Most Ven. Thich Duc Nhuan: BUDDHIST REVELATIONS FOR THE MODERN WORLD


Letter to the World’s Intellectuals from Bhiksu Duc Nhuan
Translated into English by Pham Kim Khai
& final edit by Chris Dunk

We are all engaged in contemporary life with its increasing complexities particularly in these times of constant change. Also, due to the chaos of differing ideologies and dogmas that humankind has been entangled within from the very beginning of civilization we ourselves get caught up with conflicts we have all inherited through culture, race and political ideas.

The more we struggle to survive, seek meaning in our lives and increase our efforts to keep up with the constant rate of change inherent on today’s life, the more exhausted and further depressed and disheartened we become, feeling more helpless and hopeless. All this contributes to greater loss of confidence in one’s self and the world. The effects of this contemporary social phenomena has left its imprints on all and every one of us, and most deeply in the minds and hearts of those of our youth facing an uncertain future.

At this difficult and challenging time in history, it is the intellectuals and others who are expected to lead us all out of this impasse of the culmination of time, they are expected to bring relief and lighten the load on the disheartened among us, to bring light into modern life to create significance, meaning and faith. It is essential then to reform our knowledge of, and understanding of this world and phenomena of life itself as it seems for I believe that our common understanding and prevalent views of life in this world is a deformed view created by historians and others that is a ‘one-eyed’ view restricted due to restricted consciousness. Buddhism on the other hand I am convinced is a supreme philosophy to lead men to happiness and meaning and truth within contemporary life and will widen that view.

Looking at our collective history we certainly have shared serious problems due to our debased nature and also due to being governed by those who have led us into insane, collective massacres of fellow human beings through political and economic conflicts. Often these events are motivated by the ill-will of a minority of powerful decision makers and for their own interests, they have bartered other peoples blood and life indifferently, causing human blood wasted in struggles for political power, financial gain and private interests exploiting class, race and cultural issues. Their need for their own survival over the greater good motivates their indifference to others. They seem not to feel what they cause, nor care.

I am convinced that it is not until man is enlightened in the Buddhist sense and has lost all those insane cravings within our narrowly perceived self and its needs, that we will remain imprisoned within that endless delusional struggle at the expense of others further increasing the social inequality and historical misdirection we have all inherited through time.

The Buddhist idea, that of enlightenment is a concept more commonly heard of nowadays than ever before due to the spread of eastern philosophy world wide. It is however greatly misunderstood and poorly explained leading to a perverted view of what it actually means Commonly, enlightenment is thought to be being aware of individual or of class rights and other things of similar earthily meaning. Unfortunately nothing is said of enlightenment, that of being aware of one’s own human condition, our relationship with the world, and our responsibilities in society and for life at large and as a whole. There are barely any spoken or written texts in publications or in other media that shed light on what enlightenment actually is. There are plenty of well-meant and well-considered information but still they seem to express views restricted through selfishness privilege, power and pride. Noble enlightenment, on the other hand as Tagore expresses it, is when blow upon blow, pang upon pang you are to be awakened by the spiritual call: “Atmaønam viddhi” Know thyself. (R. Tagore 1917)

Prior to any possible personal freedom, one must first remove from themselves feelings of prejudice, pride and selfishness. One’s self-liberation must depend for its full realization, upon the removal of this common cause of our suffering. Without this grand vision, we can only go halfway at most or be lost. Self-indulgence our great enemy naturally means one’s excessive attention to one’s self, indifferently shutting out all problems of others and of common life. Individual selfishness, self-indulgence and aloofness are not the signs of an enlightened person. Actually, an enlightened person who has the perfect knowledge, kindness and wisdom, pertaining to Buddhist dharma (law) must do all and everything for those living the common life, have must have an understanding of the causes of suffering and attempt to alleviate that burden through the right thoughts, motivation and action towards lifting that burden.

