Ven. Balangoda Anandamaitreya
(A speech delivered at the Buddhist monastery in New York, on 27. 06. 91)
Buddhism is the doctrine expounded by the Buddha. It is not a dogma, nor a revelation made known by any supernatural agency. The Buddha, the expounder of this doctrine, was neither a god, nor a son of a god, nor an incarnation of a god, nor a prophet sent by such an agency. He was a human being, a prince of the Sakyan clan of the Northernmost part of ancient India, the son of a king called Suddhodana, who ruled over the kingdom of the Sakyans, situated at the foot of the Himalayan range. The name given him by his parents was Siddhartha Gautama. Though he was not a supernatural being, he was a prodigy, an extraordinary person, a rarest type of person. He was brought up as any other child of a royal family and he lived amid the greatest luxuries, as his family was extremely rich and powerful.
But even from the days of his boyhood he was contemplative and mostly inquisitive, astute and shrewd. He saw how men and animals suffered from the trials and tribulations of the world. He was moved by what he saw and grew up with compassion and pity for suffering mortals. At last, when he was 29 years of age, leaving behind his awaiting throne and all his possessions, he went forth from home to homelessness in search of a teacher who could show him the way to freedom from all suffering.
He followed the instructions given him by the teachers who had claimed to have found the way to perfect release, but was not satisfied with the results. At last, rejecting all those ways, after much struggle and experience, he discovered by himself the way, by which he attained to Full Enlightenment (Buddhahood). Thenceforth, he was recognised by his followers as ‘The Buddha, the Enlightened One’. He realised what the world or existence really is, how it is only a ceaseless flow of unsatisfactory states or suffering, how and why it continues to be so, what is the nature when it is ended and the way to put an end to this flow. He called these four facts the four great Truths.
After he attained to enlightenment, he spent full 45 years teaching the world his discovery, sharing his wisdom with others so that they could also tread the same path and free themselves from all suffering. After the incessant service of 45 years, he passed away to the perfect peace of eternal bliss, Nibbana, the Summum Bonum.
Freedom in Buddhism
The Buddha’s method of teaching his hearers was absolutely unique and cannot be found in the teaching of any other world teacher of ancient days. The Buddha encouraged people to think for themselves, to reason out and test for themselves, and not to be bound by any blind belief. No dogmas find footing in his teachings. The religion of Vedic sacrifice was footing in his teachings. The religion of Vedic sacrifice was the predominant cult followed by the majority of people in India at his time, and there were penalties for any infraction of the rules. If a man of the so-called lowest caste listened to the recitation of the Vedas, his ears would be destroyed. If any of the lowest caste uttered any passage of the Vedas, his tongue would be cut out. If any person of the same low caste for any reason entered one of their holy centres and watched their ceremonies, his eyes would be gouged out. All the people of other classes or castes should pay respect to and supply the needs of the Brahmins with no question whatsoever. Such was the situation at one time in ancient India, and at the time of the appearance of the Buddha, Brahmins held the influence over the greater part of India. Caste distinctions introduced by the Brahmins pervaded everywhere in the country. Womankind had no freedom whatever and were just like the slaves of their husbands. The Buddha came forward and criticized the enslaving ways of the Brahmins. He emphasized the importance of free thought and encouraged people to think and reason for themselves, without being enslaved by dogmatic beliefs. There was no ‘just anger’ ‘just greed’ ‘just killing’ ‘just plundering’ ‘just falsehood’ or the like approved of by the Buddha.
One day the Buddha, accompanied by a number of disciples, was journeying along the high road. As it was getting dark, he took lodgings for the night in a rest-house reserved for the members of royal families. In those days rulers allowed the monks, recluses and ascetics to use their rest-houses as their temporary lodgings. A leader of a religious movement also came on his way to the same place, came to the same rest-house and took lodgings in another part, with his disciples.
Towards evening, some of the Buddha’s disciples, who were walking up and down in the compound of the building, over-heard a heated discussion between the ascetic teacher and his chief disciple. The teacher was criticising the Buddha, his teachings and his disciples in many ways, while his disciple was praising them in many ways. They were quite contrary to each other in their views.
