Basic Buddhism
What appeals to me most in Buddhism
Francis Story
17/11/2010 03:38 (GMT+7)
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It was many years ago when I became a Buddhist and I was quite young, between 14 and 16, but I remember that it was first of all the two facts of rebirth and Kamma which convinced me of the truth of the Dhamma. I say "facts" because even among many non-Buddhists rebirth is now well on the way to being a proven truth, and once it is accepted the reality of Kamma must be accepted with it

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 involved.

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.

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