|Posted by bodhimission on September 25, 2016 at 11:05 PM|
The question, why Buddhism may appear irrelevant to those of us who are born in Buddhist families living in the East – but not so, for new generations born in Buddhist families living in the West, and also for people of other faiths who are interested in Buddhism. In any case, the question is important however, because only a solid foundation of understanding can ensure enjoying the bliss of the Dharma taught by the Buddha more than 2 millennia ago. Let us first try to see Siddharta Gautama’s entry into the world through the epic poem Buddhacarita composed by Asvagoha (80 – 150 CE) in the 1st century CE under the patronage of Emperor Kanishka (127 – 151 CE): “Like the sun bursting from a cloud in the morning So he too, when he was born from his mother’s womb Made the world bright like gold Bursting forth with his rays which dispelled darkness.” This world’s first epic or Mahakavya of Asvagosh composed in Sanskrit is the basis of chronicling Buddha’s life by all the schools of Buddhism. Coming back to the question, we must realize that the answer to the question Why Buddhism can be very elaborate and requires deep knowledge and understanding of Buddhism. I am attempting this because apart from being born in a Buddhist family, I have found inspiration in Buddhism time and again. Many of our devoted and learned Buddhist monks and scholars across different traditions have many words of wisdom on the religion. Although we are talking about Buddhism, we should realize that all religions advocate peace and love among people. Truly religious people are very humble and sweet no matter of their allegiance to any particular faith. Religious faiths lie in people’s personal – conscious or unconscious – convictions and whatever that is, should be respected and honored by all. While attempting to answer the question, I will not limit myself to any particular school such as Theravada or Mahayana, but will try to navigate the both. Equipped with the capacity to tolerate alternative ideas, and to adapt to alien cultures, Buddhism was able to propagate all over the world without bloodshed and conflict. In addition, unlike other religions, Buddhism is not plagued with internal conflicts and animosity, but has shown remarkable tolerance within the wide Buddhist community. It seems to me, however that Buddhist schools need to unite together to launch a single forum as a spokesperson for the religion – mere sitting on the same platform during Buddha Jayanti and other congregations is not enough. Perhaps some simple answers to the question can be summarized in six basic premises. Let me try to outline these six basic premises briefly.
1. Buddhism is about Freedom – freedom to question, freedom to understand and explore oneself without depending on existing ideas, dogmas or divine entities. It is about understanding the rationale behind Siddharta Gautama leaving home in search of the truth. It is about learning his discovery of the Four Noble Truths – and how he has formulated the 4th Truth – the RIGHT WAY or the Noble Eightfold Path. This path of MORALITY, MEDITATION and WISDOM guides one to lead a happy and meaningful life. It is about freedom from attachment, freedom from distraction and being mindful, and freedom of opening the doors of wisdoms to see things as they are. Buddha’s teaching is only a guidance to reinforce that freedom – giving an individual the responsibility to find the truth, peace and happiness in life. Buddha was far ahead of his time and his teaching was unlike any other mankind had ever seen.
2. Buddhism is about Realizing the Universal Presence of the Four Pillars of Existence – Annicca or impermanence, Dukkha or fleeting nature of happiness, Anatma or absence of any divinity defining a person, and Paticca Samupaddha or dependent-origination of things. While impermanence is a universal reality, most of us do not understand the true meaning of it. Why the Buddha stressed impermanence as the First Pillar of existence? One of the reasons is that, it is impossible to explain the dynamics of life, Nature and society without considering impermanence. Buddha’s quest for finding the causes of unhappiness in life led him to discover that one of the root causes was emotional attachment. In an impermanent paradigm all things represent streams of fluxes in time, therefore treating this stream as something stationary leads to unhappiness. The principle of the dependent origination tells us how all things are interconnected through the cycle of cause and effect – the karmic cycle of things.
3. Buddhism is about EmpowerING ONESELF through the Pursuits to Perfection – the pursuits to be prosperous, to achieve equilibrium and happiness in personal life and in social living of togetherness. The 6-syllable word practiced in Tibetan Buddhism, UmMaNiPadMeHum represents the six pursuits of perfection or Paramitas taught by the Buddha. The word means: Um – Generosity, Ma – Morality, Ni – Patience, Pad – Energy, Me – Meditation and Hum – Wisdom. In the ten pursuits of perfection four more practices are included. These are Upai or skillful means, Upekka or equanimity, Bala or power and Ghyana or awareness. Buddhism stresses great emphasis on wisdom. Why is that? It is because wisdom is the only means to enlighten ourselves from the uncertainty of darkness and ignorance to find and tread the RIGHT WAY to achieve equilibrium and happiness in life.
4. Buddhism is about Happiness – the quests for discovering the causes of unhappiness and the Ways to achieve happiness – led the young Siddharta Gautama to his journey to Buddha hood. Buddhism is often misunderstood as being all about suffering. The misunderstanding arose from the erroneous English translation of Dukkha into suffering by scholars. But it seems to me, the translation is not correct, because suffering is more associated with severe physical and mental affliction or pain. The Buddha used the Pali word Dukkha to describe its omni-presence. The word is antonym to Sukha or happiness. The proper translation of these two words into English is difficult because of their deep associated meanings and interpretations. The reasonable translation of Dukkha is perhaps fleeting nature of happiness. This fleeting nature gives the impression in human mind that life is a continuous stream of unhappiness. The Buddha was talking about Shukha or happiness that a person experiences after accomplishing kushala karma or wholesome activities. These activities not only imply good actions but also good motives or intentions. In a sense this refers to a person’s good actions and the pleasant or happy reactions that he or she gets from the other side. Therefore happiness is real only when it is mutually shared.
