- Buddhism and Present Life
- By Ven. Dr Sri Dhammanand
there are already so many religions in this world, why is it necessary for us to have
another religion called Buddhism? Is there any extraordinary characteristic or
contribution or significant feature that Buddhism has which other religions do not have?
a school of thought, which says that all religions are essentially the same. There are no
significant differences. The only difference is in the interpretation and practice. After
all, in the final analysis, all of us end in one place, either heaven or hell. That is the
common belief of most religions. Does Buddhism share this viewpoint? To
answer this question we have to examine what is meant religion.
academic study of religion as a phenomenon, in history the term religion
can be considered in its different aspects: as an inner experience, as theology, or
intellectual formulation of doctrine, as a basic or source of ethics as an element in
culture. Different scholars have given different views and opinions of its nature and
meaning. According to Aldous Huxley (1), religion is, among other things, a system
of education, by means of which human being may train themselves, first to make desirable
changes in their own personalities and in society, and second, to heighten
conscientiousness and so establish more adequate relations between themselves and the
universe of which they were parts. Modern Indian philosophers like Dr. Radhakrisnan (2),
have expounded the theme that religion is not a set of doctrines but that it is
experience. And religious experience is based on the realization of the presence of the divine in man. H.G.
Wells (3) says religion is the central
part of our education that determines our moral conduct. The German philosopher,
Kant (4), stated that religion is
the recognition of our moral principles as laws that must not be transgressed.
The Buddhas message
as a religious way of life: Keeping
away from all evil deeds, cultivation of life by doing good deeds and purification of mine
from mental impurities . For our proposes,
religion may be defined in a very broad sense as a body of moral and philosophical
teachings and the acceptance with confidence of such teachings. In this sense, Buddhism is
Buddhism however does not
neatly fit into the general categories outlined earlier because it does not share common
features with other existing religions in many ways. To consider this matter further let
us first of all briefly examine how religion could have come into being.
Why did religion
originate? You might have heard that the origins of religion lie in mans fear,
suspicion and insecurity. In the days before organized religions began, people did not
have adequate knowledge and they could not understand the real nature of this life and
what would happen to them after their deaths. They could not understand even the causes of
natural phenomena of natural occurrences. According to their limited understanding, they
suspected there must be certain unknown forces, which created all these pleasant or
unpleasant things. Eventually, they began to notice that there is energy behind the forces
of nature, which they called shakti . They experienced
an inexplicable sense of awe and dread towards these powers, which they felt, could harm
them in some way. They therefore felt that these powers must be placated and used to
protect or at least to leave them alone. Not trusting their ability to talk
to these forces in ordinary language, they thought it would be more effective to mine
their messages. Finally the actions to enlist the favor of these forces became ritualized
into form of worship. Some people were identified as having special powers to communicate
with these forces and they enjoyed great power in the group.
After worshipping and
praying, early men thought they could control the undesirable occurrences and at the same
time ensure a degree of protection as reward from these unseen forces or energies. To help
them better visualize what they were trying to communicate with, they gave each force a
name and a form either conceiving it in human or in grotesque non-human form, but
always evoking a sense of awe and fear. As time went by, they forgot the original
significance of these representations and took them for real and eventually accepted them
translated ideas and concepts into physical form and developed particular rituals to honor
and worship these images as gods. Later as early urban settlements began and social
control became necessary certain practices were used as the bases to develop moral
behavior and to guide citizens in the correct path to ensure the well being of the
community. Thus developed concepts such humanism, human responsibilities and human values
such as honesty, kindness, compassion, patience, tolerance, devotion, unity and harmony.
To ensure that these qualities would be further enhanced, the leaders instilled fear in
the believers, threatening them with punishment by the gods in the life hereafter if they
did not behave in an accepted manner. Religion was the result of the fusion of moral
behavior and belief in the supernatural. We will discuss Morality in greater detail later.
This is how imagination
and humanism eventually fused together to become religion. Some people say that it is
difficult to believe that any god created religion. Perhaps we could say that man created
religion and later introduced the concept of a god into religion. An American philosopher,
Prof. Whitehead (5), once stated that originally
man created god and later god created man. What he meant was that
the concept of god was created by man and later this concept was transformed into
divinity. On the other hand, a French philosopher, Anatole France (6) said that if
the concept of god did not exist, some how or other, man would have created one because it
is very important for his psyche. A divine power is necessary to allay our innate fear,
suspicious, worries, disturbances, anxiety and craving. To avoid problems we depend on an
external force to give us solace. Knowing the nature of the human mind, therefore, Anatole
France said that if a god did not exist we would have to create one.
In this sense we are just like the children.
When a small baby is crying and the mother is too busy to carry it, what she does is to
put a teat in its mouth to comfort it. That will stop the baby from crying. The concept of
god helps many people in this manner. To stop their worries and dry their tears they
develop various pacifiers in the form of religious beliefs and practices.
It was in a religious
climate such as this that the Buddha appeared. As a prince living in the lap of luxury he
started to think very deeply on why living beings suffer in this world. What is the cause
of this suffering? He asked. One day while he was setting under a tree as a young boy, he
saw a snake suddenly appear and catch a frog. As the snake and the frog were struggling,
an eagle swooped down from the sky and took away the snake with the frog still in its
mouth. That incident was the turning point for the young prince to renounce the worldly
life. He began to think about how living beings on the earth and in the water survive by
preying on each other. One life form tries to grab and the other tries to escape and this
eternal battle continue as long as the world exist. This
never-ending process of hunting, and self preservation is the basis of our unhappiness. It
is the source of all suffering. The Prince decided
that he would discover the means to end this suffering.
