was brought up in a family that worshipped ancestors and spirits. Having learned from my elders how to burn incense, pray to the gods for blessings, and avoid all those taboos that were never talked about, explained, or questioned and having learned about the regional folklore and customs of China from books, I unconsciously assumed that what we practiced at home was “Buddhism.” As I grew up and became exposed to Western thought and philosophy, I began to think of Buddhism as nothing but a religion that seeks for spiritual responses—illogical, unreasonable, and unscientific, suitable for uneducated women and children but unacceptable to intellectuals. I naturally put the label of “superstition” on Buddhism.
With my natural inclination to get to the root of things and my strong interest in the riddle of life and death, I developed an interest in religion at an early age. I jumped around like a grasshopper between Christianity, Taoism, and other faiths that “sounded good,” but I didn’t find a religion that satisfied me. Later, I had the chance to learn some Buddhist principles, and even though they were presented in a fragmented and distorted way, I was really drawn to the concept of cause and effect and transmigration and began reading some Buddhist books.
Because those texts were rather deep, I only understood the origins of Buddhism and the story of the Buddha’s enlightenment. The Buddhist concept of kindness and compassion attracted me, and the Buddhist attitude of treating all living beings equally both surprised me and made me ashamed. However, I had yet to relinquish my prejudiced views from the past. Doubts piled up in my mind, pushing me to look into the Sutras to find answers. The more I read, the more startled I became. The more principles I understood, the more I recognized my own ignorance and haste in jumping to conclusions. I realized that in the past, due to my partial understanding and my subjective ideas, I had completely misunderstood Buddhism. I had erred by making a condemnation before gaining a proper understanding and by later collecting information to support my prejudice. I really learned a good lesson: Relying on what we already know and trusting our own subjective views can hinder us from learning new things.
Even though I felt ashamed, I was very excited, because in the process of getting reacquainted with Buddhism, I was inspired. Strangely enough, at this time I made many new friends who helped me greatly in learning Buddhism. Through their assistance, I have gained a better understanding of the basic principles of Buddhism.
More than two thousand years ago in a small kingdom in India, there was a sage who used his great wisdom to explore the laws of the universe and penetrate the eternal truth, who was enlightened under the Bodhi tree. Later he taught different methods, according to the dispositions of the students, to help them become enlightened. His views on life, the cosmos, logic, dialectic, and methods of cultivation are complete and profound. The more you understand the Buddhadharma, the more aware you become of its vastness and greatness which encompass everything. Its doctrines are in agreement with contemporary physics, astronomy, and psychology; does this sound like an outdated legacy? Its presentation of principles holds the ground without any conflict; furthermore it has welcomed open debate and correction for more than two thousand years: Can this be superstition?
I believe that Buddhism can enlighten everyone; its methods are based on proper principles that are both scientific and logical. The most convincing support can be found in the numerous historical cases which show that everyone who has practiced according to the teachings has benefitted from them; the only difference is in the level of each cultivator’s skill.
Even though the Buddhadharma is the supreme path to liberation, I don’t see that this has anything to do with whether one’s belief is proper or not. What is proper or deviant is one’s attitude of belief, not Buddhism itself. If, by means of objective analysis, comparison, and recognition, one can eliminate one’s biases, one will have proper belief. If one doesn’t really comprehend the Sutras or even distorts their meaning in order to fool people, using religious belief to satisfy one’s personal demands, one’s belief is deviant. The distinction between proper and deviant lies in human beings, not in Buddhism.
In addition, it is said that “the belief of one who is awakened is called proper belief; the belief of one who is not awakened is called superstition.” In contrast to other religions, Buddhism allows people to rationally and objectively analyze and study its principles before bringing forth faith. However, other religions require their believers to have faith first, and sometimes, because of various taboos, they may refuse open debate. Therefore, Buddhism is a religion in which you can bring forth proper faith.
→To be continued