The Urban Dharma Newsletter - October, 2009
In This Issue: The Future of Buddhism
BUDDHISM TOWARDS THE NEW CENTURY – BY ANANDA W. P. GURUGE
Buddhism and the Future of Humanity - By Graeme Lyall
Some Thoughts on the Future of Buddhism - By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
My friend Ananda Guruge emailed a copy of his talk from thailand, thought you might find it of interest, and a couple of related talks as well. Enjoy.
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1. BUDDHISM TOWARDS THE NEW CENTURY – BY ANANDA W. P. GURUGE
WORLD FELLOWSHIP OF BUDDHISTS, BANGKOK, THAIALND
CELEBRATION OF THE 96TH BIRTHDAY OF HIS HOLINESS SANGHARAJA SOMDEJ PHRA NYANASAMVARA SUPREME PATRIARCH OF THAILAND – OCTOBER 3, 2009
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On this auspicious day when we join the Mahasangha and the upasaka-upasikas of Thailand in celebrating the 96th birthday of His Holiness Somdej Phra Nyanasamavara, the Sangharaja, the Supreme Patriarch of Thailand, I should first and foremost offer my heartiest congratulations and best wishes to this most prominent prelate on many magnificent achievements. Elsewhere yesterday I made reference to how the Sangha, Buddhist education and literature and Dharmaduta activities flourished under his leadership and guidance. Once again I wish him a very happy birthday repeating the Buddhist blessing sukhī dighāyuko bhava.
The subject assigned to me for this afternoon’s presentation is Buddhism towards the new century. The twenty-first century of the Current Era began nine years ago and the extraordinary developments in the world has already characterized it as a turbulent, violent and troublesome period of world history. But in less than two years another new century begins for us Buddhists. With the Vesak of 2011, we look forward to celebrating the 2600th anniversary of the Enlightenment of the princely ascetic Siddhartha Gautama or more importantly the beginning of Buddhism. To us this is certainly an event of very great significance for which we have to prepare by rededicating ourselves to follow more diligently the noble teachings of the Buddha. Therefore, I consider it appropriate to examine Buddhism in relation to both these centuries.
When the United Nations marked the dawn of the current century and with it the commencement of another millennium with the Millennium Summit of Religious Leaders, I was very happy, as a participant, that religion was given due recognition as a major influence on lives of people and, as a consequence, an essential aid to foster peace and harmony and well being of people and peoples. But in the very next year in the very city where the Summit was held a dastardly violent tragedy was perpetrated on 9/11 or the eleventh of September. Resulting from it, two wars have been raging with enormous loss of life and limb for eight long years in Iraq and Afghanistan. Tragically, the 9/11 violence leading to these two wars was the result of misplaced religious fervor of misguided youth.
One began to ask questions like the following: Has religion once again become a destructive force as the British clergyman of the eighteenth century, Charles Caleb Colton, stated in his dictum: “Men will wrangle for religion; write for it; fight for it, anything but – live for it?” Is religion becoming a negative factor to be discouraged and forgotten for the good of humanity? It is noteworthy that the question of Buddhism towards the new century is discussed at a time when the debate is at its highest. How is Buddhism affected?
Only a little more than a century has elapsed since Buddhism came to be known internationally outside the circle of traditionally Buddhist countries of Asia. If one takes a census of people who have since embraced Buddhism as their personal religion and those who, calling themselves Friends of Buddhism, practice some aspects of Buddhism in their lives, the numerical expansion of knowledgeable practitioners in the world is phenomenal. In many countries Buddhism has been declared the fastest growing religion. Similarly, if one takes stock of teachers, researchers, writers and other exponents of Buddhism, one is bound to be very impressed. Equally significant are the publications in numerous languages, which are annually produced for an ever-expanding reading public. So are Buddhist institutions, shrines, stupas and the like springing up in practically every country in the world. Why does Buddhism appear to be so favored?
Some would say the reason for Buddhism to flourish is that it is not a religion: It is a philosophy, a way of life and a sensible code of ethics. They would further distinguish Buddhism from the organized religions of the world on three grounds: First, it has no centralized authority interpreting and reinterpreting a set of dogmas in which total belief is mandatory; Second, it has no priesthood that intermediates between the adherent and his spiritual goal and claims to have the ritual-based power to grant or deny redemption; Third, Buddhism has no place for mere rites and ritual in its Path of Deliverance which one follows at will and at one’s own pace and the only requirement is diligence in avoiding all evil, doing good and keeping the mind pure. These are very important in the present century as education, science and technology and intellectual capability of the human race make giant strides in every nook and corner of the world.
The Buddha himself or his senior disciples saw further characteristics of his teachings, which were summarized in six items. The Dhamma that the Buddha presented was svakkhāto – well-spoken or well-declared. It only needs a deep study of a few discourses to agree with this description of the Buddha’s teachings. They are well organized, well–argued, well-worded and lucidly explained with a rich vocabulary of synonyms and illustrated with apt human-interest parables and anecdotes. I have had the opportunity to study how the Buddha taught and am impressed with his remarkable mastery of the art or science of teaching. It is no wonder that he told his disciples to refrain from performing any miracles other than the miracle of instruction. Conviction and compliance, achieved through skillful teaching, is indeed a miracle.
The next set of qualities of Buddhism comprising sandiţţhika and akalika indicates the time frame for the validity of the Buddha’s teachings. Sandiţţhika means applicable to present time in one’s own life. Buddhism does not teach for a life after death because Enlightenment, the goal of a Buddhist practitioner, is to be and can be achieved in this very life. Every principle of Buddhism is applicable to life here and now. So are the benefits that accrue from adhering to them. Here Akālika simply means that Buddhism has no expiry date. It is valid for all times as its history of twenty-six centuries clearly testifies.
The fourth quality, expressed as ehipassika –literally come and see, is by far the most significant feature of Buddhism. The Buddha had faith in the intellectual capacity of the human being to think critically and make choices. He was not teaching a secret doctrine couched in abstruse logic. He had the full confidence to invite anybody to subject his teachings to the most stringent scrutiny and dissection.
To the Kalamas he said most emphatically, “Do not accept anything on mere hearsay or tradition, on account of rumors or because it accords with you scriptures, by mere supposition or inference, by merely considering the reasons, or because it agrees with your preconceived notions and therefore seems acceptable or because the preacher is a respected person.” He wanted everyone to think for oneself. The freedom of thought and dissent, which the Buddha upheld, had enriched an entire continent for two millennia and the whole world now to understand and practice his way of life in their own different modes as we see in various traditions and schools.
If this openness led to changes in emphasis and methods in comparison to his early teachings, the Buddha made no effort to stymie change. After all, according to the Buddha Impermanence was the only thing that was ever permanent. Change and evolution are intractable processes and his teachings are not exempt from them.
The Buddha taught his Dhamma for a purpose, which was so succinctly described as opanayiko – leading to a goal. The goal, which the Buddha himself accomplished in six years 2598 years ago, was the end of suffering through Enlightenment. Nibbāņa -- that blissful state he attained with Buddhahood -- is open and accessible to all. In the terminology of the Northern Buddhism, everyone is possessed of the Buddha Nature. The Dhamma is the vehicle that takes one on the Path to end suffering. It is a Path with a definite destination, which is liberation, release, emancipation, salvation or redemption.
The sixth and last of the qualities of Dhamma is that it has to be realized individually by each one of the wise people (paccattam veditabbo viññūhi). Each of these three words in this expression is full of specific meaning. The Dhamma is something to be known and realized. It has to be understood correctly and the Buddha has a telling parable to stress it. A man who hunts water snakes should know to catch them by the head. If the snake is caught by its tail, it can turn around and bite the hunter. The Buddha had to give this advice because there was a major situation caused by the misunderstanding of his exposition of suffering. Some disciples were so convinced about the futility of life that they wished to take a short cut to end their life of suffering. They either committed suicide or got others to kill them. They might have been influenced by the teachings of Jina Mahāvīra whose Path of Extreme Self-mortification enjoined suicide by starvation (sallekhana).The Buddha did not have such a notion. That was the reason for promulgating the third Pārājikā precept banning homicide.
