K. Sri Dhammananda
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Source-Nguồn: budsas.org, buddhanet.net, samanta.vn
Chapter 9 - Dhamma And Ourselves As Refuge
Why we take Refuge in the Buddha
Buddhists take refuge in the Buddha not out of fear of Him, but to gain inspiration and right understanding for their self-purification.
Buddhist do not take refuge in the Buddha with the belief that He is a god or son of god. The Buddha never claimed any divinity. He was the Enlightened One, the most Compassionate, Wise, and Holy One who ever lived in this world. Therefore, people take refuge in the Buddha as a Teacher or Master who has shown the real path of emancipation. They pay homage to Him to show their gratitude and respect, but they do not ask for material favors. Buddhists do not pray to the Buddha thinking that He is a god who will reward them or punish or curse them. They recite verses or some sutras not in the sense of supplication but as a means of recalling His great virtues and good qualities to get more inspiration and guidance for themselves and to develop the confidence to follow His Teachings. There are critics who condemn this attitude of taking refuge in the Buddha. They do not know the true meaning of the concept of taking refuge in and paying homage to a great religious Teacher. They have learned only about praying which is the only thing that some people do in the name of religion. When Buddhists seek refuge it means they accept the Buddha, Dhamma and the Sangha as the means by which they can eradicate all the causes of their fear and other mental disturbances. Many people, especially those with animistic beliefs, seek protection in certain objects around them which they believe are inhabited by spirits.
The Buddha advised against the futility of taking refuge in hills, woods, groves, trees and shrines when people are fear-stricken:
No such refuge is safe, no such refuge is Supreme. Not by resorting to such a refuge is one freed from all ill. He who has gone for refuge to the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha sees with right knowledge the Four Noble Truths -Sorrow, the cause of Sorrow, the transcending of Sorrow, and the Noble Eightfold Path which leads to the cessation of Sorrow. This indeed is secure refuge. By seeking such refuge one is released from all Sorrow. -- (Dhammapada 188-192)
In the Dhajagga Sutta, it is mentioned that by taking refuge in Sakra, the king of gods or any god, the followers would not be free from all their worldly problems and fears. The reason is, such gods are themselves not free from lust, hatred, illusion and fear, but the Buddha, Dhamma and the Sangha (i.e. the community who has attained perfection) are free from them. Only those who are free from unsatisfactoriness can show the way to lasting happiness.
Francis Story, a well known Buddhist scholar, gives his views on seeking refuge in the Buddha:
'I go for refuge to the Buddha. I seek the presence of the Exalted Teacher by whose compassion I may be guided through the torrents of Samsara, by whose serene countenance I may be uplifted from the mire of worldly thoughts and cravings, seeing there in the very assurance of Nibbanic Peace, which He himself attained. In sorrow and pain I turn to Him and in my happiness I seek His tranquil gaze. I lay before His Image not only flowers and incense, but also the burning fires of my restless heart, that they may be quenched and stilled, I lay down the burden of my pride and my selfhood, the heavy burden of my cares and aspirations, the weary load of this incessant birth and death.'
Sri Rama Chandra Bharati, an Indian poet, gives another meaningful explanation for taking refuge in the Buddha:
'I seek not thy refuge for the sake of gain,
Not fear of thee, nor for the love of fame,
Not as thou hailest from the solar race,
Not for the sake of gaining knowledge vast,
But drawn by the power of the boundless love,
And thy all-embracing peerless ken,
The vast Samsara's sea safe to cross,
I bend low, O lord, and become thy devotee.'
Some people say that since the Buddha was only a man, there is no meaning in taking refuge in Him. But they do not know that although the Buddha very clearly said that He was a man, he was no ordinary man like any of us. He was an extraordinary and incomparably holy person who possessed Supreme Enlightenment and great compassion toward every living being. He was a man freed from all human weaknesses, defilements and even from ordinary human emotions. Of Him it has been said, 'There is none so godless as the Buddha, and yet none so godlike.' In the Buddha is embodied all the great virtues, sacredness, wisdom and enlightenment.
