The Uniqueness of Buddhism
by Aryadasa Ratnasinghe
The Buddha said "Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it; not in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations; not in anything because it is spoken and rumoured by many; not in anything because it is found written in your spiritual texts; not in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders, but only after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it". (Kalama Sutta).
Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), the famous philosopher and mathematician, who was a Christian, says: "Of the great religions of history, I prefer Buddhism, especially in its orthodox form, because it has had the smallest element of persecution". The intellectuals of the West have agreed that for the first time in the history of the world, Buddha proclaimed a salvation, which each man could gain for himself, and by himself in this world, during his life, without the least help from God or Gods.
Buddhism differs from other religions because (i) it does not believe in a Creator or an Almighty God who is responsible for all our actions, (ii) Buddhism, in actual sense, is not a religion, though people generally call it so, because there is no belief in, recognition of, or of a higher unseen authority, or a controlling power, but emotions and morality connected therewith, (iii) is a moral philosophy in pursuit of wisdom and knowledge, norms and laws, and all other things connected therewith.
In Buddhism, there is nothing to speculate or conjecture, because it is a doctrine, par excellence, leading to the attainment of Nibbana ceasing rebirth. Every Buddhist aspires to attain this condition in this life or in the life to come. Buddha is the greatest man who ever lived in this world of ours, dominating the whole of human history, by his boundless compassion and unrestricted loving kindness, and still his doctrine stands supreme above others.
Buddhism stands unique since it denies in the existence of a soul (ego). Buddha said that the idea of a soul is an imaginary, false and baseless belief, which has no corresponding reality, but produces harmful thoughts, selfish desire, craving, attachment, hatred, ill-will, conceit, pride, egoism and other defilements, impurities and problems. In short, to this false view can be traced all the evils in the world which we experience. Soul is usually explained as the principle of life, the ultimate identity of a person or the immortal constituent of self.
There is nothing called 'sin' in Buddhism in which actions are merely termed as meritorious ('kusala') and demeritorious 'akusala'). Sin is rebellion against God. The word 'sin' is derived from the Latin root 'sontis' meaning guilty, explained either as mortal sin (unpardonable sin) or venial sin (pardonable sin).
According to dogmatic theology, sin signifies purposeful disobedience to the Will of God, or any action offensive or blasphemous to God, or to speak profanely or impiously of God. Buddhists do not believe in confession (acknowledgement of sin to a priest) as laid down in Catholicism.
John Walters writing about the Buddhist idea of sin, says that it differs somewhat from the Christian idea. Sin to the Buddhist is mere ignorance or stupidity. It is said that the wicked man is an ignorant man and does not need punishment and condemnation, so much as he needs instructions. "He is not regarded as violating God's commands, or as one who must beg for divine mercy and forgiveness. Buddhism does not believe that a sinner can escape the consequences in prayerful attempts to bargain with God".
Among the founders of world religions, the Buddha was the only teacher who did not claim to be a prophet, or incarnation of a god or a super being above mankind. He was a man pure and simple, and devoted his entire life to holiness. He was a noble prince of the Sakya clan, the only son of king Suddhodana of the ancient Kapilavattu (modern Piprawa on the Nepal border in North India).
The prince Siddhartha Gautama, having understood the remorseless of nature, renounced the world at the age of 29 years, after seeing the four prognosticated signs (a sick man, an old man, a corpse and a hermit, as he walked along in measured steps). He now desired to become a recluse, away from the burden of civil life, to find a panacea for the ills of suffering faced by mankind, during their voyage in the 'samsara' (cycle of rebirths). Leaving behind his young wife and the infant child Rahula, he ventured into the forest, in the fulfilment of his cherished desire to wear the yellow robe and become a recluse with shaven head.
At the time when the prince was born there was a great spiritual revolution, and many youngmen left their homes to lead an ascetic life given to celibacy and holiness. The recluse Siddhartha, underwent hectic mortification of the flesh given to asceticism for 6 years, under the erudite teachers Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputra who were reputed for their psychic powers. But their teachings did not satisfy him. Therefore, he left them and followed the Middle Path (Majjhima Patipada'), rejecting the extremes of 'attakilamatanuyoga' (self-mortification) and 'kamasukkhallikanuyoga' (self-indulgence). With strenuous effort, he attained Enlightenment (Buddhahood) illuminating the world by his success.
