love for suffering humanity as was the Buddha? At about the same time
as the Buddha, we heard of some wise men in Greece: Socrates, Plato and
Aristotle and many others. But they were only philosophers and thinkers
and seekers after truth; they lacked any inspiring love for the suffering
The Buddha's way of saving mankind was to teach them how to find
salvation. He was not interested in alleviating a few chance cases of
physical or mental distress. He was more concerned with revealing a Path
that all people could follow.
Historical Evidence of the Buddha
The Buddha is the greatest conqueror the world has ever seen. His Teaching
illuminates the way for mankind to cross from a world of darkness, hatred
and suffering to a new world of light, love and happiness.
Gautama the Buddha was not a mythical figure but an actual, historical
personality who introduced the religion known today as Buddhism. Evidence
to prove the existence of this great religious Teacher are to be found in
the following facts:
The testimonies of those who knew Him personally. These testimonies were recorded in the rock-inscriptions, pillars and pagodas made in His honour. These testimonies and monuments to His memory were created by kings and others who were near enough to His time to be able to verify the story of His life. The discovery of places and the remains of buildings that were mentioned in the narrative of His time. The Sangha, the holy order which He founded, has had an unbroken existence to the present day. The Sangha possessed the facts of His life and Teachings which have been transmitted from generation to generation in various parts of the world. The fact that in the very year of His death, and at various times subsequently, conventions and councils of the Sangha were held for the verification of the actual Teachings of the Founder. These verified Teachings have been passed on from teacher to pupil from His time to the present day.
After His passing away, His body was cremated and the bodily relics were divided among eight kingdoms in India. Each king built a pagoda to contain his portion of the relics. The portion given to King Ajatasatthu was enshrined by him in a pagoda at Rajagriha. Less than two centuries later, Emperor Asoka took the relics and distributed them throughout his empire. The inscriptions enshrined in this and other pagodas confirmed that those were the relics of Gautama the Buddha. 'The Mahavansa', the best and authentic ancient history known to us gives detailed particulars of life as well as details of the life of Emperor Asoka and all other sovereigns related to Buddhist history. Indian history has also given a prominent place to the Buddha's life, activities, Buddhist traditions and customs. The records which we can find in the Buddhist countries where people received Buddhism a few hundred years after the Buddha's passing away such as Sri Lanka, Burma, China, Tibet, Nepal, Korea, Mongolia, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos show unbroken historical, cultural, religious, literary and traditional evidence that there was religious Teacher in India known as Gautama the Buddha.
The Tripitaka, an unbroken record of His 45 years
of Teaching is more than sufficient to prove that the Buddha really lived
in the world. The accuracy and authenticity of the Buddhist texts is
supported by the fact that they provide information for historians to
write Indian history during the 5th and 6th century B. C. The texts, which
represent the earliest reliable written records in India, provide a
profound insight into the socio-economic, cultural and political
environment and conditions during the Buddha's lifetime as well as into
the lives of His contemporaries, such as King Bimbisara.
Salvation Through Arahantahood Attaining Nibbana through
Certain Buddhists believe to seek salvation by becoming an Arahant is a
selfish motive; because everyone, they claim, must try to become a Buddha
in order to save others. This particular belief has absolutely no ground
in the Teaching of the Buddha. The Buddha never mentioned that He wanted
to save every living being in this whole universe. He offered His help
only to those who were spiritually matured and willing to accept His Nobel
way of life.
'The doors to the deathless are open! Let those who will hear leave wrong
doctrine 'Now shall I turn the Wheel of the Great Law, For this I go to
the Kasian city. There shall I beat the drum of deathlessness In this
world that is groping in the dark.'
(Ariya pariyesana Sutta-Majjhima Nikaya). The belief that everyone must
strive to become a Buddha in order to attain salvation cannot be found in
the original Teachings of the Buddha. This belief is just like asking
every person to become a doctor in order to cure other people and himself
of diseases. This advice is most impractical. If people want to cure
themselves of their sicknesses they can get medical advice from a
qualified doctor. This they can do without waiting until they are all
doctors before curing themselves. Nor is there any need for each and every
person to be a doctor. If everyone becomes a doctor, who are going to be
their patients? In the same way if everyone is going to become Buddhas,
who is going to save whom? Of course, those who wish to become doctors can
do so. But they must have intelligence, courage and the means to study
medicine. Likewise, it is not compulsory for everyone to become a Buddha
to find his salvation. Those who wish to become Buddhas can do so.
However, they need the courage and knowledge to sacrifice their comforts
and practice all kinds of renunciations in order to attain Buddhahood.
Others can be content to be healthy.
To attain Arahantahood, one has to eradicate all greed and selfishness.
This implies that while relating with others, an Arahant will act with
compassion and try to inspire others to go on the Path leading to
Liberation. He is the living proof of the good results that accrue to a
person who follows the method taught by the Buddha. The attainment of
Nibbana is not possible if one acts with a selfish motive. Therefore, it
is baseless to say that striving to become an Arahant is a selfish act.
Buddhahood is indisputably the best and the noblest of all the three
ideals(Supreme Buddha, Silent Buddha and Arahant). But not everyone is
capable of achieving this highest ideal. Surely all scientists cannot be
Einsteins and Newtons. There must be room for lesser scientists who
nevertheless help the world according to their capabilities.
A Bodhisatta is a being devoted to Enlightenment.
As a 'Compassionate Being', a Bodhisatta is destined to attain Buddhahood,
and become a future Buddha, through the cultivation of his mind.
In the Pali scriptures, the designation 'Bodhisatta' is given to Prince
Siddhartha before His Enlightenment and to His former lives. The Buddha
Himself used this term when speaking of His life prior to Enlightenment.
According to the Pali texts there is no mention of Buddha Bodhi being the
only way to attain the final goal of Nibbanic bliss. It was very rare for
a disciple during the Buddha's time to forgo the opportunity to attain
sainthood and instead declare bodhisattahood as his aspiration. However,
there are some records that some followers of the Buddha did aspire to
become Bodhisattas to gain 'Buddhahood'.
Although Theravada Buddhists respect Bodhisattas, they do not regard them
as being in the position to enlighten or save others before their own
enlightenment. Bodhisattas are, therefore, not regarded as saviors. In
order to gain their final salvation, all beings must follow the method
prescribed by the Buddha and follow the example set by Him. They must also
personally eradicate their mental defilements and develop all the great
Must a Bodhisatta always be a Buddhist? We may find among Buddhists some
self-sacrificing and ever loving Bodhisattas. Sometimes they may not even
be aware of their lofty aspiration, but they instinctively work hard to
serve others and cultivate their pristine qualities. Nevertheless,
Bodhisattas are not only found among Buddhists, but possibly among the
other religionists as well. The Jataka stories, which relate the previous
birth stories of the Buddha, describe the families and forms of existence
taken by the Bodhisatta. Sometimes He was born as an animal. It is hard to
believe that He could have been born in a Buddhist family in each and
every life. But no matter what form He was born as or family he was born
into. He invariably strived hard to develop certain virtues. His
aspiration to gain perfection from life to life until final birth when he
emerged as a Buddha, is the quality which clearly distinguishes a
Bodhisatta from other beings.
Attainment of Buddhahood
The attainment of Buddhahood is the most difficult task that a person can
pursue in this world.
The Buddhahood is not reserved only for chosen people or for supernatural
beings. Anyone can become a Buddha. No founder of any other religion ever
said that his followers can have the opportunity or potentiality to attain
the same position as the founder.
However, attaining Buddhahood is the most difficult task a person can
pursue in this world. One must work hard by sacrificing one's worldly
pleasures. One has to develop and purify one's mind from all evil thoughts
in order to obtain this Enlightenment. It will take innumerable births for
a person to purify himself and to develop his mind in order to become a
Buddha. Long periods of great effort are necessary in order to complete
the high qualification of this self-training. The course of this
self-training which culminates in Buddhahood, includes self-discipline,
self-restraint, superhuman effort, firm determination, and willingness to
undergo any kind of suffering for the sake of other living beings who are
suffering in this world.
This clearly shows that the Buddha did not obtain this supreme
Enlightenment by simply praying, worshipping, or making offerings to some
supernatural beings. He attained Buddhahood by the purification of His
mind and heart. He gained Supreme Enlightenment without the influence of
any external, supernatural forces but by the development of His own
insight. Thus only a man who has firm determination and courage to
overcome all hindrance, weaknesses and selfish desires can attain
Prince Siddhartha did not attain Buddhahood overnight simply by sitting
under the Bodhi tree. No supernatural being appeared and revealed anything
by whispering into His ear while He was in deep meditation under the Bodhi
tree. Behind His Supreme Enlightenment there was a long history of
previous births. Many of the Jataka stories tell us how He worked hard by
sacrificing His life in many previous births to attain His Supreme
Buddhahood. No one can attain Buddhahood without devoting many lifetimes
practising the ten perfections explains why a Supreme Buddha appears only
at every long intervals of time.
Therefore, the Buddha's advice to His followers is that in order to find
their salvation it is not necessary for each and every person to wait
until he gains his Buddhahood. Aspirants can also find their salvation by
becoming Pacceka Buddha (Silent Buddha) or Arahantas - (saints). Pacceka
Buddhas appear in this world during the period when there is no other
Enlightened Buddha. They are also Enlightened. Although their degree of
perfection is not similar to that of the Supreme Buddha, they experience
the same Nibbanic bliss. Unlike the Supreme Buddha, they do not preach to
the masses. They lead a life of solitude.
Arahantas can also experience the same Nibbanic bliss as the Buddhas do.
There is no discrimination or status in Nibbana. The only difference is
that Arahantas do not have the Supreme Enlightenment to be able to
enlighten others in the same way as the Buddhas do. Arahantas have
overcome all their desires and other human weaknesses. They can appreciate
the Dhamma which was discovered and taught by the Buddha. They can also
show others the correct Buddhist way of life and the Path to salvation.
'kiccho Buddhanan Uppado' Rare is the appearance of the
Trikaya - The Three Bodies of the Buddha
The three bodies of the Buddha consist of Dharma-kaya (Truth body),
Sambhoga-kaya (Enjoyment body), and Nirmana-kaya(Manifestation body).
In the Mahayana philosophy, the personality of the Buddha is given an
elaborate treatment. According to this philosophy, the Buddhas have three
bodies (trikaya), or three aspects of personality: the Dharmakaya, the
Sambhoga-kaya, and the Nirmana-kaya.
After a Buddha has attained Enlightenment, He is the living embodiment of
wisdom, compassion, happiness and freedom. At the beginning, there was
only one Buddha in the Buddhist tradition. He is the historical Sakyamuni
the Buddha. However, even during His lifetime, He made the distinction
between Himself as the enlightened, historical individual, on one hand,
and Himself as the Embodiment of Truth, on the other. The enlightened
personality was known as the 'Rupakaya' (Form-body) or 'Nirmana-kaya'
(Manifestation-body). This was the physical body of the Buddha who was
born among men, attained Enlightenment, preached the Dhamma and attained
Maha Parinibbana. The Manifestation-body or physical body of Buddhas are
many and differ from one another.
On the other hand, the principle of Enlightenment which is embodied in Him
is known as Dharma-kaya or Truth-body. This is the essence of the Buddha
and is independent of the person realizing it. 'Dhamma' in this expression
means 'Truth', and does not refer to the verbal teachings which were
recorded down in scriptures. The teaching of the Buddha also emanates from
the 'Essence' or 'Truth'. So the real, essential Buddha is Truth or the
principle of Enlightenment. This idea is clearly stated in the original
Pali texts of the Theravada. The Buddha told Vasettha that the Tathagata
(the Buddha) was Dharma-kaya, the 'Truth-body' or the 'Embodiment of
Truth', as well as Dharmabhuta, 'Truth-become', that is, 'One who has
become Truth' (Digha Nikaya). On another occasion, the Buddha told
Vakkali:'He who sees the Dhamma (Truth) sees the Tathagata, he who sees
the Tathagata sees the Dhamma (Samyutta Nikaya). That is to say, the
Buddha is equal to Truth, and all Buddhas are one and the same, being no
different from one another in the Dharma-kaya, because Truth is one.'
In the Buddha's lifetime, both the Nirmana-kaya and the Dharma-kaya were
united in His. However, after His Parinibbana, the distinction became more
pronounced, especially in the Mahayana philosophy. His Manifestation-body
was dead and enshrined in the form of relics in stupas: His Dhamma-body is
Later, the Mahayana philosophy developed the 'Sambhoga-kaya', the
Enjoyment-body. The Sambhoga-kaya can be considered as the body or aspect
through which the Buddha enjoyed Himself in the Dhamma, in teaching the
Truth, in leading others to the realization of the Truth, and in enjoying
the company of good, noble people. This is a selfless, pure, spiritual
enjoyment, not to be confused with sensual pleasure. This 'Enjoyment-body'
is not categorically mentioned in Theravada texts although it can be
appreciated without contradiction if understood in this context. In
Mahayana, the Enjoyment-body of the Buddha, unlike the impersonal,
abstract principle of the Dharma-kaya, is also considered as a person,
though not a human, historical person.
Although the terms Sambhoga-kaya and Dharma-kaya found in the later Pali
works come from Mahayana and semi-Mahayana works, scholars from other
traditions did not show hostility towards them. Ven Buddhaghosa in his
Visuddhi Magga referred thus to the bodies of the Buddha.
'The Buddha is possessed of a beautiful Rupakaya adorned with eighty minor
and thirty-two major signs of a great man, and possessed of a Dharmakaya
purified in every way and glorified by Sila, Samadhi°‚, full of splendor
and virtue, incomparable and fully enlightened.'
Though Buddhaghosa's conception was realistic, he was not immune from the
religious bias of attributing superhuman power to the Buddha. In the
Atthasallini, he said that during the three months' absence of the Buddha,
when He was engaged in preaching the Abhidamma to His mother in the Tusita
heaven, He created some Nimmita-buddhas as exact replicas of Himself.
These Nimmita-buddhas could not be distinguished from the Buddha in voice,
words and even the rays of light that issued only by the gods of the
higher realms of existence and not by ordinary gods or men. From this
description, it is clear that the early Theravadins conceived Buddha's
Rupakaya or Sambhoga-kaya as that of a human being, and His Dharma-kaya as
the collection of His Dhamma, that is, doctrines and disciplinary rules,
Chapter 2 His Message
Message for All
Buddhism is one of the oldest religions still being
practised in the world today. While the names of many other religions
which existed in India have been forgotten today, the teachings of the
Buddha, (better known as the Dhamma)are still relevant to the needs of
today's society. This is because the Buddha has always considered himself
as human religious teacher whose message was meant to promote the
happiness and well-being of other human beings. The Buddha's primary
concern was to help His followers to live a normal life without either
going to the extremes of self-denial or totally surrendering to sensual
The practical nature of the Buddha's teaching is
revealed in the fact that not everyone is expected to attain exactly the
same goal in one lifetime, since the mental impurities are deeply rooted.
Some people are spiritually more advanced than others and they can proceed
to greater heights according to their state of development. But every
single human being has the ultimate potential to attain the supreme goal
of Buddhahood if he has the determination and will to do so.
Even now does the soft, sweet voice of the Buddha ring
in our ears. And sometimes we perhaps feel a little ashamed because we do
not understand Him fully. Often we only praise His Teaching and respect
Him, but do not try to practise what He preached. The Buddha's Teaching
and message have had their effect on all people for thousands of years
whether they believe in religion or not. His message is for all.
Though the Buddha, the flower of mankind, is no longer
in this world, the sweet fragrance and exquisite aroma of His Teachings
have spread far and wide. Its balmy, diffusing fragrance has calmed and
soothed millions. Its ambrosial perfume has heartened and cheered every
nation which it has penetrated. The reason that His Teachings have
captured millions of hearts is because they were spread(not by weapons or
political power)but by love and compassion for humanity. Not a drop of
blood stains its pure path. Buddhism wins by the warm touch of love, not
by the cold claws of fear. Fear of the supernatural and the doctrine of
everlasting hell-fire have no place in Buddhism.
During the last 25 centuries since the appearance of
the Buddha, many changes have taken place in this world. Kingdoms have
risen and fallen; nations have prospered and perished. However, the world
today has forgotten many of these past civilizations. But the name of the
Buddha remains alive and fresh in the minds of millions of people today.
The Kingdom of Righteousness that He built is still strong and steady.
Although many temples, pagodas, images, libraries and other religious
symbols erected in His honor were destroyed, His untainted Noble Name and
the message He gave remain in the minds of cultured people.
The Buddha taught man that the greatest of conquests
was not the subjugation of others but of the self. He taught in the
Dhammapada, 'Even though a man conquers ten thousand men in battle, he who
conquers but himself is the greatest of conquerors'.
Perhaps the best example of how the gentle message of
the Compassionate One could rehabilitate the most savage of men is the
case of the Emperor Asoka. About two hundred years after the Buddha, this
king waged fierce battles across India and caused great anguish and fear.
But when he absorbed the Dhamma, he regretted the evil that he had done.
We remember and honor him today because after his conversion to the path
of peace, he embarked on another battle: a battle to bring peace to
mankind. He proved without doubt that the Buddha was right when He
asserted that true greatness springs from love, not hatred, from humility,
not pride; from compassion, not cruelty.
The Emperor Asoka's conversion from cruelty to kindness
was so complete that he forbade even the killing of animals in his
kingdom. He realized that his subjects stole because of want and he set
out to reduce want in his kingdom. But above all, he instructed the
followers of the Buddha to remember the Master's teaching never to force
their beliefs on others who were loyal to other religious leaders. In
other cases we have heard of kings who, upon conversion, diverted their
thirst for blood by spreading their new religion by the sword! Only
Buddhism can take pride in a king who has never been equaled in such
greatness before or ever since.
The Buddha's Teachings were introduced in order that
societies could be cultured and civilized and live in peace and harmony.
All of life's most difficult problems can be better understood if we but
try to learn and practise His teachings. The Buddha's approach to the
problems and suffering of mankind is straightforward and direct.
The Buddha was the greatest conqueror the world has
ever seen. He conquered the world with His infallible weapons of love and
truth. His Teaching illuminates the Way for mankind to cross from a world
of darkness, hatred, and suffering, to a new world of light, love and
If a wicked man can become a pure religious man, this
according to Buddhism, is a practical miracle.
In every religion we hear of miracles being performed
by either the founders of these religious or by some of their disciples.
In the case of the Buddha, miracles occurred from the day of His birth
until His passing away into Nibbana. Many of the psychic powers (so-called
miraculous powers in other religions) of the Buddha were attained through
His long and intense training in meditation. The Buddha meditated and
passed through all the highest stages of contemplation that culminated in
pure self-possession and wisdom. Such attainments through meditation are
considered nothing miraculous but fall within the power of any trained
Using meditation on the night of His Enlightenment,
there arose within the Buddha a vision of His previous births, the many
existences with all their details, He remembered His previous births and
how He had made use of these births to gain His Enlightenment. Then the
Buddha had a second and wider vision in which He saw the whole universe as
a system of Kamma and Rebirth. He saw the universe made up of beings that
were noble and wicked, happy and unhappy. He saw them all continually
'passing away according to their deed', leaving one form of existence and
taking shape in another. Finally, He understood the nature of Suffering,
the cessation of Suffering and the Path that leads to the cessation of
Suffering. Then a third vision arose within the Buddha. He realized that
He was completely free from all bondages, human or divine. He realized
that He had done what had to be done. He realized He had no more re-birth
to go through because He was living with His final body. This knowledge
destroyed all ignorance, all darkness, and light arose within Him. Such is
the psychic power and the wisdom that arose within the Buddha as He sat
meditating under the Bodhi tree.
The Buddha had a natural birth; He lived in a normal
way. But He was an extraordinary man, as far as His Enlightenment was
concerned. Those who have not learnt to appreciate His Supreme Wisdom try
to explain His greatness by peeping into His life and looking for
miracles. However, the Buddha's Supreme Enlightenment is more than enough
for us to understand His greatness. There is no need to show His greatness
by introducing any miraculous power.
The Buddha knew of the power that could be developed by
training the human mind. He also knew that His disciples could acquire
such powers through mental development. Thus the Buddha advised them not
to exercise such psychic power in order to convert less intelligent
people. He was referring to the 'miraculous' power to walk on water, to
exorcise spirits, raise the dead and perform the so-called supernormal
practices. He was also referring to the 'miracles of prophesy' such as
thought-reading, soothe-saying, fortune-telling, and so on. When the
uneducated believers see the performance of such powers, their faith
deepens. But the nominal converts who are attracted to a religion because
of these powers embrace a faith, not because they realize the truth, but
because they harbor hallucinations. Besides, some people may pass remarks
that these miracles are due to certain charms. In drawing people to listen
to the Dhamma, the Buddha appealed to their reasoning power.
The following story illustrates the Buddha's attitude
towards miraculous powers. One day the Buddha met an ascetic who sat by
the bank of a river. This ascetic had practised austerities for 25 years.
The Buddha asked him what he had received for all his labour. The ascetic
proudly replied that, now at last, he could cross the river by walking on
the water. The Buddha pointed out that this gain was insignificant for all
the years of labour, since he could cross the river using a ferry for one
In certain religions, a man's miraculous performance
can help him to become a saint. But in Buddhism, miracles can be a
hindrance for a person to attain sainthood, which is a gradual personal
attainment and individual concern. Each person himself must work for his
sainthood through self-purification and no one else can make another
person a saint.
Many so-called miracles talked about by people are
merely imaginations and hallucinations created by their own minds due to a
lack of understanding of things as they truly are. All these miracles
remain as miracles as long as people fail to know what these powers really
The Buddha also expressly forbade His disciples to use
miracles to prove the superiority of His teachings. On one occasion He
said that the use of miracles to gain converts was like using dancing
girls to tempt people to do something. Anyone with the proper mental
training can perform miracles because they are simply an expression of
mind over matter.
According to the Buddha, the miracle of realization is
a real miracle. When a murderer, thief, terrorist, drunkard, or adulterer
is made to realize that what he had been doing is wrong and gives up his
bad, immoral and harmful way of life, this change can be regarded as a
miracle. The change for the better arising from an understanding of Dhamma
is the highest miracle that any man can perform.
The Buddha's Silence
When the questioner himself was not in a position to
understand the real significance of the answer to his question and when
the questions posed to Him were wrong, the Buddha remained silent.
The scriptures mention a few occasions when the Buddha
remained silent to questions posed to Him. Some scholars, owing to their
misunderstanding of the Buddha's silence, came to the hasty conclusion
that the Buddha was unable to answer to these questions. While it is true
that on several occasions the Buddha did not respond to these metaphysical
and speculative questions, there are reasons why the Buddha kept noble
When the Buddha knew that the questioner was not in a
position to understand the answer to the question because of its
profundity, of if the questions themselves were wrongly put in the first
place, the Blessed One remained silent. Some of the questions to which the
Buddha remained silent are as following:
Is the universe eternal? Is it not eternal? Is the
universe finite? Is it infinite? Is soul the same as the body? Is the soul
one thing and the body another? Does the Tathagata exist after death? Does
He not exist after death? Does He both (at the same time) exist and not
exist after death? Does He both (at the same time) neither exist nor not
exist? The Buddha who had truly realized the nature of these issues
observed noble silence. An ordinary person who is still unenlightened
might have a lot to say, but all of it would be sheer conjecture based on
his imagination. The Buddha's silence regarding these questions is more
meaningful than attempting to deliver thousands of discourses on them. The
paucity of our human vocabulary which is built upon relative experiences
cannot hope to convey the depth and dimensions of Reality which a person
has not himself experienced through Insight. On several occasions, the
Buddha had very patiently explained that human language was too limited
and could not describe the Ultimate Truth. If the Ultimate Truth is
absolute, then it does not have any point of reference for worldlings with
only mundane experiences and relative understanding to fully comprehend
it. When they try to do so with their limited mental conception, they
misunderstand the Truth like the seven blind men and the elephant. The
listener who had not realized the Truth could not fathom the explanation
given, just like a man who was blind since birth will have no way of truly
understanding the color of the sky.
The Buddha did not attempt to give answers to all the
questions put to Him. He was under no obligation to respond to meaningless
questions which reflected gross misunderstanding on the part of spiritual
development. He was a practical Teacher, full of compassion and wisdom. He
always spoke to people fully understanding their temperament, capability
and capacity to comprehend. When a person asked questions not with the
intention to learn how to lead a religious life but simply to create an
opportunity for splitting hairs, the Blessed One did not answer these
questions. Questions were answered to help a person towards
self-realization, not as a way of showing His towering wisdom.
According to the Buddha, there are several ways of
answering various types of questions. The first type of question is one
that requires a definite answer, such as a 'yes' or 'no'. For example, the
question, 'Are all conditioned things impermanent?' is answered with a
'Yes'. The second type of question is one requiring an analytical answer.
Suppose someone says that Angulimala was a murderer before he became an
"Arahant'. So is it possible for all murderers to become Arahants? This
question should be analyzed before you can say 'Yes' or 'No'. Otherwise,
it will not be answered correctly and comprehensively. You need to analyse
what conditions make it possible for a murderer to become a saint within
The third type of question is one where it is necessary
to ask a counter question to help the questioner to think through. If you
ask, "Why is it wrong to kill other living beings?' the counter question
is, 'How does it feel when others try to kill you?' The fourth kind of
question is one that should be dropped. It means that you should not
answer it. These are the questions which are speculative in nature, and
any answer to such questions will only create ore confusion. An example of
such a question is, 'Does the universe have a beginning or not?' People
can discuss such questions for years without coming to a conclusion. They
can only answer such questions based on their imagination, not on real
Some answers which the Buddha gave have close parallels
to the kind responses which are given in nuclear science. According to
Robert Oppenheimer, 'If we ask, for instance, whether the position of the
electron remains the same, we must say 'no'; if we ask whether it is in
motion, we must say 'no'. The Buddha has given such answers when
interrogated as to the conditions of a man's self after his death; but
they are not familiar answers in accordance with the tradition of
seventeenth and eighteenth century science.'
It is important to note however that the Buddha did
give answers to some of these questions to His most intellectually
developed disciples after the questioner had left. And in many cases, His
explanations are contained in other discourses which show us, who live in
an age of greater scientific knowledge, why these questions were not
answered by the Buddha just to satisfy the inquisitive minds of the
The Buddha's Attitude Towards Worldly Knowledge
Worldly knowledge can never help one to lead a pure
religious life for gaining peace and emancipation.
Worldly knowledge is useful for worldly ends. With such
knowledge, mankind learns how to use the earth's resources to improve the
standard of living, grow more food, generate power to run factories and to
light up streets and houses, manage factories and businesses, cure
sickness, build flats and bridges, cook exotic dishes, and so on. Worldly
knowledge can also be used for harmful purposes such as building missiles
with nuclear warheads, manipulating the stock market, cheating 'legally',
and inflaming political anxiety and hatred. Despite the rapid expansion of
worldly knowledge, especially in the twentieth century, mankind has been
brought no nearer to the solution of his spiritual problems and pervasive
unsatisfactoriness. In all likelihood, it never will solve mankind's
universal problems and bring peace and happiness because of the premises
on which such knowledge, discoveries and inventions are built.
While Buddhism can bring greater understanding on how
to lead a good, worldly life, its main focus is how to gain spiritual
liberation through the development of wisdom and mental culture. For
ordinary human beings, there is no end to the search for worldly
knowledge, but in the final analysis it does not really matter. For as
long as we are ignorant about the Dhamma, we will forever be trapped in
Samsara. According to the Buddha.
'For a long time, Brothers, have you suffered the death
of a mother; for a long time, the death of a father; for a long time, the
death of a son; for a long time, the death of a daughter; for a long time,
the death of brothers and sisters; for a long time, have you undergone the
loss of your goods; for a long time have you been afflicted with disease.
And because you have experienced the death of a mother, the death of
brothers and sisters, the loss of goods, the pangs of disease, company of
the undesired, you have truly shed more tears upon this long way?
hastening from birth to death, from death to birth---than all the waters
that are held in the four great seas.' (Anguttara Nikaya)Here the Buddha
is describing the Suffering of continuous births and deaths in the world.
He was interested in one simple thing; to show people the Way out of all
Why did the Buddha speak in this manner to His
disciples? And why did He not make an attempt to solve the problems as to
whether the world is eternal or not, whether it is finite or not? Such
problems might be exciting and stimulating to those who have the
curiosity. But in no way do these problems help a person to overcome
Suffering. That is why He swept these problems aside as useless, for the
knowledge of such things would not tend to one's well-being.
The Buddha, foresaw that to speak on things which were
of no practical value, and which were lying beyond the power of
comprehension, was a waste of time and energy. He foresaw that to advance
hypotheses about such things only served to divert thoughts from their
proper channel, hindering spiritual development.
Worldly knowledge and scientific research should be
complemented by religious and spiritual values. Otherwise such worldly
knowledge does not in any way contribute to one's progress in leading a
pure, religious life. Man has come to the stage where his mind, fed by the
instruments and fruits of technological advancements, has become obsessed
with egoism, craving for power, and greed for material wealth. Without
religious values, worldly knowledge and technological advancement can lead
to man's downfall and destruction. They will only inflame man's greed
which will take on new and terrifying dimensions. On the other hand, when
worldly knowledge is harnessed for moral ends, it can bring maximum
benefit and happiness for mankind.
The Last Message of the Buddha
'When I am gone, my Teaching shall be your Master and
Three months before His passing away the Buddha
addressed His disciples and said: 'I have delivered sermons to you during
these forty-five years. You must learn them well and treasure them. You
must practise them and teach them to others. This will be of great use for
the welfare of the living and for the welfare of those who come after
'My years are now full ripe; the life span left is
short. I will soon have to leave you. You must be earnest. O monks, be
mindful and of pure virtue! Whoever untiringly pursues the Teaching, will
go beyond the cycle of birth and death and will man an end of Suffering.'
When Ananda asked the Buddha what would become of the
Order after He pass away, the Buddha replied, 'What does the Order expect
of me, Ananda? I have preached the Truth without any distinction; for in
regard to the Truth, there is no clenched hand in the Teachings of the
Buddha°‚. It may be, Ananda, that to some among you, the thought will come
'The Master's words will soon end; soon we will no longer have a master.'
But do not think like this, Ananda. When I am gone, my Teaching and the
disciplinary code shall be your Master.'
The Buddha further explained: 'If there is anyone who
thinks, 'It is I who will lead the brotherhood', or 'The Order is
dependent on me, it is I who should give instructions', the Buddha does
not think that He should lead the order or that the Order is dependent on
Him. I have reached the end of my days. Just as a worn-out cart can only
be made to move with much additional care, so my body can be kept going
only with much additional care. Therefore, Ananda, be a lamp and refuge
unto yourselves. Look for no other refuge. Let the Truth be your lamp and
your refuge. Seek no refuge elsewhere.'
At the age of eighty, on His birthday, He passed away
without showing any worldly supernatural powers. He showed the real nature
of component things even in His own life.
When the Buddha passed away into Nibbana, one of His
disciples remarked, 'All must depart---all beings that have life must shed
their compounded forms. Yes, even a Master such as He, a peerless being,
powerful in Wisdom and Enlightenment, even He must pass away.'
The parting words of the Buddha:
'Appamadena Sampadetha Vaya Dhamma Sankhara'.
'Work diligently. Component things are impermanent.'
Chapter 3: After the Buddha
Does the Buddha
Exist After His Death?
When a group of ascetics came and asked the same
question from certain disciples of the Buddha, they could not get a
satisfactory answer from them. Anuradha, a disciple, approached the
Buddha and reported to Him about their conversation. Considering the
understanding capacity of the questioners, the Buddha usually observed
silence at such questions. However in this instance, the Buddha
explained to Anuradha in the following manner:
'O Anuradha, what do you think, is the form (Rupa)
permanent or impermanent?'
'Is that which is impermanent, painful or
'Is it proper to regard that which is impermanent,
painful and subject to change as: 'This is mine; this is I, this is my
soul or permanent substance?'
'It is not proper, Sir.'
'Is feeling permanent or impermanent?'
'Is that which is impermanent, painful or
'Is it proper to regard that which is impermanent,
painful and subject to change as 'This is mine, this is I, this is my
'It is not proper, Sir.'
'Are perfection, formative tendencies and
consciousness, permanent or impermanent?'
'Is that which is impermanent, painful or
'Is it proper to regard that which is impermanent,
painful and subject to change as: 'This is mine, this is I, this is my
'It is not proper, Sir.'
'Therefore whatever form, feeling, perception,
formative tendencies, consciousness which have been, will be and is now
connected with oneself, or with others, gross or subtle, inferior or
superior, far or near; all forms, feelings, perceptions, formative
tendencies and consciousness should be considered by right knowledge in
this way: 'This is not mine; this not I; this is not my soul.' Having
seen thus, a noble, learned disciple becomes disenchanted with the form,
feeling, perception, formative tendencies and consciousness. Becoming
disenchanted, he controls his passion and subsequently discards them.'
'Being free from passion he becomes emancipated
and insight arises in him: 'I am emancipated.' He realizes: 'Birth is
destroyed, I have lived the holy life and done what had to be done.
There is no more birth for me.'
'What do you think, Anuradha, do you regard the
form as a Tathagata?'
'O Anuradha, what is your view, do you see a
Tathagata in the form?'
'Do you see a Tathagata apart from form?'
'Do you see a Tathagata in feeling, perception,
formative tendencies, consciousness?'
'O Anuradha, what do you think, do you regard that
which is without form, feeling, perception, formative tendencies and
consciousness as a Tathagata?'
'Now, Anuradha, since a Tathagata is not to be
found in this very life, is it proper for you to say: 'This noble and
supreme one has pointed out and explained these four propositions:
A Tathagata exists after death;
A Tathagata does not exist after death;
A Tathagata exists and yet does not exist after
A Tathagata neither exists nor does not exist
'Well and good, Anuradha. Formerly and now also I
expound and point out only the truth of Suffering and cessation of
Suffering.' (Anuradha Sutta---Samyutta Nikaya.)
The above dialogue between the Buddha and Anuradha
may not be satisfactory to many, since it does not satisfy the inquiring
mind of the people. Truth is such that it does not give satisfaction to
the emotion and intellect. Truth happens to be the most difficult thing
for man to comprehend. It can only be fully comprehended by Insight.
Buddhahood is nothing but the embodiment of all the great virtues and
supreme enlightenment. That is why Buddhas who could enlighten others
are very rare in this world.
A Successor to the Buddha
Buddhahood is the highest of all achievements.
Many people ask why the Buddha did not appoint a
successor. But can any one appoint another to take the place of the
Supreme Enlightened One? Attaining Buddhahood is the highest of all
achievements that only the wisest man can reach. He is the flower of
mankind. To attain this highest position, one must have the
qualification such as self-training, self-discipline, moral background,
supreme knowledge, and extra-ordinary compassion towards every living
being. Therefore, a person himself must take the trouble to qualify
himself in order to attain Buddhahood. For example, a doctor cannot
appoint even his own son as doctor unless the son has qualified himself
to be a doctor. A lawyer cannot appoint another person as a lawyer
unless that person obtains the necessary qualifications. A scientist
cannot appoint another person as a scientist unless that person
possesses the knowledge of a scientist.
Therefore, the Buddha did not appoint a successor.
On the other hand, even if He had done that, the person who was to
succeed Him would not have the real qualities of the Buddha and would
certainly misuse the authority and mislead the public.
Authority over a religion must be exercised by a
person or persons possessing a clear mind, proper understanding,
perfection and leading a holy life. Authority should not be exercised by
worldly-minded people who have become slaves to sensual pleasures or who
crave for worldly material gain or power. Otherwise the sacredness,
freedom and truth in a religion could be abused.
'I am not the first Buddha to come upon this
earth; nor shall I be the last. Previously, there were many Buddhas who
appeared in this world. In due time, another Buddha will arise in this
world, within this world cycle.'
When the Buddha was about to pass away, Ven.
Ananda and many other disciples wept. The Buddha said, 'Enough, Ananda.
Do not allow yourself to be troubled. Do not weep. Have I not already
told you that it is in the very nature of things that they must pass
away. We must be separated from all that is near and dear to us. The
foolish man conceives his idea of Self; the wise man sees there is no
ground on which to build the Self.
Thus the wise man has a right conception of the
world. He will conclude that all component things will be dissolved
again; but the Truth will always remain.'
The Buddha continued: 'Why should I preserve this
body when the body of the excellent law will endure? I am resolved. I
have accomplished my purpose and have attended to the work set upon me.
Ananda, for a long time you have been very near to me in thoughts, words
and acts of much love beyond all measure. You have done well, Ananda. Be
earnest in effort and you too will soon be free from bondages! You will
be free from sensuality, from delusion, and from ignorance.' Suppressing
his tears, Ananda said to the Buddha, 'Who shall teach us when You are
gone?' And the Buddha advised him to regard His Teaching as the Master.
The Buddha continued again: 'I am not the first
Buddha to come upon earth; nor shall I be the last. In due time, another
Buddha will arise in this world, a Holy One, a Supremely Enlightened
One, endowed with wisdom, in conduct auspicious, knowing the universe,
an incomparable leader of men, a master of devas and men. He will reveal
to you the same Eternal Truths which I have taught you. He will proclaim
a religious life, wholly perfect and pure; such as I now proclaim.'
'How shall we know him?' asked Ananda. The Buddha
replied, 'He will be known as Maitreya which means kindness or
friendliness.'(In Buddha Vansa, 28 names of the previous Buddhas are
mentioned, including Gautama the Buddha.)
Buddhists believe that those people who at present
are doing meritorious deeds by leading a religious life will have a
chance to be reborn as human beings in the time of Maitreya Buddha and
will obtain Nibbana identical with that of Gautama Buddha. In this way
they will find salvation through the guidance of His Teaching. His
Teaching will become a hope of the remote future for everybody. However,
according to the Buddha devout religious people can gain this Nibbanic
bliss at any time if they really work for it irrespective of whether a
Buddha appears or not.
'As long as my disciples lead a pure religious
life, so long the world will never become empty of Arahantas.' (Maha
The Future Buddha
'I am not the first Buddha to come upon this
earth; nor shall I be the last. Previously, there were many Buddhas who
appeared in this world. In due time, another Buddha will arise in this
world, within this world cycle.'
When the Buddha was about to pass away, Ven.
Ananda and many other disciples wept. The Buddha said, 'Enough, Ananda.
Do not allow yourself to be troubled. Do not weep. Have I not already
told you that it is in the very nature of things that they must pass
away. We must be separated from all that is near and dear to us. The
foolish man conceives his idea of Self; the wise man sees there is no
ground on which to build the Self. Thus the wise man has a right
conception of the world. He will conclude that all component things will
be dissolved again; but the Truth will always remain.'
The Buddha continued:' Why should I preserve this
body when the body of the excellent law will endure? I am resolved. I
have accomplished my purpose and have attended to the work set upon me.
Ananda, for a long time you have been very near to me in thoughts, words
and acts of much love beyond all measure. You have done well, Ananda. Be
earnest in effort and you too will soon be free from bondages! You will
be free from sensuality, from delusion, and from ignorance.' Suppressing
his tears, Ananda said to the Buddha, 'Who shall teach us when You are
gone?' And the Buddha advised him to regard His Teaching as the Master.
The Buddha continued again:' I am not the first
Buddha to come upon earth; nor shall I be the last. In due time, another
Buddha will arise in this world, a Holy One, a Supremely Enlightened
One, endowed with wisdom, in conduct auspicious, knowing the universe,
an incomparable leader of men, a master of devas and men. He will reveal
to you the same Eternal Truths which I have taught you. He will proclaim
a religious life, wholly perfect and pure; such as I now proclaim.'
'How shall we know him?' asked Ananda. The Buddha
replied, 'He will be known as Maitreya which means kindness or
Buddhists believe that those people who at present
are doing meritorious deeds by leading a religious life will have a
chance to be reborn as human beings in the time of Maitreya Buddha and
will obtain Nibbana identical with that of Gautama Buddha. In this way
they will find salvation through the guidance of His Teaching. His
Teaching will become a hope of the remote future for everybody. However,
according to the Buddha devout religious people can gain this Nabbanic
bliss at any time if they really work for it irrespective of whether a
Buddha appears or not.
'As long as my disciples lead a pure religious
life, so long the world will never become empty of Arahantas.'
Buddhism: Essence and
Chapter 4 Timeless Truth of the Buddha
The Lion's Roar
After hearing the Buddha, many decided to give up the
wrong views they previously held regarding their religious way of life.
Buddhism is a beautiful gem of many facets, attracting
people of diverse personalities. Every facet in this gem has tested
methods and approaches that can benefit the Truth seekers with their
various levels of understanding and spiritual maturity.
The Buddha Dhamma is the fruit resulting from a most
intensive search conducted over a long period of time by a compassionate
noble prince whose mission was to help suffering humanity. Despite being
surrounded by all the wealth and luxuries normally showered on a crown
prince, He renounced His luxurious life and voluntarily embarked on a
tough journey to seek the Truth and to find a panacea to cure the sickness
of the worldly life with its attendant suffering and unsatisfactoriness.
He was bent on finding a solution to alleviate all suffering. In His long
search, the prince did not rely on or resort to divine guidance or
traditional beliefs as was fashionable in the past. He did an intensive
search with a free and open mind, guided solely by His sincerity of
purpose, noble resolution, inexhaustible patience, and a truly
compassionate heart with the ardent wish to relieve suffering. After six
long years of intensive experiment, of trial and error, the noble prince
achieved His aim --- He gained Enlightenment and gave the world His
pristine teachings known as Dhamma or Buddhism.
The Buddha once said, 'Monks, the lion, king of beasts,
at eventide comes forth from his lair. He stretches himself. Having done
so, he surveys the four quarters in all directions. Have done that, he
utters thrice his lion's roar. Having thrice uttered his lion's roar, he
sallies forth in search of prey.
'Now, monks, whatever animals hear the sound of the
roaring of the lion, king of beasts, for the most part, they are afraid;
they fall to quaking and trembling. Those that dwell in holes seek them;
water-dwellers make for the water; forest-dwellers enter the forest; birds
mount into the air.
'Then whatsoever ruler's elephants in village, town or
palace are tethered with stout leather bonds, they burst out and rend
those bonds asunder; void their excrements and in panic run to and fro.
Thus potent, is the lion, king of beasts, over animals. Of such mighty
power and majesty is he.
'Just so, monks, is it when a Buddha arises in the
world, an Arahant, a Perfectly Enlightened One, perfect in wisdom and in
conduct, wayfarer, Knower of the worlds, the unsurpassed trainer of those
who can be trained, teacher of gods and men, a Buddha, an Exalted One. He
teaches the Dhamma; "Such is the nature of concept of Self; this is the
way leading to the ending of such a Self.'
'Whatsoever gods there be, they too, on hearing the
Dhamma of the Tathagata, for the most part are afraid: they fall to
quaking and trembling, saying: 'We who thought ourselves permanent are
after all impermanent: that we who thought ourselves stable are after all
unstable: not to last, though lasting we thought ourselves. So it seems
that we are impermanent, unstable, not to last, compassed about with a
Self.' Thus potent is a Tathagata over the world of gods and men.
What is Buddhism?
Buddhism is nothing but the NOBLE TRUTH.
What is Buddhism? This question has puzzled many people
who often inquire if Buddhism is a philosophy, a religion, or a way of
life. The simple answer is that Buddhism is too vast and too profound to
be neatly placed in any single category. Of course, Buddhism includes
philosophy and religion and a way of life. But Buddhism goes beyond these
The categories or labels given to Buddhism are like
signboards to let the people know what is being presented. If we compare
Buddhism to a medicine shop, it will be clear that the signboard on the
medicine shop will not cure a person of his sickness. If the medicine is
effective, then you can use it to heal yourself without being concerned as
to the signboard that merely gives a label for the medicine. Likewise, if
the Teaching of the Buddha is effective, then use it and do not be
concerned about the label or signboard. Do not try to slip Buddhism into
any single category or limit it under any signboard.
Different people live at different times and in
different places have given different labels and interpretations to
Buddhism. To some people, Buddhism might appear to be only a mass of
superstitious practices. To another group of people, Buddhism might be a
convenient label to be used for temporal gains. To another group, it is
old fashioned. To yet another group, Buddhism will have significance as a
system of thought for intellectuals only. To some others, it is a
scientific discovery. To the pious and devout Buddhist, Buddhism means his
entire life, the fulfillment of all he holds near and dear to him.
Some intellectuals see Buddhism as a product of its Indian environment or as an outgrowth of another kind of Indian religious teaching. Buddhism is nothing but the Noble Truth. It is an intellectual approach to reality. The Buddha's realization of universal problems did not come through a purely intellectual or rational process but through mental development and purification. The intellectual stance reminiscent of the scientific attitude, surely makes the Buddha absolutely unique among religious teachers of all time. Of course, the high standard of intellectual inquiry and ethical endeavor prevailing at the time in India were prime conditions for the re-emergence of the light of the Dhamma from the darkness of oblivion.
Thousands of years of religious and philosophical development had left on the intellectual soil of India a rich and fertile deposit of ideas and ideals which formed the best possible environment into which the seed of the Dhamma could fall. Greece, China, Egypt and Babylonia, for all their loftiness of thought, had not attained the same quality of vision as the forest and mountain-dwelling sages of India. The germ of Enlightenment which had been borne, like a winged seed from distant fields, from worlds in space and time infinitely remote from ours _ this very germ of Enlightenment found growth and development in the north-eastern corner of India. This very germ of Enlightenment found its full expression in the experience of the man, Gautama Buddha.
The fountainhead of all Buddhism is this experience
which is called 'Enlightenment'. With this experience of Enlightenment,
the Buddha began His Teaching not with any dogmatic beliefs or mysteries,
but with a valid, universal experience, which He gave to the world as
universal truth. Therefore, the real definition of Buddhism is NOBLE
TRUTH. Remember that the Buddha did not teach from theories. He always
taught from a practical standpoint based on His understanding, His
Enlightenment, and His realization of the Truth.
Buddhism began with the Truth embodied over 2500 years
ago in the person of Gautama, the Buddha. When the Buddha introduced His
teachings, His intention was not to develop the concept of self in man's
mind and create more ambition for eternal life and sense pleasure. Rather,
His intention was to point out the futility of the worldly life and to
show the correct, practical Path to salvation that He discovered.
The original Teachings of the Buddha disclosed the true
nature of life and the world. However, a distinction must be made between
the Buddha's original Teaching (often called the Dhamma or the Buddha
Word) and the religion that developed based on His Teachings.
The Teachings of the Buddha not only started a
religion, but inspired the blossoming of a whole civilization. These
Teachings became a great civilizing force that moved through the history
of many a culture and nation. Indeed, Buddhism has become one of the
greatest civilizations that the world has ever known. It has a wonderful
history of achievement in the fields of literature, art, philosophy,
psychology, ethics, architecture and culture. In the course of centuries,
countless social educational institutions were established in the various
nations that were dedicated to the Buddha's Teaching. The history of
Buddhism was written in golden letters of brotherhood and goodwill. The
religious beliefs and practices turned into a rational, scientific and
practical religious way of life for spiritual development from the day the
Buddha preached His Teaching and realized the real purpose and meaning of
a life and a religion.
The Ultimate Truth
The Ultimate Truth can be found in the Teaching of the
Buddhism recognizes two kinds of Truth. The apparent
conventional truth and the real or ultimate Truth. The ultimate Truth can
be realized only through meditation, and not theorizing or speculating.
The Buddha's Teaching is the Ultimate Truth of the
world. Buddhism, however, is not a revealed or an organized religion. It
is the first example of the purely scientific approach applied to
questions concerning the ultimate nature of existence. This timeless
Teaching was discovered by the Buddha Himself without the help of any
divine agency. This same teaching is strong enough to face any challenge
without changing the basic principles of the doctrine. Any religion that
is forced to change or adjust its original Teachings to suit the modern
world, is a religion that has no firm foundation and no ultimate truth in
it. Buddhism can maintain the Truth of the original Teaching of the Master
even under the difficult conditions prevailing in the modern world. The
Buddha did not introduce certain personal or worldly practices which have
no connection with morality or religious observances. To the Buddha, such
practices have no religious value. We must make the distinction between
what the Buddha taught and what people preach and practise in the name of
Every religion consists of not only the teachings of
the founder of that religion but also the rites and ceremonies which have
grown up around the basic core of the teachings. These rituals and
ceremonies have their origins in the cultural practices of the people who
accepted the religion. Usually the founders of the great religions do not
lay down precise rules about the rituals to be observed. But religious
leaders who come after them formalize the religion and set up exacting
codes of behavior which the followers are not allowed to deviated from.
Even the religion which we call 'Buddhism' is very
different in its external practices from what the Buddha and His early
followers carried out. Centuries of cultural and environmental influence
have made Burmese, Thai, Chinese, Tibetan, Sri Lankan and Japanese
Buddhism different. But these practices are not in conflict, because the
Buddha taught that while the Truth remains absolute, the physical
manifestation of this truth can differ according to the way of life of
those who profess it.
A few hundred years after His passing away, the disciples of the Buddha organized a religion around the Teachings of the Master. While organizing the religion, they incorporated, among other concepts and beliefs, various types of miracles, mysticism, fortune-telling, charms, talismans, mantras, prayers and many rites and rituals that were not found in the original Teaching. When these extraneous religious beliefs and practices were introduced, many people neglected to develop the most important practices found in the original Teaching; self-discipline, self-restraint, cultivation of morality and spiritual development. Instead of practicing the original Teaching, they gave more of their attention and effort to self-protection from evil spirits and sought after prosperity or good luck.
Gradually, people began to lose interest in the
original Teachings and became more interested in discovering ways and
means of getting rid of the so-called misfortunes or bad influences of
stars, black magic, and sickness. In this manner, through time the
religious practices and beliefs degenerated, being confined to worldly
pursuits. Even today, many people believe that they can get rid of their
difficulties through the influence of external powers. People still cling
to this belief: hence they neglect to cultivate the strength of their
will-power, intelligence, understanding and other related human qualities.
In other words, people started to abuse their human intelligence by
following those beliefs and practices in the name of Buddhism. They also
polluted the purity of the Buddha's message.