Another question that people very often raise is this: 'If the Buddha is not a god, if He is not living in this world today, how can he bless people?' According to the Buddha, if people follow His advice by leading a religious life, they would certainly receive blessings. Blessing in a Buddhist sense means the joy we experience when we develop confidence and satisfaction. The Buddha once said, 'if anyone wishes to see me, he should look at my Teachings and practise them.' (Samyutta Nikaya) Those who understand His Teachings easily see the real nature of the Buddha reflected in themselves. The image of the Buddha they maintain in their minds is more real than the image they see on the altar, which is merely a symbolic representation. 'Those who live in accordance with the Dhamma (righteous way of life) will be protected by that very Dhamma.' (Thera Gatha) One who knows the real nature of existence and the fact of life through Dhamma will not have any fear and secure a harmonious way of life.
In other religions, the people worship their god by asking for favours to be granted to them. Buddhists do not worship the Buddha by asking for worldly favours, but they respect Him for His supreme achievement. When Buddhists respect the Buddha, they are indirectly elevating their own minds so that one day they also can get the same enlightenment to serve mankind if they aspire to become a Buddha.
Buddhists respect the Buddha as their Master. However, this respect does not imply an attachment to or a dependence on the Teacher. This kind of respect is in accordance with His Teaching which is as follows:
'Monks, even if a monk should take hold of the edge of my outer garment and should walk close behind me, step for step, yet if he should be covetous, strongly attracted by pleasures of the senses, malevolent in thought, of corrupt mind and purpose, of confused recollection, inattentive and not contemplative, scatter-brained, his sense-faculties uncontrolled, then he is far from me and I am far from him.'
'Monks, if the monk should be staying even a hundred miles away, yet he is not covetous, not strongly attracted by the pleasures of the senses, not malevolent in thought, not of corrupt mind and purpose, his collection firmly set, attentive, contemplative, his thoughts be one-pointed, restrained in his sense-faculties, then he is near me and I am near him.' (Samyutta Nikaya)
Dependence on others means a surrender of one's effortand self-confidence.
Buddhism is a gentle religion where equality, justice and peace reign supreme. To depend on others for salvation is negative, but to depend on oneself is positive. Dependence on others means surrendering one's intelligence and efforts.
Everything which has improved and uplifted humanity has been done by man himself. Man's improvement must come from hi own knowledge, understanding, effort and experience and not from heaven. Man should not be a slave even to the great forces of nature because even though he is crushed by them he remains superior by virtue of his understanding of them. Buddhism carries the Truth further: it shows that by means of understanding, man can also control his environment and circumstances. He can cease to be crushed by them and use their power to raise himself to great heights of spirituality and nobility.
Buddhism gives due credit to man's intelligence and effort for his achievements rather than to supernatural beings. True religion means faith in the good of man rather than faith in unknown forces. In that respect, Buddhism is not merely a religion, but a noble method to gain peace and eternal salvation through living a respectable way of life. From the very outset, Buddhism appeals to the cultured and the intellectual minds. Every cultured man in the world today respects the Buddha as a rational Teacher. The Buddha taught that what man needs for his happiness is not a religion with a mass of dogmas and theories but knowledge of the cosmic nature and its relationship to the law of cause and effect. Until this principle that life is merely an imperfect manifestation of nature is fully understood, no man can be fully emancipated.
The Buddha has given a new explanation of the universe. It is a new vision of eternal happiness, the achievement of perfection. The winning of the human goal in Buddhism is the permanent state beyond impermanency, the attainment of Nibbana beyond all the worlds of change, and the final deliverance form the miseries of existence.
In Buddhism, actions are merely termed as unskillful or unwholesome, not as sinful.
Buddhists do not regard man as sinful by nature of 'in rebellion against god'. Every human being is a person of great worth who has within himself a vast store of good as well as evil habits. The good in a person is always waiting for a suitable opportunity to flower and to ripen. Remember the saying, 'There is so much that is good in the worst of us and so much that is bad in the best of us.'