He studied under various
religious teachers and learnt everything they had to teach but was unable to discover how
to end suffering. He spent many years pondering this question. Finally at the age of 29 he
seriously contemplated on old age, sickness, death and freedom through renunciation, and
decided that without giving up the worldly preoccupations and his responsibilities and
pleasures it would be impossible for him to find the answer. That is why he had to leave
the palace in what is known as The
Great Renunciation. After struggling for six
years, which represented the culmination of endless life circle of cultivation and
struggle for spiritual development, he finally gained enlightenment and understood the
secret of our suffering. This was the beginning of another
religions system. But it was a religion like nothing
anyone had known in the past. In fact many
people today do not even like to call Buddhism a religion because the word
religion evokes a great many negative emotions in their minds.
There was no reason at
all for the Buddha to introduce another religion because at that time 2600 years ago there
were already 62 religions cults in India alone. Since the existing religions during his
time could not provide the answers to his questions he decided not to use the ingredients
or concepts of these religions to introduce what he himself had realized.
What was the religious
thinking in India at this time?
everybody; God is responsible for everything; God will reward; god can forgive all our
sins; and God is responsible for our lives after our deaths; God will send us to heaven or
he will send us to hell.
These are the basic
ingredients of all religions even today. At the same time there were certain other
religions also in India, which taught that it was necessary for believers to torture their
physical bodies, thinking that they could wash away all their sins during their lifetimes
so they could go to heaven after death. Another religious group encouraged religious rites
and rituals and ceremonies and animal sacrifices to please their gods. This group believed
that through these practices they could go to heaven. Some others again introduced prayer
and worship and asked forgiveness for the sins committed. The
Buddha did not recognize the efficacy at all these practices.
Buddha did not promise heavenly bliss and rewards to those who called themselves his
followers nor did he promise salvation to those who had faith in him. To him religion was not a bargain but a noble way of
life to gain enlightenment and salvation. The
Buddha did not want followers with blind
faith; he wanted human beings to think and understand. Buddhism is a noble path for living where humanism, equality, justice and
peace reign supreme. Revengefulness,
animosity, condemnation and resentment are alien to the Teaching.
world is indebted to the Buddha for the rise of rationalism as a protest against the
superstitions of religion. Is it he who
emancipated man from the thralldom of the priests? Is it he who first showed the way to free man from the
coils of hypocrisy and religious dictatorship?
the Buddhas time no religious practice was considered higher than the rites, rituals
and sacrifice of living beings to the gods; but to the Buddha no practice could be more
humiliating or degrading to man. A sacrifice is nothing more than bribery; and salvation
won by bribery and corruption is not a salvation, which any self-respecting man would care
introducing his doctrine, the Buddha did use the existing religious terms current in India
at the time because in this way he would be on familiar ground with his listeners. They
would grasp what he was alluding to and then he could proceed to develop his original
ideas from this common ground.
Karma, Nirvana, Moksha, Niraya, Samsara, Atma are some
words, which were common to all religious groups during his time. But in his teaching the
Buddha gave very rational and unique meanings and interpretations to those existing
take a look at the word dharma (or dhamma) for example. The ancient interpretation given
to the word Dharma is that it is a law given by the god. According to ancient belief the
god promised to appear from time to time to protect this dharma by taking different
incarnations. The Buddha did not accept that any
god could have given doctrines and commandments and religious laws.
Buddha used the word Dharma to describe his entire teaching. Dharma means that which hold
up, upholds, supports.
Buddha taught the dharma to help us escape the suffering caused by existence and to
prevent us from degrading human dignity and descending into lower states such as hell,
animal, the spirit of ghost or devil realms. The dharma introduced by the Buddha holds and
supports us, and free us from the misery of these realms. It also means that if we follow
the methods he advocates we will never get into such unfortunate circumstances as being
born blind, crippled, deaf, dumb or mad. So in the Buddhas usage, Dharma is the
advice given to support us in our struggle to be free from suffering and also to upgrade
human values. Western philosophers describe
as a noble way of life or as a religion of
freedom and reason. The Dharma is not an extraordinary law create by or given by
anyone. Our body itself is Dharma. Our mind itself is Dharma; the whole universe is
Dharma. By understanding the nature of the physical body and the nature of the mind and
worldly conditions we realize the Dharma. The Buddha taught us to understand the nature of
our existence rationally in a realistic way. It concerns the life, here and now of each
sentient being and thus interrelated of all existence.
when people talk about religion they ask, What
is your Faith? They use the word
faith in an absolute sense, although it can be useful in the preliminary
stages of ones religion development. The
danger of relying on faith alone without analytical knowledge is that it can make us into
religious fanatics. Those who allow faith to crystallize in their minds cannot see
other people point of view because they have already established in their minds that what
they believe is alone the truth. The Buddha
insisted that one must not accept even his own Teachings on the basis of faith alone.
One must gain knowledge and then develop understanding through study, discussion
meditation and finally contemplation. Knowledge is one thing; understanding is another. If
there is understanding one can adjust ones life according to changing circumstances
based on the knowledge one has. We may have met learned people who know many things but
are not realistic because their egoism, their selfishness, their anger, their hatred do
not allow them to go unbiased mental attitudes and peace of mind.
is necessary to tolerate, we must know how to tolerate. When it is necessary to stand
firm, we must stand firm, with dignity.
Let us take another
example, the world Karma (or kamma). It simply means action. If a person commits a bad
karma it will be impossible for that person to escape from its bad effect. Somehow or
other he or she must face the consequences that will follow. According to ancient belief
there is a god to operate the effect of this karma. God punishes according ones bad
karma; god rewards according to ones good karma. The
Buddha did not accept this belief. He said there is no being or force that handles the
operation of the effects of karma. Karma itself will yield the result, as a neutral
operation of the law of cause and effect. He said we could avoid and in some cases,
even overcome the effect of karma if we act wisely. He said we must never surrender
ourselves fatalistically thinking that once we have done bad action there can be no more
hope. Other religions teach that god can negate the effect of karma through forgiveness if
the followers worship and pray and sacrifice. But the Buddha teaches that we have to effect our salvation by
our own effort and mental purity.
