This means: "The Buddha, although a human being, is one who has trained and perfected himself ... Even the gods revere him." [Naga Sutta, A.III. 346; Udayitherakatha, Khu., Thag. 689]
With this principle, the human position changes. The attitude of looking externally, taking refuge in gods and deities, has been firmly retracted, and people are advised to look at themselves, to see within themselves a potential for the finest achievement. No longer is it necessary for people to throw their fates to the gods. If human beings realize this potential, even those gods will recognize their excellence and pay reverence.
This principle entails a belief, or faith, in the potential of human beings to be developed to the highest level, of which the Buddha is our example.
5.Remedy based on practical and reasoned action rather than dependence on external forces: This principle is well illustrated in one of the teachings of the Dhammapada:
This is a turning point, a shift in emphasis from pleading with deities to responsible action. However, if unaware of this principle, people can even see the Triple Gem as simply an object of devotion, in the same way that members of theistic religions see deities.
The Triple Gem begins with the Buddha, our example of a perfected human being. This is a reminder to humanity of its potential, and as such encourages us to reflect on our responsibility for its development. By taking the Buddha for refuge, we reflect on our responsibility to develop ourselves and use wisdom to address the problems of life.
When we think of the Dhamma, we are reminded that this development of potential must be done through means which conform to the Law of Nature and function according to causes and conditions.
When we reflect on the Sangha, we think of those who have used the Dhamma (teaching) skillfully, developing and realizing their highest potential. They are living examples of the actual attainment of the truth, and, through developing ourselves in right practice, we can become one of them.
These are the Three Refuges. To believe or have faith in these refuges means that we strive to solve problems like wise human beings. This tenet compels us to use wisdom.
The way to solve problems through wisdom is:
1. Dukkha (suffering ): We begin with the problem, recognizing that there is one.
2. Samudaya (the cause of suffering -- craving based on ignorance): We search out the cause of that problem.
3. Nirodha (the cessation of suffering -- Nibbana): We establish our aim, which is to extinguish the problem.
4. Magga (the way leading to the cessation of suffering): We practice in accordance with that aim.
6.Teaching only those truths which are of benefit: There are many different kinds of knowledge and many different kinds of truth, but some of them are not useful, they are not concerned with solving the problems of life. The Buddha did not teach such truths and was not interested in finding out about them. He concentrated on teaching only those truths which would be of practical benefit. This principle is illustrated in the simile of the leaves, which the Buddha gave while he was staying with a company of monks in the Sisapa forest. One day he picked up a handful of leaves from the forest floor and asked the monks, "Which is the greater number, the leaves in my hand, or the leaves on the trees?" An easy question, and the monks answered immediately. The leaves in the Buddha's hand were very few, while the leaves in the forest were of far greater number.
The Buddha replied, "It is the same with the things that I teach you. There are many truths that I know, but most of them I do not teach. They are like the leaves in the forest. The truths that I do teach are like the leaves here in my hand. Why do I not teach those other truths? Because they are not conducive to ultimate wisdom, to understanding of the way things are, or to the rectification of problems and the transcendence of suffering. They do not lead to the attainment of the goal, which is Nibbana." [Sisapa Sutta, S.V. 437]
The Buddha said that he taught the things he did because they were useful, they led to the solving of problems, and were conducive to a good life. In short, they led to the transcendence of suffering.
Another important simile was given in answer to some questions of metaphysics. Such questions are among the questions with which science is currently wrestling, such as: Is the Universe finite or infinite? Does it have a beginning? The scriptures mention ten stock philosophical questions which had been in existence from before the time of the Buddha. One monk went to ask the Buddha about them. The Buddha refused to answer his questions, but instead gave the following simile:
A man was shot by a poisoned arrow. With the arrowhead still embedded within him, his relatives raced to find a doctor. As the doctor was preparing to cut out the arrowhead, the man said, "Wait! I will not let you take out this arrowhead until you tell me the name of the man who shot me, where he lives, what caste he is, what kind of arrow he used, whether he used a bow or a crossbow, what the arrow was made of, what the bow was made of, what the bowstring was made of, and what kind of feather was attached to the end of the arrow. Until I find out the answers to these questions, I will not let you take this arrow out." [Chulamalunkyovada Sutta, M.I. 428]
Obviously, if he were to wait for the answers to all those questions that man would not only fail to find out the information he wanted, but he would die needlessly. What would be the proper course of action here? Before anything else, he would have to have that arrowhead taken out. Then, if he still wanted to know the answers to those questions, he could go ahead and find out.
