Outlook Of Buddhism
By Wang Chi Biu
English Translation By P. H. Wei
The Positive Spirit of Buddhism
Two relative terms, "positive" and "negative", are very much in current use nowadays, but their interpretation is ambiguous and indefinite as calling the "east" and "west" positions. According to general conception, "positive" means striving, bold, going forward and discontented, and, in contrast, "negative" means indolent, timid, retreating and contented. In view of the fact that without working for their living, monks and nuns live in mountains, and out-of-way places exclusively, and lay Buddhists usually shun themselves from social activities, Buddhism is generally misconceived to be of pessimistic and passive nature. However, in reality, Buddhism is fundamentally and essentially a rational religion. In seeking to solve the riddle of life and the universe, Buddhists have to live in secluded places, where, free of temptations and obstructions, they can carry on their spiritual cultivation vigorously with undivided attention, so much so that they have to forego working for their living; strictly speaking, the role of productivity played by Buddhists is just as important as, if not more important than, that of statesmen or educationalists; certainly they would not keep themselves away from society where they can be helpful and serviceable to others, though merely for personal enjoyment and advantages, they would not care to go about and mix up in social circles at all; although they may appear to be unusually passive and socially inactive, owing to their indifference to fame, and other self-interests, they always guard themselves vigilantly against the evils of temptation and move vigorously toward the Path of Enlightenment. After all, what is the incentive to be positive? In the conventional view, the most desirable and enviable things are wealth and fame; it is for those things that people would strive, by every means to gain, would become fearless to meet every difficulty and to overcome every obstruction, would be going ahead of other people in this competing world and even with their attainment of those things, would still be discontented and crave for more and more. On the other hand, because of their lacking such incentive, Buddhists are said to be passive – lazy, timid, backward and simple-minded. However, on no account are Buddhists lacking the impetus of some sort of driving power; it is only for the realization of Enlightenment that their best effort is exerted. It is in order that sentient beings may attain Absolute Equality, may enjoy Absolute Freedom, may liberate themselves from suffering, may attain Wisdom inherent in them, and may realize Supreme Perfect Enlightenment, that they are determined to do their utmost – even at the cost of their lives – without retreat and without fear, regardless of hundreds and thousands of kalpas it may take for the fulfillment of those objectives, in accord with the spirit of "as long as there remains a single being who fails to become Buddha, I vow I’ll not enter into Nirvana."; such spirit is truly courageous, going forward, and striving discontentedly till those objectives are accomplished; indeed, this is the way to be truly active and positive.(A) In Pursuit of Freedom
The fundamental positive thing of Buddhism is to strive for freedom. Those general freedoms sought by us are freedom of the body, freedom of residence, occupation, assemble, speech, freedom of the press, publication, belief and thought, and with the "Never-Ending Freedom" sponsored by President Roosevelt, the sphere of freedom has been expanded to a great extent. However, in the eyes of Buddhism, the scope of all those freedoms is too restricted, their standard too low and freedom-seeders are too timid to ask for that Fundamental Freedom which everyone is entitled to enjoy. To illustrate, once a beggar dreamed that he became a king. Replying to the question what he would enjoy most if he were a king, he said readily, "as a king, I could have doughnuts and pancakes to my heart’s content." Regarding the question of freedom, ironically we are as miserable and pitiable as that beggar, for although it is in our own right to enjoy that Fundamental Freedom, yet few of us are aware of it and bold enough to ask for it
However, the stout-hearted Buddhist takes a radical stand; to be absolutely free, he would go so far as to break away from all the bounds of the spheres of freedom and all the criteria of freedom. First of all, he asks for absolute freedom of the six elements of the body. The functioning of the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind should be absolutely free of obstruction and hindrance. First, the eye. He would ask: why is it that the eye can see only a small section of the light belt and no more, only the violet light and not the light waves outside, only the infra-red light but not the light waves within, and the wave-lengths of radio? ; why is it incapable of seeing those mountains, rivers, living beings and things of all satellites?; and also electrons, cosmic rays and the magnetic lines of force? Again, why it cannot see things of the past and the future? Why is the eyesight confined only to things