Thus the modern religion we see in many countries is
the product of normal human beings living in a country and adjusting to
various social and cultural environments. However, Buddhism as a religion
did not begin as a superworldly system that came down from heaven. Rather
it was born and evolved through a long historical process. In its process
of evolution, many people slowly moved away from the original Teachings of
the founder and started different new schools or sects. All the other
existing religions also face the same situation.
One should not come to a hasty conclusion either by
judging the validity of a religion or by condemning the religion simply by
observing what people perform through their blind faith in the name of
that religion. To understand the real nature of a religion one must study
and investigate the original Teachings of the founder of that religion.
In the face of the profusion of ideas and practices
which were later developments, it is useful for us to return to the
positive and timeless Dhamma taught by the Buddha. Whatever people believe
and practise in the name of Buddhism the basic Teachings of the Buddha
still exist in the original Buddhist texts.
Two Main Schools of Buddhism
The real followers of the Buddha can practise this
religion without adhering to any school or sect.
A few hundred years after the Buddha's passing away,
there arose eighteen different schools or sects all of which claimed to
represent the original Teachings of the Buddha. The differences between
these schools were basically due to various interpretations of the
Teachings of the Buddha. Over a period of time, these schools gradually
merged into two main schools: Theravada and Mahayana. Today, a majority of
the followers of Buddhism are divided into these two schools.
Basically Mahayana Buddhism grew out of the Buddha's
teaching that each individual carries within himself the potential for
Buddhahood. Theravadins say that this potential can be realized through
individual effort. Mahayanists, on the other hand, believe that they can
seek salvation through the intervention of other superior beings called
Bodhisattas. According to them, Bodhisattas are future Buddhas who, out of
compassion for their fellow human beings, have delayed their own
attainment of Buddhahood until they have helped others towards liberation.
In spite of this basic difference, however, it must be stressed that
doctrinally there is absolutely no disagreement concerning the Dhamma as
contained in the sacred Tripitaka texts. Because Buddhists have been
encouraged by the Master to carefully inquire after the truth, they have
been free to interpret the scriptures according to their understanding.
But above all, both Mahayana and Theravada are one in their reverence for
the Buddha.(For a short, excellent exposition on this topic, read Dr. W.
Rahula, 'Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism' published by The Buddhist
The areas of agreement between the two schools are as
Both accept Sakyamuni Buddha as the Teacher. The Four
Noble Truths are exactly the same in both schools. The Eightfold Path is
exactly the same in both schools. The Pattica-Samuppada or teaching on
Dependent Origination is the same in both schools. Both reject the idea of
a supreme being who created and governed this world. Both accept Anicca,
Dukkha, Anatta and Sila, Samadhi, Panna without any difference. Some
people are of the view that Theravada is selfish because it teaches that
people should seek their own salvation. But how can a selfish person gain
Enlightenment? Both schools accept the three Yana or Bodhi and consider
the Bodhisatta Ideal as the highest. The Mahayana has created many
mystical Bodhisattas, while the Theravada believes that a Bodhisatta is a
man amongst us who devotes his entire life for the attainment of
perfection, and ultimately becomes a fully Enlightened Buddha for the
well-being and happiness of the world. The terms Hinayana (Small Vehicle)
and Mahayana(Great Vehicle)are not known in the Theravada Pali literature.
They are not found in the Pali Canon (Tripitaka) or in the Commentaries on the Tripitaka.
Theravada Buddhists follow orthodox religious traditions that had prevailed in India two thousand five hundred years ago. They perform their religious services in the Pali language. They also expect to attain the final goal (Nibbana) by becoming a Supreme Enlightened Buddha, Pacceka Buddha, or an Arahant (the highest stage of sainthood). The Majority of them prefer the Arahantahood. Buddhists in Sri Lanka, Burma, and Thailand belong to this school. Mahayanists have changed the old religious customs. Their practices are in accordance with the customs and traditions of the countries where they live.
perform their religious services in their mother tongue. They expect to
attain the final goal (Nibbana) by becoming Buddhas. Hence, they honor
both the Buddha and Bodhisatta (one who is destined to be a Buddha with
the same respect. Buddhists in China, Japan and Korea belong to this
school. Most of those in Tibet and Mongolia follow another school of
Buddhism which is known as Vajrayana. Buddhist scholars believe that this
school inclines more towards the Mahayana sect.
It is universally accepted by scholars that the terms
Hinayana and Mahayana are later invention. Historically speaking, the
Theravada already existed long before these terms came into being. That
Theravada, considered to be the original teaching of the Buddha, was
introduced to Sri Lanka and established there in the 3rd century B. C.,
during the time of Emperor Asoka of India. At that time there was nothing
Mahayana as such appeared much later, about the
beginning of the Christian era. Buddhism that went to Sri Lanka, with its
Tripitaka and Commentaries, in the 3rd Century B. C., remained there
intact as Theravada, and did not come into the scene of the Hinayana-Mahayana
dispute that developed later in India. It seems therefore not legitimate
to include Theravada in either of these two categories. However, after the
inauguration of the World Fellowship of Buddhists in 1950, well-informed
people, both in the East and in the West, use the term Theravada, and not
the term Hinayana, with reference to Buddhism prevalent in South-east
Asian countries. There are still outmoded people who use the term Hinayana.
In fact, the Samdhi Nirmorcana Sutra (a Mahayana Sutra) clearly says that
the Sravakayana? Theravadaand the Mahayana constitute one Yana (ekayana)
and that they are not two different and distinct 'vehicles'. Although
different schools of Buddhism held different opinions on the teaching of
the Buddha, they never had any violence or blood shed for more than two
thousands years. This is the uniqueness of Buddhist tolerance.
Chapter 5 Basic Doctrines Tri-Pitaka (or Tipitaka)
The Tripitaka was compiled and arranged in its
present form by those Arahants who had immediate contact with the Master
The Buddha has passed away, but the sublime Dhamma
which He unreservedly bequeathed to humanity still exists in its
Although the Master has left no written records of
His Teachings, His distinguished disciples preserved them by committing
to memory and transmitting them orally from generation to generation.
Immediately after the final passing away of the
Buddha, 500 distinguished Arahants held a convention known as the First
Buddhist Council to rehearse the Doctrine taught by the Buddha.
Venerable Ananda, the faithful attendant of the Buddha who had the
special privilege of hearing all the discourses the Buddha ever uttered,
recited the Dhamma, whilst the Venerable Upali recited the Vinaya, the
rules of conduct for the Sangha.
One hundred years after the First Buddhist
Council, during King Kalasoka, some disciples saw the need to change
certain minor rules. The orthodox monk said that nothing should be
changed while the others insisted on modifying some disciplinary
rules(Vinaya). Finally, the formation of different schools of Buddhism
germinated after this council. And in the Second Council, only matters
pertaining to the Vinaya were discussed and no controversy about the
Dhamma was reported.
In the 3rd Century B. C. during the time of
Emperor Asoka, the Third Council was held to discuss the differences of
opinion held by the Sangha community. At this Council the differences
were not confined to the Vinaya but were also connected with the Dhamma.
At the end of this Council, the President of the Council, Ven.
Moggaliputta Tissa, compiled a book called Kathavatthu refuting the
heretical, false views and theories held by some disciples. The teaching
approved and accepted by this Council was known as Theravada. The
Abhidhamma Pitaka was held in Sri Lanka in 80 B. C. is known as the 4th
Council under the patronage of the pious King Vattagamini Abbaya. It was
at this time in Sri Lanka that the Tripitaka was first committed to
The Tripitaka consists of three sections of the
Buddha's Teachings. They are the Discipline(Vinaya Pitaka), the
Discourse(Sutta Pitaka), and Ultimate Doctrine (Abhidhamma Pitaka).
The Vinaya Pitaka mainly deals with the rules and
regulations of the Order of monks (Bhikkhus) and nuns (Bhikkhunis). It
describes in detail the gradual development of the Sasana(Dispensation).
It also gives an account of the life and ministry of the Buddha.
Indirectly it reveals some useful information about ancient history,
Indian customs, arts, sciences, etc.
For nearly twenty years since His Enlightenment,
the Buddha did not lay down rules for the control of the Sangha. Later,
as the occasion arose, the Buddha promulgated rules for the future
discipline of the Sangha.
This Pitaka consists of the five following
Parajika Pali (Major Offences) Pacittiya Pali
(Minor Offences) Mahavagga Pali (Greater Section) Cullavagga Pali
(Smaller Section) Parivara Pali (Epitome of the Vinaya)
The Sutta Pitaka consists chiefly of discourses
delivered by the Buddha Himself on various occasions. There are also a
few discourses delivered by some of His distinguished disciples, such as
the Venerable Sariputta, Ananda, Moggallana, etc., included in it. It is
like a book of prescriptions, as the sermons embodied therein were
expounded to suit the different occasions and the temperaments of
various persons. There may be seemingly contradictory statements, but
they should not be misconstrued as they were opportunely uttered by the
Buddha to suit a particular purpose.
This Pitaka is divided into five Nikayas or
Digha Nikaya (Collection of Long Discourses)
Majjhima Nikaya (Collection of Middle-length Discourses) Samyutta Nikaya
(Collection of Kindred Sayings) Anguttara Nikaya (Collection of
Discourses arranged in accordance with number) Khuddaka Nikaya(Smaller
Collection) The fifth is subdivided into fifteen books:--- Khuddaka
Patha (Shorter Texts) Dhammapada (The Way of Truth) Udana (Heartfelt
sayings or Paeons of Joy) Iti Vuttaka ('Thus said" Discourses) Sutta
Nipata (Collected Discourses) Vimana Vatthu (Stories of Celestial
Mansions) Peta Vatthu (Stories of Petas) Theragatha (Psalms of the
Brethren) Therigatha (Psalms of the Sisters) Jataka (Birth Stories)
Niddesa (Expositions) Patisambhida (Analytical Knowledge) Apadana (Lives
of Saints) Buddhavamsa (The History of Buddha) Cariya Pitaka (Modes of
The Abhidhamma is, to a deep thinker, the most
important and interesting, as it contains the profound philosophy of the
Buddha's teaching in contrast to the illuminating but simpler discourses
in the Sutta Pitaka.
In the Sutta Pitaka one often finds references to
individual, being, etc., but in the Abhidhamma, instead of such
conventional terms, we meet with ultimate terms, such as aggregates,
mind, matter, etc.
In the Sutta is found the Vohara Desana
(Conventional Teaching), whilst in the Abhidhamma is found the
Paramattha Desana (Ultimate Doctrine).
In the Abhidhamma everything is analysed and
explained in detail, and as such it is called analytical doctrine (Vibhajja
Four ultimate things (Paramattha) are enumerated
in the Abhidhamma. They are Citta, (Consciousness), Cetasika (Mental
concomitants), Rupa (Matter) and Nibbana.
The so-called being is microscopically analysed
and its component parts are minutely described. Finally the ultimate
goal and the method to achieve it is explained with all necessary
The Abhidhamma Pitaka is composed of the following
Dhamma-Sangani (Enumeration of Phenomena) Vibhanga
(The Book of the Treatises) Katha Vatthu (Point of Controversy) Puggala
Pannatti (Description of Individuals) Dhatu Katha (Discussion with
reference to Elements) Yamaka (The Book of Pairs) Patthana (The Book of
Relations) According to another classification, mentioned by the Buddha
Himself, the whole Teachings is ninefold, namely ---1. Sutta, 2. Geyya,
3. Veyyakarama, 4. Gatha, 5. Udana, 6. Itivuttaka, 7. Jataka, 8. Abbhutadhamma, 9.
Vedalla. Sutta? These are the short, medium, and long discourses
expounded by the Buddha on various occasions, such as Mangala Sutta
(Discourse on Blessings), Ratana Sutta (The Jewel Discourse), Metta Sutta(Discourse on
Goodwill), etc. According to the Commentary the whole Vinaya Pitaka is
also included in this division. Geyya _These are discourses mixed with
Gathas or verses, such as the Sagathavagga of the Samyutta Nikaya.
Veyyakarana --- Lit. exposition. The whole Abhidhamma Pitaka, discourses
without verses, and everything that is not included in the remaining
eight divisions belong to this class. Gatha --- These include verses
found in the Dhammapada (Way of Truth), Theragatha (Psalms of the
Brethren). Therigatha (Psalms of the Sisters), and those isolated verses
which are not classed amongst the Sutta. Udana _These are the 'Paeons of
Joy' found in the Udana, one of the divisions of the Khuddaka Nikaya.
Itivuttaka _ These are the 112 discourses which commence with the
phrases _ 'Thus the Blessed One has Said'. Itivuttaka is one of the
fifteen books that comprise the Khuddaka Nikaya. Jataka _ These are the
547 birth-stories related by the Buddha in connection with His previous
births. Abbhutadhamma _ These are the few discourses that deal with
wonderful and marvelous things, as for example the
Accariya-Abbhutadhamma Sutta of the Majjhima Nikaya (No. 123). Vedalla _
These are the pleasurable discourses, such as Chulla Vedalla, Maha
Vedalla (M. N. Nos 43,44), Samma Ditthi Sutta (M. N. No. 9), etc. In
some of these discourses, the answers give to certain questions were put
with a feeling of joy.
What is Abhidhamma?
Abhidhamma is the analytical doctrine of mental faculties and elements. The Abhidhamma Pitaka contains the profound moral psychology and philosophy of the Buddha's teaching, in contrast to the simpler discourses in the Sutta Pitaka. The knowledge gained from the sutta can certainly help us in overcoming our difficulties, as well as in developing our moral conduct and training the mind. Having such knowledge will enable one to lead a life which is peaceful, respectable, harmless and noble. By listening to the discourses, we develop understanding of the Dhamma and can mould our daily lives accordingly. The concepts behind certain words and terms used in the Sutta Pitaka are, however, subject to changes and should be interpreted within the context of the social environment prevailing at the Buddha's time. The concepts used in the sutta are like the conventional words and terms lay people use to express scientific subjects.
While concepts in the sutta are to be understood in the conventional sense, those used in the Abhidhamma must be understood in the ultimate sense. The concepts expressed in the Abhidhamma are like the precise scientific words and terms used by scientists to prevent misinterpretations. It is only in the Abhidhamma that explanations are given on how and at which mental beats a person can create good and bad karmic thoughts, according to his desires and other mental states. Clear explanations of the nature of the different mental faculties and precise analytical interpretations of the elements can be found in this important collection of discourses. Understanding the Dhamma through the knowledge gained from the sutta is like the knowledge acquired from studying the prescripti0ons for different types of sicknesses. Such knowledge when applied can certainly help to cure certain types of sicknesses. On the other hand, a qualified physician, with his precise knowledge, can diagnose a wider range of sicknesses and discover their causes. This specialized knowledge puts him in a better position to prescribe more effective remedies. Similarly, a person who has studied the Abhidhamma can better understand the nature of the mind and analyse the mental attitudes which cause a human being to commit mistakes and develop the will to avoid evil.
The Abhidhamma teaches that the egoistic beliefs and other concepts such as 'I', "you", 'man' and 'the world', which we use in daily conversation, do not adequately describe the real nature of existence. The conventional concepts do not reflect the fleeting nature of pleasures, uncertainties, impermanence of every component thing, and the conflict among the elements and energies intrinsic in all animate or inanimate things. The Abhidhamma doctrine gives a clear exposition of the ultimate nature of man and brings the analysis of the human condition further than other studies known to man. The Abhidhamma deals with realities existing in the ultimate sense, or paramattha dhamma in Pali. There are four such realities: Citta, mind or consciousness, defined as 'that which knows or experiences' an object. Citta occurs as distinct momentary states of consciousness. Cetasika, the mental factors that arise and occur along with the citta. Rupa, physical phenomenon or material form. Nibbana, the unconditioned state of bliss which is the final goal. Citta, the cetasika, and rupa are conditioned realities. They arise because of conditions sustaining them cease to continue to do so. They are impermanent states. Nibbana, on the other hand, is an unconditioned reality. It does not arise and, therefore, does not fall away. These four realities can be experienced regardless of the names we may choose to give them. Other than these realities, everything _ be it within ourselves or without, whether in the past, present or future, whether coarse or subtle, low or lofty, far or near _ is a concept and not an ultimate reality.
and Nibbana are also called nama. Nibbana is an unconditioned nama. The
two conditioned nama, that is, cita and cetasika, together with rupa
(form), make up psychophysical organisms, including human beings. Both
mind and matter, or nama-rupa, are analysed in Abhidhamma as though
under a microscope. Events connected with the process of birth and death
are explained in detail. The Abhidhamma clarifies intricate points of
the Dhamma and enables the arising of an understanding of reality,
thereby setting forth in clear terms the Path of Emancipation. The
realization we gain from the Abhidhamma with regard to our lives and the
world is not in a conventional sense, but absolute reality.
The clear exposition of thought processes in
Abhidhamma cannot be found in any other psychological treatise either in
the east or west. Consciousness is defined, while thoughts are analysed
and classified mainly from an ethical standpoint. The composition of
each type of consciousness is set forth in detail. The fact that
consciousness flows like a steam, a view propounded by psychologists
like William James, becomes extremely clear to one who understands the
Abhidhamma. In addition, a student of Abhidhamma can fully comprehend
the Anatta (No-soul) doctrine, which is important both from a
philosophical and ethical standpoint.
To what extent can we compare modern psychology
with the analysis provided in the Abhidhamma? Modern psychology, limited
as it is, comes within the scope of Abhidhamma in so far as it deals
with the mind---with thoughts, thought processes, and mental states. The
difference lies in the fact that Abhidhamma does not accept the concept
of a psyche or a soul.
The analysis of the nature of the mind given in
the Abhidhamma is not available through any other source.. Even modern
psychologists are very much in the dark with regards to subjects like
mental impulses or mental beats (Javana Citta) as discussed in the
Abhidhamma. Dr. Graham Howe, an eminent Harley Street psychologist,
wrote in his book, the Invisible Anatomy:
'In the course of their work many psychologists
have found, as the pioneer work of C. G. Jung has shown, that we are
near to [the] Buddha. To read a little Buddhism is to realize that the
Buddhists knew two thousand five hundred years ago far more about our
modern problems of psychology than they have yet been given credit for.
They studied these problems long ago, and found the answers too. We are
now rediscovering the Ancient Wisdom of the East.'
Commentators state that the Buddha, as a mark of
gratitude to His mother who was born as a deva in a celestial plane,
preached the Abhidhamma to His mother together with other devas
continuously for three months. The principal topics (matika) of the
advanced teaching, such as moral states (kusala dhamma) and immoral
(akusala dhamma), were then repeated by the Buddha
to Venerable Sariputta Thera, who subsequently elaborated them and later
compiled them into six books.
From ancient times there were controversies as to
whether the Abhidhamma was really taught by the Buddha. While this
discussion may be interesting for academic purposes, what is important
is for us to experience and understand the realities described in the
Abhidhamma. One will realize for oneself that such profound and
consistently verifiable truths can only emanate from a supremely
enlightened source _ from a Buddha. Much of what is contained in the
Abhidhamma is also found in the Sutta Pitaka. Such a statement, of
course, cannot be supported by evidence.
According to the Theravada tradition, the essence,
fundamentals and framework of the Abhidhamma are ascribed to the Buddha,
although the tabulations and classifications may have been the work of
later disciples. What is important is the essence. It is this that we
would try to experience for ourselves. The Buddha Himself clearly took
this stand of using the knowledge of the Abhidhamma to clarify many
existing psychological, metaphysical and philosophical problems. Mere
intellectual quibbling about whether the Buddha taught the Abhidhamma or
not will not help us to understand reality.
The question is also raised whether the Abhidhamma
is essential for Dhamma practice. The answer to this will depend on the
individual who undertakes the practice. People vary in their levels of
understanding, their temperaments and spiritual development. Ideally,
all the different spiritual faculties should be harmonized, but some
people are quite contented with devotional practices based on faith,
while others are keen on developing penetrative insight. The Abhidhamma
is most useful to those who want to understand the Dhamma in greater
depth and detail. It aids the development of insight into the three
characteristics of existence - impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and
non-self. It is useful not only for the periods devoted to formal
meditation, but also during the rest of the day when we are engaged in
various mundane chores. We derive great benefit from the study of the
Abhidhamma when we experience absolute reality. In addition, a
comprehensive knowledge of the Abhidhamma is useful for those engaged in
teaching and explaining the Dhamma. In fact the real meaning of the most
important Buddhist terminologies such as Dhamma, Kamma, Samsara,
Sankhara, Paticca Samuppada and Nibbana cannot be understood without a
knowledge of Abhidhamma.
Mind and Matter(Nama-Rupa)
"What is mind? No matter. What is matter? Never
According to Buddhism, life is a combination of mind (nama) and matter (rupa). Mind consists of the combination of sensations, perceptions, volitional activities and consciousness. Matter consists of the combination of the four elements of solidity, fluidity, motion and heat. Life is the co-existence of mind and matter. Decay is the lack of co-ordination of mind and matter. Death is the separation of mind and matter. Rebirth is the recombination of mind and matter. After the passing away of the physical body (matter), the mental forces (mind) recombine and assume a new combination in a different material form and condition another existence. The relation of mind to matter is like the relation of a battery to an engine of a motor car. The battery helps to start the engine. The engine helps to charge the battery. The combination helps to run the motor car. In the same manner, matter helps the mind to function and the mind helps to set matter in motion. Buddhism teaches that life is not the property of matter alone, and that the life-process continues or flows as a result of cause and effect. The mental and material elements that compose sentient beings from amoebae to elephant and also to man, existed previously in other forms. Although some people hold the view that life originates in matter alone, the greatest scientists have accepted that mind precedes matter in order for life to originate.
In Buddhism, this concept is called 'relinking
consciousness'. Each of us, in the ultimate sense, is mind and matter, a
compound of mental and material phenomena, and nothing more. Apart from
these realities that go to form the nama-rupa compound, there is no
self, or soul. The mind part of the compound is what experiences an
object. The matter part does not experience anything. When the body is
injured, it is not the body that feels the pain, but the mental side.
When are hungry it is not the stomach that feels the hunger but again
the mind and its factors, makes the body digest the food. Thus neither
the nama nor the rupa has any efficient power of its own. One is
dependent on the other; one supports the other. Both mind and matter
arise because of conditions and perish immediately, and this is
happening every moment of our lives. By studying and experiencing these
realities we will get insight into:
(1)what we truly are; (2)what we find around us;
(3)how and why we react to what is within and around us; and (4)what we
should aspire to reach as a spiritual goal. To gain insight into the
nature of the psycho-physical life is to realize that life is an
illusion, a mirage or a bubble, a mere process of becoming and
dissolving, or arising and passing away. Whatever exists, arises from
causes and conditions.
Four Noble Truths
Why are we here? Why are we not happy with our lives? What is the cause of our unsatisfactoriness? How can we see the end of unsatisfactoriness and experience eternal peace? The Buddha's Teaching is based on the Four Noble Truths. To realize these Truths is to realize and penetrate into the true nature of existence, including the full knowledge of oneself. When we recognize that all phenomenal things are transitory, are subject to suffering and are void of any essential reality, we will be convinced that true and enduring happiness cannot be found in material possessions and worldly achievement, that true happiness must be sought only through mental purity and the cultivation of wisdom.
The Four Noble Truths are a very important aspect of the teaching of the Buddha. The Buddha has said that it is because we fail to understand the Four Noble Truths that we have continued to go round in the cycle of birth and death. In the very first sermons of the Buddha, the Dhammachakka Sutta, which He gave to the five monks at the Deer park in Sarnath was on the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. What are the Four Noble Truths?
They are as follows: The Noble Truth of Dukkha The Noble Truth of the Cause of Dukkha The Noble Truth of the End of Dukkha The Noble Truth of the path leading to the End of Dukkha There are many ways of understanding the Pali word 'Dukkha'. It has generally been translated as 'suffering' or 'unsatisfactoriness', but this term as used in the Four Noble Truths has a deeper and wider meaning. Dukkha contains not only the ordinary meaning of suffering, but also includes deeper ideas such as imperfection, pain, impermanence, disharmony, discomfort, irritation, or awareness of incompleteness and insufficiency. By all means, Dukkha includes physical and mental suffering: birth, decay, disease, death, to be united with the unpleasant, to be separated from the pleasant, not to get what one desires.
However, many people do not realize that even during the moments of joy and happiness, there is Dukkha because these moments are all impermanent states and will pass away when conditions change. Therefore, the truth of Dukkha encompasses the whole of existence, in our happiness and sorrow, in every aspect of our lives. As long as we live, we are very profoundly subjected to this truth. Some people may have the impression that viewing life in terms of Dukkha is a rather pessimistic way of looking at life. This is not a pessimistic but a realistic way of looking at life. If one is suffering from a disease and refuses to recognize the fact that one is ill, and as a result of which refuses to seek for treatment, we will not consider such a mental attitude as being optimistic, but merely as being foolish. Therefore, by being both optimistic or pessimistic, one does not really understand the nature of life, and is therefore unable to tackle life's problems in the right perspective.
The Four Noble Truths begin with the recognition of Dukkha and then proceed to analyse its cause and find its cure. Had the Buddha stopped at the Truth of Dukkha, then one may say Buddhism has identified the problem but has not given the cure; if such is the case, then the human situation is hopeless. However, not only is the Truth of Dukkha recognized, the Buddha proceeded to analyze its cause and the way to cure it. How can Buddhism be considered to be pessimistic if the cure to the problem is known? In fact, it is a teaching which is filled with hope. In addition, even though Dukkha is a noble truth, it does not mean that there is no happiness, enjoyment and pleasure in life. There is, and the Buddha has taught various methods with which we can gain more happiness in our daily life. However, in the final analysis, the fact remains that the pleasure or happiness which we experience in life is impermanent. We may enjoy a happy situation, or the good company of someone we love, or we enjoy youth and health. Sooner or later, when these states change we experience suffering. Therefore, while there is every reason to feel glad when one experiences happiness, one should not cling to these happy states or be side-tracked and forget about working one's way to complete Liberation. If we wish to cure ourselves from suffering, we must first identify its cause.
According to the Buddha, craving or desire (tanha or raga) is the cause of suffering. This is the Second Noble Truth. People crave for pleasant experiences, crave for material things, crave for eternal life, and when disappointed, crave for eternal death. They are not only attached to sensual pleasures, wealth and power, but also to ideas, views, opinions, concepts, beliefs. And craving is linked to ignorance, that is, not seeing things as they really are, or failing to understand the reality of experience and life. Under the delusion of Self and not realizing Anatta (non-Self), a person clings to things which are impermanent, changeable, perishable. The failure to satisfy one's desires through these things causes disappointments and suffering. The Danger of Selfish Desire Craving is a fire which burns in all beings: every activity is motivated by desire. They range from the simple physical desire of animals to the complex and often artificially stimulated desires of the civilized man. To satisfy desire, animals prey upon one another, and human beings fight, kill, cheat, lie and perform various forms of unwholesome deeds. Craving is a powerful mental force present in all forms of life, and is the chief cause of the ills in life. It is this craving that leads to repeated births in the cycle of existence.
Once we have realized the cause of suffering, we are in the position to put an end to suffering. So, how do we put an end to suffering? Eliminate it at its root by the removal of craving in the mind. This is the Third Noble Truth. The state where craving ceases is known as Nibbana. The word Nibbana is composed of 'ni' and 'vana', meaning the departure from or end of craving. This is a state which is free from suffering and rounds of rebirth. This is a state which is not subjected to the laws of birth, decay and death. This state is so sublime that no human language can express it. Nibbana is Unborn, Unoriginated, Uncreated, Unformed. If there were not this Unborn, this Unoriginated, this Uncreated, this Unformed, then escape from the conditioned world is not possible. Nibbana is beyond logic and reasoning. We may engage in highly speculative discussions regarding Nibbana or ultimate reality, but this is not the way to really understand it.
To understand and realize the truth of Nibbana, it is
necessary for us to walk the Eightfold Path, and to train and purify
ourselves with diligence and patience. Through spiritual development and
maturity, we will be able to realize the Third Noble Truth. The Noble
Eightfold Path is the Fourth Noble Truth which leads to Nibbana. It is a
way of life consisting of eight factors. By walking on this Path, it
will be possible for us to see an end to suffering. Because Buddhism is
a logical and consistent teaching embracing every aspect of life, this
noble Path also serves as the finest possible code for leading a happy
life. Its practice brings benefits to oneself and other, and it is not a
Path to be practised by those who call themselves Buddhists alone, but
by each and every understanding person, irrespective of his religious
The Noble Eightfold Path? The Middle Way
This is the Path for leading a religious life without going to extremes. An outstanding aspect of the Buddha's Teaching is the adoption of the Eightfold Path is the Middle Path. The Buddha advised His followers to follow this Path so as to avoid the extremes of sensual pleasures and self-mortification. The Middle Path is a righteous way of life which does not advocate the acceptance of decrees given by someone outside oneself. A person practises the Middle Path, the guide for moral conduct, not out of fear of nay supernatural agency, but out of the intrinsic value in following such an action. He chooses this self-imposed discipline for a definite end in view: self-purification.
The Middle Path is a planned course of inward culture and progress. A person can make real progress in righteousness and insight by following this Path, and not by engaging in external worship and prayers. According to the Buddha, anyone who lives in accordance with the Dhamma will be guided and protected by that very Law. When a person lives according to Dhamma, he will also be living in harmony with the universal law. Every Buddhist is encouraged to mould his life according to the Noble Eightfold Path as taught by the Buddha. He who adjusts his life according to this noble way of living will be free from miseries and calamities both in this life-time and hereafter. He will also be able to develop his mind by restraining from evil and observing morality. The Eightfold Path can be compared to a road map. Just as a traveler will need a map to lead him to his destination, we all need the Eightfold Path which shows us how to attain Nibbana, the final goal of human life. To attain the final goal, there are three aspects of the Eightfold path to be developed by the devotee. He has to develop Sila(Morality), Samadhi(Mental Culture) and Panna (Wisdom). While the three must be developed simultaneously, the intensity with which any one area is to be practised varies according to a person's own spiritual development.
A devotee must first develop his morality, that is, his actions should bring good to other living beings. He does this by faithfully adhering to the precepts of abstaining from killing, slandering, stealing, becoming intoxicated or being lustful. As he develops his morality, his mind will become more easily controlled, enabling him to develop his powers of concentration. Finally, with the development of concentration, wisdom will arise. Gradual Development With His infinite wisdom, the Buddha knew that not all humans have the same ability to reach spiritual maturity at once. So He expounded the Noble Eightfold Path for the gradual development of the spiritual way of life in a practical way. He knew that not all people can become perfect in one lifetime. He said that Sila, Samadhi, and Panna, must and can be developed over many lifetimes with diligent effort. This path finally leads to the attainment of ultimate peace where there is no more unsatisfactoriness.
The Eightfold path consists of the following eight factors:
Sila (Morality) - Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood
Samadhi (Mental culture) - Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration
Panna (Wisdom) - Right Understanding, Right Thoughts
What is Right Understanding? It is explained as having the knowledge of the Four Noble Truths. In other words, it is the understanding of things as they really are. Right Understanding also means that one understands the nature of what are wholesome kamma (merits) and unwholesome kamma (demerits), and how they may be performed with the body, speech and mind. By understanding kamma, a person will learn to avoid evil and do good, thereby creating favorable outcomes in his life. When a person has Right Understanding, he also understands the Three Characteristics of Life (that all compounded things are transient, subject to suffering, and without a Self) and understands the Law of Dependent Origination. A person with complete Right Understanding is one who is free from ignorance, and by the nature of that enlightenment removes the roots of evil from his mind and becomes liberated. A lofty aim of a practising Buddhist is to cultivate Wisdom and gain Right Understanding about himself, life and all phenomena.
When a person has Right Understanding, he or she develops Right Thought as well. This factor is sometimes known as 'Right Resolution', 'Right Aspirations" and 'Right Ideas'. It refers to the mental state which eliminates wrong ideas or notions and promotes the other moral factors to be directed to Nibbana. This factor serves a double purpose of eliminating evil thoughts and developing pure thoughts. Right Thought is important because it is one's thoughts which either purify or defile a person. There are three aspects to Right Thought. First, a person should maintaining an attitude of detachment from worldly pleasures rather than being selfishly attached to them. He should be selfless in his thoughts and think of the welfare of others. Second, he should maintain loving-kindness, goodwill and benevolence in his mind, which is opposed to hatred, ill-will or aversion. Third, he should act with thoughts of harmlessness or compassion to all beings, which is opposed to cruelty and lack of consideration for others. As a person progresses along the spiritual path, his thoughts will become increasingly benevolent, harmless, selfless, and filled with love and compassion.
Right Understanding and Right Thought, which are Wisdom factors, will lead to good, moral conduct. There are three factors under moral conduct: Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood.
Right Speech involves respect for truth and respect for the welfare for others. It means to avoid lying, to avoid backbiting or slander, to avoid harsh speech, and to avoid idle talk. We have often underestimated the power of speech and tend to use little control over our speech faculty. But we have all been hurt by someone's words at some time of our life, and similarly we have been encouraged by the words of another. It is said that a harsh word can wound more deeply than weapons, where as a gentle word can change the heart and mind of the most hardened criminal. So to develop a harmonious society, we should cultivate and use our speech positively. We speak words which are truthful, bring harmony, kind and meaningful. The Buddha once said 'pleasant speech is sweet as honey, truthful speech is beautiful like a flower, and wrong speech is unwholesome like filth'.
The next factor under good, moral conduct is Right Action. Right Action entails respect for life, respect for property, and respect for personal relationships. It corresponds to the first three of the Five Precepts to be practised by every Buddhist, that is, dear to all, and all tremble at punishment, all fear death and value life. Hence, we should abstain from taking a life which we ourselves cannot give and we should not harm other sentient beings. Respect for property means that we should not take what is not given, by stealing, cheating, or force. Respect for personal relationship means that we should not commit adultery and avoid sexual misconducts, which is important for maintaining the love and trust of those we love as well as making our society a better place to live in.
Right Livelihood is a factor under moral conduct which refers to how we earn our living in society. It is an extension of the two other factors of Right Speech and Right Action which refer to the respect for truth, life, property and personal relationships. Right Livelihood means that we should earn a living without violating these principles of a moral conduct. Buddhists are discouraged from being engaged in the following five kinds of livelihood: trading in human beings, trading in weapons, trading in flesh, trading in intoxicating drinks and drugs, and trading in poison. Some people may say that they have to do such a business for their living and, therefore, it is not wrong for them to do so. But this argument is entirely baseless. If it were valid, then thieves, murderers, gangsters, thugs, smugglers and swindlers can also just as easily say that they are also doing such unrighteous acts only for their living and, therefore, there is nothing wrong with their way of life. Some people believe that fishing and hunting animals for pleasure and slaughtering animals for food are not against the Buddhist precepts. This is another misconception that arises owing to a lack of knowledge in Dhamma. All these are not decent actions and bring suffering to other beings. But in all these actions, the one who is harmed most of all is the one who performs these unwholesome actions. Maintaining a life through wrong means is not in accordance with the Buddha's teaching.
The Buddha once said, 'Though one should live a hundred years immorally and unrestrained, yet it would indeed be better to live one day virtuously and meditatively.' (Dhammapada 103) It is better to die as a cultured and respected person than to live as a wicked person.
The remaining three factors of the Noble Eightfold Path are factors for the development of wisdom through the purification of the mind. They are Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration. These factors, when practised, enable a person to strengthen and gain control over the mind, thereby ensuring that his actions will continue to be good and that his mind is being prepared to realize the Truth, which will open the door to Freedom, to Enlightenment.
Right Effort means that we cultivate a positive attitude and have enthusiasm in the things we do, whether in our career, in our study, or in our practice of the Dhamma. With such a sustained enthusiasm and cheerful determination, we can succeed in the things we do. There are four aspects of Right Effort, two of which refer to evil and the other two to good. First, is the effort to reject evil that has already arisen; and second, the effort to prevent the arising of evil. Third, is the effort to develop unarisen good, and fourth, the effort to maintain the good which has arisen. By applying Right Effort in our lives, we can reduce and eventually eliminate the number of unwholesome mental states and increase and firmly establish wholesome thoughts as a natural part of our mind.
Right Effort is closely associated with Right Mindfulness. The practice of mindfulness is important in Buddhism. The Buddha said that mindfulness is the one way to achieve the end of suffering. Mindfulness can be developed by being constantly aware of four particular aspects. These are the application of mindfulness with regard to the body (body postures, breathing so forth), feelings (whether pleasant, unpleasant or neutrally); mind (whether the mind is greedy or not, angry, dispersed or deluded or not); and mind objects (whether there are mental hindrances to concentration, the Four Noble Truths, and so on). Mindfulness is essential even in our daily life in which we act in full awareness of our actions, feelings and thoughts as well as that of our environment. The mind should always be clear and attentive rather than distracted and clouded. Whereas Right Mindfulness is directing our attention to our body, feelings, mind, or mental object or being sensitive to others, in other words, putting our attention to where we choose to, Right Concentration is the sustained application of that attention on the object without the mind being distracted.
is the practice of developing one-pointedness of the mind on one single
object, either physical or mental. The mind is totally absorbed in the
object without distractions, wavering, anxiety or drowsiness. Through
practice under an experienced teacher, Right Concentration brings two
benefits. Firstly, it leads to mental and physical well-being, comfort,
joy, calm, tranquility. Secondly, it turns the mind into an instrument
capable of seeing things as they truly are, and prepares the mind to
attain wisdom. The Noble Eightfold Path is the fourth important truth
taught by the Buddha. As a competent spiritual physician, the Buddha has
identified a disease that afflicts all forms of life, and this is Dukkha
or unsatisfactoriness. He then diagnosed the cause of the
unsatisfactoriness to be selfish greed and craving. He discovered that
there is a cure for the disease, Nibbana, the state where all
unsatisfactoriness ceases. And the prescription is the Noble Eightfold
Path. When a competent doctor treats a patient for a serious illness, his
prescription is not only for physical treatment, but it is also
psychological. The Noble Eightfold path, the path leading to the end of
suffering, is an integrated therapy designed to cure the disease of
Samsara through the cultivation of moral speech and action, the
development of the mind, and the complete transformation of one's level of
understanding and quality of thought. It shows the way to gain spiritual
maturity and be released completely from suffering.
What exists is changeable and what is not changeable does not exist. Looking at life, we notice how it changes and how it continually moves between extremes and contrasts. We notice rise and fall, success and failure, loss and gain; we experience honor and contempt, praise and blame; and we feel how our hearts respond to all that happiness and sorrow, delight and despair, disappointment and satisfaction, fear and hope. These mighty waves of emotion carry us up, fling us down, and no sooner we find some rest, then we are carried by the power of a new wave again. How can we expect a footing on the crest of the waves? Where shall we erect the building of our life in the midst of this ever-restless ocean of existence? This is a world where any little joy that is allotted to beings is secured only after many disappointments, failures and defeats. This is a world where scanty joy grows amidst sickness, desperation and death. This is a world where beings who a short while ago were connected with us by sympathetic joy are at the next moment in want of our compassion. Such a world as this needs equanimity. This is the nature of the world where we live with our intimate friends and the next day they become our enemies to harm us.
The Buddha described the world as an unending flux of becoming. All is changeable, continuous transformation, ceaseless mutation, and a moving stream. Everything exists from moment to moment. Everything is a recurring rotation of coming into being and then passing out of existence. Everything is moving from birth to death. The matter or material forms in which life does or does not express itself, are also a continuous movement or change towards decay. This teaching of the impermanent nature of everything is one of the main pivots of Buddhism. Nothing on earth partakes of the character of absolute reality. That there will be no death of what is born is impossible. Whatever is subject to origination is subject also to destruction. Change is the very constituent of reality. In accepting the law of impermanence or change, the Buddha denies the existence of eternal substance. Matter and spirit are false abstractions that, in reality, are only changing factors (Dhamma) which are connected and which arise in functional dependence on each other.
Today, scientists have accepted the law of
change that was discovered by the Buddha. Scientists postulate that there
is nothing substantial, solid and tangible in the world. Everything is a
vortex of energy, never remaining the same for two consecutive moments.
The whole wide world is caught up in this whirl and vortex of change. One
of the theories postulated by scientists is the prospect of the ultimate
coldness following upon the death or destruction of the sun. Buddhists are
not dismayed by this prospect. The Buddha taught that universes or world
cycles arise and pass away in endless succession, just as the lives of
individuals do. Our world will most certainly come to an end. It has
happened before with previous worlds and it will happen again. 'The world
is a passing phenomenon. We all belong to the world of time. Every written
word, every carved stone, every painted picture, the structure of
civilization, every generation of man, vanishes away like the leaves and
flowers of forgotten summers. What exists is changeable and what is not
changeable does not exist.' Thus all gods and human beings and animals and
material forms? everything in this universe? is subject to the law of
impermanence. Buddhism teaches us: 'The body like a lump of foam; The
feelings like a water bubble; Perception like a mirage; Volitional
activities like a plantain tree; And Consciousness like jugglery.' (Samyutta Nikaya)
Kamma is an impersonal, natural law that operates in accordance with our actions. It is a law in itself and does not have any lawgiver. Kamma operates in its own field without the intervention of an external, independent, ruling agent. Kamma or karma can be put in the simple language of the child: do good and good will come to you, now, and hereafter. Do bad and bad will come to you, now, and hereafter. In the language of the harvest, kamma can be explained in this way: if you sow good seeds, you will reap a good harvest. If you sow bad seeds, you will reap a bad harvest. In the language of science, kamma is called the law of cause and effect: every cause has an effect. Another name for this is the law of moral causation. Moral causation works in the moral realm just as the physical law of action and reaction works in the physical realm. In the Dhammapada, kamma is explained in this manner: the mind is the chief (forerunner) of all good and bad states. If you speak or act with a good or bad mind, then happiness or unhappiness follows you just as the wheel follows the hoof of the ox or like your shadow which never leaves you.
Kamma is simply action. Within animate organisms there is a power or force which is given different names such as instinctive tendencies, consciousness, etc. This innate propensity forces every conscious being to move. He moves mentally or physically. His motion is action. The repetition of actions is habit and habit becomes his character. In Buddhism, this process is called kamma. In its ultimate sense, kamma means both good and bad, mental action or volition. 'Kamma is volition,'says the Buddha. Thus kamma is not an entity but a process, action, energy and force. Some interpret this force as 'action-influence,' It is our own doings reacting on ourselves. The pain and happiness man experiences are the result of his own deeds, words and thoughts reacting on themselves. Our deeds, words and thoughts produce our prosperity and failure, our happiness and misery. Kamma is an impersonal, natural law that operates strictly in accordance with our actions. It is law in itself and does not have any lawgiver. Kamma operates in its own field without the intervention of an external, independent ruling agency. Since there is no hidden agent directing or administering rewards and punishments, Buddhists do not rely on prayer to some supernatural forces to influence karmic results.
According to the Buddha, kamma is neither predestination nor some sort of determinism imposed on us by some mysterious, unknown powers or forces to which we must helplessly submit ourselves. Buddhists believe that man will reap what he has sown; we are the result of what we were, and we will be the result of what we are. In other words, man is not one who will absolutely remain to be what he was, and he will not continue to remain as what he is. This simply means that kamma is not complete determinism. The Buddha pointed out that if everything is determined, then there would be no free will and no moral or spiritual life. We would merely be the slaves of our past. On the other hand, if everything is undetermined, then there can be no cultivation of moral and spiritual growth. Therefore, the Buddha accepted neither strict determinism nor strict undeterminism. Misconceptions regarding Kamma The misinterpretation or irrational views on kamma are stated in the Anguttara Nikaya which suggests that the wise will investigate and abandon the following views: the belief that everything is a result of acts in previous lives; the belief that all is the result of creation by a Supreme Ruler; and the belief that everything arises without reason or cause. If a person becomes a murderer, a thief, or an adulterer, and, if his actions are due to past actions, or caused by creation of a Supreme Ruler, or if that happened by mere chance, then this person would not be held responsible for his evil action.
Yet another misconception about kamma is that it operates only for
certain people according to their faiths. But the fate of a man in his
next life does not in the least depend on what particular religion he
chooses. Whatever may be his religion, man's fate depends entirely on his
deeds by body, speech and thought. It does not matter what religious label
he himself holds, he is bound to be happy world in his next life so long
as he does good deeds and leads an unblemished life. He is bound to be
born to lead a wretched life if he commits evil and harbors wicked
thoughts in his mind. Therefore, Buddhists do not proclaim that they are
the only blessed people who can go to heaven after their death. Whatever
the religion he professes, man's kammic thought alone determines his own
destiny both in this life and in the next. The teaching of kamma does not
indicate a post-mortem justice. The Buddha did not teach this law of kamma
to protect the rich and to comfort the poor by promising illusory
happiness in an after life.
According to Buddhism kamma explains the
inequalities that exist among mankind. These inequalities are due not only
to heredity, environment and nature but also to kamma or the results of
our own actions. Indeed kamma is one of the factors which are responsible
for the success and the failure of our life.
Since kamma is an invisible force, we cannot see it
working with our physical eyes. To understand how kamma works, we can
compare it to seeds: the results of kamma are stored in the subconscious
mind in the same way as the leaves, flowers, fruits and trunk of a tree
are stored in its seed. Under favorable conditions, the fruits of kamma
will be produced just as with moisture and light, the leaves and trunk of
a tree will sprout from its tiny seed.
The working of kamma can also be compared to a bank
account: a person who is virtuous, charitable and benevolent in his
present life is like a person who is adding to his good kamma. This
accrued good kamma can be used by him to ensure a trouble-free life. But
he must replace what he takes or else one day his account will be
exhausted and he will be bankrupt. Then whom will he be able to blame for
his miserable state? He can blame neither others nor fate. He alone is
responsible. Thus a good Buddhist cannot be an escapist. He has to face
life as it is and not run away from it. The kammic force cannot be
controlled by inactivity. Vigorous activity for good is indispensable for
one's own happiness. Escapism is the resort of the weak, and an escapist
cannot escape the effects of the kammic law.
The Buddha says, 'There is no place to hide in order
to escape from kammic results.' (Dhammapada 127).
Our Own Experience
To understand the law of kamma is to realize that we
ourselves are responsible for our own happiness and our own misery. We are
the architects of our kamma. Buddhism explains that man has every
possibility to mould his own kamma and thereby influence the direction of
his life. On the other hand, a man is not a complete prisoner of his own
actions; he is not a slave of his kamma. Nor is man a mere machine that
automatically release instinctive forces that enslave him. Nor is man a
mere product of nature. Man has within himself the strength and the
ability to change his kamma. His mind is mightier than his kamma and so
the law of kamma can be made to serve him. Man does not have to give up
his hope and effort in order to surrender himself to his own kammic force.
To off-set the reaction of his bad kamma that he has accumulated
previously, he has to do more meritorious deeds and to purify his mind
rather than by praying, worshipping, performing rites or torturing his
physical body in order to overcome his kammic effects. Therefore, man can
overcome the effect of his evil deeds if he acts wisely by leading noble
Man must use the material with which he is endowed
to promote his ideal. The cards in the game of life are within us. We do
not select them. They are traced to our past kamma; but we can call as we
please, do what suits us and as we play, we either gain or lose.
Kamma is equated to the action of men. This action
also creates some karmic results. But each and every action carried out
without any purposeful intention, cannot become a Kusala-Kamma (skillful
action) or Akusala-Kamma (unskillful action). That is why the Buddha
interprets kamma as volitional activities. That means, whatever good and
bad deeds we commit ourselves without any purposeful intention, are not
strong enough to be carried forward to our next life. However, ignorance
of the nature of the good and bad effect of the kamma is not an excuse to
justify or avoid the karmic results if they were committed intentionally.
A small child or an ignorant man may commit many evil deeds. Since they
commit such deeds with intention to harm or injure, it is difficult to say
that they are free from the karmic results. If that child touches a
burning iron-rod the heat element does not spare the child without burning
his fingers. The karmic energy also works exactly in the same manner.
Karmic energy is unbiased, it is like energy of gravity.
The radical transformations in the characters of
Angulimala and Asoka illustrate man's potential to gain control over his
Angulimala was a highway robber who murdered more
than a thousand of his fellow men. Can we judge him by his external
actions? For within his lifetime, he became an Arahanta and thus redeemed
his past misdeeds.
Asoka, the Indian Emperor, killed thousands and
thousands to fight his wars and to expand his empire. Yet after winning
the battle, he completely reformed himself and changed his career to such
an extent that today, 'Amidst the tens of thousands of names of monarchs
that crowd the columns of history, their majesties and royal highnesses
and the like, the name of Asoka shines and shines almost alone, as a
star,' says a well-known world historian H. G. Well.
Other Factors Which Support Kamma
Although Buddhism says that man can eventually
control his karmic force, it does not state that everything is due to
kamma. Buddhism does not ignore the role played by other forces of nature.
According to Buddhism there are five orders or processes of natural
laws(niyama) which operate in the physical and mental worlds:
seasonal laws (utu niyama) - physical inorganic order
e. g., seasonal phenomena of winds and rains, etc. the biological laws (bija
niyama) - relating to seasonal changes etc., the kammic law (kamma niyama)
- relating to moral causation or the order of act and result, natural
phenomena (Dhamma niyama) - relating to electrical forces, movement of tides
etc., and psychological laws (citta niyama) - which govern the processes of
consciousness. Thus kamma is considered only as one of the five natural
laws that account for the diversity in this world.
Can Kamma Be Changed?
Kamma is often influenced by circumstances:
beneficent and malevolent forces act to counter and to support this
self-operating law. These other forces that either aid or hinder this
kamma are birth, time or conditions, appearances, and effort.
A favorable birth (gati sampatti) or an unfavorable
birth (vipatti) can develop or hinder the fruition of kamma. For instance,
if a person is born to a noble family or in a state of happiness, his
fortunate birth will provide an easy opportunity for his good kamma to
operate. An unintelligent person who, by some good kamma, is born in a
royal family, will, on account of his noble parentage be honored by the
people. If the same person were to have a less fortunate birth, he would
not be similarly treated.