This realization had to be by oneself because early Buddhism did not postulate salvation by grace. No one could lead another by hand to Nibbana. Tumhehi kiccam ātappam/ Akkhātāro tathāgatā (What needs to be done has to be accomplished by you alone, for the Buddhas are only the pointers of the way.) We have schools of Buddhism, which have departed from this concept and talk instead of two approaches to salvation as Jiriki and Tariki. In Japanese Jiriki means by one’s own effort and Tariki means salvation though another’s grace. The chanting of Dharaņis, name of Amitābha Buddha, homage to the Lotus Sūtra and the Vajrayana incantation Om manipadme hum falls to this category. Despite such popular short cuts, the serious study of the philosophical teaching of the Buddha in all traditions demands individual application and mastery.
The third element of this expression lays emphasis on the wisdom of the practitioner. Buddhism is to be realized by the wise. – by those with intellectual capacity. The Dhamma is beyond comprehension and acceptance of those who are intellectually backward as to believe in magical rites and ritual or predestination and have no capacity to distinguish between good and evil. So was it recognized that the Buddha’s Dhamma was to be known and realized by the wise.
What benefits does one derive from this Dhamma? It is said, “Dhammo have rakkhati dhammacari – The Dhamma certainly protects the observers of Dhamma. In what better way could the Buddha signify that the reward for being righteous comes from righteousness itself? It is a concept for most people to understand that the reward does not come from a Godhead whether an omniscient monotheistic creator-God or a divine trinity or a pantheon of polytheistic deities. The Dhamma, which encompasses the simple but still comprehensive ethical code of Buddhism, is founded on the purity of the mind that one achieves by overcoming lobha, dosa and moha in their diverse ramifications, permutations and combinations.
How does one achieve the highest saintly state of being an Arahant and attain the sumnum bonum of Buddhism, namely Nibbana? It is to be achieved through the Noble eightfold Path – Ariya aţţhangikamagga. Action begins with thought. One enters the path with Right Thought and Right Resolution. Thought governs speech and Right Speech is speech free of falsehood, harshness, slander and frivolous futility. Then comes Right Action, which consists of abstaining from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct and intoxication. Right Livelihood is to earn one’s living righteously by letting others to live. Once one’s thought, word and deed are so disciplined, one proceeds to Right Effort, by training the most crucial inner controller of our lives, namely the mind. That training proceeds to Right Mindfulness or living in full awareness and culminates in Right Concentration. In two beautiful lines has the Buddha explained the entire path:
Sile patiţţhāya naro sapañño
Cittam paññañ ca bhāvaye
(The wise establishing in virtuous conduct
May develop his mind and wisdom)
Once the mind is thus fine-tuned and focused, the process of further purifying the mind commences with the eightfold stages of Path and Fruit – Maggaphala. Setting on the Path of Stream-entrant, one reaches the Fruit of Sotāpanna by eliminating self-delusion (sakkyādiţţhi), perplexity (vickicchā) and reliance on mere rites and ritual (sīlabbataparāmāsa). Setting on the Path of Once-returner and suppressing sensual lust (kamaraga) and malice or animosity (vyāpāda), one attains the Fruit of Sakadāgami. Overcoming the same two fetters in the Path of Non-returner, one reaches the Fruit of Anāgāmi. Five more fetters remain. These are to be eliminated in the Path of full sainthood. They are craving for fine-material or immaterial existence ( rūparāga and arūparāga), conceit (māna), restlessness (uddhacca) and finally ignorance or not-knowing (avijjā). Then does one succeed in attaining the Fruit of Arahant.
What the Buddha has presented so systematically is a humanistic approach to ethical perfection. As it enters the new millennium with the twenty-first century, the world today looks eagerly for a form of humanism to overcome the evils of war, violence, insecurity, moral degeneration, prejudice, intolerance, incivility, apathy, economic exploitation and collapse, and despair. Where do all these evils begin? Nowhere else other than in the mind of the humans – not in the minds of birds and beasts. If the modern human being looks into the spiritual heritages which each nation in the world had preserved from generation to generation, he or she will no doubt observe that the humanism we seek today is found in the most logical and practical form in Buddhadhamma, the teachings of the Buddha, which in common parlance we call Buddhism.
Now my last question: What role do we have as practicing Buddhists in the world today? Buddhism has come to most us as our birthright with the milk of our mothers. We are heirs to a long and chequered history with a magnificent spiritual heritage. There are with us who, after their intellectual quest for a set of beliefs and practices, have chosen Buddhism as their guide to life. We are all Buddhists and we have in our hands a priceless treasure from which the modern world can benefit enormously. How we share this with the whole of the humanity is a challenge that we have to meet especially in the century that begins in two years with the 2600th anniversary of the attainment of Enlightenment by the Buddha.
Venerable Members of the Sangha, Ladies and gentlemen,
Buddhism is not shared by merely communicating information and knowledge through teaching, publishing, mass media, Internet and the like. Our life, our dedication, our conduct, our commitment to human welfare, and our example alone will show the world that the humanism that guides us is what the rest of the humanity is searching for. This is our task for the new century and this is our challenge for the new millennium.
Sabbe sattā bhavantu sukhitattā (May all beings be happy and well.)
2. Buddhism and the Future of Humanity - By Graeme Lyall
Although the Teaching of the Buddha has been with us for the last 2,500 years, it has taken a long time for it to spread throughout the entire world. As you are aware, it wasn't until the Koryo dynasty, from 936 to 1392 that the glorious teachings really blossomed in Korea. As far as western counties are concerned, a period of another 600 years had to pass before serious study and practice of' the Dharma began in Europe. One of the earliest Europeans to declare himself a Buddhist was the German philosopher, Schopenhauer, in the 1820's, his book, "Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung" - "The World as Will and Idea", had a profound Influence on popularising Buddhism in the 19th century. Actually, it was to the German mind that Buddhism had its greatest appeal in the west. Max Muller, another German, edited two series of books based on translations of portions of the Tripitaka, "'Sacred Books of tile East" and "Sacred Books of the Buddhists", both of which are still in print. In England, the writer Sir Edwin Arnold published his poem based on the life of Sakyamuni Buddha, "The Light of Asia", which, until recently was very popular with English speaking readers. Its popularity waned, however, as a better understanding of the teachings in the west, exposed the inaccuracies in Sir Edwin's understanding. One important impact of the publication of "The Light of Asia", however, was that it profoundly influenced a young Englishman named Allan Bennett, who journeyed to Sri Lanka and Burma to study Buddhism and, in 1901, ordained as Venerable Ananda Metteya, the first Westerner to become a Buddhist monk. The first German born Buddhist monk was Anton Guerth, a world famous violin virtuoso, who ordained in Rangoon in 1903 as Venerable Nyanatiloka. He spent most of his monastic life in Sri Lanka but, being a German and Sri Lanka then being a British colony, he was sent to Australia in 1915, for imprisonment as an enemy alien. Although he was unable to do much teaching during his internment in Australia, he was a prolific writer and much of his time was spent in preparing Dharma books.