within its range and not extended further? In short, he asks that the functioning of the eye be absolutely free from any impediment. Next, the ear. He would ask: why is it that the ear cannot hear sound waves below twenty, and above twenty thousand, periodic vibrations per unit time?; why it cannot hear speeches and voices and dialects of all sentient beings of the universe?; also the vibrations of particles?; why is it that it is not free to hear sound waves other than those of the present moment? In short, he asks that the functioning of the ear be absolutely free of every obstruction. Next, the nose. He would ask: why is the nose unable to be free of restrictions of time and space so that it may smell the scents all over the world? Again, why can’t it smell its own smell? And why can’t the various fragrant and bad smells be differentiated by means of periodical angular and straight line and curve? All he asks is that the functioning of the nose be absolutely free of every obstruction. Next, the tongue. He would ask: why the tongue cannot taste itself and tell the taste of something before touching it? Why can’t it speak the spoken words of all sentient beings? Again, why can’t it relay its sayings to all sentient beings of the world and beyond? Why can’t it speak to every variety of sentient beings in one voice to be comprehensible to them all? He asks that the functioning of the tongue be absolutely free to speak and to taste without obstruction. Next, on the body’s functioning, he would ask: Why can’t the body move about freely in the space from one satellite to another without being subjected to the influence of the gravitation force? Why can’t it transform itself freely at its own will to be large or small, or as large as the void, or small enough to get itself into an atom so as to disrupt the latter’s working system? Again, why can’t it push the whole solar system into the Milky Way? Why can’t it feel the sufferings of infinite sentient beings? So he would ask that the body and every part of it be free to function without obstruction. Lastly, the mind. He would ask: why is the mind unable to know the phenomenal transformations of the universe in the past, at the present and in the future, and also the minds of all sentient beings? Why can’t it be detached from the common "eight Categories of suffering"? Why can’t it anticipate the conditions of the space above the four dimensions? Also, why can’t it change material things freely at its own will? Why can’t it detach itself from the phenomena confronting it so that it may think freely? In short, according to the Buddhist, the eye, the ear, the nose, the tongue, the body and mind should be absolutely free of defilements and obstructions. If you think what the Buddhist asks in the above is unreasonable, your line of thinking may be said to be similar to the beggar’s contentment with pancakes only. All in all, the positive spirit to seek right understanding of the Truths of life and the universe, and, meanwhile, not to be contented with present conditions of the mundane world is something unique in Buddhism and not to be found elsewhere.(B) The Sublime Wish
If it is merely asking without sound reasons, none of those aforementioned Potential Freedoms of the eye, ear, noes, tongue, body and mind would be attainable, and if we do not know the right approach in handling the issue, even though, theoretically speaking, they may be attainable, the prospect of their attainment practically would be no better than day-dreaming. According to the Doctrine of Buddhism, such Potential Freedoms are inherent in everyone of us, and cannot be obtained by external means; because of our delusion caused by subjective thinking and because of our ignorance of the fundamental Self-nature, unconsciously we give way to different sorts of vexing passions, and, like a silk-worm enclosing itself in a cocoon, would not be able to liberate ourselves from attachments and suffering; however, if by spiritual cultivation, we remove ignorance and make a clean sweep of those passions, the mind, now free from corruptions and obstructions, would revert itself to its original nature of purity automatically and become absolutely free. From this, it is clear that in theory and in practice, absolute freedom si not unattainable, and if we are fortified with unwavering faith, and great resolution, added to persistent and vigorous effort of cultivation, and without fear and without retreat in the face of difficulties, certainly we would achieve absolute freedom someday.
As expressed by Buddhism, before taking up spiritual cultivation, those who have established their faith already, should reinforce themselves with strong resolution. Faith, like a navigation compass, shows the cultivator the right course, from which he must not deviate, and Resolution, like a generator, is the driving power to press him forward towards the goal of Enlightenment. In view of this, it is imperative that Buddhist should abide themselves by the Four Great Vows in the following:
- I vow to deliver infinite sentient beings from suffering;
- I vow to eliminate infinite vexing passions;
- I vow to learn infinite Dharmas;
- I vow to attain supreme Buddhahood.