Buddhism teaches that everyone is responsible for his own good and bad deeds, and that each individual can mould his own destiny. Says the Buddha, 'These evil deeds were only done by you, not by your parents, friends, or relatives; and you yourself will reap the painful results.' (Dhammapada 165)
Man's sorrow is his own making and is not handed down by a family curse or an original sin of a mythical primeval ancestor. Buddhists do not accept the belief that this world is merely a place of trial and testing. This world can be made a place where we can attain the highest perfection. And perfection is synonymous with happiness. To the Buddha, man is not an experiment in life created by somebody which can be done away with when unwanted. If a sin could be forgiven, people might take advantage and commit more and more sins. The Buddhist has no reason to believe that the sinner can escape the consequences by the grace of an external power. If a man thrusts his hand into a furnace, his hand will be burnt, and all the prayer in the world will not remove the scars. The same is with the man who walks into the fires of evil action. The Buddha's approach to the problems of suffering is not imaginary, speculative or metaphysical, but essentially empirical.
According to Buddhism, there is no such thing as sin as explained by other religions. To the Buddhists, sin is unskillful or unwholesome action - Akusala Kamma, which creates Papa - the downfall of man. The wicked man is an ignorant man. He needs instruction more than he needs punishment and condemnation. He is not regarded as violating god's will or as a person who must beg for divine mercy and forgiveness. He needs only guidance for his enlightenment.
All that is necessary is for someone to help him use his reason to realize that he is responsible for his wrong action and that he must pay for the consequences. Therefore the belief in confession is foreign to Buddhism.
The purpose of the Buddha's appearance in this world is not to wash away the sins committed by human beings nor to punish or to destroy the wicked people, but to make the people understand how foolish it is to commit evil and to point out the reaction of such evil deeds. Consequently there are no commandments in Buddhism, since no one can command another for his spiritual upliftment. The Buddha has encouraged us to develop and use our understanding. He has shown us the path for our liberation from suffering. The precepts that we undertake to observe are not commandments: they are observed voluntarily. The Buddha's Teaching is thus: 'Please pay attention; take this advice and think it over. If you think it is suitable for you to practise my advice, then try to practise it. You can see the results through your own experience.' There is no religious value in blindly observing any commandment without proper conviction and understanding. However, we should not take advantage of the liberty given by the Buddha to do anything we like. It is our duty to behave as cultured, civilized and understanding human beings to lead a religious life. If we can understand this, commandments are not important. As an enlightened teacher, the Buddha advised us on how to lead a pure life without imposing commandments and using the fear of punishment.
Self confidence plays an important part in every aspect of man's life.
Knowing that no external sources, no faith or rituals can save him, the Buddhist feels the need to rely on his own efforts. He gains confidence through self-reliance. He realizes that the whole responsibility of his present life as well as his future life depends completely on himself alone. Each must seek salvation for himself. Achieving salvation can be compared to curing a disease: if one is ill, one must go to a doctor. The doctor diagnose the ailment and prescribes medicine. The medicine must be taken by the person himself. He cannot depute someone else to take the medicine for him. No one can be cured by simply admiring the medicine or just praising the doctor for his good prescription.
In order to be cured, he himself must faithfully follow the instructions given by the doctor with regard to the manner and frequency in taking his medicine, his daily diet and other relevant medical restraints. Likewise, a person must follow the precepts, instructions or advice given by the Buddha (who gives prescriptions for liberation)by controlling or subduing one's greed, hatred and ignorance. No one can find salvation by simply singing praises of the Buddha or by making offerings to Him. Neither can one find salvation by celebrating certain important occasions in honour of the Buddha. Buddhism is not a religion where people can attain salvation by mere prayer or begging to be saved. They must strive hard by controlling their selfish desires and emotions in order to gain salvation.
When a man has learned how to live as a real human being without disturbing others, he can live peacefully without any fear in his heart.
According to the Buddha, man himself is the maker of his own destiny. He has none to blame for his lot since he alone is responsible for his own life. He makes his own life for better or for worse.
The Buddha says: man creates everything. All our griefs, perils and misfortunes are of our own creation. We spring from no other source than our own imperfection of heart and mind. We are the results of our good and bad actions committed in the past under the influence of greed and delusion. And since we ourselves brought them into being, it is within our power to overcome bad effects and cultivate good natures.
