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Chapter 3: The Buddhist Theory of Equality

11/03/201417:20(Xem: 1705)
Chapter 3: The Buddhist Theory of Equality
The Scientific
Outlook Of Buddhism

By Wang Chi Biu
English Translation By P. H. Wei

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Chapter 3

The Buddhist Theory of Equality

The conventional conception of equality is narrow and restricted to political, economic and educational sectors, and equality between the two sexes, but none of them deals with the fundamental question of absolute equality. In view of the manifold differences of individuals in their family background (high or low), personal appearances (good looking or ugly), disposition (gentle nature or quick-tempered), intellect (intelligent or dull), and health (strong or weak), fundamentally speaking, there can be no equality among mankind. However, such variations and differentiations, as pointed out by Buddhism, are but illusory phenomena of life, for insofar as the Essence of man is concerned, human beings are absolutely on equality with one another, According to Buddhism, equality is not fragmentary and sectional, but complete and universal. Not only between man and man, Buddha and Buddha, is there equality, but also between man and Buddha, man and animals, man and dwellers of Paradise and Hells, man and ghosts; all of them are equal with each other. Thus, the Sutra says: "Mind, Buddha and sentient beings are all at parity with one another." Furthermore, apart from this, all mental phenomena, physical phenomena, combined physical and mental phenomena, as well as causes and effects are also at par with each other. Again, the Sutra says: "This Dharma (Sammasambodhi) is in parity (with the others), and is neither superior nor inferior (to any of them)." It is because sentient beings are deluded and defiled with perverted views that they make discriminations and so they are oblivious of the Essence of Nature. In reality, the Essence of every sentient being is identical and immutable. This is the basic Principle and Fountainhead of the Complete Teaching of Buddhism.


(A) Illusory Phenomena of "Ego Personality" and "Other-Personality"

According to Buddhism, man is made up of five Aggregates, viz. Form, Sensation, Conception, Volition and Consciousness. Form is a material and the other four Aggregates are the activities of the mind. Sensation comprises feelings of suffering, pleasure, sorrow and joy. Conception is thought or imagination. Volition is mental activity for good or for evil. Consciousness is that which makes discriminations. If the physical body of man, made up of skin, hair, bone, flesh, blood and salivia, is analysised, by chemical process, it is nothing but a number of atoms of carbon, hydrogen, dioxide, phosphorus, calcium, iodine and other elements. This holds true with the body of everyone, yours and mine, and also with the body of every animal. In view of the fact that on analysis, the iron element of my body is not different from that of yours, the principle of Equality is established by deductive reasoning that as far as the material aspect is concerned, there is no difference between man and animal at all.

Let us turn to the spiritual or psychical aspect of man. Mencius (Ancient Chinese Philosopher) said: "The sense of Compassion is in everyone; the sense of Shame is in everyone; the sense of Right and Wrong is in everyone; and the sense of Humility is in everyone." This may be said to be in line with the Buddhist Theory that the four psychical functions of Sensation, Conception, Volition, and Consciousness are common to everybody. Regarding the last three psychical elements, thought animals do not and cannot function so well as man, nevertheless, they are sensitive to pain and pleasure all the same. Moreover, craving for live and fear of death are natural instincts of all animals. Thus, Buddha says: "Because Buddha-nature is inherent in all sentient beings, they are at parity with each other." However, people generally separate themselves from others, by making distinctions between Ego-personality and Other-personality. Furthermore, they pay so much attention to the Five-Aggregates-constituted body that it leads them to egoism, craving, stupidity and arrogance. Consequently, they come into conflict with others and resort to every means to overcome them. After all, if they realize this fundamental Buddhist Principle of Universal Equality, they can see that Ego-personalty is unreal and illusory, and the so-called "enemy" is also illusory. An Enlightened being can easily see that the whole thing is but an illusion.

