Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Buddhism in a Nutshell

Amber Larson, Dhr. Seven, Crystal Quintero (eds.),  Wisdom Quarterly; Narada Maha Thera, Buddhism in a Nutshell (Budsas.org); photographer Cyrille Gibot, Sri Lanka
The historical Buddha carved in stone, Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka (Sallyrango/flickr.com)
Buddha and His Teachings
Buddhism in a Nutshell first appeared in 1933. Since then several editions have been published by various philanthropists for free distribution. For a fuller exposition of the subjects dealt with here, readers may refer to the revised and enlarged edition of The Buddha and His Teachings published in 1980.
— Ven. Narada, Vajirarama, Sri Lanka, May 7, 1982

Ordinarily the enjoyment of sensual pleasures is the highest and only happiness of the average person.

There is no doubt that there is a kind of momentary happiness in the anticipation, gratification, and retrospection of fleeting physical pleasures, albeit illusive and temporary, but craving and clinging to them cause a great deal of pain. According to the Buddha non-attachment is a greater bliss.
The Buddha did not expect followers to be constantly pondering unsatisfactoriness (dukkha, woe, ill, suffering, disappointment) and lead a miserable or unhappy life. He exhorts them to be always happy and cheerful, for joy (piti) is one of the Seven Factors of Enlightenment.
Real happiness is found within and is not defined in terms of wealth, children, honors, or fame. If such possessions are misdirected, forcibly or unjustly obtained, misappropriated, or even viewed with attachment, they will be a source of pain and sorrow to the possessors.
Instead of trying to rationalize the existence of suffering, Buddhism acknowledges it and seeks its cause to uproot it. Suffering exists as long as there is craving to some things based on ignorance and associated with aversion to other things. It can only be ended by practicing the Noble Eightfold Path and attaining the supreme peace and safety of nirvana.
Buddha Aukana, Sri Lanka (Cyrille Gibot/flickr)
The Four Nobe Truths -- that there is suffering, that it has a cause, that it can be brought to an end, and the path to its end -- can be verified by human experience.

So the Buddha-Dharma does not rely on a fear of the unknown, but is founded on a bedrock of facts that can be tested for oneself and verified by personal experience. Buddhism is therefore rational and intensely practical with a mystical side that can be experienced.
Such a rational and practical system cannot contain irresolvable mysteries or esoteric doctrines. Blind faith, therefore, has no place in Buddhism. Free of blind faith there can be no coercion or persecution or fanaticism.

To the unique credit of Buddhism is that throughout its peaceful march of 2,600 years no drop of blood was shed in the name of the Buddha, no mighty monarch wielded his powerful sword to propagate the Dharma (Teaching), and no conversion was made either by force or by repulsive methods. Yet, the Buddha was the first and the greatest missionary in history.
Aldous Huxley writes: "Alone of all the great world religions Buddhism made its way without persecution censorship or inquisition."
Lord Russell remarks: "Of the great religions of history, I prefer Buddhism, especially in its earliest forms; because it has had the smallest element of persecution."
In the name of Buddhism no altar was reddened with the blood of a Hypatia, no Bruno was burnt alive.
Buddhism appeals more to the intellect than to the emotion. It is concerned more with the character of the devotees than with their numerical strength.

Women visit Anuradhapura (Cyrille Gibot)
On one occasion Upali, a follower of Jainism's Mahavira (Nigantha Nataputta), approached the Buddha and was so pleased with the Buddha's exposition of the Dharma that he instantly expressed his desire to become a follower of the Buddha. But the Buddha cautioned him, saying:
"In truth, O householder, make a thorough investigation! It is good for a distinguished person like you to (first) make a thorough investigation."

Upali, who was overjoyed at this unexpected remark of the Buddha, responded: "Venerable sir, had I become a follower of another teaching, its adherents would have taken me around the streets in a procession proclaiming that such and such a millionaire has renounced his former faith and embraced theirs.

