Buddhism puts salvation or Nibbana completely within the
reach of man. It does not, however, come to him as a gift from outside himself; it has to
be won. There is no one who seeks him out and cures his alienation from ultimate values.
In other words, Buddhism has no place for a Saviour who takes upon himself the sins of
others and obtains for them redemption therefrom.
Buddhism admits the existence of many categories of gods,
who are called devas or radiant ones. None of these devas, however, is
permanent and eternal. 'Mey are to be found in various planes of existence; some of them
have longer life-spans than others. Though none of them is almighty, some of them are
credited with superhuman powers and their favours could be won, though not by prayers or
sacrifices. According to Buddhism, devotees can share merits and radiate thoughts of
loving-kindness to them to invoke their protection.
Their existence in the deva world and the lengths
of their lives there depend on the good deeds they had done in previous lives and when
their 'store of merit' is exhausted, they disappear from their celestial abodes and are
born elsewhere. Many, if not most of them, are followers of the Buddha whose goodness they
know. They are not as fortunate as human beings because in the human world there are more
opportunities for good deeds than in the realm of the devas. Humans can 'share' the
merit which they attain by their good acts to the devas.
2. Sharing of Merit
The doctrine on 'sharing of merit' is part of the Buddha's
teaching. Such sharing is made by the doer of the good deed resolving that 'so and so' may
partake of the 'merit' of his good deed. The sharing becomes really effective when the
intended recipient becomes aware of the good deed and rejoices therein. This is called anumodana
(rejoicing therein). The anumodana can be done even without the knowledge of
the doer of the deed. The rationalisation behind it is that when one finds joy in
another's good deed, with or without the knowledge of the latter, one's own mind is
cleaned and purified and this produces its own meritorious effects. The anumodana can
be done by anyone as a conscious, deliberate act. The 6sharing of merit' is itself a good
deed and, therefore, adds to the 'merit' of the good deed already done. The 'person who
shares' loses nothing thereby but adds to his store of merit.
There are special devas or deities of great power,
who are considered protectors of Buddhism. Each Buddhist country has its own pantheon
whose sphere of influence is largely local, though there are a few who could be invoked
anywhere. Many of the local deities have been borrowed or adopted from the followers of
other faiths, chiefly from Hinduism in the case of Theravada lands. In Myanmar, for
instance, the Buddhists seek the favour of the Nats, who preside over the destinies of
Myanmars. In Japan, on the other hand, various Bodhisattvas (Buddha Aspirants) are
There are various shrines dedicated to these deities,
where devotees make offerings of fruits and flowers as a token of homage, their praises
sung or chanted and requests made for their favours. No animal is ever sacrificed. This
form of worship has been greatly influenced by the practices of the theistic religion.
This corresponds to what the Buddha said when He declared that in times of distress or
anxiety, people are prepared to go anywhere to seek protection. But the favours asked for
are concerned with mundane affairs. No Buddhist believes that the worship of devas, however
powerful they are, would lead to spiritual development.
The question is often asked as to what place Faith (Pali, Saddha)
occupies in Buddhism. It may be useful in this connection to recall that in the
original Pali canonical texts, there is no word equivalent to the term 'Buddhist'. People
are divided into various categories according to the degree of their spiritual
development. We thus have that ordinary man, one of the 'many folk' (puthujjana), the
good man (kalyana-puthujjana), the noble man (aiiya), and the perfect man (arahant).
The texts do speak of people who go to the Buddha, his Teaching (the Dhamma), and his
Noble Disciples (the Sangha) for 'refuge' (sarana). In Buddhism, there is no formal
act of 'baptism' though there is a stereotyped formula used by Buddhists in Buddhist lands
to express his act of 'taking refuge'which merely means that the devotee accepts the
Buddha as his Teacher and Guide, the Doctrine as his philosophy and his Way of Life and
the Sangha (the Community of Monks) as the exemplars of this Way of Life.
The Buddhist quality of Saddha means this
acceptance in the belief and knowledge that these Refuges are worthy of such acceptance.
There is no 'blind faith' involved, no case at all of 'believe or be damned'. The Buddha
agreed that there were many teachers and many Ways of Life preached by them and many
followers of such teachers and their Ways of Life. Everyone is left completely free to
make his choice; there is no restriction at all on the individual's autonomy in this
respect. In fact, there were instances when followers of other teachers repudiated them
and wished to transfer their allegiance to the Buddha, He discouraged them and asked them
to give the matter further thought. When they further persisted, He advised them to
continue their benefactions to their earlier teachers.