Good appearance (upadhi sampatti) and poor
appearance (upadhi vipatti)are two other factors that hinder or favor the
working of kamma. If by some good kamma, a person obtains a good birth,
but is born deformed by some bad kamma, then he will not be able to fully
enjoy the beneficial results of his good kamma. Even a legitimate heir to
a throne may not perhaps be raised to that high position if he happens to
be physically or mentally deformed. Beauty, on the other hand, will be an
asset to the possessor. A good-looking son of poor parents may attract the
attention of others and may be able to distinguish himself through their
influence. Also, we can find cases of people from poor, obscure family
backgrounds who rise to fame and popularity as film actors or actresses or
Time and occasion are other factors that influence
the working of kamma. In the time of famine or during the time of war, all
people without exception are forced to suffer the same fate. Here the
unfavorable conditions open up possibilities for evil kamma to operate.
The favorable conditions, on the other hand, will prevent the operation of
Effort or intelligence is perhaps the most important
of all the factors that affect the working of kamma. Without effort, both
worldly and spiritual progress is impossible. If a person makes no effort
to cure himself of a disease or to save himself from his difficulties, or
to strive with diligence for his progress, then his evil kamma will find a
suitable opportunity to produce its due effects. However, if he endeavours
to surmount his difficulties, his good kamma will come to help him. When
shipwrecked in a deep sea, the Bodhisatta during one of his previous
births, made an effort to save himself and his old mother, while the
others prayed to the gods and left their fate in the hands of these gods.
The result was that the Bodhisatta escaped while the others were drowned.
Thus the working of kamma is aided or obstructed by
birth, beauty and ugliness, time and personal effort or intelligence.
However, man can overcome immediate karmic effects by adopting certain
methods. Yet, he is not free from such karmic effects if he remains within
this Samsara? cycle of birth and death. Whenever opportunities arise the
same karmic effects that he overcame, can affect him again. This is the
uncertainty of worldly life. Even the Buddha and Arahantas were affected
by certain kammas, although they were in their final birth.
The time factor is another important aspect of the
karmic energy for people to experience the good and bad effects. People
experience certain karmic effects only within this lifetime while certain
karmic effects become effective immediately hereafter the next birth. And
certain other karmic effects follow the doers as long as they remain in
this wheel of existence until they stop their rebirth after attaining
Nibbana. The main reason for this difference is owing to mental impulsion
(Javana Citta) of the people at the time when a thought arises in the mind
to do good or bad.
Those who do not believe that there is an energy
known as kamma should understand that this karmic energy is not a
by-product of any particular religion although Hinduism, Buddhism and
Jainism acknowledge and explain the nature of this energy. This is an
existing universal law which has no religious label. All those who violate
this law, have to face the consequences irrespective of their religious
beliefs, and those who live in accordance with this law experience peace
and happiness in their life. Therefore, this karmic law is unbiased to
each and every person, whether they believe it or not; whether, they have
a religion or not. It is like any other existing universal law. Please
remember that kamma is not the exclusive property of Buddhism.
If we understand kamma as a force or a form of
energy, then we can discern no beginning. To ask where is the beginning of
kamma is like asking where is the beginning of electricity. Kamma like
electricity does not begin. It comes into being under certain conditions.
Conventionally we say that the origin of kamma is volition but this is as
much conventional as saying that the origin of a river is a mountain top.
Like the waves of the ocean that flow into one
another , one unit of consciousness flows into another and this merging of
one thought consciousness into another is called the working of karma. In
short, every living being, according to Buddhism, is an electricity
current of life that operates on the automatic switch of kamma.
Kamma being a form of energy is not found anywhere
in this fleeting consciousness or body. Just as mangoes are not stored
anywhere in the mango tree but, dependent on certain conditions, they
spring into being, so does kamma. Kamma is like wind or fire. It is not
stored up anywhere in the Universe but comes into being under certain
Unsatisfied desire for existence and sensual
pleasures is the cause of rebirth.
Buddhists regard the doctrine of rebirth not as a
mere theory but as a verifiable fact. The belief in rebirth forms a
fundamental tenet of Buddhism. However, the belief in rebirth is not
confined to Buddhist; it is also found in other countries, in other
religions, and even among free thinkers. Pythagoras could remember his
previous birth. Plato could remember a number of his previous lives.
According to Plato, man can be reborn only up to ten times. Plato also
believed in the possibility of rebirth in the animal kingdom. Among the
ancient people in Egypt and China, a common belief was that only
well-known personalities like emperors and kings have rebirths. A
well-known Christian authority named Origen, who lived in 185-254 A. D.,
believed in rebirth. According to him, there is no eternal suffering in a
hell. Gorana Bruno, who lived in the sixteenth century, believed that the
soul of every man and animal transmigrates from one being to another. In
1788, a well-known philosopher, Kant, criticized eternal punishment. Kant
also believed in the possibility of rebirth in other celestial bodies.
Schopenhauer(1788-1860), another great philosopher, said that where the
will to live existed there must be of necessity life. The will to live
manifests itself successively in ever new forms. The Buddha explained this
'will to exist' as the craving for existence.
It is possible but not very easy for us to actually
verify our past lives. The nature of mind is such that it does not allow
most people the recollection of their previous lives. Our minds are
overpowered by the five hindrances: sensual desire, ill-will, sloth,
restlessness and doubt. Because of these hindrances, our vision is
earth-bound and hence we cannot visualize rebirths. Just as a mirror does
not reflect an image when it is covered with dirt, so the mind does not
allow most people the recollection of previous lives. We cannot see the
stars during daytime, not because they are not there in the sky, but
because they are outshone by the sunlight. Similarly, we cannot remember
our past lives because our mind at present is always over-burdened with
many thoughts in the present, day-to-day events and mundane circumstances.
A consideration of the shortness of our life-span on
earth will help us to reflect on rebirth. If we consider life and its
ultimate meaning and goal, and all the varied experience possible for man,
we must conclude that in a single life there is not enough time for man to
carry out all that is intended by nature, to say nothing about what man
himself desires to do. The scale of experience is enormous. There is a
vast range of powers latent in man which we see and can even develop if
the opportunity is presented to us. This especially true today if special
investigation is made. We find ourselves with high aspirations but with no
time to attain them. Meanwhile, the great troop of passions and desires,
selfish motives and ambitions, make war within us and with others. These
forces pursue each other to the time of our death. All these forces must
be tried, conquered, subdued and used. One life is just not enough for all
this. To say that we must have but one life here with such possibilities
put before us and impossible to develop is to make the universe and life a
huge and cruel joke.
What we ordinarily mean by death is the cessation of
the body's vital functions. When the physical body loses its vitality it
can no longer support the current of consciousness, the mental side of the
process. But as long as there is a clinging to life, a desire to go on
existing, the current of consciousness does not come to a stop with the
body's loss of life. Rather, when death takes place, when the body dies
away, the mental current, driven by the thirst for more existence, will
spring up again with the support of a new physical body, one which has
just come into being through the meeting of sperm and egg. Thus, rebirth
takes place immediately after death. The steam of memory may be
interrupted and the sense of identity transferred to the new situation,
but the entire accumulation of experience and disposition has been
transmitted to the newborn being, and the cycle of becoming begins to
revolve for still another term.
For Buddhism, therefore, death does not spell either
the entrance to eternal life or complete annihilation. It is, rather, the
portal to a new rebirth which will be followed by more growth, decay, and
then till another death.
At the last moment, no renewed physical functioning
occurs in a dying man's mind. This is just like a motorist releasing the
accelerator before stopping, so that no more pulling power is given to the
engine. Similarly, no more material qualities of Kamma arise.
Buddhists do not maintain that the present life is
the only life between two eternities of misery and happiness; nor do they
believe angels will carry them to heaven and leave them there for all
eternity. They believe that this present life is only one of the
indefinite numbers of states of being and that this earthly life is but
one episode among many others. They believe that all beings will be reborn
somewhere for a limited period of time as long as their good and bad Kamma
remains in the subconscious mind in the form of mental energy. The
interpretation of the subconscious mind in the Buddhist context should not
be confused with that given by modern psychologists since the concepts are
not exactly synonymous.
What is the cause of rebirth?
The Buddha taught that ignorance produces desires.
Unsatisfied desire is the cause of rebirth. When all unsatisfied desire is
extinguished, then rebirth ceases. To stop rebirth is to extinguish all
desires. To extinguish desire, it is necessary to destroy ignorance. When
ignorance is destroyed, the worthlessness of every such rebirth, is
perceived, as well as the paramount need to adopt a course of life by
which the desire for such repeated births can be abolished.
Ignorance also begets the illusive and illogical
idea that there is only one existence for man, and the other illusion that
this one life is followed by states of eternal pleasure or torment.
The Buddha taught that ignorance can be dispelled
and sorrow removed by realization of the Four Noble Truths, and not
through any other source. To disperse all ignorance, one must persevere in
the practice of an all-embracing altruism in conduct, intelligence and
wisdom. One must also destroy all desire for the lower, personal pleasures
and selfish desire.
How does rebirth take place?
When this physical body
is no more capable of functioning, energies do not die with it, but
continue to take some other shape or form, which we call another life. The kammic force manifesting itself in the form of a human being can also
manifest itself in the form of an animal. This can happen if man has no
chance to develop his positive kammic forces. This force, called craving,
desire, volition, thirst to live, does not end with the non-functioning of
the body but continues to manifest itself in another form, producing
re-existence which is called rebirth.
Through hypnotism, some people have managed to
reveal information of previous lives. Certain hypnotic states that
penetrate into the subconscious mind make the recalling of past lives
Rebirth or becoming again and again is a natural
occurrence not created by any particular religion or god. Belief in
rebirth or disbelief does not make any difference to the process of
rebirth or avoiding rebirth. Rebirth takes place as long as craving for
existence and craving for sensual pleasures or attachment exist in the
mind. Those strong mental forces prevail in each and every living being in
this universe. Those who hope and pray that they be not born again must
understand that their wishes will not materialize until they make earnest
efforts to eradicate their craving and attachment. Having seen and
experienced the uncertainty and unsatisfactoriness of life under worldly
conditions, wise people try to rid themselves of these repeated births and
deaths by following the correct path. Those who cannot reduce their
craving and attachment must be prepared to face all unsatisfactory and
uncertain situations associated with rebirth and becoming again and again.
Is Rebirth Simultaneous?
Another difficult thing to understand about rebirth
is whether the occurrence of rebirth is simultaneous or not. This is a
controversial issue even amongst prominent Buddhist Scholars. According to
Abhidhamma, rebirth (conception) takes place immediately after the death
of a being without any intermediate state. At the same time, some others
believe that a person, after his death, would evolve into a spirit form
for a certain number of days before rebirth takes place. Another
interpretation regarding the same belief is that it is not the spirit, but
the deceased person's consciousness or mental energy remaining in space,
supported by his own mental energies of craving and attachment. However,
sooner or later rebirth must take place. The spirits (petas), who are
beings born in spirit forms, are unfortunate living beings and their lives
in the spirit form is not permanent. It is also a form of rebirth which is
Another concept that many people cannot understand
is that in the process of rebirth a man can be reborn as an animal and an
animal can be reborn as a man. The animal nature of the man's mind and the
animal way of life adopted by him can condition him to be born as an
animal. The condition and behavior of the mind is responsible for the next
existence. On the other hand, a person who is born in animal form, owing
to certain mental abuses during a previous birth, could be reborn as a
human being, if that animal has not committed any serious evil acts. It is
a well-known fact that some animals are very intelligent and
understanding. This is a clear evidence to prove that they are tending
towards the human life. A person who is born as an animal can again be
born as a human being when the bad kamma which conditioned his birth as an
animal is expended and the good kamma which was stored becomes dominant.
In the dying man's consciousness, there are three
types of consciousness (Vinnana) functioning at the moment of death
:rebirth-linking consciousness (patisandhi-citta), the current of passive
consciousness or the current of life-continuum (bhavanga) and
consciousness disconnecting the present life (cuti-citta). At the last
moment of a man's present life the (patisandhi-citta) or rebirth-linking
consciousness arises, having the three signs as its objects. The
patisandhi-citta remains in the course of cognition for five faint
thought-moments Javana and then sinks down into bhavanga. At the end of
bhavanga the cuti-citta arises, disconnecting the present life and sinks
down into bhavanga. At this very moment comes the end of the present life.
At the end of that bhavanga another patisandhi-citta rises up in the next
life and from this very moment the new life begins. This is the process of
death and rebirth according to Buddhism, and only in Buddhism is the
process of these natural phenomena found explained in minute detail.
A Buddhist faces death not as a crisis in life but
as a normal event, for he knows that whoever is born must suffer, 'decay',
and ultimately die. Or, as someone so aptly puts it, 'Everyone is born
with the certificate of death at his birth.' If we could all look at death
such an intelligent and rational way, we would not cling to life so
'Ayamantima jatinatthidani punabbhavo"
This is my final birth and there is no more rebirth
for me.(Dhamma Cakka Sutta).
Nibbana is the final goal of Buddhism. What is
Nibbana then? It is not easy to know what Nibbana really is; it is easier
to know what Nibbana is not.
Nibbana is not nothingness or extinction. Would the
Buddha leave his family and kingdom and preach for 45 years, all for
Nibbana is not a paradise. Several centuries after
the Buddha, some of the Buddhist sects began to introduce Nibbana as a
paradise. Their purpose of equating Nibbana with a heavenly world was to
convince the less-intellectually-gifted and to attract them to the
teachings of the sect. Striving for Nibbana came to mean looking for a
nice place where everything is beautiful and where everyone is eternally
happy. This might be a very comfortable folktale, but it is not the
Nibbana that the Buddha experienced and introduced. During His time the
Buddha did not deny the idea of paradise as it was presented in the early
Indian religions. But the Buddha knew that this paradise was within
Samsara and the final liberation was beyond it. The Buddha could see that
the Path to Nibbana led beyond the heavens.
If Nibbana is not a place, where is Nibbana then?
Nibbana exists just as fire exists. However, there is no storage place for
fire or for Nibbana. But when you rub pieces of wood together, then the
friction and heat are the proper conditions for fire to arise. Likewise,
when the nature in man's mind is such that he is free from all
defilements, then Nibbanic bliss will appear.
You can experience Nibbana. Until you experience the
supreme state of Nibbanic bliss, you can only speculate as to what it
really is. For those who insist on the theory, the texts offer some help.
The texts suggest that Nibbana is a supra-mundane state of unalloyed
By itself, Nibbana is quite unexplainable and quite
undefinable. As darkness can be explained only by its opposite, light, and
as calm can only be explained by its opposite, motion, so likewise
Nibbana, as a state equated to the extinction of all suffering can be
explained by its opposite? the suffering that is being endured in Samsara.
As darkness prevails wherever there is no light, as calm prevails wherever
there is no motion, so likewise Nibbana is everywhere where suffering and
change and impurity do not prevail.
A sufferer who scratches his sores can experience a
temporary relief. This temporary relief will aggravate the wounds and
cause the disease to be enhanced. The joy of the final cure can hardly be
compared to the fleeting relief obtained from the scratching. Likewise,
satisfying the craving for sense-desires brings only temporary
gratification or happiness which prolongs the stay in Samsara. The cure
for the samsaric disease is Nibbana. Nibbana is an end of the cravings
which cause all the sufferings of birth, old age, disease, death, grief,
lamentation and despair. The joy of Nibbanic cure can hardly be compared
to the temporary Samsaric pleasure gained through fulfilling the sense
It is dangerous to speculate on what Nibbana is; it
is better to know how to prepare the conditions necessary for Nibbana, how
to attain the inner peace and clarity of vision that leads to Nibbana.
Follow the Buddha's advice: put His Teachings into practice. Get rid of
all your defilements which are rooted in greed, hatred, and delusion.
Purify yourself of all desires and realize absolute selflessness. Lead a
life of right moral conduct and from all selfishness and illusion. Then,
Nibbana is gained and experienced.
A well-known Mahayana Buddhist scholar, Nagarjuna,
says that Samsara and Nibbana are one. This interpretation can easily be
misunderstood by others. However to state that the concept of Samsara and
Nibbana are the same is to say that there is no difference in voidness of
component things and the unconditioned state of Nibbana. In accordance
with the Pali Tipitaka, Samsara is described as the unbroken continuation
of the five aggregates, four elements and twelve bases or sources of
mental processes whereas Nibbana is described as the extinction of those
relative physical and mental sources.
However, it is admitted that those who gain Nibbanic
bliss, can experience it during their existence in Samsara. In any case,
after their death, the link with those elements will be eliminated, for
the simple reason that Nibbana is unconditioned, not relative or
interdependent. If there is to be anything at all after Nibbana, it would
have to be 'Absolute Truth'.
You must learn to be detached from all worldly
things. If there is any attachment to anyone or to anything or if there is
any aversion to anyone or anything, you will never attain Nibbana, for
Nibbana is beyond all opposites of attachment and aversion, likes and
When that ultimate state is attained, you will fully
understand this worldly life for which you now crave. This world will
cease to be an object of your desire. You will realize the sorrow and
impermanence and impersonality of all that lives and that does not live.
By depending on teachers or holy books without using your own effort in
the right manner, it is difficult to gain realization of Nibbana. Your
dreams will vanish. No castles will be built in the air. The tempest will
be ended. Life's struggles will be over. Nature's process will have
ceased. All your worries, miseries, responsibilities, disturbances,
burdens, physical and mental ailments and emotions will vanish after
attaining this most blissful state of Nibbana.
To say that Nibbana is nothingness simply because
one cannot perceive it with the five senses, is as illogical as to say
that light does not exist simply because the blind do not see it.
Nibbana is attainable inthis present life. Buddhism does not state that its ultimate goal could be reached only in life beyond. When Nibbana is realized in this life with the body remaining it is called Sopadisesa Nibbana. When an Arahant attains Pari Nibbana, after the dissolution of the body, without any reminder of physical existence, it is called Anupadisesa Nibbana.
Law of Dependent Origination
"No God, no Brahma can be found
The Law of Dependent Origination is one of the most
important teachings of the Buddha, and it is also very profound. The
Buddha has often expressed His experience of Enlightenment in one of two
ways, either in terms of having understood the Four Noble Truths, or in
terms of having understood the nature of the dependent origination.
However, more people have heard about the Four Noble Truths and can
discuss it than the Law of Dependent Origination, which is just as
Although the actual insight into dependent
origination arises with spiritual maturity, it is still possible for us to
understand the principle involved. The basis of dependent origination is
that life or the world is built on a set of relations, in which the
arising and cessation of factors depend on some other factors which
condition them. This principle can be given in a short formula of four
When this is, that is This arising, that arises When
this is not, that is not This ceasing, that ceases.
On this principle of interdependence and relativity
rests the arising, continuity and cessation of existence. This principle
is known as the Law of Dependent Origination in Pali, Paticca-samuppada.
This law emphasizes an important principle that all phenomena in this
universe are relative, conditioned states and do not arise independently
of supportive conditions. A phenomenon arises because of a combination of
conditions which are present to support its arising. And the phenomenon
will cease when the conditions and components supporting its arising
change and no longer sustain it. The presence of these supportive
conditions, in turn, depend on other factors for their arising, sustenance
The Law of Dependence Origination is a realistic way
of understanding the universe and is the Buddhist equivalent of Einstein's
Theory of Relativity. The fact that everything is nothing more than a set
of relations is consistent with the modern scientific view of the material
world. Since everything is conditioned, relative, and interdependent,
there is nothing in this world which could be regarded as a permanent
entity, variously regarded as an ego or an eternal soul, which many people
The phenomenal world is built on a set of relations,
but is this the way we would normally understand the world to be? We
create fictions of its permanency in our minds because of our desires. It
is almost natural for human beings to cling to what they consider as
beautiful or desirable, and to reject what is ugly or undesirable. Being
subjected to the forces of greed and hatred, they are misled by delusion,
clouded by the illusion of the permanency of the object they cling to or
reject. Therefore, it is hard for us to realize that the world is like a
bubble or mirage, and is not the kind of reality we believe it to be. We
do not realize that it is unreal in actuality. It is like a ball of fire,
which when whirled around rapidly, can for a time, create the illusion of
The fundamental principle at work in dependent
origination is that of cause and effect. In dependent origination, what
actually takes place in the causal process is described in detail. To
illustrate the nature of dependent origination of the things around us,
let us consider an oil lamp. The flame in an oil lamp burns dependent upon
the oil and the wick. When the oil and the wick are present, the flame in
an oil lamp burns. If either of these is absent, the flame will cease to
burn. This example illustrates the principle of dependent origination with
respect to a flame in an oil lamp. Or in an example of a plant, it is
dependent upon the seed, earth, moisture, air and sunlight for the plant
to grow. All these phenomena arise dependent upon a number of causal
factors, and not independently. This is the principle of dependent
In the Dhamma, we are interested to know how the
principle of dependent origination is applied to the problem of suffering
and rebirth. The issue is how dependent origination can explain why we are
still going round in Samsara, or explain the problem of suffering and how
we can be free from suffering. It is not meant to be a description of the
origin or evolution of the universe. Therefore, one must not be mistaken
into assuming that ignorance, the first factor mentioned in the dependent
origination, is the first cause. Since everything arises because of some
preceding causes, there can be no first cause.
According to the Law of Dependent Origination, there
are twelve factors which account for the continuity of existence birth
after birth. The factors are as follows:
Through ignorance are conditioned volitional actions or kamma-formations.
Through volitional actions is conditioned consciousness.
Through consciousness are conditioned mental and physical phenomena.
Through mental and physical phenomena are conditioned the six faculties(i. e., five physical sense-organs and mind).
Through the six faculties is conditioned (sensorial and mental) contact.
Through (sensorial and mental)contact is conditioned sensation.
Through sensation is conditioned desire, 'thirst". Through desire ('thirst') is conditioned clinging.
Through clinging is conditioned the process of becoming.
Through the process of becoming is conditioned birth. through birth are conditioned decay, death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair. This is how life arises, exists and continues, and how suffering arises. These factors may be understood as sequentially spanning over a period of three life-times; the past life, the present life, and the future life. In the dependent origination, ignorance and mental formation belong to the past life, and represent the conditions that are responsible for the occurrence of this life.
The following factors, namely, consciousness, mental and physical phenomena, the six senses, contact, sensation, desire, clinging and becoming, are factors involved in the present life. The last two factors, birth and decay and death, belong to the future life. In this law, the first factor of Ignorance gives rise to Volitional Activities (or kamma). Ignorance means not knowing or understanding the true nature of our existence. Through Ignorance, good or evil deeds are performed which will lead a person to be reborn. Rebirth can occur in various planes of existence: the human world, the celestial or higher planes, or even suffering planes depending of the quality of a person's kamma. When a person dies, his Volitional Activities will condition the arising of Consciousness, in this case to mean the re-linking Consciousness which arises as the first spark of a new life in the process of re-becoming.
These sights, sounds, smells, tastes, tactile
objects, and mental objects can be beautiful, pleasing and enticing. On
the other hand, they can be ugly and distasteful. Therefore, dependent on
Contact arises Sensations: feelings that are pleasant, unpleasant or
neutral. Because of these feelings, the laws of attraction (greed)and
repulsion (aversion) are now set in motion. Beings are naturally attracted
to pleasant objects and repelled by unpleasant objects. As a result of
Sensation, Desire arises. A person desires and thirsts for forms that are
beautiful and enticing; sounds that are beautiful and enticing; tastes,
smells, touch, and objects which the mind regards as beautiful and
enticing. From these Desires, he develops very strong Clinging to the
beautiful object (or strongly rejects the repulsive object). Now because
of this Clinging and attachment, the next life is conditioned and there
arises Becoming. In other words, the processes of Becoming are set in
motion by Clinging.
The process can be ceased if the formula is taken in
the reverse order: Through the complete cessation of ignorance(through the
cultivation of Insight), volitional activities or kamma-formations cease;
through the cessation of volitional activities, consciousness ceases; °‚
through the cessation of birth, the other factors of decay, death, sorrow,
etc., cease. Therefore, one can be free from the rounds of rebirth through
the eradication of ignorance.
To re-iterate what was mentioned earlier, this
doctrine of Dependent Origination merely explains the processes of Birth
and Death, and is not a theory of the evolution of the world. It deals
with the Cause of re-birth and Suffering, but in no way attempts to show
the absolute Origin of Life. Ignorance in Dependent Origination is the
ignorance of the Four Noble Truths. It is very important for us to
understand the Four Noble Truths because it is the ignorance of these
Truths that has trapped us all in the endless cycle of birth and death.
According to the Buddha, while He was speaking to
Ananda: It is by their not being able to comprehend the Dependent
Origination, that people are entangled like a ball of cotton, and not
being able to see the Truth, are always afflicted by Sorrow, --born often
into conditions that are dismal and dreary, where confusion and prolonged
suffering prevail. And, they do not know how to disentangle themselves to
Eternalism and Nihilism
The Buddha rejected both extremes of eternalism and
To develop Right View or Perfect View, we must first
be aware of two views which are considered imperfect or wrong.
The first view is eternalism. This doctrine or
belief is concerned with eternal life or with eternal things. Before the
Buddha's time, it was taught that there is an abiding entity which could
exist forever, and that man can live the eternal life by preserving the
eternal soul in order to be in union with Supreme Being. In Buddhism, this
teaching is called sassata ditthi ----the view of eternalists. Such views
still exist even in the modern world owing to man's craving for eternity.
Why did the Buddha deny the teaching of eternalism?
Because when we understand the things of this world as they truly are, we
cannot find anything which is permanent or which exists forever. Things
change and continue to do so according to the changing conditions on which
they depend. When we analyse things into their elements or into reality,
we cannot find any abiding entity, any everlasting thing. This is why the
eternalist view is considered wrong or false.
The second false view is nihilism or the view held
by the nihilists who claim that there is no life after death. This view
belongs to a materialistic philosophy which refuses to accept knowledge of
mental conditionality. To subscribe to a philosophy of materialism is to
understand life only partially. Nihilism ignores the side of life which is
concerned with mental conditionality. If one claims that after the passing
away or ceasing of a life, it does not come to be again, the continuity of
mental conditions is denied. To understand life, we must consider all
conditions, both mental and material. When we understand mental and
material conditions, we cannot say that there is no life after death and
that there is no further becoming after passing away. This nihilist view
of existence is considered false because it is based on incomplete
understanding of reality. That is why nihilism was also rejected by the
Buddha. The teaching of kamma is enough to prove that the Buddha did not
teach annihilation after death; Buddhism accepts 'survival' not in the
sense of an eternal soul, but in the sense of a renewed becoming.
Throughout the Buddha's long period of teaching the
Dhamma to His followers, He actively discouraged speculative arguments.
During the 5th century B. C. India was a veritable hive of intellectual
activity where scholars, yogis, philosophers, kings and even ordinary
householders were constantly engaged in the philosophical arguments
pertaining to human existence. Some of these were either ridiculously
trivial or totally irrelevant. Some people wasted valuable time arguing at
great length about all manner of subjects. They were far more concerned
about proving their powers in mental gymnastics than seeking genuine
solutions to the problems that beset humanity.
(In the 18th century Jonathan Swift satirized a
similar pastime in England when he showed the Lilliputians in 'Gulliver's
Travels' waging a war to decide whether an egg should be broken on its
sharp end or its broad end).
Can the First Cause be Known?
It is rather difficult for us to understand how the
world came into existence without a first cause. But it is very much more
difficult to understand how that first cause came into existence at the
According to the Buddha, it is inconceivable to find
a first cause for life or anything else. For in common experience, the
cause becomes the effect and the effect becomes the cause. In the circle
of cause and effect, a first cause is incomprehensible. With regard to the
origin of life, the Buddha declares, 'Without cognizable end is this
recurrent wandering in Samsara(cycle of birth and death). Beings are
obstructed by ignorance and fettered by craving. A first beginning of
these beings is not to be perceived.
(Anamatagga Samyutta in Samyutta Nikaya). This
life-steam flows on ad infinitum, as long as it is fed by the muddy waters
of ignorance and craving. When these two are cut off, only then does the
life-steam cease to flow, only then does rebirth come to an end.
It is difficult to conceive an end of space. It is
difficult to conceive an eternal duration of what we call time. But it is
more difficult for us to understand how this world came into existence
with a first cause. And it is more difficult to understand how that first
cause came into existence at the beginning. For if the first cause can
exist though uncreated, there is no reason why the other phenomena of the
universe must not exist without having also been created.
As to the question how all beings came into
existence without a first cause, the Buddhist's reply is that there is no
answer because the question itself is merely a product of man's limited
comprehension. If we can understand the nature of time and relativity, we
must see that there could not have been any beginning. It can only be
pointed out that all the usual answers to the question are fundamentally
defective. If it is assumed that for a thing to exist, it must have had a
creator who existed before it, it follows logically that the creator
himself must have had a creator, and so on back to infinity. On the other
hand, if the creator could exist without a prior cause in the form of
another creator, the whole argument falls to the ground. The theory of a
creator does not solve any problems, it only complicates the existing
Thus Buddhism does not pay much attention to
theories and beliefs about the origin of the world. Whether the world was
created by a god or it came into existence by itself makes little
difference to Buddhist. Whether the world is finite or infinite also makes
little difference to Buddhists. Instead of following this line of
theoretical speculations, the Buddha advises people to work hard to find
their own salvation.
Scientists have discovered many causes which are
responsible for the existence of life, plants, planets, elements and other
energies. But it is impossible for anyone to find out any particular first
cause for their existence. If they go on searching for the first cause of
any existing life or thing, they point certain causes as the main cause
but that never becomes the first cause. In the process of searching for
the first cause one after the other, they will come back to the place
where they were. This is because, cause becomes the effect and the next
moment that effect becomes the cause to produce another effect. That is
what the Buddha say, 'It is incomprehensible and the universe is
Is there an Eternal Soul?
Belief in an eternal soul is a misconception of the
With regard to the soul theory, there are three
kinds of teachers in the world:
The first teacher teaches the existence of an
eternal ego-entity that outlasts death: He is the eternalist.
The second teacher teaches a temporary ego-entity
which becomes annihilated at death: He is the materialist.
The third teacher teaches neither an eternal nor a
temporary ego-entity: He is the Buddha.
The Buddha teaches that what we call ego, self,
soul, personality, etc., are merely conventional terms that do not refer
to any real, independent entity. According to Buddhism there is no reason
to believe that there is an eternal soul that comes from heaven or that is
created by itself and that will transmigrate or proceed straight away
either to heaven or hell after death. Buddhists cannot accept that there
is anything either in this world or any other world that is eternal or
unchangeable. We only cling to ourselves and hope to find something
immortal. We are like children who wish to clasp a rainbow. To children, a
rainbow is something vivid and real; but the grown-ups know that it is
merely an illusion caused by certain rays of light and drops of water. The
light is only a series of waves or undulations that have no more reality
than the rainbow itself.
Man has done well without discovering the soul. He
shows no signs of fatigue or degeneration for not having encountered any
soul. No man has produced anything to promote mankind by postulating a
soul and its imaginary working. Searching for a soul in man is like
searching for something in a dark empty room. But the poor man will never
realize that what he is searching for is not in the room. It is very
difficult to make such a person understand the futility of his search.
Those who believe in the existence of a soul are not
in a position to explain what and where it is. The Buddha's advice is not
to waste our time over this unnecessary speculation and devote our time to
strive for our salvation. When we have attained perfection then we will be
able to realize whether there is a soul or not. A wandering ascetic named
Vacchagotta asked the Buddha whether there was an Atman (self) or not. The
story is as follows:
'And Ananda, when asked by the Wanderer: 'Is there
no Self?, if I had answered: 'There is no Self', then that would be siding
with those recluses and brahmanas who hold the annihilationist theory(
'Again, Ananda, when asked by Vacchagotta: 'Is there
a Self? If I had answered: 'There is a Self', would that be in accordance
with my knowledge that all dhammas are without Self?
'Surely not, Sir.'
'And again, Ananda, when asked by the Wanderer: 'Is
there no Self?', if I had answered: 'There is no Self', then that would
have created a greater confusion in the already confused Vacchagotta. For
he would have thought: Formerly indeed I had an Atman(Self), but now I
haven't got one.' (Samyutta Nikaya).
The Buddha regarded soul-speculation as useless and
illusory. He once said, 'Only through ignorance and delusion do men
indulge in the dream that their souls are separate and self-existing
entities. Their heart still clings to Self. They are anxious about heaven
and they seek the pleasure of Self in heaven. Thus they cannot see the
bliss of righteousness and the immortality of truth.' Selfish ideas appear
in man's mind due to his conception of Self and craving for existence.
Anatta: The Teaching of No-Soul
The Buddha countered all soul-theory and
soul-speculation with His Anatta doctrine. Anatta is translated under
various labels: No-soul, No-self, egolessness, and soullessness.
To understand the Anatta doctrine, one must
understand that the eternal soul theory _ 'I have a soul' _ and the
material theory _ 'I have no soul' _are both obstacles to self-realization
or salvation. They arise from the misconception 'I AM'. Hence, to
understand the Anatta doctrine, one must not cling to any opinion or views
on soul-theory; rather, one must try to see things objectively as they are
and without any mental projections. One must learn to see the so-called
'I' or Sour or Self for what it really is : merely a combination of
changing forces. This requires some analytical explanation.
The Buddha taught that what we conceive as something
eternal within us, is merely a combination of physical and mental
aggregates or forces (pancakkhandha), made up of body or matter (rupakkhandha),
sensation (vedanakkhandha), perception (sannakkhandha), mental formations
(samkharakkhandha) and consciousness (vinnanakkhandha). These forces are working together
in a flux of momentary change; they are never the same for two consecutive
moments. They are the component forces of the psycho-physical life. When
the Buddha analyzed the psycho-physical life, He found only these five
aggregates or forces. He did not find any eternal soul. However, many
people still have the misconception that the soul is the consciousness.
The Buddha declared in unequivocal terms that consciousness depends on
matter, sensation, perception and mental formations and that is cannot
exist independently of them.
The Buddha said, 'The body, O monks, is not the
Self. Sensation is not the Self. Perception is not the Self. The mental
constructions are not the Self. And neither is consciousness the Self.
Perceiving this, O monks, the disciple sets no value on the body, or on
sensation, or on perception, or on mental constructions, or on
consciousness. Setting no value of them, he becomes free of passions and
he is liberated. The knowledge of liberation arises there within him. And
then he knows that he has done what has to be done, that he has lived the
holy life, that he is no longer becoming this or that, that his rebirth is
destroyed.' (Anatta-Lakkhana Sutta).
The Anatta doctrine of the Buddha is over 2500 years
old. Today the thought current of the modern scientific world is flowing
towards the Buddha's Teaching of Anatta or No-Soul. In the eyes of the
modern scientists, man is merely a bundle of ever-changing sensations.
Modern physicists say that the apparently solid universe is not, in
reality, composed of solid substance at all, but actually a flux of
energy. The modern physicist sees the whole universe as a process of
transformation of various forces of which man is a mere part. The Buddha
was the first to realize this.
A prominent author, W. S. Wily, once said, 'The
existence of the immortal in man is becoming increasingly discredited
under the influence of the dominant schools of modern thought.' The belief
in the immortality of the soul is a dogma that is contradicted by the most
solid, empirical truth.
The mere belief in an immortal soul, or the
conviction that something in us survives death, does not make us immortal
unless we know what it is that survives and that we are capable of
identifying ourselves with it. Most human beings choose death instead of
immortality by identifying themselves with that which is perishable and
impermanent by clinging stubbornly to the body or the momentary elements
of the present personality, which they mistake for the soul or the
essential form of life.
About those researches of modern scientists who are
now more inclined to assert that the so-called 'Soul' is no more than a
bundle of sensations, emotions, sentiments, all relating to the physical
experiences, Prof. James says that the term 'Soul' is a mere figure of
speech to which no reality corresponds.
It is the same Anatta doctrine of the Buddha that
was introduced in the Mahayana school of Buddhism as Sunyata or voidness.
Although this concept was elaborated by a great Mahayana scholar,
Nagarjuna, by giving various interpretations, there is no extraordinary
concept in Sunyata far different from the Buddha's original doctrine of
The belief in soul or Self and the Creator God, is
so strongly rooted in the minds of many people that they cannot imagine
why the Buddha did not accept these two issues which are indispensable to
many religions. In fact some people got a shock or became nervous and
tried to show their emotion when they heard that the Buddha rejected these
two concepts. That is the main reason why to many unbiased scholars and
psychologists Buddhism stands unique when compared to all the other
religions. At the same time, some other scholars who appreciate the
various other aspects of Buddhism thought that Buddhism would be enriched
by deliberately re-interpreting the Buddha word 'Atta' in order to
introduce the concept of Soul and Self into Buddhism. The Buddha was aware
of this unsatisfactoriness of man and the conceptual upheaval regarding
All conditioned things are impermanent, All conditioned things are Dukka? Suffering, All conditioned or unconditioned things are soulless or selfless. (Dhammapada 277, 278, 279) There is a parable in our Buddhist texts with regard to the belief in an eternal soul. A man, who mistook a moving rope for a snake, became terrified by that fear in his mind. Upon discovery that it was only a piece of rope, his fear subsided and his mind became peaceful. The belief in an eternal soul is equated to the rope? man's imagination.
Chapter 6 BUDDHISM VIS-A-VIS OTHER APPROACHES
Is Buddhism Similar to Other Contemporary
Teachings in India?
The Dhamma realized by the Buddha was unheard
That was the main reason why many other religious
groups could not agree with Him. He was condemned, criticized and
insulted by the most noted teachers and sects of the Vedic-Brahmanic
tradition. It was with the intention of destroying or absorbing the
Buddha and His Teaching, that the Brahmans of the pre-Christian era went
so far as to accept the Buddha as an Avatara or incarnation of their
God. Yet some others despised Him as a vasalaka, a mundaka, a samanaka,
a nastika and sudra. (These words were used in India during the Buddha's
time to insult a religious man).
There is no doubt that the Buddha reformed certain
customs, religious duties, rites and ethics and ways of living. The
greatness of His character was like a pin-point that pricked the balloon
of false beliefs and practices so that they could burst and reveal their
But as far as the fundamental, philosophical and
psychological teachings are concerned, it is groundless to say that the
Buddha had copied ideas from any existing religion at that time. For
instance, the idea of the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path and
Nibbana, were not known before His coming. Although the belief in kamma
and rebirth was very common, the Buddha gave quite logical and
reasonable explanations to this belief and introduced it as natural law
of cause and effect. Despite all these the Buddha did not ridicule any
sincere existing religious belief or practice. He appreciated the value
in many where he found Truth and he even gave a better explanation of
their beliefs. That is why He once said that the Truth must be respected
wherever it is. However, He was never afraid to speak out against
hypocrisy and falsehood.
Is Buddhism a Theory or a Philosophy?
The enlightenment of the Buddha is not a product
of mere intellect.
During the time of the Buddha there were many
learned men in India who pursued knowledge simply for its own sake.
These people were full of theoretical knowledge. Indeed, some of them
went from city to city challenging anyone to a debate and their greatest
thrill was to defeat an opponent in such verbal combats. But the Buddha
said that such people were no nearer to the realization of the truth
because in spite of their cleverness and knowledge they did not have
true wisdom to overcome greed, hatred and delusion. In fact, these
people were often proud and arrogant. Their egoistic concepts disturbed
the religious atmosphere.
According to the Buddha, one must first seek to
understand one's own mind. This was to be done through concentration
which gives one a profound inner wisdom or realization. And this insight
is to be gained not by philosophical argument or worldly knowledge but
by the silent realization of the illusion of the Self.
Buddhism is a righteous way of life for the peace
and happiness of every living being. It is a method to get rid of
miseries and to find liberation. The Teachings of the Buddha are not
limited to one nation or race. It is neither a creed nor a mere faith.
It is a Teaching for the entire universe. It is a Teaching for all time.
Its objectives are selfless service, good-will, peace, salvation and
deliverance from suffering.
Salvation in Buddhism is an individual affair. You
have to save yourself just as you have to eat, drink and sleep by
yourself. The advice rendered by the Buddha points the Way to
liberation; but His advice was never intended to be taken as a theory or
philosophy. When He was questioned as to what theory He propounded, the
Buddha replied that He preached no theories and whatever he did preach
was a result of His own experience. Thus His Teaching does not offer any
theory. Theory cannot bring one nearer to spiritual perfection. Theories
are the very fetters that bind the mind and impede spiritual progress.
The Buddha said, 'Wise men give no credence to passing theories. They
are past believing everything they see and hear.'
Theories are product of the intellect and the
Buddha understood the limitations of the human intellect. He taught that
enlightenment is not a product of mere intellect. One cannot achieve
emancipation by taking an intellectual course. This statement may seem
irrational but it is true. Intellectuals tend to spend too much of their
valuable time in study, critical analysis and debate. They usually have
little or no time for practice.
A great thinker (philosopher, scientist,
metaphysician, etc.) can also turn out to be an intelligent fool. He may
be an intellectual giant endowed with the power to perceive ideas
quickly and to express thoughts clearly. But if he pays no attention to
his action and their consequences, and if he is only bent on fulfilling
his own longings and inclinations at any cost then, according to the
Buddha, he is an intellectual fool, a man of inferior intelligence. Such
a person will indeed hinder his won spiritual progress.
The Buddha's Teaching contains practical wisdom
that cannot be limited to theory or to philosophy because philosophy
deals mainly with knowledge but it is not concerned with translating the
knowledge into day-to-day practices.
Buddhism lays special emphasis on practice and
realization. The philosopher sees the miseries and disappointments of
life but, unlike the Buddha, he offers no practical solution to overcome
our frustrations which are part of the unsatisfactory nature of life.
The philosopher merely pushes his thoughts to dead ends. Philosophy is
useful because it has enriched our intellectual imagination and
diminished dogmatic assurance which closes the mind to further progress.
To that extent, Buddhism values philosophy, but it has failed to quench
Remember that the chief aim of a Buddhist is to
attain purity and enlightenment. Enlightenment vanquishes ignorance
which is the root of birth and death. However, this vanquishing of
ignorance cannot be achieved except by the exercise of one's confidence.
All other attempts, especially mere intellectual attempts are not very
effective. This is why the Buddha concluded: 'These [metaphysical]questions
are not calculated to profit; they are not concerned with the Dhamma;
they do not lead to right conduct, or to detachment, or to purification
from lusts, or to quietude, or to a calm heart, or to real knowledge, or
to higher insight, or to Nibbana.' (Malunkyaputta Sutta _ Majjhima
Nikaya) In place of metaphysical speculation, the Buddha was more
concerned with teaching a practical understanding of the Four Noble
Truths that he discovered: what Suffering is: what the origin of
Suffering is; what the cessation of Suffering is; how to overcome
Suffering and realize final Salvation. These Truths are all practical
matters to be fully understood and realized by anyone who really
Enlightenment is the dispelling of ignorance; it
is the ideal of the Buddhist life. We can now clearly see that
enlightenment is not an act of the intellect. Mere speculation has
something alien to it and does not come so intimately into contact with
life. This is why the Buddha placed great emphasis on personal
experience. Meditation is a practical scientific system to verify the
Truth that comes through personal experience. Through meditation, the
will tries to transcend the condition it has put on itself, and this is
the awakening of consciousness. Metaphysics merely ties us down in a
tangled and matted mass of thoughts and words.
Buddhism is neither pessimistic nor optimistic but
a realistic religion.
Some critics argue that Buddhism is morbid,
cynical, hovering on the dark and shadowy side of life, an enemy of
harmless pleasures, and an unfeeling trampler on the innocent joys of
life. They see Buddhism as being pessimistic, as fostering an attitude
of hopelessness towards life, as encouraging a vague, general feeling
that pain and evil predominate in human affairs. These critics base
their views on the First Noble Truth that all conditioned things are in
a state of suffering. They seem to have forgotten that not only had the
Buddha taught the cause and end of Suffering, but he had taught the way
to end Suffering. In any case, is there any religious teacher who
praised this worldly life and advised us to cling to it?
If the founder of this religion, the Buddha, was
such a pessimist, one would expect His personality to be portrayed on
more severe lines than has been done. The Buddha image is the
personification of Peace, Serenity, Hope and Goodwill. The magnetic and
radiant smile of the Buddha which is said to be inscrutable and
enigmatic, is the epitome of His doctrine. To the worried and the
frustrated, His smile of Enlightenment and hope is an unfailing tonic
and soothing balm.
The Buddha radiated His love and compassion in all
directions. Such a person can hardly be a pessimist. And when the
sword-happy kings and princes listened to Him, they realized that the
only true conquest is the conquest of the Self and the best way to win
the hearts of the people was to teach them to appreciate the
The Buddha cultivated His sense of humor to such a
high degree that His bitter opponents were disarmed with the greatest
ease. Often they could not help laughing at themselves. The Buddha had a
wonderful tonic; He cleaned their systems of dangerous toxins and they
became enthusiastic thereafter to follow in His footsteps. In His
sermons, dialogues and discussions, He maintained that poise and dignity
which won for Him the respect and affection of the people. How can such
a person be a pessimist?
The Buddha never expected His followers to be
constantly brooding over the suffering of life and leading a miserable
and unhappy existence. He taught the fact of suffering only so that He
could show people how to overcome this suffering and move in the
direction of happiness. To become an Enlightened person, one must have
joy, one of the factors that the Buddha recommended us to cultivate. Joy
is hardly pessimistic.
There are two Buddhists texts called the
Theragatha and Therigatha which are full of the joyful utterances of the
Buddha's disciples, both male and female, who found peace and happiness
in life through His Teaching. The king of Kosala once told the Buddha
that unlike many a disciple of other religious systems who looked
haggard, coarse, pale, emaciated and unprepossessing, His disciples were
'joyful and elated, jubilant and exultant, enjoying the spiritual life,
serene, peaceful and living with a gazelle's mind, light-hearted.' The
king added that he believed that this healthy disposition was due to the
fact that 'these Venerable Ones had certainly realized the great and
full significance of the Blessed One's Teachings' (Majjhima Nikaya).
When asked why His disciples, who lived a simple
and quiet life with only one meal a day, were so radiant, the Buddha
replied: 'They do not repent the past, nor do they brood over the
future. They live in the present. Therefore they are radiant. By
brooding over the future and repenting the past, fools dry up like green
reeds cut down [in the sun] (Samyutta Nikaya).
As a religion, Buddhism preaches the
unsatisfactory nature of everything in this world. Yet one cannot simply
categorize Buddhism as a pessimistic religion, because it also teaches
us how to get rid of this unhappiness. According to the Buddha, even the
worst sinner, after paying for what he has done, can attain salvation.
Buddhism offers every human being the hope of attaining his salvation
one day. Other religions, however, take it for granted that some people
will be bad forever and have an eternal hell waiting for them. In that
respect, such religions are more pessimistic. Buddhists deny such a
Buddhism is neither optimistic nor pessimistic. It
does not encourage man to look at the world through his changing
feelings of optimism and pessimism. Rather, Buddhism encourages us to be
realistic: we must learn to see things as they truly are.
Is Buddhism Atheistic?
Atheism is associated with a materialistic
doctrine that knows nothing higher than this world.
The Buddha has condemned godlessness by which He
meant the denial of worship and renunciation, the denial of moral and
social obligations, and the denial of a religious life. He recognized
most emphatically the existence of moral and spiritual values. He
acclaimed the supremacy of the moral law. Only in one sense can Buddhism
be described as atheistic, namely, in so far as it denies the existence
of an eternal omnipotent God or God-head who is the creator and ordainer
of the world. The word 'atheism', however, frequently carries a number
of disparaging overtones or implications which are in no way applicable
to the Buddha's Teaching. Those who use the word 'atheism', often
associate it with a materialistic doctrine that knows nothing higher
than this world of the senses and the slight happiness it can bestow.
Buddhism advocate nothing of that sort.
There is no justification for branding Buddhists
as atheists, nihilists, pagans, heathens or communists just because they
do not believe in a Creator God. The Buddhist concept of God is
different from that of other religions. Differences in belief do not
justify name-calling and slanderous words.
Buddhism agrees with other religions that true and
lasting happiness cannot be found in this material world. The Buddha
adds that true and lasting happiness cannot be found on the higher or
supramundane plane of existence to which the name of heavenly or divine
world is given. While the spiritual values advocated by Buddhism are
orientated to a state transcending the world with the attainment of
Nibbana, they do not make a separation between the 'beyond' and the
'here and now'. They have firm roots in the world itself, for they aim
at the highest realization in this present existence.
LEADING A BUDDHIST LIFE
CHAPTER 7 MORAL FOUNDATION FOR MANKIND
What is the Purpose of life?
Man is the highest fruit on the tree of evolution.
It is for man to realize his position in nature and understand the true
meaning of his life.
To know the purpose of life, you will first have
to study the subject through your experience and insight. Then, you will
discover for yourself the true meaning of life. Guidelines can be given,
but you must create the necessary conditions for the arising of
There are several prerequisites to the discovery
of the purpose of life. First, you must understand the nature of man and
the nature of life. Next, you keep your mind calm and peaceful through
the adoption of a religion. When these conditions are met, the answer
you seek will come like the gentle rain from the sky.
Understanding the nature of man
Man may be clever enough to land on the moon and
discover wondrous things in the universe, but he has yet to delve into
the inner workings of his own mind. He has yet to learn how his mind can
be developed to its fullest potential so that its true nature can be
As yet, man is still wrapped in ignorance. He does
not known who he really is or what is expected of him. As a result, he
misinterprets everything and acts on that misinterpretation. Is it not
conceivable that our entire civilization is built on the
misinterpretation? The failure to understand his existence leads him to
assume a false identity of a bloated, self-seeking egoist, and to
pretend to be what he is not or is unable to be.
Man must make an effort to overcome ignorance to
arrive at realization and Enlightenment. All great men are born as human
beings from the womb, but they worked their way up to greatness.
Realization and Enlightenment cannot be poured into the human heart like
water into a tank. Even the Buddha had to cultivate His mind to realize
the real nature of man.
Man can be enlightened _a Buddha? if he wakes up
from the 'dream' that is created by his own ignorant mind, and becomes
fully awakened. He must realize that what he is today is the result of
an untold number of repetitions in thoughts and actions. He is not
ready-made: he is continually in the process of becoming, always
changing. And it is in this characteristic of change that his future
lies, because it means that it is possible for him to mould his
character and destiny through the choice of his actions, speech and
thoughts. Indeed, he becomes the thoughts and actions that he chooses to
perform. Man is the highest fruit on the tree of evolution. It is for
man to realize his position in nature and to understand the true meaning
of his life.