The Sutra says: "All causally produced phenomena, I say, are empty and unreal, and their names are also fictitious. This is the Middle-Way Doctrine." Inasmuch as the "I-personality" constituted by the five Aggregates, is casually produced, it can be seen that neither from those psychical aspects of sensation, conception, volition and consciousness, nor from the material aspects of the body, such as bone, blood, flesh, etc. and still less, from atoms, can it be found. Positively, the phenomenon of "I-personality" is empty and unreal; for conventional usage, however, it is called the "I-personality". At any rate, if we are free from stupidity, arrogance, conceit and craving, not only we would regard all sentient beings to be of one entity with us, but also would extend every help to them, thus we may be said to be carrying out the Middle Doctrine in practical way. Moreover, apart from the "I-personality", the phenomena of all things are also produced by causes and conditions, hence, they are devoid of self-nature; inversely speaking, had they had self-nature, they would not have been dependent upon causes and conditions. This holds true not only with all material things but also with all Terms, all Theorems and all "…ISMs." For instance, if a country, which is constituted of land, people and sovereignty, lacks any of these elements, it is no longer a country, because of its being dependent on the combination of elements, it is devoid of self-nature, and because it is an illusory phenomenon, it is said to be empty and unreal. Likewise, an army, made up of a multitude of people in uniform and with military training, is also devoid of self-nature; for without uniform, military training, and people, no army can be formed. In the light of this understanding we would perceive the reality of everything without being deceived by its illusory phenomenon and also we would be free from misconceptions and discriminations. Again, on the question of mental phenomena, all principles and theories are nothing but a group of names, where nothing real can be found. Therefore, those who fail to see that both the ego-personality and things are empty and illusory, are really "pitiable and ignorant" of Truths of life.

"From what you have said" someone may argue to say, "Buddhism, as a Dharma, is also devoid of self-nature, thus it is empty and unreal, isn’t it?" I would reply: " Yes, it is. You are absolutely correct and this is right understanding of Buddhism." The Diamond Sutra says in the same vein: "What is called Buddhism is not Buddhism." Also it says: "If someone says that the Tathagata expounds the Dharma, he is slandering the Buddha, for he does not understand what I say at all. Subhuti, one who expounds Buddhism has no Dharma to expound, and thus he may be said to expound Buddhism." In view of the fact that owing to their ignorance, sentient beings are subjected to numerous defilements and heterodox views, Buddha therefore expounds Buddhism in various ways to cure them of their specific ills and to help them realize self-enlightenment according to their cultivation of awareness. In short, Buddhism is established on the basis of sentient beings’ stupidity, and if their stupidity is removed, there would be no (need of) Buddhism at all.


(B) The True Meaning of Objectivity

Objectivity is generally held to be a scientific way of looking into a problem or thing. From the standpoint of Buddhism, we should understand this popular term clearly, or we would miss its important sense entirely. If there is an object to be viewed, there must be a subject capable of viewing it, and whatever the view may be, it is always subjective and cannot be objective at all. As to the object, it may be a living being or a non-being; if it is a non-living being, logically it cannot view itself objectively at all, and if a living being, then it would turn into a subject and what is viewed would be subjective. From this, it may be said that the conventional conception of objectivity is vague and confusing. By the conventional standard, the so-called objectivity implies the following three characteristics: 1) unmixed with sentiments; 2) in accord with generally accepted truth; 3) based on logical reasoning. If these requisites can be fully met, objectivity is right there. This, as viewed by Buddhism, however, is not absolute objectivity at all. The fundamental truth is this: all dharmas are essentially pure and equal with one another. However, holding the misconception that the "I-personality" is real and permanent, sentient beings make distinctions and barriers between themselves and other people, they become increasingly egoistic. Consequently, whatever they like, they accept, and whatever they dislike, they reject. Such is the general way of life with all sentient beings of the world. Consequently, antagonism and conflict of interests is their order of the day; hence, what is fundamentally pure becomes defiled at once, and what is fundamentally universal equality, is no longer practised. This may be illustrated with a metaphor. If stones are thrown into a clear and smooth pool, the water will be turbulent with numerous bubbles; extending its way from its center to the outside, each bubble comes into collision with other adjourning ones, thus the water of the pool is all commotion at once. The subjective mind of every sentient being, like each bubble, acts identically the same, and also with the same effect. From this metaphor, it may be inferred that with regard to everything and every phenomenon, sentient beings are bound to think of them subjectively, and moreover, even the so-called objective phenomena and objective principles are not uncommonly interwoven with a good deal of subjective thinking, and are not devoid of the motive of self-interest. With scientific measurement instruments and mathematical formulae, this also holds true. In order that truth may be absolutely and truly objective, it is necessary that ego-personality be completely eradicated, with neither a subject nor an object to be involved. In this way, the mind is calm like still water, and bright like a clear mirror, and whatever it reflects, is nothing but the true image. This is true objectivity.


