Some Knowledge About Buddhism
-By Upasaka C.T, Shen
address given at Christ Church Parish Ridgewood, New Jersey November 1, 1978
May I offer what I say today to all the gods worshipped by mankind.
You probably all know that China is a nation in Asia. How many of you know the Chinese character for the word China? It is Chung Kuo (). Literally, "Chung" means middle or center, and "Kuo" means country or kingdom. Chung Kuo is, therefore, the central kingdom. For thousands of years, the Chinese believe their country to be the center of the world and their emperor, whom they usually referred to as the Son of Heaven, to be the highest authority on earth. So it was that the Chinese believed that all people inhabiting areas other than the central kingdom were inferior and that their rulers were subordinate to the emperor of China. If, during that period, someone had proclaimed that there were many emperors on earth, some even more powerful than the Son of Heaven, his head would very likely have been chopped off.
It was not until the beginning of the eighteenth century, when Western civilization reached China, that the Chinese began to realize that there were many nations on earth with many powerful rulers. The Chinese were no longer in an "ivory tower"; their perspective was broadened; they shared with other nations the responsibilities of the world. It is, however, important to note that regardless of that recognition, the importance of their own head of government was in no way diminished in the minds of the Chinese. To this day, their own leader is still the most influential person in their lives.
On another note, just a few hundred years ago everyone thought that the sun was the center of the universe. Today, however, astronomers tell us that the solar system, as we know it, with the sun, the earth and her sister planets, is merely a small group of celestial bodies at the edge of a galaxy called the Milky Way, which consists of more than 100,000 million stars like the sun. Furthermore, the Milky Way is only one modest member out of thousands of millions of galaxies in the universe. So we see there are countless suns. It is therefore incorrect to say that there is only one sun, or that the earth's sun is the center of the universe. However, the recognition of this fact does not diminish the importance if the earth's sun to us. With the improvement of knowledge, the sun—the source of life and energy to humankind--has become even more important and intimate than in the past. It has a most direct influence on our lives.
Most of the great religions, including Christianity, teach that there is only one God. Some religions even claim that their God is the true God and that the Gods worshipped by other religions are false. In Buddhism, the teaching is different. Let me present you with some historical background:
More than 2500 years ago in the land known today as Nepal, at the foot of the Himalayan Mountains, there lived a prince--a human being whose name was Siddhartha Gautama. At the age of 30, because of his realization of human suffering, he left his palace, gave up his life of luxury and for six years practiced all kinds of ascetic methods in search of a way to save human beings from suffering. Finally, by applying his own method of insight contemplation, he was enlightened. He was then called Buddha Sakyamuni. "Buddha" is a title given to one who achieves complete enlightenment; that is, one who achieves perfect wisdom and perfect compassion. He then traveled to many places on the Indian continent and taught his disciples and the public for over 45 years before he passed away at the age of 80.
Upon enlightenment, he realized that the universe is infinite; that there are numerous worlds like the earth; that there are numerous gods comparable to the almighty God worshipped by the people of his time.
Your attention is invited to the fact that although Buddha discovered the presence of numerous Gods throughout the universe, he never tried to diminish the importance of the God worshipped by the people of his time. He simply told the truth. And that truth does not affect the importance of one specific God to a specific group of people who worship that God, simply because that God is still the most direct and intimate influence on that group of people.
This is the same as the discovery by the Chinese of the existence of many rulers in the world. It does not diminish the importance of the Chinese government to the Chinese. Nor does the fact that there are numerous suns in the universe diminish the importance of the earth's sun as a source of light, heat, and therefore, life itself to the earth's inhabitants.
This is the first point I wish to communicate to you: The truth is that there are numerous Gods in the universe, but that truth by no means diminishes the importance of the God worshipped by this church. In fact, a Buddhist who truly understand Buddha’s teaching should respect all the gods worshipped by humankind. This explains the historical fact that no war ever fought between believers of Buddhism and followers of other faiths. Buddhism does not have a "religious sovereignty". Buddha is not a God.
-To be continued next issue
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