K. Sri Dhammananda
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Source-Nguồn: budsas.org, buddhanet.net, samanta.vn
Chapter 2- His Message
Message for All
Buddha--the flower of mankind, is no more in this world, but the sweet fragrance of His peace message remains forever.
Buddhism is one of the oldest religions still being practised in the world today. While the names of many other religions which existed in India have been forgotten today, the teachings of the Buddha, (better known as the Dhamma) are still relevant to the needs of today's society. This is because the Buddha has always considered himself as human religious teacher whose message was meant to promote the happiness and well-being of other human beings. The Buddha's primary concern was to help His followers to live a normal life without either going to the extremes of self-denial or totally surrendering to sensual desires.
The practical nature of the Buddha's teaching is revealed in the fact that not everyone is expected to attain exactly the same goal in one lifetime, since the mental impurities are deeply rooted. Some people are spiritually more advanced than others and they can proceed to greater heights according to their state of development. But every single human being has the ultimate potential to attain the supreme goal of Buddhahood if he has the determination and will to do so.
Even now does the soft, sweet voice of the Buddha ring in our ears. And sometimes we perhaps feel a little ashamed because we do not understand Him fully. Often we only praise His Teaching and respect Him, but do not try to practise what He preached. The Buddha's Teaching and message have had their effect on all people for thousands of years whether they believe in religion or not. His message is for all.
Though the Buddha, the flower of mankind, is no longer in this world, the sweet fragrance and exquisite aroma of His Teachings have spread far and wide. Its balmy, diffusing fragrance has calmed and soothed millions. Its ambrosial perfume has heartened and cheered every nation which it has penetrated. The reason that His Teachings have captured millions of hearts is because they were spread(not by weapons or political power)but by love and compassion for humanity. Not a drop of blood stains its pure path. Buddhism wins by the warm touch of love, not by the cold claws of fear. Fear of the supernatural and the doctrine of everlasting hell-fire have no place in Buddhism.
During the last 25 centuries since the appearance of the Buddha, many changes have taken place in this world. Kingdoms have risen and fallen; nations have prospered and perished. However, the world today has forgotten many of these past civilizations. But the name of the Buddha remains alive and fresh in the minds of millions of people today. The Kingdom of Righteousness that He built is still strong and steady. Although many temples, pagodas, images, libraries and other religious symbols erected in His honor were destroyed, His untainted Noble Name and the message He gave remain in the minds of cultured people.
The Buddha taught man that the greatest of conquests was not the subjugation of others but of the self. He taught in the Dhammapada, 'Even though a man conquers ten thousand men in battle, he who conquers but himself is the greatest of conquerors'.
Perhaps the best example of how the gentle message of the Compassionate One could rehabilitate the most savage of men is the case of the Emperor Asoka. About two hundred years after the Buddha, this king waged fierce battles across India and caused great anguish and fear. But when he absorbed the Dhamma, he regretted the evil that he had done. We remember and honor him today because after his conversion to the path of peace, he embarked on another battle: a battle to bring peace to mankind. He proved without doubt that the Buddha was right when He asserted that true greatness springs from love, not hatred, from humility, not pride; from compassion, not cruelty.
The Emperor Asoka's conversion from cruelty to kindness was so complete that he forbade even the killing of animals in his kingdom. He realized that his subjects stole because of want and he set out to reduce want in his kingdom. But above all, he instructed the followers of the Buddha to remember the Master's teaching never to force their beliefs on others who were loyal to other religious leaders. In other cases we have heard of kings who, upon conversion, diverted their thirst for blood by spreading their new religion by the sword! Only Buddhism can take pride in a king who has never been equaled in such greatness before or ever since.
The Buddha's Teachings were introduced in order that societies could be cultured and civilized and live in peace and harmony. All of life's most difficult problems can be better understood if we but try to learn and practise His teachings. The Buddha's approach to the problems and suffering of mankind is straightforward and direct.
The Buddha was the greatest conqueror the world has ever seen. He conquered the world with His infallible weapons of love and truth. His Teaching illuminates the Way for mankind to cross from a world of darkness, hatred, and suffering, to a new world of light, love and happiness.
If a wicked man can become a pure religious man, this according to Buddhism, is a practical miracle.