(C) Compassion and Altruism

Whereas altruism is strongly advocated by religious people with hearty support of many scholars, and its high principle is held to be irrefutable and incontrovertible truth, Buddhism, however, says nothing of altruism, but on the contrary, urges that love, as the root cause of all sufferings and samsaric existence(existence of samsara), by all means, should be discarded. What is the difference between compassion and altruism? According to Buddhism, positively there is a world of difference between the two. Where there is love, it involves two aspects of love a subject to love and an object to be loved, e.g. the "I-personality" and the other or others, and between the two, there is a marked difference of love. Usually, one loves oneself more than others. If someone say that he loves others more than himself, it may be conceded that in such case, the motive of prejudice is not ruled out. Moreover, if love is conditional, and, as conditions are not immutable, change of love or loss of love would be inevitable, e.g. one may love another person because of the latter’s appearance, education, character, etc. but since all these things are subjected to change and if they are changed for worse, then love would be quickly lost. Again, assuming that the object of love is a person, and there is a rivalry of love over the same person, in such case, whoever captures the object, envy and conflict would remain unabated; thus there would be the suffering of meeting the hated, the suffering of not getting what one craves for, the suffering of parting with the beloved, and under these conditions, the pure and peaceful world would be turned into "five turbulent worlds." In view of this, Buddha says that love is the root cause of transmigration and the source of vexations and sorrow. Considering that love is the cause of defilement, no matter how broadly, extensively and infinitely it may be extended to others, one can not be free from its power of contamination. An this is the reason why Buddhism refrains from promoting altruism. "Love thy enemies", another popular slogan on the lips of faithful religious people, is paradoxical, if not hypocritical, for as long as there is "the enemy" in the sayer’s mind, there is no abatement of such bitter feelings as envy, hate and vengeance, therefore to say of loving one’s enemy is utterly a hypocrisy, lying and deception. On the other hand, Buddhism teaches us that the way to deal with those of evil intent is to look upon them neither as enemy nor as friend, but in accord with the fundamental principle of universal equality, to treat them as equals, and in playing this game, there is no place for love, because, on the understanding that all sentient beings are of one entity, and, therefore at parity with one another, at once All-Compassion would be aroused, averting every evil intention, and so nothing but happy feeling would ensue. In the light of this principle of Buddhism, let us proceed further to understand the true meaning of compassion.