Buddha can tell you what to do but he cannot do the work for you.
to do the work of salvation yourself. The Buddha has clearly stated that no one can do anything for another for salvation except
show the way. Therefore we must not depend
on god, and not even depend on the Buddha. We must know what are the qualities,
duties, and responsibilities of being a human being. He said that if we have committed
certain bad karma, we should not waste precious energy by being frustrated or disappointed
in our effort to put it right.
first thing to do is to firmly resolve to stop repeating such bad karma by realizing the
harm it can do. The second thing is to cultivate more and more good karma. Thirdly, we
must try to reduce evil thoughts, selfishness, hatred, anger, jealousy, grudges, and
ill-will. In this way we can reduce the bad effect of the bad karma that we commit. This
is the Buddhas method for overcoming the bad effects.
not say we must pray to and worship him and that he would forgive all our sins. Purity and impurity of our mind depend on ourselves.
Neither god nor Buddha or human being can pollute or purity ones mind. I cannot
create impurity in your mind. I cannot purify your mind. But by taking my word or my
action, you create either purity or impurity within yourself. Outsiders cannot do anything
for your mind if you mind is strong enough to resist it. Thats why knowledge and
understanding are important.
Buddha taught that what man needs for his happiness is not a religion or a mass of
theories but an understanding of the cosmic nature of the universe and its complete
operation according to the law of cause and effect. Until this fact is fully understood,
mans understanding of life and existence will remain imperfect and faulty.
path that the Buddha showed us is, I believe, the only path humanity must tread if it is
to escape disaster. Jawaharlal
Buddha never claimed to have created the Dharma. What he discovered was the universal
truth of the real nature of existence. In fact some religious terms were already well
known in India at that time. But the Buddhas uniqueness is that he took existing
concepts and gave them very refined meanings and much deeper significance.
example, before the Buddhas time, Nirvana (or Nibbana) simply
meant peace or extinction. But he gave it entirely new dimensions of meaning. NIR means no and VANA means craving:
no more craving, no more attachment and no more selfishness. We cannot experience Nirvana because we have craving,
attachment and selfishness. When we get rid of these defilements we can experience Nirvana
difficult to experience true bliss because we have emotions and we crave for sensual
gratification. So long as we live entangled in this world of sensual pleasures we will
never experience true happiness. Of course it is true that we experience some kind of
happiness in life but it cannot be termed happiness in the absolute sense of
the world because it is not permanent.
cannot gain bliss by harbouring anger or hatred, selfishness or delusion. Occasionally, we
do experience certain degrees of emotional satisfaction, but the nature of this happiness
is just like lightning, it is fleeting. It appears moment and disappears the next. True
bliss is not like this. If there is true bliss we will experience a permanent sense of
calmness, satisfaction, and tranquillity. So the real purpose of our lives should be to
purify our clouded, deluded, milled minds and free ourselves from worries and
disturbances. So long as we spend our time constantly solving problems, always looking
over our shoulders, always wondering what to do next, we can never be at peace.
Buddhas advice is that we should be free from these distractions if we want to
experience bliss. This release must however be obtained by our own effort and come from
within ourselves. We cannot gain salvation from god or the Buddha or from heaven. We
cannot get ultimate freedom through external agents. Supernatural beings cannot help us to
gain wisdom and final liberation no matter how much we worship them or praise them through
penances, charms, mantras, incantations and invocations and animal sacrifices.
We are the results of what we were and we will be the results of what we are. Actions condition our happiness or unhappiness and
finally secure our salvation. Salvation or deliverance is an individual affair,
just as each human being has to eat, drink, and digest and sleep for himself. All karmic
actions are maintained as part of our mental formations and remained there submerged. We
remain oblivious of these past actions because the other mental activities cloud the mind,
which therefore cannot recall actions in the past. When we develop our minds through
meditation we arrest the distractions provided by the five senses. When the mind is clear
it reduces anxiety, craving, anger, jealousy and delusion. The mind that is clear becomes
energetic and alert. This is when we can influence the mental activities and release
enormous latent power. This is psychic power. It is present in all of us; we only have to
learn to release it through meditation. Another way of reaching the deposited mental
activities is by hypnotism. Through hypnotism some people have developed a degree of
psychic power, but it is not recommended because hypnotism depends on another agent and
does not effect purification of the mind.
Buddha advised his followers to cultivate and develop the latent power within them and showed them how to make the best use of their
will-power and intelligence without being slaves
to an unknown being to find eternal happiness.
blaming anybody else, Buddhism also teaches that man is responsible for his own action.
Man should face the facts of life, and shoulder the responsibilities of life by fulfilling
his duties and obligations to himself as well to others. His pain and pleasure are created
by himself and he has the ability to get rid of his sufferings and maintain peace and
happiness by understanding his weaknesses and using his own effort to overcome them. Mans
untrained mind is responsible for all the troubles, calamities, disturbances,
unfavourable, circumstances and even the changes of elements and matter. Conversely mans
mind can change unfortunate situations in the world and also can make it a peaceful
prosperous and happy place for all to live. This can be done only through the purification
of mental energy.
Buddhas technique of teaching was different from that of the others. He never gave
prepare public talks or lectures.
He always decided on a topic based on an immediate incident or observation. One of the
marks of the Buddhas genius and his skill as a teacher was his well-tried
pedagogical practice of proceeding from the known to the unknown . For
example, on one occasion as he and his followers were walking along a river bank, he
noticed a piece of wood floating downstream. He stopped and asked, What do you
think of that piece of wood? What will happen to it? One disciple answered, It
may land on an island in the middle of the river ; others said, It may get
saturated with water and sink; People will take it and cut it up for firewood
and It will complete its journey to the sea. Now who is correct? Who can
accurately predict the fate of the piece of wood? The Buddha then explained that our life is just like a piece of wood floating
downstream, full of uncertainly. No one can
say what will happen to us the next day or the next month. His method was to take
lessons from everyday life so that his teachings were always rooted in the here and now
and totally relevant to human experience.
way, he gave due credit to human beings to think freely, by using their common sense. He did not introduce a religion to be practiced
slavishly out of fear and craving for any worldly gain.
to the Buddha, a beautiful thought and word, which
is not followed by corresponding action, is like a bright flower that has no scent and
will bear no fruit.
eightfold path introduced by the Buddha is a planned course of inward culture and
progress. By merely resorting to external worship, ceremonies and prayers, one can never
make progress in righteousness and inner development. Mere prayer for salvation, the Buddha says, is like asking the farther bank of a river to
come over so that one may get to the other side without personal effort.
religions claim that messages were revealed to mankind by a god. However some rationalists
ask, if there is only one god, and he had given
his message for the benefit of all mankind, why are there so many different beliefs in the
world? If the message was meant for the whole of the human race what was the difficulty for the god to announce his
message publicly so that there would be no room for doubt or misinterpretation?