The human mind, like that of an animal, is something governed by animal instinct. But unlike the animal mind, the human mind can be trained for higher values. If man's mind is not properly cultured, that uncultured mind creates a great deal of trouble in this world. Sometimes man's behavior is more harmful and more dangerous than animal behavior. Animals have no religious problems, no language problems, no political problems, no social and ethical problems, no colour-bar problems. They fight only for their food, shelter and sex. But, there are thousand of problems created by mankind. Their behavior is such that they would not be able to solve any of these problems without creating further problems. Man is reluctant to admit his weaknesses. He is not willing to shoulder his responsibilities. His attitude is always to blame others for his failure. If we become more responsible in our actions, we can maintain peace and happiness.
Is there any truth in man'sclaim that he should be given freedom to do things as he likes?
When we consider human freedom, it is very difficult to find out whether man is really free to do anything according to his own wishes. Man is bound by many conditions both external and internal; he is asked to obey the laws that are imposed on him by the government; he is bound to follow certain religious principles; he is required to co-operate with the moral and social conditions of the society in which he lives; he is compelled to follow certain national and family customs and traditions. In modern society, he in inclined to disagree with life; he is expected to conform by adapting himself to the modern way of life. he is bound to co-operate with natural laws and cosmic energy, because he is also part of the same energy. He is subjected to the weather and climatic conditions of the region. Not only does he have to pay attention to his life or to physical elements, but he has also to make up his mind to control his own emotions. In other words, he has no freedom to think freely because he is overwhelmed by new thoughts which may contradict or do away with his previous thoughts and convictions. At the same time, he may believe that he has to obey and work according to the will of god, and not follow his own free-will.
Taking into consideration all the above changing conditions to which man is bound, we can ask 'Is there any truth in man's claim that he should be given freedom to do things as he likes?'
Why does man have his hands tied so firmly? The reason is that there are various bad elements within man. These elements are dangerous and harmful to all living creatures. For the past few thousand years, all religions have been trying to tame this unreliable attitude of man and to teach him how to live a noble life. But it is most unfortunate that man is still not ready to be trustworthy, however good he may appear to be.
Man still continues to harbor all these evil elements within himself. These evil elements are not introduced or influenced by external sources but are created by man himself. If these evil forces are man-made, then man himself must work hard to get rid of them after realizing their danger. Unfortunately the majority of men are cruel, cunning, wicked, ungrateful, unreliable, unscrupulous. If man is allowed to live according to his own free-will without moderation and restraint, he would most definitely violate the peace and happiness of innocent people. His behavior would probably be much worse than that of dangerous living beings. Religion is required to train him to lead a respectable life and to gain peace and happiness here and hereafter.
Another obstacle confronting religious life and spiritual progress is racial arrogance. The Buddha advised His followers not to bring forward any racial issue when they come to practise religion. Buddhists are taught to sink their own racial origin and caste or class distinction. People of all religions should not discriminate against any groups of people by bringing forward their personal traditional way of life. They should treat everyone equally, especially in the religious field. Unfortunately, followers of different religions create more discriminations and hostility towards other religious groups when performing their religious activities.
While working others, they should not disturb their feelings because of their so-called traditions and customs. They can follow traditions and customs that are in keeping with the religious principles and moral codes of their religions.
Racial arrogance is a great hindrance to religion and spiritual progress. The Buddha once used the simile of ocean water to illustrate the harmony which can be experienced by people who have learnt to cast aside their racial arrogance: Different rivers have different names. The water of the individual rivers all flow into the ocean and become ocean water. In a similar manner, all those who have come from different communities and different castes, must forget their differences and think of themselves only as human beings.
'Protecting oneself one protects others'
'Protecting others one protects oneself.'