In the same way, the subject of the Buddha's teaching is human suffering and the way to relieve it. Metaphysical questions are not at all relevant. Even if the Buddha had answered them, his answers could not be verified. The Buddha taught to quickly do what must be done, not to waste time in vain pursuits and debates. This is why he did not answer such questions.
Good and evil
I have already said that most religions see the events of the world as the workings of God or supernatural forces. According to them, if mankind does not want any unpleasant events to befall him, or if he wants prosperity, he must let God see some display of worship and obeisance. This applies not only to external natural events, but even people's personal lives. The deity, God, is the Creator of the universe, together with all of its happiness and suffering. He is constantly monitoring mankind's behavior to ascertain whether it is pleasing to Him or not, and people are constantly on their guard to avoid any actions which might displease Him.
According to this standard, all of humanity's behavior can be classified into two categories. Firstly, those actions which are pleasing to God, which are duly rewarded, and which are known as "good"; and those actions which are displeasing to God, which He punishes, and which are known as "evil." Whatever God approves of is "good," whatever He forbids is "evil." The priests of the religion are the mediators who inform mankind which actions are good and which are evil, according to God's standards. These have been the accepted standards for defining good and evil in Western culture.
As for science, from the time it parted with religion it interested itself solely with the external, physical world and completely ignored the abstract side of things. Science took no interest at all in moral or ethical issues, seeing them as matters of religion, unfounded on facts, and turned its back on them altogether. People in Western countries, the countries which are technologically developed, were captivated by the advances of science. In comparison, religion's teachings of deities and supernatural forces seemed ill-founded, and so they, too, turned their backs on religion. At that time morals and ethics lost their meaning. If God is no longer important, then morals or ethics, God's set of laws, are no longer important. Many people today, especially those in scientific circles, view ethics as merely the arbitrary dictates of certain groups of people, such as priests, established at best to maintain order in society, but lacking any basis in ultimate truth.
Those branches of science which study the development of human civilization, especially sociology, and some branches of anthropology, seeing the success of the physical sciences, have tried to afford their branches of learning a similar standing, by using much the same principles and methods as the physical sciences. The social sciences have tended to look on ethics or morals as values without scientific foundation. They have tended to avoid the subject of ethics in order to show that they, too, are pure sciences void of value systems. Even when they do make studies about ethical matters, they look on them only as measurable quantities of social behavior.
The physical sciences, the social sciences, and people in the modern age in general, look on ethical principles as purely conventional creations. They confuse ethics with its conventional manifestations, a grave mistake in the search for authentic knowledge -- in trying to avoid falsehood, they have missed the truth.
Now let us come back to the subject of Buddhism. In regard to ethics, both science and Buddhism differ from the mainstream of religions, but while science has cut itself off from them, completely disregarding any consideration of ethics or values, Buddhism turns toward them, studying and teaching the role of ethical principles within the natural process. While most religions look at the events of nature, both outside of man and within him, as directed by the will of God, Buddhism looks at these events as a normal and natural process of causes and conditions. These same laws apply as much to mental phenomena as to the physical workings of nature. They are part of the stream of causes and conditions, functioning entirely at the directives of the natural laws. The difference in quality is determined by variations within the factors of the stream.
Buddhism divides the laws of nature, called niyama, into five kinds. They are:
1.Utuniyama (physical laws): The natural laws dealing with the events in the natural world or physical environment.
2.Bijaniyama (biological laws): The natural laws dealing with animals and plants, particularly heredity.
3.Cittaniyama (psychic laws): The natural laws dealing with the workings of the mind and thinking.
4.Kammaniyama (karmic or moral laws): The natural law dealing with human behavior, specifically intention and the actions resulting from it.