Understanding the nature of life
Most people dislike facing the true facts of life
and prefer to lull themselves into a false sense of security by sweet
dreaming and imagining. They mistake the shadow for the substance. They
fail to realize that life is uncertain, but that death is certain. One
way of understanding life is to face and understand death which is
nothing more than a temporary end to a temporary existence. But many
people do not like even to hear of the word 'death'. They forget that
death will come, whether they like it or not. Recollections on death
with the right mental attitude can give a person courage and calmness as
well as an insight into the nature of existence.
Besides understanding death, we need a better
understanding of our life. We are living a life that does not always
proceed as smoothly as we would like it to. Very often, we face problems
and difficulties. We should not be afraid of them because the
penetration into the very nature of these problems and difficulties can
provide us with a deeper insight into life. The worldly happiness in
wealth, luxury, respectable positions in life which most people seek is
an illusion. The fact that the sale of sleeping pills and tranquilizers,
admissions to mental hospital and suicide rates have increased in
relation to modern material progress is enough testimony that we have to
go beyond worldly, material pleasure to seek for real happiness.
The need for a religion
To understand the real purpose of life, it is
advisable for a person to choose and follow an ethical-moral system that
restrains a person from evil deeds, encourages him to do good, and
enables him to purify his mind. For simplicity, we shall call this
Religion is the expression of the striving man: it
is his greatest power, leading him onwards to self-realization. It has
the power to transform one with negative characteristics into someone
with positive qualities. It turns the ignoble, noble; the selfish,
unselfish; the proud, humble; the haughty, forbearing; the greedy,
benevolent; the cruel, kind; the subjective, objective. Every religion,
represents, however imperfectly, a reaching upwards to a higher level of
being. From the earliest times, religion has been the source of man's
artistic and cultural inspiration. Although many forms of religion had
come into being in the course of history, only to pass away and be
forgotten, each one in its time had contributed something towards the
sum of human progress. Christianity helped to civilize the West, and the
weakening of its influence has marked a downward trend of the Occidental
spirit. Buddhism, which civilized the greater part of the East long
before, is still a vital force, and in this age of scientific knowledge
is likely to extend and to strengthen its influence. It does not, at any
point, come into conflict with modern knowledge, but embraces and
transcends all of it in a way that no other system of thought has ever
done before or is ever likely to do. Western man seeks to conquer the
universe for material ends. Buddhism and Eastern philosophy strive to
attain harmony with nature or spiritual satisfaction.
Religion teaches a person how to calm down the
senses and make the heart and mind peaceful. The secret of calming down
the senses is to eliminate desire which is the root of our disturbances.
It is very important for us to have contentment. The more people crave
for their property, the more they have to suffer. Property does not give
happiness to man. Most of the rich people in the world today are
suffering from numerous physical and mental problems. With all the money
they have, they cannot buy a solution to their problems. Yet, the
poorest men who have learnt to have contentment may enjoy their lives
far more than the richest people do. As one rhyme goes:
'Some have too much and yet do crave I have little
and seek no more; They are but poor though much more they have And I am
rich with little store. They poor, I rich, they beg, I give; They lack,
I have; they pine, I live.' Searching for a purpose in life The aim in
life varies among individuals. An artist may aim to paint masterpieces
that will live long after he is gone. A scientist may want to discover
some laws, formulate a new theory, or invent a new machine. A politician
may wish to become a prime minister or a president. A young executive
may aim to be a managing director of multinational company. However,
when you ask the artist, scientist, politician and the young executive
why they aim such, they will reply that these achievements will give
them a purpose in life and make them happy. Everyone aims for happiness
in life, yet experience shows time and again that its attainment is so
It is here that the adoption of a religion becomes
important, since it encourages contentment and urges a person to look
beyond the demands of his flesh and ego. In a religion like Buddhism, a
person is reminded that he is the heir of his karma and the master of
his destiny. In order to gain greater happiness, he must be prepared to
forego sort-term pleasures. If a person does not believe in life after
death, even then it is enough for him to lead a good, noble life on
earth, enjoying a life of peace and happiness here and now, as well as
performing actions which are for the benefit and happiness of others.
Leading such a positive and wholesome life on earth and creating
happiness for oneself and others is much better than a selfish life of
trying to satisfy one's ego and greed.
If, however, a person believes in life after
death, then according to the Law of Karma, rebirth will take place
according to the quality of his deeds. A person who has done many good
deeds may be born in favorable conditions where he enjoys wealth and
success, beauty and strength, good health, and meets good spiritual
friends and teachers. Wholesome deeds can also lead to rebirth in the
heavens and other sublime states, while unwholesome deeds lead to
rebirth in suffering states. When a person understands the Law of Karma,
he will then make the effort to refrain from performing bad actions, and
to try to cultivate the good. By so acting, he gains benefits not only
in this life, but in many other lives to come.
When a person understands the nature of man, then
some important realizations arise. He realizes that unlike a rock or
stone, a human being possesses the innate potential to grow in wisdom,
compassion, and awareness? and be transformed by this self-development
and growth. He also understands that it is not easy to be born as a
human being, especially one who has the chance to listen to the Dhamma.
In addition, he is fully aware that his life is impermanent, and he
should, therefore, strive to practise the Dhamma while he is still in a
position to do so. He realizes that the practice of Dhamma is a
life-long educative process which enables him to release his true
potentials trapped within his mind by ignorance and greed..
Based on these realizations and understanding, he
will then try to be more aware of what and how he thinks, speaks and
acts. He will consider if his thoughts, speech and actions are
beneficial, done out of compassion and have good effects for himself as
well as others. He will realize the true value of walking the road that
leads to complete self transformation, which is known to Buddhists as
the Noble Eightfold path. This Path can help a person to develop his
moral strength (sila)through the restraint of negative actions and the
cultivation of positive qualities conductive for personal, mental and
spiritual growth. In addition, it contains many techniques which a
person can apply to purify his thoughts, expand the possibilities of the
mind, and bring about a complete change towards a wholesome personality.
This practice of mental culture
(bhavana) can widen and deepen the mind towards
all human experience, as well as the nature and characteristics of
phenomena, life and the universe. In short, this leads to the
cultivation of wisdom (panna). As his wisdom grows, so will his love,
compassion, kindness, and joy. He will have greater awareness to all
forms of life and better understanding of his own thoughts, feelings,
In the process of self-transformation, a person
will no longer aspire for a divine birth as his ultimate goal in life.
He will then set his goal much higher, and model himself after the
Buddha who has reached the summit of human perfection and attained the
ineffable state we call Enlightenment or Nibbana. It is here that a man
develops a deep confidence in the Triple Gem and adopts the Buddha as
his spiritual ideal. He will strive to eradicate greed, develop wisdom
and compassion, and to be completely liberated from the bounds of
This religion can be practised either in society
or in seclusion.
There are some who believe that Buddhism is so
lofty and sublime a system that it cannot be practised by ordinary men
and women in the workday world. These same people think that one has to
retire to a monastery or to some quiet place if one desires to be a true
This is a sad misconception that comes from a lack
of understanding of the Buddha. People jump to such conclusions after
casually reading or hearing something about Buddhism. Some people form
their impression of Buddhism after reading articles or books that give
only a partial or lopsided view of Buddhism. The authors of such
articles and books have only a limited understanding of the Buddha's
Teaching. His Teaching is not meant only for monks in monasteries. The
Teaching is also for ordinary men and women living at home with their
families. The Noble Eightfold Path is the Buddhist way of life that is
intended for all people. This way of life is offered to all mankind
without any distinction.
The vast majority of people in the world cannot
become monks or retire into caves or forests. However noble and pure
Buddhism may be, it would be useless to the masses if they could not
follow it in their daily life in the modern world. But if you understand
the spirit of Buddhism correctly, you can surely follow and practise it
while living the life of an ordinary man.
There may be some who find it easier and more
convenient to accept Buddhism by living in a remote place; in other
words, by cutting themselves off from the society of others. Yet , other
people may find that this kind of retirement dulls and depresses their
whole being both physically and mentally, and that it may therefore not
be conducive to the development of their spiritual and intellectual
True renunciation does not mean running away
physically from the world. Sariputta, the chief disciple of the Buddha,
said that one man might live in a forest devoting himself to ascetic
practices, but might be full of impure thoughts and 'defilements'.
Another might live in a village or a town, practising no ascetic
discipline, but his mind might be pure, and free from 'defilements'. 'Of
these two,' said, Sariputta, 'the one who lives a pure life in the
village or town is definitely far superior to, and greater than, the one
who lives in the forest.' (Majjhima Nikaya)
The common belief that to follow the Buddha's
Teaching one has to retire from a normal family life is a misconception.
It is really an unconscious defense against practising it. There are
numerous references in Buddhist literature to men and women living
ordinary, normal family lives who successfully practised what the Buddha
taught and realized Nibbana. Vacchagotta the Wanderer, once asked the
Buddha straightforwardly whether there were laymen and women leading the
family life who followed His Teaching successfully and attained the high
spiritual states. The Buddha categorically stated that there were many
laymen and women leading the family life who had followed His Teaching
successfully and attained the high spiritual states.
It may be agreeable for certain people to live a
retired life in a quiet place away from noise and disturbances. But it
is certainly more praiseworthy and courageous to practise Buddhism
living among fellow beings, helping them and offering service to them.
It may perhaps be useful in some cases for a man to live in retirement
for a time in order to improve his mind and character, as a preliminary
to moral, spiritual and intellectual training, to be strong enough to
come out later and help others. But if a man lives all his life in
solitude, thinking only of his own happiness and salvation, without
caring for his fellowmen, this surely is not in keeping with the
Buddha's Teaching which is based on love compassion and service to
One might now ask, 'If a man can follow Buddhism
while living the life of an ordinary man, why was the Sangha, the Order
of Monks, established by the Buddha?' The Order provides opportunity for
those who are willing to devote their lives not only to their own
spiritual and intellectual development, but also to the service of
others. An ordinary layman with a family cannot be expected to devote
his whole life to the service of others, whereas a Monk, who has no
family responsibilities or any other worldly ties, is in a position to
devote his life 'for the good of the many'. (Dr. Walpola Rahula)
And what is this 'good' that many can benefit
from? The monk cannot give material comfort to a layman, but he can
provide spiritual guidance to those who are troubled by worldly, family
emotional problems and so on. The monk devotes his life to the pursuit
of knowledge of the Dhamma as taught by the Buddha. He explains the
Teaching in simplified form to the untutored layman. And if the layman
is well educated, he is there to discuss the deeper aspects of the
teaching so that both can gain intellectually from the discussion.
In Buddhist countries, monks are largely
responsible for the education of the young. As a result of their
contribution, Buddhist countries have populations which are literate and
well-versed in spiritual values. Monks also comfort those who are
bereaved and emotionally upset by explaining how all mankind is subject
to similar disturbances.
In turn, the layman is expected to look after the
material well-being of the monk who does not gain income to provide
himself with food, shelter, medicine and clothing. In common Buddhist
practice, it is considered meritorious for a layman to contribute to the
health of a monk because by so doing he makes it possible for the monk
to continue to minister to the spiritual needs of the people and for his
The Buddhist Way of Life for Householders
The Buddha considered economic welfare as a
requisite for human happiness, but moral and spiritual development for a
happy, peaceful and contented life.
A man named Dighajanu once visited the Buddha and
said, 'Venerable Sir, we are ordinary laymen, leading a family life with
wife and children. Would the Blessed One teach us some doctrines which
will be conducive to our happiness in this world and hereafter?
The Buddha told him that there are four things
which are conducive to a man's happiness in this world. First: he should
be skilled, efficient, earnest, and energetic in whatever profession he
is engaged, and he should know it well (utthana-sampada); second: he
should protect his income, which he has thus earned righteously, with
the sweat of his brow (arakkha-sampada); third: he should have good
friends (kalyana-mitta) who are faithful, learned, virtuous, liberal and
intelligent, who will help him along the right path away from evil;
fourth: he should spend reasonably, in proportion to his income, neither
too much nor too little, i. e., he should not hoard wealth avariciously
nor should he be extravagant? in other words he should live within his
Then the Buddha expounds the four virtues
conducive to a layman's happiness hereafter: (1) Saddha: he should have
faith and confidence in moral, spiritual and intellectual values;
(2) Sila: he should abstain from destroying and harming life, from
stealing and cheating, from adultery, from falsehood, and from
(3) Caga: he should practise charity, generosity,
without attachment and craving for his wealth;(4) Panna: he should
develop wisdom which leads to the complete destruction of suffering, to
the realization of Nibbana.
Sometimes the Buddha even went into details about
saving money and spending it, as, for instance, when he told the young
man Sigala that he should spend on fourth of his income on his daily
expenses, invest half in his business and put aside one fourth for any
Once the Buddha told Anathapindika, the great
banker, one of His most devoted lay disciples who founded for Him the
celebrated Jetavana monastery at Savatthi, that a layman who leads an
ordinary family life has four kinds of happiness. The first happiness is
to enjoy economic security or sufficient wealth acquired by just and
righteous means (atthi-sukha); the second is spending that wealth
liberally on himself, his family, his friends and relatives, and on
meritorious deeds (bhogo-sukha); the third to be free from debts (anana-sukha);
the fourth happiness is to live a faultless, and a pure life without
committing evil in thought, word or deed (anavajja-sukha).
It must be noted here that first three are
economic and material happiness which is 'not worth part' of the
spiritual happiness arising out of a faultless and good life.
From the few examples given above, one can see
that the Buddha considered economic welfare as a requisite for human
happiness, but that He did not recognize progress as real and true if it
was only material, devoid of a spiritual and moral foundation. While
encouraging material progress, Buddhism always lays great stress on the
development of the moral and spiritual character for a happy, peaceful
and contented society.
Many people think that to be a good Buddhist one must have absolutely nothing to do with the materialistic life. This is not correct. What the Buddha teaches is that while we can enjoy material comforts without going to extremes, we must also conscientiously develop the spiritual aspects of our lives. While we can enjoy sensual pleasures as laymen, we should never be unduly attached to them to the extent that they hinder our spiritual progress. Buddhism emphasizes the need for a man to follow the Middle Path.
Chapter 8 Buddhist Morality and Practice
Man-made moral laws and customs do not form Buddhist
The world today is in a state of turmoil; valuable
ethics are being upturned. The forces of materialistic skepticism have
turned their dissecting blades on the traditional concepts of what are
considered humane qualities. Yet, any person who has a concern for culture
and civilization will concern himself with practical, ethical issues. For
ethics has to do with human conduct. It is concerned with our relationship
with ourselves and with our fellow-men.
The need for ethics arises from the fact that man is
not perfect by nature; he has to train himself to be good. Thus morality
becomes the most important aspect of living.
Buddhist ethics are not arbitrary standards invented
by man for his own utilitarian purpose. Nor are they arbitrarily imposed
from without. Man-made laws and social customs do not form the basis of
Buddhist ethics. For example, the styles of dress that are suitable for
one climate, period or civilization may be considered indecent in another;
but this is entirely a matter of social custom and does not in any way
involve ethical considerations. Yet the artificialities of social
conventions are continually confused with ethical principles that are
valid and unchanging.
Buddhist ethics finds its foundation not on the
changing social customs but rather on the unchanging laws of nature.
Buddhist ethical values are intrinsically a part of nature, and the
unchanging law of cause and effect (kamma). The simple fact that Buddhist
ethics are rooted in natural law makes its principles both useful and
acceptable to the modern world. The fact that the Buddhist ethical code
was formulated over 2,500 years ago does not detract from its timeless
Morality in Buddhism is essentially practical in
that it is only a means leading to the final goal of ultimate happiness.
On the Buddhist path to Emancipation, each individual is considered
responsible for his own fortunes and misfortunes. Each individual is
expected to work his own deliverance by his understanding and effort.
Buddhist salvation is the result of one's own moral development and can
neither be imposed nor granted to one by some external agent. The Buddha's
mission was to enlighten men as to the nature of existence and to advise
them how best to act for their own happiness and for the benefit of
others. Consequently, Buddhist ethics are not founded on any commandments
which men are compelled to follow. The Buddha advised men on the
conditions which were most wholesome and conducive to long term benefit
for self and others. Rather than addressing sinners with such words as
'shameful', 'wicked', 'wretched', 'unworthy', and 'blasphemous' He would
merely say, 'You are unwise in acting in such a way since this will bring
sorrow upon yourselves and others.'
The theory of Buddhist ethics finds its practical
expression in the various precepts. These precepts or disciplines are
nothing but general guides to show the direction in which the Buddhist
ought to turn to on his way to final salvation. Although many of these
precepts are expressed in a negative form, we must not think that Buddhist
morality, consists of abstaining from evil without the complement of doing
The morality found in all the precepts can be
summarized in three simple principles? 'To avoid evil; to do good, to
purify the mind.' This is the advice given by all the Buddhas. ----(Dhammapada,
In Buddhism, the distinction between what is good
and what is bad is very simple: all actions that have their roots in
greed, hatred, and delusion that spring from selfishness foster the
harmful delusion of selfhood. These action are demeritorious or unskillful
or bad. They are called Akusala Kamma. All those actions which are rooted
in the virtues of generosity, love and wisdom, are meritorious--- Kusala
Kamma. The criteria of good and bad apply whether the actions are of
thought, word or deed.
Buddhist ethics are based on intention or volition
'Kamma is volition,' says the Buddha. Action
themselves are considered as neither good nor bad but 'only the intention
and thought makes them so.' Yet Buddhist ethics does not maintain that a
person may commit what are conventionally regarded as 'sins' provided that
he does so with the best of intentions. Had this been its position,
Buddhism would have confined itself to questions of psychology and left
the uninteresting task of drawing up lists of ethical rules and framing
codes of conducts to less emancipated teachings. The connection between
thoughts and deeds, between mental and material action is an extension of
thought. It is not possible to commit murder with a good heart because
taking of life is simply the outward expression of a state of mind
dominated by hate or greed. Deeds are condensations of thoughts just as
rain is a condensation of vapor. Deeds proclaim from the rooftops of
action only what has already been committed in the silent and secret
chambers of the heart.
A person who commits an immoral act thereby declares
that he is not free from unwholesome states of mind. Also, a person who
has a purified and radiant mind, who has a mind empty of all defiled
thoughts and feelings, is incapable of committing immoral actions.
Buddhist ethics also recognizes the objectivity of
moral value. In other words, the kammic consequences of actions occur in
accordance with natural kammic law, regardless of the attitude of the
individual or regardless of social attitudes toward the act. For example,
drunkenness has kammic consequences; it is evil since it promotes one's
own unhappiness as well as the unhappiness of others. The kammic effects
of drunkenness exist despite what the drunkard or his society may think
about the habit of drinking. The prevailing opinions and attitudes do not
in the least detract from the fact that drunkenness is objectively evil.
The consequences _ psychological, social, and kammic _ make actions moral
or immoral _ regardless of the mental attitudes of those judging the act.
Thus while ethical relativism is recognized, it is not considered as
undermining the objectivity of values.
What is Vinaya?
Vinaya is the disciplinary code for self training
laid down by the Buddha for monks and nuns to observe. Vinaya plays a
pivotal role in their monastic way of life.
The Buddha prescribed all the necessary guidance to maintain the holy order in every aspect of life. When the Buddha passed away, these rules were collated so that the Order could be organized around them. The code of conduct prescribed by the Buddha can be divided into two broad areas. These are Universal Moral Codes, Lokavajja, most of which are applicable to all members of the Order and lay people alike for leading a religious life. Certain other disciplinary codes or rules which can be instituted to meet the existing cultural and social constraints of the country at any one time are called Pannatti Vajja. In the first category are the Universal Laws which restricted all immoral and harmful evil deeds. The second category of rules applied almost directly to the monks and nuns in the observance of manners, traditions, duties, customs and etiquette.
Breaking of moral codes pertaining to the Lokavajja create bad reputation as well as bad kamma, whereas violation of disciplinary codes based on social conditions do not necessarily create bad kamma. However, they are subject to criticism as violation in any form pollute the purity and dignity of the holy Order. These rules were largely based on the socio-cultural situation or way of life prevailing in India 25 centuries ago. According to the Maha Parinibbana Sutta, the Buddha had proclaimed that some 'minor' rules could be altered or amended to accommodate changes due to time and environment, provided they do not encourage immoral or harmful behavior. In fact, during the Buddha's time itself, certain minor rules were amended by the monks with His permission.
The Buddha also advocated that sick monks and nuns be exempted from certain Vinaya rules. However, once the rules had been enumerated by the disciples in the First Council, convened three months after the passing away of the Buddha, it was decided that all the rules should be maintained in toto because no one was certain as to which of the rules should be altered. Finally, the disciples decided to uphold all the precepts prescribed by the Buddha. As time went on however, the rules became fossilized and some orthodox disciples insisted that the rules should be followed strictly to the letter rather than in the spirit. It was precisely to prevent rigid adherence to mere rules of this kind that the Buddha did not appoint a successor to take over after Him. He had said that the understanding of the Dhamma and upholding of the Dhamma as the master should be enough to help one lead a holy life.
Another reason why the early disciples did not agree to
change any of the precepts was that there was no reason or occasion for
them to do so within such a short period of time after the passing away of
the Buddha. This was because, at that time, most of those who had
renounced their worldly life had done so with sincerity and conviction.
However, when the social conditions started to change and when Buddhism
spread to many other parts of India and other countries, the decision made
by the disciples not to change any precepts in the First Council became a
very big problem because some of the rules could not be adapted to meet
the political and economic changes under varying circumstances.
Development of Sangha
The Sangha community, in the course of time, evolved
themselves into several sects, many of whom, while adhering to some major
precepts as laid down by he Buddha, had, however, tended to ignore some of
the minor rules. The Theravada sect appeared to be more orthodox, while
the Mahayana and some other sects tended to be more liberal in their
outlook and religious observances. The Theravada sect tried to observe the
Vinaya to the very letter despite of changing circumstances and
environment. Minor changes of the precepts had, however, taken place from
time to time, but were not officially recognized even amongst the members
of the Theravada sect. For instance, we can look at the rule regarding the
partaking of food after the stipulated time of the day. The Theravada sect
has not openly acknowledged the fact that certain variations could be
allowed under special circumstances. Whilst members of other schools adapt
themselves to the wearing of robes with appropriate colour and pattern,
the Theravada sect has continued to adhere to the use of the original
robes that were traditionally prescribed despite the changed social and
climatic conditions. Many of practices of the monkhood are clearly
understood only by those who are born into traditional Buddhist cultures.
At the other extreme, there are some monks who
insist on observing the very letter of the Vinaya code rather than in its
spirit, even though such action would embarrass the people around them.
For example, more and more Buddhist monks are being invited to western
countries where the culture of the people and the climatic conditions are
so vastly different from that in Asia, but which could be regarded as
strange and exotic elsewhere. Here again the monk must apply his common
sense and try not to make a mockery of himself in the eyes of the people.
The important rule to be observed is that no immoral, cruel, harmful and
indecent acts are created and that the sensitivities of others are
respected. If the monks can lead their lives as hones, kind, harmless and
understanding human beings by maintaining their human dignity and
disciplines, then such qualities will be appreciated in any part of the
world. Maintaining the so-called traditions and customs of their
respective countries of origin have little to do with the essence of the
Dhamma as taught by the Buddha.
Then, there is another problem. Many people,
especially those in the West who have accepted the Buddhist way of life,
having read the Vinaya rules in the texts, think that the monks must
follow all the rules in toto in any part of the world, in exactly the same
manner as they were recorded in the texts. We must remember that some of
these rules which were practised in Indian society 25 centuries ago are
irrelevant even in Asia today. It must be clearly borne in mind that the
Buddha instituted the rules only for the members of the Sangha community
who lived in India, in fact in the region where He lived. Those monks
never had any experience of the way of life in another country. Their main
concern was with the spiritual development with the minimum of disruption
and annoyance to the society where they lived. But if they lived today,
they may experience many other new problems, if they strictly observe all
the rules in a country where people cannot appreciate or understand them.
The disciplinary code for lay devotees show how a
layman can live a virtuous and noble life without renouncing the worldly
life. The Buddha's advice to lay people is contained in such discourses as
the Mangala, Parabhava, Sigalovada, Vasala and Vygghapajja and many other
Many Vinaya rules apply only to those who have
renounced the worldly life. Of course a layman may follow some of the
rules if they help him to develop greater spirituality.
When society changes, monks cannot remain as
traditionalists without adapting to the changes, although they have
renounced the worldly life. People who cannot understand this situation
criticize the behavior of certain monks because of those changes.
However, when the monks want to amend even certain
minor precepts, they would have to do it with the sanction of a recognized
Sangha Council. Individual monks are not at liberty to change any Vinaya
rules according to their whims and fancies. Such a Council of Sangha
members can also impose certain sanction against monks who have committed
serious violations of the disciplinary code and whose behavior discredits
the Sangha. The Buddha instituted the Council to help monks to prevent
evil deeds and avoid temptation in a worldly life. The rules were
guidelines rather than inviolable laws handed down by some divine
In Asian countries particularly, monks are accorded
great respect and reverence. Lay people respect them as teachers of the
Dhamma and as men who have sacrificed the worldly life in order to lead a
holy life. Monks devote themselves to the study and practice of the Dhamma
and do not earn a living. Laymen, therefore, see to their material
well-being while they in turn look to the monks for their spiritual needs.
As such, monks are expected to conduct themselves in
such a way that will earn them the respect and reverence of the public.
If, for example, a monk is seen in a disreputable place, he will be
criticized even if he is not involved in any immoral action. Therefore, it
is the duty of the monks to avoid certain uncongenial surroundings so as
to maintain the dignity of the holy Order.
If a monk does not respect the feelings of his lay
devotees and behaves according to what he alone thinks is right, then the
lay devotees are not bound to look after his needs. There are many
instances recorded in the Buddhist Texts that even during the Buddha's
time, lay devotees had refused to look after arrogant, quarrelsome or
irresponsible monks. Monks can be criticized for doing certain worldly
things which only lay people are at liberty to do.
Dhamma and Vinaya
Many people have not yet realized that the Dhamma,
the Truth expounded by the Buddha, is not changeable under any
circumstances. Certain Vinaya rules are also included into the same
category and they are not subject to change under any circumstances. But
some other Vinaya rules are subject to change so as to prevent certain
undue inconveniences. Dhamma and Vinaya are not the same. Some monks try
to observe certain traditions rigidly as if they are important religious
principles although others cannot find any religious significance or
implication in their practices. At the same time some selfish and cunning
persons may even try to maintain certain outward manifestations of purity,
in order to mislead innocent devotees to regard them as pious and sincere
monks. Many so-called Buddhist practices in Asian countries that monks and
others follow are not necessarily religious precepts but traditional
practices upheld by the people. On the other hand, certain manners
introduced for monks to observe as disciplines truly maintain the dignity
and serenity of the holy Order. Although religious traditions and customs
can create a congenial atmosphere for spiritual development, some Vinaya
rules need to be amended according to changing social conditions. If this
is not done, monks will have to face numerous problems in the course of
their survival and in their association with the public.
Some lay people criticize monks for handling money.
It is difficult to carry out their religious activities and to be active
in modern society without dealing with money. What a monk must do is to
consider himself as unattached to the money or property as personal
belongings. That is what the Buddha meant. Of course, there may be some
who deliberately misinterpret the rules to suit their material gain. They
will have to bear the consequences of their own inability to gain
However, those who choose to confine themselves to
an isolated area for meditation for peace of mind, should be able to carry
out their religious duties without hindrance from worldly things which can
become burdensome. But they must first ensure that they have enough
supporters to attend to their needs. While there can be such monks who
wish to retire completely from society there must be enough monks in
society to attend to the numerous religious needs of the general public.
Otherwise, people may think that Buddhism cannot contribute very much in
their day to day lives.
Characteristic of a Monk
Patimokkha Sila --The Fundamental Moral Code (major
offenses related to immoral, cruel, harmful and selfish activities.)
Indriyasamvara Sila --Morality pertaining to
Ajivaparisuddhi Sila --Morality pertaining to purity
Paccayasannissita Sila? -- Morality pertaining to the
use of requisites pertaining to life.
These four kinds of morality are collectively called
Sila-Visuddhi (Purity of Virtue).
When a person enters the Order and receives his
ordination he is called a Samanera _Novice Monk. He is bound to observe
Ten Samanera Precepts with certain disciplinary codes for leading a
monastic life until he receives his higher ordination?Upasampada _ to
become a Bhikkhu or fully fledged monk.
Ten Meritorious and Ten Evil Actions
A fortunate or unfortunate life depends on
individual merits and demerits.
The performance of good actions gives rise to merit
(punna), a quality which purifies and cleanses the mind. If the mind is
unchecked, it has the tendency to be ruled by evil tendencies, leading one
to perform bad deeds and getting into trouble. Merit purifies the mind of
the evil tendencies of greed, hatred and delusion. The greedy mind
encourages a person to desire, accumulate and hoard; the hating mind drags
him to dislike and anger; and the deluded mind makes one become entangled
in greed and hatred, thinking that these evil roots are right and worthy.
Demeritorious deeds give rise to more suffering and reduce the
opportunities for a person to know and practise the Dhamma.
Merit is important to help us along our journey
through life. It is connected with what are good and beneficial to oneself
and others, and can improve the quality of the mind. While the material
wealth a person gathers can be lost by theft, flood, fire, confiscation,
etc., the benefit of merits follows him from life to life and cannot be
lost, although it can be exhausted if no attempts are made to perform more
merits. A person will experience happiness here and now ass well as
hereafter through the performance of merit.
Merit is a great facilitator: It opens the doors of
opportunity everywhere. A meritorious person will succeed in whatever
venture he puts his effort into. If he wishes to do business, he will meet
with the right contacts and friends. If he wishes to be a scholar, he will
be awarded with scholarships and supported by academic mentors. If he
wishes to progress in meditation, he will meet with a skillful meditation
teacher who guides him through his spiritual development. His dreams will
be realized through the grace of his treasury of merit. It is merit which
enables a person to be reborn in the heavens, and provides him with the
right conditions and support for his attainment of Nibbana.
There are several rich fields of merit (recipients
of the deed) which give rise to bountiful results to the performer of the
good deed. Just as some soil can yield a better harvest (say black fertile
soil compared to stony soil), a good deed performed to some persons can
give rise to more merits than to others. The rich fields of merits include
the Sangha or holy people, mother, father and needy. Good deeds performed
to these persons will manifest in many ways and be the fountainhead of
many wondrous results.
Ten Meritorious Deeds
The Buddha taught ten meritorious deeds for us to perform in order to gain a happy and peaceful life as well as to develop knowledge and understanding.
The ten meritorious deeds are:
Reverence or respect
Service in helping others
Sharing merits with others
Rejoicing in the merits of others
Preaching and teaching the Dhamma
Listening to the Dhamma
Straightening one's views
The performance of these ten meritorious deeds will
not only benefit oneself, but others as well, besides giving benefits to
the recipients. Moral conduct benefits all beings with whom one comes into
contact. Mental culture brings peace to others and inspires them to
practise the Dhamma. Reverence gives rise to harmony in society, while
service improves the lives of others. Sharing merits with others shows
that one is concerned about others' welfare, while rejoicing in others'
merits encourages others to perform more merits. Teaching and listening to
the Dhamma are important factors for happiness for both the teacher and
listener, while encouraging both to live in line with Dhamma.
Straightening one's views enables a person to show to others the beauty of
Dhamma. In the Dhammapada, the Buddha taught:
'Should a person perform good,
He should do it again and again;
He should find pleasure therein;
For blissful is the accumulation of good.'
'Think not lightly of good, saying,
'It will not come near to me'?
Even by the falling of drops a water-jar is filled.
Likewise the wise man, gathering little by little,
Fills himself with good.'
Ten Evil Deeds
There are ten demeritorious deeds from which
Buddhists are advised to keep away. These deeds are rooted in greed,
hatred and delusion, and will bring suffering to others but especially to
oneself in this life and later lives. When a person understands the Law of
Kamma and realizes that bad deeds bring bad results, he will then practise
Right Understanding and avoid performing these actions.
There are three bodily actions which are kammically
unwholesome. They are: (1)Killing of living beings,(2)Stealing, and
(3)Unlawful sexual intercourse. These bodily deeds correspond to the first
three of the Five Precepts for people to follow.
The effects of killing to the performer of the deed
are brevity of life, ill-health, constant grief due to the separation from
the loved, and living in constant fear. The bad consequences of stealing
are poverty, misery, disappointment, and a dependent livelihood. The bad
consequences of sexual misconduct are having many enemies, always being
hated, and union with undesirable wives and husbands.
Four verbal actions are kammically unwholesome, and
they are as follows: (1)Lying, (2)Slander and tale-bearing, (3)harsh
speech, and (4)Frivolous and meaningless talk. Except for lying, the other
unwholesome deeds performed by speech may be viewed as extensions of the
The bad consequences of lying to the one who
performs the deed are being subject to abusive speech and vilification,
untrustworthiness, and physical unpleasantness. The bad effect of
slandering is losing one's friends without any sufficient cause. The
results of harsh speech are being detested by others and having a harsh
voice. The inevitable effects of frivolous talk are defective bodily
organs and speech which no one believes.
The three other demeritorious deeds are performed by
the mind, and they are as follows: (1)Covetousness, or eagerly desirous
especially of things belonging to others, (2)Ill-will, and (3)Wrong view.
These three deeds correspond to the three evil roots of greed, hatred and
delusion. The non-observance of the Fifth Precept of abstention from
intoxicants can not only lead to the performance of these three
demeritorious mental actions after the mind is intoxicated, but also the
other demeritorious deeds performed by body and speech.
The undesirable result of covetousness is the
non-fulfillment of one's wishes. The consequences of ill-ill are ugliness,
manifold diseases, and having a detestable nature. Finally, the
consequences of false view are having gross desires, lack of wisdom, being
of dull wit, having chronic diseases and blameworthy ideas.
A person should always perform good actions and
restrain himself from doing evil actions. If, however, a person has
performed an evil action, it is necessary for him to realize where he has
done wrong and make an effort not to repeat the mistake. This is the true
meaning of repentance, and in this way only will a person progress along
the noble path to salvation.
Praying for forgiveness is meaningless if, after the
prayer is made, a person repeats the veil action again and again. Who is
there to 'wash away a person's sins' except he himself? This has to begin
with realization, the wonderful cleansing agent. First, he realizes the
nature of his deed and the extent of the harm incurred. Next, he realizes
that this deed is unwholesome, learns from it, and makes the resolution
not to repeat it. Then, he performs many good deeds to the affected party
as well as to others, as much as possible. In this way, he overcomes the
effect of bad deed with a shower of good deeds.
No wrong does, according to Buddhism, is beyond
redemption or rehabilitation, especially with realization and Right
Effort. To be seduced into believing that a person can 'wash away' his bad
deeds through some other 'miraculous' way is not only a mere superstition,
but worse, it is also not useful particularly to the spiritual development
of the person himself. It will only cause him to continue to remain
ignorant and morally complacent. This misplaced belief can, in fact, do a
person much more harm than the effects of the wrong deed he feared so
By observing precepts, not only do you cultivate
your moral strength, but you also perform the highest service to your
Every country or society has its code of what are
considered to be moral actions within its social context. These codes are
often linked to the society's interest and its code of law. An action is
considered right so long as it does not break the law and transgress
public or individual sensitivities. These man-made codes are flexible and
amended from time to time to suit changing circumstances. Important as
they are to society, these man-made standards cannot serve as a reliable
guide to some principles of morality which can be applied universally.
By contrast, Buddhist morality is not the invention
of human minds. Neither is it based on tribal ethics which are gradually
being replaced by humanistic codes. It is based on the universal law of
cause and effect (kamma), and considers a 'good' or 'bad' action in terms
of the manner it affects oneself and others. An action, even if it brings
benefit to oneself, cannot be considered a good action if it causes
physical and mental pain to another being.
Buddhist morality addresses a very common, yet
crucial question: How can we judge if an action is good or bad? The
answer, according to Buddhism, is a simple one. The quality of an action
hinges on the intention or motivation (cetana)from which it originates. If
a person performs an action out of greed, hatred, and delusion, his action
is considered to be unwholesome. On the other hand, if he performs and
action out of love, charity, and wisdom, his action is a wholesome one.
Greed, Hatred and Delusion are known as the 'Three Evil Root', while love,
charity and wisdom as the 'Three Good Roots'. The word 'root' refers to
the intention from which that action originates. Therefore, no matter how
a person tries to disguise the nature of his action, the truth can be
found by examining his thoughts which gave rise to that action. And the
mind is the source of all our speech and action.
In Buddhism, a person's first duty is to cleanse
himself of the mental defilements of greed, hatred and ignorance. The
reason for doing this is not because of fear or desire to please some
divine beings. If this is so, a person is still lacking in wisdom. He is
only acting out of fear like the little child who is afraid of being
punished for being naughty. A Buddhist should act out of understanding and
wisdom. He performs wholesome deeds because he realizes that by so doing
he develops his moral strength which provides the foundation for spiritual
growth, leading to Liberation. In addition, he realizes that his happiness
and suffering are self-created through the operation of the Law of Kamma.
To minimize the occurrence of troubles and problems in his life, he makes
the effort to refrain from doing evil. He performs good actions because he
know that these will bring him peace and happiness. Since everyone seeks
happiness in life, and since it is possible for him to provide the
condition for happiness, then there is every reason for him to do good and
avoid evil. Furthermore, the uprooting of these mental defilements, the
source of all anti-social acts, will bring great benefits to others in
Lay Buddhist morality is embodies in the Five
Precepts, which may be considered at two levels. First, it enables men to
live together in civilized communities with mutual trust and respect.
Second, it is the starting point for the spiritual journey towards
Liberation. Unlike commandments, which are supposedly divine commands
imposed on men, precepts are accepted voluntarily by the person himself,
especially when he realizes the usefulness of adopting some training rules
for disciplining his body, speech and mind. Understanding, rather than
fear of punishment, is the reason for following the precepts. A good
Buddhist should remind himself to follow the Five Precepts daily. They are
no killing living creatures
no taking what is not given
no sexual misconduct
no false speech
no use of intoxicating drugs and liquor,
Besides understanding the Five Precepts merely as a
set of rules of abstention, a Buddhist should remind himself that through
the precepts he practices the Five Ennoblers as well. While the Five
Precepts tells him what not to do, the Five Ennoblers tells him which
qualities to cultivate, namely, loving kindness, renunciation,
contentment, truthfulness, and mindfulness. When a person observes the
First precept of not killing, he controls his hatred and cultivates loving
kindness. In the Second Precept, he controls his greed and cultivates his
renunciation or non-attachment. He controls sensual lust and cultivates
his contentment in the Third Precept. In the Fourth Precept, he abstains
from false speech and cultivates truthfulness, while he abstains from
unwholesome mental excitement and develop mindfulness through the Fifth
Precept. Therefore, when a person understands the ennoblers, he will
realize that the observance of the Five Precepts does not cause him to be
withdrawn, self-critical and negative, but to be a positive personality
filled with love and care as well as other qualities accruing to one who
leads a moral life.
The precepts are the basic practice in Buddhism. The
purpose is to eliminate crude passions that are expressed through thought,
word and deed. The precepts are also an indispensable basis for people who
wish to cultivate their minds. Without some basic moral code, the power of
meditation can often be applied for some wrong and selfish motive.
In many Buddhist countries, it is customary among
the devotees to observe the Eight Precepts on certain days of the month,
such as the full moon and new moon days. These devotees will come to the
temple early in the morning and spend twenty-four hours in the temple,
observing the precepts. By observing the Eight Precepts, they cut
themselves off from their daily life which is bombarded with material and
sensual demands. The purpose of observing the Eight Precepts is to develop
relaxation and tranquillity, to train the mind, and to develop oneself
During this period of observing the precepts, they
spend their time reading religious books, listening to the Teachings of
the Buddha, meditating, and also helping with the religious activities of
the temple. The following morning, they change from Eight Precepts to the
Five Precepts intended for daily observance, and return home to resume
their normal life.
The Eight Precepts are to abstain from:
Taking food after the sun had crossed the zenith.
Dancing, singing, music, unseemly shows, the use of
garlands, perfumes, unguents and things that tend to beautify and adorn
the person, and
Using high and luxurious seats.
Some people find it hard to understand the
significance of a few of these precepts. They think that Buddhists are
against dancing, singing, music, the cinema, perfume, ornaments and
luxurious things. There is no rule in Buddhism that states that every lay
Buddhist must abstain from these things. The people who choose to abstain
from these entertainments are devout Buddhists who observe these precepts
only for a short period as a way of self discipline. The reason for
keeping away from these entertainments and ornamentations is to calm down
the senses even for a few hours and to train the mind so as not to be
enslaved to sensual pleasures. These entertainments increase the passions
of the mind and arouse emotions which hinder a person's spiritual
development. By occasionally restraining himself from these
entertainments, a person will make progress towards overcoming his
weaknesses and exercise greater control over himself. However, Buddhists
do not condemn these entertainments.
Observance of precepts (both the Five and Eight
precepts) when performed with an earnest mind is certainly a meritorious
act. It brings great benefits to this life and the lives hereafter.
Therefore, a person should try his best to observe the precepts with
understanding and as often as he can.
What is lacking in the world today is
loving-kindness or goodwill.
In the world today, there is sufficient material
wealth. There are very advanced intellectuals, brilliant writers, talented
speaker, philosophers, psychologists, scientists, religious advisors,
wonderful poets and powerful world leaders. In spite of these
intellectuals, there is no real peace and security in the world today.
Something must be lacking. What is lacking is loving-kindness or goodwill
Material gain in itself can never bring lasting
happiness and peace. Peace must first be established in man's own heart
before he can bring peace to others and to the world at large. The real
way to achieve peace is to follow the advice given by religious teachers.
In order to practise loving-kindness, one must first
practise the Noble Principle of non-violence and must always be ready to
overcome selfishness and to show the correct path to others. The fighting
is not to be done with the physical body, because the wickedness of man is
not in his body but in his mind. Non-violence is a more effective weapon
to fight against evil than retaliation. The very nature of retaliation is
to increase wickedness.
'Not out of love for the husband loved; but the
husband is loved for love of self. Children are loved by the parents, not
out of love for the children, but for love of self. The gods are loved,
not out of love for the gods, but for love for self. Not out of love is
anybody loved, but for love of self are loved.'
Man should learn how to practise selfless love to
maintain real peace and his own salvation. Just as suicide kills
physically, selfishness kills spiritual progress. Loving-kindness in
Buddhism is neither emotional or selfish. It is loving-kindness that
radiates through the purified mind after eradicating hatred, jealousy,
cruelty, enmity and grudges. According to the Buddha, Metta -
Loving-kindness is the most effective method to maintain purity of mind
and to purify the mentally polluted atmosphere.
The word 'love' is used to cover a very wide range
of emotions human beings experience. Emphasis on the base animal lust of
one sex for another has much debased the concept of a feeling of amity
towards another being. According to Buddhism, there are many types of
emotions, all of which come under the general term 'love' First of all,
there is selfish love and there is selfless love. One has selfish love
when one is concerned only with the satisfaction to be derived for oneself
without any consideration for the partner's needs or feelings. Jealousy is
usually a symptom of selfish love. Selfless love, on the other hand, is
felt when one person surrenders his whole being for the good of another
_parents feel such love for their children. Usually human beings feel a
mixture of both selfless and selfish love in their relationships with each
other. For example, while parents make enormous sacrifices for their
children, they usually expect something in return.
Another kind of love, but closely related to the
above, is brotherly love or the love between friends. In a sense, this
kind of love can also be considered selfish because the love is limited to
particular people and does not encompass others. In another category we
have sexual love, where partners are drawn towards each other through
physical attraction. It is the kind that is most exploited by modern
entertainment and it can cover anything from uncomplicated teenage
infatuations to the most complex of relationships between adults.
On a scale far higher than these, is Universal Love
or Metta. This all-embracing love is the great virtue expressed by the
Buddha. Lord Buddha, for example, renounce His kingdom, family and
pleasures so that He could strive to find a way to release mankind from an
existence of suffering. In order to gain His Enlightenment, he had to
struggle for many countless lives. A lesser being would have been
disheartened, but not the Buddha-elect. It is for this He is called 'The
Compassionate One'. The Buddha's boundless love extended not only to human
beings but all living creatures. It was not emotional or selfish, but a
love without frontiers, without discrimination. Unlike the other kinds of
love, Universal love can never end in disappointment or frustration
because it expects no reward. It creates more happiness and satisfaction.
One who cultivates universal love will also cultivate sympathetic joy and
equanimity and he will then have attained to the sublime state.
In this book, The Buddha's Ancient Path Ven.
'Love is an active force. Every act of the loving
one is done with the stainless mind to help, to succor, to cheer, to make
the paths of others easier, smoother and more adapted to the conquest of
sorrow, the winning of the highest bliss.
'The way to develop love is through thinking out the
evils of hate, and the advantages of non-hate; through thinking out
according to actuality, according to karma, that really there is none to
hate, that hate is a foolish way of feeling which breeds more and more
darkness, that obstructs right understanding. Hate restricts; love
release. Hatred strangles; love enfranchises. Hatred brings remorse; love
brings peace. Hatred agitates; love quietens, stills, calms. Hatred
divides; love unites. Hatred hardens; love softens. Hatred hinders; love
helps. And thus through a correct study and appreciation of the effects of
hatred and the benefits of love, should one develop love.'
In Metta Sutta, the Buddha has expounded the nature
of love in Buddhism. 'Just as a mother would protect her only child even
at the risk of her own life, even so, let him cultivate a boundless heart
towards all beings. Let his thoughts of boundless love pervade the whole
world, above, below and across without any obstruction, without any
hatred, without any enmity.'
You perform real charity if you can give freely
without expecting anything in return.
The essence of true charity is to give something
without expecting anything in return for the gift. If a person expects
some material benefit to arise from his gift, he is only performing an act
of bartering and not charity. A charitable person should not make other
people feel indebted to him or use charity as a way of exercising control
over them. He should not even expect others to be grateful, for most
people are forgetful though not necessarily ungrateful. The act of true
charity is wholesome, has no strings attached, and leaves both the giver
and the recipient free.
The meritorious deed of charity is highly praised by
every religion. Those who have enough to maintain themselves should think
of others and extend their generosity deserving cases. Among people who
practise charity, there are some who give as a means of attracting others
into their religion or creed. Such an act of giving which is performed
with the ulterior motive of conversion cannot really be said to be true
The Buddhism views charity as an act to reduce
personal greed which is an unwholesome mental state which hinders
spiritual progress. A person who is on his way to spiritual growth must
try to reduce his own selfishness and his strong desire for acquiring more
and more. He should reduce his strong attachment to possessions which, if
he is not mindful, can enslave him to greed. What he owns or has should
instead be used for the benefit and happiness of others: his loved ones as
well as those who need his help.
When giving, a person should not perform charity as
an act of his body alone, but with his heart and mind as well. There must
be joy in every act of giving. A distinction can be made between giving as
a normal act of generosity and dana. In the normal act of generosity a
person gives out of compassion and kindness when he realizes that someone
else is in need of help, and he is in the position to offer the help. When
a person performs dana, he gives as a means of cultivating charity as a
virtue and of reducing his own selfishness and craving. He exercises
wisdom when he recalls that dana is a very important quality to be
practised by every Buddhist, and is the first perfection (paramita) practised
by the Buddha in many of His previous births in search for Enlightenment.
A person performs dana in appreciation of the great qualities and virtues
of the Triple Gem.
There are many things which a person can give. He
can give material things: food for the hungry, and money and clothes to
the poor. He can also give his knowledge, skill, time, energy or effort to
projects that can benefit others. He can provide a sympathetic ear and
good counsel to a friend in trouble. He can restrain himself from killing
other beings, and by so doing perform a gift of life to the helpless
beings which would have otherwise been killed. He can also give a part of
his body for the sake of others, such as donating his blood, eyes, kidney,
etc. Some who seek to practise this virtue or are moved by great
compassion or concern for others may also be prepared to sacrifice their
own lives. In His previous births, the Bodhisatta had many a time given
away parts of His body for the sake of others. He had also given up His
life so that others might live, so great was His generosity and
But the greatest testimony to the Buddha's great
compassion is His priceless gift to humanity?the Dhamma which can liberate
all beings from suffering. To the Buddhist, the highest gift of all is the
gift of Dhamma. This gift has great powers to change a life. When a person
receives Dhamma with a pure mind and practices the Truth with earnestness,
he cannot fail to change. He will experience greater happiness, peace and
joy in his heart and mind. If he was once cruel, he becomes compassionate.
If he was once revengeful, he becomes forgiving. Through Dhamma, the
hateful becomes more compassionate, the greedy more generous, and the
restless more serene. When a person has tasted Dhamma, not only will be
experience happiness here and now, but also happiness in the lives
hereafter as he journeys to Nibbana.
The Buddhist Attitude
to Animal Life
If we believe that animals were created by someone
for men, it would follow that men were also created for animals since some
animals do eat human flesh.
Animals are said to be conscious only of the
present. They live with no concern for the past or future. Likewise,
little children seem to have no notion of the future. They also live in
the present until their faculties of memory and imagination are developed.
Men possesses the faculty of reasoning. The gap
between man and animal widens only to the extent that man develops his
reasoning faculty and acts accordingly. Buddhists accept that animals not
only possesses instinctive power but also, to a lesser degree, thinking
In some respects, animals are superior to men. Dogs
have a keener sense of hearing; insects have a keener sense of smell;
hawks are speedier; eagles can see a greater distance. Undoubtedly, men
are wiser; but men have so much to learn from the ants and bees. Much of
the animal is still in us. But we also have much more: we have the
potential of spiritual development.
Buddhism cannot accept that animals were created by
someone for men; if animals were created for men then it could follow that
men were also created for animals since there are some animals which eat
Buddhists are encouraged to love all living beings
and not to restrict their love only to human beings. They should practise
loving kindness towards every living being. The Buddha's advice is that is
not right for us to take away the life of any living being since every
living being has a right to exist. Animals also have fear and pain as do
human beings. It is wrong to take away their lives. We should not misuse
our intelligence and strength to destroy animals even though they may
sometimes be a nuisance to us. Animals need our sympathy. Destroying them
is not the only method to get rid of them. Every living being is
contributing something to maintain this world. It is unfair for us to
deprive their living rights.