The well-known passage in the Kalama Sutta, which
is so often quoted in this context, is undisputed evidence of this freedom of choice. It
states quite categorically that nothing should be accepted merely on the grounds of
tradition or the authority of the teacher, or because it is the view of a large number of
people, distinguished or otherwise. Everything should be weighed, examined and judged
according to whether it is true or false in the light of one's convictions. If considered
wrong, they should not be rejected outright but left for further consideration. Not only
is doubt not considered a heinous sin; it is positively encouraged.
4. Right Views and Wrong Views
Buddhist has no specific definition for the terms sammaditthi
(right views) and micchaditthi (wrong views). They refer to views which are
intrinsically right or wrong whether held by Buddhists or others. No view is to be
considered sacrosanct and beyond question. Freedom of thought is a matter of human
dignity. Even the validity of the Buddha's own statements could be questioned. The Buddha
claims no authority for his doctrine except his own personal experience. Real authority is
the authority which truth itself possesses, the truth which authenticates itself. Such
truth has great power, the power even of performing miracles (saccakiriya), as
shown in so many Jataka stories, which are part of the Buddhist cultural heritage. Saddha
should, therefore, be better translated as confidence, trust or conviction, rather
than faith, because faith has connotations not found in the concept of Saddha.
5. Happiness of All Beings
The Way of Life taught by the Buddha is not, as sometimes
suggested, meant specifically for those who live the monastic life. It is true that the
spirituality of non-attachment which should be developed to attain Nibbana could be
achieved more quickly by the monk rather than by the layman. But, it is quite wrong to say
that full liberation can be achieved only by the monk and not by the layman living a
family life. The Buddha's discourses, as collected and edited by the Council of Elders
which met after the Buddha's passing away, consist largely of sermons addressed to monks
because it was they who mainly formed his immediate audiences. But, there are numerous
discourses addressed to laymen as well. Sometimes they are addressed to a single
In his very first sermon, called Establishment of the Rule
of Righteousness, he developed the concept of the welfare and happiness of all beings,
without any discrimination whatsoever, 'out of compassion for the but world'. It was the
first time in human history, as we know, that the idea of a general good or a common good
is envisaged, affecting not only the common man but also the peoples of the world and even
more the inhabitants of the universe. It was also described as a teaching which gives
results in this life, without delay, meant for all time, verifiable and inviting
6. Unity of Mankind
The Buddha taught not only the necessity of an inner
revolution of the individual for human happiness but also the need for an outer revolution
in the life of Society. Thus, for instance, he preached the fundamental oneness and unity
of mankind, irrespective of colour or race or other physiological characteristics - as in
the case of animals - and created a revolution for the abolition of the caste system which
was prevalent in India in his day. In order to demonstrate his concept of the oneness of
mankind, he moved not only with kings and capitalists and aristocratic ladies, but also
with the poorest of the poor, with beggars and scavengers, robbers and courtesans.
He admitted into the Order (the Sangha) which he founded,
men and women from all grades of society, regardless of their birth or origin. He
ministered to the sick and the destitute, consoled the stricken and brought happiness to
the miserable. It is said that the first hospitals in history were organised under his
direction. He did not retire from the world after his Enlightenment lived for forty-five
years in the community, constantly seeking out those whom he could help.
He valued greatly the liberty of the individual, freedom
of thought and. expression and the ideals of democracy. A commitment to Buddhism is not
contradictory to openness. The Order of the Sangha is considered the oldest democratic
institution in the world and it was set up as a model for lay organisations, including
political institutions. The ideal state envisaged in Buddhism is a democracy, working for
the material and spiritual welfare of the people, guaranteeing political, religious and
personal freedom as well as economic security with full employment.
8. Economic Welfare
Planning for economic welfare is clearly emphasized as
part of the functions of the king or the state. 'When that is properly done,' says the
Buddha, 'the inhabitants, following each his own mission, will no longer harass the realm,
the state revenue will increase, the country-will be quiet and at peace and the populace,
pleased with one another and happy, dancing with their children in their arms, will dwell
with open doors.' A Buddhist text, the Mahavastu, says, 'The world rests on two
foundations: the acquisition of wealth and the conservation of what is gained. Thherefore,
to acquire wealth and conserve what you have gained, make firm efforts, within the bounds
9. Ownership of Property
Public ownership of property is favoured in many parts of
the world, especially where socialist principles hold sway. As far as it is known, the
first consistent and thorough going application of the principle of common ownership in a
specific community or society is to be found in the Vinaya rules which govern the
Order of the Buddhist Sangha, where all property, movable and immovable, of any
significant economic value, is held in common trust, without any sort of compulsion. Life
in the Sangha is a corporate life based on the principles of voluntary co-operation.