The positive spirit of Buddhism, as seen in these Great Vows, in superb and remarkable. Firstly, instead of seeking personal advantages or the reward of going to paradise for enjoyment, the object of cultivating Buddhism is to help all sentient beings, including those living things as well as those living in Heaven, to deliver themselves from sufferings and to achieve happiness. Secondly, with the view of attaining Supreme Perfect Enlightenment, the Buddhist should exert every effort to learn the fundamental Truths of life and the universe. Thirdly, notwithstanding his awareness of infinite sentient beings, infinite vexing passions, innumerable Dharmas and unexcelled Buddhahood, he carries out the four Great Vows without fear and retreat. If such spirit of undaunted courage and unswerving determination is said to be passive and negative, we would be at loss to know what is truly "positive"
Because of their unique appeal, the remarkable and superb vows of the three Bodhisattvas may be briefly described here for readers’ reference. 1) Bodhisattva Samantabhadra’s Tenfold Vows; 2) Bhikkhu Dharmakara’s (Amitabha Buddha) forty-eight Vows; 3) Bodhisattva Manjushri’s 141 Vows. Of Bodhisattva Samantabhakra’s Ten Great Vows, the Vow to be in sympathetic accord with sentient beings is quoted in the following extracted passage:
"Next, virtuous men, the Vow to be harmoniously acquiescent with every variety of sentient beings, is this: to all of them of the Dharma-realms, the Infinite Woid and the Ten Quarters ……. I vow that I would respond with them at all times, and would serve them with every sort of offerings and be helpful to them in every way as I would do to my parents, teachers, Arahants and Tathagatas all alike. To those who suffer from illnesses, I would be a good physician; to those going astry, I would be a guide to show them the right path; to those in darkness, I would be a light; and for the poor and needy, I would be a discover of hidden treasures; thus a bodhisattva extends to all beings with equal benefits and bestows his loving care upon them all alike. And why? Because to be in sympathetic response and in accord with sentient beings is tantamount to serving and making offerings to all Buddhas; to honor and to serve sentient beings is no less than serving and honoring all Buddhas; and to gratify sentient beings is same as gratifying all Tathagatas. Why? It is because Great Compassions is the Essence of every Buddha and every Tathagata that in response to all sentient beings, it arises spontaneously. From Great Compassion comes Bodhi, and Bodhi comes from Supreme Perfect Enlightenment. Thus sentient beings are essential for the development of Bodhi, and if there were no sentient beings, no Bodhisattva could ever attain Supreme Perfect Enlightenment. Now, Virtuous men, ponder well on the truth of this parable. If equality is accorded to all sentient beings, then Great Compassion will be fully consummated. Therefore, to respond to sentient beings with Great Compassion is no less than serving and doing homage to Tathagatas. The way of Bodhisattvas to respond to sentient beings is this: even the karma and klesa of sentient beings may come to an end, never my effort of sympathetic response to all the them would cease. This vow to be harmoniously acquiescent with sentient beings, incessantly in my thought, is carried out into deeds of the body, mouth and mind unremittingly and tirelessly."
From this, it is abundantly clear that Bodhisattve Samantabhadra’s ideal of serving sentient beings is incomparable and remarkable. In view of the fact that the scope of our services is generally limited to a group, or to a section of the community only, therefore we should emulate Samantabhadra by extending our services to infinite living beings of every variety. Whereas in every society the question of services is usually based on personal relationships or group interest, Samantabhadra, however serves sentient beings indiscriminately and according to the principles of Equality. In every religion the object of worship is its founder: Samantabhadra holds that to serve and to make offerings to all beings is tantamount to serving and doing homage to the Tathagata. Whereas those who dedicate themselves to serve humanity, may do so in this life at best. The Bodhisattva extends his services in the manner unremittingly and tirelessly for infinite periods of time. In the light of this principle, it is incontroversial that Buddhism is by no means a passive and pessimistic religion.
Also, the sublime forty-eight Vows of Amitabha Buddha are most awe-inspiring indeed. In setting up the Supreme Happiness Buddhaland, it is his aspiration that in that Buddha Country not only is the aspect of material civilization at the most advanced level, but its people, apart from being good looking, should also achieve Potential Freedom (of the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind) and are all equal with one another. At the time he made those great vows, Buddha heard him and assured him, saying: "In hunting for treasures in the ocean, if one is determined to do son, regardless of the lapes of a number of aeons, certainly he would reach the seabed, where he may obtain valuables to his liking; likewise, if a pursuer of Tao is firmly resolved to proceed to the Path of Enlightenment, by his persevering effort, surely he will get to the destination." After his fulfilment of his forty-eight Vows, it culminated in his complete development of Buddhahood, and he was named Amitabha Buddha. In fact, "NaMo A-Mi-Ta-
Bha" had been the most popular Buddhist slogan in China for many centuries.
Next, Bodhisattva Manjushri’s one hundred and forty one Vows, rocorded in "The Pure conduct Chapter" of Avatamsaka, are profoundly significant and meaningful. For every act, just a very simple and ordinary activity in one’s daily life, there is a vow attached, and instead of saying "to wish for oneself", every vow is "a wish for all sentient beings", exclusively. From the standpoint of Buddhism, every Buddhist should be always considerate of others and wish them well in everything. Because he identifies himself to be at one with sentient beings and at par with all of them, he is free of the concept of ego-personality; this as reiterated in the previous chapter, is in accord with the Buddhist Theory of Universal Equality.
In short, from those Bodhisattvas’ sublime Vows mentioned in the above, the All-Courage, All-Power and All-Compassion of Buddhism may be seen, but this may be unusually hard for religionists, philosophers, statesmen and scientists all over the world to emulate.