The early practise of Buddhism in England and Europe was according to the Theravada or Hinayana tradition. In 1922, a British expedition set out for Tibet in order to study Tibetan Buddhism. They reached the southern Tibetan city of Shigatse but were refused permission to proceed to the capital Lhasa where they had hoped to meet the Thirteenth Dalai Lama. However, one of their number, Frederic Fletcher, ordained in the Gelugpa or Yellow Hat tradition under the name of Lama Dorje Prajnananda. he later also received Theravada ordination in Sri Lanka and therefore had dual loyalties to both the Theravada and Vajrayana traditions. It wasn't until 1937, however, that a German refugee scholar, Edward Conze, who was living in England, dedicated his life to the study and translation of the Mahayana scriptures, with the result that it stimulated an interest in the practise of the Mahayana with the formation in the 1950's of the Mahayana Study Group. The Korean Seon Master, Seung Sahn Sunim, has, more recently, had quite a profound influence in Europe, especially in Poland, where he has established a branch of the Kwan Eum School of Zen. In fact, on my first visit to Korea nine years ago, I was staying at Hwagye Sa and nine Polish monks were also there at that time. Perhaps, largely due to the late arrival of an interest in the Mahayana in England and Europe, the predominant teaching followed in those western countries remains the Theravada or Southern Buddhism. Across the Atlantic in North America, Buddhism took a very different turn. The first American Buddhists were mainly of Chinese and Japanese origin. In the late 1900's many Chinese came to California to work the gold fields. Their Buddhism was a syncretic blend of Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism and traditional Chinese deities. However, the most popular form of Buddhism among the Chinese then as it is now was Pure Land although there was a small group practising Cha'an.
Many Japanese had settled in Hawaii and when it became one of the States of the U.S.A., many of them moved to the mainland. They, too, tended to follow the Pure Land (Jodo Shinshu) school of Buddhism. However, as a result of the very successful World Parliament of Religions held in Chicago in 1893, one of the main speakers, Rinzai Zen Master Soyen Shaku, invited one of his students, who was fluent in English to join him in America. This student was D.T.Suzuki whose profound understanding of Zen, has done much to popularise it in the West, especially among Westerners in North America. Korean Seon was introduced to the United States in 1967 by Samu Sunim who founded the Zen Lotus Society. Samu Sunirn later moved to Canada and the Zen Lotus Society is now based in Toronto. Perhaps, the greatest pioneer or Korean Zen in the West, though, has been Seung Sahn Sunim who went to the States in 1972 and established the Kwan Eum School of Zen in Providence, Rhode Island. He has since then established branches of the Kwan Eum School of Zen in many countries throughout the world including Australia, where it is represented by the Dae Kwang Sa Zen Society in Queensland.
As a result of the 1959 occupation of Tibet by the Chinese Communist Government and the devastation that they have wreaked on that small Himalayan country, many of the monks fled to India and some of them later settled in North America. Two of the most notable and influential Tibetan teachers who settled in the United States were the late Chogyam Trungpa Ripoche and Tarthung Rinpoche. Both of them, as well as establishing Dharma Centres, have founded publishing companies to print and distribute Dharma books. Tibetan Centres in the West are extremely popular with young people who are attracted by the elaborate rituals, the mystical teachings and the emphasis on the psychological aspects of the Dharma. The Theravada has remained an insignificant part of the American Buddhist scene. The main interest in Theravadin practice from Westerners is in meditation practice, especially Vipassana or insight meditation but this is mainly taught by lay teachers, such as Jack Cornfield, Joseph Goldstein and Sharon Salzberg, most of whom have trained in Burma and Thailand. The few Theravadin monks resident in the United States are mainly serving migrant and refugee communities. It is possibly due to the British colonisation of Sri Lanka and Burma, that these countries have had such a profound influence on the direction that British Buddhism has taken, whereas North American Buddhism has mainly been influenced by migration, especially from China and Japan.
No serious study or practise of Buddhism began in Australia until the early 1950`s. Leo Berkeley, a Dutchman by birth, who had spent the war years in England, later migrated, with his family, to Australia. Early in 1952, whilst on a ship returning to England for a visit, he met Sir Lalita Rajapakse, the then Sri Lankan Minister of Justice. Sir Lalita was returning to Colombo after attending a Commonwealth Conference in New Zealand. The two became acquainted and, as Sir Lalita was a very devout Buddhist, it seemed inevitable that their daily conversation would turn to Buddhism. Sir Lalita recited to Leo the Dharmapada verse:
"By ourselves is evil done; by ourselves we pain endure. By ourselves we cease from ill; by ourselves become we pure. No one can save us but ourselves, no one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the Path, Buddhas only point the way."
Which caused Leo Berkeley to observe: 'I was very much impressed by this wisdom because I always had believed that we ourselves create our life and our destiny. I said: "Sir, please tell me a little more about the Teaching of the Buddha". His answer was: "My good friend, Id like you to meet a learned monk. Come and see me tomorrow when we arrive in Colombo". The learned monk turned out to be the late Venerable Narada Maha Thera from the Vajirarama Vihara in Colombo. Venerable Narada instructed Leo Berkeley in the Dhamma. Venerable Narada suggested to Leo Berkeley that, on his return to Australia, he should establish a Buddhist society. Leo Berkeley, after making some enquiries, was put in touch with Marie Byles. It was during the 1940's in Sydney, whilst studying books on non-Christian religions, that Marie Byles became intensely interested in Buddhism, and no account of its development would be complete if her contribution were ignored. She was a pacifist, naming her home 'Ahimsa', meaning 'harmlessness' and her meditation hut, 'The Hut of Happy Omen'. Since her death, the home and garden have been given to the people of Sydney as a quiet retreat. It is currently administered by the National Trust. Marie Beuzevllle Byles was born in 1900 into a Christian family in England. At the age of eleven years, she migrated with her family to Australia. She wrote at least six books, four of which were on Buddhist topics. 'World Buddhism', vol.5, No. 1, 1956, a publication of the World Fellowship of Buddhists, reported: 'Miss Marie Byles, who spent a short holiday and study tour in Ceylon after a trip to the Himalayas for meditation purposes, is now writing a book on "The Human Aspect of the Buddha's Life " for publication shortly.' She spent the year 1954 in North India researching this book which was eventually published under the title of "Footprints of Gautama the Buddha". Marie gave many talks to the Theosophical Society in Sydney, as well as broadcasting on their regular Sunday night programme on a local radio station. She also preached Dharma at the Unitarian Church in Sydney. Marie disliked participation in organised groups, preferring to study and meditate in a hut in the garden of her Cheltenham (a Sydney suburb) home...Leo Berkeley told her of his intention to form a Buddhist Association. "Oh, Mr.Berkeley", she said, "the Australians are not yet ready for the teaching of the Buddha." Leo Berkeley replied- "Miss Byles, if you are ready and I am ready, we can start together an association." Hence the embryo Buddhist Society of New South Wales was born. Additional members were recruited following an advertisement placed in the newspaper, "Sydney Morning Herald". It was not a formally constituted society, but a loosely formed group of people gathering together to study the Dhamma. Soon after this group was formed, a seventy year old, American born, Buddhist nun, Dhammadinna, arrived in Sydney. She had been living in Sri Lanka for nearly thirty years.
Sister Dhammadinna arrived in Australia in 1952, with little money and only one address of a person to contact. She arrived at the home of her contact, Marie Byles, requesting shelter. It was eventually Leo Berkeley, who invited Sister Dhammadinna to live in his home where she was able to conduct regular Dharma teaching and meditation classes. Usually fifteen to twenty people attended her lectures. She did not accept all of those who attended these meetings for personal instruction, however. She chose eight persons whom she considered were 'ready for the Dhamma'. She referred to them as "my Buddhists". I was fortunate in being one of those eight. She administered the Three Refuges and Eight Precepts to this group on the Holy Day of Vesak, the Buddha's Birthday, 29th of May, 1953.