In Buddhism, Compassion is defined with two Chinese characters "Chi", "Bei"; "Chi" means loving-kindness to help others joyfully, and "Bei" means to deliver others from suffering out of pity. These two aspects of compassion are selfless, non-egoistic and based on the principle of universal equality. Here at this point lies the fundamental difference between compassion and altruism. As mentioned previously, as far as the material elements of the body and the psychical aspect of consciousness are concerned, all sentient beings are identical with one another. This shows conclusively that they are of one entity and at parity with one another. Hence, in Buddhist terms, "Chi" is said to be "pity for one and same entity". Therefore in practising Compassion-Meditation, one should dwell with full attention on the thought that since all sentient beings, oneself included are of one substance and at parity with one another, one should help them, as best as one can, to satisfy their needs: If giving charity, he does not cherish the thought that he is the giver, and sentient beings are the receivers, what is given and how much is given, thus, in one’s mind no arrogance and self-conceit would arise; if charity is given without expecting fame, remuneration or anything in return and without any conditions whatsoever, this is called : "unconditioned almsgiving" or "compassion on equality basis". If this principle of affinity of substance and equality of all sentient beings is put into practice, one would look upon others’ sufferings as if one’s own, and compassion would be aroused spontaneously and indiscriminately. And if help is given without making distinctions of "self" and others, without consideration of personal gains or advantages, and without any ulterior motive, this is called "The Great All-Compassion for the same entity".

In the light of the principle of compassion, at once we can realize that it is wrong to kill those living things for food to satisfy our appetites; it is wrong to take what is not our own for personal enjoyment; it is wrong to have improper sexual relations. We can realize that passionate desire for beauty and wealth is nothing but manifestation of the mind, where both the subject and the object of desire are empty and unreal; from this standpoint, all killing, stealing and debauchery committed by sentient beings cannot but be called "stupidity".

Again, with our understanding of the principle of compassion, we can realize that it is foolish to say of Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara’s remarkable miracles as superstition, inasmuch as both Dharmakaya of every Bodhisattva and the essence of sentient beings are of one substance and at parity with each other, and it is because of this affinity that the S.O.S. call of the one may draw the spontaneous compassionate response of the other; however, there must be no lack of sincerity, otherwise the mid of sentient beings, contaminated by cravings and defilements, would hardly be in unison with that of Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, and if the two minds do not meet on the common ground, it means that sentient beings are separating themselves far apart from the Bodhisattva and the two are not of one and the same essence, in that event when there is no compassion on the part of the sentient beings, naturally there will be no response from the compassionate Bodhisattva, for only the like may draw the like together; in short, without evoking compassion, one can hardly accomplish anything, and even the Dharma of Reciting Buddha can be of little avail.


(D) Distinguishing The Good and The Evil

"Refrain from every evil. Practise every good deed." So popular is this dictum that even a little child may be able to say it. In view of the fact that it is generally accepted by every religion, some simple-minded people assume that because all religions teach morality, they are all beneficial to humanity. To scientific-minded person who go into every question by analytic and deductive reasoning, such assumption sounds too simple to be true. Here are a few relevant questions: 1) How do these religions of the world define right and wrong in their own way? 2) What are the criteria to distinguish the right and wrong? 3) What is the objective of every religion to urge people to do good and not to do evil? 1)) Regarding the first question of defining right and wrong, not only there is no uniformity among the world religions; in some respects, they are at variance with one another; whiles ancestral worship is disapproved by some religions, it is supported by Buddhism and Confucianism; again, according to some religions, there is nothing wrong with killing animals for food as they are made by the Creator for human consumption; another religion forbids eating a certain kind of animal only. According to Buddhism, positively it is wrong to kill animals, birds, fish and any other living things just to satisfy one’s palate for food. 2)) As to the question of criteria to determine right and wrong, again, there is no uniformity among the world religions, as every religion goes by its own laws established by its founder, and to disobey them is considered sinful; on the other hand, Buddhism sets up most meticulous rules of discipline for Buddhist at different levels of spiritual development. Those rules for monks and nuns are more numerous and more strict than those for lay Buddhists at large, and what is permissible for Bhiskshus and Bhikshunis does not apply to Buddhists ordained for Bodhisattvahood. 3)) On the question of the objective of moral teaching, all religions hold different views from one another; to go to Paradise is the goal of some religion and to be saints and sages is the aspiration of another, but Buddhism asks for no reward whatsoever either from this world or from Buddha-lands for what Buddhists may attain spontaneously at the advanced stage of buddhahood development is Supreme Perfect Enlightenment. After all, it must be conceded that the question of right and wrong is not so simple as ordinary people think it to be.