Once the Blessed One told His monks the following story:
'There was once a pair of jugglers who did their acrobatic feats on a bamboo pole. One day the master said to his apprentice: 'Now get on my shoulders and climb up the bamboo pole.' When the apprentice had done so, the master said: 'Now protect me well and I shall protect you. By watching each other in that way, we shall be able to show our skill, we shall make a good profit and you can get down safely from the bamboo pole.' But the apprentice said: 'Not so, master. You! O Master, should protect yourself, and I too shall protect myself. Thus self-protected and self-guarded we shall safely do our feats."
'This is the right way,' said the Blessed One and spoke further as follows:
'It is just as the apprentice said: 'I shall protect myself,' in that way the Foundation of Mindfulness should be practised. 'I shall protect others,' in that way the Foundation of Mindfulness should be practised. Protecting oneself one protects others; protecting others one protects oneself.
'And how does one, in protecting oneself, protect others? By the repeated and frequent practice of meditation.
'And how does one, by protecting others, protect oneself? By patience and forbearance, by a non-violent and harmless life, by loving kindness and compassion.' (Satipatthana, Samyutta, No:19)
'Protecting oneself one protects others'
'Protecting others one protects oneself'
These two sentences supplement each other and should not be taken (or quoted) separately.
Nowadays, when social service is so greatly stressed, people may for instance, be tempted to quote, in support of their ideas, only the second sentence. But any such one-sided quotation would misrepresent the Buddha's statement. It has to be remembered that, in our story the Buddha expressly approved the words of the apprentice, which is that one has first to carefully watch one's own steps if one wishes to protect others from harm. He who is sunk in the mire himself cannot help others out of it. In that sense, self-protection is not selfish protection. It is the cultivation of self-control, and ethical and spiritual self-development.
Protecting oneself one protects others?the truth of this statement begins at a very simple and practical level. At the material level, this truth is so self-evident that we need not say more than a few words about it. It is obvious that the protection of our own health will go far in protecting the health of our closer or wider environment, especially where contagious diseases are concerned. Caution and circumspection in all our doings and movements will protect others from harm that may come to them through our carelessness and negligence. By careful driving, abstention from alcohol, by self-restraint in situations that might lead to violence?in all these and many other ways we shall protect others by protecting ourselves.
We come now to the ethical level of that truth. Moral self-protection will safeguard others, individual and society, against our own unrestrained passions and selfish impulses. If we permit the Three Roots of everything evil, Greed, Hate and Delusion, to take a firm hold in our hearts, then that which grows from those evil roots will spread around like the jungle creeper which suffocates and kills the healthy and noble growth. But if we protect ourselves against these Three Roots of Evil, fellow beings too will be safe from our reckless greed for possession and power, from our unrestrained lust and sensuality, from our envy and jealousy. They will be safe from the disruptive, or even destructive and murderous, consequences of our hate and enmity, from the outburst of our anger, from our spreading an atmosphere of antagonism and quarrelsomeness which may make life unbearable for those around us. But the harmful effects of our greed and hate on others are not limited to cases when they become the passive objects or victims of our hate, or their possession the object of our greed. Greed and hate have an infectious power, which can multiply the evil effects. If we ourselves think of nothing else than to crave and grasp, to acquire and possess, to hold and cling, then we may rouse or strengthen these possessive instincts in others too. Our bad example may become the standard of behavior of our environment for instance among our own children, our colleagues, and so on. Our own conduct may induce others to join us in the common satisfaction of rapacious desires; or we may arouse feelings of resentment and competitiveness in others who wish to beat us in the race. If we are full of sensuality we may kindle the fire of lust in others. Our own hate may cause the hate and vengeance of others. It may also happen that we ally ourselves with others or instigate them to common acts of hate and enmity.
Oneself, indeed, is one's savior, for what other savior would there be?
With oneself well controlled the problem of looking for external savior is solved, -- (Dhammapada 166)
As the Buddha was about to pass away, His disciples came from everywhere to be near Him. While the other disciples were constantly at His side and in deep sorrow over the expected loss of their Master, a monk named Attadatta went into his cell and practised meditation. The other monks, thinking that he was unconcerned about the welfare of the Buddha, were upset and reported the matter to Him. The monk, however, addressed the Buddha thus, 'Lord as the Blessed One would be passing away soon, I thought the best way to honour the Blessed One would be by attaining Arahantship during the lifetime of the Blessed One itself.' The Buddha was pleased by his attitude and his conduct and said that one's spiritual welfare should not be abandoned for the sake of others.