In his Handbook of reason, D. Runes says:
'We can hardly speak of morals in relation to
creatures we systematically devour, mostly singed but sometimes raw. There
are men and women who practise horse love, dog love, cat love. But these
very same people would take a deer or a calf by its neck, slit its throat,
drink the blood straight away or in a pudding, and bite off the flesh. And
who is to say that a horse they cherish is nobler than a deer they feed
on? Indeed, there are people who eat cats, dogs and horses but would use a
cow only as a work animal.'
Some cry over a little bird or goldfish that
expired; others travel long distances to catch fish on a nasty hook for
food or mere pleasure or shooting birds for fun. Some go into deep jungle
for hunting animals as a game while others spend a lot to keep the same
animals at home as their pets.
Some keep frogs to foretell the weather; others cut
off their legs and fry them. Some tenderly tend birds in gilded cages;
others serve them for breakfast. It is all quite confusing. One thought
stands out in a world where man clubs man for gain or sheer gore, there is
hardly time to ponder over his morals in relation to animals.
Every religion advises us to love our fellow humans.
Some even teach us to love them more if they belong to the same religion.
But Buddhism is supreme in that it teaches u s to show equal care and
compassion for each and every creature in the universe. The destruction of
any creature represents a disturbance of the Universal Order.
The Buddha was very clear in His teachings against
any form of cruelty to any living being. One day the Buddha saw a man
preparing to make a animal sacrifice. On being asked why he was going to
kill innocent animals, the man replied that it was because it would please
the gods. The Buddha then offered Himself as the sacrifice, saying that if
the life of an animal would please the gods then the life of a human
being, more valuable, would please the gods even more.
Man's cruelty towards animals is another expression
of his uncontrolled greed. Today we destroy animals and deprive them of
their natural rights so that we can expend our environments for our
convenience. But we are already beginning to pay the price for this
selfish and cruel act. Our environment is threatened and if we do not take
stern measures for the survival of other creatures, our own existence on
this earth may not be guaranteed. It is true that the existence of certain
creatures is a threat to human existence. But we never consider that human
are the greatest threat to every living being on this earth and in the air
whereas the existence of other creatures is a threat only to certain
Since every creature contributes something for the
maintenance of the planet and atmosphere, destroying them is not the
solution to overcome our disturbances. We should take other measures to
maintain the balance of nature.
The Need for Tolerance Today
'If a person foolishly does me wrong, I will return
to him the protection of my boundless love. The more evil that comes from
him the more good will go from me. I will always give off only the
fragrance of goodness.' (Buddha).
People today are restless, weary filled with fear
and discontentment. They are intoxicated with the desire to gain fame,
wealth and power. They crave for gratification of the senses. People are
passing their days in fear, suspicion and insecurity. In this time of
turmoil and crisis, it becomes difficult for people to coexist peacefully
with their fellowmen. There is therefore, a great need for tolerance in
the world today so that peaceful co-existence among the people of the
world can be possible.
The world has bled and suffered from the disease of
dogmatism and of intolerance. The land of many countries today are soaked
with the blood spilled on the altar of various political struggles, as the
skies of earlier millennia were covered with the smoke of burning martyrs
of various faiths. Whether in religion or politics people have been
conscious of a mission to bring humanity to their way of life and have
been aggressive towards other ways of life. Indeed, the intolerance of the
crusading spirit has spoiled the records of religions.
Let us look back on this present century of highly
publicized 'Progress'----a century of gadgets and inventions. The array of
new scientific and technical inventions is dazzling _telephones, electric
motors, airplanes, radios, television, computers, space ships, satellites
and electronic devices°‚. Yet in this same century the children of the
earth who have developed all these inventions as the ultimate in progress,
are the same people who have butchered millions of others by bayonets or
bullets or gas. Amidst all the great 'progress', where does the spirit of
Today man is interested in exploring outer space.
But he is totally unable to live as man-to-man in peace and harmony. Man
will eventually desecrate the moon and other planets.
For the sake of material gain, modern man violates
nature. His mental activities are so preoccupied with his pleasure that he
is unable to discover the purpose of life. This unnatural behavior of
present mankind is the result of his wrong conception of human life and
its ultimate aim. It is the cause of the frustration, fear, insecurity and
intolerance of our present time.
In fact, today intolerance is still practised in the
name of religion. People merely talk of religion and promise to provide
short cuts to paradise, they are not interested in practising it. If
Christianity live by the Sermon on the Mount, if Buddhists follow the
Noble Eightfold path, if Muslims really follow the concept of Brotherhood
and if the Hindus shape their life in oneness, definitely there will be
peace and harmony in this world. Inspite of these invaluable Teachings of
the great religious teachers, people have still not realized the value of
tolerance. The intolerance that is practised in the name of religion is
most disgraceful and deplorable.
The Buddha's advice is 'Let us live happily, not
hating those who hate us. Among those who hate us, let us live free from
hatred. Let us live happily and free from ailment. Let us live happily and
be free from greed; among those who are greedy.' (Dhammapada 197,200)
Buddhist Funeral Rites
A real Buddhist funeral is a simple, solemn and
dignified religious service.
As practised in many Buddhist countries, a real
Buddhist funeral is a simple, solemn and dignified ceremony.
Unfortunately, some people have included many unnecessary, extraneous
items and superstitious practices into the funeral rites. The extraneous
items and practices vary according to the traditions and customs of the
people. They were introduced in olden days by people who probably could
not understand the nature of life, nature of death, and what life would be
after death. When such ideas were incorporated into Buddhist practices,
people tended to blame Buddhism for expensive funeral rites. If only the
Buddhist public would approach proper persons who have studied the real
Teachings of the Buddha and Buddhist tradition, they could receive advice
on how to perform Buddhist funeral rites. It is most unfortunate that a
bad impression has been created that Buddhism encourages people to waste
their money and time on unnecessary practices. It must be clearly
understood that Buddhism has nothing to do with such debased practices.
Buddhists are not very particular regarding the
burial or cremation of a dead body. In many Buddhist countries, cremation
is customary. For hygienic and economic reasons, it is advisable to
cremate. Today, the population in the world is increasing and if we
continue to have dead bodies occupying valuable land, then one day all
remaining available land will be occupied by the dead and the living will
have no place to live.
There are still some people who object to the
cremation of dead bodies. They say that cremation is against god's law, in
the same way they have objected to many other things in the past. It will
take some time for such people to understand that cremation is much more
appropriate and effective than burial.
On the other hand Buddhists do not believe that one
day someone will come and awaken the departed persons spirits from their
graveyards or the ashes from their urns and decide who should go to heaven
and who should go to hell.
The consciousness or mental energy of the departed
person has no connection with the body left behind or his skeleton or his
ashes. Many people believe that if the deceased is not given a proper
burial or if a sanctified tombstone is not placed on the grave, then the
soul of the deceased will wander to the four corners of the world and weep
and wail and sometimes even return to disturb the relatives. Such a belief
cannot be found anywhere in Buddhism.
Buddhists believe that when a person dies, rebirth will take place somewhere else according to his good or bad actions. As long as the person possesses the craving for existence, he must experience rebirth. Only the Arahants, who have gone beyond all passions will have no more rebirths and so after their death, they will attain their final goal Nibbana.
9 Dhamma And Ourselves As Refuge
Why We take Refuge in the Buddha
Buddhists take refuge in the Buddha not out of fear
of Him, but to gain inspiration and right understanding for their
Buddhist do not take refuge in the Buddha with the
belief that He is a god or son of god. The Buddha never claimed any
divinity. He was the Enlightened One, the most Compassionate, Wise, and
Holy One who ever lived in this world. Therefore, people take refuge in
the Buddha as a Teacher or Master who has shown the real path of
emancipation. They pay homage to Him to show their gratitude and respect,
but they do not ask for material favors. Buddhists do not pray to the
Buddha thinking that He is a god who will reward them or punish or curse
them. They recite verses or some sutras not in the sense of supplication
but as a means of recalling His great virtues and good qualities to get
more inspiration and guidance for themselves and to develop the confidence
to follow His Teachings. There are critics who condemn this attitude of
taking refuge in the Buddha. They do not know the true meaning of the
concept of taking refuge in and paying homage to a great religious
Teacher. They have learned only about praying which is the only thing that
some people do in the name of religion. When Buddhists seek refuge it
means they accept the Buddha, Dhamma and the Sangha as the means by which
they can eradicate all the causes of their fear and other mental
disturbances. Many people, especially those with animistic beliefs, seek
protection in certain objects around them which they believe are inhabited
The Buddha advised against the futility of taking refuge in hills, woods, groves, trees and shrines when people are fear-stricken. No such refuge is safe, no such refuge is Supreme. Not by resorting to such a refuge is one freed from all ill. He who has gone for refuge to the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha sees with right knowledge the Four Noble Truths -Sorrow, the cause of Sorrow, the transcending of Sorrow, and the Noble Eightfold Path which leads to the cessation of Sorrow. This indeed is secure refuge. By seeking such refuge one is released from all Sorrow.
In the Dhajagga Sutta, itis mentioned that by taking
refuge in Sakra, the king of gods or any god, the followers would not be
free from all their worldly problems and fears. The reason is, such gods
are themselves not free from lust, hatred, illusion and fear, but the
Buddha, Dhamma and the Sangha (i.e. the community who has attained
perfection) are free from them. Only those who are free from
unsatisfactoriness can show the way to lasting happiness.
Francis Story, a well known Buddhist scholar, gives
his views on seeking refuge in the Buddha.
I go for refuge to the Buddha. I seek the presence
of the Exalted Teacher by whose compassion I may be guided through the
torrents of Samsara, by whose serene countenance I may be uplifted from
the mire of worldly thoughts and cravings, seeing there in the very
assurance of Nibbanic Peace, which He himself attained. In sorrow and pain
I turn to Him and in my happiness I seek His tranquil gaze. I lay before
His Image not only flowers and incense, but also the burning fires of my
restless heart, that they may be quenched and stilled, I lay down the
burden of my pride and my selfhood, the heavy burden of my cares and
aspirations, the weary load of this incessant birth and death.
Sri Rama Chandra Bharati, an Indian poet, gives
another meaningful explanation for taking refuge in the Buddha.
'I seek not thy refuge for the sake of gain,
Not fear of thee, nor for the love of fame,
Not as thou hailest from the solar race,
Not for the sake of gaining knowledge vast,
But drawn by the power of the boundless love,
And thy all-embracing peerless ken,
The vast Samsara's sea safe to cross,
I bend low, O lord, and become thy devotee.'
Some people say that since the Buddha was only a
man, there is no meaning in taking refuge in Him. But they do not know
that although the Buddha very clearly said that He was a man, he was no
ordinary man like any of us. He was an extraordinary and incomparably holy
person who possessed Supreme Enlightenment and great compassion toward
every living being. He was a man freed from all human weaknesses,
defilements and even from ordinary human emotions. Of Him it has been
said, 'There is none so godless as the Buddha, and yet none so godlike.'
In the Buddha is embodied all the great virtues, sacredness, wisdom and
Another question that people very often raise is
this: 'If the Buddha is not a god, if He is not living in this world
today, how can he bless people?' According to the Buddha, if people follow
His advice by leading a religious life, they would certainly receive
blessings. Blessing in a Buddhist sense means the joy we experience when
we develop confidence and satisfaction. The Buddha once said, 'if anyone
wishes to see me, he should look at my Teachings and practise them.'
(Samyutta Nikaya) Those who understand His Teachings easily see the real
nature of the Buddha reflected in themselves. The image of the Buddha they
maintain in their minds is more real than the image they see on the altar,
which is merely a symbolic representation. 'Those who live in accordance
with the Dhamma (righteous way of life) will be protected by that very
Dhamma.' (Thera Gatha) One who knows the real nature of existence and the
fact of life through Dhamma will not have any fear and secure a harmonious
way of life.
In other religions, the people worship their god by
asking for favours to be granted to them. Buddhists do not worship the
Buddha by asking for worldly favours, but they respect Him for His supreme
achievement. When Buddhists respect the Buddha, they are indirectly
elevating their own minds so that one day they also can get the same
enlightenment to serve mankind if they aspire to become a Buddha.
Buddhists respect the Buddha as their Master.
However, this respect does not imply an attachment to or a dependence on
the Teacher. This kind of respect is in accordance with His Teaching which
is as follows:
'Monks, even if a monk should take hold of the edge
of my outer garment and should walk close behind me, step for step, yet if
he should be covetous, strongly attracted by pleasures of the senses,
malevolent in thought, of corrupt mind and purpose, of confused
recollection, inattentive and not contemplative, scatter-brained, his
sense-faculties uncontrolled, then he is far from me and I am far from
'Monks, if the monk should be staying even a hundred
miles away, yet he is not covetous, not strongly attracted by the
pleasures of the senses, not malevolent in thought, not of corrupt mind
and purpose, his collection firmly set, attentive, contemplative, his
thoughts be one-pointed, restrained in his sense-faculties, then he is
near me and I am near him.' (Samyutta Nikaya)
No Self Surrender
Dependence on others means a surrender of one's
Buddhism is a gentle religion where equality,
justice and peace reign supreme. To depend on others for salvation is
negative, but to depend on oneself is positive. Dependence on others means
surrendering one's intelligence and efforts.
Everything which has improved and uplifted humanity
has been done by man himself. Man's improvement must come from hi own
knowledge, understanding, effort and experience and not from heaven. Man
should not be a slave even to the great forces of nature because even
though he is crushed by them he remains superior by virtue of his
understanding of them. Buddhism carries the Truth further: it shows that
by means of understanding, man can also control his environment and
circumstances. He can cease to be crushed by them and use their power to
raise himself to great heights of spirituality and nobility.
Buddhism gives due credit to man's intelligence and
effort for his achievements rather than to supernatural beings. True
religion means faith in the good of man rather than faith in unknown
forces. In that respect, Buddhism is not merely a religion, but a noble
method to gain peace and eternal salvation through living a respectable
way of life. From the very outset, Buddhism appeals to the cultured and
the intellectual minds. Every cultured man in the world today respects the
Buddha as a rational Teacher. The Buddha taught that what man needs for
his happiness is not a religion with a mass of dogmas and theories but
knowledge of the cosmic nature and its relationship to the law of cause
and effect. Until this principle that life is merely an imperfect
manifestation of nature is fully understood, no man can be fully
The Buddha has given a new explanation of the
universe. It is a new vision of eternal happiness, the achievement of
perfection. The winning of the human goal in Buddhism is the permanent
state beyond impermanency, the attainment of Nibbana beyond all the worlds
of change, and the final deliverance form the miseries of existence.
In Buddhism, actions are merely termed as unskillful
or unwholesome, not as sinful.
Buddhists do not regard man as sinful by nature of
'in rebellion against god'. Every human being is a person of great worth
who has within himself a vast store of good as well as evil habits. The
good in a person is always waiting for a suitable opportunity to flower
and to ripen. Remember the saying, 'There is so much that is good in the
worst of us and so much that is bad in the best of us.'
Buddhism teaches that everyone is responsible for
his own good and bad deeds, and that each individual can mould his own
destiny. Says the Buddha, 'These evil deeds were only done by you, not by
your parents, friends, or relatives; and you yourself will reap the
painful results.' (Dhammapada 165)
Man's sorrow is his own making and is not handed
down by a family curse or an original sin of a mythical primeval ancestor.
Buddhists do not accept the belief that this world is merely a place of
trial and testing. This world can be made a place where we can attain the
highest perfection. And perfection is synonymous with happiness. To the
Buddha, man is not an experiment in life created by somebody which can be
done away with when unwanted. If a sin could be forgiven, people might
take advantage and commit more and more sins. The Buddhist has no reason
to believe that the sinner can escape the consequences by the grace of an
external power. If a man thrusts his hand into a furnace, his hand will be
burnt, and all the prayer in the world will not remove the scars. The same
is with the man who walks into the fires of evil action. The Buddha's
approach to the problems of suffering is not imaginary, speculative or
metaphysical, but essentially empirical.
According to Buddhism, there is no such thing as sin
as explained by other religions. To the Buddhists, sin is unskillful or
unwholesome action? Akusala Kamma which creates Papa - the downfall of man.
The wicked man is an ignorant man. He needs instruction more than he needs
punishment and condemnation. He is not regarded as violating god's will or
as a person who must beg for divine mercy and forgiveness. He needs only
guidance for his enlightenment.
All that is necessary is for someone to help him use
his reason to realize that he is responsible for his wrong action and that
he must pay for the consequences. Therefore the belief in confession is
foreign to Buddhism.
The purpose of the Buddha's appearance in this world
is not to wash away the sins committed by human beings nor to punish or to
destroy the wicked people, but to make the people understand how foolish
it is to commit evil and to point out the reaction of such evil deeds.
Consequently there are no commandments in Buddhism, since no one can
command another for his spiritual upliftment. The Buddha has encouraged us
to develop and use our understanding. He has shown us the path for our
liberation from suffering. The precepts that we undertake to observe are
not commandments: they are observed voluntarily. The Buddha's Teaching is
thus: 'Please pay attention; take this advice and think it over. If you
think it is suitable for you to practise my advice, then try to practise
it. You can see the results through your own experience.' There is no
religious value in blindly observing any commandment without proper
conviction and understanding. However, we should not take advantage of the
liberty given by the Buddha to do anything we like. It is our duty to
behave as cultured, civilized and understanding human beings to lead a
religious life. If we can understand this, commandments are not important.
As an enlightened teacher, the Buddha advised us on how to lead a pure
life without imposing commandments and using the fear of punishment.
Do It Yourself
Self confidence plays an important part in every
aspect of man's life.
Knowing that no external sources, no faith or
rituals can save him, the Buddhist feels the need to rely on his own
efforts. He gains confidence through self-reliance. He realizes that the
whole responsibility of his present life as well as his future life
depends completely on himself alone. Each must seek salvation for himself.
Achieving salvation can be compared to curing a disease: if one is ill,
one must go to a doctor. The doctor diagnose the ailment and prescribes
medicine. The medicine must be taken by the person himself. He cannot
depute someone else to take the medicine for him. No one can be cured by
simply admiring the medicine or just praising the doctor for his good
In order to be cured, he himself must faithfully
follow the instructions given by the doctor with regard to the manner and
frequency in taking his medicine, his daily diet and other relevant
medical restraints. Likewise, a person must follow the precepts,
instructions or advice given by the Buddha (who gives prescriptions for
liberation)by controlling or subduing one's greed, hatred and ignorance.
No one can find salvation by simply singing praises of the Buddha or by
making offerings to Him. Neither can one find salvation by celebrating
certain important occasions in honour of the Buddha. Buddhism is not a
religion where people can attain salvation by mere prayer or begging to be
saved. They must strive hard by controlling their selfish desires and
emotions in order to gain salvation.
Man is Responsible for Everything
When a man has learned how to live as a real human
being without disturbing others, he can live peacefully without any fear
in his heart.
The Buddha says: man creates everything. All our
griefs, perils and misfortunes are of our own creation. We spring from no
other source than our own imperfection of heart and mind. We are the
results of our good and bad actions committed in the past under the
influence of greed and delusion. And since we ourselves brought them into
being, it is within our power to overcome bad effects and cultivate good
The human mind, like that of an animal, is something
governed by animal instinct. But unlike the animal mind, the human mind
can be trained for higher values. If man's mind is not properly cultured,
that uncultured mind creates a great deal of trouble in this world.
Sometimes man's behavior is more harmful and more dangerous than animal
behavior. Animals have no religious problems, no language problems, no
political problems, no social and ethical problems, no colour-bar
problems. They fight only for their food, shelter and sex. But, there are
thousand of problems created by mankind. Their behavior is such that they
would not be able to solve any of these problems without creating further
problems. Man is reluctant to admit his weaknesses. He is not willing to
shoulder his responsibilities. His attitude is always to blame others for
his failure. If we become more responsible in our actions, we can maintain
peace and happiness.
Man is His Own Jailor
Is there any truth in man'sclaim that he should be
given freedom to do things as he likes?
When we consider human freedom, it is very difficult
to find out whether man is really free to do anything according to his own
wishes. Man is bound by many conditions both external and internal; he is
asked to obey the laws that are imposed on him by the government; he is
bound to follow certain religious principles; he is required to co-operate
with the moral and social conditions of the society in which he lives; he
is compelled to follow certain national and family customs and traditions.
In modern society, he in inclined to disagree with life; he is expected to
conform by adapting himself to the modern way of life. he is bound to
co-operate with natural laws and cosmic energy, because he is also part of
the same energy. He is subjected to the weather and climatic conditions of
the region. Not only does he have to pay attention to his life or to
physical elements, but he has also to make up his mind to control his own
emotions. In other words, he has no freedom to think freely because he is
overwhelmed by new thoughts which may contradict or do away with his
previous thoughts and convictions. At the same time, he may believe that
he has to obey and work according to the will of god, and not follow his
Taking into consideration all the above changing
conditions to which man is bound, we can ask 'Is there any truth in man's
claim that he should be given freedom to do things as he likes?'
Why does man have his hands tied so firmly? The
reason is that there are various bad elements within man. These elements
are dangerous and harmful to all living creatures. For the past few
thousand years, all religions have been trying to tame this unreliable
attitude of man and to teach him how to live a noble life. But it is most
unfortunate that man is still not ready to be trustworthy, however good he
may appear to be.
Man still continues to harbor all these evil
elements within himself. These evil elements are not introduced or
influenced by external sources but are created by man himself. If these
evil forces are man-made, then man himself must work hard to get rid of
them after realizing their danger. Unfortunately the majority of men are
cruel, cunning, wicked, ungrateful, unreliable, unscrupulous. If man is
allowed to live according to his own free-will without moderation and
restraint, he would most definitely violate the peace and happiness of
innocent people. His behavior would probably be much worse than that of
dangerous living beings. Religion is required to train him to lead a
respectable life and to gain peace and happiness here and hereafter.
Another obstacle confronting religious life and
spiritual progress is racial arrogance. The Buddha advised His followers
not to bring forward any racial issue when they come to practise religion.
Buddhists are taught to sink their own racial origin and caste or class
distinction. People of all religions should not discriminate against any
groups of people by bringing forward their personal traditional way of
life. They should treat everyone equally, especially in the religious
field. Unfortunately, followers of different religions create more
discriminations and hostility towards other religious groups when
performing their religious activities.
While working others, they should not disturb their
feelings because of their so-called traditions and customs. They can
follow traditions and customs that are in keeping with the religious
principles and moral codes of their religions.
Racial arrogance is a great hindrance to religion
and spiritual progress. The Buddha once used the simile of ocean water to
illustrate the harmony which can be experienced by people who have learnt
to cast aside their racial arrogance: Different rivers have different
names. The water of the individual rivers all flow into the ocean and
become ocean water. In a similar manner, all those who have come from
different communities and different castes, must forget their differences
and think of themselves only as human beings.
You Protect Yourself
'Protecting oneself one protects others'
'Protecting others one protects oneself.'
Once the Blessed One told His monks the following
'There was once a pair of jugglers who did their
acrobatic feats on a bamboo pole. One day the master said to his
apprentice: 'Now get on my shoulders and climb up the bamboo pole.' When
the apprentice had done so, the master said: 'Now protect me well and I
shall protect you. By watching each other in that way, we shall be able to
show our skill, we shall make a good profit and you can get down safely
from the bamboo pole.' But the apprentice said: 'Not so, master. You! O
Master, should protect yourself, and I too shall protect myself. Thus
self-protected and self-guarded we shall safely do our feats."
'This is the right way,' said the Blessed One and
spoke further as follows:
'It is just as the apprentice said: 'I shall protect
myself,' in that way the Foundation of Mindfulness should be practised. 'I
shall protect others,' in that way the Foundation of Mindfulness should be
practised. Protecting oneself one protects others; protecting others one
'And how does one, in protecting oneself, protect
others? By the repeated and frequent practice of meditation.
'and how does one, by protecting others, protect
oneself? By patience and forbearance, by a non-violent and harmless life,
by loving kindness and compassion.' (Satipatthana, Samyutta, No:19)
'Protecting oneself one protects others'
'Protecting others one protects oneself'
These two sentences supplement each other and should
not be taken (or quoted) separately.
Nowadays, when social service is so greatly
stressed, people may for instance, be tempted to quote, in support of
their ideas, only the second sentence. But any such one-sided quotation
would misrepresent the Buddha's statement. It has to be remembered that,
in our story the Buddha expressly approved the words of the apprentice,
which is that one has first to carefully watch one's own steps if one
wishes to protect others from harm. He who is sunk in the mire himself
cannot help others out of it. In that sense, self-protection is not
selfish protection. It is the cultivation of self-control, and ethical and
Protecting oneself one protects others - the truth of
this statement begins at a very simple and practical level. At the
material level, this truth is so self-evident that we need not say more
than a few words about it. It is obvious that the protection of our own
health will go far in protecting the health of our closer or wider
environment, especially where contagious diseases are concerned. Caution
and circumspection in all our doings and movements will protect others
from harm that may come to them through our carelessness and negligence.
By careful driving, abstention from alcohol, by self-restraint in
situations that might lead to violence -in all these and many other ways we
shall protect others by protecting ourselves.
We come now to the ethical level of that truth.
Moral self-protection will safeguard others, individual and society,
against our own unrestrained passions and selfish impulses. If we permit
the Three Roots of everything evil, Greed, Hate and Delusion, to take a
firm hold in our hearts, then that which grows from those evil roots will
spread around like the jungle creeper which suffocates and kills the
healthy and noble growth. But if we protect ourselves against these Three
Roots of Evil, fellow beings too will be safe from our reckless greed for
possession and power, from our unrestrained lust and sensuality, from our
envy and jealousy. They will be safe from the disruptive, or even
destructive and murderous, consequences of our hate and enmity, from the
outburst of our anger, from our spreading an atmosphere of antagonism and
quarrelsomeness which may make life unbearable for those around us. But
the harmful effects of our greed and hate on others are not limited to
cases when they become the passive objects or victims of our hate, or
their possession the object of our greed. Greed and hate have an
infectious power, which can multiply the evil effects. If we ourselves
think of nothing else than to crave and grasp, to acquire and possess, to
hold and cling, then we may rouse or strengthen these possessive instincts
in others too. Our bad example may become the standard of behavior of our
environment for instance among our own children, our colleagues, and so
on. Our own conduct may induce others to join us in the common
satisfaction of rapacious desires; or we may arouse feelings of resentment
and competitiveness in others who wish to beat us in the race. If we are
full of sensuality we may kindle the fire of lust in others. Our own hate
may cause the hate and vengeance of others. It may also happen that we
ally ourselves with others or instigate them to common acts of hate and
How to Save Yourself
With oneself well controlled the problem of looking
for external savior is solved, (Dhammapada 166)
As the Buddha was about to pass away, His disciples
came from everywhere to be near Him. While the other disciples were
constantly at His side and in deep sorrow over the expected loss of their
Master, a monk named Attadatta went into his cell and practised
meditation. The other monks, thinking that he was unconcerned about the
welfare of the Buddha, were upset and reported the matter to Him. The
monk, however, addressed the Buddha thus, 'Lord as the Blessed One would
be passing away soon, I thought the best way to honour the Blessed One
would be by attaining Arahantship during the lifetime of the Blessed One
itself.' The Buddha was pleased by his attitude and his conduct and said
that one's spiritual welfare should not be abandoned for the sake of
In this story is illustrated one of the most
important aspects of Buddhism. A person must constantly be on the alert to
seek his own deliverance from Samsara, and his 'salvation' must be brought
about by the individual himself. He cannot look to any external force or
agency to help him to attain Nibbana.
People who do not understand Buddhism criticize this
concept and say that Buddhism is a selfish religion which only talks about
the concern for one's own freedom from pain and sorrow. This is not true
at all. The Buddha states clearly that one should work ceaselessly for the
spiritual and material welfare of all beings, while at the same time
diligently pursuing one's own goal of attaining Nibbana. Selfless service
is highly commended by the Buddha.
Again, people who do not understand Buddhism may
ask, 'It may be all right for the fortunate human beings, in full command
of their mental powers, to seek Nibbana by their own efforts. But what
about those who are mentally and physically or even materially
handicapped? How can they be self-reliant? Do they not need the help of
some external force, some god or deva to assist them?
The answer to this is that Buddhists do not believe
that the final release must necessarily take place in one life time. The
process can take a long time, over the period of many births. One has to
apply oneself, to the best of one's ability, and slowly develop the powers
of self reliance. Therefore, even those who are handicapped mentally,
spiritually and materially must make an effort, however small, to begin
the process of deliverance.
Once the wheels are set in motion, the individual
slowly trains himself to improve his powers of self-reliance. The tiny
acorn will one day grow into a mighty oak, but not overnight. Patience is
an essential ingredient in this difficult process.
For example, we know from experience how many
parents do everything in their power to bring up their children according
to the parents' hopes and aspirations. And yet when these children grow
up, they develop in their own way, not necessarily the way the parents
wanted them to be. In Buddhism, we believe that while others can exert an
influence on someone's life, the individual will in the end create his own
kamma and be responsible for his own actions. No human being or deva can,
in the final analysis, direct or control an individual's attainment of
'the ultimate salvation'. This is the meaning of self-reliance.
This does not mean that Buddhism teaches one to be
selfish. In Buddhism, when someone seeks, by his own effort, to attain
Nibbana, he is determined not to kill, steal, tell lies, lust after
others, or lose the control of his senses through intoxication. When he
controls himself thus he automatically contributes to the happiness of
others. So is not this so-called 'selfishness' a good thing for the
general welfare of others?
On a more mundane level it has been asked how the
lower forms of life can extricate themselves from a mere meaningless round
of existence. Surely in that helpless state some benevolent external force
is necessary to pull the unfortunate being from the quicksand. To answer
this question we must refer to our knowledge of the evolution theory. It
is clearly stated that life begin in very primitive forms?no more than a
single cell floating in the water. Over millions of years these basic life
forms evolved and became more complex, more intelligent. It is at this
more intelligent level that life forms are capable of organization,
independent thought, conceptualization and so on.
When Buddhists talk about the ability to save
oneself, they are referring to life forms at this higher level of mental
development. In the earlier stages of evolution kammic and mental forces
remain dormant, but over countless rebirths, a being raises itself to the
level of independent thought and becomes capable of rational rather than
instinctive behavior. It is at this state that the being becomes aware of
the meaninglessness of undergoing endless rebirths with its natural
concomitants of pain and sorrow. It is then that the being is capable of
making its determination to end rebirth and seek happiness by gaining
enlightenment and Nibbana. With this high level of intelligence, the
individual is indeed capable of self-improvement and self-development.
We all know human beings are born with very varying
levels of intelligence and powers of reasoning. Some are born as geniuses,
while at the other end of the spectrum, others are born with very low
intelligence. Yet every being has some ability to distinguish between
choices or options, especially when they concern survival. If we extend
this fact of survival even to the animal world we can distinguish between
higher and lower animals, with this same ability (in varying degrees of
course) to make choices for the sake of survival.
Hence, even a lower form of life has the potential
to create a good kamma, however limited its scope. With the diligent
application of this and the gradual increase of good kamma a being can
raise itself to higher levels of existence and understanding.
To look at this problem from another angle, we can
consider one of the earliest stories that have been told to show how the
Buddha-to-be first made the initial decision to strive for Enlightenment.
A great many rebirths before the Buddha was born as Siddharta, he was born
as an ordinary man.
One day while traveling in a boat with his mother, a
great storm arose and the boat capsized, throwing the occupants into the
angry sea. With no thought for his personal safety, the future Buddha
carried his mother on his back and struggled to swim to dry land. But so
great was the expanse of water ahead of him that he did not know the best
route to safety. When he was in this dilemma, not knowing which way to
turn, his bravery was noticed by one of the devas. This deva could not
physically come to his aid, but he was able to make the future Buddha know
the best route to take. The young man listened to the deva and both he and
his mother were saved. There and then he made a firm determination not to
rest until he had finally gained Enlightenment.
This story illustrates the fact that Buddhists can
and do seek the help of devas in their daily life. A deva is a being who
by virtue of having acquired great merit (like the king of the devas) is
born with the power to help other beings. But this power is limited to
material and physical things. In our daily existence, we can seek help of
the devas (when misfortune strikes, when we need to be comforted, when we
are sick or afraid, and so on).
The fact that we seek the aid of these devas means
that we are still tied to the material world. We must accept the fact that
by being born we are subject to physical desires and needs. And it is not
wrong to satisfy these needs on a limited scale. When the Buddha advocated
the Middle Path, He said that we should neither indulge ourselves in
luxury nor completely deny ourselves the basic necessities of life.
However, we should not stop at that. While we accept
the conditions of our birth, we must also make every effort, by following
the Noble Eightfold Path, to reach a level of development where we realize
that attachment to the material world creates only pain and sorrow.
As we develop our understanding over countless
births, we crave less and less for the pleasures of the senses. It is at
the stage that we become truly self-reliant. At this stage, the devas
cannot help us anymore, because we are not seeking to satisfy our material
A Buddhist who really understands the fleeting
nature of the world practises detachment from material goods. He is not
unduly attached to worldly goods. Therefore he shares these goods freely
with those who are more unfortunate than he is: he practises generosity. In
this way again a Buddhist contributes to the welfare of others.
When the Buddha gained Enlightenment as a result of
His own efforts, He did not selfishly keep this knowledge to Himself.
Rather, He spent no less than forty five years imparting His knowledge not
only to men and women but even to the devas. This is Buddhism's supreme
example of selflessness and concern for the well-being of all living
It is often said that the Buddha helped devotees who
were in trouble not through the performance of miracles such as restoring
the dead to life and so on, but through His acts of wisdom and compassion.
In one instance, a woman named Kisa Gotami went to
seek the help of the Buddha in restoring her dead child to life. Knowing
that He could not reason with her as she was so distressed and overwhelmed
with grief, the Buddha told her that she should first obtain a handful of
mustard seeds from a person who had never lost a dear one through death.
The distracted woman ran from house to house and while everyone was only
too willing to give her the mustard seeds, no one could honestly say that
he or she had not lost a dear one through death. Slowly, Kisa Gotami came
to the realization that death is a natural occurrence to be experienced by
any being that is born. Filled with this realization she returned to the
Buddha and thanked Him for showing her the truth about death.
Now, the point here is that the Buddha was more
concerned with the woman's understanding about the nature of life than
giving her temporary relief by restoring her child to life; the child would
have grown old and still have died. With her greater realization Kisa
Gotami was able not only to come to terms with the phenomenon of death but
also to learn about the cause of sorrow through attachment. She was able
to realize that attachment causes sorrow, that when attachment is
destroyed, then sorrow is also destroyed.
Buddhism gives great dignity to man. It is the only religion which states that a human being has the power to help and free himself. In the later stages of his development, he is not at the mercy of any external force or agency which he must constantly please by worshipping or offering sacrifices.
Right understanding points the way to confidence;
confidence paves the way to wisdom.
Faith in the theistic sense is not found in Buddhism
because of its emphasis on understanding. Theistic faith is a drug for the
emotional mind and demands belief in things which cannot be known.
Knowledge destroys faith and faith destroys itself when a mysterious
belief is examined under the daylight of reason. Confidence cannot be
obtained by faith since it places less emphasis on reason, but only by
Referring to the unintelligible and 'blind'nature of
faith, Voltaire said, 'Faith is to believe in something which your reason
tells you cannot be true; for if your reason approved of it, there could
be no question of blind faith.'
Confidence, however, is not the same as faith. For
confidence is not a mental acceptance of that which cannot be known.
Confidence is an assured expectation, not of an unknown beyond, but of
what can be tested as experienced and understood personally. Confidence is
like the understanding that a student has in his teacher who explains in
the class-room the inverse square law of gravitation as stated by Newton.
He should not adopt an unquestioning belief of his teacher and his
textbook. He studies the fact, examines the scientific arguments, and
makes an assessment of the reliability of the information. If he has
doubts, he should reserve his judgment until such time as when he is able
to investigate the accuracy of the information for himself. To a Buddhist,
confidence is a product of reason, knowledge and experience. When it is
developed, confidence can never be blind faith. Confidence becomes a power
of the mind.
In his book, What The Buddha Taught Walpola Rahula
'The question of belief arises when there is no
seeing?seeing in every sense of the word. The moment you see, the question
of belief disappears. If I tell you that I have a gem hidden in the folded
palm of my hand, the question of belief arises because you do not see it
yourself. But if I unclench my fist and show you the gem, then you see it
for yourself, and the question of belief does not arise. So the phrase in
ancient Buddhist texts reads:' Realizing, as one sees a gem(or a myrobalan
fruit) in the palm'.'
The Meaning of Prayer
Nature is impartial; it cannot be flattered by prayers.
It does not grant any special favours on request.
Man is not a fallen creature who begs for his needs as
he awaits mercy. According to Buddhism, man is a potential master of
himself. Only because of his deep ignorance does man fail to realize his
full potential. Since the Buddha has shown this hidden power, man must
cultivate his mind and try to develop it by realizing his innate ability.
Buddhism gives full responsibility and dignity to man.
It makes man his own master. According to Buddhism, no higher being sits
in judgment over his affairs and destiny. That is to say, our life, our
society, our world, is what you and I want to make out of it, and not what
some other unknown being wants it to be.
Remember that nature is impartial; it cannot be
flattered by prayers. Nature does not grant any special favours on
request. Thus in Buddhism, prayer is meditation which has self-change as
its object. Prayer in meditation is the reconditioning of one's nature. It
is the transforming of one's inner nature accomplished by the purification
of the three faculties?thought, word, and deed. Through meditation, we can
understand that 'we become what we think', in accordance with the
discoveries of psychology. When we pray, we experience some relief in our
minds; that is, the psychological effect that we have created through our
faith and devotion. After reciting certain verses we also experience the
same result. Religious names or symbols are important to the extent that
they help to develop devotion and confidence.
The Buddha Himself has clearly expressed that neither
the recital of holy scriptures, nor self-torture, nor sleeping on the
ground, nor the repetition of prayers, penance, hymns, charms, mantras,
incantations and invocations can bring the real happiness of Nibbana.
Regarding the use of prayers for attaining the final
goal, the Buddha once made an analogy of a man who wants to cross a river.
If he sits down and prays imploring that the far bank of the river will
come to him and carry him across, then his prayer will not be answered. If
he really wants to cross the river, he must makes some effort; he must
find some logs and build a raft, or look for a bridge or construct a boat
or perhaps swim. Somehow he must work to get across the river. Likewise,
if he wants to cross the river of Samsara, prayers alone are not enough.
He must work hard by living a religious life, by controlling his passion,
calming his mind, and by getting rid of all the impurities and defilements
in his mind. Only then can he reach the final goal. Prayer alone will
never take him to the final goal.
If prayer is necessary, it should be to strengthen the
mind and not to beg for gains. The following prayer of a well-known poet,
teaches us how to pray, Buddhists will regard this as meditation to
cultivate the mind:
Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain,
but for the heart to conquer it.
but for the patience to win my freedom.'
Meditation is the psychological approach to mental
culture, training and purification.
In place of prayer, Buddhist practise meditation for
mental culture and for spiritual development. No one can attain Nibbana or
salvation without developing the mind through meditation. Any amount of
meritorious deeds alone will not lead a person to attain the final goal
without the corresponding mental purification. Naturally, the untrained
mind is very elusive and persuades people to commit evil and become slaves
of the senses. Imagination and emotions always mislead man if his mind is
not properly trained. One who knows how to practise meditation will be
able to control one's mind when it is misled by the senses.
Most of the troubles which we are confronting today are
due to the untrained and uncultured mind. It is already established that
meditation is the remedy for many physical and mental sickness. Medical
authorities and great psychologists the world over say that mental
frustration, worries, miseries, anxieties, tension and fear are the causes
of many diseases, stomach ulcers, gastritis, nervous complaints and mental
sickness. And even latent sickness will be aggravated through such mental
When the conscious 'I' frets too much, worries too
much, or grieves too long and too intensely, then troubles develop in the
body. Gastric ulcers, tuberculosis, coronary diseases and a host of
functional disorders are the products of mental and emotional imbalance.
In the case of children, the decay of the teeth and defective eye-sight
are frequently related to emotional disorders.
Many of these sicknesses and disorders can be avoided
if people could spend a few minutes a day to calm their senses through the
practice of mediation. Many people do not believe this or are too lazy to
practise meditation owing to lack of understanding. Some people say that
mediation is only a waste of time. We must remember that every spiritual
master in this world attained the highest point of his life through the
practice of meditation. They are honored today by millions of people
because they have done tremendous service to mankind with their supreme
knowledge and patience which they obtained through the practice of
Meditation should not be a task to which we force
ourselves 'with gritted teeth and clenched fists'; it should rather be
something that draws us, because it fills us with joy and inspiration. So
long as we have to force ourselves, we are not yet ready for meditation.
Instead of meditating we are violating our true nature. Instead of
relaxing and letting go, we are holding on to our ego, to our will power.
In this way meditation becomes a game of ambition, of personal achievement
and aggrandizement. Meditation is like love: a spontaneous experience?not
something that can be forced or acquired by strenuous effort.
Therefore Buddhist mediation has no other purpose than
to bring the mind back into the present, into the state of fully awakened
consciousness, by clearing it from all obstacles that have been created by
habit or tradition.
The Buddha obtained His Enlightenment through the
development of His mind. He did not seek divine power to help Him. He
gained His wisdom through self-effort by practising meditation. To have a
healthy body and mind and to have peace in life, one must learn how to
Nature of Modern Life
Today we are living in a world where people have to
work very hard physically and mentally. Without hard work, there is no
place for people in the modern society. Very often keen competition is
going on everywhere. One is trying to beat the other in every sphere of
life and man has no rest at all. Mind is the nucleus of life. When there
is no real peace and rest in the mind, the whole life will collapse.
People naturally try to overcome their miseries through pleasing the
senses: they drink, gamble, sing and dance?all the time having the
illusion that they are enjoying he real happiness of life. Sense
stimulation is not the real way to have relaxation. The more we try to
please the senses through sensual pleasures, the more will we become
slaves to the senses. There will be no end to our craving for
satisfaction. The real way to relax is to calm the senses by the control
of mind. If we can control the mind, then we will be able to control
everything. When the mind is free from mental disturbances it can see many
things which others cannot see with their naked eyes. Ultimately, we will
be able to attain our salvation and find peace and happiness.
To practise meditation, one must have strong
determination, effort and patience. Immediate results cannot be expected.
We must remember that it takes many years for a person to be qualified as
a doctor, lawyer, mathematician, philosopher, historian or a scientist.
Similarly to be a good meditator, it will take sometime for the person to
control the elusive mind and to calm the senses. Practising meditation is
like swimming in a river against the current. Therefore one must not lose
patience for not being able to obtain rapid results. At the same time the
meditator must also cultivate his morality. A congenial place for
meditation is another important aspect. The meditator must have an object
for his meditation, for without an object the jumping mind is not easy to
trap. The object must not create lust, anger, delusion, and emotion in the
When we start to meditate, we switch the mind from the
old imaginative way of thinking, or habitual thought into a new unimpeded
or unusual way of thinking. While meditating when we breathe in mindfully,
we absorb cosmic energy. When we breathe out mindfully with Metta; loving
kindness, we purify the atmosphere. Intellect is necessary for the
overcoming of emotionality and spiritual confusion as intuition is
necessary for overcoming intellectual limitation and conceptual
We spend most of our time on our body: to feed it, to
clothe it, to cleanse it, to wash it, to beautify it, to relax it, but how
much time do we spend on our mind for the same purposes?
Some people take the Buddha Image as an object and
concentrate on it. Some concentrate on inhaling and exhaling. Whatever may
be the method, if anyone tries to practise meditation, he is sure to find
relaxation. Meditation will help him a great deal to have physical and
mental health and to control the mind when it is necessary.
Man can do the highest service to the society by simply
abstaining from evils. The cultured mind that is developed through
meditation performs a most useful service to others. Meditation is not
simply a waste of man's valuable time. The advanced mind of a meditator
can solve so many human problems and is very useful to enlighten others.
Meditation is very useful to help a person live peacefully despite various
disturbances that are so prevalent in this modern world. We cannot be
expected to retire to a jungle or forest to live in ivory towers?'far from
the madding crowd'. By practising right meditation we can have an abode
for temporary oblivion. Meditation has the purpose of training a person to
face, understand and conquer this very world in which we live. Meditation
teaches us to adjust ourselves to bear with the numerous obstacles to life
in the modern world.
Some people practise meditation in order to satisfy
their material desires; they want to further their material gains. They
want to use meditation to get better jobs. They want to earn more money or
to operate their business more efficiently. Perhaps they fail to
understand that the aim of meditation is not to increase but to decrease
desires. Materialistic motives are hardly suitable for proper meditation,
the goal of which lies beyond worldly affairs. One should meditate to try
to attain something that even money cannot buy or bring.
If you practice meditation, you can learn to behave
like a gentleman even though you are disturbed by others. Through
meditation you can learn how to relax the body and to calm the mind; you
can learn to be tranquil and happy within.
Just as an engine gets overheated and damaged when it
is run for a prolonged period and requires cooling down to overcome this,
so also the mind gets overtaxed when we subject it to a sustained degree
of mental effort and it is only through meditation that relaxation or
cooling can be achieved. Meditation strengthens the mind to control human
emotion when it is disturbed by negative thoughts and feelings such as
jealousy, anger, pride and envy.
If you practise meditation, you can learn to make the
proper decision when you are at a cross-roads in life and are at a loss as
to which way to turn. These qualities cannot be purchased from anywhere.
No amount of money or property can buy these qualities, yet you attain
them through meditation. And finally the ultimate object of Buddhist
meditation is to eradicate all defilements from the mind and to attain the
Nowadays, however, the practice of meditation has been
abused by people. They want immediate and quick results, just as they
expect quick returns for everything they do in daily life. In Buddhism, as
is the case with other eastern cultures, patience is a most important
quality. The mind must be brought under control in slow degrees and one
should not try to reach for the higher states without proper training. We
have heard of over-enthusiastic young men and women literally going out of
their minds because they adopted the wrong attitudes towards meditation.
Meditation is a gentle way of conquering the defilements which pollute the
mind. If people want 'success' or 'achievement' to boast to others that
they have attained this or that level of meditation, they are abusing the
method of mental culture. One must be trained in morality and one must
clearly understand that to be successful in the discipline of meditation
worldly achievement must not be equated with spiritual development.
Ideally, it is good to work under an experienced teacher who will help his
student to develop along the right path. But above all one must never be
in a hurry to achieve too much too quickly.
The Significance of Paritta Chanting
Paritta chanting is the recital of some of the Sutras
uttered by the Buddha in the Pali language for the blessing and protection
of the devotees.
Paritta Chanting or Sutra Chanting is a well-known
Buddhist practice conducted all over the world, especially in Theravada
Buddhist countries where the Pali language is used for recitals. Many of
these are important sutras from the basic teachings of the Buddha which
were selected by His disciples. Originally, these sutras were recorded on
ola leaves about two thousand years ago. Later, they were compiled into a
book known as the 'Paritta Chanting Book'. The names of the original books
from which these sutras were selected are the Anguttara Nikaya, Majjhima
Nikaya, Digha Nikaya, Samyutta Nikaya and Kuddaka Nikaya in the Sutra
The sutras that Buddhists recite for protection are
known as Paritta Chanting. Here 'protection' means shielding ourselves
from various forms of evil spirits, misfortune, sickness and influence of
the planetary systems as well as instilling confidence in the mind. The
vibrant sound of the chanting creates a very pleasing atmosphere in the
vicinity. The rhythm of the chanting is also important. One might have
noticed that when monks recite these sutras, different intonations are
adopted to harmonize with different sutras intended for different
quarters. It was found very early during man's spiritual development that
certain rhythms of the human voice could produce significant psychological
states of peacefulness and serenity in the minds of ardent listeners.
Furthermore, intonation at certain levels would appeal to devas, whilst
certain rhythms would created a good influence over lower beings like
animals, snakes, or even spirits or ghosts. Therefore, a soothing and
correct rhythm is an important aspect of Paritta Chanting.
The use of these rhythms is not confined to Buddhism
alone. In every religion, when the followers recite their prayers by using
the holy books, they follow certain rhythms. We can observe this when we
listen to Quran reading by Muslims and the Veda Mantra Chanting by Hindu
priests in the Sanskrit language. Some lovely chanting is also carried out
by certain Christian groups, especially the Roman Catholic and Greek
When the sutras are chanted, three great and powerful
forces are activated. These are the forces of the Buddha, Dhamma and the
Sangha. Buddhism is the combination of these 'Three Jewels' and when
invoked together they can bring great blessing to mankind.
The Buddha. He had cultivated all the great virtues,
wisdom and enlightenment, developed His spiritual power and gave us His
noble Teachings. Even though the physical presence of the Teacher is no
more with us, His Teachings have remained for the benefit of mankind.
Similarly, the man who discovered electricity is no more with us, yet by
using his knowledge, the effect of his wisdom still remains. The
illumination that we enjoy today is the result of his wisdom. The
scientists who discovered atomic energy are no longer living, but the
knowledge to use it remains with us. Likewise the Noble Teachings given us
through the Buddha's wisdom and enlightenment, are a most effective power
for people to draw inspiration from. When you remember Him and respect
Him, you develop confidence in Him. When you recite or listen to the words
uttered by Him, you invoke the power of His blessings.
Dhamma. It is the power of truth, justice and peace
discovered by the Buddha which provides spiritual solace for devotees to
maintain peace and happiness. When you develop your compassion, devotion
and understanding, this power of the Dhamma protects you and helps you to
develop more confidence and strength in your mind. Then your mind itself
becomes a very powerful force for your own protection. When it is known
that you uphold the Dhamma, people and other beings will respect you. The
power of the Dhamma protects you from various kinds of bad influence and
evil forces. Those who cannot understand the power of the Dhamma and how
to live in accordance with the Dhamma, invariably surrender themselves to
all forms of superstitious beliefs and subject themselves to the influence
of many kinds of gods, spirits and mystical powers which require them to
perform odd rites and rituals. By so doing, they only develop more fear
and suspicion born out of ignorance. Large sums of money are spent on such
practices and this could be easily avoided if people were to develop their
confidence in the Dhamma. Dhamma is also described as 'nature' or 'natural
phenomena' and 'cosmic law'. Those who have learnt the nature of these
forces can protect themselves through the Dhamma. When the mind is calmed
through perfect knowledge disturbances cannot create fear in the mind.