10. Buddhism and Mankind
From what has been already said, it will be seen that
Buddhism is very much concerned with this world and the life of mankind therein. It is by
no means a world-denying religion. The Buddha described his teaching as being Sanditthika,
primarily concerned with this world, with this life. Even the highest happiness, that
of Nibbana, is to be striven for in this very life. It lays the greatest stress on
the absolute need for making the best of the ever-fleeting present, so as to ensure that
the future is controlled for our well-being. The past is gone beyond recall. Only the
present is available to us for the good life. The future is yet to come and what we make
of it depends entirely on us.
The Buddhist does not regard the world as a prison from
which man must escape to enter heaven. Rather, he seeks to build heaven here. He is not a
materialist, nor does he scorn the advantages of a material civilization. His problem is
not that of a choice between the senses and the spirit but the domination of the spirit.
The Buddhist ideal is to establish an equilibrium between the outside and the inside,
between the externalities of nature and the world around us and the spiritual progress
through the conquest of selfishness. To him, Life is a great adventure, often a dangerous
adventure. The main problem is how this greatest of all adventures could be directed to a
The Buddhist ideal is that of arahantship, i.e.
perfection. To achieve this ideal, all those factors that militate against such well-being
must be removed, not only for oneself but also for all things that have life. The Buddhist
cannot seek his personal welfare, regardless of others; his welfare is inextricably bound
up with the welfare of the whole world. Hence the Buddha's injunction that the good man
must be sabba panabhutahitanukampi, deeply concerned with and actively working for
the happiness and welfare not only of human beings but of all living creatures.
Wherever Buddhism found its way, it encouraged the growth
of a civilization and a culture marked by tolerance, humanity, sympathy and understanding,
the twin virtues of karuna (compassion) and panna (wisdom) which form the
two main planks of the Buddhist doctrine.
12. The Modem World
The distinctive feature of the modern world is the
acceleration and magnitude of the process of change. We witness today almost unbelievable
change in the drastic and revolutionary transformation of all human institutions in every
field of human activity. It is true that the breathtaking advantages of science and
technology have destroyed the solid moorings of a more stable way of life, which had its
own ethical character, and cast large masses of men adrift in a strange and difficult
world. The world is fast changing out of recognition.
But these advances have also brought emancipation to
humanity in many directions. They have given us great social and intellectual gains and
the means whereby to destroy hunger and poverty. Societies have been knitted together
closer than ever before, and made more responsive to men's needs and demands. 'Me fault
will not be in the products of scientific and technical advancement but in our failure to
make wise and proper use of them.
In any case, we cannot stop the world; it will go on
changing, for change, says the Buddha, is the fundamental fact of life. No revolution can
put an end to change itself. That is the beauty of change. Without constant change,
yesterday's revolution becomes today's convention and today's convention is tomorrows
Our very survival is tied up with change. This is where
modern man must find Buddhism to be particularly relevant to his age. Buddhism accepts
change; in fact, it is built on the truth of constant change and flux. We must learn to
take the rivers as they flow.
We must cultivate the quality of resilience, the ability
to adopt, adapt and be flexible. The moment we come to rigid conclusions and refuse to
consider different points of view, we cease to be intelligent. Our views tend to harden
into dogmas and dogmas make us mulish in our obstinacy. New challenges call for new
responses. If each individual takes care to avoid dogmas, the entire community becomes an
open society which makes the good life possible.