Everybody would accept the message and there would be no religious friction and the whole
world could just follow the one message of the god.
years ago, there was a religious seminar at the University of Malaysia. There were five
speakers, one from each religion. After they had talked, one student asked,
When we study our religion we get some information about this world and the universe and
life. When we study science we get entirely different information. This information
contradicts our religious concepts. So I do not know what to accept, the teaching of my
religion or the teaching of science.
the speakers replied, Well I believe
that god gave his doctrines in the form of a message to one man who then spread it to
others, so we must believe the word of god.
student persisted, How
do you know that the people to whom this message was conveyed understood it correctly?
Could it not have been distorted and misinterpreted in their minds and then passed on to
Buddha on the
other hand never claimed anything like receiving
knowledge from outside sources. Throughout his ministry he always asserted that his
listeners were free to question him and challenge his teachings so that they could
personally realize the truth. He said, Come and see (Ehipassiko). He did not say, Come and believe.
he spoke anything, it was because he had personally tested the validity of the saying for
himself as an ordinary human being. He claimed no divinity. He understood everything
because he knew how he had to suffer during so many previous births for all the bad deeds
he had committed through ignorance. He had learned the hard way. He advised his followers
through his own experience. He had done tremendous service to mankind by practicing and
observing the great perfections over countless lifetimes and finally experience the
supreme bliss. We have to ask ourselves, which is
more reliable, the testimony of one who speaks from personal experience or that of one who
claims to have heard it from someone else who is always invisible.
Buddhas advice was not to depend on theories, on cults and gurus. In
fact, at all times we must remain masters of ourselves through self-reliance. We must
never surrender our dignity or freewill. The Buddha strongly advocated the doctrine of
self-reliance, purity, courtesy, enlightenment, peace and universal love. He stressed the need for understanding because
without it, psychic insight leading to wisdom cannot be obtained. He says, if
you wish to see the end of your suffering and fear, develop discipline, compassion and
always allow our minds the freedom to think and understand without depending on external
influence. Those who depend on external influence are like small children. We must follow
the example of the Buddha who said that when he was meditating to gain enlightenment no
gods came to whisper in his ear to reveal hidden secrets of spiritual power. No one gave
him any commandments or religious laws to introduce. He said, I never had any
teacher or divinity to teach me or tell me how to gain enlightenment. What I achieved I
did by my own effort, energy, knowledge and purity to gain supreme wisdom.
why he said that wisdom arose in him at his enlightenment. Wisdom is latent in all of us.
We only need to provide the right conditions for it to arise.
intellectual and philosophical content of Buddhism has arisen the freedom of thought,
freedom of inquiry. This has no parallel in any of the established world religions. There
is no obligation, no compulsion to believe or accept any doctrine.
approach of Buddhism is one seeing and understanding. It
is a scientific attitude of mind. Fundamental philosophical doctrines taught in Buddhism
are being more and more corroborated by new scientific discoveries.
advocates self-confidence, self-restraint, self-reliance and self-purification to the
individual in society.
feature of Buddhism is the importance it attaches to democratic ideals. Unhindered
discussions are encouraged, where even contrary views are aired and lead to broadening and
enriching of the mind. The orders of monks and nuns are constituted entirely on these
in accordance with the Dharma revealed by the Supreme
Buddha, who had the openness and courage to exhort his followers not even to accept
he himself had pronounced,
without prior examination and conviction.
the Buddha had stated that the Dharma was his teacher and all he did was to reveal the
truth of this universal Dharma, which had lain hidden from the people wallowing in their
ignorance. We must give our minds the freedom to think without bias and to think
his passing away the Buddhas final words were Be a refuge unto yourselves. Why is
it that after 45 years of preaching he uttered such words? Why did he not advise everyone
to find salvation through him? What he meant was that we must not seek salvation by
depending on others. We must develop our own confidence in ourselves. What wonderful and
noble advice! You may perhaps now ask, Why do we say, I go to the Buddha for
we say this we do not mean that we depend on the Buddha. We mean that if we follow the
Method taught by the Buddha we will develop the confidence to work out our own salvation. We
certainly do not think that the Buddha will come one day and take us up to heaven
in a glorious flight.
people say that the Buddha was only a human and not a god. Why should people follow him?
They cannot understand that Buddhists do not
expect their salvation directly from the Buddha but by practicing the noble method from
the very beginning was to train us how to work for the development of self reliance
by training our minds. Self effort and self-realizations is the only path to salvation.
one can stand before the Buddha with dignity and not be like a slave. With
hope and confidence one can determine ones own fate. The Buddha will welcome you if you stand as a dignified
human being. But you must be prepared to be reasonable and listen to sensible
arguments, which are contradictory to your beliefs and have right observation. This should
be the attitude of understanding people. When he was about to pass away, many great
people, princes, ministers and even divine beings came to pay homage to him with flowers,
but the Buddha instructed his attendant Ananda to tell them that if anyone wanted to honor their master, they had to
follow his teachings. This shows that he did not want personal glory for himself or
demand total submission to his power.