Indeed, Buddhism treats the principle of right and wrong most meticulously and most comprehensively. One may do good deeds in either positive or negative way, and good deeds may be either producing good karma or entirely free from karma. If one practises good deeds actively and energetically, this is said to be working in the positive way, and if one refrains from doing evils, this is said to be doing good in the negative way; good deeds that are productive of good karma are not all free from defilements and may be subject to further changes, but good deeds that are karma-free are undefiled pure and unconditioned. Being unable to discern clearly what is right and what is wrong, people generally would say: "I’ll do what is right as prompted by my clear conscience. In my life I’ve never done any evil." This, however, is no assurance at all that one may not go wrong, in view of the fact that every day, every minute, one may be subjected to the impact of stupidity, egoism, arrogance, craving, etc in every act of his daily life, and so he is sowing numerous seeds of bad karma continually and incessantly. Moreover, the so-called "conscience" is no other than the six discriminating Consciousnesses, which, as described in the Sutra, are the "six thieves in one’s own house". This is how unconsciously, one goes wrong easily from day to day, or from moment to moment. In order to do the good and not the evil, the first and foremost thing is to realize the true meaning of good and evil before one chooses what to do, and in order to discern the good and the evil correctly, it is necessary to have good understanding of the fundamental truth of Equality. From the standpoint of Buddhism, true Equality is where the sentient beings art at parity with one another, where there is neither a subject nor an object of parity, nor any distinction between Ego-personality and other-personality. In delusion, sentient beings, however, make discrimination of subject and object, the ego and others; from egoism arise arrogance, pride and self-conceit, and for themselves, they would grab everything, by hook or by crook. This is the fundamental reason why the Ten Demeritorious Deeds (greed, hatred, stupidity, killing, stealing, debauchery, gossip, slander, lying, frivolous talk) and erroneous views crop up in the world so abundantly. IN short, as long as there is egoism, regardless whatever one may do for oneself or for others, all thoughts and behavior corresponding to it would be bad karma automatically; on the other hand, if one is free of egoism, invariable every deed would be good karma. All this shows that in defining and distinguishing right and wrong, Buddhism tackles the question fundamentally at its very root. However, in view of the numerous bad karma of sentient beings accumulated from beginningless time, Buddha has set up various expedient means of cultivation to help all of them at different levels of development to attain gradually the goal of self-enlightenment. On the other hand, other religions, ignorant of the fundamental truth of universal equality of all sentient beings, not only look upon killing living creatures with immunity but also with approval on the ground that though animals have life, they have no consciousness at all and furthermore, they are made by the Creator for human food; positively such heretical views are in striking contrast with the Buddhist principle of Universal Equality of sentient beings.

Whereas monotheistic and polytheistic religions, by the imposition of reward and punishment, ask people to believe in God or gods, e.g. believers would go to Paradise and non-believers to hell, Buddhism says that because Buddha-nature is immanent in everyone, fundamentally Buddha and sentient beings are at parity with each other. From this standpoint of Buddhism, to believe in God or any deity to be higher than sentient beings runs counter to the Principle of Universal Equality.

As to the question of establishing criteria to determine right and wrong, instead of stressing on the act, as conventional practices usually do, Buddhism probes into the motive of the act. In the view of Buddhism, scolding and hitting others may not be a bad thing at all if it is done for their benefit, and paying compliments and respects to others may be insincere and wrongful if it is done for an ulterior motive; for one practising Bodhisattva discipline rules, it may not be wrong to kill or to steal, provided that this is done entirely for others’ benefit. To illustrate, if an avaricious and chauvinistic despot, who has caused the loss of innumerable lives and properties of his people, is killed by a Buddhist undergoing Bodhisattva discipline, this is considered not only justifiable and noble, but also highly meritorious. In view of this, we can see what a Positive and Rational religion Buddhism is.
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