A harmonious world must be founded upon self-understanding, of self-awareness and of our noble transformation through dharma of the Buddha. The life of Buddha, the enlightened one, reveals that his was the right path, due to and of his right speech, his right thought and his right conduct. His immense sacrifice to obtain what he achieved, his great renunciation of the restricted world of form and of deeply questioning suffering. The immaculate purity of his life left an indelible imprint upon the minds and hearts of generation after generation of Asian people. It became a message to the whole world, and as suggested by Gandhi “For Asia to be not for Asia but the whole world, it has to relearn the message of the Buddha and deliver it to the whole world” (Gandhi’s speech Harijan, 24. 12. 1938)

As long as we are Buddhists then, and our lives owe such inspi­ration derived from his, we cannot keep silent and motionless within Buddhism with such infinite problems facing the world of this life and the effects the planet and all its living things. We must act towards doing something about them.

By their fruits shall ye know them.

Through this Jewish/Christian biblical saying we can also apply it to Buddhism meaning the fruits of Buddhist thought, the spirit of realism, compassion, wisdom equality and altruism that has conferred many great benefits upon societies wherever it has gone. Buddhism has contributed greatly to persons recovering their inner peace, in resettling social disorder and in creating greater material and social prosperity. By its fruits then people have come to know Buddhism as a tree that bears great rewards for all.

History and human culture today, is on the threshold of a great synthesis. Today through the impact of information and technological revolutions we live in a significantly shrunken world, isolatio is now impossible and problems once isolated over much of the globe and from various cultures are overwhelming national boundaries affecting us all. Contemporary people are required to have great personal insight and great tolerance to rid themselves and society at large, of religious, racial and class prejudices and to enable them to remake societies based on greater justice and freedom in a new world. Today many different ethnic groups live side by side in modern cities, and in multicultural nations, greater intercultural tolerance is essential.

Personal freedom, that is to be free to be one’s self, is an essential life impulse and whose natural destiny is to find right expression.

However the spiritual force that is beyond one’s personal individualism, unites us all as a whole and permits the power of the universe, to be simultaneously manifested within all individuals as a whole.

Every person has their right to think, ponder and choose how they wish to live, serve others, and in being creative. This idea, may seem to pave the way for an excess of individualism but really it means to be tolerant of others, in accepting others freedom of thought and expression within social bounds. We owe people as social beings the safety of a certain amount of diversity of thought and expression that naturally, does not deny others their own rights through being excessive. These rights needs to be an expression of tolerance and affection as the Indian poet Tagore, said in a letter to Gandhi in 1919:”Give me the, supreme courage of love, this is my prayer, the courage to speak, to do, to suffer at thy will, to leave all things or to be left alone”. This message of responsible tolerant individualism was revived through Radhakrishna’s inaugural address to the “unesco Tagore’s Centenary Celebrations in Paris”. ‘We must take our responsibility to help the coming generations build a new life rational, civilized, human, by destroying the springs of man’s actions, which lie deep in Ignorance, Hatred and Selfishness’. The Agamas Sutram said, of the forces of cause and effect acting on life;

‘What we are longing for is supreme compassion in action. Upon such a basis can we maintain firm and lasting justice and social equilibrium? When social order is upset and freedom is violated, or vice versa: Let this be, and so will that be. One being less makes the other nothing. Let this be born, and so will that, born. That this dies makes that ending’

Buddhist teachings assert that life is a result of cause and effect, and that these are in keeping with nature’s universal laws. This supreme rule is what Buddhist must always keep in mind, and moreover, for the sake of a modern society where conflicts are stilled and harmony pervades, material needs, ownership, individual and family needs and visions need be in tune with national and international outcomes, as only then can nations live within international humanist ideals. Only then can war come to an end, when living conditions over the world become more level, as reduced class rivalries and conflict within communities and beyond is reduced. Once hostile feelings are negated, cravings gradually become calmed, then, it is only then, that the way to true freedom will be revealed to us as the true religion flowers, through all acting with right action. The glory and full bloom of humankinds transcendental self nature will then be experienced.

Buddhism has been known for its universal compassion, its humanity, its love, its self-perfection and self-understanding, and especially upon its emphasis upon individual experience, human energy and free will towards ones own self-realization. It’s concern with a grand vision of cultural synthesis and merging of ideas. Buddhism is adaptable, peace loving, earthy and practical as well as possessing an imaginative and speculative spirit. Buddhism then can and must bring forth to the modern world greater significance and happiness for all of us.

By the way, who are those lead us people to the blissful state?