In every religion we hear of miracles being performed by either the founders of these religious or by some of their disciples. In the case of the Buddha, miracles occurred from the day of His birth until His passing away into Nibbana. Many of the psychic powers (so-called miraculous powers in other religions) of the Buddha were attained through His long and intense training in meditation. The Buddha meditated and passed through all the highest stages of contemplation that culminated in pure self-possession and wisdom. Such attainments through meditation are considered nothing miraculous but fall within the power of any trained ascetic.
Using meditation on the night of His Enlightenment, there arose within the Buddha a vision of His previous births, the many existences with all their details, He remembered His previous births and how He had made use of these births to gain His Enlightenment. Then the Buddha had a second and wider vision in which He saw the whole universe as a system of Kamma and Rebirth. He saw the universe made up of beings that were noble and wicked, happy and unhappy. He saw them all continually 'passing away according to their deed', leaving one form of existence and taking shape in another. Finally, He understood the nature of Suffering, the cessation of Suffering and the Path that leads to the cessation of Suffering. Then a third vision arose within the Buddha. He realized that He was completely free from all bondages, human or divine. He realized that He had done what had to be done. He realized He had no more re-birth to go through because He was living with His final body. This knowledge destroyed all ignorance, all darkness, and light arose within Him. Such is the psychic power and the wisdom that arose within the Buddha as He sat meditating under the Bodhi tree.
The Buddha had a natural birth; He lived in a normal way. But He was an extraordinary man, as far as His Enlightenment was concerned. Those who have not learnt to appreciate His Supreme Wisdom try to explain His greatness by peeping into His life and looking for miracles. However, the Buddha's Supreme Enlightenment is more than enough for us to understand His greatness. There is no need to show His greatness by introducing any miraculous power.
The Buddha knew of the power that could be developed by training the human mind. He also knew that His disciples could acquire such powers through mental development. Thus the Buddha advised them not to exercise such psychic power in order to convert less intelligent people. He was referring to the 'miraculous' power to walk on water, to exorcise spirits, raise the dead and perform the so-called supernormal practices. He was also referring to the 'miracles of prophesy' such as thought-reading, soothe-saying, fortune-telling, and so on. When the uneducated believers see the performance of such powers, their faith deepens. But the nominal converts who are attracted to a religion because of these powers embrace a faith, not because they realize the truth, but because they harbor hallucinations. Besides, some people may pass remarks that these miracles are due to certain charms. In drawing people to listen to the Dhamma, the Buddha appealed to their reasoning power.
The following story illustrates the Buddha's attitude towards miraculous powers. One day the Buddha met an ascetic who sat by the bank of a river. This ascetic had practised austerities for 25 years. The Buddha asked him what he had received for all his labour. The ascetic proudly replied that, now at last, he could cross the river by walking on the water. The Buddha pointed out that this gain was insignificant for all the years of labour, since he could cross the river using a ferry for one penny!
In certain religions, a man's miraculous performance can help him to become a saint. But in Buddhism, miracles can be a hindrance for a person to attain sainthood, which is a gradual personal attainment and individual concern. Each person himself must work for his sainthood through self-purification and no one else can make another person a saint.
The Buddha says that a person can gain miraculous power without gaining spiritual power. He teaches us that if we first gain spiritual power, then we automatically receive the miraculous or psychic powers too. But if we develop miraculous powers without spiritual development, then we are in danger. We can misuse this power for worldly gain(Pataligama-Udana). There are many who have deviated from the right path by using their miraculous powers without having any spiritual development. Many people who are supposed to have obtained some miraculous powers succumbed to the vain glory of obtaining some worldly gain.
Many so-called miracles talked about by people are merely imaginations and hallucinations created by their own minds due to a lack of understanding of things as they truly are. All these miracles remain as miracles as long as people fail to know what these powers really are.
The Buddha also expressly forbade His disciples to use miracles to prove the superiority of His teachings. On one occasion He said that the use of miracles to gain converts was like using dancing girls to tempt people to do something. Anyone with the proper mental training can perform miracles because they are simply an expression of mind over matter.
According to the Buddha, the miracle of realization is a real miracle. When a murderer, thief, terrorist, drunkard, or adulterer is made to realize that what he had been doing is wrong and gives up his bad, immoral and harmful way of life, this change can be regarded as a miracle. The change for the better arising from an understanding of Dhamma is the highest miracle that any man can perform.
When the questioner himself was not in a position to understand the real significance of the answer to his question and when the questions posed to Him were wrong, the Buddha remained silent.
