RELIGIOUS REQUIREMENTS OF TODAY
By Dr. Walter Karwath, Chairperson of the Buddhist Cultural and Meditation Center in Saheibbs (Lower Austria), which is open to all Buddhist students-and teachers, and which organizes meetings, conferences, retreats and meditation courses along with lectures.
We are living in a period of revolutionary spiritual changes. Economy and technology have radically changed our conception of the world. For a rapidly increasing number of people the traditional spiritual ways no longer seem adequate to solve the difficulties of modern life and to overcome the uncertainties caused thereby. Notwithstanding that the technological civilization is offering people the greatest opportunities they ever had, their psychic evolution still is on a decisively low level. Therefore, technological achievements only attempt to be boundless, and egotism is endangering mankind's very existence in ever-increasing measure. A circulars vicious is being created by which the human being is threatened with running around in circles like a mouse in a cage.
In spite of its enormous possibilities, today's life has become spiritually empty and stuck in materialistic thinking. People aware of this fact now are seeking on different levels for a way out. At the most primitive level, some try to narcotize themselves or alter their perception through alcohol or drugs (the use of which luckily is decreasing somewhat). On a scientific level we encounter "Concentrated Self-Relaxation" (Autogenes Training) and an abundance of psychological methods. In politics some ideologies even are looked at as a substitute for religion. On the religious level we witness an increase of Christian and non-Christian sects, some of which certainly have positive consequences. But all these only are ways of adaptation (Concentrated Self-Relaxation:) or escape, and are based on a concept of the world which does not correspond to actual social and economic facts. Their "usefulness" for people, generally speaking, therefore is insignificant. The practice of Yoga is an excellent method for coping with life in a superior sense, but only for a few. As there is a lack of competent teachers, it is in many cases just a substitute for gymnastics.
To meet the requirements of modern people, religion has to be timeless and all embracing. It must not be in contradiction to scientific perceptions, but has to reach beyond them. It must not be based on pure belief, but must offer to the faithful individuals the possibility of salvation. It must be highly ethical without bothering people with unnecessary taboos. It must be capable of educating individuals to be free and self-responsible as well as to lead a meaningful life in human society. It has to be able to give universally satisfying answers to humanities most ancient questions: "Who are we, where do we come from, where are we going, and what are we to do?" Only then can it take the fear from the individual, abolish his or her uncertainties, and free him or her from the jail of "ego" and the inner loneliness caused by it.
It is an interesting fact that a very old religion fulfills all these "modern" requirements, a religion from which even Christianity is borrowing in the form of Zen meditation (which has been practiced for years in many Catholic monasteries). It is Buddhism. This teaching, being a religion as well as a philosophy and mode of life, traces back to the historical Buddha Sakyamuni (born many centuries B.C.) "Budh-" means to awaken or to understand, and a Buddha thus is not a God but an individual who has reached the utmost "insight" and has awakened from the dream of life, so to speak. The religion founded by Sakyamuni Buddha is based on the universal understanding that all existence is impermanent, sorrowful (because ultimately always unsatisfactory), and in its core without eternal substance. This perception does not involve pessimism but 1ieads to the effort to eradicate suffering. Buddhism is not limited just to ending suffering in daily life, but aims at absolute liberation from suffering, i.e., it strives for a condition in which any suffering involving existence cannot take place anymore. This status, consisting in extinguishing the conditions of existence—Greed, Hatred, and Ignorance (desire, resentment, and illusion)—is no "Paradise," but can and will be realized "here and now." The Buddha shows the way to this. In The Four Noble Truths, he explains suffering and how suffering arises. He there also shows how to end suffering and the way leading thereto. This is the familiar Eight-fold Path, and consists of the elements Right Understanding, Right Views, Right Speech, Right Conduct, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Awareness, and Right Concentration. The latter two form the content of meditation, which is the core of Buddhist religious practice, and takes the place of everything else in other religions, from prayer to religious services. The high morality of Buddhism (laid down in the well-known Five Shilas, i.e. moral standards: not to kill, not to steal, to abstain from sensuous misconduct, not to lie, and to abstain from intoxicants as tending to cloud the mind) is based on two conditions: Karma and Rebirth.
Karma means to bring about, and the law of Karma says that every deed bears its consequences. Rebirth means that one existence follows another like a candle that is lit at another—as long as clinging (be it to life or death) is not extinguished. Without establishing a pure hypothesis like "God" or "eternal soul," Buddhism is a pragmatic way of life, offering more consolation than any theory of a single life, which is after all less plausible in a natural scientific sense (because in nature nothing occurs but once or is imperishable). Moreover, the expectation of final deliverance and appeasement (which does not mean annihilation, but goes beyond what can be experienced by our senses) is capable of relieving us from the innate fear which life involves. In its methodology Buddhistic teaching anticipates the most modern experiences of depth psychology.