realizing the truth, understanding people try to cultivate their minds to guard and
protect themselves. They neither accept nor reject what is said by someone. Khrisnamurti
(8) says that those whom always depend on others ideas are second class human
beings. Dont accept or believe anything that is taught as religious practice and at
the same time dont reject it outright either. Certain things that we accept as true,
we may later discover to be untrue after all. Conversely, we may be forced to admit that
certain things that we rejected at first may be true after all. That why the Buddha has
advised us to wait for a time and study, think, observe, investigate before we decide
whether there is any truth in something we hear and whether to accept or to reject it. By
relying on our emotions or blind faith or anxiety, we may accept certain things or even be
skeptical. As a result of laziness or confusion of the mind we may reject or disbelieve
something we hear. But we must give a chance for the mind to think and understand whether
it is true or not.
faith is meaningless because faith must be tempered with the understanding that comes from
training the mind. The main purpose of a religion must be to show a follower how to use
his knowledge with critical understanding to maximize his sense of well-being and self
fulfillment. No matter how much knowledge we have, if we do not uproot defilements and
doubt in our minds, we will remain in an unhappy state. When we attain the highest state
of purity (arahantahood) we completely uproot our cravings, anger, delusion, and establish
total equanimity of the mind. It is then that the pure ones arrive at a state
when they cannot create any bad thoughts. They cannot utter harsh words or commit evil
actions. One who has purified his mind is a hundred times superior to those who are
powerful or those who have mere faith or knowledge and wallow in the impurities of the
mind. We claim to be civilized, but how can we claim this when our
minds show impure traits to the same extent as our primitive ancestors
did thousands of years ago?
the world people crowd in temple, churches, mosques and other places of worship to pray,
do sacrifice; perform penance. But when they come out they have the same anger, craving,
jealousy, grudges and enmity that they had before.
claim to be religious when they pray and worship and perform religious
ceremonies, but their Minds remain selfish, and devious. If they are
truly religious they will not discriminate against others, or hurt and ridicule others in
their religious practices. The Buddha tried to open our minds to understand things
perfectly without developing fanatical religious belief and discrimination.
reason why the teaching of the Buddha does not fall into the category of an established
religion is that there is no room for heresy
in its system. A heresy is something that challengers the word of god.
The Buddha freely invited both his followers and his opponents to challenger his teachings
from every possible angle so that there would be no room for any kind of doubt. True to
his injunctions his followers have argue about his doctrines and even founded different
schools of Buddhism according to their understand, without violence or bloodshed. In fact
at the famous Buddhist University of Nalanda (which was destroyed at the fanatical hands
of other religionists), followers of Theravada and Mahayana schools of Buddhism lived
together and studied and debated their different points of view in perfect harmony. The
Buddha taught that if anyone really believed that he knew the truth, he should not be
afraid to have it challenged, because the truth will always win. Moreover, he actively
encouraged anyone to challenge his teachings. His replies to numerous questions enriched
the doctrine into a vast religious field, which was faithfully recorded by his disciples.
We are today able to answer any questions about Buddhism, simply by referring to the
Buddhas explanations. Rational thinking and the importance of inviting criticism are
paramount in Buddhism.
of a religious teaching is in its conformity with findings of science and the attraction
it casts on the minds of persons possessed of acute intelligence. Some religious have
experienced a measure of discomfort, as science unfolds its discoveries. As a result
certain modifications or re-interpretations of their scriptures have become necessary. In
this respect Buddhism, the rational teaching of the Enlightened One, faces no such
embarrassment, as its basic principles are in close harmony with the findings of science.
Let us study just one example.
light of the latest studies of the atom, the old concept of the world is radically
changing just as the concept of the atom itself is changing. There is no more matter as it
was believed in the past; it has been reduced to energy, and even concept of energy is
disappearing gradually and the scientists themselves do not know what to call it. They are
now coming to the conclusion that the atom is only a concept and by extension, that the
world too is nothing but a conception. The more they make researches into the structure of
the atom the more they seem to be convinced of this conclusion.
Buddhism this theory was expounded sixteen centuries age, if not earlier. In the 4th
century A.C. the Buddhist philosopher, Asanga developed a theory know as Vijnapti-matra or
Citta-matra, based on the original Canonical text which enunciate that this world is just
a conception just a thought, just an idea. In order to prove this theory, Asanga had to
define the atom, and his definition, made sixteen hundred years ago, is still valid up to
this day. The atom (paramanu) should be understood as not having a physical body
(nissarira). The determination of the nature of the atom is done by the intellect through
the ultimate analysis of the mass of matter. Of course, Asangas interest was not in
physics, but in the metaphysical and the philosophical. His interest was to show that this
world, which ordinary people take, as substance was nothing real, but only a concept.
According to Albert Einstein (9), when the universe is analyzed there is nothing
which remains as substance but only vibrations or waves.
doctrine of Buddha Dharma stands today, as unaffected by the march of time and the
expansion of knowledge as when it was first enunciated. No matter to what lengths
increased scientific knowledge can extend mans mental horizon, within the framework
of the Dharma there is room for the acceptance and assimilation of further discovery. This
is because Buddhism does not rely for its appeal upon limited concepts of primitive minds
nor for its power upon the negation of thought.
today does not deny the possibility of miracles, as it once did, but is beginning to
accept that what were known as miracles were but manifestations of phenomena as yet
unknown. The Buddha himself expounded this view: to him miracles were not in themselves
to be regarded as demonstration of truth, but showed only a mastery of little-known powers
that may be developed by some people. It did not necessarily follow that their
possessor was an enlightened or divine being.
being so, the Buddha not only taught his followers to be wary in the exercise of any
miraculous powers the might acquire, but also warned others not to be unduly impressed by
such exhibitions. Thus, whereas other religions exploit their possible extent in order to
convince the masses, Buddhism treats all such things as of very minor importance and
irrelevant to the real task of spiritual development and emancipation. According to the
Buddha the highest miracle is the conversion of an ignorant man to become a wise man.
connection, Swami Vivekananda says, The idea of supernatural beings may arouse to
a certain extent, the power of action man, but it also brings dependence; it brings fear;
it bring superstition. It degenerates into a horrible belief in the natural weakness of
scientific attitude and content of Buddhism has led Albert Einstein to say that If
there is any religion that would cope with modern scientific needs it would be Buddhism.