In this story is illustrated one of the most important aspects of Buddhism. A person must constantly be on the alert to seek his own deliverance from Samsara, and his 'salvation' must be brought about by the individual himself. He cannot look to any external force or agency to help him to attain Nibbana.
People who do not understand Buddhism criticize this concept and say that Buddhism is a selfish religion which only talks about the concern for one's own freedom from pain and sorrow. This is not true at all. The Buddha states clearly that one should work ceaselessly for the spiritual and material welfare of all beings, while at the same time diligently pursuing one's own goal of attaining Nibbana. Selfless service is highly commended by the Buddha.
Again, people who do not understand Buddhism may ask, 'It may be all right for the fortunate human beings, in full command of their mental powers, to seek Nibbana by their own efforts. But what about those who are mentally and physically or even materially handicapped? How can they be self-reliant? Do they not need the help of some external force, some god or deva to assist them?
The answer to this is that Buddhists do not believe that the final release must necessarily take place in one life time. The process can take a long time, over the period of many births. One has to apply oneself, to the best of one's ability, and slowly develop the powers of self reliance. Therefore, even those who are handicapped mentally, spiritually and materially must make an effort, however small, to begin the process of deliverance.
Once the wheels are set in motion, the individual slowly trains himself to improve his powers of self-reliance. The tiny acorn will one day grow into a mighty oak, but not overnight. Patience is an essential ingredient in this difficult process.
For example, we know from experience how many parents do everything in their power to bring up their children according to the parents' hopes and aspirations. And yet when these children grow up, they develop in their own way, not necessarily the way the parents wanted them to be. In Buddhism, we believe that while others can exert an influence on someone's life, the individual will in the end create his own kamma and be responsible for his own actions. No human being or deva can, in the final analysis, direct or control an individual's attainment of 'the ultimate salvation'. This is the meaning of self-reliance.
This does not mean that Buddhism teaches one to be selfish. In Buddhism, when someone seeks, by his own effort, to attain Nibbana, he is determined not to kill, steal, tell lies, lust after others, or lose the control of his senses through intoxication. When he controls himself thus he automatically contributes to the happiness of others. So is not this so-called 'selfishness' a good thing for the general welfare of others?
On a more mundane level it has been asked how the lower forms of life can extricate themselves from a mere meaningless round of existence. Surely in that helpless state some benevolent external force is necessary to pull the unfortunate being from the quicksand. To answer this question we must refer to our knowledge of the evolution theory. It is clearly stated that life begin in very primitive forms?no more than a single cell floating in the water. Over millions of years these basic life forms evolved and became more complex, more intelligent. It is at this more intelligent level that life forms are capable of organization, independent thought, conceptualization and so on.
When Buddhists talk about the ability to save oneself, they are referring to life forms at this higher level of mental development. In the earlier stages of evolution kammic and mental forces remain dormant, but over countless rebirths, a being raises itself to the level of independent thought and becomes capable of rational rather than instinctive behavior. It is at this state that the being becomes aware of the meaninglessness of undergoing endless rebirths with its natural concomitants of pain and sorrow. It is then that the being is capable of making its determination to end rebirth and seek happiness by gaining enlightenment and Nibbana. With this high level of intelligence, the individual is indeed capable of self-improvement and self-development.
We all know human beings are born with very varying levels of intelligence and powers of reasoning. Some are born as geniuses, while at the other end of the spectrum, others are born with very low intelligence. Yet every being has some ability to distinguish between choices or options, especially when they concern survival. If we extend this fact of survival even to the animal world we can distinguish between higher and lower animals, with this same ability (in varying degrees of course) to make choices for the sake of survival.
Hence, even a lower form of life has the potential to create a good kamma, however limited its scope. With the diligent application of this and the gradual increase of good kamma a being can raise itself to higher levels of existence and understanding.