The first and foremost are Buddhists or “Buddha’s-to-be”. Whether Buddhism can be useful and fruitful to contemporary times depends not upon some canonical scriptures or sutras, but mainly upon those intelligent intercessors that preach the Dharma law as it relates to contemporary times, and adapt themselves to today’s social circumstances. They have to emphasize how to make Buddhism up-to-date, they must help to enrich it and enliven it, conveying it to all persons of all walks of life intellectually and socially speaking. Buddhism today can only last if it is adaptable and works harmoniously with the essential demands of modern times.

We have heard it that persons of ideological bias or laymen who interpret Buddhism as a religion or philosophy without sympathy as atheistic and nihilistic.

Buddhists are described by such persons as standing aloof from secular society, and are therefore, reactionary and anti-humanistic. It is fair and right to question Buddhism but consider that Buddhism is not an arrogant dogma that attempts to induce people to believe in it as the only possible belief system.

Buddhism must be understood then as the guide that leads people from blindness and desire towards the blissful state of supreme liberation within themselves. Man is to be the master of his own desire. This truly emphasizes one’s individual efforts for self-salvation of mastering our more debased self, emotions and desires. The survival and spread of Buddhism over Asia for more than two millennium and its lively adaptation into the Western World and contemporary technological society, provide conclusive evidence against the shallow criticism levelled at Buddhism by its critics, obviously there must be something in it that attracts people to it. Endowed with a deeper insight to human nature, we Buddhists believe we can reveal a greater truth to all, and must do our best to make the teachings understood and inspire the world with the right-view and right-understanding of Buddhism and its harmonious relationship with most aspects of secular life. Buddhism would, certainly rejects extreme self-indulgence and certainly finds great problems and objections to this our saha-world. This realm of desires and sensual love, people are constantly disturbed from within and without by bodily desires, personal needs and are driven social influences towards further insatiable unrealisable struggles.

This world, as the Buddha called it, the “world of desire”, namely Kamadhatu, that brings forth all suffering such as birth, existence, decay and death. Superior to this our saha-world is the “world of pure form” namely Rupadhatu a place of deities and fairies whose life rises above all desires to the sphere of interplaying motives of form.

A yet higher world or existence exists, that of no-form or Arupadhatu a place which excludes all and every desire and form – but mind still exists, which is still subject to redemption, within that sorrowful Samsara cycle of re-birth.

It is not until one has been elevated from all these stages, will one attain the ‘blissful state of enlightenment’, that perfect purity free from all mortal spheres free from Samsara the cycle of rebirths; the realm of birth and death.

In this “world of desire” in which we ordinarily live, the Buddha lived a life much same as ours, the difference is that during his lifetime he had undergone a long fight to counter his self-indulgence searching for the transcendental love he attained finally upon his enlightenment to emerge with compassion, wisdom and his all-giving nature for which he became famous during and beyond his life. His love was not the kind that we associate with being in love with an attractive woman, nor that of self-love, or that of ownership, or of wealth, or that of a filial relationship (love towards a parent). His, on the contrary, was a love extended and meant for all and was one aimed towards alleviating pain in all sorrowful suffering being.

His compassionate love emerged of his transcendental self. If not being such a devote person he might not have practiced self-restraint, nor renounced the world of luxury he had inherited, nor would he have he been so restlessly concerned with the suffering of the world and all in it. He was so concerned with this existence where people pursue their lust for life so indulgently and without concern for others and that they refuse to pay any attention to their approaching deaths as if they are going to live forever. It is through this man and through his true love we can find the true meaning of the transcendental self, that is of transcending ourselves to something greater than we normally perceive.

To criticize Buddhism as atheistic is harsh and far from the truth. You may not find in any of the Buddhist realms an omnipotent god with the love and hatred that is associated and projected upon gods by the human imagination but, if you set on a search for the ‘god’ as the eternal basis that governs all phenomena in the universe and is in all and every one of us you may be on to something.

This Divine-omnipresence is the essence of the world and, though not openly expressed, is latent in all and everything, extant or not extant. It transcends all categories and limitations; however, it will only be revealed to those being free from the veil of illusory phenomena, those who fight and win pure love and wisdom over earthily desires obtain this inner-self to be one with that of the universal.