At this juncture, you may be interested to know how I first became interested in Buddhism. Following the Second World War, with the fall of colonialism, the newly independent countries, especially those in Asia, tried to establish an infrastructure to enable them to take their place in the modern world. A scheme was implemented, known as the Colombo Plan, which was to select the brightest students from the newly independent countries and send them to universities in some of the more established countries such as Great Britain, the United States and Australia so that they could fill the vacuum left with the departure of their former colonial masters. A great number of these students chose Australian universities, partly due to their highly rated international reputation and also due to their close proximity to their homelands. Regrettably, Australia, at that time, was into its half century of the notorious "White Australia Policy", so there were few people of Asian background living in Australia to provide support and friendship to these lonely students. A few friends and I decided to try to alleviate some of the misery suffered by these students by arranging weekend outings and picnics so that we could offer the hand of friendship. I was brought up in a Christian family but in my mid-teens decided to disassociate with my church connections as, I felt, it failed to offer me satisfactory answers to the problems of life. The Christian church offered only dogma and many of its doctrines were impossible for me to accept. I questioned one of my Colombo Plan student friends about the religions of Asia, especially Hinduism and Buddhism. When I heard about the teachings of the Buddha, it struck a chord. This teaching seemed to coincide with the views I already held. It made a lot or sense, so I decided to investigate it further. This was when I discovered that the Buddhist nun, Dhammadinna, was conducting classes so I asked permission to join them. So it is now 49 years since I first went to the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha as my refuge. It was in May 1953 that the first Buddhist society, the Buddhist Society of New South Wales was formed by Leo Berkeley, who was its first President. I served for three years, at the tender age of 22, as its first Secretary. Sister Dhammadinna stayed for only one year in Australia.
For the next few years it was quite difficult to keep our newly formed society alive. None of us in Australia had a profound knowledge or experience in the Dharma and no Buddhist monks, even if our Immigration authorities at that time would have allowed it, were prepared to come and teach in Australia. We had the occasional visit from Buddhist monks, perhaps staying for one or two months, every two or three years. This made the development of Buddhism in Australia very difficult indeed. One of the main problems was that there were very few monks in the world at that time who were fluent in English and, those that were, were also in demand in other Western countries such as England and the United States of America. Australia, with its mere handful of Buddhists, was not considered significant enough to warrant a resident teacher. It was not until the 9th or May, 1971 that Venerable Ratmalane Somaloka arrived in Sydney to become the first resident monk. His devotees and supporters in Malacca had paid his fare and expenses to enable him to undertake this mission to Australia. He was followed a year later by two monks from Thailand, one of whom was an Englishman, Venerable Khantipalo, who was already well known to us through the many Dharma books that he had written. The monks from Thailand established Wat Buddharangsee, the first temple in Sydney, which, until this day, is the focal point of Theravada Buddhism in Sydney. Sydney's first Mahayana temple was also established in 1972 by an Australian Chinese businessman, Eric Liao. Following the tragic Communist takeover of many South East Asian countries in the mid 1970's, many refugees arrived to seek the safe refuge of Australia. As an essential ingredient of their settlement into their new home, they established Buddhist temples and invited monks to come to serve their communities. The Vietnamese community, by far the largest group of newcomers, followed the Mahayana tradition, whereas the Lao and Cambodian communities established Theravadin temples. . Early in the 1980's, the Korean Dharmakaya Society was formed at Summer Hill, a western suburb of Sydney. In 1984, a monk, Venerable Jin Sang Sunim, arrived from Korea and premises were leased at Earlwood to serve as a residence and temporary temple, known originally as Hong Boep Sa and later renamed Dharma Sa. Venerable Jin Sang left Australia early in 1985 and was replaced by Venerable Jang San Sunim, who arrived on the first of April, 1985. Venerable Jang San Sunim has since returned to Korea where he heads a large temple in Pusan. Sydney now has four Korean temples serving our very small Korean Buddhist community. Over 75% of the Koreans who are living in Australia, reside in New South Wales. The last census from which figures are available shows that some 16,137 Koreans had chosen New South Wales as their home, but very few of these are Buddhists. The Korean Christian churches in Australia engage in an aggressive recruiting campaign and, supported by the wealth of the established Christian churches, have been able to supply material support to the newly arrived Korean migrants. The Korean Buddhist temples, being under-resourced, are not in a position to match this social support offered by the Christians and, therefore, are attended only by committed Buddhists. Korean Buddhism has had little or no impact on the Western followers of Buddhism in New South Wales. This is due to our Korean Buddhist Sangha having little or no English and therefore being unable to share the Seon teachings with Westerners. Queensland, as mentioned earlier, is fortunate in having a branch of Master Seong Sahn's Kwan Eum School of Zen, so, at least one of our States is making progress in benefiting from the rich Korean Buddhist heritage and, hopefully, it will soon spread to other States.
Although the Mahayana tradition is that followed by the majority of Australian Buddhists, the largest ethnic grouping being that of the Vietnamese and Chinese, regrettably, Mahayana Buddhism has had little impact on Western Buddhists. As with the Korean Sangha, few Mahayana monks are sufficiently fluent in English to undertake Dharma teaching in languages other than that of the specific ethnic group that they are serving. This situation is gradually changing since the Taiwan based Fo Kwang Shan organisation recently opened the largest Buddhist temple in the Southern Hemisphere at Wollongong, an hour's drive south of Sydney. Its mere size has attracted many visitors and engendered an interest in investigating this ancient religion. Many of the Sangha at this temple are fluent enough in English to offer teachings in English as well as in Chinese. As in North America, many of our young people are attracted to Tibetan Buddhism for much the same reasons as their American counterparts. The most dominant teaching followed by most Anglo-European Australians is the Theravada tradition. This is partly due to its being the earliest tradition of Buddhism to become established in Australia. Many English speaking monks from this tradition are resident in Australia and they offer meditation instruction, especially Vipassana, which is most attractive to Australian Buddhists.
What is it about Buddhism that is attracting so many Westerners to practise its teachings? More and more Westerners are leaving Christianity, their traditional religion. Many churches in Australia are closing their doors due to lack of support, whilst others are limiting the number of religious services due to small congregations. Although 75% of Australians claim Christianity as their religion, fewer than 26% ever attend church services. Christianity is merely a convenient label that they wear should anyone ask them about their religious adherence. One of the main problems in dealing with Christian doctrine is that it demands blind faith and places the responsibility for one's salvation on something external to one's self As you may have observed from the Dhammapada verse quoted earlier when I was speaking about Leo Berkeley, the founder of the Buddhist Society of New South Wales that Buddhism teaches self reliance. We are responsible for our own happiness and our own suffering. To put the responsibility for our actions onto another is shirking our responsibility. Rather than blind faith, the Buddha encourages us to examine his teaching and test its efficacy for ourselves. One of the most attractive sutras that has had a profound influence on and encouraged many Westerners to study and practice Buddhism is the Kalama Sutra. This Sutra comes from the Anguttara Nikaya which is found in the Pali canon, the earliest collection of Buddhist teachings. This Sutra is known as the "Buddhist Charter of Free Enquiry". Times have not changed all that much since the Buddha's day. The Kalamas, a tribal group living in the Kingdom of Kosala, experienced religious teachers who came to them claiming that what they taught was the true religion and all other religious teachers taught false religion. Due to their confusion, they wanted advice on how to test the truth of a religion - hence the Buddha gave them the following advice:
It is not surprising, Kalamas, that you are confused. Don't accept ideas just because others have believed them for a long time or because others say that it is true. Don't accept these ideas just because they are written in ancient books or scriptures. Don't accept these ideas just because the teacher offers a convincing argument. Don't accept these ideas just because you have great respect for the teacher. Kalamas! You should examine these ideas for yourself and ask yourself if they are of benefit to your life, are not a source of sorrow or regrets or likely to bring blame from the wise. If these ideas are profitable to your life and are unlikely to cause suffering to yourself or any living creature and are praised by intelligent people and are likely to produce happiness, then, and only then, should you accept them and live according to these principles.
This was a tremendous and courageous challenge that no other religious teacher has dared to make. The Buddha has asked us not to even accept what he has taught unless we examine it and put it into practice to prove that it really works. He freed mankind from dogma and showed them how, by practising his teachings, that we can overcome life's frustrations.
Many Westerners are willing to consider accepting any theory that conforms to scientific method such as that used by a medical practitioner when examining a patient, that is to identify the problem, examine its cause, prescribe a remedy and then test the remedy to see if it has been effective in removing the problem. The core teaching of the Buddha, the Four Noble Truths, certainly fits this framework of scientific method. Perhaps, we can look at the Four Noble Truths.