13. Problems Facing Mankind
The problems facing mankind are many. We have problems of
food, industry, labour, wages, unemployment, inequality of opportunity, the gap between
the haves and the have-nots, to mention but a few. They appear very complicated, as indeed
they are, but the aspiration of the common man is a simple one. He merely wishes. to be
able to live in peace and happiness, with freedom to build his own little world, in human
He also needs fellowship and understanding and love, and
something that will provide hope for himself and his children, both for this life and in
the next. In many parts of the world even these basic needs are not available. Neither
security nor justice is to be found universally. Uncertainty and insecurity have become a
deadly almost universal curse, both among the rich and the poor, producing sometimes
apathy and indifference, sometimes unrest, tension and revolution. Science has failed to
find the secret of happiness. 7he 'Conquest of nature' has not succeeded in achieving
either plenty or peace. This is not surprising to us, because the Buddha taught us that
happiness is to be found in living in harmony with the Dhamma, i.e. with Nature, with its
beauty and grandeur. The truth is that mankind, as a whole, is unhappy, desperately
The situation, therefore, would appear to be extremely
complicated and probably incapable of solution. Yet, if we were to examine the matter
carefully, with knowledge and understanding, we should realize that our modern problems
are not fundamentally different from the perennial problems that have afflicted people at
all times and in all climes. If our modem problems differ from those of our forbears, it
is largely in the matter of their greater number and wider variety.
Now, the fundamental teaching of the Buddha, as we have
seen already, is that nothing happens except as a result of causes. Once the causes are
investigated and understood, the solutions could be found. It is aft too frequently
assumed that the teachings of ancient sages, such as the Buddha, are too simple to be
efficacious enough to help us in the solution of the exceedingly complex problems which
affect the individual and society in contemporary life. The message of the Buddha is
addressed to the basic human predicament and this makes it both timeless and timely. It is
a guide to action in terms of thought, word and deed. Each succeeding generation can and
must rediscover the relevance of that message to the solution of its own problems.
14. Highest Happiness
It is the Buddha's teaching that the highest happiness is
peace and that there can be no real happiness without peace. The world is distraught with
fears and threats of wars. Countries involved in war have become awesome arsenals of
military hardware, ensuring continued business and profit to merchants of death and
destruction: Following conflicting ideologies, not only military personnel but thousands
of innocent men, women and children are being mercilessly massacred and incalculable
damage is inflicted on land and property. Nothing escapes the fury and the frenzy of
battle, and to what end? 'Hatred never ceases by hatred,' declared the Buddha, 'but only
by love', and again, 'Victory breeds ill-will, for the conquered are unhappy.' In many
other parts of the world, war-clouds hang menacingly near. The air is full of violence in
thought, word and deed.
This, then, is the task of religion - all religions. It is
religion alone that can affect the necessary change of heart -religion which consists not
in the performance of rites and ceremonies and the preaching of sermons, but in a life of
holiness and inner tranquility, resulting in the disarmament of the mind, which is the
only real disarmament.
15. Root-causes of War
The Buddha also teaches us that the only way to achieve
peace is by eliminating the root-causes of war - greed, hatred and ignorance. Today the
world is divided into people of various ideologies, with their power-blocs, who devote
most of their minds and energies to the sterile, negative, cruel business of wars. The
world cannot have peace till men and nations renounce selfish desires, give up racial
arrogance and cleanse themselves of the egoistical lust for possession and power. Ideology
divides, it brings about conflict. Ideology takes multifarious forms - political,
religious, economic, social and educational. Ideology is an escape from reality. It
brutalises man and holds him in bondage to fanaticism and violence.
It is in men's minds that conflicting ideologies are born,
resulting in tension and war and it is from the minds of men that these conflicts should
be eradicated so that humanity could be filled with thoughts of harmony and peace. The
Buddha declared that the mind is foremost, the forerunner of all things, good or bad,
that, when the mind is cleansed of evil, peace and happiness will reign.
Religion, if it is true religion, must take the whole of
man as its province and not merely certain aspects of his life. The good man, i.e., the
man who follows his religion, knows that there can be no happiness or peace on earth as
long as there is poverty and starvation, injustice and oppression, discriminative
legislation, racial segregation, social disabilities and inequalities, corroding fear,
mutual distrust and suspicion. Self-respect is as necessary to happiness as food, and
there can be no self-respect among those who do not have the opportunity to achieve the
full stature of their manhood.
16. World Problems
The problems that face mankind today and threaten the very
structure of humanity are world-problems and not isolated in this or that geographical
area. Their solution, therefore, has to be sought in world-terms. This involves new
conceptions, on our part, of human relations, not only in the family and the home, our
city, village and our country, but in the context of the world. There is the need to
educate men and women with regard to the evils of narrow nationalism, racism, colour and
creed. Intolerance, arrogance and bigotry which seek to deprecate and denigrate other
peoples, other cultures, other religions, other ways of life different from our own -
these must be eradicated, if we are to find peace.