To look at this problem from another angle, we can consider one of the earliest stories that have been told to show how the Buddha-to-be first made the initial decision to strive for Enlightenment. A great many rebirths before the Buddha was born as Siddharta, he was born as an ordinary man.
One day while traveling in a boat with his mother, a great storm arose and the boat capsized, throwing the occupants into the angry sea. With no thought for his personal safety, the future Buddha carried his mother on his back and struggled to swim to dry land. But so great was the expanse of water ahead of him that he did not know the best route to safety. When he was in this dilemma, not knowing which way to turn, his bravery was noticed by one of the devas. This deva could not physically come to his aid, but he was able to make the future Buddha know the best route to take. The young man listened to the deva and both he and his mother were saved. There and then he made a firm determination not to rest until he had finally gained Enlightenment.
This story illustrates the fact that Buddhists can and do seek the help of devas in their daily life. A deva is a being who by virtue of having acquired great merit (like the king of the devas) is born with the power to help other beings. But this power is limited to material and physical things. In our daily existence, we can seek help of the devas (when misfortune strikes, when we need to be comforted, when we are sick or afraid, and so on).
The fact that we seek the aid of these devas means that we are still tied to the material world. We must accept the fact that by being born we are subject to physical desires and needs. And it is not wrong to satisfy these needs on a limited scale. When the Buddha advocated the Middle Path, He said that we should neither indulge ourselves in luxury nor completely deny ourselves the basic necessities of life.
However, we should not stop at that. While we accept the conditions of our birth, we must also make every effort, by following the Noble Eightfold Path, to reach a level of development where we realize that attachment to the material world creates only pain and sorrow.
As we develop our understanding over countless births, we crave less and less for the pleasures of the senses. It is at the stage that we become truly self-reliant. At this stage, the devas cannot help us anymore, because we are not seeking to satisfy our material needs.
A Buddhist who really understands the fleeting nature of the world practises detachment from material goods. He is not unduly attached to worldly goods. Therefore he shares these goods freely with those who are more unfortunate than he is -- he practises generosity. In this way again a Buddhist contributes to the welfare of others.
When the Buddha gained Enlightenment as a result of His own efforts, He did not selfishly keep this knowledge to Himself. Rather, He spent no less than forty five years imparting His knowledge not only to men and women but even to the devas. This is Buddhism's supreme example of selflessness and concern for the well-being of all living things.
It is often said that the Buddha helped devotees who were in trouble not through the performance of miracles such as restoring the dead to life and so on, but through His acts of wisdom and compassion.
In one instance, a woman named Kisa Gotami went to seek the help of the Buddha in restoring her dead child to life. Knowing that He could not reason with her as she was so distressed and overwhelmed with grief, the Buddha told her that she should first obtain a handful of mustard seeds from a person who had never lost a dear one through death. The distracted woman ran from house to house and while everyone was only too willing to give her the mustard seeds, no one could honestly say that he or she had not lost a dear one through death. Slowly, Kisa Gotami came to the realization that death is a natural occurrence to be experienced by any being that is born. Filled with this realization she returned to the Buddha and thanked Him for showing her the truth about death.
Now, the point here is that the Buddha was more concerned with the woman's understanding about the nature of life than giving her temporary relief by restoring her child to life -- the child would have grown old and still have died. With her greater realization Kisa Gotami was able not only to come to terms with the phenomenon of death but also to learn about the cause of sorrow through attachment. She was able to realize that attachment causes sorrow, that when attachment is destroyed, then sorrow is also destroyed.
Therefore in Buddhism, a person can seek the help of external agencies (like devas) in the pursuit of temporal happiness, but in the later stages of development when attachment to the worldly conditions ceases, there begins the path towards renunciation and enlightenment for which one must stand alone. When a man seeks to gain liberation, to break away from the endless cycle of birth and death, to gain realization and enlightenment, he can only do this by his own efforts, by his own concentrated will power.
Buddhism gives great dignity to man. It is the only religion which states that a human being has the power to help and free himself. In the later stages of his development, he is not at the mercy of any external force or agency which he must constantly please by worshipping or offering sacrifices.