other important aspect of Buddhism as a world religion is its attitude to social, economic
and political problems. Uninformed people have generally tended to consider this religion
as an escape or withdrawal from active life, retiring into a temple, or into a cave or
into a forest and leading a life cut off from society. This however, is due to a lack of
understanding, for the Buddha himself was one of the hardest working persons that ever
lived in this world. He slept only two and a half hours each night and the rest of the
time he worked. He walked the length and breadth of India met people from all walks of
life, talked to them and taught them. He did not talk about Nirvana all the time and to
everybody he met. He spoke according to their way of life and levels of understanding. The
Buddha said that he would not expect a beginner to realize the highest noble truth at
once. He said that his was a gradual path. Therefore helping people in various ways
according to their standard or evolution and progress, is part of this religion. An active
social economic and political life cannot be separated from true religious life.
religious of the Buddha is to be found a comprehensive system of ethics, and a
transcendental metaphysics embracing a sublime psychology. It satisfies all temperaments.
To the simple minded it offers a code of morality, a gorgeous worship and even a hope of
life in heaven; to the earnest devotee, a system or pure thoughts, a lofty philosophy and
moral teachings that lead to enlightenment and liberation from all suffering. But the
basic doctrine is the self purification of man. Spiritual progress is impossible for him
who does not lead a life of purity and compassion.
organised form, as a popularly practised religion of the masses, with the many ceremonies,
processions and festivals incorporating various customs and traditions. Buddhism provides
for ample motivation, experience and material for education. Family functions, village
ceremonies, cultural performances and events like births, weddings, deaths and memorial
services provide education in an informal way. Children learn most of their customs,
manners, cultural, values and even aspirations by observing or participating in these
non-formal educational activities. Youths and adults too gain from them.
the personal level and the emancipation of the individual, Buddhism recognises the family
as a unit of society and nation. Thus to the ordinary house holder whose highest aim
consists in gaining material satisfaction here and going to heaven hereafter, Buddhism
provides a simple code of morality- as contained in the Sigalovada Sutra- the pratice of
which will strengthen the solidarity of a community. It maintains the right relations
between its family members, employers and employees.
another discourse the Buddha has given ten kinds of advice for people to respect and to
fulfill their duties and responsibilities towards their parents, children, husbands and
wives, relatives, elders, their departed ones, devas (deities) and to live in harmony in
society without becoming nuisances to the public and to lead blameless lives.
teaching has the well-being of all members of a society as its aim and provides for
diligent practice of friendly action, which is the mark of a truly social being. On the
other hand, the advanced person who realises the hindrances of the household life (a path
defiled by passions), can resort to a higher code of morals and ethics, as contained in
the rules of the holy Order, known as the Vinaya. They will enable him to lead a life or
purity, holiness and renunciation unfettered by mundane distraction.
morality is based on freedom and understanding. Because morality grew out of societys
need for self-preservation, it must necessarily adapt itself to changing times and
circumstances. Morality is therefore relative. In fact there cannot be any morality or
ethical concept if it is grounded in compulsion or interference from any agent outside the
individual himself. The individual must agree freely to any restriction placed on him for
morality to be truly effective.
Love (Metta) is the basic of all moral and ethical conduct in Buddhism. Out of this
compassion arise all ethical and moral precepts, social service, social justice, and
social welfare. Equality, brotherhood, tolerance, understanding, respect for life, respect
for others views, respect for others religions, all these have their roots in
Compassionate Love. Based on this great noble principle, Buddhism has always been a
religion of peace. Its long history is free from the taints of religious wars, religious
persecutions and inquisitions. Buddhism in this respect stands unique in the history of
religions. Of the Buddhas noble example in this matter, Swami Vivekananda says in
his lectures on karma yoga: The whole human race has produced but one such
person, such high philosophy, such wide sympathy. The great philosopher, preaching the
highest philosophy, yet has the deepest sympathy for the lowest animals, and never puts
forward a claim for himself. He is the ideal Karma Yogi, acting entirely without motive,
and the history of humanity shows him to have been the greatest man ever born, beyond
compare, the greatest combination of heart and brain that ever existed.
respect to its social and moral code, the German philosopher, Prof. Max Muller has said, The
Buddhist moral code taken by itself is one of the most perfect that the world has ever
point, all testimonies from hostile and friendly quarters agree; philosophers there may
have been, religious preachers, subtle metaphysicians, disputant there may have been, but
where shall we find such an incarnation of love, love that knows no distinction of caste
and creed or color, a love that overflowed even the bounds of humanity, that embraced the
whole of sentient beings in its sweep, a love that embodied the gospel of universal
loving-kindness (Metta) and non-injury?
Schweitzer says, In this sphere, the Buddha gave expression to truths of
everlasting value and advanced the ethics not of India alone but of humanity. The Buddha
was one of the greatest ethical men of genius ever bestowed upon the world.
Prof. Rhys Davis (10) observed that the study of Buddhism should be considered a
necessary part of any ethical course and should not be dismissed in a page or two but
receive its due recognition in the historical perspective of ethical evolution.
Buddhist framework, the possibility of economic development on a dynamic and meaningful
basis is receiving greater attention in the more affluent as well as in the developing
countries. Modern development theory has failed to grapple with the increasing
environmental and social problems in most developed societies and Buddhism offers a way
out of this impasse.