5.Dhammaniyama (the general law of cause and effect): The natural law dealing with the relationship and interdependence of all things, known simply as the way of things. [DA.U. 234; Dhs A. 272]
In terms of these five divisions of natural law, we can see that science has complete confidence in the dhammaniyama (the general law of cause and effect), while limiting its field of research to utuniyama (physical laws) and bijaniyama (biological laws). As for Buddhism, practically speaking it emphasizes kammaniyama (the law of moral action), although the Abhidhamma stresses the study of cittaniyama (psychic laws), in their relation to kammaniyama and dhammaniyama.
The Law of Kamma -- scientific morality
A true understanding of reality is impossible if there is no understanding of the interrelation and unity of all events in nature. This includes, in particular, the human element, the mental factors and values systems, of those who are studying those events. Scientists may study the physical laws, but as long as they are ignorant of themselves, the ones who are studying those laws, they will never be able to see the truth -- even of the physical sciences.
On a physical level, human beings exist within the natural physical environment, but on an experiential level the world is in fact more a product of our intentions. Our daily lives, our thoughts, behavior and deeds, our communications, our traditions and social institutions are entirely products of human intentional action, which is known in Buddhism as kamma. Intention is the unique faculty which lies behind human progress. The human world is thus the world of intention, and intention is the creator and mover of the world. In Buddhism it is said: kammuna vattati loko -- the world is driven by kamma. [Vasettha Sutta, Khu., Sm., 654] In order to understand the human world, or the human situation, it is necessary to understand the natural law of kamma.
All behavior, intentional action, ethical principles and mental qualities are entirely natural. They exist in accordance with the Laws of Nature. They are neither the will of God, nor are they accidental. They are processes which are within our human capacity to understand and influence.
Please note that Buddhism distinguishes between the Law of Kamma and psychic laws. This indicates that the mind and intention are not the same thing, and can be studied as separate truths. However, these two truths are extremely closely linked. The simple analogy is that of a man driving a motor boat. The mind is like the boat and its engine, while intention is the driver of the boat, who decides where the boat will go and what it will do.
Certain natural events may occur as a result of the workings of different laws in different situations, while some events are a product of a number of these natural laws functioning in unison. A man with tears in his eyes may be suffering from the effects of smoke (physical law), or from extremely happy or sad emotional states (psychic law), or he may be suffering anxiety over past deeds (law of kamma). A headache might be caused by illness (biological law), a stuffy or overheated room (physical law) or it could be from depression and worry (law of kamma).
The question of free will
When people from the West start studying the subject of kamma, they are often confused by the problem of free will. Is there such a thing as free will? In actual fact there is no free will, in the absolute sense, because intention is just one factor within the overall natural processes of cause and effect. However, will can be considered free in a relative way. We might say it is relatively free, in that it is in fact one of the factors within the overall natural process. In Buddhism this is called purisakara. Each person has the ability to initiate thinking and intention, and as such become the instigating factor in a cause and effect process, or kamma, for which we say each individual must accept responsibility.
Misunderstandings, or lack of understanding, in relation to this matter of free will, arise from a number of more deeply-rooted misconceptions, in particular, the delusion of self. The concept of self causes a lot of confusion when people try to look at reality as an actual condition with minds still trapped in habitual thinking, which clings fast to concepts. The two perspectives clash. The perception is of a doer and a receiver of results. While in reality there is only a feeling, the perception is of "one who feels." (In the texts it is said: "There is the experience of feeling, but no-one who feels.") The reason for this confusion is ignorance of the teaching of anatta, not-self.
Buddhism doesn't stop simply at free will, but strives to the stage of being "free of will," transcending the power of will, which can only be achieved through the complete development of human potential through wisdom.
Within the process of human development, the mind and wisdom are distinguished from each other. Wisdom that is fully developed will liberate the mind. So we have the mind with intention, and the mind with wisdom. However, this is a practical concern, a vast subject which must be reserved for a later time.
[*]The allusion here, and in the previous four paragraphs, is to the Four Noble Truths. [Back to text]
[Taken from Bhikkhu P. A. Payutto., Toward Sustainable Science, A Buddhist Look at Trends in Scientific Development. (Bangkok: Buddhadhamma Foundation, 1993), pp. 53-74].
Sincere thanks to Ti.nh Tue^. for transcription of this article.
Top of Page