The Sangha. It refers to the holy order of monks who
have renounced their worldly life for their spiritual development. They
are considered as disciples of the Buddha, who have cultivated great
virtues to attain sainthood or Arahantahood. We pay respect to the Sangha
community as the custodians of the Buddha Sasana or those who had
protected and introduced the Dhamma to the world over the last 2,500
years. The services rendered by the Sangha community has guided mankind to
lead a righteous and noble life. They are the living link with the
Enlightened One who bring His message to us through the recital of the
words uttered by Him.
The chanting of sutras for blessing was started during
the Buddha's time. Later, in certain Buddhist countries such as Sri Lanka,
Thailand and Burma, this practice was developed further by organizing
prolonged chanting for one whole night or for several days. With great
devotion, devotees participated in the chanting sessions by listening
attentively and intelligently. There were some occasions when the Buddha
and His disciples chanted sutras to bring spiritual solace to people
suffering from epidemics, famines, sickness and other natural disasters.
On once occasion, when a child was reported to be affected by some evil
influence, the Buddha instructed His monks to recite sutras to give
protection to the child from the evil forces.
The blessing service, by way of chanting, was
effective. Of course, there were instances when the sutra chanting could
not be effective if the victims had committed some strong bad kamma.
Nevertheless, certain minor bad kammic effects can be overcome by the
vibrant power combined with the great virtues and compassion of those holy
people who chant these sutras. Here, the overcoming of a bad kammic effect
does not mean the complete eradication of the effect, but only a temporary
suspension of such an effect.
Devotees who were tired fatigued have experienced
relief and calmness after listening to the chanting of sutras. Such an
experience is different from that provided by music because music can
create excitement in our mind and pander to our emotions but does not
create spiritual devotion and confidence.
For the last 2,500 years, Buddhist devotees have
experienced the good effects of sutra chanting. We should try to
understand how and why the words uttered by the Buddha for blessing
purposes could be so effective even after His passing away. It is
mentioned in the Buddha's teaching that ever since he had the aspiration
to become a Buddha during His previous births, He had strongly upheld one
particular principle, namely, to abstain from 'telling lies'. Without
abusing or misusing His words, He spoke gently without hurting the
feelings of others. The power of Truth has become a source of strength in
the words uttered by the Buddha with great compassion. However, the power
of the Buddha's word alone is not enough to secure blessing without the
devotion and understanding of the devotees.
The miraculous effect experienced by many people in
ridding themselves of their sickness and many other mental disturbances
through the medium of the Buddhist sutras, enabled them to develop their
faith and confidence in this form of religious service.
Are Buddhists Idol Worshippers?
Buddhists are not idol worshippers but ideal
Although it is customary amongst Buddhists to keep
Buddha images and to pay their respects to the Buddha, Buddhists are not
idol worshippers. Idolatry generally means erecting images of unknown gods
and goddesses in various shapes and sizes and to pray directly to these
images. The prayers are a request to the gods for guidance and protection.
The gods and goddesses are asked to bestow health, wealth, property and to
provide for various needs; they are asked to forgive transgressions.
The 'worshipping' at the Buddha image is quite a
different matter. Buddhists revere the image of the Buddha as a gesture to
the greatest, wisest, most benevolent, compassionate and holy man who has
ever lived in this world. It is a historical fact that this great man
actually lived in this world and has done a great service to mankind. The
worship of the Buddha really means paying homage, veneration and devotion
to Him and what He represents, and not to the stone or metal figure.
The image is a visual aid that helps one to recall the
Buddha in the mind and to remember His great qualities which inspired
millions of people from generation to generation throughout the civilized
world. Buddhists use the statue as a symbol and as an object of
concentration to gain a peace of mind. When Buddhists look upon the image
of the Buddha, they put aside thoughts of strife and think only of peace,
serenity, calmness and tranquillity. The statue enables the mind to recall
this great man and inspires devotees to follow His example and
instructions. In their mind, the devout Buddhists feel the living presence
of the Master. This feeling makes their act of worship become vivid and
significant. The serenity of the Buddha image influences and inspires them
to observe the right path of conduct and thought.
An understanding Buddhist never asks favours from the
image nor does he request forgiveness for evil deeds committed. An
understanding Buddhist tries to control his mind, to follow the Buddha's
advice, to get rid of worldly miseries and to find his salvation.
Those who criticize Buddhists for practising idol
worship are really misinterpreting what Buddhists do. If people can keep
the photographs of their parents and grandparents to cherish in their
memory, if people can keep the photographs of kings, queens, prime
ministers, great heroes, philosophers, and poets, there is certainly no
reason why Buddhists cannot keep their beloved Master's picture or image
to remember and respect Him.
What harm is there if people recite some verses
praising the great qualities of their Master? If people can lay wreaths on
the graves of beloved ones to express their gratitude, what harm is there
is Buddhists too offer some flowers, joss-sticks, incense, etc., to their
beloved Teacher who devoted His life to help suffering humanity? People
make statues of certain conquering heroes who were in fact murderers and
who were responsible for the death of millions of innocent people. For the
sake of power, these conquerors committed murder with hatred, cruelty and
greed. They invaded poor countries and created untold suffering by taking
away lands and properties of others, and causing much destruction. Many of
these conquerors are regarded as national heroes; memorial services are
conducted for them and flowers are offered on their graves and tombs. What
is wrong then, if Buddhists pay their respects to their world honored
Teacher who sacrificed His worldly pleasures for the sake of Enlightenment
to show others the Path of Salvation?
Images are the language of the subconscious. Therefore,
the image of the Enlightened One is often created within one's mind as the
embodiment of perfection, the image will deeply penetrate into the
subconscious mind and (if it is sufficiently strong enough)can act as an
automatic brake against impulses. The recollection of the Buddha produces
joy, invigorate the mind and elevates man from states of restlessness,
tension and frustration. Thus the worship of the Buddha is not a prayer in
its usual sense but a meditation. Therefore, it is not idol worship, but
'ideal' worship. Thus Buddhists can find fresh strength to build a shrine
of their lives. They cleanse their hearts until they feel worthy to bear
the image in their innermost shrine. Buddhists pay respects to the great
person who is represented by the image. They try to gain inspiration from
His Noble personality and emulate Him. Buddhists do not see the Buddha
image as a dead idol of wood or metal or clay. The image represents
something vibrant to those who understand and are purified in thought,
word and deed.
The Buddha images are nothing more than symbolic
representations of His great qualities. It is not unnatural that the deep
respect for the Buddha should be expressed in some of the finest and most
beautiful forms of art and sculpture the world has ever known. It is
difficult to understand why some people look down on those who pay respect
to images which represent holy religious teachers.
The calm and serene image of the Buddha has been a
common concept of ideal beauty. The Buddha's image is the most precious,
common asset of Asian cultures. Without the image of the Buddha, where can
we find a serene, radiant and spiritually emancipated personality?
But the image of the Buddha is appreciated not only by
Asian or Buddhists. Anatole France in his autobiography writes, 'On the
first of May, 1890, chance led me to visit the Museum in Paris. There
standing in the silence and simplicity of the gods of Asia, my eyes fell
on the statue of the Buddha who beckoned to suffering humanity to develop
understanding and compassion. If ever a god walked on this earth, I felt
here was He. I felt like kneeling down to Him and praying to Him as to a
Once a general left an image of the Buddha as a legacy
to Winston Churchill. The general said, 'if ever your mind gets perturbed
and perplexed, I want you to see this image and be comforted.' What is it
that makes the message of the Buddha so attractive to people who have
cultivated their intellect? Perhaps the answer can be seen in the serenity
of the image of the Buddha.
Not only in color and line did men express their faith
in the Buddha and the graciousness of His Teaching. Human hands wrought in
metal and stone to produce the Buddha image that is one of the greatest
creations of the human genius. Witness the famous image in the Abhayagiri
Vihara in Sri Lanka, or the Buddha image of Sarnath or the celebrated
images of Borobudur. The eyes are full of compassion and the hands express
fearlessness, or goodwill and blessings, or they unravel some thread of
thought or call the earth to witness His great search for Truth. Wherever
the Dhamma went, the image of the great Teacher went with it, not only as
an object of worship but also as an object of meditation and reverence. 'I
known nothing,'says Keyserling,' more grand in this world than the figure
of the Buddha. It is an absolutely perfect embodiment of spirituality in
the visible domain.'
A life so beautiful, a heart so pure and kind, a mind
so deep and enlightened, a personality so inspiring and selfless; such a
perfect life, such a compassionate heart, such a calm mind, such a serene
personality is really worthy of respect, worthy of honour and worthy of
offering. The Buddha is the highest perfection of mankind.
The Buddha image is the symbol, not of a person, but of
Buddhahood--that to which all men can attain though few do. For Buddhahood
is not for one but for many: 'The Buddhas of the past ages, the Buddhas
that are yet to come, the Buddha of the present age; humbly I each day
However, it is not compulsory for every Buddhist to
have a Buddha image to practise Buddhism. Those who can control their mind
and the senses, can certainly do so without an image as an object. If
Buddhists truly wish to behold the Buddha in all the majestic splendor and
beauty of His ideal presence, they must translate His Teachings into
practice in their daily lives. It is in the practice of His Teachings that
they can come closer to Him and feel the wonderful radiance of His undying
wisdom and compassion. Simply respecting the images without following His
Sublime Teachings is not the way to find salvation.
We must also endeavor to understand the spirit of the
Buddha. His Teaching is the only way to save this troubled world. In spite
of the tremendous advantages of science and technology, people in the
world today are filled with fear, anxiety and despair. The answer to our
troubled world is found in the Teaching of the Buddha.
Religious Significance of Fasting
Many people in the world face untimely death owing to
In Buddhism, fasting is recognized as one of the methods for practising self-control. The Buddha advised monks not to take solid food after noon. Lay people who observe the eight Precepts on full moon days also abstain from taking any solid food after noon.
Critics sometimes regard these practices as religious
fads. They are not religious fads but practices based on a moral and
In Buddhism, fasting is an initial stage of
self-discipline to acquire self-control. In every religion, there is a
system of fasting. By fasting and sacrificing a meal once a day or for any
period, we can contribute our food to those who are starving or who do not
have even a proper meal each day.
'A man who eats too much', writes Leo Tolstoy, 'cannot
strive against laziness, while a gluttonous and idle man will never be
able to contend with sexual lust. Therefore, according to all moral
teachings, the effort towards self-control commences with a struggle
against the lust of gluttony; commences with fasting just as the first
condition of a good life is self-control, so the first condition of a life
of self-control is fasting.'
Sages in various countries who practised self-control
began with a system of regulated fasting and succeeded in attaining
unbelievable heights of spirituality. An ascetic was kicked and tortured,
and then his hands and feet were severed on the orders of a rakish king.
But the ascetic, according to the Buddhist story, endured the torture with
equanimity and without the slightest anger or hatred. Such religious
people have developed their mental power through restraining from sensual
One should not judge the purity or impurity of man
simply by observing what he eats.
In the Amagandha Sutta, the Buddha said:
'Neither meat, nor fasting, nor nakedness,
Nor shaven heads, nor matted hair, nor dirt,
Nor rough skins, nor fire-worshipping,
Nor all the penances here in this world,
Nor hymns, nor oblation, nor sacrifice,
Nor feasts of the season,
Will purify a man overcome with doubt.'
Taking fish and meat by itself does not make a man
become impure. A man makes himself impure by bigotry, deceit, envy,
self-exaltation, disparagement and other evil intentions. Through his own
evil thoughts and actions, man makes himself impure. There is no strict
rule in Buddhism that the followers of the Buddha should not take fish and
meat. The only advice given by the Buddha is that they should not be
involved in killing intentionally or they should not ask others to kill
any living being for them. However, those who take vegetable food and
abstain from animal flesh are praiseworthy.
Though the Buddha did not advocate vegetarianism for
the monks, He did advise the monks to avoid taking ten kinds of meat for
their self respect and protection. They are: humans, elephants, horses,
dogs, snakes, lions, tigers, leopards, bears hyenas. Some animals attack
people when they smell the flesh of their own kind. (Vinaya Pitaka)
When the Buddha was asked to introduce vegetarianism
amongst His disciples, the Buddha refused to do so. As Buddhism is a free
religion, His advice was to leave the decision regarding vegetarianism to
the individual disciple. It clearly shows that the Buddha had not
considered this as a very important religious observance. The Buddha did
not mention anything about vegetarianism for the lay Buddhists in His
Jivaka Komarabhacca, the doctor, discussed this
controversial issue with the Buddha: 'Lord, I have heard that animals are
slaughtered on purpose for the recluse Gotama, and that the recluse Gotama
knowingly eats the meat killed on purpose for him. Lord, do those who say
animals are slaughtered on purpose for the recluse Gotama, and the recluse
Gotama knowingly eats the meat killed on purpose for. Do they falsely
accuse the Buddha? Or do they speak the truth? Are your declaration and
supplementary declarations not thus subject to be ridiculed by others in
'Jivaka, those who say: 'Animals are slaughtered on
purpose for the recluse Gotama, and the recluse Gotama knowingly eats the
meat killed on purpose for him', do not say according to what I have
declared, and they falsely accuse me. Jivaka, I have declared that one
should not make use of meat it is seen, heard or suspected to have been
killed on purpose for a monk. I allow the monks meat that is quite pure in
three respects: if it is not seen, heard or suspected to have been killed
on purpose for a monk.' (Jivaka Sutta)
In certain countries, the followers of the Mahayana
school of Buddhism are strict vegetarians. While appreciating their
observance in the name of religion, we should like to point out that they
should not condemn those who are not vegetarians. They must remember that
there is no precept in the original Teachings of the Buddha that requires
all Buddhists to be vegetarians. We must realize that Buddhism is known as
the Middle Path. It is a liberal religion and the Buddha's advice was that
it is not necessary to go to extremes to practise His Teachings.
Vegetarianism alone does not help a man to cultivate
his humane qualities. There are kind, humble, polite and religious people
amongst non-vegetarians. Therefore, one should not condone the statement
that a pure, religious man must practise vegetarianism.
On the other hand, if anybody thinks that people cannot
have a healthy life without taking fish and meat, it does not necessarily
follow that they are correct since there are millions of pure vegetarians
all over the world who are stronger and healthier than the meat-eaters.
People who criticize Buddhists who eat meat do not
understand the Buddhist attitude towards food. A living being needs
nourishment. We eat to live. As such a human being should supply his body
with the food it needs to keep him healthy and to give him energy to work.
However, as a result of increasing wealth, more and more people,
especially in developed countries, eat simply to satisfy their palates. If
one craves after any kind of food, or kills to satisfy his greed for meat,
this is wrong. But if one eats without greed and without directly being
involved in the act of killing but merely to sustain the physical body, he
is practising self restraint.
The Moon and Religious Observances
The outstanding events in the life of the Buddha took
place on full moon days.
Many people would like to know the religious
significance of the full moon and new moon days. To Buddhists, there is a
special religious significance especially on full day because certain
important and outstanding events connected with the life of Lord Buddha
took place on full moon days. The Buddha was born on a full moon day. His
renunciation took place on a full moon day. His Enlightenment, the
delivery of His first sermon, His passing away into Nibbana and many other
important events associated with His life-span of eighty years, occurred
on full moon days.
Buddhists all over the world have a high regard for
full moon days. They celebrate this day with religious fervor by observing
precepts, practising meditation and by keeping away from the sensual
worldly life. On this day they direct their attention to spiritual
development. Apart from Buddhists, it is understood that other
co-religionists also believe that there is some religious significance
related to the various phases of the moon. They also observe certain
religious disciplines such as fasting and praying on full moon days.
Ancient belief in India says that the moon is the
controller of the water, and circulating through the universe, sustaining
all living creatures, is the counterpart on earth of the liquor heaven, 'amrta'the
drink of the gods. Dew and rain become vegetable sap, sap becomes the milk
of cow, and the milk is then converted into blood. Amrta water, sap, milk
and blood, represent but different states of the one elixir. The vessel or
cup of this immortal fluid is the moon.
It is believed that the moon, like the other planets,
exerts a considerable degree of influence on human beings. It has been
observed that people suffering from mental ailments invariably have their
passions and emotional feelings affected during full moon days. The word
'lunatic' derived from the word 'lunar' (or moon) is most significant and
indicates very clearly the influence of the moon on human life. Some
people, suffering from various forms of illness invariably find their
sickness aggravated during such periods. Researchers have found that
certain phases of the moon not only affect humans and animals, but also
influence plant life and other elements. Low-tides and high-tides are a
direct result of the overpowering influence of the moon.
Our human body consists of about seventy percent
liquid. It is accepted by physicians that our bodily fluids flow more
freely at the time of full moon. People suffering from asthma, bronchitis
and even certain skin diseases, find their ailments aggravated under the
influence of the moon. More than five thousand years ago, people had
recognized the influence of the moon on cultivation. Farmers were very
particular about the effect of the moon on their crops. They knew that
certain grains and paddy would be affected if blooming took place during a
full moon period. Medical science had also ascertained the different
reactions of certain medicines under different facets of the moon, because
of the influence of the moon on human beings.
In view of the possible influence of the moon, the
ancient sages advised the people to refrain from various commitments on
this particular day and take it easy for the day. They are advised to
relax their minds on this particular day and to devote their time to
spiritual pursuits. All those who have developed their minds to a certain
extent can achieve enlightenment since the brain is in an awakened state.
Those who have not trained their minds through religious discipline are
liable to be subjected to the strong influence of the moon. The Buddha
attained His Enlightenment on a full moon day for He had developing and
attuning it correctly for a long period.
In days gone by, full moon and new moon days were
declared public holidays in many Buddhist countries and people were
encouraged to devote their time to spiritual development. It was only
during the colonial period that holidays were switched over to Sundays. In
view of this, some Buddhist countries are now trying to re-introduce the
former lunar system of holidays. It is advisable to observe full moon day
as a religious day to concentrate on peace and happiness by calming down
the senses. Many Buddhists observe the eight precepts on full moon days,
to be free from family commitments and to keep away from worldly pleasures
in order to have peace of mind for their spiritual development. The
effects of the moon on life and earth has been analysed scientifically.
One writer says:
'I have been reading an article in an American science
magazine recently where the writer brings together the present on the
subject of the moon to prove how decisively this age old object of the
skies influences our lives, particularly at each of the four phases it
passes through in its 28-day cycle.
This research, by the way, was done at the American
Universities of Yale, Duke and Northwestern and they have 'independently'
come up with the astonishing evidence that the moon plays a big part in
our daily life and indeed, in the lives of all living things.
We are assured that there is nothing very occult in
this phenomenon put that the phases of the moon do in fact stimulate
various bodily actions like modifying metabolism, electrical charges and
One of the key experiments performed to establish this
fact was on fiddler crabs, mice and some plants. They were all placed in
chambers where weather conditions could not affect them, but were
subjected to air pressure, humidity, light and temperature under
The hundreds of observations made showed a remarkable
fact, namely that all the animals and plants operated on a 28-day cycle.
Metabolism which was found to have dropped at the time of the new moon was
twenty percent higher at the time of the phase of the full moon. This
difference is described as a striking variation.
Once a nurse in Florida told a doctor that she noticed
a lot more bleeding occurred when the moon is full. Like all doctors who
are skeptical about such beliefs, he laughed at this statement.
But the nurse, undeterred, produced records of surgical operations which clearly showed that during full moon, more patients had to be returned to the operating theater than at any other time for treatment for excessively bleeding after operations. To satisfy himself, this doctor started keeping records on his own and he came to a similar conclusion. When we consider all those occurrences, we can understand why our ancestors and religious teachers had advised us to change our daily routine and to relax physically and mentally on full moon and new moon days. The practise of religion is the most appropriate method for people to experience mental peace and physical relaxation. The Buddhists are merely observing the wisdom of the past when they devote more time to activities of a spiritual nature on New Moon and Full Moon days.
Human Life in Society
Chapter 11 Life and Culture
Traditions, Customs and Festivals
Buddhism is open to traditions and customs provided
they are not harmful to the welfare of others.
The Buddha advised us not to believe in anything
simply because it is the traditional custom. However, we are not advised
to suddenly do away with all traditions. 'You must try to experiment with
them and put them thoroughly to test. If they are reasonable and conducive
both to your happiness and to the welfare of others, only then should you
accept and practise these traditions and customs.' (Kalama Sutta) This is
certainly one of the most liberal declarations ever made by any religious
teacher. This tolerance of other's traditions and customs is not known to
some other religionists. These religionists usually advise their new
converts to give up all their traditions, customs and culture without
observing whether they are good or bad. While preaching the Dhamma,
Buddhist missionaries have never advised the people to give up their
traditions as long as they are reasonable. But the customs and traditions
must be within the framework of religious principles. In other words, one
should not violate the religious precepts in order to follow one's
traditions. If people are very keen to follow their own traditions which
have no religious value at all, they can do so provided that they do not
practise these traditions in the name of religion. Even then, such
practices must be harmless to oneself and to all other living creatures.
Rites and Rituals
These are included within customs and traditions.
The rites and rituals are an ornamentation or a decoration to beautify a
religion in order to attract the public. They provide a psychological help
to some people. But one can practise religion without any rites and
rituals. Certain rites and rituals that people consider as the most
important aspect of their religion for their salvation are not considered
as such in Buddhism. According to the Buddha, one should not cling to such
practices for his spiritual development or mental purity.
Genuine and sincere Buddhists do not observe
Buddhist festivals by enjoying themselves under the influence of liquor
and merry-making or holding feasts by the slaughtering of animals. The
true Buddhists observe festival days in an entirely different manner. On
the particular festival day, they would devote their time to abstaining
from all evil. They would practise charity and help others to relieve
themselves from their suffering. They may entertain friends and relatives
in a respectable way.
The festivals that have been incorporated with
religion sometimes could pollute the purity of a religion. On the other
hand a religion without festivals can become very dull and lifeless to
many people. Usually children and youths come to religion through
religious festivals. To them the attraction of a religion is based on its
festivals. However, to a mediator, festivals can become a nuisance.
Of course, some people will not be satisfied with religious observances only during a festival . They naturally like to have some sort of merry-making and outward show. Rites, rituals, ceremonies, processions and festivals are organized to quench that thirst for emotional satisfaction through religion. No one can say that such practices are wrong, but devotees have to organize those ceremonies in a cultured manner, without causing a nuisance to others.
Buddhism and Women
A female child may prove even to be a better
offspring than a male.
Women's position in Buddhism is unique. The Buddha
gave women full freedom to participate in a religious life. The Buddha was
the first religious Teacher who gave this religious freedom to women.
Before the Buddha, women's duties had been restricted to the kitchen;
women were not even allowed to enter any temple or to recite any religious
scripture. During the Buddha's time, women's position in society was very
low. The Buddha was criticized by the prevailing establishment when He
gave this freedom to women. His move to allow women to enter the Holy
Order was extremely radical for the times. Yet the Buddha allowed women to
prove themselves and to show that they too had the capacity like men to
attain the highest position in the religious way of life by attaining Arahantahood. Every woman in the world must be grateful to the Buddha for
showing them the real religious way of living and for giving such freedom
to them for the first time in world history.
A good illustration of the prevailing attitude
towards women during the Buddha's time is found in these words of Mara:
'No woman, with the two-finger wisdom (narrow)which
is hers, could ever hope to reach those heights which are attained only by
Undoubtedly, the Buddha was vehement in
contradicting such attitude. The nun (bhikkhuni) to whom Mara addressed
these words, gave the following reply:
'When one's mind is well concentrated and wisdom
never fails, does the fact of being a woman make any difference?'
King Kosala was very disappointed when he heard that
his Queen had given birth to a baby girl. He had expected a boy. To
console the sad King, the Buddha said:
'A female child, O Lord of men, may prove
Even a better offspring than a male.
For she may grow up wise and virtuous,
Her husband's mother reverencing, true wife,
The boy that she may bear may do great deeds,
And rule great realms, yes, such a son
Of noble wife becomes his country's guide,'
The Buddha has confirmed that man is not always the
only wise one; woman is also wise.
Nowadays many religionists like to claim that their
religions give women equal rights. We only have to look at the world
around us today to see the position of women in many societies. It seems
that they have no property rights, are discriminated in various fields and
generally suffer abuse in many subtle forms. Even in western countries,
women like the Suffragettes had to fight very hard for their rights.
According to Buddhism, it is not justifiable to regard women as inferior.
The Buddha Himself was born as a woman on several occasions during His
previous births in Samsara and even as a women He developed the noble
qualities and wisdom until He gained Enlightenment or Buddhahood.
Buddhism and Politics
The Buddha had gone beyond all worldly affairs, but
still gave advice on good government.
The Buddha came from a warrior caste and was
naturally brought into association with kings, princes and ministers.
Despite His origin and association, He never resorted to the influence of
political power to introduce His teaching, nor allowed His Teaching to be
misused for gaining political power. But today, many politicians try to
drag the Buddha's name into politics by introducing Him as a communist,
capitalist, or even an imperialist. They have forgotten that the new
political philosophy as we know it really developed in the West long after
the Buddha's time. Those who try to make use of the good name of the
Buddha for their own personal advantage must remember that the Buddha was
the Supremely Enlightened One who had gone beyond all worldly concerns.
There is an inherent problem of trying to
intermingle religion with politics. The basis of religion is morality,
purity and faith, while that for politics is power. In the course of
history, religion has often been used to give legitimacy to those in power
and their exercise of that power. Religion was used to justify wars and
conquests, persecutions, atrocities, rebellions, destruction of works of
art and culture.
When religion is used to pander to political whims,
it has to forego its high moral ideals and become debased by worldly
The thrust of the Buddha Dhamma is not directed to
the creation of new political institutions and establishing political
arrangements. Basically, it seeks to approach the problems of society by
reforming the individuals constituting that society and by suggesting some
general principles through which the society can be guided towards greater
humanism, improved welfare of its members, and more equitable sharing of
There is a limit to the extent to which a political
system can safeguard the happiness and prosperity of its people. No
political system, no matter how ideal it may appear to be, can bring about
peace and happiness as long as the people in the system are dominated by
greed, hatred and delusion. In addition, no matter what political system
is adopted, there are certain universal factors which the members of that
society will have to experience: the effects of good and bad kamma, the
lack of real satisfaction or everlasting happiness in the world
characterized by dukkha (unsatisfactoriness), anicca (impermanence), and
anatta (egolessness). To the Buddhist, nowhere in Samsara is there real
freedom, not even in the heavens or the world of Brahama.
Although a good and just political system which
guarantees basic human rights and contains checks and balances to the use
of power is an important condition for a happy in society, people should
not fritter away their time by endlessly searching for the ultimate
political system where men can be completely free, because complete
freedom cannot be found in any system but only in minds which are free. To
be free, people will have to look within their own minds and work towards
freeing themselves from the chains of ignorance and craving. Freedom in
the truest sense is only possible when a person uses Dhamma to develop his
character through good speech and action and to train his mind so as to
expand his mental potential and achieve his ultimate aim of enlightenment.
While recognizing the usefulness of separating
religion from politics and the limitations of political systems in
bringing about peace and happiness, there are several aspects of the
Buddha's teaching which have close correspondence to the political
arrangements of the present day. Firstly, the Buddha spoke about the
equality of all human beings long before Abraham Lincoln, and that classes
and castes are artificial barriers erected by society. The only
classification of human beings, according to the Buddha, is based on the
quality of their moral conduct. Secondly, the Buddha encouraged the spirit
of social -co-operation and active participation in society. This spirit
is actively promoted in the political process of modern societies.
Thirdly, since no one was appointed as the Buddha's successor, the members
of the Order were to be guided by the Dhamma and Vinaya, or in short, the
Rule of Law. Until today very member of the Sangha is to abide by the Rule
of Law which governs and guides their conduct.
Fourthly, the Buddha encouraged the spirit of
consultation and the democratic process. This is shown within the
community of the Order in which all members have the right to decide on
matters of general concern. When a serious question arose demanding
attention, the issues were put before the monks and discussed in a manner
similar to the democratic parliamentary system used today. This
self-governing procedure may come as a surprise to many to learn that in
the assemblies of Buddhists in India 2,500 years and more ago are to be
found the rudiments of the parliamentary practice of the present day. A
special officer similar to 'Mr. Speaker' was appointed to preserve the
dignity of the Parliamentary Chief Whip, was also appointed to see if the
quorum was secured. Matters were put forward in the form of a motion which
was open to discussion. In some cases it was done once, in others three
times, thus anticipating the practice of Parliament in requiring that a
bill be read a third time before it becomes law. If the discussion showed
a difference of opinion, it was to be settled by the vote of the majority
The Buddhist approach to political power is the
moralization and the responsible use of public power. The Buddha preached
non-violence and peace as a universal message. He did not approve of
violence or the destruction of life, and declared that there is no such
thing as a 'just' war. He taught: 'The victor breeds hatred, the defeated
lives in misery. He who renounces both victory and defeat is happy and
peaceful.' Not only did the Buddha teach non-violence and peace, He was
perhaps the first and only religious teacher who went to the battlefield
personally to prevent the outbreak of a war. He diffused tension between
the Sakyas and the Koliyas who were about to wage war over the waters of
Rohini. He also dissuaded King Ajatasattu from attacking the Kingdom of
The Buddha discussed the importance and the
prerequisites of a good government. He showed how the country could become
corrupt, degenerate and unhappy when the head of the government becomes
corrupt and unjust. He spoke against corruption and how a government
should act based on humanitarian principles.
The Buddha once said, 'When the ruler of a country
is just and good, the ministers become just and good; when the ministers
are just and good, the higher officials become just and good; when the
higher officials are just and good, the rank and file become just and
good; when the rank and file become just and good, the people become just
and good.' (Anguttara Nikaya)
In the Cakkavatti Sihananda Sutta, the Buddha said
that immorality and crime, such as theft, falsehood, violence, hatred,
cruelty, could arise from poverty. Kings and governments may try to
suppress crime through punishment, but it is futile to eradicate crimes
In the Kutadanta Sutta, the Buddha suggested
economic development instead of force to reduce crime. The government
should use the country's resources to improve the economic conditions of
the country. It could embark on agricultural and rural development,
provide financial support to entrepreneurs and business, provide adequate
wages for workers to maintain a decent life with human dignity.
In the Jataka, the Buddha had given to rules for
Good Government, known as 'Dasa Raja Dharma'. These ten rules can be
applied even today by any government which wishes to rule the country
peacefully. The rules are as follows:
be liberal and avoid selfishness,
maintain a high moral character,
be prepared to sacrifice one's own pleasure for the
well-being of the subjects,
be honest and maintain absolute integrity,
be kind and gentle,
lead a simple life for the subjects to emulate,
be free from hatred of any kind,
practise patience, and
respect public opinion to promote peace and harmony.
Regarding the behavior of rulers, He further
A good ruler should act impartially and should not
be biased and discriminate between one particular group of subjects
A good ruler should not harbor any form of hatred
against any of his subjects.
A good ruler should show no fear whatsoever in the
enforcement of the law, if it is justifiable.
A good ruler must possess a clear understanding of
the law to be enforced. It should not be enforced just because the ruler
has the authority to enforce the law. It must be done in a reasonable
manner and with common sense.
(Cakkavatti Sihananda Sutta)
In the Milinda Panha,it is stated: 'If a man, who is
unfit, incompetent, immoral, improper, unable and unworthy of kingship,
has enthroned himself a king or a ruler with great authority, he is
subject to be tortured°‚to be subject to a variety of punishment by the
people, because, being unfit and unworthy, he has placed himself
unrighteously in the seat of sovereignty. The ruler, like others who
violate and transgress moral codes and basic rules of all social laws of
mankind, is equally subject to punishment; and moreover, to be censured is
the ruler who conducts himself as a robber of the public.' In a Jataka
story, it is mentioned that a ruler who punishes innocent people and does
not punish the culprit is not suitable to rule a country.
The king always improves himself and carefully
examines his own conduct in deeds, words and thoughts, trying to discover
and listen to public opinion as to whether or not he had been guilty of
any faults and mistakes in ruling the kingdom. If it is found that he
rules unrighteously, the public will complain that they are ruined by the
wicked ruler with unjust treatment, punishment, taxation, or other
oppressions including corruption of any kind, and they will react against
him in one way or another. On the contrary, if he rules righteously they
will bless him: 'Long live His Majesty.' (Majjhima Nikaya)
The Buddha's emphasis on the moral duty of a ruler to
use public power to improve the welfare of the people had inspired Emperor
Asoka in the Third Century B.C. to do likewise. Emperor Asoka, a sparkling
example of this principle, resolved to live according to and preach the
Dhamma and to serve his subjects and all humanity. He declared his
non-aggressive intentions to his neighbors, assuring them of his goodwill
and sending envoys to distant kings bearing his message of peace and
non-aggression. He promoted the energetic practice of the socio-moral
virtues of honesty, truthfulness, compassion, benevolence, non-violence,
considerate behavior towards all, non-extravagance, non-acquisitiveness,
and non-injury to animals. He encouraged religious freedom and mutual
respect for each other's creed. He went on periodic tours preaching the
Dhamma to the rural people. He undertook works of public utility, such as
founding of hospitals for men and animals, supplying of medicine, planting
of roadside trees and groves, digging of wells, and construction of
watering sheds and rest houses. He expressly forbade cruelty to animals.
Sometimes the Buddha is said to be a social
reformer. Among other things, He condemned the caste system, recognized
the equality of people, spoke on the need to improve socio-economic
conditions, recognized the importance of a more equitable distribution of
wealth among the rich and the poor, raised the status of women,
recommended the incorporation of humanism in government and
administration, and taught that a society should not be run by greed but
with consideration and compassion for the people. Despite all these, His
contribution to mankind is much greater because He took off at a point
which no other social reformer before or ever since had done, that is, by
going to the deepest roots of human ill which are found in the human mind.
It is only in the human mind that true reform can be effected. Reforms
imposed by force upon the external world have a very short life because
they have no roots. But those reforms which spring as a result of the
transformation of man's inner consciousness remain rooted. While their
branches spread outwards, they draw their nourishment from an unfailing
source _the subconscious imperatives of the life-stream itself. So reforms
come about when men's minds have prepared the way for them, and they live
as long as men revitalize them out of their own love of truth, justice and
their fellow men.
The doctrine preached by the Buddha is not one based on 'Political Philosophy'. Nor is it a doctrine that encourages men to worldly pleasures. It sets out a way to attain Nibbana. In other words, its ultimate aim is to put an end to craving (Tanha) that keeps them in bondage to this world. A stanza from the Dhammapada best summarizes this statement: 'The path that leads to worldly gain is one, and the path that leads to Nibbana(by leading a religious life)is another.' However, this does not mean that Buddhists cannot or should not get involved in the political process, which is a social reality. The lives of the members of a society are shaped by laws and regulations, economic arrangements allowed within a country, institutional arrangements, which are influenced by the political arrangements of that society. Nevertheless, if a Buddhist wishes to be involved in politics, he should not misuse religion to gain political powers, nor is it advisable for those who have renounced the worldly life to lead a pure, religious life to be actively involved in politics.
Chapter 12 Marriage, Birth Control And Death
In Buddhism, marriage is regarded as entirely a
personal, individual concern and not as a religious duty.
Marriage is a social convention, an institution
created by man for the well-being and happiness of man, to differentiate
human society from animal life and to maintain order and harmony in the
process of procreation. Even though the Buddhist texts are silent on the
subject of monogamy or polygamy, the Buddhist laity is advised to limit
themselves to one wife. The Buddha did not lay rules on married life but
gave necessary advice on how to live a happy married life. There are
ample inferences in His sermons that it is wise and advisable to be
faithful to one wife and not to be sensual and to run after other women.
The Buddha realized that one of the main causes of man's downfall is his
involvement with other women (Parabhava Sutta).Man must realize the
difficulties, the trials and tribulations that he has to undergo just to
maintain a wife and a family. These would be magnified many times when
faced with calamities. Knowing the frailties of human nature, the Buddha
did, in one of His precepts, advise His followers of refrain from
committing adultery or sexual misconduct.
The Buddhist views on marriage are very liberal:
in Buddhism, marriage is regarded entirely as personal and individual
concern, and not as a religious duty. There are no religious laws in
Buddhism compelling a person to be married, to remain as a bachelor or
to lead a life of total chastity. It is not laid down anywhere that
Buddhists must produce children or regulate the number of children that
they produce. Buddhism allows each individual the freedom to decide for
himself all the issues pertaining to marriage. It might be asked why
Buddhist monks do not marry, since there are no laws for or against
marriage. The reason is obviously that to be of service to mankind, the
monks have chosen a way of life which includes celibacy. Those who
renounce the worldly life keep away from married life voluntarily to
avoid various worldly commitments in order to maintain peace of mind and
to dedicate their lives solely to serve others in the attainment of
spiritual emancipation. Although Buddhist monks do not solemnize a
marriage ceremony, they do perform religious services in order to bless
Separation or divorce is not prohibited in
Buddhism though the necessity would scarcely arise if the Buddha's
injunctions were strictly followed. Men and women must have the liberty
to separate if they really cannot agree with each other. Separation is
preferable to avoid miserable family life for a long period of time. The
Buddha further advises old men not to have young wives as the old and
young are unlikely to be compatible, which can create undue problems,
disharmony and downfall (Parabhava Sutta).
A society grows through a network of relationships
which are mutually inter-twined and inter-dependent. Every relationship
is a whole hearted commitment to support and to protect others in a
group or community. Marriage plays a very important part in this strong
web of relationships of giving support and protection. A good marriage
should grow and develop gradually from understanding and not impulse,
from true loyalty and not just sheer indulgence. The institution of
marriage provides a fine basis for the development of culture, a
delightful association of two individuals to be nurtured, and to be free
from loneliness, deprivation and fear. In marriage, each partner
develops a complementary role, giving strength and moral courage to one
another, each manifesting a supportive and appreciative recognition of
the other's skills. There must be no thought of either man or woman
being superior; each is complementary to the other, a partnership of
equality, exuding gentleness, generosity, calm and dedication.
Birth Control, Abortion and Suicide
There is no reason for Buddhists to oppose birth
control. They are at liberty to use any of the old or modern measures to
prevent conception. Those who object to birth control by saying that it
is against God's law to practise it, must realize that their concept
regarding this issue is not reasonable. In birth control what is done is
to prevent the coming into being of an existence. There is no killing
involved and there is no akusala kamma. But if they take any action to
have an abortion, this action is wrong because it involves taking away
or destroying a visible or invisible life. Therefore, abortion is not
According to the Teachings of the Buddha, five
conditions must be present to constitute the evil act of killing. They
a living being
knowledge or awareness it is a living being
intention of killing
effort to kill, and
When a female conceives, there is a being in her
womb and this fulfills the first condition. After a couple of months,
she knows that there is a new life within her and this satisfies the
second condition. Then for some reason or other, she wants to do away
with this being in her. So she begins to search for an abortionist to do
the job and in this way, the third condition is fulfilled. When the
abortionist does his job, the fourth condition is provided for and
finally, the being is killed because of that action. So all the
conditions are present. In this way, there is a violation of the First
Precept 'not to kill', and this is tantamount to killing a human being.
According to Buddhism, there is no ground to say that we have the right
to take away the life of another.
Under certain circumstances, people feel compelled
to do that for their own convenience. But they should not justify this
act of abortion as somehow or other they will have to face some sort of
bad karmic results. In certain countries abortion is legalized, but this
is to overcome some problems. Religious principles should never be
surrendered for the pleasure of man. They stand for the welfare of the
Taking one's own life under any circumstances is
morally and spiritually wrong. Taking one's own life owing to
frustration or disappointment only causes greater suffering. Suicide is
a cowardly way to end one's problems of life. A person cannot commit
suicide if his mind is pure and tranquil. If one leaves this world with
a confused and frustrated mind, it is most unlikely that he would be
born again in a better condition. Suicide is an unwholesome or
unskillful act since it is encouraged by a mind filled with greed,
hatred and delusion. Those who commit suicide have not learnt how to
face their problems, how to face the facts of life, and how to use their
mind in a proper manner. Such people have not been able to understand
the nature of life and worldly conditions.
Some people sacrifice their own lives for what
they deem as a good and noble cause. They take their own life by such
methods as self-immolation, bullet-fire, or starvation. Such actions may
be classified as brave and courageous. However, from the Buddhist point
of view, such acts are not to be condoned. The Buddha has clearly
pointed out that the suicidal states of mind lead to further suffering.
Why Does the World Population Increase?
There is really no ground to think that this is
the only period in which the population of the world has increased.
If Buddhists do not believe in the soul created by
god, how are they going to account for the increase of population in the
world today? This is a very common question that is asked by many people
today. People who ask this question usually assume that there is only
one world where living beings exist. One must consider that it is quite
natural for the population to increase in such places where good
climatic conditions, medical facilities, food and precautions are
available to produce and to protect living beings.
One must also consider that there is really no
ground to think that this is the only period in which the population in
the world has increased. There are no means of comparison with any
period of ancient history. Vast civilizations existed and have
disappeared in Central Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Ancient
America. No census figures on these civilizations are even remotely
available. Population, as everything else in the universe, is subject to
cycles of rise and fall. In cycles of alarming increases of birth rate,
one might be consequently tempted to argue against rebirth in this or
other worlds. For the last few thousand years, there has been no
evidence to prove that there were more people in some parts of the world
than there are today. The number of beings existing in the various world
systems is truly infinite. If human lives can be compared to only one
grain of sand, the number of beings in the universe is like the grains
of sand all the beaches in the world. When conditions are right and when
supported by their good kamma, a few of these infinite number of beings
are reborn as human beings. The advancement of medicine especially in
the 19th and 20th centuries has enabled human beings to live longer and
There is a belief among certain people that all
unfortunate occurrences that destroy human lives are created by god in
order to reduce the population of the world. Instead of giving so much
suffering to his own creatures, why cannot he control the population?
Why does he create more and more people in thickly populated countries
where there is no proper food, clothing and other basic and necessary
requirements? Those who believe that god created everything cannot give
a satisfactory answer to this question. Poverty, unhappiness, war,
hunger, disease, famine are not due to the will of god or to the whim of
some devil, but to causes which are not so difficult to discover.
'The lower part of us is still animal.'(Gandhi)
The sex impulse is the most dynamic force in human
nature. So far-reaching is the sexual force that some measures of
self-control is necessary even in ordinary existence. In the case of the
spiritual aspirant, for whoever wants to bring his mind under complete
control, a still greater measure of self-discipline is necessary. Such a
powerful force in human character can be subdued only if the aspirant
controls his thoughts and practises concentration. The conservation of
the sexual force helps to develop this strength. For if he controls the
sexual force, he will have more control over his whole make-up, over his
Celibacy is one of the requirements for those who
like to develop their spiritual development to perfection. However, it
is not compulsory for each and every person to observe complete celibacy
in order to practise Buddhism. The Buddha's advice is that observing
celibacy is more congenial for a person who wants to cultivate his
spiritual achievements. For ordinary Buddhist laymen, the precept is to
abstain from sexual misconduct. Although perversion of the sexual force
is not under this same category, the perverted person invariably suffers
bad reactions either physically, or mentally or both.
There is a need for Buddhist laymen to exercise
some degree of control over their sexual force. Man's sexual urge must
be controlled properly otherwise man will behave worse than an animal
when he is intoxicated with lust. Consider the sexual behavior of what
we call the 'lower animal'. Which really is often 'lower'? The animal or
the man? Which acts in a normal, regular manner as regards sexual
behavior? And which runs off into all manner of irregularities and
perversities? Often it is the animal that is the higher creature and man
that is the lower. And why is this? It is simply because man who
possesses the mental capacity which if rightly used, could make him
master over his sex impulses, has actually used his mental powers in
such deplorable fashion as to make himself more a slave to those
impulses. Thus man can, at times, be considered lower than the animal.
Our ancestors played down this sexual impulse;
they knew that it was strong enough without giving it any extra
encouragement. But today we have blown it up with a thousand forms of
incitation, suggestive advertisements, emphasis and display; and we have
armed the sexual force with the doctrine that inhibition is dangerous
and can even cause mental disorders.
Yet inhibition the control of impulse is the first
principle of any civilization. In our modern civilization, we have
polluted the sexual atmosphere that surrounds us. So great is the
mind-body urge for sexual gratification.
As a result of this sex exploitation by the hidden
persuaders of modern society, the youth of today have developed an
attitude toward sex that is becoming a public nuisance. An innocent girl
has no freedom to move anywhere without being disturbed. On the other
hand, females should be dressed such a manner as not to arouse the
hidden animal nature of youths.
Man is the only animal that does not have periods
of natural sexual inactivity during which the body can recover its
vitality. Unfortunately, commercial exploitation of the erotic nature in
man has caused modern man to be exposed to a ceaseless barrage of sexual
stimulation from every side. Much of the neuroses of present-day life is
traceable to this unbalanced state of affairs. Men are expected to be
monogamous, yet women are encouraged in every possible way to
'glamorize' themselves, not for the husband alone, but to excite in
every man passions that society forbids him to indulge in.
Many societies try to enforce monogamous
relationships. Thus a man with many failings can still be a moral man,
meaning that he is faithful to the one wife that the law allows him to
have. The danger here lies in the fact that thoughtful people who are
intelligent enough to realize that these rules are artificial and not
based on any transcendental, universally valid principles, are liable to
fall into the error of thinking the same about all the other ethical
Sex should not be considered as the most important
ingredient for one's happiness in a married life. Those who over-indulge
can become slaves to sex which would ultimately ruin love and humane
consideration in marriage. As in everything, one must be temperate and
rational in one's sexual demands taking into consideration one another's
intimate feelings and temperament.
Marriage is a bond of partnership for life entered into by a man and a woman. Patience, tolerance and understanding are the three principal qualities that should be developed and nurtured by the couple. Whilst love should be the knot tying the couple together, material necessities for sustaining a happy home should be made available by the male partner for the couple to share. The qualification for a good partnership in marriage should be 'ours' and not 'yours' or 'mine' . A good couple should 'open' their hearts to one another and to refrain from entertaining 'secrets'. Keeping secrets to oneself could lead to suspicion and suspicion is the element that could destroy love in a partnership. Suspicion breeds jealousy, jealousy creates anger, anger develops hatred, hatred turns into enmity and enmity could cause untold suffering including bloodshed, suicide and even murder.
A Religion For Real Human Progress
Chapter 13 Nature, Value And Choice Of Religious Beliefs
Man and Religion
Man is the only living being in this world who has
discovered religion and performs worship and prayer.
Man developed religion in order to satisfy his
desire to understand the life within him and the world outside him. The
earliest religions had animistic origins, and they arose out of man's fear
of the unknown and his desire to placate the forces which he thought
inhabited inanimate objects. Over time these religions underwent changes,
being shaped by the geographical, historical, socio-economic, political
and intellectual environment existing at that time.
In terms of approach, religious practices may be
based on faith, fear, rationality or harmlessness: Faith forms the basis
of many religious practises which were developed to overcome man's fear
and to meet his needs. A religion of miraculous or mystical powers
exploits that fear which arises from ignorance and makes promises of
material gain based on greed. A religion of devotion is based on emotion
and the fear of the supernatural which, it is so believed, can be appeased
through rites and rituals. A religion of faith is based on the desire for
gaining confidence in the face of the uncertainty of human life and
Some religious practices grew as a result of the
development of man's knowledge, experience and wisdom. The rational
approach to religion had been adopted in this case, incorporating the
principles of human value and natural or universal laws. It is based on
humanism and concentrates on the cultivation of humane qualities. A
religion of cause and effect or kamma is based on the principle of
self-help and assumes that the individual alone is responsible for his own
happiness and suffering as well as salvation. A religion of wisdom is
based on the application of reason and seeks to understand life and the
reality of worldly conditions through analytical knowledge.
Harmlessness and goodwill are common elements found
in religion. A religion of peace is based on the principle of causing no
harm to oneself as well as others, and its followers are to cultivate a
harmonious, liberal and peaceful life. A religion of goodwill or
loving-kindness is based on the sacrifice and service for the welfare and
happiness of others.
Religions differ according to the understanding
capacity of their followers and the interpretation which religious
authorities give to the religious doctrines and practices. In some
religions, codes, while in others they only provide advice on the need and
the way to follow these codes. Every religion will offer reasons to
explain the existing human problems and inequalities and the way to remedy
the situation. By way of explanation, some religions claim that man has to
face these problems because he is on trial in this world. When such an
explanation is given, another may ask, 'For what purpose? How can a man be
judged on the basis of just one life when human beings generally differ in
their experiences of physical, intellectual, social, economic and
environmental factors and conditions?'
Every religion has its own concept of what is
regarded to be the goal of spiritual life. For some religions, eternal
life in heaven or paradise with the Lord is the final goal. For some the
ultimate aim in life is the union of universal consciousness, because it
is believed that life is a unit of consciousness and it must return to the
same original consciousness. Some religions believe that the ending of
suffering or repeated birth and death is the final goal. For others, even
heavenly bliss or union with Brahma (creator) is secondary to the
uncertainty of existence, no matter, whatever form it takes. And there are
even some who believe that the present life itself is more than enough to
experience the aim of life.
To attain the desired goal, every religion offers a
method. Some religions ask their followers to surrender to God or depend
on God for everything. Others call for stringent asceticism as the means
of purging oneself of all evil through self mortification. Some others
recommend the performance of animal sacrifices and many kinds of rites and
rituals as well as the recital of mantras for their purification to gain
the final goal. There is yet another which upholds diverse methods and
devotions, intellectual realization of truth, and concentration of the
mind through meditation.
Each religion has a different concept of punishment
for evil deeds. According to some religions, man is doomed forever by God
for his transgressions in this one life. Some others say that action and
reaction(cause and effect)operate due to natural laws and the effect of a
deed will only be experienced for a certain period. Some religions
maintain that this life is only one of so many, and a person will always
have chance to reform himself in stages until he finally evolves to attain
the goal of Supreme Bliss.
