In the first place, these two doctrines explain everything in life
which is other wise inexplicable. They explain the seeming injustices with which life
abounds, and which no earthly power can remedy. They explain, too, the apparent futility
and lack of a satisfactory pattern in the individual human life which, taken as one life
out of a measureless eternity is obviously quite pointless, full of unresolved problems
and incomplete designs. Take, for instance, a recent and much publicised example of what
appears to he a cruel freak of chance - the tragically brief life of a child, Red
Skelton's son, whom neither human science nor divine mercy could save. There are, and
always have been, countless millions of such cases, besides the untold numbers of blind,
deaf and dumb, deformed, mentally deficient and diseased human beings whose pitiful
condition is not due to any fault of theirs in this present life, or to any remediable
defect in the organisation of human society.
Materialists may say what they will, but we now know enough of the
limitations of science to realise that it will never be able entirely to abolish these
evils. At the same time we can no longer derive comfort from religions that science has
discredited. While we know that material progress will never succeed in abolishing
suffering, it is equally futile to suppose that some special compensation for unmerited
misfortune awaits the victims in a future life irrespective of any moral issues that are
The sense of justice, which was very strong in me, demanded a reason
for these things and an intelligible purpose behind them. I could not accept the theory
that there is a "divine Justice" which is different from human concepts of
justice, for both the word and the idea can only mean what we take them to mean by human
standards. If conditions are not just in the human sense they are not just at all: there
cannot be two different meanings to the word. The 'justice of God" is an invention of
theologians, the last refuge of unreason.
But right at the beginning Buddhism gave me the justice and the purpose
which I had been seeking. I found them both in the doctrine of Kamma and rebirth.
Through them I was at last able to understand the otherwise senseless agglomeration of
misery, futility and blind insensate cruelly which forms most of the picture human life
presents to a thinking person.
Those who know something about the subject may say, "Yes, but
Buddhism is not alone in teaching Kamma and rebirth; Hinduism has it also''. That
is true; but Buddhism is alone in presenting rebirth as a scientific principle. When I say
"scientific" I mean that it is a principle which is in accordance with other
universal laws which can be understood scientifically and even investigated by scientific
methods. The principle of change and serial continuity is one that runs throughout nature;
all scientific principles are based on it. In Buddhism it is the principle of ''Anatta''
which lifts the concept of rebirth from the level of primitive animism to one on which
it becomes acceptable to the scientifically - trained mind. ''Anatta" means
"non-soul'', ''non-ego" and "non-self''; it is the denial of any abiding or
constant and unchanging element in the life-process. Buddhism does not point to a
"soul" that transmigrates; it points to a continuum of cause and effect that is
exactly analogous to the processes of physics. The personality of one life is the result
of the actions of the preceding current of existences, in precisely the same way that any
physical phenomenon at any given moment is the end-result of an infinite series of events
of the same order that have led up to it.
When I came to understand this thoroughly, which I did by pondering the
profound doctrine of Paticca-samuppada (Dependent Origination), I realised that the
Buddhadhamma is a complete revelation of a dynamic cosmic order. Complete
scientifically because it accounts not only for human life but for the life of all
sentient beings from lowest to highest; and complete morally because it includes all these
forms of life in the one moral order. Nothing is left out; nothing unaccounted for in this
all-embracing system. If we should find sentient beings on other planets in the remotest
of the galactic systems, we should find them subject to the same laws of being as
ourselves. They might be physically quite different from any form of life on this earth,
their bodies composed of different chemical combinations, and they might be far superior
to ourselves or far below us, yet still they must consist of the same Five-Khandha aggregates,
because these are the basic elements of all sentient existence. They must also come into
being as the result of past Kamma, and pass away again just as we do. Anicca,
Dukkha and Anatta are universal principles; and this being so, the four Noble
Truths must also be valid wherever life exists. There is no need for a special creation or
a special plan of salvation for the inhabitants of this planet or any other. Buddhism
teaches a cosmic law that obtains everywhere; hence the same moral law of spiritual
evolution must prevail everywhere. Cosmic law and moral order in Buddhism are related to
one another as they are not in any other religious system.