The scriptures mention a few occasions when the Buddha remained silent to questions posed to Him. Some scholars, owing to their misunderstanding of the Buddha's silence, came to the hasty conclusion that the Buddha was unable to answer to these questions. While it is true that on several occasions the Buddha did not respond to these metaphysical and speculative questions, there are reasons why the Buddha kept noble silence.
When the Buddha knew that the questioner was not in a position to understand the answer to the question because of its profundity, of if the questions themselves were wrongly put in the first place, the Blessed One remained silent. Some of the questions to which the Buddha remained silent are as following:
Is the universe eternal?
Is it not eternal?
Is the universe finite?
Is it infinite?
Is soul the same as the body?
Is the soul one thing and the body another?
Does the Tathagata exist after death?
Does He not exist after death?
Does He both (at the same time) exist and not exist after death?
Does He both (at the same time) neither exist nor not exist?
The Buddha who had truly realized the nature of these issues observed noble silence. An ordinary person who is still unenlightened might have a lot to say, but all of it would be sheer conjecture based on his imagination.
The Buddha's silence regarding these questions is more meaningful than attempting to deliver thousands of discourses on them. The paucity of our human vocabulary which is built upon relative experiences cannot hope to convey the depth and dimensions of Reality which a person has not himself experienced through Insight. On several occasions, the Buddha had very patiently explained that human language was too limited and could not describe the Ultimate Truth. If the Ultimate Truth is absolute, then it does not have any point of reference for worldlings with only mundane experiences and relative understanding to fully comprehend it. When they try to do so with their limited mental conception, they misunderstand the Truth like the seven blind men and the elephant. The listener who had not realized the Truth could not fathom the explanation given, just like a man who was blind since birth will have no way of truly understanding the color of the sky.
The Buddha did not attempt to give answers to all the questions put to Him. He was under no obligation to respond to meaningless questions which reflected gross misunderstanding on the part of spiritual development. He was a practical Teacher, full of compassion and wisdom. He always spoke to people fully understanding their temperament, capability and capacity to comprehend. When a person asked questions not with the intention to learn how to lead a religious life but simply to create an opportunity for splitting hairs, the Blessed One did not answer these questions. Questions were answered to help a person towards self-realization, not as a way of showing His towering wisdom.
According to the Buddha, there are several ways of answering various types of questions. The first type of question is one that requires a definite answer, such as a 'yes' or 'no'. For example, the question, 'Are all conditioned things impermanent?' is answered with a 'Yes'. The second type of question is one requiring an analytical answer. Suppose someone says that Angulimala was a murderer before he became an "Arahant". So is it possible for all murderers to become Arahants? This question should be analyzed before you can say 'Yes' or 'No'. Otherwise, it will not be answered correctly and comprehensively. You need to analyse what conditions make it possible for a murderer to become a saint within one lifetime.
The third type of question is one where it is necessary to ask a counter question to help the questioner to think through. If you ask, "Why is it wrong to kill other living beings?' the counter question is, 'How does it feel when others try to kill you?' The fourth kind of question is one that should be dropped. It means that you should not answer it. These are the questions which are speculative in nature, and any answer to such questions will only create ore confusion. An example of such a question is, 'Does the universe have a beginning or not?' People can discuss such questions for years without coming to a conclusion. They can only answer such questions based on their imagination, not on real understanding.
Some answers which the Buddha gave have close parallels to the kind responses which are given in nuclear science. According to Robert Oppenheimer, 'If we ask, for instance, whether the position of the electron remains the same, we must say 'no'; if we ask whether it is in motion, we must say 'no'. The Buddha has given such answers when interrogated as to the conditions of a man's self after his death; but they are not familiar answers in accordance with the tradition of seventeenth and eighteenth century science.'
It is important to note however that the Buddha did give answers to some of these questions to His most intellectually developed disciples after the questioner had left. And in many cases, His explanations are contained in other discourses which show us, who live in an age of greater scientific knowledge, why these questions were not answered by the Buddha just to satisfy the inquisitive minds of the questioners.
Worldly knowledge can never help one to lead a pure religious life for gaining peace and emancipation.
Worldly knowledge is useful for worldly ends. With such knowledge, mankind learns how to use the earth's resources to improve the standard of living, grow more food, generate power to run factories and to light up streets and houses, manage factories and businesses, cure sickness, build flats and bridges, cook exotic dishes, and so on. Worldly knowledge can also be used for harmful purposes such as building missiles with nuclear warheads, manipulating the stock market, cheating 'legally', and inflaming political anxiety and hatred. Despite the rapid expansion of worldly knowledge, especially in the twentieth century, mankind has been brought no nearer to the solution of his spiritual problems and pervasive unsatisfactoriness. In all likelihood, it never will solve mankind's universal problems and bring peace and happiness because of the premises on which such knowledge, discoveries and inventions are built.