Buddhism as such may somehow be conceived as theism whose Deities (or devas) are not far from man but as a nucleus latent in every living creature. They only come into being and in sight of those who have possessed a universal vision. All such Buddhist terms as “Buddha-hood” (the nature of Buddha) or “Such ness” or “Blissful State” or “Nibbana” are various names of the One Absolute Heart incarnate in all, even though each of us has no experience of such an absolute experience trapped as we are in the Saha world of desire.

Potentially, each of us is a Buddha and everyone, therefore, may attain Buddha hood through the arduous path of one’s self-restraint, self-perfection and self-understanding. In principle, Buddhism thus gives way to a far higher human status and contributes nothing towards debasing to human dignity. All men are equal, on the way to the supreme perfection. A vast difference of value among beings however concerns their personal “burden of Karmic actions” or record of morality (past and present). People of course due to our reasoning and ability to reflect, are the most elevated creature in the sphere of “Samsara” (suffering), and possess the best faculties to enables us to free from this infinite cycle of re-birth and redemption. This complete, description and explanation of Buddhism conveys the true meaning its purpose in promoting “humanism”, to use a term in vogue today.

It is Buddhism that has put consciousness for most and utmost into practical life despite the tragic conditions of life as is generally experienced by us all.

Buddhists has never given way to defeatism, neither praying for external aid from deities or gods, nor leaning upon other persons, heroes, and politicians and others etc to free us from the human condition. The true Buddhist tries their best to get rid themselves of self-bondage through their own efforts. Let us imagine a child sleeping by its mother and dreaming that a powerful lion is attacking it. Can the mother save her child from danger or kill the lion in that dream? No, she can’t; she cannot enter into it that dream nor do anything except wake it up from that dream. To be awakened, the child will be freed from the perception of being attacked by a lion. So such is it through enlightened awakening that the Buddhist frees himself instantly from ‘the sufferings arising from ignorance of the law of ceaseless change within the Six Realms’.

Without self-realization, one cannot understand such things as these statements. We can only save ourselves through our own effort, no one and nothing can help us not even a Buddha nor a god can deliver us. They may provide us with an example and inspiration but it is up to us to pay our dues to pursue and complete our self-perfection by our own efforts. Outside help, if any, cannot outrun the inner motives or wish of liberation within a person. (You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it drink as the saying goes). It is this emphasis upon the subjective, that is of there being only deliverernce through of our own inner world and its the concern with self-liberation that has attracted critics of Buddhism as being selfish, individualistic or that Buddhist are irresponsible and aloof not concerned with the world beyond themselves. However providing Buddhism keeps promoting the personal initiatives of reflection, self effort, and self-mastering and self liberation it must be seen as positive and not pessimistic, nor a set of abstract intellectual philosophies far removed from social life or the concerns of people in their daily lives, its just that it stresses that the effort towards positive social and self outcomes must come from within our on efforts.

Buddhism has its own way of serving society and people and there is, for each one of us, an individual way to self-realization that is not devoid of the great compassionate heart but is in fact totally dependent on it.

However, due its very adaptability and tolerance Buddhism has been subjected to criticism due to its all embracing loving kindness and forgiveness. The only thing a Buddhist can and must do is to do good on behalf of all beings. A Buddhist; in spite of his own “burden of karmic action and desires”, is supposed to make great effort to tame themselves and do the right thing, to reject wealth and pride, to remove lust from themselves to reject discrimination and to be ready to serve humanity in doing whatever possible for others. This supreme sacrifice has to be willingly made and such action causes the Buddhist to embrace loving kindness and forgiveness due to that sacrifice towards a greater good and personal liberation.

To criticize Buddhism as has been done, saying it is an obstacle to the course of historical evolution, is to say that the Buddhist ideals which were first preached over two millenniums ago, and that are still fresh today should not have survived the test of time.

Since the Buddha’s first sermon the earliest call of liberation for an assessment and improvement of personal values and for self-realization, especially for the intellect to be freed from the socio-theocratic bounds of early India, Buddhism has been closely associated with the evolution of personal and social freedom. In Buddhism, deeply lies the nucleus of all recent revolutions of modern societies towards greater human outcomes, for individual freedom and humanism. The Buddhist revelation to the modern world involves the rediscovery of a coherent view of life, of a quality of life that prevents the materialistic civilization from ending in disaster. Societies now are at the door of an end game, and have come to a climax of cultural change and transition as never before experienced in human history. The progressive quality of modern philosophy science art, tech­nology and information depends on the application of such towards human outcomes in the purpose, the compassionate initiatives born of such human endeavours and our creative power for coping with life as a whole. Buddhist philosophy and culture stresses those responsible applications of human creativity and endevour.

