Buddhism 101 - Be a lamp upon yourself
Whats so Wonderful about Buddhism?
Some Outstanding Features of Buddhism
A Perfect Example
The historical Buddha is an embodiment of all the virtues that He preached. He translated all His words into action. He was tireless in His spreading of the Truth and was the perfect model example. At no time did He ever show any human weakness or base passion. His qualities of Morality, Wisdom and Compassion are the most perfect the world has ever known.
You Can Become Perfect
The Buddha represents the highest peak of spiritual cultivation possible. He taught that all could attain true perfection. No other founder of a religion has ever said that its followers too have the same chance to gain the same experience of peace, happiness and salvation as Him. But the Buddha taught that anyone could attain the same bliss of supreme Enlightenment if one was to practice as He did.
If the definition of "religion" is the unquestionable belief and worship in a supreme entity, with the obligation to carry out rites and rituals, Buddhism is definitely not a religion. It is beyond all conventional definitions of religion- for Buddhism encourages intelligent doubting and believes in the potential supremacy of the individual. Rites and rituals are seen as ceremonies that help inspire us- they do not give us Wisdom and True Happiness.
As the Buddhas concern is the True Happiness of all beings, His teachings can be practiced in society or seclusion, by all of every race and belief. It is totally unbiased and truly universal.
Purification of the Mind
Buddhism is the only religion that encourages not just the ceasing of all evil and the doing of all good- but also teaches the purification of ones Mind, which is the root of all good and evil, and the cause of both suffering and True Happiness.
When the Buddha was meditating to gain Enlightenment, no gods came to reveal any hidden secrets of spiritual power. No one gave Him any religious laws to teach. He said, "I never had any teacher or divinity to teach me or tell me how to gain Enlightenment. I achieved supreme Wisdom by my own effort, energy, knowledge and purity." Likewise, we can attain this highest goal through perseverance in improving ourselves.
Freedom of Thought
From the intellectual and philosophical content of Buddhism rose the freedom of thought and inquiry unparalleled by any other established world religion or philosophy. Though the Buddha urges us to consider His teachings, there is no obligation or compulsion whatsoever to believe or accept any Buddhist doctrine.
Education of the Truth
The Buddha is the greatest teacher of the Truth (reality of all things). Buddhism is the perfect education about us and the Universe we live in. It is the teaching beyond worldly knowledge- of the highest Wisdom that leads to the realisation of True Happiness. It is interesting to note that the first university established in the world is the great Nalanda Buddhist University in India, which flourished from the second to the ninth century. It was opened to students of Buddhism all over the world and was the school of many outstanding Buddhist scholars and sages.
The Buddha was an unequalled teacher. He freely and actively invited both His followers and those of other beliefs to challenge His teachings from every possible angle till there was no room for any kind of doubt. True to His injunctions, His followers have debated about His doctrine and even founded different schools of Buddhism according to their understanding without violence or bloodshed. The Buddha knew that if one really believed that one knows the Truth, one should not be afraid to have it challenged, as the Truth will always win. His replies to numerous questions enriched the Buddhist doctrine into a vast religious field. We are today able to answer any questions about Buddhism, simply by referring to the Buddhas explanations.
No Blind Faith
The Buddha did not promise heavenly bliss or reward to those who called themselves His followers. Nor did He promise salvation to those who had faith in Him. To Him, religion is not a bargain but a noble way of life to gain Enlightenment and salvation for oneself and others. He did not want followers who believed Him blindly; He wants us to think and understand for ourselves.
The Buddha urges all to come forth to discover more about Buddhism and not simply believe in it. He advised choosing a proper religion by considering and investigating it in various ways, without accepting anything through emotion or blind faith. This is why Buddhism is called the religion of analysis. In it is the scientific logical analysis of mind and matter which modern thinkers appreciate.
From Experience and Reason to Faith
Buddhism is the only religion, which was explained to Mankind through the experience, realisation, Wisdom and Enlightenment of the founder (the Buddha) without introducing it as a message by a god. It starts from the root of known experience and not blind faith. Human problems must be understood by one through human experience and solved by developing great humane qualities. One should find the solution through the purification and development of the human Mind, and not through outsiders. That is why the Buddha never introduced Himself as a supernatural saviour. He did not acknowledge that there is such a saviour. According to Him, we are our own saviours.
The Whole Truth
The Buddha encourages us to face the facts of life courageously without acting hypocritically and to accept the Truth whatever and whenever it may be. All that He taught were timeless practical truths leading us towards True Happiness.