While Buddhism can bring greater understanding on how to lead a good, worldly life, its main focus is how to gain spiritual liberation through the development of wisdom and mental culture. For ordinary human beings, there is no end to the search for worldly knowledge, but in the final analysis it does not really matter. For as long as we are ignorant about the Dhamma, we will forever be trapped in Samsara. According to the Buddha.
'For a long time, Brothers, have you suffered the death of a mother; for a long time, the death of a father; for a long time, the death of a son; for a long time, the death of a daughter; for a long time, the death of brothers and sisters; for a long time, have you undergone the loss of your goods; for a long time have you been afflicted with disease. And because you have experienced the death of a mother, the death of brothers and sisters, the loss of goods, the pangs of disease, company of the undesired, you have truly shed more tears upon this long way -- hastening from birth to death, from death to birth -- than all the waters that are held in the four great seas.' (Anguttara Nikaya)Here the Buddha is describing the Suffering of continuous births and deaths in the world. He was interested in one simple thing; to show people the Way out of all this Suffering.
Why did the Buddha speak in this manner to His disciples? And why did He not make an attempt to solve the problems as to whether the world is eternal or not, whether it is finite or not? Such problems might be exciting and stimulating to those who have the curiosity. But in no way do these problems help a person to overcome Suffering. That is why He swept these problems aside as useless, for the knowledge of such things would not tend to one's well-being.
The Buddha, foresaw that to speak on things which were of no practical value, and which were lying beyond the power of comprehension, was a waste of time and energy. He foresaw that to advance hypotheses about such things only served to divert thoughts from their proper channel, hindering spiritual development.
Worldly knowledge and scientific research should be complemented by religious and spiritual values. Otherwise such worldly knowledge does not in any way contribute to one's progress in leading a pure, religious life. Man has come to the stage where his mind, fed by the instruments and fruits of technological advancements, has become obsessed with egoism, craving for power, and greed for material wealth. Without religious values, worldly knowledge and technological advancement can lead to man's downfall and destruction. They will only inflame man's greed which will take on new and terrifying dimensions. On the other hand, when worldly knowledge is harnessed for moral ends, it can bring maximum benefit and happiness for mankind.
'When I am gone, my Teaching shall be your Master and Guide.'
Three months before His passing away the Buddha addressed His disciples and said: 'I have delivered sermons to you during these forty-five years. You must learn them well and treasure them. You must practise them and teach them to others. This will be of great use for the welfare of the living and for the welfare of those who come after you'.
'My years are now full ripe; the life span left is short. I will soon have to leave you. You must be earnest. O monks, be mindful and of pure virtue! Whoever untiringly pursues the Teaching, will go beyond the cycle of birth and death and will man an end of Suffering.'
When Ananda asked the Buddha what would become of the Order after He pass away, the Buddha replied, 'What does the Order expect of me, Ananda? I have preached the Truth without any distinction; for in regard to the Truth, there is no clenched hand in the Teachings of the Buddha�‚. It may be, Ananda, that to some among you, the thought will come 'The Master's words will soon end; soon we will no longer have a master.' But do not think like this, Ananda. When I am gone, my Teaching and the disciplinary code shall be your Master.'
The Buddha further explained: 'If there is anyone who thinks, 'It is I who will lead the brotherhood', or 'The Order is dependent on me, it is I who should give instructions', the Buddha does not think that He should lead the order or that the Order is dependent on Him. I have reached the end of my days. Just as a worn-out cart can only be made to move with much additional care, so my body can be kept going only with much additional care. Therefore, Ananda, be a lamp and refuge unto yourselves. Look for no other refuge. Let the Truth be your lamp and your refuge. Seek no refuge elsewhere.'
At the age of eighty, on His birthday, He passed away without showing any worldly supernatural powers. He showed the real nature of component things even in His own life.
When the Buddha passed away into Nibbana, one of His disciples remarked, 'All must depart---all beings that have life must shed their compounded forms. Yes, even a Master such as He, a peerless being, powerful in Wisdom and Enlightenment, even He must pass away.'
The parting words of the Buddha:
'Appamadena Sampadetha Vaya Dhamma Sankhara'.
'Work diligently. Component things are impermanent.'