K. Sri Dhammananda
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Source-Nguồn: budsas.org, buddhanet.net, samanta.vn
Part Two - Buddhism: Essence and Comparative Approaches
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. (Anguttara Nikaya).
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 categories.
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 can be found in the Teaching of the Buddhism.
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 Buddhism.
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 Missionary Society.)
The areas of agreement between the two schools are as follows:
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. Mahayanists 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 called Mahayana.
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 -- Theravada, and 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.