"But, venerable sir, your reverence advises me to investigate further. All the more pleased am I with this remark of yours. For the second time, venerable sir, I go for guidance to the Buddha, Dharma, and the Sangha [enlightened community]."
Buddhism is saturated with this spirit of free enquiry and complete tolerance. It is the teaching of the open mind and the sympathetic heart that, lighting and warming the whole universe with its twin rays of wisdom and compassion, sheds a genial glow on every being struggling in the ocean of birth and death.
The Buddha was so tolerant that he did not even exercise his power to give commandments to his lay followers. Instead of using the imperative, he said: "It behooves us to do this -- and it behooves us not to do that." He exhorts but does not command.
The Buddha in Kandy, near the relic of the tooth, Sri Lanka (Tam Church/flickr)
This tolerance the Buddha extended to men, women, children, and all living beings.
It was the Buddha who first attempted to abolish slavery and vehemently protested against the degrading caste system which was firmly rooted in India (the various independent kingdoms of the day). In the words of the Buddha, it is not by mere birth that one becomes an outcast or a noble, but by one's actions (karma). Caste or color does not preclude one from becoming a Buddhist or from entering the Monastic Order.

Fishermen, scavengers, courtesans, together with warriors and Brahmins were freely admitted to the Monastic Order and enjoyed equal privileges and were also given positions of rank. Upali, the barber, for instance, was made in preference to all others the chief in matters pertaining to monastic discipline (Vinaya).
  • Sunita, the timid  scavenger, who attained arhatship or full enlightenment, was admitted by the Buddha into the Monastic Order.
  • Angulimala, the mass murderer, was converted into a compassionate saint.
  • Alavaka the fierce yakkha went for guidance to the Buddha and became a saint.
  • Ambapali the courtesan entered the Monastic Order and attained arhatship.
Such instances could easily be multiplied from the Three Divisions, the Tipitaka, to show that the portals of Buddhism were wide open to all, irrespective of caste, color, rank, or riches.
Ayya Tathaloka (right) and other Buddhist nuns visit temple, Aug. 2010 (WR)
The Buddha raised the status of downtrodden women and not only brought them to a realization of their importance to society but also founded the first religious order for women with rules and regulations. (Mahavira and the Jains preceded the Buddha in this respect, but the Buddha was the first leader of a universal religion to give women this opportunity. It seems the monks soon made rules to subordinate women saying the Buddha had laid those eight "heavy rules" or garudhammas down, which is contradicted by textual evidence in the Bhikkhuni Vinaya. (See Ven. Tathaloka). 
The Buddha uplifted women, while recognizing gender differences. Seeing the innate good of people, he assigned them due places in his dispensation, such as assigning the nuns Khema and Uppalavanna as chief disciples who helped bring women to enlightenment the way the monks Sariputra and Maha Moggallana were doing at the men's monastery. Biological sex is no barrier to attaining sainthood, namely, the purified progressive stages of enlightenment.
Sometimes the Pali language term used to denote women is matugama, which means "mother-folk" or "society of mothers." Even the wife is regarded as the "best friend" (parama sakha) of the husband.
Buddha at Bentotagama vihara, Sri Lanka
Hasty critics are only making ex parte statements when they reproach Buddhism with being inimical to women. Although monks say that at first the Buddha refused to admit women into the Monastic Order, he yielded to the entreaties of his foster-mother, Pajapati Gotami, who became the world's first Buddhist nun and founder of the Nuns' Order.

In addition to the arhats and chief female disciples Khema and Uppalavanna, many other female disciples were named by the Buddha as his distinguished disciples.
On one occasion the Buddha said to King Kosala, who was displeased on hearing that a daughter was born to him: "A female child, O king, may prove even better offspring than a male."
Many women, who otherwise would have fallen into oblivion, distinguished themselves in various ways and gained their liberation by following the Dharma and entering the Monastic Order. In this new organization -- which later proved to be a great blessing to many women, queens, princesses, daughters of noble families, widows, bereaved mothers, destitute women, and poor courtesans -- all met on a common platform despite their caste or rank. In it they enjoyed perfect consolation and peace and breathed that free atmosphere which is denied to those cloistered in cottages and palatial mansions. More

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