The first Truth is that life is subject to Dukkha. Dukkha is a Pali word which is often translated or, rather, mistranslated into English as 'suffering' but it is much more than that. It certainly means physical and mental suffering but it also means that life is full of frustrations - we would always prefer that things be other than the way they are. As we grow old, we wish we could remain young. If we are poor, we wish we could be rich. When we are separated from our friends and loved ones, we are saddened. Dukkha is birth, sickness, old age, pain and despair, separation from those whom we like and association with those whom we dislike. All of these are examples of Dukkha and that is the First Noble Truth. So we have identified the problem - Dukkha.
The Second Noble Truth states that the Cause of Dukkha can be attributed to three things - greed, anger and a deluded mind. We tend to be attached to people and material things and when we are separated from them, we suffer regret. We cling to these things as if they will last forever and we find it hard to accept the fact that they don't. We get angry or have aversions to those things that we do not like. Buddhism teaches that anger harms the one who is angry more than the object to which this anger is aimed. The more we get angry with someone and they react to our anger the more this anger increases. The next time you see someone who is angry, look at their face and see how ugly they appear. Anger is unproductive - it doesn't solve the problem. Our minds are deluded because we do not see things as they really are - that is, subject to impermanence or constant change, known in the Pali language as anicca, , frustrating, known in Pali as dukkha, and devoid of a permanent self or substance, empty or void also known as Sunnyata. Everything, material or immaterial, is subject to change or impermanence. Perhaps you are sitting in a comfortable chair listening to this talk. If you remain in that chair for the next three hours, without moving, do you still think you could regard the chair as comfortable? Believe me, I do not intend to keep you here for the next three hours. If you remained fixed in that chair for a month, you would probably find that you are crippled and unable to move. If you remain in that chair for a hundred years, you will probably be a skeleton and the chair will be the worse for wear too. When coming to Korea from Australia, I sat in a very comfortable seat but, after flying for several hours, the seat ceased to be comfortable and I couldn't wait until we landed in Seoul to stretch my legs. What starts as being regarded as comfortable can soon change to being uncomfortable. Everything is relative. The way we see things depends on the time, place and current situation. We, ourselves, are subject to this change. Every cell in our body is constantly ageing and dying and being replaced. Our thoughts and ideas are constantly changing or being modified. Your thoughts and ideas, since you arrived here today, are different from when you left home to come to Chogye Sa. They have changed considerably. Is there anything in you which is not subject to change? All that we are is a collection of five constantly changing components, known as the five skhandas. They are body, feelings or sensations, perceptions, volitions and consciousness. Let us use a car as an illustration. What is a car? Is it the body, the engine, the wheels, the steering mechanism? It is none of these individually. The term "car" has no existence in itself. It is dependent on all of its components and is a combination of all of these. We are dependent on the five skhandas before we can use the term "I". "I" has no independent existence in itself. This is why Buddhism teaches that, in the ultimate sense, there is no 'I' or 'you' or unchanging self entity. This concept of change and non self is difficult to accept and is, therefore, Dukkha - frustrating or unsatisfying.
The third Noble Truth concerns the overcoming of Dukkha, that is, overcoming the greed anger and delusion, also known as the Three Poisons, which are the source of Dukkha. Accepting change as a characteristic of life and not becoming angry or frustrated about it is part of the way to overcoming Dukkha. The complete overcoming of Dukka is termed "Nirvana". Nirvana is not a place but a state of mind - a mind that sees things as they really are and not clouded by delusion. It is not something that we have to wait until death to experience. We can experience it here and now if we follow the method taught by the Buddha. This is the proof of the effectiveness of the Dharma in that, if we follow his teaching, we will not be in any doubt that it really works. It is the medicine that cures all ills.
The Fourth Noble Truth is the method taught by the Buddha for attaining the state of Nirvana, in other words, the medicine or remedy that he has prescribed to overcome our problems. It is known as the Noble Eightfold Path. You may be wondering why the term 'Noble' is used for the Path. One who walks the Path is considered to be a noble person. The eight steps of the Path are:
Right Understanding is knowledge that the Four Noble Truths lead to the overcoming of Dukkha. It does not imply a total understanding of these Truths but a confidence that, by following the Path, the desired result will be attained. Right Thought is to be constantly aware of one's thoughts and actions and thereby avoiding harm to oneself or any living creature. Before one speaks or acts, one should 'wear the other person's shoes'. One should visualise oneself as the recipient of that speech or action and be aware of the effect of that speech or action. If the effect is negative and likely to cause hurt to the recipient, then one should neither act nor speak. Mindfulness of one's actions avoids conflict and leads to a peaceful existence. Right Speech is awareness of one's speech so that, what one says, is beneficial to the hearer. It is the avoidance of lying and deceiving, slander and gossip which ruins somebody's reputation.
Right Action is to be aware of one's actions and observe the five precepts so that one does not cause harm to oneself or any other living creature. These five precepts, which are an essential starting point for any Dharma practice are:
To undertake the training to avoid the taking of the life of any living beings. This precept applies to all living beings not just to humans. All beings have a right to their lives and that right should be respected. This is why many Buddhists are vegetarian. They don't want to contribute, even indirectly, to the taking of life.
To undertake the training to avoid taking things not given. This precept goes further than merely avoiding stealing. One should avoid taking anything unless one can be sure that is intended for you.
To undertake the training to avoid sensual misconduct. This precept is often mistranslated or misinterpreted as relating only to sexual misconduct but it covers any overindulgence in any sensual pleasure such as gluttony as well as misconduct of a sexual nature. A Buddhist should be mindful of the possible effects on themselves and on others of improper sexual activity. This precept would include adultery because this also breaches the precept of not taking what is not freely given. A relationship with someone who is committed to another is stealing. Similarly in cases of rape and child abuse, one is stealing the dignity and self respect of another. One is also causing mental pain, not to mention physical pain so one is, therefore, causing harm to another living being. Such behavior is, in effect, breaking several precepts.
To undertake the training to refrain from false speech. As well as avoiding lying and deceiving, this precept covers slander as well as speech that is not beneficial to the hearer or to the welfare of others. A Buddhist should be mindful that what is spoken should benefit the hearer. If what one says is likely to harm a person's reputation then one should, preferably, remain silent.
To undertake the. training to abstain from substances which cause intoxication and heedlessness. This precept is in a special category as it does not infer any intrinsic evil in, say, alcohol itself, but indulgence in such a substance could lead to heedlessness and be the cause of breaking the other four precepts.
These are the basic precepts expected as a day to day training of any lay Buddhist. Indeed, aren't these the basic moral principles that should govern any harmonious society?
Right Livelihood is to earn one's living in a way that does not cause harm or suffering to oneself or any living creature. Such occupations as the selling of intoxicants, firearms or animals for slaughter would be considered inappropriate for Buddhists.
Right Effort is the avoiding of evil which has not already arisen, rejecting evil which has already arisen, the acquiring of wholesome things which have not yet been acquired and the stabilising of those wholesome characteristics that have already been acquired.
Right Mindfulness is training in constant awareness of the effects of one's actions, whether of body, speech or mind, and thus avoiding harmful actions.
Right Concentration is cultivating the mind through concentration and meditation so that one attains intuitive insight. This intuitive insight is gained through the regular practise of Seon.
By practising the Noble Eightfold Path, letting it be our blueprint for living, we will observe for ourselves that our life has undergone a great change. We learn to respect all living creatures and cultivate compassion for their suffering. As we cultivate compassion for all creatures, we overcome our anger as we realise the futility of being angry and nurturing hatred. As we practise Seon and cultivate insight, we understand the nature of life and we become unmoved by life's frustrations. We are able to see through our problems and they cease to be problems. A problem is only a problem when we don't see a solution. Through intuitive insight we can understand their nature and they no longer disturb us. I hope that I have been able to show you, with the all too brief explanation of the Four Noble Truths, that the Buddha's teaching is a scientific teaching - one that can stand the closest scrutiny and the test of time. It, therefore, has great appeal to Westerners who are seeking a more realistic teaching on which to base their spiritual life.