The following morning, those bhikkhus told the Buddha about what they had heard the previous evening. Thereupon the Buddha advised them, saying, “Brethren, when you hear others speak ill of me, my teaching or my followers, don’t let it hurt your feelings, don’t get angry. If you are hurt and get angry, how could you judge whether they were right or not right in their criticism? Be impartial on such occasions and think about what they say of us. When you see they were not correct, and if you feel it is necessary, tell them where they were wrong, but do not be hurt. If you are hurt on that account, it will be a hindrance to your self-development. Suppose other praise me, my teachings or my disciples, don’t be proud on that account either. If you be proud, how could you judge whether they were right or wrong in their praise? Be impartial and judge. If you see they were right, approve of that, but do not be proud. If you were proud on that account, it would also be an obstacle to your own spiritual development”. This is the Buddha’s way.
On another occasion he said, “Brethren, when I speak to you, don’t accept it blindly, because you love and respect me. But examine it and put it to test, as a goldsmith examines gold by cutting, heating and hammering it to know whether it is genuine gold or counterfeit. If you see it is reasonable, only then accept and follow it.” This is the Buddha’s way. This is how the Buddha encouraged everyone to think things through for himself.
In some religions you are warned and asked to believe what they teach, lest their god would consign you to hell. There is no such punishment, even a curse imposed by the Buddha on others who would not believe him.
As regards the ritual of worship, it has no place in the Buddha’s teachings. You might ask why Buddhists place flowers etc. before the Buddha image. What Buddhists do in that way is Just showing their gratitude to the greatest teacher for his lifelong, unselfish service done for humanity by teaching and guiding the world along the right path. It is not a ritual at all.
Whether you pay homage to the Buddha or not, it is not as important as living a wholesome life, following the path shown by him. One day, one of the Buddha’s disciples, who was deeply devoted to and adoring him, was sitting before him gazing at his saintly and most handsome form. The Buddha knew that and told him. “What is the use of looking at this body, a mass of flesh and bones etc., go from here and look at the Dhamma (i.e. practise virtues, follow the Path).”
Whether you make such homage or not, it is not so important as living a wholesome life, pure in deed, word and thought. If you try to be pure in your life this way, you are a real follower of the Buddha.
Advice to the Kalamas
One day, the Buddha visited a townlet called Kesaputta. Then some princes of a clan named Kalama came to the Buddha and told him: “Ven. Sir, various teachers come to our townlet from time to time and expound different teachings. One teacher says one thing and another gives quite a contradictory teaching. This happens over and over again. When we listen to them we get puzzled, and we cannot understand which one is correct and which one is wrong.”
Thereupon, the Buddha said, “It is no wonder that a man gets puzzled when he hears teachings contradictory to each other, but I tell you this: “Don’t accept a thing merely because it is handed down by tradition, don’t accept a thing merely because many people repeat it, don’t accept a thing merely on the authority of the sage who teaches it, don’t accept a thing merely because it is found it the so-called holy scriptures, don’t accept a thing merely because you have imagined it, or it is inspired (by some supernormal agency). After examination, after testing it for yourself, if you find it is reasonable and is in conformity with your well being and the well being of others as well, then accept it and follow it.”
Respect for other Teachers
From the Buddhist point of view, one should never ridicule a great teacher merely because he was not a Buddhist in name. There were great teachers like Zoroaster, Confucious, Laotzu, Jesus and many others. A Buddhist should not disparage them. If one disparages any of them, he does it from disdain, which is against the Buddha’s teachings. Thus freedom of investigation and religious tolerance are encouraged in Buddha’s teachings.
This broad-minded approach is clearly seen in the account of Upali’s meeting with the Buddha. Upali was a follower of Jainism. He came to the Buddha with a view to dispute on some points of the Buddha’s teachings. But at the close of the discussion, he was convinced and declared that he wanted to become a Buddha’s follower and that he would stop his support of the Jain monks whom he had regarded highly for a long time. But the Buddha advised, “Consider further, don’t be in a hurry to follow me. Don’t stop supporting those Jain monks whom you have treated respectfully for so long.”