17. Sinister Past
It has been admitted that religion has, in many respects,
a sinister past to redeem. Too frequently, its mission to mankind has been submitted to
exigencies of provincial or national politics and nefarious schemes for aggrandizement and
conquest. In earlier ages, most national wars were also religious wars. Too often, also,
religion has buried itself with details of ritual and dogmas, questions of ministerial
organisation and the infallibility of books and persons. It thus narrowed itself down to
priestcraft and sacredotalism, looking after its endowments and establishments.
Modern man has, therefore, the right to ask, what use
religion has for us of this age. They would argue that religion has served its purpose;
let it, therefore, die. This is the main cause of secularization which religion everywhere
has to face. Since the problems arising from secularization are more or less common to all
the World Religions, there is no need to examine them specifically here.
The gravest of them, however, are the problems connected
with the youth of the world about whom there exist many misgivings among the older
generation and chiefly among the leaders of the various religions. These misgivings centre
mainly round the violence prevalent among many youth movements and the use of narcotics
and drugs by large numbers of young men and women. Both these factors seem to be symptoms
of a deeplyrooted disease, which, like all other diseases, must be the result of certain
causes. It is the causes that we must discover before we can think of remedies.
19. Strata of Culture
In almost every country in the modern world, there seem to
be three, fairly distinguishable strata of culture. First there is the traditional culture
of simple virtues, conservative in outlook, which might be called the culture of normalcy
striving to maintain ancient values which have been tested in the crucible of experience.
The second is the modern technologically organised society, liberal in outlook, trying to
adapt itself to changes taking place around it, with almost breathtaking rapidity. The
third is what has been called counter - culture, represented in the popular mind by
so-called hippies, with their long hair, unkempt appearance, questioning the beliefs and
values, with their penchant for rock-music, uninhibited sex, indulgence in narcotics and
drugs with noisy demonstrations, turning to a communal or tribal life-style, going back to
Nature in what they call 'sheer aestheticism'.
This counter-culture group is generally looked upon with
fear and disgust by the other two cultures. However, there are those, who, having made a
close study of counter-culture, maintain that the popular image is wrong, shallow and
superficial, and that their unorthodox behaviour is only a means of protest against
established society which they regard as completely motivated by prejudice and
In the fight of what has thus been stated, what should be
the attitude of religion to those of the modern age, who are to be found everywhere, in
numbers large or small? Surely, it should be an attitude of tolerance and sympathy and,
above all, of understanding, flexibility and adaptation.
Let us not forget that some of the leaders of religion
have themselves been revolutionaries. The Buddha, for instance, was one of the greatest
rebels in human history. He denied the assumptions on which religion in his day was based
and gave the religious quest an entirely new orientation. He refused to accept the
sincerity of the Vedas or the power of the priesthood. He refuted the illusion that human
problems could be solved with sacred rituals and incantations. He was a sworn enemy of the
caste-system on which the whole structure of Indian Society rested. He was ridiculed and
persecuted and several attempts were made on his life.
20. Salient Characteristics
During the 2500 years of its history, Buddhism has
successfully faced the challenges that confronted it. Resilience and tolerance have been
among its salient characteristics. It has no hierarchical institutions and no rigid dogmas.
Its benign influence on humanity is proven by the cultures and civilizations which have
grown in countries into which it has spread. It has a message for modern man as potent as
in the days of the Buddha. Buddhism does not promise that the ills from which humanity
suffers can be alleviated in any fundamental way by some grand, overall organization of
society. While denying any innate sinfulness in man, it declares that salvation is an
individual affair and can be achieved only by virtuous conduct and mental culture. Its
whole teaching has been summarised by the Buddha himself as:
"The avoidance of all evil; the accumulation of the
good; the purification of one's mind - this is the message of the Buddhas."
During the last four or five centuries, Buddhism has
suffered from colonialism in many Asian countries, by external and internal wars and the
deliberate efforts of the followers of other religions to weaken and destroy it. The
Sangha which has kept the teaching alive and which enjoyed the patronage of those in power
has been disorganised and weakened as a result of forces beyond its control.
But, the outlook is once more bright. Buddhist unity has
been forged by such organizations as the World Fellowship of Buddhists and the World
Sangha Council which have brought together Mahayana and Theravada in order to follow a
joint programme of action. There is a great deal of illiteracy and poverty among Buddhist
peoples to be overcome. The Sangha must be educated to meet modern needs. Buddhism has
never been a passive, docile religion. It has been one of the greatest civilizing forces
of the world.
Special thanks to
Phramaha Somnuek Saksree for transcription of this article.