Yick Keng Hang
With the fast pace and stress of present-day life, what lies at the very heart of Buddhism that strikes us? Is it the teachings about how we should live our lives, about how we should relate to other living beings, or is it just about our own spiritual paths?
As Buddhism does not practice the idea of worshipping a creator God, the Westerners do not consider Buddhism as a religion in the Western theistic context. Does that bother us or cause us to be perturbed by their contracted definition? Should we instead, be more concerned about what Buddhism has to offer to the human world of which we are a part? Let us look at these propositions.
The basic tenets of Buddhist teachings are straightforward and realistic: nothing is fixed or permanent; actions have their results; change is possible; abstain from evil, do good, and purify one’s mind. So Buddhism addresses itself to all people irrespective of age, gender, race, nationality, status, caste or sexuality. It teaches practical methods which enable people to realize and use its teachings in order to transform their experience, thoughts, speech and behaviour, to be fully responsible for their lives, and ultimately to be awakened. As for it being either a religion or a way of life, the answer is that it is both. The Buddha teaches a deep and meaningful philosophy and at the same time, advocated a very thoughtful and liberating way of leading one’s life. This is true!
The ideals at the heart of Buddhism are collectively known as the “Three Jewels or Treasures”. As stated, Buddhism is not concerned with worshipping a creator God; Buddhism started with the Buddha, followed by his teachings, the Dharma, and his monastic followers, the Sangha.
It is by taking refuge in the Three Treasures and by making these the central tenets of our lives that we become Buddhists. There is no two ways about it. In this sense, Buddhism is not about other worldly or inward-looking, but deeply concerned with the here and now, all within the human world ofwhich we are a part.
The whole Buddhist tradition derives from the historical Buddha. All schools regard him as the root founder, teacher, guide and inspiration. The Buddha is seen as a ‘Refuge’ not because he will help us to escape problems and difficulties, but because his way of life and teachings bespeak practical and reliable responses to our sorrows in the different facets of life. They can help free us from attachment to “false refuges” for those mundane things or divine realms which we ignorantly deemed these as happiness and security. Truth is, these are not. Taking refuge in the Buddha means seeing him as our fundamental and ultimate spiritual teacher, committing ourselves to achieving Buddhahood for the sake of all beings. In seeking to follow the Buddha’s path to Awakening, Buddhists try to understand the teachings that express his wisdom and compassion from the spectrum of the Buddhist tradition throughout time. These are collectively
known as the Dharma, and are revered as the best guide to reality.
Bodhisattva Ideal – Master Yinshun (印顺导师)
Drawing on all aspects of the Buddhist traditions and in connecting the dots to look at an integrated whole of the Buddha-Dharma, Master Yinshun (印顺导师的 “学佛三要”) has skilfully emphasised the implicit teachings of the Buddha, that is the “Bodhisattva ideal” which lays special emphasis on faith / vows, compassion and wisdom as essentials to the Bodhisattva path. The Bodhisattva ideal is a central aspect of Buddhism as a whole, and that its expression by the Mahayana is not a later development but the reassertion of something that was implicit in the Buddha’s teaching from beginning. Transcendental wisdom (prajna) necessarily includes compassion (karuna) and skilful means (upaya) to help others.
All the above three essentials (学佛三要) are the fundamental aspects of the principle of going for refuge to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. The Bodhisattva ideal expresses its altruistic dimension. An Awakened One thus sees the nature of reality absolutely clearly, just as it is, and lives fully and mindfully in accordance with that vision. This is the goal of the Buddhist spiritual life, representing the end of suffering and thus liberation for anyone who attains it.
The Process of Self-Improvement
Buddhism is a spiritual path for human beings. It describes a Buddhist way of life that seeks growth and personal development. It is indeed about how much we are growing and improving right now rather than what we have achieved in the past or the future after death. In this respect, the Buddha placed paramount importance on people’s inner transformation and sought to change people’s mindsets through moral cultivation, compassion, wisdom. And with that, the Buddha exhorts us to create a pure land in this human-centred society for one and all, through joint skilful means and altruistic motivation. The decisive factor in changing ourselves is the mind, and Buddhism has developed many methods for working on the mind. Most importantly, Buddhists practise meditation, which is a way of developing more positive states of mind that are characterised by calm, concentration and awareness. Using the awareness developed in meditation and coupled that with insight contemplation / realisation, it is possible to have a fuller understanding of ourselves, of other people, and of life itself.
Though the Buddha Dharma is rooted in India more than 2,500 years ago, its teachings and values remain pragmatic and powerful today. This is because it has universal appeal and global relevance that ultimately transcend cultural or ethnic boundaries. Lest we forget, let us remind ourselves that the Buddha personally traveled from one city and village to another, teaching and spreading the Dharma, and at the same time, exhorting his monastic followers to do the same to as many people as possible. “Go forth, O Bhikkhus, for the good of the any, for the happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world, for the good, benefit, and happiness of gods and humans.” Let us spread the Truth!