Cakkavatti Sihanada Sutra in the Digha Nikaya clearly states that poverty is the cause of
crime and immorality. The Buddha and his disciples taught the people the value of earning
wealth and the importance of economic development for their well-being and happiness. In
the Kutadanta Sutra in the Digha Nikaya the Buddha also expounded that crimes such as
stealing could not be stopped by punishment. For such crimes to be adequately and properly
controlled and stopped, opportunities should be provided for the people to be happily
engaged in their occupations to enable them to lead comfortable lives:
of wealth (bhoga-sukha)
from debts (anana-sukha)
a faultless life (anavajja-sukha)
are four kinds of happiness for a layman. Ability in ones occupation (utthana
sampada), protection of wealth (arakkha sampada), association with good friends (kalyana
mittata), expenditure in proportion to income (sama jivikata); these four are said to be
conducive to the well-being of people in this world.
ideas for the advancement of society, as well as duties and obligations both by the family
and the society for their mutual benefit, are mentioned in the discourses such as the
Sigalovada, Parabhava and Vasala Sutras.
evident from the Dhammapada commentary that the Buddha directed his attention even towards
the serious problem of government through compassion (karuna), with a view to promoting a
form of justice that would not harm and hurt the people. Justice should prevent suffering
under the tyranny and the heavy taxes imposed on them by unrighteous rulers.
teaches that a country should be governed in accordance with the Ten Duties of the King
(dasa raja dharma), namely:
everything for the good of the people (pariccaga)
and integrity (ajjava)
and gentleness (maddava)
in habits (tapa)
from hatred, ill-will, enmity (akkadha)
forbearance, tolerance, understanding (khanti) and
non-obstruction, i.e. not to obstruct any measures conductive to the welfare of the people
way the Buddha and his disciples taught such important ideas pertaining to health,
sanitation, earning wealth, mutual relationships, well being of society, and righteous
government - all for the good of the people.
H.P. Blavatsky, President of the Theosophical Society at the end of 18th
century said, The Buddha was the first to embody these lofty ethics in his public
teachings and to make them the foundation and the very essence of his public system. It is
herein that lays the immense difference between exoteric Buddhism and every other
religion. For while in other religions ritualism and dogma hold the first and most
importance place, in Buddhism it is the ethics which have always been the most insisted
parliamentary system of today bears strong resemblance to the practices known in the
Buddhism. As the Marquess of Zetland, a former Viceroy of India, reveals: it is
indeed to the Buddhist books that we have to turn for an account of the manner in which
the affairs of the early example of representative self-governing institutions were
conducted. And it may come as a surprise to many to learn that in the assemblies of
Buddhists in India 2500 years and more ago are to be found the rudiments of our own
parliamentary practice of the present day. The dignity of the assembly was preserved by
the appointment of a special officer - the embryo of Mr. Speaker in our house of commons.
A second officer was appointed to see that when necessary a quorum was secured - the
prototype of the Parliamentary Chief Whip in our own system. A member initiating business
did so in the form of a motion, which was then open to discussion. In some cases, this was
done once only, 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 discussion disclosed
a difference of opinion the matter was decided upon by the vote of the majority, the
voting being by ballot.
not a religion for people just to follow but to learn, understand, and to practise to gain
experience and bliss.
while the Buddha was walking in the forest, he took a handful of leaves and declared that
what he had taught was like those leaves in his hand. The Dhamma in its entirety was like
all the leaves in the whole forest. The Dhamma is so unimaginably vast that the Buddha
taught only the essential that were necessary for the immediate task at hand, namely, to
end suffering and gain liberation. The Buddha told us how to rid ourselves of this
suffering. The rest of worldly knowledge is not important. Due to ignorance, we spend
whole lifetimes trying to cope with suffering, worries, grievances and conflicts. This is
because we do not understand the true nature existence and the causes of suffering. For
example, let us take the three characteristics of Impermanence (Anicca),
unsatisfactoriness (Dukkha), and Insubstantially (Anatta). The whole of the Universe
shares those characteristics. No power can arrest the process of change, which is present
from the moment we are born, and therein lies the cause of suffering. We need little else
to convince us about the root problems of suffering.
you want out of life? How can we gain happiness? Unsatisfactoriness and consequently
unhappiness come from our not realizing that everything is changeable and subject to
decay. This is the universal law. But due to our ignorance and erroneous belief in a self
we want to keep living in a permanent state without ever changing. This can never happen.
We want to keep our wealth, our property, our health, and our youth. But one day all of
these can be swept away just like the flame of a candle is being snuffed out by the wind.
When we notice that our beautiful good looks are being replaced by wrinkles and white
hair, we worry and become unhappy because we refuse to accept the changing nature of
Buddha teaches us to contemplate on these matters so that we will understand and remove
the source of our unhappiness. The teaching of the Buddha has illuminated the way for
mankind to cross from a world blinded by superstition, hatred, and fear and reach a new
world of light, love, happiness and dignity. Sir Edwin Arnold (11) described the Buddha in
this way, in his poem Light of Asia :
is the blossom on our human tree
opens in many a myriad years
opened, fills the world
are young, we must consider that although we are young, in time we will grow old. We are
healthy we must think that in time we can fall sick. Health is not permanent. When we
prepare ourselves wisely for decay, ageing, sickness and finally death, it will not be
nearly as difficult to bear. Understanding that these are worldly conditions, which
everyone has to face, we can bear suffering with fortitude. This is the strength, the
refuge that the Buddha promises. These are those who grumble and cry when
misfortune hits them. This nothing but lack of understanding. Moaning about it will not
make the suffering go away.
the pain that misfortune can bring we must strengthen our minds through understanding.
nothing or nobody who has come into existence who can escape the natural process of coming
to an end. There has to be an end. Otherwise things cannot exist. We need
not be afraid of this perfectly natural phenomenon. We can all consider that even at death
it is not the end of life but only the beginning of another.
with the poet Wordsworth that: The soul that rises with us, our lifes star,
has elsewhere had its setting, come from afar.
disappear from this world physically, the life appears else where so why worry?