After attaining Enlightenment, he delivered his first discourse to the five ascetics on Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta. Addressing them he said "Open ye your ears, O bhikkus, deliverance from death is found. I teach you. I preach the law. If ye walk according to my teaching, ye shall be partakers in a short time of that for which sons of noble families have left their homes to lead a life of homelessness, it being the highest end of my spiritual effort. Ye shall, even in this present life apprehend the truth itself and see it face to face".
Buddhism is, generally, accepted as a moral philosophy to lead mankind in the proper path by doing good and avoiding evil. The Buddha himself has expressed that his teaching is both deep and recondite, and anyone could follow it who is intelligent enough to understand it. He admonished his disciples to be a refuge to themselves' and never to seek refuge in, or help from anyone else. He taught, encouraged and stimulated each person to develop himself, and to work out his own emancipation, because man has the power to liberate him self from all earthly bondage, through his own personal effort and intelligence.
Buddha based his doctrine on the Four Noble Truths, viz: suffering ('dukkha'), cause of suffering ('samudaya'), destruction of suffering ('nirodha') and the path leading to the cessation of suffering ('magga'). The first is to be comprehended, the second (craving) is to be eradicated, the third (Nibbana) is to be realised, and the fourth (the Noble Eightfold Path) is to be developed. This is the philosophy of the Buddha for the deliverance of mankind from being born again, or the cessation of continuity of becoming, i.e., 'Bhavanirodha' (the attainment of Nibbana).
The Noble Eightfold Path, also known as the Middle Way, consists eight factors, namely right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration. Practically, the whole teaching of the Buddha, to which he devoted himself during his 45 years of ministration, deals in some way or another, with this Path. He explained it in different ways and in different words, to different people, at different times, according to mental development and capacity of a person, to understand and follow the teachings of the Buddha. In classical terminology, it is known as 'Dukkhanirodhagaminipatipada ariyasacca'.
This Middle Way is neither a metaphysical path nor a ritualistic path, neither dogmatism nor scepticism, neither self-indulgence nor self-mortification, neither externalism nor nihilism, neither pessimism nor optimism, but the path for Enlightenment as the means of deliverance from suffering, and man is solely responsible for his own pains or pleasures. Buddhism is clear, reasonable and gives complete answerers to all important aspects and questions about our lives.
These eight factors aim in promoting and perfecting the three essentials of Buddhist discipline, viz. Ethical conduct ('sila'), concentration ('samadhi') and wisdom (panna').
Ethical conduct is built on the conception of morality with compassion towards all beings. Concentration means securing a firm footing on the ground of morality where the aspirant embarks upon the higher practice on the control and culture of the mind. Beyond morality is wisdom. The base of Buddhism is morality and wisdom is its apex. It is the right understanding of the nature of the world in the light of transiency ('anicca'), sorrowfulness ('dukkha') and soullessness ('anatta').
Wisdom leads to the state of 'dhyana' (psychic faculty), generally called trance. Wisdom covers a very wild field, comprising understanding, knowledge, and insight specific to Buddhism. Wisdom being the apex of Buddhism, is the first factor of the Noble Eightfold Path.
It is one of the seven factors of Enlightenment, some of the four means of accomplishment, one of the five powers ('pannabala') and one of the five controlling faculties ('panna indriya).
The highest morality is inculcated in the system of Buddhist thought, since it permits freedom of thought and opinion, sets its norms against persecution and cruelty and recognises the right of animals. Liquor, drugs and opium and all that tends to destroy the composure of the mind are discountenanced. When considering the fraternity of people, Buddhism acknowledges no caste system and admits the perfect equality of all men, as it proclaims the universal brotherhood.
Buddhism shows the errors of monotheism, atheism, fatalism, nihilism, agnosticism, polytheism, materialism, sensualism, asceticism, spiritualism and deism by analysing the contents of each of the beliefs. Let all beings be happy!