To a great many people, Buddhism is an ancient religion of an age old cults, of Buddhist icons, carried out and promoted by those half-dreaming monks devoted to dozy, monotonous praying for salvation from suffering and the human condition. They see believe in the Buddha in the same way as in other religions such as like that of the Jewish god Jehovah or the Hindu god Brahma. They worship the Lord Buddha as the Almighty and beg him for blessings, salvation, and other earthily favours. This misunderstanding has created a veil of religious myths and fictions that conceal the real nature and spirit of Buddhism and its true law. It is this reason why Buddhism has been conceived as “a religion both profound mid profane”

We Buddhists must take the responsibility to reveal what is profound in Buddhist teaching otherwise Buddhism will become a yoke preventing followers attaining spiritual freedom, social prosperity, self realization and preventing the achievement of world salvation through its message.

The following story illustrates this point.

There once was an enlightened, Most Venerable Monk, an Abbot, living in a serene life in a cave mona­stery. He lived with his disciples many of whom had attained Buddha-hood by his revelations. One of the Junior Monks was a most excellent man, known to the whole monastery for his good behaviour, faithfulness and kindness to his teacher and his fellow monks, but unfortunately was still far from ultimate success in become an enlightened one.

Year after year the disciples one after another had reached supreme knowledge and left the monastery for their Buddhist propagation trips into the world, but nothing was happening to the long trained obedient and righteous disciple despite his qualities. The teacher, after a very long time of studying the situation, came to realize, when a sudden snowstorm ushered in winter to the area, that the mind of his student had reached a point when “One More Step” or one final thrust is required to attain enlightenment.

The cave was filled with winters freezing cold at that moment when the teacher’s heart warmed up at the thought that it was possibly that the right moment for his disciple to be awakened within himself. After a walk around the monastery, the venerable returned to his pa­triarchal teaching seat; there which was the only fire­place in the cave with so dim a fire that it seemed to be nearly extinct. The need for a warming fire was was urgent and he called that disciple to him and gave him an order: “It’s necessary now to find some wood to keep the fire going it’s so cold. Go and see if you can get some my son. “

His disciple obeyed and left, but he knew the wood storeclose by was already empty. Heavy snow now had blocked all the ways down to the lower forest where he could get more wood and he had tried his best in vain searching the cave for fuel before he returned with empty handed.

Sadly, he said, ‘I am sorry, sir; but there is not a single piece of wood around and the storm outside is so strong that I can’t can go out and get more’. The Venerable Monk replied kindly “But how about searching all over the inside, first. If you see anything made of wood or other inflammable material and bring it here, will you?” The younger monk obediently bowed and went on searching but found nothing that could be burned within the rocky cave. He presented himself to the teacher at last and exclaimed desperately, ‘I can’t find anything to burn, sir!’ The Venerable Monk then said, “Oh, worthy one! I believe you will find one thing made of wood which is right inside this cave but only if you look carefully”.

In spite of the Junior Monks overwhelming disbelief and despondency, he made a decisive exertion to survey all and every corner of the mona­stery and go as far as the main shrine of the Buddha. Under the throne of the sta­tue, he knelt down and prayed for his revelation before going on a last search. Despite looking everywhere, there were no wooden things except the Buddha statue itself; everything else was unburnable. He came to the very climax of dejection and finally was found kneeling before the Venerable Abbot with fear and trembling from head to toe. He said: “Oh, sir, there is nothing of wood at all except the Buddha’s statue! ” The Abbot said “Well, its wood isn’t it?’ The junior monk replied “Yes master the statue is made of wood, but it is our Lord Buddha!’ Initially, the master seemed to loose his temper and scolded loudly:”You ignoramus! Why don’t you just shut up all your non-sense and bring it here, that wooden thing immediately understand!” Startled, filled with doubt and bewilderment, he went to the Buddha statue and prostrated himself before it expressing his utmost respect and fear to the statue in disturbing it from its high place in the meditation hall and then lowering it down from its high throne carried it back to the Abbot An expression of compassion and calmness, then, reappeared on the of the enlightened Abbots face and in his eyes, as he picked up an axe, raising above his head and with all his strength, chopped down at the glittering gold-plated Buddha statue into pieces, just as the mental cataclysm of the faithful dis­ciple broke as he witnessed such a seemingly sacrilegious event preformed by the Abbot.

