ESSENCE OF BUDDHISM
By Bhiksu Aryamitra
What did the Compassionate Buddha teach and what was the essence of his teaching? Where does Buddhism begin and why does it begin there?
To understand all this, one should have a fair knowledge of the social customs and usages, religious beliefs and practices of the people of India at that time; of the moral and material conditions under which they lived; of the strength of the hold which the rites and rituals had acquired over their minds; and of the extent of influence of Brahmanical creed, caste differences and sacerdotalism. When we look into all these we find that the circumstances created hopeless confusion-especially in respect to religious beliefs and practices--among men of that time who found it hard to understand what was wrong and what was right, what to accept and what to reject, what to practice and what not to practice, what was real and what was false.
We come to know about such confusions in men of that time through records, which have been handed down, one of which concerns the 'Kalama Brahmins of Kesaputta Village'. They approached the Buddha and spoke thus to him: "There are. Lord, some ascetics and recluses who have come to 'Kesaputta’ who elucidate and exalt their own views, but break up, crush down, revile, and oppose the views of others. And there are other ascetics and recluses. Lord, who come to 'Kesaputta' and expound and magnify their own beliefs, but destroy, suppress, despise, and set themselves against the beliefs of others. So, Lord, we are in uncertainty and doubt among them, knowing not which among these venerable ascetics speaks the truth, and which the falsehood."
The Blessed One replied: "Good cause indeed have you Kalamas to be uncertain; good cause have you to doubt. Truly it is because of such occasions for uncertainty that doubt has arisen in you.
"Come, O, you Kalamas, do not go merely by what you hear; do not go by merely what has been handed down from one to another; do not go by what is commonly reported; do not go merely by what is found written in the Scriptures; do not go by subtleties of reasoning; do not go by subtleties of logic; do not go by consideration based upon mere appearances; do not go merely by agreeable beliefs and views; do not go merely by what looks to be genuine; do not go merely by the word of some ascetic or superior. But, Kalamas, when of yourselves you indeed know: 'These things are unsalutary; these things are blameworthy; these things are reprehended by the wise; these things being done or attempted lead to ill-being and to suffering; then, Kalamas, you should do away with them.
"But, Kalamas, when of yourselves you indeed know: 'These things are salutary; these things are blameless; these things are approved by the wise; these things being done or attempted lead to well being, and to happiness; then Kalamas, you should own to and abide by them." ('Kalam-Sutta, Anguttara Nikaya-Pali. Translated by Ven. Sulacar, English-Bhiksu)
And again we find that at that time there were sixty-two conflicting views, which were denounced by the Buddha as wrong views. They concerned ultimate reality. Confused people very often approached the Buddha and inquired, "Is there an Atman (Soul) or not? If there is, how is it? If there is not, why is it not? Is the world finite or infinite? Does the Soul exist after death or not? Does it live after death, or is it totally annihilated?" and so on.
With regard to these inquiries, the Compassionate Buddha simply maintained a noble silence, rejecting all that was useless for all practical purposes. He, being very profoundly touched by the scenes of human sordidness and misery which he saw around him, resolved to probe the mystery of life, and threw himself devotedly into the work of promoting the well-being of his fellow men. Therefore, all such wrong and irrelevant inquiries were for Him quite futile and unprofitable, merely unnecessary wrangles, and as such were of no importance. Why? Because the solution of the problem of life was not there. The solution lies hidden in the problem, which is life itself. Thus all this speculation did not lead anyone to wisdom and did not help anyone to be relieved from the suffering, which is the very fact of life.
The Buddha, while seeing the suffering in the world, also saw the happiness of which he taught. It is the happiness that everyone seeks--a peace and tranquility of mind, a consolation in adversity, and hope in death. This happiness, the Compassionate Buddha said, could be achieved, and this hope could be realized here and now by uprooting sorrow through right effort. The Master himself said: "One thing only, Bhikkhus, now as always, declare I unto you 'Sorrow and the uprooting of Sorrow.'"
So, for a correct and thorough understanding of Buddhism and its practices one should know where Buddhism begins and why it begins there.
Bhikshu Aryamitra is President of the Tripura Buddhist Association (Tripura W.F.B. Regional Center) Venuvana Vihara, Agartala Tripura, India.
RECENT PUBLICATIONS FROM THE SINO-AMERICAN BUDDHIST ASSOCIATION
A General Explanation of the ESSENTIALS OF THE SRAMANERA VINAYA AND RULES OF CONDUCT by Tripitaka Master Hua.
Never before translated, this work sets forth the basic guidelines for Buddhist monastic discipline and pure conduct, without which no lasting and substantial progress towards enlightenment can be made. No individual or group seriously interested in practicing Buddhism should overlook this work. With contemporary commentary by the Venerable Master Hua, paperbound, 112 pp. US $5.oo.
WORLD PEACE GATHERING: A miscellany of articles and speeches occasioned by Bhiksu Heng Ju and Bhiksu Heng Yo on their pilgrimage for world peace.
A moving document of American Buddhism in action, this collection of speeches and articles commemorates the successful completion of an extraordinary 1,100-mile journey made by two American Buddhist monks in 1974. With Heng Yo at his side, Heng Ju walked from San Francisco, California, to Marblemount, Washington, bowing on the ground every third step. In the hope that all men's hearts would be made peaceful. In this book are vivid descriptions of the journey--accounts both by the two monks who made the journey, and by many Americans who were moved by it. With numerous photographs, paperbound, 128 pp. US $6.oo.