Arent we simply getting a new passport in our journey through Samsara?
grow and die out; empires arise and fall a part; mighty palaces are built and crumble in
the dust such is the way of the world. Beautiful flowers blossom and attract all
who pass by; but the next day they fade and dry up. Their petals all drop one by one and
soon they are forgotten altogether. All enjoyments and high attachments of the world are
only a momentary show. One who takes pleasure in them has to lament and weep when they are
lost and undergoes much suffering. Such nothing lasts in this world one should not hope to
get ultimate happiness from it. The Buddhas advice is to contemplate on this
transitoriness of the world and the various forms of unsatisfactoriness latent in all
existing worldly phenomena.
world, the sun, the moon, galaxies, the universe itself are all subject to the same
inexorable law of impermanence.
follow the teachings of the Buddha we will not be upset at the prospect of separating from
loved ones, property and wealth. This does not mean Buddhists must not experience worldly
pleasure. We must follow the Middle Path. We can gain pleasure in moderation, without
violating moral principles, without becoming slaves to them but with the understanding
that this must not hinder spiritual development.
and wives, parents and children develop strong attachments to each other. This is
perfectly natural. It is important for them in order to lead a worldly life. At the same
time however, we must face the fact that this same attachment is the source of enormous
pain and suffering. It can even lead to suicide. To eradicate problems, attachments must
be allowed to develop with understanding. It is ones duty to develop affections by
knowing that one day there will be separation. Under that condition one will know how to
cope with separation when it happens. One will avoid madness and suicide simply because
one has trained ones mind.
Buddha contributed to mankind was to console us by helping us to realize how all our
problems arise and how to face them. Praying to external forces may lead to temporary
solutions and provide transient moments of peace.
is just like taking two painkillers when you have a headache. After three hours the pain
will come back because the headache is not the sickness but merely its symptom.
Painkillers are not the medicine for sickness. Those who understand are in a position to
remove the cause of suffering. The Buddhas teaching gives us that understanding.
this introduction has shown you how Buddhism stands alone as a system of religious
practice. The Buddha was a great and effective Teacher and Physician. He constantly
reminded his followers that his only aim was to teach people how to understand the nature
of suffering or unsatisfactoriness and how to eradicate it. He promises happiness in this
very life for those who follow his noble method with determination and right
very unfortunate that in many existing religions the followers are not encouraged to
respect the leaders of another religion. They are warned that if they do so they would be
committing a sin and even worse, they would go to hell for it. The Buddha clearly tells us
that we must respect those who are worthy of respect. Although we may not agree with
certain religious points of view they hold, if they are sincere in their efforts to serve
humanity and uplift it, we must respect them for it. There are noble people in every
Buddha did not advise his disciples to go and convert people who would otherwise go to
hell. Rather he advised them to show the world what is right and what is wrong and to be
good and to do good, to encourage men to come and see for themselves the truth that he
his followers do not condemn the followers of other religionists as sinners
who are doomed to spend an eternity hell. According to Buddhists, even those who have no
religion but who live in dignity, with compassion and goodwill can go to
heaven, that is, experience happiness.
are happy and contented we are in heaven. When we suffer physically or
mentally we are in hell. There is no need to wait to die to experience
either of these states.
is unique because we can talk about this religion even without any reference
to heaven or hell. I am sure that others cannot talk about religion in this way.
Buddhas message of goodwill and understanding to all beings is a universal message.
The world today needs this noble message more than ever before in the history of
as a religion is the unique exposition of the absolute truth, which will show man how to
live in peace and harmony with his fellow beings.
Aldous Leonard (1894-1963): One of the 20th Centurys foremost novelists.
Important works included Brave New World (1932), The Perennial Philosophy (1945), and
Doors of Perception (1954).
SARVEPALLI (1888-1975): Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan was born on September 5, 1888 in
Tiruttani in Andhra Pradesh (Southeast India). Indian educator and politician, professor
of philosophy at the Calcutta University of India (1921-1962); professor of Eastern
Religions and Ethics at Oxford University in England (1936-1952). He was Chancellor,
University of Delhi (1953-1962) and President of India (1962-1967). He died in Madras
(South India) on April 6, 1975. His works included Indian Philosophy, 2 volumes
(1923-1927); the Philosophy of Upanishad (1924); Eastern Religions and Western Thought
HERBERT GEORGE (1866-1946): British Historian, writer and social reformer. Taught science,
journalist (1893). Wrote a fantastic scientific romance: The Time Machine (1895); The
Invisible Man (1897); His well-known work: Outline of History (1920)
IMMANUEL (1724-1804): German philosopher. His major works offer an analysis of speculative
and moral reason and the faculty of human judgment. He exerted an immense influence on the
intellectual movements of the 19th and 20th century.
ALFRED NORTH (1861-1947): Mathematician and philosopher concentrated on mathematical
logic, demonstrating that all mathematics may derive from a few logical concepts. He also
produced a comprehensive philosophical system in accord with contemporary science.
ANATOLE (1824-1924): French Novelist and Philosopher; His works combine classical purity
of style with penetrating flashes of irony. He is a major figure in the tradition of
liberal humanism in French literature.
JAWAHARLAL (1889-1964): Nehru was a Great Indian Nationalist Leader who worked for
Independence and Social Reform of India. He became First Prime Minister of Independent
India, a position he retained until his death.
ALBERT (1879-1955): American Physicist, born in Ulm, Germany; Naturalized Swiss at the age
of 15, Professor, Zurich University of Switzerland (1909-1911); Prague University of
Czechoslovakia (1911-1912) and Berlin University of Germany (1914). He went to the United
States (1933); member of the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton New Jersey
(1933-1955), became naturalized American Citizen (1940). Author of the theory of
Relativity, publishing account of general theory of relativity (1916) was awarded 1921.
Nobel Prize for physics. He wrote The Meaning of Relativity (1923), Builders
of the Universe (1932) etc...
RHYS (1842-1922): English, born in Colchester, England, Dr Davids, a scholar interested
himself in the study of Pali and Buddhism. His works included Buddhism (1878), Buddhism
from the Pali (1871). Buddhism in India (1903), Early Buddhism (1908).
EDWIN (1832-1904): English poet and journalist, was educated at Kings College,
London, Principal Deccan College, Bombay, India (1873-1901). Author of the well-known poem
The Light of Asia
on life and teaching of Buddha (1879)
McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia World Biography
Webster Biographical Dictionary
Buddhism In A Nutshell