What role will Buddhism play in the future development of our world? With modern communications and the ease of travel from one corner of the globe to another, this world has shrunk to the status of a village. We can no longer see each other as strangers from some far off place. We are gaining a better understanding of each other's culture and points of view. Nowhere is this more evident than in my country, Australia. We are a diverse society with citizens originating from almost every country in the world. We are a country where every religion, no matter how obscure, is practised by someone. We are trying to set an example to the world that we truly can have unity in diversity and that all races, religions and viewpoints can share a country and live together in harmony. Not all people in Australia share this point of view but it has been welcomed by the majority and we have progressed so far along the multicultural road that there can be no turning back. Through this diversity in our culture, more and more Australians are becoming aware of the many religions practised by our Australian community. Buddhism is well accepted and respected by many Australians regardless of their own particular spiritual path. They are now aware that Buddhism poses no threat.
Buddhism, traditionally, is a non proselytising religion which teaches peace and harmony and respect for the points of view of others. It is this reputation, that Buddhism has earned, that makes it so appealing to more and more Australians. Buddhism is Australia's fastest growing religion having increased its numbers by 300% in the ten years from 1981 to 1991. Although immigration accounts for a large portion of this increase, more than 30,000 Australians of European background claimed Buddhism as their religion in the last census. More than 200,000 people in Australia, or 1.1% of the population are Buddhists.
As the number of European Buddhists is on the increase, it appears that Buddhism in Asian countries seems to be on the decrease. As consumerism and other less desirable practices, such as globalisation which is a new name for colonialism have been adopted from Western countries, people are tending to become more materialistic and greedy with the consequent decline in spiritual values. It seems that many people in Asia are forsaking the values that have served them so well for centuries and are adopting some of the less desirable practices from the West. Respect for parents, the aged, the treasure of close family relationships and concern for neighbours is gradually being replaced by the selfish attitudes that are destroying Western culture. Not everything in the West is good. One should be discerning and adopt only those things that are of benefit to society. We can show the West that, by making spiritual values a guide to every facet of our lives, it is possible for society to progress but with compassion. The values of Buddhism can permeate the world like the perfume of incense permeates this temple and we, together can create a world free of greed and hatred. The suffering of the world, whether it be through war, famine or other natural disasters, must become our concern. We must look for inspiration to the Bodhisattva Kwan Se Eum Bosal, and vow not to rest until we have offered ourselves to serve humanity and relieve its suffering. This is known as Engaged Buddhism. Buddhism is often seen as passive - unconcerned with feeding the poor, establishing hospitals and schools and taking a stand on injustice and suppression of human rights. Not only must we cultivate ourselves spiritually but we must dedicate ourselves to actively serving humanity at large. This, I see, as the most important contribution that Buddhism can make to the future of this world.
3. Some Thoughts on the Future of Buddhism - By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche (Last Updated Nov 14, 2008)
Lama Zopa Rinpoche wrote this article at the request of Renuka Singh for her book The Path of the Buddha. Edited from the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive by Nicholas Ribush.
In order to hazard a guess at the future of Buddhism in the world, we need to look at how it has survived and spread since our precious founder, Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, first turned the wheel of Dharma 2,500 years ago.
How and why Guru Shakyamuni Buddha taught
Guru Shakyamuni Buddha revealed the path to enlightenment so that all sentient beings would be happy and free from suffering. Having experienced the bliss of liberation and enlightenment himself, he realized that all beings had the seed of enlightenment within their minds and could attain that ultimate goal by following the same path that he had. Therefore, starting with the four noble truths, he began to give teachings according to the various levels of mind of those who came to him for instruction.
Under his guidance, his disciples began to practice, and many were able to gain the same realizations that he had, proving that others could attain the enlightenment he himself had attained. As his students became teachers, their own disciples gained realizations of the path, showing that Guru Shakyamuni Buddha’s teachings were indeed transmissible and thus beginning the oral tradition that survives to this day.
For fifteen hundred years, Buddhism flourished in India and spread from there in all directions, to South-East Asia; Sri Lanka; China, Japan and Korea; countries to the west; and Nepal and Tibet.
Around 650 CE, the king of Tibet, Songtsen Gampo, married Buddhist women from Nepal and China and under their influence, began to introduce Buddhism to Tibet. One hundred years later, the king Trisong Detsen, invited the great Indian monk-scholar Shantarakshita and the tantric yogi Padmasambhava to firmly establish Buddhism in Tibet. Shantarakshita, the “Great Abbot Bodhisattva,” introduced the monastic tradition to Tibet, ordained the first five Tibetan monks and inspired the construction of Tibet’s first monastery, Samyé. Padmasambhava, “Guru Rinpoche,” pacified hindrances to the establishment of Buddhism and introduced the practice of Vajrayana to Tibet.
Over the next century, the practice of Buddhism spread gradually throughout Tibet, until the anti-Buddhist king Langdarma ascended to the throne and began a violent campaign to destroy Buddhism in Tibet. Within a few years, the Dharma had all but disappeared from Central Tibet, but survived to a certain extent far to the east and west.
Thus fragmented, the practice of Dharma began to degenerate, and many corrupt practices and ideas were introduced to Tibet. Despairing at the situation, the king of Gugé, in Western Tibet, invited the renowned Indian pandit Atisha to Tibet, to re-introduce the pure practice of Dharma.
I can’t talk much about Atisha’s life here, but a detailed description is given in Pabongka Rinpoche’s book, Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand. Here we see how, like Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, Atisha was born into a royal family but abandoned his inheritance in favor of Dharma practice. He studied with many teachers and realized the central importance of the loving, compassionate bodhicitta in the practice of Dharma. In order to further his study and practice of bodhicitta, Atisha undertook a long and dangerous sea voyage to Indonesia, to meet Serlingpa, the pre-eminent teacher of bodhicitta of the time.
When he went to Tibet in 1042, Atisha carried with him the two crucial Dharma lineages of method and wisdom, and when we talk even now about the survival of Buddhism in the world, we have to talk in terms of these two lineages.
The wisdom lineage passed from Guru Shakyamuni Buddha to Manjushri and then down on through great masters such as Nagarjuna and Chandrakirti to Atisha. The method lineage passed from the Buddha to Maitreya and then down on through Asanga, Vasubandhu, Haribhadra and, of course, Lama Serlingpa, also to Atisha. Thus, combined in the holy mind of the great Atisha, the two lineages of method and wisdom arrived in Tibet.
In Tibet, Lama Atisha wrote a very short text entitled A Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment,1 which for the first time presented all the teachings of the Buddha in an organized, step-like path, making it very easy for the individual practitioner to get an overview of the entire path and to understand what practice might be relevant to her or him. Of course, the benefits of Atisha’s coming to Tibet are infinite, beyond measure, but even if the only thing he’d done was to write this text, that would have made it worthwhile.
Atisha’s work was the original lam-rim (steps of the path) text, and over the subsequent centuries, many lamas from all Tibetan traditions wrote commentaries on Atisha’s Lamp, and the lam-rim genre is one of the hallmarks of Tibetan Buddhism. Perhaps the most famous of all lam-rim commentaries is Lama Tsong Khapa’s Lam-rim Chen-mo (The Great Treatise on the Steps of the Path to Enlightenment). Lama Tsong Khapa was a great yogi and scholar who wrote many profound texts on all aspects of sutra and tantra, including several lam-rim commentaries of varying length, but his Great Treatise is a work of unparalleled genius.
Lama Tsong Khapa also founded the Gelug tradition, one of the four great schools of Tibetan Buddhism. He and his disciples also founded some of the greatest monasteries in Tibet, including the three near Lhasa—Ganden, which he founded himself, and Drepung, Sera—and Tashilhunpo, Kumbum and Labrang, in other parts of the country—which were founded by various of his disciples and were like small towns, housing tens of thousands of monks.
In the Gelug monasteries, the monks followed a rigorous schedule of memorization, study, debate and practice. Often they would forego sleep in order to debate all night. One of my teachers, Geshe Rabten, has written in detail about life in the monasteries (Life of a Tibetan Monk), and his book is well worth reading to find out what an impressive and intensive schedule the monks followed.