Sweat streamed down from every pore of the junior monk, his body trembling, his eyes streaming tears, he watched in shock as his master quietly threw the broken wooden statue piece after piece into the fire. It was then, as the flames grew, the rocky hall was so brightened with warmth and light the vision effected the junior monk’s consciousness, and as a mind-flower blooming immediately within him, he experienced enlightenment. It was such a blissful moment, as the monk made the connection and his mind awakened from the dream of what we normally take for reality.

His attachment to the trappings of Buddhism, the ceremonial, the statues, the ritual had prevented him from his own realisation of the spirit of Buddhism within. Enlightenment then is that inter connective ness that completeness beyond the divisions created by the mind and as Russian physiologist Pavlov, announced in a famous essay on Esprit Scientifique Russell (p. 55), that; “We have now come to the point where we are obliged to consider the spirit, the soul and the physical form as an indivisible unit. “

It is then time for us to make the Buddhist beholder forsake all illusory manifestations of the Buddhist religion so that the essential reality is revealed to all. Only in this sense will Buddhism become the most active and realistic, enabling the intelligentsia and the general public to find satisfactory answers to all spiritual needs they require within Buddhism. They will, re-discover therein the powerful motivation for the growth to a golden civilization with the accompanying physical and material progress that will be in harmony with trans­cendental humanism. Buddhism has been formed as a crystallization of various schools of thought from the philosophies of ancient India. Buddhism came to life to bring forth a great synthesis all the former theological, religious and ideological tendencies of Vedic tradition. His Noble Way is a complete expression of the human philosophical science ever known to history. In Buddhism are inclu­ded all fundamental problems of existence, great and small. That Buddhism has not been conceived as such, as being misunderstood so badly is often due to ambiguous translations in varying languages and ethnocentric cultural conventions that are imposed onto Buddhism as a result of preconceived or ongoing biased ideas often influenced by ethnocentric ideas.

As modern exponents of Buddhism, we have the task of revealing the real essence of Bud­dhist thought to take its place within this contemporary world of technology, science art and learning, to unite with the supreme unity of all realities, the physical and spiritual. Our human tragedies due to our limited conciousness, war and conflict, of our uninformed vision of life we normally behold, our inability in not seeing an interconnected whole in its reality as as an indivisible unity, must end. We must agree with professor Nguyeãn- Ñaêng-Thuïc’s note of this noble unifying vision of life: “that human society is now experiencing a terrible moral and physical crisis can be explained by the lack of the moral conditions for this unification… the present phase will be one of control of the inner self’.

In the magazine, Asian Culture, Vol. III, No. 2, it was stated that ‘Experimental science, with its demo­cratic character and with the experience of religions of the East will help the average man master his desires”. Buddhism, due to its adaptabi­lity to meeting the needs of men of diverse mental cultural and racial backgrounds, will contribute enormously to social progress and spiritual freedom of people everywhere. This great synthesis was originally expressed by the Buddha the high­est human creative spirit against the backdrop of the lofty Himalayan Mountains and in the forests of India over 2000 years ago. His thought ceaselessly probed into mysteries of the Hindu religion seeking enlightenment, an explanation to the origin and deliverance from suffering. The belief of Indians then was that of Brahma, a God of a religion filled with superstition and magic. They had established Brahmanism with the basic concept of reincarnation namely that of Samsara, the transmigration of souls or “metempsychosis” that created the social system known as the caste system.

Later, the Upanishad school of thought appeared to promote almost an ultimate negation of the powerful deity Brahma and did raise doubt on nonsense and of useless magic ritual within the religion. This inquiring spirit was the source of all the following religious philosophies.

Vedantism drew Brahma down into every personal being and championed the cause of human equality. The materialistic philosophy of Vaisesika also provided vigorous opposition to former theologies. An eclectic (diverse) tendency opened the way of Samkhyaku, proposing the dual existence of both a transcendental self and an individual self; the transcendental self the “Own will of the Absolute One” to become one with all and every individual soul, explained Samkhya philosophy, and had created this world of illusion. Should this “Will” be nullified, all illusion would consequently cease, and there is revealed the Identity of Atman and Brahma.