Given such a wide variety of approaches,
interpretations and goals of different religions adopted by mankind, it is
useful for people not to hold dogmatic views about their religion but to
be open to and tolerant of other religious views.
The Buddha said: 'One must not accept my teachings
from reverence, but first try them as gold is tried by fire.'
After emphasizing the importance of maintaining an
open mind towards religious doctrines, it is useful to remember that a
religion should be practised for the welfare , freedom and happiness of
all living beings. That is, religious principles should be used positively
to improve the quality of life of all beings. Yet today, humankind is
corrupted and has gone astray from basic religious principles. Immoral and
evil practices have become common among many people, and religious-minded
people experience difficulties trying to maintain certain religious
principles in modern life. At the same time, the standard of basic
religious principles is also lowered to pander to the demands of polluted
and selfish minds. Man should not violate universal moral codes to suit
his own greed or indulgence; rather man should try to adjust himself
according to these codes taught by religion. Religious precepts have been
introduced by enlightened religious teachers who have realized the noble
way of life which leads to peace and happiness. Those who violate these
precepts transgress the universal laws, which, according to Buddhism will
bring bad effects through the working of moral causation.
This does not mean, on the other hand, that a person
should slavishly follow what is found in his religion, regardless of its
applicability to modern times. Religious laws and precepts should enable
people to lead a meaningful life, and are not to be used to bind them to
archaic practices and superstitious rituals and beliefs. A person who
upholds the basic religious principles should give credit to human
intelligence and live respectably with human dignity. There must be some
changes in our religious activities to correspond to our education and the
nature of our changing society, without at the same time sacrificing the
noble universal principles. But it is recognized that making changes to
any religious practices is always difficult because many conservative
people are opposed to changes, even if they are for the better. Such
conservative views are like a stagnant pool of water, while fresh ideas
are like the waterfall where the water is constantly being renewed and is,
Distortion of Religion
Despite the value of religion in moral upliftment,
it is also true to say that religion is a fertile soil for the development
of superstitions and devotional hypocrisy, wrapped under the cloak of
religiosity. Many people use religion to escape from the realities of life
and put on the garb of religion and religious symbols. They may even pray
very often in places of worship, yet they are not sincerely religious
minded and have not understood what religion stands for. When a religion
has been debased by ignorance, greed for power and selfishness, people
quickly point an accusing finger and say that religion is irrational. But
'Religion'(the ritualistic external practice of any teaching)must be
distinguished from the teaching itself. Before one criticizes, one must
study the original teachings of the founder and see it there is anything
intrinsically wrong with it.
Religion advise people to do good and be good, but
they are not interested in acting thus. Instead they prefer to cling to
the other practices which have no real religious values. Had they tried to
culture their minds by eradicating jealousy, pride, cruelty and
selfishness, at least they would have found the correct way to practise a
religion. Unfortunately, they develop jealousy, pride, cruelty and
selfishness instead of eradicating them. Many people pretend to be
religious, but commit the greatest atrocities in the name of religion.
They fight, discriminate and create unrest for the sake of religion,
losing sight of its lofty purpose. From the increase in the performance of
various so-called religious activities, we may get the impression that
religion is progressing, but the opposite is really the case since very
little mental purity and understanding are actually being practised.
Practising a religion is nothing than the
development of one's inner awareness, goodwill and understanding. Problems
would have to be faced squarely by relying on one's spiritual strength.
Running away from one's problems in the name of spiritualism is not
courageous, much less to be regarded as spiritual. Under today's chaotic
conditions, men and women are rapidly sliding downhill to their own
destruction. They irony is that they imagine they are progressing towards
a glorious civilization that is yet to be realized.
In the midst of this confusion, imaginary and
plastic religious concepts are propagated to create more temptation and
confusion in man's mind. Religion is being misused for personal gain and
power. Certain immoral practices, such as free sex, have been encouraged
by some irresponsible religious groups to introduce their religion among
youths. By arousing lustful feelings, these groups hope to seduce boys and
girls into following their religion. Today religion has degenerated into a
cheap commodity in the religious market giving scant regard to moral
values and what they stand for. Some missionaries claim that the practice
of morals, ethics and precepts are not important as long as a person has
faith and prays to God, which is believed to be sufficient to grant him
salvation. Having witnessed how some religious authorities have misled and
blindfolded their followers in Europe, Karl Marx made a caustic remark:
'Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the feelings of a
heartless world, just as it is the soul of soulless conditions. It is the
opium of the people.'
Man needs a religion not for the reason of giving
him a dream for his next life or providing him with some dogmatic ideas to
follow, in such a way that he surrenders his human intelligence and
becomes a nuisance to his fellow beings. A religion should be a reliable
and reasonable method for people to live 'here and now' as cultured,
understanding beings, while setting a good example for others to follow.
Many religions turn man's thoughts away from himself towards a supreme
being, but Buddhism directs man's search for peace inward to the
potentialities that lie hidden within himself. 'Dhamma'(meaning, to hold
on)is not something a person searches outside himself, because in the
final analysis, man is Dhammaand Dhammais man. Therefore, true religion,
which is Dhamma,is not something outside us that we acquire, but the
cultivation and realization of wisdom, compassion and purity that we
develop within ourselves.
Which is the Proper Religion?
If any religion has the Four Noble Truths and the
Eightfold Path, then it can be regarded as a proper religion.
It is a very difficult for a man to find out why
there are so many different religions, and which religion is the true one.
Followers of every religion are trying to show the superiority of their
religion. Diversity has created some uniformity, but in matters of
religion, men took upon each other with jealousy, hatred and disdain. The
most respected religious practices in one religion are deemed ridiculous
to others. To introduce their divine and peaceful messages some people
have to resorted to weapons and wars. Have they polluted the good name of
religion? It seems that certain religions are responsible for dividing
instead of uniting mankind.
To find a true and proper religion, we must weigh
with an unbiased mind what exactly is a false religion. False religion or
philosophies include: materialism which denies survival after death;
amoralism which denies good and evil; any religion which asserts that man
is miraculously saved or doomed; theistic evolution which holds that
everything is preordained and everyone is destined to attain eventual
salvation through mere faith.
Buddhism is free from unsatisfactory and uncertain
foundations. Buddhism is realistic and verifiable. Its Truths have been
verified by the Buddha, verified by His disciples, and always remain open
to be verified by anyone who wishes to do so. And today, the Teachings of
the Buddha, are being verified by the most severe methods of scientific
The Buddha advises that any form of religion is
proper if it contains the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path.
This clearly shows that the Buddha did not want to form a particular
religion. What He wanted was to reveal the Ultimate Truth of our life and
the world. Although the Buddha expounded the Four Noble Truths and the
Eightfold Noble Path, this method is not the property of Buddhists alone.
This is universal Truth.
Most people find it necessary to put forth arguments
to 'prove' the validity of the religion that they are following. Some
claim that their religion is the oldest and therefore contains the truth.
Others claim that their religion is the latest or newest and therefore
contains the truth. Some claim that their religion has the most followers
and therefore contains the truth. Yet none of these arguments are valid to
establish the truth of a religion. One can judge the value of a religion
by using only common sense and understanding.
Some religious traditions require man to be
subservient to a greater power than himself, a power which controls his
creation, his actions and his final deliverance. The Buddha did not accept
such powers. Rather, He assigned to man that very power by asserting that
each man is his own creator, responsible for his own salvation. That is
why it is said that 'There is none so godless as the Buddha and yet none
so godlike'. The religion of the Buddhists gives man a great sense of
dignity; at the same time it also gives him great responsibility. A
Buddhist cannot put the blame on an external power when evil befalls him.
But he can face misfortune with equanimity because he knows that he has
the power to extricate himself from all misery.
One of the reason why Buddhism appeals to
intellectuals and those with a good education, is that the Buddha
expressly discouraged His followers from accepting anything they
heard(even if it came from Himself)without first testing its validity. The
teachings of the Buddha have remained and survived precisely because many
intellectuals have challenged every aspect of the teachings and have
concluded that the Buddha had always spoken the undeniable Truth. While
other religionists are trying to 'reassess' their founder's teachings in
the light of modern knowledge about the Universe, the Buddha's teaching
are being verified by scientists.
Moral and Spiritual Development
Without a spiritual background man has no moral
responsibility: man without moral responsibility poses a danger to
Buddhism has been an admirable lighthouse for
guiding many a devotee to the salvation of eternal bliss. Buddhism is
especially needed in the world today which is riddled with racial,
economic and ideological misunderstandings. These misunderstandings can
never be effectively cleared until the spirit of benevolent tolerance is
extended towards others. This spirit can be best cultivated under the
guidance of Buddhism which inculcates an ethical moral co-operation for
We know that it is easy to learn vice without a
master, whereas virtue requires a tutor. There is a very great need for
the teaching of virtue by precepts and examples.
Without a spiritual background, man has no moral
responsibility; man without moral responsibility poses danger to society.
In the Buddha's Teaching, it is said that the
spiritual development of man is more important than the development of
material welfare. History has taught us that we cannot expect to gain both
worldly happiness and everlasting Happiness at the same time.
The lives of most people are generally regulated by
spiritual values and moral principles which only religion can effectively
provide. The governmental interference in the lives of people is made
comparatively unnecessary if men and women can be made to realize the
value of devotion and can practise the ideals of truth, justice and
Virtue is necessary to attain salvation, but virtue
alone is not enough. Virtue must be combined with wisdom. Virtue and
wisdom are like the pair of wings of a bird. Wisdom can also be compared
to the eyes of a man; virtue, to his feet. Virtue can be likened to a
vehicle that brings man up to the gate of salvation. But wisdom is the
actually key that opens the gate. Virtue is a part of the technique of
skillful and noble living. Without any ethical discipline, there cannot be
a purification of the defilements of sentient existence.
Buddhism is not mere mumbo-jumbo, a myth told to
entertain the human mind or to satisfy the human emotion, but a liberal
and noble method for those who sincerely want to understand and experience
the reality of life.
The reality or validity of belief in God is based on
man's understanding capacity and the maturity of the mind.
The Development of the God-idea
To trace the origin and development of the God-idea,
one must go back to the time when civilization was still in its infancy
and modern science was still unknown. Primitive people, out of fear of and
admiration towards natural phenomena, had believed in different spirits
and gods. They used their belief in spirit and gods to form religions of
their own. According to their respective circumstances and understanding
capacity different people worshipped different gods and founded different
At the beginning of the God-idea, people worshipped
many gods--gods of trees, streams, lightning, storm, winds, the sun and
all other terrestrial phenomena. These gods were related to each and every
act of nature. Then gradually man began to attribute to these gods, sex
and form as well as the physical and mental characteristics of human
beings. Human attributes were given to the gods: love, hate, jealousy,
fear, pride, envy and other emotions found among human beings. From all
these gods, there slowly grew a realization that the phenomena of the
universe were not many but were One. This understanding gave rise to the
monotheistic god of recent ages.
In the process of development, the God-idea went
through a variety of changing social and intellectual climates. It was
regarded by different men in different ways. Some idealized god as the
King of Heaven and Earth; they had a conception of god as a person. Others
thought of god as an abstract principle. Some raised the ideal of Supreme
deity to the highest heaven, while others brought it down to the lowest
depths of the earth. Some pictured god in a paradise, while others made an
idol and worshipped it. Some want so far as to say that there is no
salvation without god; no matter how much good you do, you will not receive
the fruits of your actions unless you act out of a faith in god. The
Atheists said, 'No' and went on to affirm that god did not really exist at
all. The Skeptics or Agnostics said, 'We do not or we cannot know.' The
Positivists say that the God-idea was a meaningless problem since the idea
of the term god 'was not clear'. Thus there grew a variety of ideas and
beliefs and names for the God-idea: pantheism, idolatry, belief in a
formless god, and belief in many gods and goddesses.
Even the monotheistic god of recent times has gone
through a variety of changes as it passed through different nations and
people. The Hindu god is quite different from gods of other faiths. Thus
numerous religions came into existence: each one differed greatly from the
other in the end, and each one says that 'God is One'.
As each religion came into existence and developed
around the God-idea, religion developed its own particular explanation of
creation. Thus the God-idea became associated with various myths. People
used the God-idea as a vehicle for their explanation of the existence of
man and the nature of the universe.
Today, intelligent men, who have carefully reviewed
all the available facts, have come to the conclusion that, like the
God-idea, the creation of myths must be regarded as an evolution of the
human imagination which began with the misunderstanding of the phenomena
of nature. These misunderstandings were rooted in the fear and ignorance
of primitive man. Even today, man still retains his primitive
interpretations of creation. In the light of recent, scientific thinking,
the theological definition of god is vague and hence has no place in the
contemporary creation theories or myths.
If man is created by an external source, then he
must belong to that source and not to himself. According to Buddhism, man
is responsible for everything he does. Thus Buddhists have no reason to
believe that man came into existence in the human form through any
external sources. They believe that man is here today because of his own
action. He is neither punished nor rewarded by anyone but himself
according to his own good and bad action. In the process of evolution, the
human being came into existence. However, there are no Buddha-words to
support the belief that the world was created by anybody. The scientific
discovery of gradual development of the world-system conforms with the
Human Weakness and the Concept of God
Both the concept of God and its associated creation
myths have been protected and defended by believers who need these ideas
to justify their existence and usefulness to human society. All the
believers claim to have received their respective scriptures as
Revelation; in other words, they all profess to come directly from the one
God. Each God-religion claims that it stands for Universal Peace and
Universal Brotherhood and other such high ideals.
However great the ideals of the religious might be,
the history of the world shows that the religions up to the present day
have also helped in spreading superstitions. Some have stood against
science and the advancement of knowledge, leading to ill-feelings, murders
and wars. In this respect, the God-religions have failed in their attempt
to enlighten mankind. For example, in certain countries when people pray
for mercy, their hands are stained with the blood of the morbid sacrifices
of innocent animals and sometimes, even fellow human beings. These poor
and helpless creatures were slaughtered at the desecrated altars of
imaginary and imperceptible gods. It has taken a long time for people to
understand the futility of such cruel practices in the name of religion.
The time has come for them to realize that the path of real purification
is through love and understanding.
Dr. G. Dharmasiri in his book 'Buddhist critique of
the Christian Concept of God' has mentioned, 'I see that though the notion
of God contains sublime moral strands, it also has certain implications
that are extremely dangerous to the humans as well as to the other beings
on this planet.
'One major threat to humanity is the blindfold
called 'authority' imposed on the humans by the concept of God. All
theistic religions consider authority as ultimate and sacred. It was this
danger that the Buddha was pointing at in the Kalama Sutta. At the moment,
human individuality and freedom are seriously threatened by various forms
of authorities. Various 'authorities' have been trying to make 'you' a
follower. On top of all our 'traditional' authorities, a new form of
authority has emerged in the name of 'science'. And lately, the
mushrooming new religions and the menace of the Gurus(as typified by Jim
Jones), have become live threats to the individual's human freedom and
dignity. The Buddha's eternal plea is for you to become a Buddha, and He
showed, in a clearly rational way, that each and every one of us has the
perfect potentiality and capacity to attain that ideal.'
God-religions offer no salvation without God. Thus a
man might conceivably have climbed to the highest pinnacle of virtue, and
he might have led a righteous way of life, and he might even have climbed
to the highest level of holiness, yet he is to be condemned to eternal
hell just because he did not believe in the existence of God. On the other
hand, a man might have sinned deeply and yet, having made a late
repentance, he can be forgiven and therefore 'saved'. From the Buddhist
point of view, there is no justification in this kind of doctrine.
Despite the apparent contradictions of the
God-religions, it is not deemed advisable to preach a Godless doctrine
since the belief in god has also done a tremendous service to mankind,
especially in places where the god concept is desirable. This belief in
god has helped mankind to control his animal nature. And much help has
been granted to others in the name of god. At the same time, man feels
insecure without the belief in god. He finds protection and inspiration
when that belief is in his mind. The reality or validity of such a belief
is based on man's understanding capacity and spiritual maturity.
However, religion should also concern our practical
life. It is to be used as a guide to regulate our conduct in the world.
Religion tells us what to do and what not to do. If we do not follow a
religion sincerely, mere religious labels or belief in god do not serve us
in our daily life.
On the other hand, if the followers of various
religions are going to quarrel and to condemn other beliefs and
practices?especially to prove or disprove the existence of God?and if they
are going to harbor anger towards other religions because of their
different religious views, then they are creating enormous disharmony
amongst the various religious communities. Whatever religious difference
we have, it is our duty to practise tolerance, patience and understanding.
It is our duty to respect the other man's religious belief even if we
cannot accommodate it; tolerance is necessary for the sake of harmonious
and peaceful living.
However, it does not serve any purpose to introduce
this concept of god to those who are not ready to appreciate it. To some
people this belief is not important to lead a righteous life. There are
many who lead a noble life without such belief while amongst believers
there are many who violate the peace and happiness of innocent people.
Buddhists can also co-operate with those who hold
this concept of god, if they use this concept for the peace, happiness and
welfare of mankind but not with those who abuse this concept by
threatening people in order to introduce this belief just for their own
benefit and with ulterior motives.
For more than 2,500 years, all over the world,
Buddhists have practised and introduced Buddhism very peacefully without
the necessity of sustaining the concept of a creator of God. And they will
continue to sustain this religion in the same manner without disturbing
the followers of other religions.
Therefore, with due respect to other religionists,
it must be mentioned that any attempt to introduce this concept into
Buddhism is unnecessary. Let Buddhists maintain their belief since it is
harmless to others and, let the basic Teachings of the Buddha remain.
From time immemorial, Buddhists have led a peaceful
religious life without incorporating the particular concept of God. They
should be capable of sustaining their particular religion without the
necessity, at this juncture, of someone trying to force something down
their throats against their will. Having full confidence in their Buddha
Dhamma, Buddhists should be permitted to work and seek their own salvation
without any undue interference from other sources. Others can uphold their
beliefs and concepts, Buddhist will uphold theirs, without any rancor. We
do not challenge others in regard to their religious persuasions, we
expect reciprocal treatment in regard to our own beliefs and practices.
Changing of Religious Label Before Death
Very often we come across cases of people who change
their religion at the last moment when they are about to die. By embracing
another religion, some people are under the mistaken belief that they can
'wash away their sins' and gain an easy passage to heaven. They also hope
to ensure themselves a simple and better burial. For people who have been
living a whole life-time with a particular religion, to suddenly embrace a
religion which is totally new and unfamiliar and to expect an immediate
salvation through their new faith is indeed very far-fetched. This is only
a dream. Some people are even known to have been converted into another
faith when they are in a state of unconsciousness and in come cases, even
posthumously. Those who are over zealous and crazy about converting others
into their faith, have misled uneducated people into believing that theirs
is the one and only faith with an easy method or short-cut to heaven. If
people are led to believe that there is someone sitting somewhere up there
who can wash away all the sins committed during a life-time, then this
belief will only encourage others to commit evil.
According to the Teachings of the Buddha there is no
such belief that there is someone who can wash away sins. It is only when
people sincerely realize that what they are doing are wrong and after
having realized this, try to mend their ways and do good that they can
suppress or counter the bad reactions that would accrue to them for the
evil they had committed.
It has become a common sight in many hospitals to
see purveyors of some religions hovering around the patients promising
them 'life after death'. This is exploiting the basic ignorance and
psychological fear of the patients. If they really want to help, then they
must be able to work the 'miracles' they so proudly claim lies in their
holy books. If they can work miracles, we will not need hospitals.
Buddhists must never become victims to these people. They must learn the
basic teachings of their noble religion which tells them that all
suffering is the basic lot of mankind. The only way to end suffering is by
purifying the mind. The individual creates his own suffering and it is he
alone who can end it. One cannot hope to eradicate the consequences of
one's evil actions simply by changing one's religious label at the
door-step of death.
A dying man's destiny in his next life depends on
the last thoughts which appear to him according to the good and bad
kammahe had accumulated during his current lifetime, irrespective of what
type of religious label he prefers to do himself at the last moment.
Short-cut to Paradise
Paradise is open not only to the followers of a
particular religion, but it is open to each and every person who leads a
righteous and noble way of life.
There is no difficulty at all for Buddhists to go to
heaven if they really want to. But there are some people who go from house
to house trying to convert other religionists into their faith and
promising them the heaven they carry in their bags. They claim that they
are the only blessed people who can go to heaven; they also claim that
they have the exclusive authority to send others to the same goal. They
introduce their religion like a patent medicine and this has become a
nuisance to the public today. Many innocent people who lack the knowledge
of their own religion, have become victims of these paradise sellers.
If Buddhists can understand the value of the Noble
Teachings of the Buddha, they will not be misled by such people. These
paradise sellers are also trying to mislead the people by saying that this
world which is created by god, is going to end very soon. Those who want
to have a wonderful everlasting life in heaven must accept their
particular religion before the end of the world comes, otherwise people
would miss this golden opportunity and would have to suffer in eternal
This threat of the end of the world, had been going
on for hundreds of years. The wonder of it all is that there are still
people today who believe in such a treat which is irrational and
imaginary. Some people get converted after hearing such preaching, without
using their common sense.
In Buddhism, there is no personal judge either to
condemn or to reward but only the working of an impersonal moral causation
and natural law.
Why wicked people enjoy while good people suffer
Some people ask, 'If good begets good and bad begets
bad why should many good people suffer and some wicked people prosper in
this world? ' The answer to this question, according to the Buddhist point
of view, is that although some are good by nature, they have not
accumulated enough good merits in their previous birth to compensate for
the bad effects of unwholesome kamma in this present life; somewhere in
their past there must have been some defect. On the other hand, some are
wicked by nature and yet are able to enjoy this life for a short period of
due to some strong good kamma that they accumulated in their previous
For example, there are certain people who by nature
have inherited a strong constitution and as a result enjoy perfect health.
Their physical power of resistance is strong and hence they are not prone
to illnesses. Although they do not take special precautions to lead a
hygienic life, they are able to remain strong and healthy. On the other
hand, there are others who take various tonics and vitamin?enriched foods
to fortify themselves, but in spite of their efforts to become strong and
healthy, their health do not show any improvement.
Whatever good and bad deeds people commit within
this life-time, they will definitely experience the reaction within this
life or hereafter. It is impossible to escape from their results simply by
praying, but by cultivating the mind and leading a noble life.
Buddhists are encouraged to do good deeds not for the sake of gaining a place in heaven. They are expected to do good in order to eradicate their selfishness and to experience peace and happiness.
Chapter 14 Promoter of True Human Culture
Buddhist ideas have greatly contributed to the
enrichment of both ancient and modern thought. Its teaching of causation
and relativism, its doctrine of sense data, its pragmatism, its emphasis
on the moral, its non-acceptance of a permanent soul, its unconcern
about external supernatural forces, its denial of unnecessary rites and
religious rituals, its appeal to reasoning and experience and its
compatibility with modern scientific discoveries all tend to establish
its superior claim to modernity.
Buddhism is able to meet all the requirements of a
rational religion that suit the needs of the future world. It is so
scientific, so rational, so progressive that it will be a pride for a
man in the modern world to call himself a Buddhist. In fact, Buddhism is
more scientific in approach than science; it is more socialistic than
Among all the great founders of religion, it was
the Buddha alone who encouraged the spirit of investigation among His
followers and who advised them not to accept even His Teaching with
blind faith. Therefore, it is no exaggeration to say that Buddhism can
be called a modern religion.
Buddhism is a well-elaborated scheme of how to
lead a practical life and a carefully thought-out system of
self-culture. But more than that, it is a scientific method of
education. This religion is best able in any crisis to restore our peace
of mind and to help us to face calmly whatever changes the future may
have in store.
Without sensual pleasure, would life be endurable?
Without belief in immortality, can man be moral? Without resorting to
divinity, can man advance towards righteousness? YES, is the answer
given by Buddhism. These ends can be attained by knowledge and by the
purification of the mind. Knowledge is the key to the higher path.
Purification is that which brings calmness and peace to life and renders
man indifferent to and detached from the vagaries of the phenomenal
Buddhism is truly a religion suited to the modern,
scientific world. The light which comes from nature, from science, from
history, from human experience, from every point of the universe, is
radiant with the Noble Teachings of the Buddha.
Religion in a Scientific Age
Religion without science is crippled, while
science without religion is blind.
Today we live in a scientific age in which almost
every aspect of our lives has been affected by science. Since the
scientific revolution during the seventeenth century, science has
continued to exert tremendous influence on what we think and do.
The impact of science has been particularly strong
on traditional religious beliefs. Many basic religious concepts are
crumbling under the pressure of modern science and are no longer
acceptable to the intellectual and the well-informed man. No longer is
it possible to assert truth derived merely through theological
speculations or based on the authority of religious scriptures in
isolation to scientific consideration. For example, the findings of
modern psychologists indicate that the human mind, like the physical
body, work according to natural, causal laws without the presence of an
unchanging soul as taught by some religions.
Some religionists choose to disregard scientific
discoveries which conflict with their religious dogmas. Such rigid
mental habits are indeed a hindrance to human progress. Since the modern
man refuses to believe anything blindly, even though it had been
traditionally accepted, such religionists will only succeed in
increasing the ranks of non-believers with their faulty theories.
In the light of modern scientific discoveries, it
is not difficult to understand that many of the views held in many
religions regarding the universe and life are merely conventional
thoughts of that which have long been superseded. It is generally true
to say that religions have greatly contributed to human development and
progress. They have laid down values and standards and formulated
principles to guide human life. But for al the good they have done,
religions can no longer survive in the modern, scientific age if the
followers insist on imprisoning truth into set forms and dogmas, on
encouraging ceremonies and practices which have been depleted of their
Buddhism and Science
Until the beginning of the last century, Buddhism
was confined to countries untouched by modern science. Nevertheless,
from its very beginning, the Teachings of the Buddha were always open to
One reason why the Teaching can easily be embraced
by the scientific spirit is that the Buddha never encouraged rigid,
dogmatic belief. He did not claim to base His Teachings on faith,
belief, or divine revelation, but allowed great flexibility and freedom
The second reason is that the scientific spirit
can be found in the Buddha's approach to spiritual Truth. The Buddha's
method for discovering and testing spiritual Truth is very similar to
that of the scientist. A scientist observes the external world
objectively, and would only establish a scientific theory after
conducting many successful practical experiments.
Using a similar approach 25 centuries ago, the
Buddha observed the inner world with detachment, and encouraged His
disciples not to accept any teaching until they had critically
investigated and personally verified its truth. Just as the scientist
today would not claim that his experiment cannot be duplicated by
others, the Buddha did not claim that His experience of Enlightenment
was exclusive to Him. Thus, in His approach to Truth, the Buddha was as
analytical as the present day scientist. He established a practical,
scientifically worked-out method for reaching the Ultimate Truth and the
experience of Enlightenment.
While Buddhism is very much in line with the
scientific spirit, it is not correct to equate Buddhism with science. It
is true that the practical applications of science have enabled mankind
to live more comfortable lives and experience wonderful things undreamed
of before. Science has made it possible for man to swim better than the
fishes, fly higher than the birds, and walk on the moon. Yet the sphere
of knowledge acceptable to conventional, scientific wisdom is confined
to empirical evidence. And scientific truth is subject to constant
change. Science cannot give man control over his mind and neither does
it offer moral control and guidance. Despite its wonders, science has
indeed many limitations not shared by Buddhism.
Limitations of Science
Often one hears so much about science and what it
can do, and so little about what it cannot do. Scientific knowledge is
limited to the data received through the sense organs. It does not
recognize reality which transcends sense-data. Scientific truth is built
upon logical observations of sense-data which are continually changing.
Scientific truth is, therefore, relative truth not intended to stand the
test of time. And a scientist, being aware of this fact, is always
willing to discard a theory if it can be replaced by a better one.
Science attempts to understand the outer world and
has barely scratched the surface of man's inner world. Even the science
of psychology has not really fathomed the underlying cause of man's
mental unrest. When a man is frustrated and disgusted with life, and his
inner world is filled with disturbances and unrest, science today is
very much unequipped to help him.. The social sciences which cater for
man's environment may bring him a certain degree of happiness. But
unlike an animal man requires more than mere physical comfort and needs
help to cope with his frustrations and miseries arising from his daily
Today so many people are plagued with fear,
restlessness, and insecurity. Yet science fails to succor them. Science
is unable to teach the common man to control his mind when he is driven
by the animal nature that burns within him.
Can science make man better? If it can, why do
violent acts and immoral practices abound in countries which are so
advanced in science? Isn't it fair to say that despite all the
scientific progress achieved and the advantages conferred on man,
science leaves the inner man basically unchanged: it has only heightened
man's feelings of dependence and insufficiency? In addition to its
failure to bring security to mankind, science has also made everyone
feel even more insecure by threatening the world with the possibility of
Science is unable to provide a meaningful purpose
of life. It cannot provide man clear reasons for living. In fact,
science is thoroughly secular in nature and unconcerned with man's
spiritual goal. The materialism inherent in scientific thought denies
the psyche goals higher than material satisfaction. By its selective
theorizing and relative truths, science disregards some of the most
essential issues and leaves many questions unanswered. For instance,
when asked why great inequalities exist among men, no scientific
explanation can be given to such questions which are beyond its narrow
The transcendental mind developed by the Buddha is
not limited to sense-data and goes beyond the logic trapped within the
limitation of relative perception. The human intellect, on the contrary,
operates on the basis of information it collects and stores, whether in
the field of religion, philosophy, science or art. The information for
the mind is gathered through our sense organs which are inferior in so
many ways. The very limited information perceived makes our
understanding of the world distorted.
Some people are proud of the fact that they know
so much. In fact, the less we know, the more certain we are in our
explanations; the more we know, the more we realize our limitations.
A brilliant scholar once wrote a book which he
considered as the ultimate work. He felt that the book contained all
literary gems and philosophies. Being proud of his achievement, he
showed his masterpiece to a colleague of his who was equally brilliant
with the request that the book be reviewed by him. Instead, his
colleague asked the author to write down on a piece of paper all he knew
and all he did not know. The author sat down deep in thought, but after
a long while failed write down anything he knew. Then he turned his mind
to the second question, and again he failed to write down anything he
did not know. Finally, with his ego at the lowest ebb, he gave up,
realizing that all that he knew was really ignorance.
In this regard, Socrates, the well-known Athenian
philosopher of the Ancient World, had this to say when asked what he
knew: 'I know only one thing--that I do not know.'
Buddhism goes beyond modern science in its
acceptance of a wider field of knowledge than is allowed by the
scientific mind. Buddhism admits knowledge arising from the sense organs
as well as personal experiences gained through mental culture. By
training and developing a highly concentrated mind, religious experience
can be understood and verified. Religious experience is not something
which can be understood by conducting experiments in a test-tube or
examined under a microscope.
The truth discovered by science is relative and
subject to changes, while that found by the Buddha is final and
absolute: the Truth of Dhamma does not change according to time and
space. Furthermore, in contrast to the selective theorizing of science,
the Buddha encouraged the wise not to cling to theories, scientific or
otherwise. Instead of theorizing, the Buddha taught mankind how to live
a righteous life so as to discover Ultimate Truth. By living a righteous
life, by calming the sense, and by casting off desires, the Buddha
pointed the way through which we can discover within ourselves the
nature of life. And the real purpose of life can be found.
Practice is important in Buddhism. A person who
studies much but does not practise is like one who is able to recite
recipes from a huge cookery-book without trying to prepare a single
dish. His hunger cannot be relieved by book knowledge alone. Practice is
such an important prerequisite of enlightenment that in some schools of
Buddhism, such as Zen, practice is put even ahead of knowledge.
The scientific method is outwardly directed, and
modern scientists exploit nature and the elements for their own comfort,
often disregarding the need to harmonize with the environment and
thereby polluting the world. In contrast, Buddhism is inwardly directed
and is concerned with the inner development of man. On the lower level,
Buddhism teaches the individual how to adjust and cope with events and
circumstances of daily life. At the higher level, it represents the
human endeavor to grow beyond oneself through the practice of mental
culture or mind development.
Buddhism has a complete system of mental culture
concerned with gaining insight into the nature of things which leads to
complete self-realization of the Ultimate Truth--Nibbana. This system is
both practical and scientific, it involves dispassionate observation of
emotional and mental states. More like a scientist than a judge, a
meditator observes the inner world with mindfulness.
Science Without Religion
Without having moral ideals, science poses a
dangerto all mankind. Science has made the machine which in turn becomes
king. The bullet and bomb are gifts of science to the few in power on
whom the destiny of the world depends. Meanwhile the rest of mankind
waits in anguish and fear, not knowing when the nuclear weapons, the
poisonous gases, the deadly arms--all fruits of scientific research
designed to kill efficiently--will be used on them. Not only is science
completely unable to provide moral guidance to mankind, it has also fed
fuel to the flame of human craving.
Science devoid of morality spells only
destruction: it becomes the draconian monster man discovered. And
unfortunately, this very monster is becoming more powerful than man
himself. Unless man learns to restrain and govern the monster through
the practice of religious morality, the monster will soon overpower him.
Without religious guidance, science threatens the world with
destruction. In contrast, science when coupled with a religion like
Buddhism can transform this world into a haven of peace and security and
Tribute to Buddhism
The wisdom of Buddhism founded on compassion has
the vital role of correcting the dangerous destination modern science is
heading for. Buddhism can provide the spiritual leadership to guide
scientific research and invention in promoting a brilliant culture of
the future. Buddhism can provide worthy goals for scientific advancement
which is presently facing a hopeless impasse of being enslaved by its
Albert Einstein paid a tribute to Buddhism when he
said in his autobiography: 'If there is any religion that would cope
with modern scientific needs, it would be Buddhism'.Buddhism requires no
revision to keep it 'up to date' with recent scientific findings.
Buddhism need not surrender its views to science because it embraces
science as well as goes beyond science. Buddhism is the bridge between
religious and scientific thoughts by stimulating man to discover the
latent potentialities within himself and his environment. Buddhism is
Religion of Freedom
This is a religion of freedom and reason for man
to lead a noble life.
Buddhism does not prevent anyone from learning the
teachings of other religions. In fact, the Buddha encouraged His
followers to learn about other religions and to compare His Teachings
with other teachings. The Buddha says that if there are reasonable and
rational teachings. The Buddha says that if there are reasonable and
rational teachings in other religions, His followers are free to respect
such teachings. It seems that certain religionists try to keep their
followers in the dark, some of them are not even allowed to touch other
religious objects or books. They are instructed not to listen to the
preachings of other religions. They are enjoined not to doubt the
teachings of their own religion, however unconvincing their teachings
may appear to be. The more they keep their followers on a one-track
mind, the more easily they can keep them under control. If anyone of
them exercises freedom of thought and realizes that he had been in the
dark all the time, then it is alleged that the devil has possessed his
mind. The poor man is given no opportunity to use his common sense,
education, of his intelligence. Those who wish to change their views on
religion are taught to believe that they are not perfect enough to be
allowed to use free will in judging anything for themselves.
According to the Buddha, religion should be left
to one's own free choice. Religion is not a law, but a disciplinary code
which should be followed with understanding. To Buddhists true religious
principles are neither a divine law nor a human law, but a natural law.
In actual fact, there is no real religious freedom
in any part of the world today. Man has not the freedom even to think
freely. Whenever he realizes that he cannot find satisfaction through
his own religion to which he belongs, which cannot provide him with
satisfactory answers to certain questions, he has no liberty to give it
up and to accept another which appeals to him. The reason is that
religious authorities, leaders, and family members have taken that
freedom away from him. Man should be allowed to choose his religion
which is in accordance with his own conviction. One has no right to
force another to accept a particular religion. Some people surrender
their religion for the sake of love, without a proper understanding of
their partner's religion. Religion should not be changed to suit man's
emotions and human weaknesses. One must think very carefully before
changing one's religion. Religion is not a subject for bargaining; one
should not change one's religion for personal, material gains. Religion
is to be sued for spiritual development and for self-salvation.
Buddhists never try to influence other
religionists to come and embrace their religion for material gain. Nor
do they try to exploit poverty, sickness, illiteracy and ignorance in
order to increase the number of Buddhist population. The Buddha advised
those who indicated their wish to follow Him, not to be hasty in
accepting His Teachings. He advised them to consider carefully His
Teaching and to determine for themselves whether it was practical or not
for them to follow.
Buddhism teaches that mere belief or outward
rituals are insufficient for attaining wisdom and perfection. In this
sense, outward conversion becomes meaningless. To promote Buddhism by
force would mean pretending to propagate justice and love by means of
oppression and injustice. It is of no importance to a follower of the
Buddha whether a person calls himself a Buddhist or not. Buddhists know
that only through man's understanding and exertion will they come nearer
to the goal preached by the Buddha.
Amongst the followers of every religion are some
fanatics. Religious fanaticism is dangerous. A fanatic is incapable of
guiding himself by reason or even by the scientific principles of
observation and analysis. According to the Buddha, a Buddhist must be a
free man with an open mind and must not be subservient to anyone for his
spiritual development. He seeks refuge in the Buddha by accepting Him as
a source of supreme guidance and inspiration. He seeks refuge in the
Buddha, not blindly, but with understanding. To Buddhists, the Buddha is
not a savior nor is He an anthropomorphic being who claims to possess
the power of washing away other's sins. Buddhists regard the Buddha as a
Teacher who shows the Path to salvation.
Buddhism has always supported the freedom and
progress of mankind. Buddhism has always stood for the advancement of
knowledge and freedom for humanity in every sphere of life. There is
nothing in the Buddha's Teaching that has to be withdrawn in the face of
modern, scientific inventions and knowledge. The more new things that
scientists discover, the closer they come to the Buddha.
The Buddha emancipated man from the thralldom of
religion. He also released man from the monopoly and the tyranny of the
priestcraft. It was the Buddha who first advised man to exercise his
reason and not to allow himself to be driven meekly like dumb cattle,
following the dogma of religion. The Buddha stood for rationalism,
democracy and practical, ethical conduct in religion. He introduced this
religion for people to practise with human dignity.
The followers of the Buddha were advised not to
believe anything without considering it properly. In the Kalama Sutta,
the Buddha gave the following guidelines to a group of young people:
'Do not accept anything based upon mere reports, traditions or hearsay,
Nor upon the authority of religious texts,
Nor upon mere reasons and arguments,
Nor upon one's own inference,
Nor upon anything which appears to be true,
Nor upon one's own speculative opinion,
Nor upon another's seeming ability,
Nor upon the consideration: 'This is our Teacher.'
'But, when you know for yourselves the certain
things are unwholesome and bad: tending to harm yourself of others,
'And when you know for yourselves that certain
things are wholesome and good: conducive to the spiritual welfare of
yourself as well as others, accept and follow them.'
Buddhists are advised to accept religious
practices only after careful observation and analysis, and only after
being certain that the method agrees with reason and is conducive to the
good of one and all.
A true Buddhist does not depend on external powers
for his salvation. Nor does he expect to get rid of miseries through the
intervention of some unknown power. He must try to eradicate all his
mental impurities to find eternal Happiness. The Buddha says, 'If anyone
were to speak ill of me, my teaching and my disciples, do not be upset
or perturbed, for this kind of reaction will only cause you harm. On the
other hand, if anyone were to speak well of me, my teaching and my
disciples, do not be over-joyed, thrilled or elated, for this kind of
reaction will only be an obstacle in forming a correct judgment. If you
are elated, you cannot judge whether the qualities praised are real and
actually found in us.'
(Brahma Jala Sutta) Such is the unbiased attitude
of a genuine Buddhist.
The Buddha had upheld the highest degree of
freedom not only in its human essence but also in its divine qualities.
It is a freedom that does not deprive man of his dignity. It is a
freedom that releases one from slavery to dogmas and dictatorial
religious laws or religious punishments.
'Go forth, O Bhikkhus, for the good of the many,
for the happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world, for the
good, benefit, and happiness of gods and men.' (The Buddha)
When we turn the pages of the history of Buddhism,
we learn that Buddhist missionaries gave the noble message of the Buddha
in a peaceful and respectable way. Such a peaceful mission should put to
shame those who have practised violent methods in propagating their
Buddhist missionaries do not compete with other
religionists in converting people in the market place. No Buddhist
missionary or monk would ever think of preaching ill-will against the
so-called 'unbelievers'. Religious, cultural and national intolerance
are unbuddhistic in attitude, to people who are imbued with the real
Buddhist spirit. Aggression never finds approval in the teachings of the
Buddha. The world has bled and suffered enough from the disease of
dogmatism, religious fanaticism and intolerance. Whether in religion or
politics, people make conscious efforts to bring humanity to accept
their own way of life. In doing so, they sometimes show their hostility
towards the followers of other religions.
Buddhism had no quarrel with the national
traditions and customs, art and culture of the people who accepted it as
a way of life but allowed them to exist with refinement. The Buddha's
message of love and compassion opened the hearts of men and they
willingly accepted the Teachings, thereby helping Buddhism to become a
world religion. Buddhist missionaries were invited by the independent
countries which welcomed them with due respect. Buddhism was never
introduced to any country through the influence of colonial or any other
Buddhism was the first spiritual force known to us
in history which drew closely together large numbers of races which were
separated by the most difficult barriers of distance, language, culture
and morals. Its motive was not the acquisition of international
commerce, empire-building or migratory impulse to occupy fresh
territory. Its aim was to show how people could gain more peace and
happiness through the practice of Dhamma.
A sparkling example of the qualities and approach
of a Buddhist missionary was Emperor Asoka. It was during Emperor
Asoka's time that Buddhism spread to many Asian and western countries.
Emperor Asoka sent Buddhist missionaries to many parts of the world to
introduce the Buddha's message of peace. Asoka respected and supported
every religion at that time. His tolerance towards other religions was
remarkable. One of his scripts engraved in stone on Asoka Pillars, and
still standing today in India, says:
'One should not honour only one's own religion and
condemn the religion of others, but one should honor others' religions
for this or that reason. In so doing, one helps one's own religion to
grow and renders service to the religions of others too. In acting
otherwise one digs the grave of one's own religion and also does harm to
other religions. Whosoever honors his own religion and condemns other
religions, does so indeed through devotion to his own religion,
thinking, 'I will glorify my own religion.' But on the contrary, in so
doing he injures his own religion more gravely, so concord is good. Let
all listen, and be willing to listen to the doctrines professed by
others.' In 268 B. C., he made the doctrines of the Buddha a living
force in India. Hospitals, social service institutions, universities for
men and women, public wells and recreation centers sprang up with this
new movement, and the people thereby realized the cruelty of senseless
wars. The golden era in the history of India and the other countries of
Asia--the period when art, culture, education and civilization reached
their zenith--occurred at the time when Buddhist influence was strongest
in these countries. Holy wars, crusades, inquisitions and religious
discrimination do not mar the annals of Buddhist countries. This is a
noble history mankind can rightly be proud of. The Great Nalanda
University of India which flourished from the second to the ninth
century was a product of Buddhism. It was the first university that we
know of and which was opened to international students.
In the past, Buddhism was able to make itself felt
in many parts of the East, although communication and transport were
difficult and people had to cross hills and deserts. Despite these
difficult barriers Buddhism spread far and wide. Today, this peace
message is spreading in the West. Westerners are attracted to Buddhism
and believe that Buddhism is the only religion that is in harmony with
Buddhist missionaries have no need or desire to
convert those who already have a proper religion to practise. If people
are satisfied with their own religion, then, there is no need for
Buddhist missionaries to convert them. They give their full support to
missionaries of other faiths if their idea is to convert the wicked,
evil, and uncultured people to a religious way of life. Buddhists are
happy to see the progress of other religions so long as they truly help
people to lead a religious way of life according to their faith and
enjoy peace, harmony and understanding. On the other hand, Buddhist
missionaries deplore the attitude of certain missionaries who disturb
the followers of other religions, since there is no reason for them to
create an unhealthy atmosphere of competition for converts if their aim
is only to teach people to lead a religious way of life.
In introducing Dhamma to others, Buddhist
missionaries have never tried to use imaginary exaggerations depicting a
heavenly life in order to attract human desire and arouse their craving.
Instead, they have tried to explain the real nature of human and
heavenly life as taught by the Buddha.
Chapter 15 War And Peace
Why is there no Peace?
Man has forgotten that he has a heart. He forgets
that if he treats the world kindly, the world will treat him kindly in
We are living in a world of really amazing
contradictions. On the one hand, people are afraid of war; on the other
hand, they prepare for it with frenzy. They produce in abundance, but
they distribute miserly. The world becomes more and more crowded, but
man becomes increasingly isolated and lonely. Men are living close to
each other as in a big family, but each individual finds himself more
than ever before, separated from his neighbor. Mutual understanding and
sincerity are lacking very badly. One man cannot trust another, however
good the latter may be.
When the United Nations was formed after the
horrors of the Second World War, the heads of Nations who gathered to
sign the charter agreed that it should begin with the following
preamble: 'Since it is in the minds of men that wars begin, it is in the
minds of men the ramparts of peace should be erected.' This very same
sentiment is echoed in the first verse of the Dhammapada which states: 'All [mental] states
have mind as their forerunner, mind is their chief, and they are
mind-made. If one speaks or acts, with a defiled mind, suffering follows
one even as the wheel follows the hoof of the draught-ox.'
The belief that the only way to fight force is by
applying more force has led to the arms race between the great powers.
And this competition to increase the weapons of war has brought mankind
to the very brink of total self-destruction. If we do nothing about it,
the next war will be the end of the world where there will be neither
victors nor victims; only dead bodies.
'Hatred does not cease by hatred; by love alone
does it cease.' Such is the Buddha's advice to those who preach the
doctrine of antagonism and ill-will, and who set men to war and
rebellion against one another. Many people say that the Buddha's advice
to return good for evil is impracticable. Actually, it is the only
correct method to solve any problem. This method was introduced by the
great Teacher from His own experience. Because we are proud and
egoistic, we are reluctant to return good for evil, thinking that the
public may treat us as cowardly people. Some people even think that
kindness and gentleness are effeminate, not 'macho'! But what harm is
there if we settle our problems and bring peace and happiness by
adopting this cultured method and by sacrificing our dangerous pride?
Tolerance must be practised if peace is to come to
this earth. Force and compulsion will only create intolerance. To
establish peace and harmony among mankind, each and everyone must first
learn to practise the ways leading to the extinction of hatred, greed
and delusion, the roots of all evil forces. If mankind can eradicate
these evil forces, tolerance and peace will come to this restless world.
Today the follows of the most compassionate Buddha
have a special duty to work for the establishment of peace in the world
and to show an example to others by following their Master's advice:
'All tremble at punishment, all fear death; comparing others with
oneself, one should neither kill nor cause to kill.' (Dhammapada 129)
Peace is always obtainable. But the way to peace
is not only through prayers and rituals. Peace is the result of man's
harmony with his fellow beings and with his environment. The peace that
we try to introduce by force is not a lasting peace. It is an interval
in between the conflict of selfish desire and worldly conditions.
Peace cannot exits on this earth without the
practice of tolerance. To be tolerant, we must not allow anger and
jealousy to prevail in our mind. The Buddha says, 'No enemy can harm one
so much as one's own thoughts of craving, hate and jealousy.' (Dhammapada
Buddhism is a religion of tolerance because it
preaches a life of self-restraint. Buddhism teaches a life based not on
rules but on principles. Buddhism has never persecuted or maltreated
those whose beliefs are different. The Teaching is such that it is not
necessary for anyone to label himself as a Buddhist to practise the
Noble Principles of this religion.
The world is like a mirror and if you look at the
mirror with a smiling face, you can see your own, beautiful smiling
face. On the other hand, if you look at it with a long face, you will
invariably see ugliness. Similarly, if you treat the world kindly the
worldly will also certainly treat you kindly. Learn to be peaceful with
yourself and the world will also be peaceful with you.
Man's mind is given to so much self-deceit that he
does not want to admit his own weakness. He will try to find some excuse
to justify his action and to create an illusion that he is blameless. If
a man really wants to be free, he must have the courage to admit his own
weakness. The Buddha says:--
'Easily seen are other's faults; hard indeed it is
to see one's own faults.'
Can We Justify War?
The difference between a dog fight and a war or
between two groups of people is only in its organization.
The history of mankind is a continuous
manifestation of man's greed, hatred, pride, jealousy, selfishness and
delusion. During the last 3,000 years, men have fought 15,000 major
wars. Is it a characteristic of man? What is his destiny? How can men
bring destruction to one another?
Although men have discovered and invented many
important things, they have also made great advances towards the
destruction of their own kind. This is how many human civilizations have
been completely erased from this earth. Modern man has become so
sophisticated in his art and techniques of warfare that it is now
possible for him to turn the whole of mankind into ashes within a few
seconds. The world has become a storehouse of military hardware as a
result of a little game called 'Military Superiority.'
We are told that the prototype of a nuclear weapon
is more powerful than the atomic bomb which was dropped at Hiroshima
Japan in August, 1945 is being planned. Scientist believe that a few
hundred thermonuclear weapons will chart the course towards universal
destruction. Just see what we are doing to our human race! Think what
sort of scientific development it is! See how foolish and selfish man
Man should not pander to his aggressive instincts.
Man should uphold the ethical teachings of the religious teachers and
display justice with morality to enable peace to prevail.
Treaties, pacts and peace formulae have been
adopted and millions of words have been spoken by countless world
leaders throughout the world who proclaim that they have found the way
to maintain and promote peace on earth. But for all their efforts, they
have not succeeded in removing the threat to man-kind. The reason is
that we have all failed to educate our young to truly understand and
respect the need for selfless service and the danger of selfishness. To
guarantee true peace, we must use every method available to us to
educate our young to practise love, goodwill and tolerance towards
The Buddhist Attitude
A Buddhist should not be the aggressor even in
protecting his religion or anything else. He must try his best to avoid
any kind of violent act. Sometimes he may be forced to go to war by
others who do not respect the concept of the brotherhood of man as
taught by the Buddha. He may be called upon to defend his fellow men
from aggression, and as long as he has not renounced the worldly life,
he is duty-bound to join in the struggle for peace and freedom. Under
these circumstances, he cannot be blamed for his action in becoming a
soldier or being involved in defence. However, if everyone were to
follow the advice of the Buddha, there would be no reason for war to
take place in this world. It is the duty of every cultured man to find
all possible ways and means to settle disputes in a peaceful manner,
without declaring war to kill his fellow men. The Buddha did not teach
His followers to surrender to any form of evil power, be it man or
Indeed, with reason and science, man could conquer
nature, and yet man has not yet even secured his own life. Why is it
that life is in danger? While devoted to reason and being ruled by
science, man has forgotten that he has a heart which has been neglected
and has been left to wither and be polluted by passion.