Buddhism never found the need to give new interpretations to its teachings. Newly verified scientific discoveries never contradict the teachings of the Buddha as the method and teachings of Buddhism are scientific. Buddhisms principles can be maintained under any circumstances without changing its basic ideas. The understanding capacity of the value of these religious ideas may diminish and disappear from Mans Mind. And Man may experience the difficulty of practicing these principles in a corrupted society. However, the value of the Buddhas teaching will be appreciated by every cultured and understanding person at any time. As complimented by Albert Einstein (Physicist and Mathematician), winner of the Nobel Prize, who is popularly regarded as the most outstanding scientist of the twentieth century,
"The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend a personal God and avoid dogmas and theology. Covering both the natural and the spiritual, it should be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual and a meaningful unity. Buddhism answers this description... If there is any religion that would cope with modern scientific needs, it would be Buddhism."
As complimented by Bertrand Russell (Mathematician, Philosopher, Author and Social Critic), winner of the Nobel Prize, who is popularly regarded as the most outstanding philosopher of the twentieth century,
"Of the great religions of history, I prefer Buddhism
Buddhism is a combination of both speculative and scientific philosophy. It advocates the Scientific Method and pursues that to a finality that may be called Rationalistic. In it are to be found answers to such questions of interest as What is mind and matter? Of them, which is of greater importance? Is the Universe moving towards a goal? What is Mans position? Is there living that is noble? It takes up where science cannot lead because of the limitations of the latters instruments. Its conquests are those of the Mind."
In the course of their work many psychologists have found, as the pioneering work of Dr. C.G. Jung (founder of the Jungian school of psychology- a pioneer of modern psychology) has shown, we are closer to the Buddha. To read a little Buddhism is to realise that the Buddhists knew, more than two thousand five hundred years ago, far more about our modern problems of psychology than they have yet been given credit for. They studied these problems long ago, and found the answers too. As complimented by Jung,
"As a student of comparative religions, I believe that Buddhism is the most perfect one the world has seen. The philosophy of the theory of evolution and the law of Karma are far superior to any other creed
It was neither the history of religion nor the study of philosophy that first drew me to the world of Buddhist thought but my professional interest as a doctor. My task was to treat psychic suffering and it was this that impelled me to become acquainted with the views and methods of that great teacher of humanity (the Buddha), whose principal theme was the chain of suffering, old age, sickness and death."
The Buddha is a major historical figure who promoted the rise of rational faith against the superstitions of religion. He emancipated man from the thralldom of the priests, and was the first to show the way to freedom from hypocrisy and religious dictatorship. Buddhism is a religion that uses reason and no element of fear to coerce anyone in any way to believe in it.
As the Buddhas Compassion is universal, He sees all creatures great and small, from insects to beasts, as equal ultimately, each with the same rights for happiness as Humankind.
There is no such thing as a just war in Buddhism. The Buddha taught that "the victor breeds hatred and the defeated lives in misery. He who renounces both victory and defeat is happy and peaceful." Not only did the Buddha teach non-violence and peace, He was probably the first and only religious teacher who went to the battlefield to prevent the outbreak of a war.
The Buddha was among the first to speak against the caste system on individual rights and the equality of all human beings despite differences in social standing, race and religion. He also encouraged the spirit of social co-operation and active participation in society at all levels. According to the Buddha, the only classification of human beings is based on the quality of their moral conduct. He Buddha said:
"Go into all lands and preach this teaching. Tell them that the poor and the lowly, the rich and the high are all one and that all castes unite in this religion as do the rivers in the sea"
The Buddha, seeing the two sexes as ultimately equal in rights, was the first religious teacher who gave women full freedom to participate in the religious life. His move to allow women to enter the Sangha (Buddhist order of monks and nuns) was extremely radical in His times.
The Buddha was the first to advocate the spirit of consultation and the democratic process. In the Sangha (Order of monks and nuns) community, each member has individual rights to decide on matters of general concern. When a serious question arose, the issues are put forth before and discussed in a manner similar to todays democratic parliamentary system
The Buddha condemned the caste system, recognised the equality of all people and spoke on the need to improve socio-economical conditions and recognised the importance of a more equitable distribution of wealth among the rich and the poor through social co-operation and active participation in society.
Buddhism strongly encouraged care and respect for the ecological environment as He clearly saw the close interdependence between man and nature.