Another fact which struck me forcibly right at the beginning is that
Buddhism does not condemn anybody to eternal hell just because he happens not to be a
Buddhist. If a being goes to the regions of torment after death it is because his bad
deeds have sent him there, not because he happens to believe in the wrong set of dogmas.
The idea that anyone should be eternally damned simply because he does not go to a certain
church and subscribe to its particular creed is repugnant to every right-thinking person.
Moral retribution is a necessity, but this vicious doctrine of damnation for not believing
in a certain god and the particular myths surrounding him has nothing whatever to do with
ethical principles. It is itself supremely immoral. It has probably been the cause of more
harm in the world than any other single factor in history.
Furthermore, Buddhism does not postulate eternal punishment for
temporal sins; that is, for misdeeds committed within the limiting framework of time. The
Dhamma teaches that whatever suffering a man may bring upon himself is commensurate with
the gravity of the evil action - neither more nor less. He may suffer through several
lives because of some very heavy Akusala Kamma (evil action), but sometime that
suffering must come to an end when the evil that has been generated has spent itself. The
atrocious idea that a being may be made to suffer throughout eternity for the sins
committed in one short lifetime does not exist in Buddhism. Neither does the equally
unjust doctrine that he may wash out all his sins by formal acts of contrition or by faith
in some one particular deity out of all the gods man has invented.
In Buddhism also, there is no personal judge who condemns, but only the
working of an impersonal law that is like the law of gravitation. And this point is
supremely important, because any judge in the act of judging would have to outrage either
justice or mercy. He could not satisfy the demands of both at the same time. If he were
inexorably just he could not be called merciful: if he were merciful to sinners he could
not be absolutely just. The two qualities are utterly incompatible. Buddhism shows that
the natural law is just. It is for man to be merciful, and by the cultivation of Metta,
Karuna, Mudita and Upekkha to make him self divine.
Lastly, the truth that rebirth and suffering are brought about by
Ignorance and Craving conjointly is a conclusion that is fully sup ported by all we know
concerning the life- urge as it works through human and animal psychology and in the
processes of biological evolution. It supplies the missing factor which science needs to
complete its picture of the evolution of living organisms. The motivating force behind the
struggle for existence, for survival and development, is just this force of Craving which
the Buddha found to be at the root of Samsaric rebirth. Because it is conjoined
with Ignorance it is a blind, groping force, yet it is this force which has been
responsible for the development of complex organisms from simple beginnings. It is also
the cause of the incessant round of rebirths in which beings alternately rise and fall in
the scale of spiritual evolution.
Realising the nature of this twofold bondage of Ignorance and Craving
we are fully justified in the rational faith that, as the Supreme Buddha taught, our
ultimate release, the attainment of the eternal, unchanging state of Nibbana, is
something that we can reach, by eliminating all the factors of rebirth that are rooted in
these two fundamental defects. Nibbana, which the Buddha described as Asankhata,
the Unconditioned, Aiara, the Ageless, Dhuva, the Permanent and Amata,
the Deathless, is the Reality that lies outside the realms of the conditioned and
illusory Samsara, and it may be reached only by extinguishing the fires of Lobha,
Dosa and Moha.
So we see that Saddha, or faith, in Buddhism is firmly based on
reason and experience. Ignorance, is blind, but Buddhist faith has its eyes wide open and
fixed upon reality. The Dhamma is "Ehipassiko" - that which
invites all to come and see for themselves. The Buddha was the only religious teacher who
invited reasoned, critical analysis of His Doctrine. The proof of its truth - and hence
the conclusive proof of the Buddha's Enlightenment as well - is to be found in the
Doctrine itself. Like any scientific discovery it can be tested empirically. Everyone can
test and verify it for himself, both by reason and by direct insight. The Buddhist is
given a charter of intellectual liberty.
These are just a few of the features which appealed to me when I first
started studying Buddhism in my quest for truth. There were many others which followed
later; they came in due course as my own understanding and practice of the Dhamma made
them manifest to me. As one investigates the Dhamma new vistas are constantly
opening up before one's vision; new aspects of the truth are continually unfolding and
fresh beauties are being disclosed. When so much of moral beauty can be discerned by
merely intellectual appreciation of the Dhamma, I leave it to you who are listening
to imagine for yourselves the revelations that come with the practice of Vipassana or
direct insight. There can be nothing in the entire range of human experience with which it
may be compared.