If we cannot secure our own lives, then how can
world peace be possible? To obtain peace, we must train our minds to
face facts. We must be objective and humble. We must realize that no one
person, nor one nation is always wrong. To obtain peace, we must also
share the richness of the earth, not necessarily with equality but at
least with equity. There can never be absolute equality but surely there
can be a greater degree of equity.
It is simply inconceivable that five percent of
the world's population should enjoy fifty percent of the its wealth, or
that twenty-five percent of the world should be fairly well-fed and some
overfed, while seventy-five percent of the world is always hungry. Peace
will only come when nations are willing to share and share equitably,
the rich to help the poor and the strong to help the weak, thus creating
international goodwill. Only if and when these conditions are met, can
we envision a world with no excuse for wars.
The madness of the armaments race must stop! We
must try to build schools instead of cruisers, hospitals instead of
nuclear weapons. The amount of money and human lives that various
governments waste in the battlefield should be diverted to build up the
economics to elevate the standard of living.
All religions teach people not to kill; but
unfortunately this important precept is conveniently ignored. Today,
with modern armaments, man can kill millions within one second, that is,
more than primitive tribes did in a century.
Very unfortunately some people in certain
countries bring religious labels, slogans and banners into their
battlefields. They do not know that they are disgracing the good name of
'Verily, O monk,' said the Buddha, 'due to sensuous craving, kings fight with kings, princes with princes, priests with priests, citizens with citizens, the mother quarrels with the son, the son quarrels with the father, brother with brother, brother with sister, sister with brother, friend with friend.' (Majjhima Nikaya)
We can happily say that for the last 2,500 years
there has never been any serious discord or conflict created by
Buddhists that led to war in the name of this religion. This is a result
of the dynamic character of the concept of tolerance contained in the
Can a Buddhist Join the Army?
You can be a soldier of Truth, but not the
One day, Sinha, the general of the army, went to
the Buddha and said, 'I am a soldier, O Blessed One. I am appointed by
the King to enforce his laws and to wage his wars. The Buddha teaches
infinite love, kindness and compassion for all sufferers: Does the
Buddha permit the punishment of the criminal? And also, does the Buddha
declare that it is wrong to go to war for the protection of our homes,
our wives, our children and our property? Does the Buddha teach the
doctrine of complete self-surrender? Should I suffer the evil-doer to do
with what he pleases and yield submissively to him who threatens to take
by violence what is my own? Does the Buddha maintain that all strife
including warfare waged for a righteous cause should be forbidden?'
The Buddha replied, 'He who deserves punishment
must be punished. And he who is worthy of favor must be favored. Do not
do injury to any living being but be just, filled with love and
kindness.' These injunctions are not contradictory because the person
who is punished for his crimes will suffer his injury not through the
ill-will of the judge but through the evil act itself. His own acts have
brought upon him the injury that the executors of the law inflict. When
a magistrate punishes, he must not harbor hatred in his heart. When a
murderer is put to death, he should realize that his punishment is the
result of his own act. With his understanding, he will no longer lament
his fate but can console his mind. And the Blessed One continued, 'The
Buddha teaches that all warfare in which man tries to slay his brothers
is lamentable. But he does not teach that those who are involved in war
to maintain peace and order, after having exhausted all means to avoid
conflict, are blameworthy.
'Struggle must exist, for all life is a struggle
of some kind. But make certain that you do not struggle in the interest
of self against truth and justice. He who struggles out of self-interest
to make himself great or powerful or rich or famous, will have no
reward. But he who struggles for peace and truth will have great reward;
even his defeat will be deemed a victory.
'If a person goes to battle even for a righteous
cause, then Sinha, he must be prepared to be slain by his enemies
because death is the destiny of warriors. And should his fate overtake
him, he has no reason to complain. But if he is victorious his success
may be deemed great, but no matter how great it is, the wheel of fortune
may turn again and bring his life down into the dust. However, if he
moderates himself and extinguishes all hatred in his heart, if he lifts
his down-trodden adversary up and says to him, 'Come now and make peace
and let us be brothers,' then he will gain a victory that is not a
transient success; for the fruits of that victory will remain forever.
'Great is a successful general, but he who
conquers self is the greater victor. This teaching of conquest of self,
Sinha, is not taught to destroy the lives of others, but to protect
them. The person who has conquered himself is more fit to live, to be
successful and to gain victories than is the person who is the slave of
self. The person whose mind is free from the illusion of self, will
stand and not fall in the battle of life. He whose intentions are
righteousness and justice, will meet with no failure. He will be
successful in his enterprise and his success will endure. He who harbors
love of truth in his heart will live and not suffer, for he has drunk
the water of immortality. So struggle courageously and wisely. Then you
can be a soldier of Truth.'
There is no justice in war or violence. When we
declare war, we justify it, when others declare war, we say, it is
unjust. Then who can justify war? Man should not follow the law of the
jungle to overcome human problems.
Mercy and Killing can never go together.
According to Buddhism mercy killing cannot be
justified. Mercy and killing can never go together. Some people kill
their pets on the grounds that they do not like to see the pets suffer.
However, if mercy killing is the correct method to be practised on pets
and other animals, then why are people so reluctant to do the same to
their beloved ones?
When some people see their dogs or cats suffer
from some skin disease, they arrange to kill those poor animals. They
call this action, mercy killing. Actually it is not that they have mercy
towards those animals, but they kill them for their own precaution and
to get rid of an awful sight. And even if they do have real mercy
towards a suffering animal, they still have no right to take away its
life. No matter how sincere one may be, mercy killing, is not the
correct approach. The consequences of this killing, however, are
different from killing with hatred towards the animal. Buddhists have no
grounds to say that any kind of killing is justified.
Some people try to justify mercy killing with the
misconception that if the motive or reason is good, then the act itself
is good. They then claim that by killing their pet, they have the
intention to relieve the unhappy animal from its suffering and so the
action is good. No doubt their original intention or motive is good. But
the evil act of killing which occurs through a later thought, will
certainly bring about unwholesome results.
Keeping away from mercy killing can become a
nuisance to many. Nevertheless, the Buddhist religion cannot justify
mercy killing as completely free from bad reaction. However, to kill out
of necessity and without any anger or hatred has less bad reaction than
to kill out of intense anger or jealousy.
On the other hand, a being (man or animal) may
suffer owing to his bad kamma. If By mercy killing, we prevent the
working out of one's bad kamma, the debt will have to be paid in another
existence. As Buddhists, all that we can do is to help to reduce the
pain of suffering in others.
Killing for Self
The Buddha has advised everyone to abstain from
killing. If everybody accepts this advice, human beings would not kill
each other. In the case where a person's life is threatened, the Buddha
says even then it is not advisable to kill out of self-protection. The
weapon for self-protection is loving-kindness. One who practises this
kindness very seldom comes across such misfortune. However, man loves
his life so much that he is not prepared to surrender himself to others;
in actual practice, most people would struggle for self-protection. It
is natural and every living being struggles and kills others for
self-protection but kammic effect depends on their mental attitude.
During the struggle to protect himself, if he happens to kill his
opponent although he has no intention to kill, then he is not
responsible for that action. On the other hand, if he kills another
person under any circumstances with the intention to kill, then he is
not free from the kammic reaction; he has to face the consequences. We
must remember that killing is killing; when we disapprove of it, we call
it 'murder'. When we punish man for murdering, we call it 'capital
punishment'. If our own soldiers are killed by an 'enemy' we call it
'slaughter'. However, if we approve a killing, we call it 'war'. But if
we remove the emotional content from these words, we can understand that
killing is killing.
In recent years many scientists and some religionists have used the expressions like 'humane killing', 'mercy killing', 'gentle killing' and 'painless killing' to justify the ending of a life. They argue that if the victim feels no pain, if the knife is sharp, killing is justified. Buddhism can never accept these arguments because it is not how the killing occurs that is important, but the fact that a life of one being is terminated by another. No one has any right to do that for whatever reason.
This World And Other Worlds
Chapter 16 Realms of Existence
The Origin of the World
There are three schools of thought regarding the
origin of the world. The first school of thought claims that this world
came into existence by nature and that nature is not an intelligent
force. However, nature works no its own accord and goes on changing.
The second school of thought says that the world
was created by an almighty God who is responsible for everything.
The third school of thought says that the
beginning of this world and of life is inconceivable since they have
neither beginning nor end. Buddhism is in accordance with this third
school of thought. Bertrand Russell supports this school of thought by
saying, 'There is no reason to suppose that the world had a beginning at
all. The idea that things must have a beginning is really due to the
poverty of our thoughts.'
Modern science says that some millions of years
ago, the newly cooled earth was lifeless and that life originated in the
ocean. Buddhism never claimed that the world, sun, moon, stars, wind,
water, days and nights were created by a powerful god or by a Buddha.
Buddhists believe that the world was not created once upon a time, but
that the world has been created millions of times every second and will
continue to do so by itself and will break away by itself. According to
Buddhism, world systems always appear and disappear in the universe.
H.G. Wells, in A Short History of the World, says
'It is universally recognized that the universe in which we live, has to
all appearance, existed for an enormous period of time and possibly for
endless time. But that the universe in which we live, has existed only
for six or seven thousand years may be regarded as an altogether
exploded idea. No life seems to have happened suddenly upon earth.'
The efforts made by many religions to explain the
beginning and the end of the universe are indeed ill-conceived. The
position of religions which propound the view that the universe was
created by god in an exactly fixed year, has become a difficult one to
maintain in the light of modern and scientific knowledge.
Today scientists, historians, astronomers,
biologists, botanists, anthropologists and great thinkers have all
contributed vast new knowledge about the origin of the world. This
latest discovery and knowledge is not at all contradictory to the
Teachings of the Buddha. Bertrand Russell again says that he respects
the Buddha for not making false statements like others who committed
themselves regarding the origin of the world.
The speculative explanations of the origin of the
universe that are presented by various religions are not acceptable to
the modern scientists and intellectuals. Even the commentaries of the
Buddhist Scriptures, written by certain Buddhist writers, cannot be
challenged by scientific thinking in regard to this question. The Buddha
did not waste His time on this issue. The reason for His silence was
that this issue has no religious value for gaining spiritual wisdom. The
explanation of the origin of the universe is not the concern of
religion. Such theorizing is not necessary for living a righteous way of
life and for shaping our future life. However, if one insists on
studying this subject, then one must investigate the sciences,
astronomy, geology, biology and anthropology. These sciences can offer
more reliable and tested information on this subject than can be
supplied by any religion. The purpose of a religion is to cultivate the
life here in this world and hereafter until liberation is gained.
In the eyes of the Buddha, the world is nothing
but Samsara--the cycle of repeated births and deaths. To Him, the
beginning of the world and the end of the world is within this Samsara.
Since elements and energies are relative and inter-dependent, it is
meaningless to single out anything as the beginning. Whatever
speculation we make regarding the origin of the world, there is no
absolute truth in our notion.
'Infinite is the sky, infinite is the number of
Infinite are the worlds in the vast universe,
Infinite in wisdom the Buddha teaches these,
Infinite are the virtues of Him who teaches
Other World Systems
In the light of modern, scientific discoveries, we
can appreciate the limitations of the human world and the hypothesis
that other world systems might exist in other parts of the universe.
On certain occasions, the Buddha has commented on
the nature and composition of the universe. According to the Buddha,
there are some other forms of life existing in other parts of the
universe. The Buddha has mentioned that there are thirty-one planes of
existence within the universes. They are:
4 States of unhappiness or sub human realms: (life
in hells, animal life, ghost-worlds and demon-worlds)
1 Human world.
6 Develokas or heavenly realms.
16 Rupalokas or Realms of Fine-Material Forms.
4 Arupalokas or Formless Realms.
The existence of these other-world systems is yet
to be confirmed by modern science. However, modern scientists are now
working with the hypothesis that there is a possibility of other forms
of life existing on other planets. As a result of today's rapid
scientific progress, we may soon find some living beings on other
planets in the remotest parts of the galaxy system. Perhaps, we will
find them subject to the same laws as ourselves. They might be
physically quite different in both appearance, elements and chemical
composition and exist in different dimensions. They might be far
superior to us or they might be far inferior.
Why should the planet earth be the only planet to
contain life forms? Earth is a tiny speck in a huge universe. Sir James
Jeans, the distinguished astrophysicist, estimates the whole universe to
be about one thousand million times as big as the area of space that is
visible through the telescope. In his book, The Mysterious Universe,he
states that the total number of universes is probably something like the
total number of grains of sand on all the sea shores of the world. In
such a universe, the planet Earth is only from the sun which takes a
seventh of a second to reach the earth, takes probably something like
100,000 million years to travel across the universe! Such is the
vastness of the cosmos. When we consider the vastness of the many
universes making up what is popularly known as 'outer space', the
hypothesis that other-world systems might exist is scientifically
In the light of modern scientific discoveries, we
can appreciate the limitations of the human world. Today, science has
demonstrated that our human world exists within the limitations of the
vibrational frequencies that can be received by our sense organs. And
science has also shown us that there are other vibrational frequencies
which are above or below our range of reception. With the discovery of
radio waves, X-rays, TV waves, and micro waves, we can appreciate the
extremely limited vision that is imposed on us by our sense organs. We
peep out at the universe through the 'crack' allowed by our sense
organs, just as a little child peeps out through the crack in the door.
This awareness of our limited perception demonstrates to us the
possibility that other world systems may exist that are separate from
ours or that interpenetrate with ours.
As to the nature of the universe, the Buddha said
that the beginning and ending of the universe is inconceivable.
Buddhists do not believe that the world will suddenly end in complete
and utter destruction. There is no such thing as complete destruction of
the whole universe at once. When a certain section of the universe
disappears, another section remains. When the other section disappears,
another section reappears or evolves out of the dispersed matters of the
previous universe. This is formed by the accumulation of molecules,
basic elements, gas and numerous energies, a combination supported by
cosmic impulsion and gravity. Then some other new world systems appear
and exist for sometime. This is the nature of the cosmic energies. This
is why the Buddha says that the beginning and the end of the universe is
It was only on certain, special occasions, that
the Buddha commented on the nature and composition of the universe. When
he spoke, He had to address Himself to the understanding capacity of the
inquirer. The Buddha was not interested in this kind of metaphysical
speculation that did not lead to the higher spiritual development.
Buddhists do not share the view held by some
people that the world will be destroyed by a god, when there are more
non-believers and more corruptions taking place amongst the human
beings. With regard to this belief people can ask, instead of destroying
with his power, why can't this god used the same power to influence
people to become believers and to wipe out al immoral practices from
men's mind? Whether the god destroys or not, it is natural that one day
there will be an end to everything that comes into existence. However,
in the language of the Buddha, the world is nothing more than the
combination, existence, disappearance, and recombination of mind and
In the final analysis, the Teaching of the Buddha
goes beyond the discoveries of modern science however startling or
impressive they may be. In science, the knowledge of the universe is to
enable man to master it for his material comfort and personal safety.
But the Buddha teaches that no amount of factual knowledge will
ultimately free man from the pain of existence. He must strive alone and
diligently until he arrives at a true understanding of his own nature
and of the changeable nature of the cosmos. To be truly free a man must
seek to tame his min, to destroy his craving for sensual pleasure. When
a man truly understands that the universe he is trying to conquer is
impermanent, he will see himself as Don Quixote fighting windmills. With
this Right View of himself he will spend his time and energy conquering
his mind and destroying his illusion of self without wasting his effort
on unimportant and unnecessary issues.
The Buddhist Concept of Heaven and Hell
The wise man makes his own heaven while the
foolish man creates his own hell here and hereafter.
The Buddha's Teaching shows us that there are
heavens and hells not only beyond this world, but in this very world
itself. Thus the Buddhist conception of heaven and hell is very
reasonable. For instance, the Buddha once said, 'When the average
ignorant person makes an assertion to the effect that there is a Hell (patala)
under the ocean he is making a statement which is false and without
basis. The word 'Hell' is a term for painful sensations. 'The idea of
one particular ready-made place or a place created by god as heaven and
hell is not acceptable to the Buddhist concept.
The fire of hell in this world is hotter than that
of the hell in the world-beyond. There is no fire equal to anger, lust
or greed and ignorance. According to the Buddha, we are burning from
eleven kinds of physical pain and mental agony: lust, hatred, illusion
sickness, decay, death, worry, lamentation, pain(physical and mental),
melancholy and grief. People can burn the entire world with some of
these fires of mental discord. From a Buddhist point of view, the
easiest way to define hell and heaven is that where ever there is more
suffering, either in this world or any other plane, that place is a hell
to those who suffer. And where there is more pleasure or happiness,
either in this world or any other worldly existence, that place is a
heaven to those who enjoy their worldly life in that particular place.
However, as the human realm is a mixture of both pain and happiness,
human beings experience both pain and happiness and will be able to
realize the real nature of life. But in many other planes of existence
inhabitants have less chance for this realization. In certain places
there is more suffering than pleasure while in some other places there
is more pleasure than suffering.
Buddhists believe that after death rebirth can
take place in any one of a number of possible existences. This future
existence is conditioned by the last thought-moment a person experiences
at the point of death. This last thought which determines the next
existence results from the past actions of a man either in this life or
before that. Hence, if the predominant thought reflects meritorious
action, then he will find his future existence in a happy state. But
that state is temporary and when it is exhausted a new life must begin
all over again, determined by another dominating 'kammic' energy. This
repetitious process goes on endlessly unless one arrives at 'Right View'
and makes a firm resolve to follow the Noble Path which produces the
ultimate happiness of Nibbana.
Heaven is a temporary place where those who have
done good deeds experience more sensual pleasures for a longer period.
Hell is another temporary place where those evil doers experience more
physical and mental suffering. It is not justifiable to believe that
such places are permanent. There is no god behind the scene of heaven
and hell. Each and every person experiences according to his good and
bad kamma. Buddhist never try to introduce Buddhism by frightening
people through hell-fire or enticing people by pointing to paradise.
Their main idea is character building and mental training. Buddhists can
practise their religion without aiming at heaven or without developing
fear of hell.
Belief in Deities (Devas)
Buddhists do not deny the existence of various
gods or deities.
Devas are more fortunate than human beings as far
as sensual pleasures are concerned. They also possess certain powers
which human beings usually lack. However, the powers of these deities
are limited because they are also transitory beings. They exist in happy
abodes and enjoy their life for a longer period than human beings do.
When they have exhausted all the good kamma, that they have gathered
during previous birth, these deities pass away and are reborn somewhere
else according to their good and bad kamma. According to the Buddha,
human beings have more opportunities to accrue merits to be born in a
better condition, and the deities have less chances in this respect.
Buddhist do not attribute any specific importance
to such gods. They do not regard the deities as a support for the moral
development or as a support for the attainment of salvation of Nibbana.
Whether they are great or small, both human beings and deities are
perishable and subject to rebirth.
It is a common belief amongst the Buddhist public
that such deities can be influenced to grant their favours by
transferring merits to them whenever meritorious deeds are performed.
This belief is based on the Buddha's injunction to the deities to
protect those human beings who lead a religious way of life. This is the
reason why Buddhists transfer the merits to such deities or remember
them whenever they do some meritorious deeds. However, making of
offerings to and worshipping such deities are not encouraged, although
some Buddhist customs center around such activities. When people are in
great difficulties, they naturally turn to the deities to express their
grievances in a place of worship. By doing this, they gain some relief
and consolation; in their hearts, they feel much better. However, to an
intellectual who has strong will power, sound education and
understanding, such beliefs and actions need not be resorted to. There
is definitely no Teaching in Buddhism to the effect that Buddhists can
attain Nibbana by praying to any deity. Buddhists believe that 'purity
and impurity depend on oneself. No one from outside can purify another.'
Buddhahood and Nibbana can be attained without any
help from an external source. Therefore, Buddhists can practise their
religion with or without the deities.
There are visible and invisible beings or spirits
in the same way as there are visible and invisible lights.
Buddhism does not deny the existence of good and
evil spirits. There are visible and invisible beings or spirits in the
same way as there are visible and invisible lights. We need special
instruments to see the invisible light and we need a special sense to
see the invisible beings. One cannot deny the existence of such spirits
just because one is unable to see them with one's naked eyes. Theses
spirits are also subject to birth and death. They are not going to stay
permanently in the spirit form. They too exist in the same world where
A genuine Buddhist is one who moulds his life
according to moral causation discovered by the Buddha. He should not be
concerned with the worshipping of these gods and spirits. However, this
kind of worshipping is of some interest and fascination to the multitude
and has naturally brought some Buddhists into contact with these
Regarding protection from evil spirits, goodness
is a shield against evil. Goodness is a wall through which evil cannot
penetrate unless a person opens the door to an evil influence. Even
though a person leads a truly virtuous and holy life and has a good
shield of moral and noble living that person can still lower his shield
of protection by believing in the power of evil that would do harm to
The Buddha has never advised His followers to
worship such spirits and to be frightened of them. The Buddhist attitude
towards them is to transfer merits and to radiate loving-kindness to
them. Buddhists do not harm them. On the other hand, if man is
religious, virtuous and pure in mind, and if he is also intelligent and
possesses strong will-power and understanding capacity, then such a
person could be deemed to be much stronger than spirits. The evil
spirits would keep away from him, the good spirits would protect him.
The Significance of Transference of Merits to the
If you really want to honor and help your departed
ones, then do some meritorious deeds in their name and transfer the
merits to them.
According to Buddhism, good deeds or 'acts of
merit' bring happiness to the doer both in this world and in the
hereafter. Acts of merit are also believed to lead towards the final
goal of everlasting happiness. The acts of merit can be performed
through body, speech or mind. Every good deed produces 'merit' which
accumulates to the 'credit' of the doer. Buddhism also teaches that the
acquired merit can be transferred to others' it can be shared
vicariously with others. In other words, the merit is 'reversible' and
so can be shared with other persons. The persons who receive the merit
can be either living or departed ones.
The method for transferring merits is quite
simple. First some good deeds are performed. The doer of the good deeds
has merely to wish that the merit he has gained accrues to someone in
particular, or to 'all beings'. This wish can be purely mental or it can
accompanied by an expression of words.
This wish could be made with the beneficiary being
aware of it. When the beneficiary is aware of the act or wish, then a
mutual 'rejoicing in' merit takes place. Here the beneficiary becomes a
participant of the original deed by associating himself with the deed
done. If the beneficiary identifies himself with both the deed and the
doer, he can sometimes acquire even greater merit than the original
doer, either because his elation is greater or because his appreciation
of the value of the deed is based on his understanding of Dhamma and,
hence, more meritorious, Buddhist texts contain several stories of such
The 'joy of transference of merits' can also take
place with or without the knowledge of the doer of the meritorious act.
All that is necessary is for the beneficiary to feel gladness in his
heart when he becomes aware of the good deed. If he wishes, he can
express his joy by saying 'sadhu' which means 'well done'. What he is
doing is creating a kind of mental or verbal applause. In order to share
the good deed done by another, what is important is that there must be
actual approval of the deed and joy arising in the beneficiary's heart.
Even if he so desires, the doer of a good deed
cannot prevent another's 'rejoicing in the merit' because he has no
power over another's thoughts. According to the Buddha, in all actions,
thought is what really matters. Transference is primarily an act of the
To transfer merit does not mean that a person is
deprived of the merit had originally acquired by his good deed. On the
contrary, the very act of 'transference' is a good deed in itself and
hence enhances the merit already earned.
Highest Gift to the Departed
The Buddha says that the greatest gift one can
confer on one's dead ancestors is to perform 'acts of merit' and to
transfer these merits so acquired. He also says that those who give also
receive the fruits of their deeds. The Buddha encouraged those who did
good deeds such as offering alms to holy men, to transfer the merits
which they received to their departed ones. Alms should be given in the
name of the departed by recalling to mind such things as, 'When he was
alive, he gave me this wealth; he did this for me; he was my relative,
my companion, etc. (Tirokuddha Sutta_Khuddakapatha). There is no use
weeping, feeling sorry, lamenting and bewailing; such attitudes are of
no consequence to the departed ones.
Transferring merits to the departed is based on
the popular belief that on a person's death, his 'merits' and 'demerits'
are weighed against one another and his destiny determined, his actions
determined whether he is to be reborn in a sphere of happiness or a
realm of woe. The belief is that the departed one might have gone to the
world of the departed spirits. The beings in these lower forms of
existence cannot generate fresh merits, and have to live on with the
merits which are earned from this world.
Those who did not harm others and who performed
many good deeds during their life time, will certainly have the chance
to be reborn in a happy place. Such persons do not required the help of
living relatives. However, those who have no chance to be reborn in a
happy abode are always waiting to receive merits from their living
relatives to offset their deficiency and to enable them to be born in a
Those who are reborn in an unfortunate spirit form
could be released from their suffering condition through the
transferring of merits to them by friends and relatives who do some
This injunction of the Buddha to transfer merits
to departed ones is the counterpart of the Hindu custom which has come
down through the ages. Various ceremonies are performed so that the
spirits of dead ancestors might live in peace. This custom has been a
tremendous influence on the social life of certain Buddhist countries.
The dead are always remembered when any good deed is done, and more on
occasions connected with their lives, such as their birth or death
anniversaries. On such occasions, there is a ritual which is generally
practised. The transferor pours water from a jug or other similar vessel
into a receptacle, while repeating a Pali formula which is translated as
As river, when full must flow
and reach and fill the distant main,
So indeed what is given here will
reach and bless the spirits there.
As water poured on mountain top must
soon descend and fill the plain
So indeed what is given here will reach
and bless the spirits there.
(Nidhikanda Sutta in Khuddakapatha)
The origin and the significance of transference of
merit is open to scholarly debate. Although this ancient custom still
exists today in many Buddhists countries, very few Buddhists who follow
this ancient custom have understood the meaning of transference of
merits and the proper way to do that.
Some people are simply wasting time and money on
meaningless ceremonies and performances in memory of departed ones.
These people do not realize that it is impossible to help the departed
ones simply by building big graveyards, tombs, paper-houses and other
paraphernalia Neither is it possible to help the departed by burning
joss-sticks, joss-paper, etc.; nor is it possible to help the departed
by slaughtering animals and offering them along with other kinds of
food. Also one should not waste by burning things used by the departed
ones on the assumption that the deceased persons would somehow benefit
by the act, when such articles can in fact be distributed among the
The only way to help the departed ones is to do
some meritorious deeds in a religious way in memory of them. The
meritorious deeds include such acts as giving alms to others, building
schools, temples, orphanages, libraries, hospitals, printing religious
books for free distribution and similar charitable deeds.
The followers of the Buddha should act wisely and
should not follow anything blindly. While others pray to god for the
departed ones, Buddhists radiate their loving-kindness directly to them.
By doing meritorious deeds, they can transfer the merits to their
beloved ones for their well-being. This is the best way of remembering
and giving real honor to and perpetuating the names of the departed
ones. In their state of happiness, the departed ones will reciprocate
their blessings on their living relatives. It is, therefore, the duty of
relatives to remember their departed ones by transferring merits and by
radiating loving-kindness directly to them.
Divination and Dreams
Astrology and Astronomy
'I believe in astrology but not astrologers.'
From the very beginning of time man has been
fascinated by the stars and he has always tried to find some links
between them and his own destiny. His observation of the stars and their
movements gave rise to two very important areas of study, namely,
Astronomy and Astrology. Astronomy can be considered a pure science
which is concerned with the measurements of distances, the evolution and
destruction of stars, their movements, and so on. Of course all these
calculations are always made in relation to planet earth and how these
interplanetary movements affect mankind on a physical level. Modern
astronomy seeks to find answers to the still unanswered questions
regarding the origin of man and the final, possible end of his existence
as a member of the human race. It is a fascinating area of study and our
new knowledge of the universe and the galaxies has put much pressure on
many religions to evaluate their age-old postulations regarding the
creator and the creation of life.
Buddhism does not face any dilemma, simply because
the Buddha did not encourage His followers to speculate on things beyond
their comprehension. However, He has made many allusions which in the
light of our new knowledge gained through science, shows us that the
Buddha was very much aware of the true nature of the Universe, that it
was never created in one glorious moment, that the earth is merely a
tiny, even unimportant speck in all of space, that there is constant
creation and destruction, and that everything is in constant motion.
Astrology, however, is a completely different area
of study altogether. Ever since early man began to think, he was deeply
concerned about his relationship with the universe. When human societies
became involved in agricultural activities man progressed from hunting
as a livelihood and began to notice a link between the movement of the
sun through the years and his own activities of planting, harvesting,
and similar projects. As he became more sophisticated he was able to
predict the movement of the sun and he invented time measurement,
dividing into years, months, days, hours, minutes and seconds.
He associated this knowledge with his existence
whereby he felt that there was a relationship between his own life cycle
and the movement of the planets. That gave rise to the Zodiac--A study
of these movements in relation to a human being's personal life is
called a horoscope.
The study of astrology involves a great
understanding of human nature, an ability to assess planetary movements
precisely, together with an insight into the seemingly unexplainable
phenomena in the universe. There have been many brilliant astrologers in
the past and some exist even today. Unfortunately there are an even
larger number of charlatans who give astrology a bad name. They
hood-wink people by predicting seemingly true events about their future.
They make large sums of money by exploiting the ignorance and fear of
the gullible. As a result, for a long time scientists scoffed at
astrology and did not depend on it. However their hostile attitude is
not really justifiable. The main purpose of reading a horoscope should
be to give one an insight into one's own character, in the same way that
an X-ray photograph can show the physical make-up of a man.
Statistics have shown that the influence of the
sun in the signs of the Zodiac accounts for the birth of unusual people
during certain months. Certain crimes have been found to correspond with
zodiac signs in which the sun is moving during certain months of the
Thus an understanding of this relationship will
help a man to plot his life more meaningfully in harmony with his innate
tendencies, so that there is less friction as he goes through life.
A new-born baby is like a seed. It contains within
itself all the ingredients which will make it a similar, yet completely
different individual from all its fellow human beings. How its potential
is developed depends, like the seed, on the kind of nurture it receives.
The nature of a man is born within him, but his own free will determines
whether he will make really good use of his talents and abilities.
Whether he will overcome his potential for vice or weakness depends on
how he is trained in his youth. If we recognize our nature--our tendency
towards laziness, irritability, worries, frustrations, wickedness,
cunnings, jealousy--we can take positive steps to overcome them. The
first step in solving problems is to recognize them for what they are.
Astrological interpretations indicate our
inclinations and tendencies. Once pointed out, we must take the
necessary steps to chart our lives in a manner that will make us useful
citizens of the world. Even a person with criminal tendencies can become
a saint, if he recognizes his nature and takes steps to lead a good
A horoscope is a chart drawn to show the karmic
force a man carries, calculated from the time of his birth. The force
determines the time of birth and knowing this time, a skillful
astrologer can accurately chart a man's destiny within a given
Everybody knows that the earth takes approximately
one year to move around the sun. This movement, viewed from the earth,
places the sun in various zodiacal areas during the year. A person is
born (not accidentally, but as a result of karmic influence) when the sun
is on transit in one of the twelve Zodiacal signs.
Through the horoscope you can determined certain
times in your life when you have to slow down, or push yourself to great
levels of creativity, or when you have to watch your activities and
Buddhist Attitude Towards Astrology
The question most people ask is whether Buddhism
accepts or rejects astrology. Strictly speaking, the Buddha did not make
any direct pronouncement on this subject because as in many other cases,
He stated that discussion on matters such as these do not pertain to
spiritual development. Buddhism, unlike some other religions, does not
condemn astrology and people are free to used the knowledge they can get
from it to make their lives more meaningful. However, if we study the
Buddha's teaching carefully, we will come to accept that a proper and
intelligent understanding of astrology can be a useful tool. There is a
direct link between the life of an individual human being and the vast
workings of the cosmos. Modern science is in accordance with the
teachings of Buddhism. We know for example that there is a close link
between the movement of the moon and our own behavior. This is seen
especially among mentally disturbed and abnormally violent people. It is
also true that certain sicknesses like asthma and bronchitis are
aggravated when the moon waxes. There is, therefore, sufficient basis
for us to believe that other planets can also influence our lives.
Buddhism accepts that there is an immense cosmic
energy which pulsates through every living things, including plants.
This energy interacts with the karmic energy which an individual
generates and determines the course that a life will take. The birth of
an individual is not the first creation of a life but the continuation
of one that had always existed and will continue to exist so long as the
karmic energy is not quelled through final liberation in the
unconditioned state. Now, for a life to manifest itself in a new
existence, certain factors, namely seasons, germinal order and nature
must be fulfilled. These are supported by mental energy and karmic
energy and all these elements are in constant interaction and
interdependent with each other resulting in constant changes to a human
According astrologers, the time at which a person
is born is predetermined by the cosmic energy and the karmic energy.
Hence, it can be concluded that life is not merely accidental: it is the
result of the interaction between an individual's karma and the
universal energy force. The course of a human life is predetermined,
caused partly by a being's own actions in the past and the energies that
activate the cosmos. Once started, a life is controlled by the
interaction between these two forces even to the moment at which a birth
takes place. A skillful astrologer then, as one who understands cosmic
as well as karmic influence, can chart the course of one's life, based
on the moment of the person's birth.
While we are in one sense at the mercy of these
forces, the Buddha has pointed out a way through which we can escape its
influence. All karmic energies are stored in the subconscious mind
formally described as mental purifies and impurities. Since karmic
forces influence one's destiny, a person can develop his mind and negate
certain evil influences caused by previous bad kamma. A person can also
'purify' his mind and rid himself of all karmic energies and thus
prevent rebirth. When there is no rebirth, there is no potential life
and there will consequently be no 'future' existence which can be
predicated or charted. At such a stage of spiritual and mental
development , one will have transcended the need to know about his life
because most imperfections and unsatisfactoriness would have been
removed. A highly developed human being will have no need for a
Since the beginning of the 20th century,
psychologists and psychiatrists have come to recognize that there is
much more to the human mind than the hard core materialists have been
ready to accept. There is more to the world than can be seen and
touched. The famous Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung, used to cast the
horoscopes of his patients. On one occasion when he made an astrological
analysis of about 500 marriages, he discovered that the findings of
Ptolemy, on which modern Western astrology is based, were still valid,
that favorable aspects between the sun and the moon of the different
partners did produce happy marriage.
The well-known French psychologist, Michel
Gauguelin, who originally held a negative view of astrology, made a
survey of about 20,000 horoscopical analyses and found to his surprise
that the characteristics of the persons studied coincided with
characterization produced by modern psychological methods.
The planting of certain flowers, trees and
vegetables at different times of a year will produce differences in
strength or appearance of the plants. So there is no reason to doubt
that people born in certain times of the year will have different
characteristics from people born at other times. By knowing his
weaknesses, failures and short-comings, a man can do his best to
overcome them and make himself a better and more useful person to
society. It will also help him a great deal to get rid of unhappiness
and disappointments. (Going away from the country where a person is born
for example, can sometimes help one avoid the influence of the stars.).
Shakespeare says: 'The fault is not in our stars
but in ourselves". A well known astrologer has said: 'The stars impel;
they do not compel'. St. Thomas Aquinas says: 'The planets influence the
more elemental part of man than passions', but through his intellect man
can arrange his life in harmony with the planets, and also cultivate his
inherent talents and manipulate them for his betterment.
Astrology cannot automatically solve all your
problems. You must do that yourself. Just like a doctor who can diagnose
the nature of diseases, an astrologer can only show certain aspects of
your life and character. After that it is left to you to adjust your way
of life. Of course, the task will be made easier, knowing what it is you
are up against. Some people are too dependent on astrology. They run to
the astrologer everytime something happens or if they have a dream.
Remember, even today astrology is very much an imperfect science and
even the best astrologers can make serious mistakes. Use astrology
intelligently, just as you would use any tool which would make your life
more comfortable and more enjoyable. Above all, beware of fake
astrologer who are out to cheat you by telling you not the truth, but
what you want to hear.
Do not expect good luck to come to you or be
handed to you easily without any effort on your part. If you want to
reap the harvest, you must sow the seed and it must be the right seed.
Remember, 'Opportunity knocks at the door, but never break the lock to
Fortune-Telling and Charms
Hard work is the luckiest star.
Although Buddhism does not refute belief in
deities, spirits, astrology and fortune-telling, the Buddha's advice was
that people should not be slaves to any of those forces. A good Buddhist
can overcome all his difficulties if he knows how to make use of his
intelligence and will-power. The above mentioned beliefs have no
spiritual significance or value. Man must overcome all his problems and
difficulties by his own efforts and not through the medium of deities,
spirits, astrology or fortune-telling. In one of the Buddhist Jataka
stories, the Bodhisatta said:
'The fool may watch for lucky days,
Yet luck he shall always miss,
The luck itself is luck's own star,
What can mere stars achieve?
He believed that hard work was the luckiest star
and one should not waste time by consulting stars and lucky days in
order to achieve success. To do your best to help yourself is better
than to rely solely on the stars or external sources.
Although some Buddhists practise fortune-telling
and dispense some forms of charms or amulets under the guise of
religion, the Buddha at no time encouraged anyone to practise such
things. Like fortune-telling, charms come under the category of
superstition, and have no religious value. Yet there are many people
today who, because of sickness and misfortunes attribute the cause of
their illness and ill-luck to the power of charms. When the cause of
certain sickness and misfortunes cannot be ascertained or traced, many
people tend to believe that their problems are due to charms or some
other external causes. They have forgotten that they are now living in
the twentieth century. This is the modern age of scientific development
and achievement. Our leading scientists have thrown aside many
superstitious beliefs and they have even placed men on the moon!
All sicknesses owe their origin to either mental
or physical causes. In Shakespeare, Macbeth asked a doctor if there was
any medicine that could cure his wife and the doctor replied: 'More
needs she the divine than the physician.' What he meant was that some
diseases could only be cured if the mind was purified. Some severe
mental disorders manifest themselves in a physical manner--ulcers,
stomach aches, and so on.
Of course diseases are purely physical and can be
cured by a competent doctor. And finally, some inexplicable disorders
could be caused by what Buddhist call the ripening of the kammic fruit.
This means we would have to pay for some evil deed that we have
committed in a past life. If we can understand this in the case of some
incurable diseases, we can bear it with greater patience, knowing its
People who cannot be cured of their sickness are
advised to consult a medical specialist and obtain specialized
attention. If after having gone through a medical check-up, a person
still feels in need of attention, then he may want to seek spiritual
guidance from a proper religious teacher.
Buddhists are strongly advised against falling
into the miserable pit of superstitious beliefs and allowing the mind to
be troubled by unnecessary and unfounded fears. Cultivate a strong
will-power by refusing to believe in the influence of charms.
A short meditation course may also prove very
helpful to clear the mind of unwholesome thoughts. Meditation leads to
the purification of the mind. A purified mind automatically leads to a
purified and healthy body. The Buddha-Dhamma is a soothing balm to get
rid of sickness of this nature.
Consulting mediums is not a Buddhist practice: it
is just a traditional and psychological belief.
In many countries, people seek the advice and
guidance of mediums to overcome their problems in situations which they
consider as beyond their comprehension.
The medium's help is sought in many ways and for
various reasons. In time of sickness when medical help is apparently
ineffective, some people may become desperate and turn anywhere to seek
solace. At such times, mediums are often consulted. Some people also
turn to mediums when they are faced with a complex and are unable to
find an acceptable solution. Others consult mediums out of greed in
order to get rich quickly.
Some people believe that when a medium is in a
trance, the spirit of a certain god or deity communicate through the
medium and offers advice or guidance to those seeking help. Others
believe that the trance-state is the work of the subconscious mind which
surfaces and takes over the conscious mind.
Consulting mediums is a fairly common practice
amongst the public. The Buddhist attitude towards consulting medium is
one of neutrality. It is difficult to verify whether what the medium
conveys is correct or not. The practice of consulting medium is not a
Buddhist practice; it is just a traditional practice.
Consulting mediums is for worldly material gain;
the Teaching of the Buddha is for spiritual development. However, if
people believe what the medium conveys is true, there is no reason for
Buddhists to object to such practices.
If a person really understands and practices the
Teaching of the Buddha, he can realize the nature of his problems. He
can overcome his own problems without consulting any medium.
Dreams and Their Significance
One of man's greatest unsolved problems is the
mystery of dreams. From the very earliest of times man has tried to
analyze dreams and has tried to explain them in prophetic and
psychological terms, but while there has been some measure of success
recently, we are probably no nearer the answers to the baffling
question: 'What is a dream?'
The great English Romantic poet William Wordsworth
had a startling concept: that this life we live is merely a dream and
that we will 'awake' to the 'real' reality when we die, when our 'dream'
'Our birth is but a sleep and forgetting:
The Soul, that rises with us, our life's star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar.'
A similar concept is expressed in a charming old
Buddhist tale which tells of a deva who was playing with some other
devas. Being tired, he lay down to take a short nap and passed away. He
was reborn as a girl on earth. There she got married, had a few children
and lived to be very old. After her death again she was born as a deva
amongst the same companions who had just finished playing their game.
(This story also illustrates the world is very different from time in
another plane of existence).
What has Buddhism to say about dreams? Just as in
every other culture, Buddhism has had its fair share of people who
claimed to be skilled in interpreting dreams. Such people earn a lot of
money exploiting the ignorance of men and women who believe that every
dream has a spiritual or prophetic significance.
According to Buddhist psychology dreams are
ideational processes which occur as activities of the mind. In
considering the occurrence of dreams it is relevant to remember that the
process of sleeping can be regarded as falling into five stages.
light slumber and
The significance and the cause of dreams were the
subject of discussion in the famous book 'Milinda Panha' or 'The
Questions of King Milinda', in which Ven. Nagasena has stated that there
are six causes of dreams, three of them being organic, wind, bile and
phlegm. The fourth is due to the intervention of supernatural forces,
fifth, revival of past experience and sixth, the influence of future
events. It is categorically stated that dreams occur only in light
slumber which is said to be like the sleep of the monkey. Of the six
causes given Ven. Nagasena has stated positively that the last, namely
prophetic dreams are the only important ones and the others are
Dreams are mind-created phenomena and they are
activities of the mind. All human beings dream, although some people
cannot remember. Buddhism teaches that some dreams have psychological
significance. The six causes mentioned earlier can also be classified in
the following manner:
Every single thought that is created is stored in
our subconscious mind and some of them strongly influence the mind
according to our anxieties. When we sleep, some of these thoughts are
activated and appear to us as 'pictures' moving before us. This happens
because during sleep, the five senses which constitute our contact with
the outside world, are temporarily arrested. The subconscious mind then
is free to become dominant and to 're-play' thoughts that are stored.
These dreams may be of value to psychiatry but cannot be classified as
prophetic. They are merely the reflections of the mind at rest.
The second type of dream also has no significance.
These are caused by internal and external provocations which set off a
train of 'visual thoughts' which are 'seen' by the mind at rest.
Internal factors are those which disturb the body(e.g. a heavy meal
which does not allow one to have a restful slumber or imbalance and
friction between elements that constitute the body). External
provocation is when the mind is disturbed(although the sleeper may be
unaware of it) by natural phenomena like the weather, wind, cold, rain,
leaves rustling, windows rattling etc. The subconscious mind reacts to
these disturbances and creates pictures to 'explain' them away. The mind
accommodates the irritation in a seemingly rational way so that the
dreamer can continue to sleep undisturbed. These dreams too have no
importance and need no interpretation.
Then there are prophetic dreams. These are
important. They are seldom experienced and only when there is an
impending event which is of great relevance to the dreamer. Buddhism
teaches that besides the tangible world we can experience, there are
devas who exist on another plane or some spirits who are bound to this
earth and are invisible to us. They could be our relatives or friends
who have passed away and who have been reborn. They maintain their
former mental relationships and attachments to us. When Buddhists
transfer merits to devas and departed ones, they remember them and
invite them to share the happiness accrued in the merit. Thus they
develop a mental relationship with their departed ones. The devas in
turn are pleased and they keep a watch over us and indicate something in
dreams when we are facing certain big problems and they try to protect
us from harm.
So, when there is something important that is
going to happen in our lives they activate certain mental energies in
our minds which are seen as dreams. These dreams can warn of impending
danger or even prepare us for sudden over-whelming good news. These
messages are given in symbolic terms (much like the negatives of
photographs) and have to be interpreted skillfully and with
intelligence. Unfortunately too many people confuses the first two kinds
of dreams with these and end up wasting valuable time and money
consulting fake mediums and dream-interpreters. The Buddha was aware
that this could be exploited for personal gain and He therefore warned
the monks against practising soothsaying, astrology and interpreting
dreams in the name of Buddhism.
Finally, our mind is the4 depository of all kammic
energies accumulated in the past. Sometimes, when a kamma is about to
ripen (that is, when the action we did in a previous life or early part
of our life, is going to experience its reaction)the mind which is at
rest during sleep can trigger off a 'picture' of what is going to
happen. Again the impending action has to be of great importance and
must be so strongly charged that the mind 'releases' the extra energy in
the form of a vivid dream. Such dreams occur only very rarely and only
to certain people with a special kind of mental make up. The sign of the
effect of certain kammas also appears in our minds at the last moment
when we are going to depart from this world.
Dreams can occur when two living human beings send
strong mental telepathic messages to each other. When one person has an
intense desire to communicate with another, he concentrates strongly on
the message and the person with whom he wishes to communicate. When the
mind is at rest, it is in an ideal state to receive these messages which
are seen as dreams. Usually these dreams only appear in one intense
moment because the human mind is not strong enough to sustain such
messages over a long period of time.
All worldlings are dreamers, and they see as
permanent, what is essentially impermanent. They do not see that youth
ends in old age, beauty in ugliness, health in sickness, and life itself
in death. In this dream-world, what is truly without substance is seen
as reality. Dreaming during sleep is but another dimension of the
dream-world. The only ones who are awake are the Buddhas and Arahats as
they have seen reality.
Buddhas and Arahants never dream. The first three
kinds of dream cannot occur in their minds, because their minds have
been permanently 'stilled' and cannot be activated to dream. The last
kind of dream cannot happen to them because they have eradicated all
their craving energy completely, and there is no 'residual' energy of
anxiety or unsatisfied desire to activate the mind to produce dreams.
The Buddha is also known as the Awakened One because His way of relaxing
the physical body is not the way we sleep which results in dreams. Great
artists and thinkers, like the German Goethe, have often said they get
some of their best inspiration through dreams. This could be because
when their minds are cut off from the five senses during sleep, they
produce clear thoughts which are creative in the highest degree.
Wordsworth meant the same thing when he said that good poetry results
from 'powerful emotions recollected in tranquility.
Faith healing--apsychological approach.
The practice of faith-healing is prevalent in many
countries. Many people are trying to influence the public through
emotional persuasion designated as faith-healing. In order to impress on
their patients the efficacy of their healing powers, some faith-healers
use the name of a god or a religious object to introduce a religious
flavor into their faith healing methods. The introduction of religion
into faith-healing is actually a guise or a decoy to beguile the patient
into developing more devotion and enhance the confidence or faith of the
patient in the faith-healer. This healing act, if performed in public is
intended to get converts to a particular religious denomination.
The methods employed by faith healers are to
condition the minds of patients into having a certain mental attitude
with the result that certain favorable psychological and physiological
changes invariably take place. This attracts the condition of the mind,
the heart, the consequent blood circulation and other related organic
functions of the body, thus creating a feeling of a sense of well-being.
If sickness is attributed to the condition of the mind, then the mind
can certainly be properly conditioned to assist in eradicating whatever
illness that may occur.
In this context, it is to be noted that the
constant and regular practice of meditation can help to minimize, if not
to completely eradicate, various forms of illnesses. There are many
discourses in the Teaching of the Buddha where it was indicated that
various forms of sicknesses were eradicated through the conditioning of
the mind. Thus it is worthwhile to practise meditation in order to
attain mental and physical well-being.
Superstitions and Dogmas
'People ridicule the superstitions of others, while
cherishing their own.'
All ailments have cures but not superstitions. And
if for some reason or other, any superstition crystallizes into a
religion, it easily becomes an almost incurable malady. In the
performance of certain religious functions, even educated people of
today forget their human dignity to accept the most ridiculous,
Superstitious beliefs and rituals were adopted to
decorate a religion in order to attract the multitude. But after
sometime, the creeper which is planted to decorate the shrine as it
were, outgrows and outshines the shrine, with the result that religious
tenets are relegated to the background and superstitious beliefs and
rituals become predominant; the creeper eclipsing the shrine.
Like superstition dogmatic belief also chokes the
healthy growth of religion. Dogmatic belief and intolerance go
hand-in-hand. One is reminded of the Middle Ages with its pitiless
inquisitions, cruel murders, violence, infamy, tortures and burning of
innocent beings. One is also reminded of the barbaric and ruthless
crusades. All these events were stimulated by dogmatic beliefs in
religious authority and the intolerance resulting therefrom.
Before the development of scientific knowledge,
ignorant people had many superstitious beliefs. For example a lot of
people believed that the eclipse of the sun and moon brought bad luck
and pestilence. Today we know that such beliefs are not true. Again some
unscrupulous religionists encourage people to believe in superstitions
so that they can make use of their followers for their own 'benefit'.
When people have truly purified their minds of ignorance, they will see
the universe as it really is and they will not suffer from superstition
and dogmatism. This is the 'salvation' that Buddhists aspire to.
It is extremely difficult for us to break up the
emotional feeling that is attached to superstition or dogmatic belief.
Even the light of scientific knowledge is often not strong enough to
cause us to give up the misconceptions. For example, we have noticed for
generations that the earth moves round the sun; but experientially we
still behold the sun rising, moving across the sky, and setting in the
evening. We still have to make an intellectual leap to imagine that we
are, in fact, hurtling at great speed around the sun.
We must understand that the dangers of dogmatism and superstition go hand-in-hand with religion. The time has come for wise people to separate religion from dogmatism and superstition. Otherwise, the good name of religion will be polluted and the number of non-believers will be increased, as they have already.
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