More than two thousand five hundred years after these philosophical events, the Buddha was born, reconciliation of all former lasting philosophies into that of Buddhism founded on compassion and the belief in the potential of human enlightenment, spiritual liberty, independence and self realization. The Buddha revealed to the world a realistic and attainable means to a perfect life concerning both the spiritual and practical aspects of means to attain enlightenment.

The Great Master had a profound look at everything in existence as it really is, finding at its core the phenomena, which he described within his threefold principle that describes all things:

  1. Every phenomenon is impermanent.
  2. Every existence is selfless.
  3. Such is eternity.

This is the nature of all things, “An-sich-sein” or “Nomos” (a-b) to use Heidegger’s language and is the key for humans as it is the threshold of the immense treasure of universal secrets, the very original source of this world and existence. This understanding of thing in itself assists us to unload our ignorant attachments one by one, and get closer to our transcendental self. The world of phenomena is a component of the system of universal causation. Those who make the effort to probe into the deep mysteries of life and universal evolution must know this noble law, that of “cause-and-effect”. They in making their supreme effort to turn the Wheel towards finer moral status, to create the conditions for human salvation will be triumphant eventually. One’s own Karmic record of life makes us suffer in life, sufferings, originate from sensual cravings that never cease to increase day by day. It is only by following the Noble Eightfold Path (Ariastaniga Margama-ni, namely: Right view. Right thought, Right speech. Right action, Right Livelihood, Right effort, Right mindfulness and Right concentration) can one realize that blissful state of Nirvana. Buddhism starts from its spiritual point of view to make its way through the six-realms (the six existences) towards the ultimate liberation from human bondage. However the point of departure, i. e. Buddhism, is not the absolute truth, but only a means, provisional and non-real, like the “finger that points to the moon” a symbol of the true reality.

The most emphasized in Buddhist concepts are the personal value and the freedom of thought that help it be developed and embellished by generations one after another. The freedom of thinking is the most essentials of all and no wonder Buddhism has been widespread and welcomed all over the world as it should be noted that no wars have been fought throughout the history of its religious propagation anywhere.

German historian Dietrich, Seckel, p. 18-19 in his “The art of Buddhism” expresses his convictions as such when he writes: “It will be appreciated that this was not the foundation upon which one could establish an obligatory dogma. Hence Buddhism could easily adapt itself to alien ways of thinking, doctrines and cultural conditions, without sacrificing its basic concepts. This of course meant that it had to renounce the lives and thoughts of the people under its sway… It was presumably this modesty in its claims that enabled it to spread peacefully into such vast areas, where the cultural pattern was so different”.

Over two millenniums of its existence with peace-loving peoples in the eastern world, Buddhism never ceases to develop, its ideological culture opening up new dimensions of spiritual life, thoughts and feeling.

Since his enlightenment through the art of literature the Buddha’s first speech, was artistically expressed. His eloquent teachings were highly appreciated and have lent themselves to artistic expression throughout the world. His metaphors delivered to his disciples were recorded in the “Sutras of one hundred examples” each skilfully conveyed the deep meaning of his message of salvation. It provides various good descriptions of sufferings of humanity, the cause of sufferings, and also presents a moral conclusion for each story to suggest to every one of its characters a definite outlet according to every particular circumstance. This enables religious beholders to understand and, as a result, carry the good examples out in their practical life.