By some estimates, more than twenty percent of Tibetan men were monks. This is an important fact to note when thinking about the future of Buddhism, because the viability of the Dharma in a certain country or place is determined by whether or not the lineage of the monastic ordination exists there. These days there seems to be a tendency, especially in the West, to downplay the importance of the ordination of monks and nuns in the survival of Buddhism. Suffice it to say that wherever one cannot be ordained, Buddhism is dead.
Many Tibetan practitioners, however, were not monks but laypeople, and some of these led amazing ascetic lives high in the snow mountains of Tibet. Perhaps the most famous of all is Tibet’s great yogi, Milarepa, who reached enlightenment under the guidance of his guru, Marpa the Translator.
In his early years, Milarepa studied black magic, and at the insistence of his mother, in order to avenge harm done to his family after his father had passed away, he caused a building to collapse, trapping and killing many of his mother’s enemies inside. Later on, realizing the terrible mistake he had made, he sought out a Dharma teacher, and eventually found Marpa. However, instead of receiving teachings from his guru, Milarepa received what today people would call abuse. Marpa never missed an opportunity to publicly humiliate Milarepa, openly kicking him out of any teachings that he might manage to sneak into, and forced him to do unbelievably backbreaking work, building and tearing down a stone tower. Marpa instructed Milarepa to build a nine-story tower out of rocks, and when, after a great deal of effort carting the rocks from the remote location where he found them to the building site, Milarepa finally finished and proudly showed Marpa his handiwork, the guru shouted angrily, “Who told you to build this tower? Put every rock back exactly where you found it.” When Milarepa had done this, Marpa then angrily demanded to know why he had taken down the tower he’d been told to build. This happened three or four times. Each time, Milarepa humbly accepted his guru’s criticism, and with unshakable faith and devotion did exactly as he was told.
Eventually, Marpa sealed Milarepa into a cave and told him to meditate on impermanence and death and other important Dharma subjects until he had realized these topics. In this way, having essentially abandoned sleep, Milarepa’s wisdom grew. After a few years, he had a dream that he should return home, which he did, to find his mother dead and the family home in ruins. Generating great renunciation, Milarepa then fled to the snow mountains, where he meditated in icy caves, wearing nothing but a simple cotton cloth. There he realized the nature of mind and attained enlightenment. He had spent so much time sitting in meditation that his buttocks were thick with calluses.
Why am I telling this story? It’s simply to show how hard one has to practice in order to make serious spiritual progress. In Tibet there were many practitioners like Milarepa, which is why Buddhism flourished in Tibet. If it is to survive, let alone flourish, in the world today, this is the type of practice that must be done in order for the as yet unbroken lineages to continue.
When we talk about the propagation of Buddhism, we have to remember that there are two types of teaching—the words and the realizations. Of these, it is the latter that makes the difference. It is easy for the words to continue for centuries—all we need is a few good libraries. But without the living experience of the meaning of the words that comes through purification, creation of merit and effective meditation, the words are dry and tasteless and cannot be a vehicle for Buddhism to continue into the distant future. For this to happen, we need serious meditators spending years, if not their entire lives, in retreat under the supervision of experienced masters. Is this happening today?
Jan Willis’s book, Enlightened Beings, tells the inspiring sacred biographies of six prominent tantric meditators from the Gelug School of Tibetan Buddhism, including that of the great Gyälwa Ensapa. Reading his story, we can understand the kind of practice required to ensure the survival of the lineage of the teachings. From an early age, he took teachings from many great masters; he studied the vast treatises of sutra and tantra; he became a monk; he undertook prolonged retreats in isolated places. As a result, he attained enlightenment in his lifetime. And of course, he was not the only one. Countless other practitioners in Tibet also followed similar courses of action and gained realization. How common is this in the world today? Even in Tibet, it no longer happens.
All this, then, is the answer to the future of Buddhism on Earth. Even though there may have be an upsurge of interest in Tibetan Buddhism over the past decades, mainly due to China’s brutal occupation of Tibet and the resulting exile of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and more than one hundred thousand other Tibetans, which has brought Tibetan Buddhism to the attention of others in the world, my impression is that it is almost totally devoid of the depth that characterized the Buddhism of Tibet and other Asian countries in the early centuries of its introduction to them, and therefore, it may not last that long.
The future of Buddhism notwithstanding, what is the reason for this heightened interest in Buddhism, especially in the West? One would have to say, people turn to Buddhism because they want to be happy. Why Buddhism? Because they find through experience that ordinary methods, such as family, friends, money, material possessions, work, art and so forth are not inherently satisfying.
The great secret, if you want to call it that, is that happiness, which we all want, and suffering, which none of us wants, come primarily from the mind, and if Buddhism is about anything, it’s about the mind. As Lama Yeshe said,
When we study Buddhism, we are studying ourselves, the nature of our own minds. Instead of focusing on some supreme being, Buddhism emphasizes more practical matters, such as how to lead our lives, how to integrate our minds and how to keep our everyday lives peaceful and healthy. In other words, Buddhism always accentuates experiential knowledge-wisdom rather than some dogmatic view. In fact, we don’t even consider Buddhism to be a religion in the usual sense of the term. From the lamas’ point of view, Buddhist teachings are more in the realm of philosophy, science or psychology.
He also pointed out that,
In Buddhism, we’re not that interested in talking about the Buddha himself. Nor was he. Lord Buddha wasn’t interested in people believing in him, so to this day Buddhism has never encouraged its followers simply to believe in the Buddha. We have always been more interested in understanding human psychology, the nature of the mind. Thus, Buddhist practitioners always try to understand their own mental attitudes, concepts, perceptions and consciousness. Those are the things that really matter.
In other words, Buddhism is not about blind faith, scriptural reference or blaming others. It’s about mind as the principal source of happiness and suffering, personal responsibility and compassion for all sentient beings.
When Guru Shakyamuni Buddha taught the four noble truths—the truths of suffering, its cause, its cessation and the path—he made it clear that anybody can totally eradicate suffering and, as I mentioned before, countless practitioners since then have accomplished this great feat. These days, many people understand just from hearing or reading teachings that Buddhism offers a better path to happiness that anything they’ve yet tried, so they start to put the teachings into practice. As the gain experience, they find it works the way it’s supposed to, so they have confidence to proceed further along the path.
I think it’s wonderful that people are prepared to try something radically different when they discover that everything they’re doing doesn’t lead to satisfaction and, recognizing that there might be something else that will bring them the happiness they seek, open the door to their own, inner wisdom. This is, of course, the door to the ultimate happiness and cessation of suffering that Guru Shakyamuni Buddha explained when he spoke about the cessation of suffering; the door to the practice of Dharma; the door out of the prison of wrong conceptions.
What is Dharma? In general, it means holding, or protecting, like the fence or rail that stops people from falling over a cliff. However, Dharma is an inner method that requires the practice of meditation. And since we have thousands of different problems in our mind, there are thousands of meditation techniques for solving them. One method cannot solve all problems. We study Dharma in order to understand which meditation technique should be applied to solve which problem.
The modern world also has inner methods for helping people solve problems—psychiatry, psychology and so forth, but even if people spend their entire lives applying these, they can never solve all their problems. Only the Dharma can do that. There is not a single method missing from the Dharma that cannot solve sentient beings’ problems.
Therefore, Dharma is a complete method for protecting ourselves from problems and their cause and making our lives meaningful. When we know how to practice Dharma, we can protect ourselves from suffering. That is Dharma. Even from this brief statement, you can see that the Dharma is not a limited method, like simply going to a temple or church. Dharma is something that we can practice day in and day out, no matter what else we are doing in our everyday life—working, eating, talking to people, sleeping and so forth—something that constantly guides us away from our delusions, the cause of suffering.
