I am extremely happy to be given the opportunity to come and share with you the contribution Buddhism could make to better the well being of human society. Tonight we have come together to discuss the benefits of sincere sharing of good things we value in our society in general and particularly religion.
Authors Details: Lama Choedak
Those of us who believe in one or another religion have seen the benefits of religious practices if and when we practise them properly ourselves. We have also seen the danger and suffering which come out of direct misuse of religious beliefs, power and religious fanaticism. The benefit or harm caused by religion in everyday life is not in the merit or demerit of the religions. It is entirely dependent on the behaviours of the people who profess themselves to be religious. Since the problems of the world are created by human beings they can only be corrected by human beings, by properly following the fundamental principles of human values, taught and practised by wise men and women of the world. Let us not be in the illusion that there were only one or few such wise people who came as saviours of the world. We must credit ourselves and thank others for the good things we enjoy in life and be responsible for the bad things we experience.
According to Buddhism, Religion or “the Dharma” is no more than a raft or a path for people who wish to journey on it. If we have an accident on the road it is not the road’s fault and if we travel well, we do not thank the road. However if we stand in the middle of the road and tell other people that they do not know how to walk, that is not just an accident, it is sheer arrogance and ignorance. I have come here to share with you the Buddhist perspective and how its fundamental ideas and practices can benefit individuals and our society at large.
Buddhism and its teachings respects all other religions and in fact, in Buddhism, it is a transgression to speak ill of anybody or a group of people or their philosophical or religious ideas. Condemning other people or their religion is considered non-religious conduct and is an idle-talk which is one of the ten non-virtues deeds one must abandon. There is no devil outside other than one’s own inability to accept and respect other religions. There is no external god other than the kindness and compassion that can flow through us to other living beings. A mother dog who shows her kindness to her puppy is a much better example of compassion foe one to emulate than propagating teachings which discriminate against colour, race, religion or gender.
If one religion cannot tolerate another how can it teach to tolerate anything in this world? Religious intolerance and narrow-mindedness among Church and religious leaders have let down many of their adherents who call themselves “free thinkers”. These are not the benefits of religious practice but the failure to understand and practise religion. Over the years I have met many people who wish to be identified as “free thinkers” rather than belonging to any religious denomination. Many regard religion as that which narrows their thinking and limits their freedom to reason. Many modern thinkers, who have otherwise distanced themselves from strict religious dogma have become attracted to the Buddhist way of life and its powerful ideas, have regarded Buddhism as a way of life rather than a religion.
Many Australians I have known, who consider themselves as Buddhists have become interested in Buddhism and have adopted its non-pressured approach to life, mainly because they do not have to believe in things they have not examined and experienced themselves. They are taught to think for themselves rather than have a blind faith in something and are not even allowed to think of it logically. They are encouraged to find a safe way for themselves rather than accept the one and only ready-made highway.
There is no one highway to enlightenment, but there are different footsteps of past masters we can follow if we wish. Learn from every body and every circumstance and take what it means most to you, but let us not be over-ambitious and try to make a highway to lead everyone. This is how the seeds of religious fanaticism are planted.
Several years ago there was a big inter-religious conference in London which was represented by all major religions. Buddhism was represented by a Sri Lankan monk. The conference was held in a beautiful Church and most of those attending were Christians. All the speakers sat on the stage and the Sri Lankan monk who was the smallest in physical size was asked to speak first. The first remark he made was nothing but a few minutes of total silence and the people in the audience thought he was not going to say anything and the Master of the Ceremony acted rather anxiously. Then the monk smiled towards the Master of the ceremony and nodded as if he was going to say something after all and then he said: “I am sorry, Ladies and Gentlemen, there is no God”. Well, I am not going to repeat it here but such comments do raise questions as to what Buddhism is all about and the role of Buddha for Buddhists.
To be frank Buddha was a great critic of the idea of creation of the world by some supreme God-Head and the idea of the original sin and eternal heaven and hell. To the Buddha, most important thing was “now”, the present moment and how we go from here rather than what happened in the past and what might or will happen in the future. Past is gone and future is not yet due except what we are creating now. He did this not out of believing in some theory but examining it for himself through analysis and rationality. Buddha came up with four fundamental principles which he thought was universal to all human problems. Even to his most faithful disciples, the Buddha after his enlightenment, warned of the danger of “blind faith” and asked them not to believe everything what he said just because he taught them. He emphasized the importance of individuals to test and examine the authenticity of his teaching through personal experience, not through mere belief.
These four principles are called the Four Noble Truths.
1. The first is called the Truth of Suffering (Dukkha Satya).
2. The second truth is the truth of the origin of the suffering.
3. The truth of the path is the third noble truth. It is also the path known as “The Middle Way (Madyam marga).
4. If we have individuals who adopt this theory of the eight noble paths they will experience the fourth noble truth, the truth of the cessation of suffering.
Finally may the ills of humanity not defile the ever shining truth of the enlightened ones, like the lotus flower untainted by the soil in which it grows. Accept what you can now, for this cannot be repeated again. What you can not accept now, do not reject it straight away, for you might find it useful later on. Let there be awareness, compassion and tolerance among all living beings.