5. Buddhism is about Acting and Reacting with a Compassionate Heart – to cherish, love and protect all Sentient Beings and the Environment. Buddhism says the necessity of rising above selfishness by practicing Dana or generosity, and the Four Brahma Vihara or Immeasurable Virtues – Metta or loving kindness, Karuna or compassion, Mudita or empathy and Upekka or equanimity or even mindedness. Buddhist scriptures list some 12 difficulties that a person faces in his or her life. In one of them, the Buddha said: It is difficult to be even-minded and simple-hearted in one’s dealings with others. The Buddha did not say that being even-minded and simple-hearted were impossible, but only that they were difficult. Perhaps these difficulties are some of the reasons why it is necessary to practice Buddhism to overcome them – it is not adequate just to be knowledgeable. Buddhists always finish their chanting and blessings by wishing Sabbe Satta Shukina Bhabantu or Let All Sentient Beings be Happy. Buddhists want all Sentient Beings to be happy – irrespective of color, creed or type.
6. Buddhism is about THE PractiCAL guidance for SOCIAL LIVING OF HAPPINESS AND PROSPERITY – while the Middle Way applies to both monks and laity, on different occasions the Buddha has clarified the Way more lucidly for laity’s benefit, including some things to avoid. These are: (a) the twenty four ways to follow for the well-being of life – the Mahamangala Sutta, (b) the four ways to follow to be prosperous, (c) the four ways to avoid that lead to squandering wealth, (d) the four accomplishments to pursue that bring happiness to life, (e) the ten actions to avoid that define one’s downfall, (f) the four major ethical codes to follow, (g) the six ways to follow for being worthy and (h) last but not the least, the Dasa Raja Dharma or the ten principles to follow by rulers to ensure good governance. The 24-spoke Ashoka (The Great Mauryan Emperor of India, 269 – 232 BCE) Chakra or wheel is a depiction of the Mahamangala Sutta.
Before finishing, I would like to briefly explore thoughts of some well-known people who were not necessarily Buddhists. Buddha’s enlightened teaching does not need any endorsement, yet we may find the thoughts of others interesting. Many religions that came after Buddhism had benefited substantially from it. This is particularly true of Christianity. Buddhism, especially the Mahayana school also transformed many aspects of ancient Indian practices now known as Hinduism.
For the sake of interested readers let me give a glimpse of some great minds in history – the way they saw Buddhism.
Let me start by quoting few lines from an epic poetry book, The Light of Asia published in 1879 by Edwin Arnold (1832 – 1904):
“This is the blossom on our human tree
Which opens in many a myriad years
But opened, fills the world with wisdom’s scent
And love’s dropped honey.”
Famous 19th century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 – 1860) described Buddhism as, “. . . if I were to take the results of my philosophy as the standard of truth, I would have to consider Buddhism the finest of all religions.”
German-British philosopher Max Muller (1823 – 1900) depicted Buddhism as, “. . . Buddha was the embodiment of all the virtues he preached. During his successful and eventful ministry of 45 years he translated all his words into action; and in no place did he give vent to any human frailty, or any base passion. The Buddha’s moral code is the most perfect which the world has ever known. . .”
Prof. W. Rhys Davids (1843 – 1922), who was Chair of comparative religions at Manchester University, saw Buddhism as, “Buddhist or non-Buddhist, I have examined every one of the great religious systems in the world, and in none of them have I found anything to surpass, in beauty and comprehensiveness, the Noble Eightfold Path and the Four Noble Truths of the Buddha. . .”
Philosopher, scientist and mathematician Bertrand Russell (1872 – 1970) saw Buddhism like, “I cannot myself that either in the matter of wisdom or in the matter of virtue Christ stands quite as high as some other people known in history . . . I think I should put Buddha above him in those respects.”
More recently Osho (1931 – 1990) said in a book titled, The Buddha Said . . . published in 2008, “. . . no belief is required to travel with Buddha. You can come to him with all your skepticism – he accepts and welcomes you, and he says, ‘Come with me.” British novelist and philosopher Aldous Huxley (1894 – 1963) said something like, “. . . listening to the discourse of the Buddha of such power, such intrinsic authority . . .” Famous thinker and philosopher of Eastern thoughts, Krishnamurti (1895 – 1986) called the Buddha The Immortal Friend in a poem dedicated to the Buddha. Few lines from his poem:
“Enlightenment attained, He gave to the world, as the flower gives It’s scent, The Truth. As I looked At the sacred feet that once trod the happy Dust of India, My heart poured forth its devotion, Limitless and unfathomable, Without restraint and without effort.”
Let me conclude this piece by saying that Buddha’s enlightened teaching gives us the opportunity to empower ourselves to adapt to the fluxes of time to transform in pursuits of prosperity and happiness. Secular in nature and teaching the freedom to explore and examine oneself, Buddha’s teaching is very powerful and timeless, for harmonious cohabitation and adaptation within the evolving canvas of cultures and environment.