However, even though it is easy to practice Dharma, to transform all our actions into Dharma, to escape from suffering and create the cause of ultimate happiness, we have to know how. If we don’t, then of course, Dharma is very difficult to practice. And again, the first thing to understand is that happiness and suffering do not arise mainly from external factors but from the mind. We may not be able to see this upon hearing about it for the first time, but it is simply a matter of being aware. Although we experience suffering all the time, we’re not aware of how or why we’re experiencing it. We always think happiness and suffering arise from external factors, which is opposite to our own experience; they come mainly from the mind.
For example, say a person has enough material possessions—a place to live, enough food and clothing and so forth—but with attachment, starts thinking, “This is not enough; I want better; I want more,” making his mind worried, unhappy and dissatisfied. If, then, he changes his mind and decides, “Actually, this is enough. I’m content with what I have,” that determination can be enough to counteract the previous unhappiness, dissatisfaction and suffering of attachment and bring peace into his mind. At the very moment he makes the decision, happiness enters his mind; that is Dharma happiness, and shows how Dharma can bring happiness the moment we start to practice. Anger can be stopped in the same way, by recalling, for example, the previous kindness of the person who has upset you. If we do this effectively, our mind relaxes and the anger subsides. This again is Dharma happiness, and protecting ourselves from the consequences of anger in this way is practicing Dharma.
The main point of these examples is that suffering comes from the mind and can be stopped by the mind; happiness can arise simply from a change of mind. Other life problems can also be stopped like this, by changing the mind, not the object. If, for example, we’re in a foreign country and are suffering because we miss the food that we’re used to, if instead of obsessing over what we’re missing we think of those who are starving in various parts of the world, we can feel lucky that we have anything at all to eat, and in this way overcome the suffering we were experiencing from missing the food we like. Similarly, whenever we are experiencing any kind of suffering, all we need to is think about those whose problems are far, far worse and our own suffering can simply fade away. Again, this shows how happiness arises from the mind.
However, it is not enough to just focus on solving the problems and suffering of this life, because after death, the mind continues, and we need to ensure the happiness of our future lives as well.
We can also appreciate how happiness does not come from external phenomena by stepping back and observing the way in which our world has developed. Since human beings have been living on Earth, they’ve been steadily, even frantically, developing externally and the world has been getting more and more busy, both physically and mentally. However, despite all this, people’s problems have not stopped; ultimate peace has not been attained. The only effect of all this has been to make people busier and busier, less and less peaceful, especially over the past century.
At the very beginning, human beings were very relaxed and not fixated on external development, machinery and so forth like we are today. However, rather than decreasing, world problems are increasing, getting worse. The world is becoming a more dangerous place. That means that there’s something missing in the method that people have been using from previous times until now.
What’s missing? It’s a method that decreases problems, that brings peace to the mind. That’s the method that’s missing. The method that increases peace and happiness in the mind; the inner method, the method that has to be developed within the mind. Why is it missing? Because of ignorance, not knowing or recognizing the method. People cling strongly to the wrong conception that only external development can bring happiness. That’s what has been keeping us constantly in problems, preventing our minds from becoming more and more peaceful.
Also, the person who has everything, every material thing, whatever he wants, is still not satisfied, still wants better and more, still gets bored with what he has. Things to which he was attached become objects of aversion, things he liked now bring discontent. All these things, these problems and sufferings arise from the mind; suffering arises from the mind.
We can see how things are by looking at kings and beggars. If happiness depended on material conditions alone, a beggar who didn’t have even enough food for even a day should have incredibly more problems and difficulties than those who have everything, all material comforts, whatever they want. Such people’s minds should much more peaceful and happy than those of beggars; more satisfied. If it were up to external conditions alone, the richer you were, the more satisfied you should be.
However, when we look into it, even if one is the most famous or wealthiest person in the world, even if the person has a title such as president or king, he still has so many troubles, so much to worry about, so much fear of losing his power, reputation or possessions. He is very worried that he will not get more; worried that others will become richer than him and gain control over him; worried that his guards will be unable to protect him and his family, possessions and power. He can’t relax his mind at night; can’t get a comfortable sleep. People are always criticizing and complaining about him. When the whole country doesn’t like you, it’s very difficult to relax. It doesn’t matter how rich you are, how beautiful, how wonderful the food you eat and the clothes you wear, that your feet never touch the ground. When your mind is filled with worry, you can’t enjoy what you have; you can’t even taste the food you eat.
The beggar, on the other hand, doesn’t have any responsibilities, has no wealth, no material possessions. Others don’t criticize him. As long as he gets lunch and dinner, he’s satisfied. He can sleep with comfortable mind. Of course, it may not always work like this, but this example, too, makes it clear that happiness and suffering come from the mind, not external circumstances.
While one thing about Buddhism that appeals to the well educated seekers of the present day is its rational approach to psychology and the nature of the mind, another is the clear structure of the path of Tibetan Buddhism, which serves as a kind of road map to enlightenment. Looking at the outline of the entire path a practitioner can see clearly the entire range of practices that must be undertaken and accomplished in order to reach the final goal of all sentient beings’ enlightenment.
The path taught by Guru Shakyamuni Buddha and presented by the great Atisha in his Lamp for the Path is a complete path that allows any sentient being to attain the full enlightenment that the Buddha himself attained. It’s a Mahayana teaching that was clearly expounded by the great propagators Nagarjuna and Asanga, a profound teaching whose essence was explained by the great Atisha and Lama Tsong Khapa. It contains the essential points of the 84,000 teachings of Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, with nothing missing, and is set up in such a way that any individual can follow it gradually to enlightenment.
The root of the path is devotion to the guru; without a guru, there’s no way to progress efficiently along the spiritual path or to attain enlightenment. Once we’ve found the right guru, we need to persuade ourselves to extract the essence from our perfect human rebirth, the human life that affords us every opportunity to practice Dharma in the best possible way. Once we have decided to make good use of our life, we have to train our mind in the paths of the three types of being—those of least, middling and greatest capability.
The lower scope path teaches us to focus more on the happiness of future lives than that of this, and to train ourselves to do this we meditate on impermanence and death and on the suffering of the three lower realms of existence—the hell, hungry ghost and animal realms. Then, having become persuaded that future lives are more important than this one, we need to practice the methods for benefiting our future lives—we go for refuge to the Three Jewels and dedicate ourselves to following karma by avoiding actions that lead to suffering and engaging in those that bring happiness.
The intermediate scope path leads to complete liberation from cyclic existence. On it, we meditate on the sufferings of samsara in general and of each realm in particular and practicing the three higher trainings of morality, concentration and wisdom.
The highest scope path explains the benefits of bodhicitta, how to generate it, and how to engage in the deeds of a bodhisattva. This is the Mahayana path, which leads to enlightenment, but success in attaining this goal totally depends on the two lower levels.
Bodhicitta, the principal cause of enlightenment, can be developed through the seven-point cause-and-effect technique, the technique of exchanging self for others or a combination of the two, which was developed by Lama Tsong Khapa. Whichever technique we use, its foundation is the equilibrium meditation, in which we equalize our view all sentient beings by abandoning discrimination of friend, enemy and stranger.
The six causes are seeing all sentient beings as mother, remembering the mother’s kindness, the thought of repaying her kindness, love, compassion and the special intention, where we take personal responsibility for the enlightenment of all sentient beings. The effect that these causes lead up to is the development of bodhicitta. The meditation on exchanging self for other has four sections: reflecting on the disadvantages of cherishing oneself and the advantages of cherishing others, actual exchange of self for others and the technique of giving and taking (tong-len).
While bodhicitta is the principal cause of enlightenment, it has to be developed along with the two other principal aspects of the path to enlightenment, renunciation and the right view of emptiness. The well-educated seekers of today appreciate the clear, scientific approach that the lam-rim path offers. They are not asked to accept anything they don’t understand and, having gained a clear intellectual understanding of the path, are happy to put it into practice. Once they do so, they achieve the results predicted, which gives them the confidence they need to proceed further and undertake more advanced practices. I think this is one reason why Buddhism has become so popular today.
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