There is another account of a certain wandering recluse who had a discussion with the Buddha concerning the differences between each other’s doctrines, at which the Buddha said, “Well, my friend, though we discuss our views and practices, don’t think that I am trying to convert you to my side. I don’t want to do so. You may go on your own way but let us see whether we both practise as we teach.”
Thus there is full freedom of thought and speech in the teachings of the Buddha. You can even be critical of the Buddha or his teachings. But remember, this freedom is extended to all people, so you should not get angry when others say things with which you do not agree. Listen to them and judge impartially whether they are right or wrong. This is the Buddha’s way.
Disease and Cure
Most of the great teachers taught their followers to worship a god and tried to explain how the world was originated and so forth. The Buddha, on the other hand, taught that to find answers to the problem of the origin of the world and the like, was not at all helpful in finding the answer to the question of suffering or universal unsatisfactoriness. Suppose a physician goes to a patient suffering from a serious illness. What does he do there? He would diagnose the illness, find its cause, decide whether it is curable and prescribe a suitable treatment. Even though the patient might be interested in getting some astronomical or geological questions answered, the physician would not listen to him and would not neglect his duty, because he knows how serious the patient’s conditions is.
The Buddha was just like the physician in this illustration. He served the world as the physician for the mind’s maladies. The beings in the world suffer from so much distress because of their mental maladies. There is greed in their mind; anger, pride, selfishness, miserliness, jealousy and many defilements of the same sort. The root cause of all these maladies is ignorance. All beings (human and non-human) have become slaves of these mental maladies, due to which they commit all types of wrong deeds, speak wrong words and think wrong thoughts, causing pain both to themselves and to others. The Buddha directed his teachings towards the cure of all this suffering.
The Root of the Problem
Whether the universe has a beginning or does not have a beginning, the knowledge of such things has nothing to do with the cure of our sufferings. What we have to is to realise the nature of the mental maladies, which bring us all sorts of suffering both mental and physical; their cause, their cure and the way thereto. The Buddha guides us to realise these four facts. There are specific steps that must be taken to achieve this realisation.
The first step is to build good character within you. You have to refrain from wrong deeds, wrong speech and wrong ways of earning your living. This is the foundation you have to lay, on which you have to erect the building of spiritual development, which consists of two kinds of development, the development of mental calm and the development of insight. To develop mental calm, you have to develop concentration of mind, for which there are forty methods given in the Buddhist scriptures, out of which one is to be chosen suitable to your temperament.
The last step is to examine yourself to understand what you really are. You have to examine your physical body, and investigate to see whether there is anything permanent or unchanging within your body. As a result of this investigation you will see that the body is a collection of ever-changing material states and that there is nothing permanent in them. There is instability in them as they are always arising and vanishing and thus there is no ego-entity to be found therein.
As well as realising the exact nature of your body in this way, you have to examine the mind. As you go on analysing and scrutinizing your mind, you will find that what you call your mind is just a stream of rising and vanishing mental states in which there is no substance and that every mental state is subject to change. They are arising and vanishing more rapidly than the material states of your body, and there is no ego-entity there either. When you come to their understanding of your body and mind, your ignorance as to their nature disappears before the wisdom that dawns at the moment of this full realisation of your own true nature. When you look at the external things from the same perspective, you will see that the whole world is of the same nature as your own body and mind. You will see clearly that there is nothing in the world that is fit to be attached to, that there is nothing to be angry with, nothing to be taken as an ego-entity. When you achieve this understanding of life in the world, you will also see the opposite side – the unconditioned, unchanging, eternal state of perfect calm and serenity free from all suffering.
To achieve this goal it requires no worship, no ritual, no belief in any dogma. The only thing you have to do is to know yourself perfectly.
In brief, the Buddha’s way is the way to self-understanding, the way to self-purification, the way to free oneself from slavishness to the deceptive world of the senses.