No Sacrificial Rites
The Buddha disapproved of animal sacrifice as He saw it cruel and unfair for anyone to destroy any living being for ones selfish "benefit".
No Flowery Display of Miracles
To the Buddha, miracles are but manifestations of phenomena not understood by the common man. They are not seen as demonstrations of Enlightenment or Wisdom as supernatural powers can be mastered by anybody. The supernatural is seen as natural phenomena not understood by the unenlightened. Miracles are seen as by-products of spiritual development- of minor importance and relevance to the real task of spiritual development itself. Though the Buddha has full mastery of psychic powers, He uses them only out of Compassion and skillful means to enlighten others. He never used His powers to win followers through blind faith and dependency in miracles. He taught that the highest miracle is the conversion of an ignorant person to a wise one.
No Political Abuse
The Buddha was from a warrior caste and was brought into association with kings, princes and ministers. But He never resorted to the influence of political power to introduce His Teaching. Nor did He allow His Teaching to be misused for gaining political power. However, He urged all kings to be morally strong, teaching that a country should not be ruled by Greed but with Compassion and consideration for the people.
There is no concept of "unforgivable sin" in Buddhism. The Buddha said that all deeds are either skillful or unskillful due to the presence or absence of Wisdom respectively. There is always hope as long as one recognises ones mistakes and changes for the better.
No Stubborn Exclusivity
The Buddha taught that if any religion has the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, it may be regarded as a proper religion. This is because a truly helpful religion must lead to the total eradication of suffering (as in the Four Noble Truths), showing clearly a rational path towards True Happiness (as in the Noble Eightfold Path in Buddhism).
Harmonious Missionary Work
An outstanding example of the qualities and approach of a Buddhist missionary is Emperor Asoka, who sent Buddhist missionaries to many parts of the Asian and Western world to introduce the Buddhas message of peace. One of his scripts engraved in stone on the Asoka Pillars, which still stands today in India says,
"One should not honour only ones religion and condemn the religion of others, but one should honour others religion for this or that reason. In so doing, one helps ones own religion to grow and renders service to the religions of others too. In acting otherwise, one digs the grave of ones own religion and also does harm to other religions."
Holy wars, crusades, inquisitions and religious discrimination do not mar the annals of Buddhist history. Buddhist missionaries have no need or desire to convert those who already have a proper religion to practice. Buddhists are happy to see the progress of other religions so long as they help people to lead a religious way of life according to their faith and enjoy peace, harmony and true understanding. However, the Buddha also urged us to share the Truth with those who might be interested in it:
"Go forth, O Bhikkhus (monks), for the good of the many, for the happiness of the many, out of Compassion for the world, for the good, benefit and the happiness of gods and men... Let not two go by one way. Preach, O Bhikkhus, the Dharma, excellent in the beginning, excellent in the middle, excellent in the end, both in spirit and in the letter. Proclaim the Holy Life altogether perfect and pure."
The Worthiest Goal
Attainment of Buddhahood, or the achievement of True Happiness for oneself and others is the most difficult yet most worthwhile thing to do. Because practicing Buddhism means following the Noble Eightfold Path (or the Middle Way), Buddhists never have to go into any form of extremism.
Complete Overview of Humankind and Religion
The Buddha explained rationally and in detail on how all other religious beliefs evolved though history with the changes in the thinking of Humankind. He also gave us a comprehensive overview of the effects of religion on Humankind.
Complete Path Towards True Happiness
The Buddhas teachings form a complete colossal inter-linking syllabus, which covers every timeless aspect of life. The ancient collection of Buddhist Scriptures was said to pile up to "the height of seven elephants". The Buddha expounded for 45 years on all that was necessary to eradicate suffering and attain True Happiness. He asked His assembly of thousands of disciples thrice, on whether they had any remaining doubts before His passing away. There were none.
Happiness in This Life
Buddhism is not a wholly otherworldly religion. Though practicing Buddhism in this life has positive effects that extend beyond this life, much of the direct practical fruits of our practice can also be seen in this very life.
Everything is Open
According to the Buddha, the Truth is an open thing for all to discover for themselves. When we study the life and teachings of the Buddha, we can see that everything is open to everybody. While there are certain advanced teachings that require specific guidance of experienced teachers, there are no secrets in Buddhism.
Goodwill and Understanding
The Buddhas message of goodwill and understanding to all beings is a universal message. The world today needs this noble message more than ever before in the history of Humankind.
Source: Phor Kark See web page, http://www.kmspks.org
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last revised: 30-06-2004