Wednesday, March 2, 2011


"Buddhism is essentially a philosophy of equal opportunity and common responsibility. It is dedicated to releasing mankind from the illusions which they have created for themselves and by which they have gradually become obsessed. Buddhism does not require the immediate attainment of ultimates but invites its followers to attempt moderation (middle path) of those extreme attitudes which are the causes of personal and collective disasters." - Manly P. Hall.

I am a practising Buddhist. Let me explain. When I say that I am a practising Buddhist, that is not the exact same thing as saying I am a Buddhist as such. I do not practise any religion in any exclusive or dogmatic sense. I do, however, draw from, and try to practise, the spiritual and moral essence of nearly all religions, sensibly interpreted. For as long as I live, I will always be practising Buddhism or something just as noble.

You see, being a Buddhist is something one becomes … over time. A person is not “converted” to Bud
dhism. When you follow the Buddha’s teachings, sincerely and diligently, to the best of your ability, you are “converted” … that is, gradually transformed into a new and better person. I say that with no sense of superiority or self-righteousness. It can happen to people even if they follow no religion at all. Maybe it happens more often that way, I don't know. It's an interesting thought.

Another thing. Buddhists don’t “believe”. They know (well, some things at least) and they try to understand. People ordinarily believe when they don't know or understand something. Buddha said, "Do not believe, for if you believe, you will never know. If you really want to know, don't believe." The good news is that there is no need to believe anything ... and nothing to believe ... in Buddhism. Phew! What a relief!

Please listen to the late Ven. Dr K Sri Dhammananda:

So, forget about belief-systems. Beliefs are for "spiritual cripples" and escapists ... for those who can’t, or won’t, think for themselves. Beliefs, by their very nature, take the form of prejudices or biases of various kinds and, as Krishnamurti used to point out, beliefs dissipate energy which is otherwise needed (in his words) to "follow the unfolding of the fact, the 'what is'" .. that is, to remain choicelessly aware at all times. Buddha Shakyamuni referred to beliefs as being in the nature of thought coverings or veils (āvarnas). In other words, beliefs are barriers to truth and realization. The Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh, that much-loved Vietnamese Zen master, has said, "Do not be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones. Buddhist systems of thought are guiding means; they are not absolute truth." Buddhism offers "teachings", which are to be understood and then practised ... but NOT believed. So, choose a religion or philosophy that doesn’t require you to believe ... or disbelieve ... anything. Life is truth, and life is forever open-ended.

I am sad to say that most of the religious bigots I have known in my 56 years of life have been so-called “Bible-believing Christians”. I guess it comes from believing things such as, “Jesus is the only way to God”, “If Christianity is right, all other religions are wrong”, “God has spoken His final word in Jesus Christ”, and so on. Yes, I know, Muslims assert that God has spoken His final word in Muhammad
. So they must be right, eh? Forget it. Don't even go there. If people are rewarded for believing that sort of thing, then I wouldn't worship such a god anyway.

Bigotry and Buddhism are not supposed to go together, but I have encountered a number of bigoted Buddhists. Generally, these people do not assert any sense of superiority over Christians or followers of other religions or the non-religious, but quite a number of them not only think that their particular form of Buddhism is more correct than that of others, they also make snide remarks about those other forms of Buddhist practice.

At the risk of oversimplification, there are two main streams, branches or “schools” of Buddhism – Theravāda (literally, "the Way [or Teaching] of the Elders" or "the Ancient Teaching"), being the oldest surviving Buddhist school, and Mahāyāna (literally, the "Great Vehicle"), of which there are many kinds. In addition, there are a number of esoteric schools of Buddhism (notably Tibetan and Japanese), some or all of which are regarded, at least by some commentators, as being part of the Mahāyāna school, and by others as forming a separate third stream or branch. That is sufficient for present purposes.

Now, there is little, if any, supernaturalism or superstition in Theravāda Buddhism which, for the most part, is a system of mental cultivation as opposed to a religion per se. (For me, that is a great plus, for I am persuaded by both science and philosophy that there is only one order or level of reality.) However, the same cannot be said for most of the Mahāyāna school or schools.

That is not to say that one stream is more authentic than the other. Each is regarded by experts as being a legitimate and authentic response to the inspiration of the Shakyamuni Buddha. Each affirms that a Buddhist is someone who takes refuge in the Triple Gem and follows the Five Precepts diligently to the best of their ability. That’s about all they have in common.

I have been appalled to hear from some Mahāyāna or esoteric Buddhists that Theravāda Buddhists are only concerned with their own welfare and enlightenment and not that of others, whereas they (Mahāyāna or esoteric Buddhists) are rightly concerned with doing good deeds for others ... which will, just coincidentally, of course, result in their own individual “sanctification” ...

Ugh! Wrong! Learn some Buddhism, pleeaase! ... "When the wrong person [eg those who act from the wrong motive or otherwise selfishly] uses the right means, the right means work in the wrong way": The Secret of the Golden Flower. Yes, I know, that's Buddhist-Taoist. Well, the Buddha put "Right Motive" [aka "Right Intention"] near the very beginning of his Noble Eightfold Path. Enough.

Let it be known, once and for all, that the essence of Theravāda Buddhism - the spiritual philosophy of millions of people in Southeast Asia - is that, in repudiating the values of the world, we become mediators of the Buddha-power for others and "saving" instruments for the world at large. Any suggestion or intimation that Theravāda Buddhists are only concerned with their own welfare and enlightenment is both unfair and untrue.

Equally, I have been appalled to hear from a few Theravāda Buddhists that Mahāyāna Buddhism is inauthentic, or at least not as “good” as Theravāda  Buddhism, because it (Mahāyāna) is not the oldest form of Buddhist teaching. The truth is that both are as authentic … or inauthentic … as the other.

Despite that, it is the case that a number of prominent Theravāda Buddhists have displayed virtual contempt for what they see as the "superstition" of Mahāyāna Buddhism. For example, the late Ven. Buddhadasa Bhikkhu (pictured left), who was perhaps the 20th  century's leading interpreter of, and apologist for, Theravāda Buddhism, echoed the views of many Theravāda Buddhists when he referred to such Mahāyāna practices as the lighting of candles and the offering of flowers and fruit at the altar of the Buddha as "Buddhism for thumbsucking kids." Strong stuff.

I draw from all "schools" of Buddhism ... as well as from many other religious and philosophical traditions as well ... for NO ONE has a monopoly on Truth. Indeed, even the word "monopoly" is wrong, because it implies ownership ... and NO ONE can own Truth. Truth just is.

A “good” Buddhist rejects any posture which even hints at exclusivism or superiority. Dogmatism has no place in Buddhism ... or in any "true" religion or philosophy of life.





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