The Buddha’s attitudes and noble behaviour provided the foundation founded the very Buddhist rituals and conventions still with us today. His solemn voice in preaching was the prototype of later rhythmic praying and such art forms within Buddhism as religious prose and poetry, ritual and music. The fine arts produced thousands of stupas, pagodas and icons of Buddhism for the sake of religious contemplation as well as the means of propagation of the Dharma. Some hundred years before Christ, Buddhist painting and sculpture had gradually developed, but were not fully in bloom until the first century after the birth of Christ. This literature, the sacred writings, music, painting, sculpture and architecture, and drama are more accessible to more people due to modern communications, cinema and television being available almost everywhere and the message of Dharma Law of the Compassion and Wisdom of Buddhism and the Buddhist service to humanity, is more readily propagated. Buddhism’s adaptability onto the native arts in countries where it has spread, has adopted native embodiments of its concepts and metaphors as it has done since it first moved beyond India. Elaborate, wealthy forms and expressions have appeared in places where the standard of living is high and persons have contributed money to these forms of expression moved by buddhist motivation. As a rule Buddhism, when it penetrated into the soul of a community, serves to raise its culture and civilization to the higher horizons of the Buddhist world-view. In many instances it was only with the coming of Buddhism, and only through the stimulus it provided, and the aspirations it awakened, that art forms associated with it could fully develop and reach the high standards that it reached throughout Asia. Thanks to Buddhism the various art traditions, which until then had been largely regional, were able to establish contact elsewhee at the international level. Moving along the trade routes the exchange of ideas and cross fertilizing of the arts and cultural matters across the huge areas, were influenced by Buddhist thought due to its social merit. Concerning the greatest of contributions Buddhism have made to the arts of Asia, Professor Seckel writes: “Buddhism succeeded in solving one of the major problems of Asian art: the problem of rendering the sacred in a human form of universal validity and appeal”. It is in the third century B. C. that Buddhist art as an art form in itself first appears.

Buddhist literature records Buddhist knowledge and its fusion and freedom of thinking developed within its philosophy evolving, through participation of generations of intellectuals, into a magnificent treasury of sacred books which has been described as “Oceans of letters, forests of bibles”. The sacred books are divided into three main sources, namely;

The Buddhist Bible or “Sutram”, The Law “Vinayah” and The Philosophy “Abhidharma”.

The source of Sutram includes all spoken teachings by the Buddha as reported by his disciples in, the five Great Sacred Books. The source of Vinayah, is the system of essential disciplines that are to be exercised, by both the Sangha (Buddhist Monks and Nuns) and the Buddhist believers. It serves as the substratum of the Buddhist order.

The source of Abbidharma, are philosophical essays that explains and develops the es­sential meaning of the original Sutram. This great treasury of literature owed its due to successive generations of Buddhist authors. After the Master’s Parinirvana, the first council of the Sangha was organized to gather his original teachings and basic religious laws as the cornerstone, of the Buddhist order. This was the meeting of about 500 disciples or so, taken place at Raøjagriha city. The Bibles were written both in Pali, and Sancrit under Ananda’s dictation, and the Books of Law under Upali. The Essays or Abhidharma were later written as the further development from the former bibles. Two books, namely Agamas sutra and Eighty-Gatha Vinaya hence came into being as the output of this gathering. A century later, a second meeting was organized at Vesali aimed at a general review over the former bibles and law; and in the mean time, to clear out all elements of strange conceptions and evils scattered inside the Buddhist community. This was also conceived as a turn of the ideology toward divergences into a variety of schools.

It has been said that Master Mahadeva with his fivefold revolutionary manifesto had launched the first blow of a movement that split the early Buddhism into two schools namely the conservative of Hinasanghika school and the more liberal ‘Mahasanghika school. Both still under went many further sub-divisions (2). These complex events manifested into an interesting wealth of Buddhist literature on the one hand, but otherwise such literature may lead learners into a world of letters, with their great variety of confusing and contradictory views. It is up to the more contemporary writings based on these older written treasures to clear up such confusions.

Buddhism in India was geographically divided into the Northern school of Mahayana Buddhism and that of the Southern school of Therevada Buddhism before spreading abroad. The Northern, Buddhism left metropolitan Gandhara as point of departure and travelled north then eastward into China through Central Asia, known as the Silk Road also as the Highway of Buddhism. From China, Buddhism moved in various directions to Mongolia, Manchuria, Korea, Japan and Vietnam. The Southern school on the other hand, spread out from Ceylon to reach Burma, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos and touched on parts of western Vietnam. On its travels, Buddhism adapted itself to native belief systems incorporating them into its metaphors and symbols.

Buddhist intellectuals all over the world and the representatives of Buddhist nations are now engaged in their best for the efforts towards greater unity within Buddhist schools of thought towards the common cause of world peace and happiness.

After the past two millenniums of polarization, Buddhism today is at the very threshold of the long-fought reunification and synthesis as has been the case within Vietnam’s Unified Buddhist Church that came into existence in 1963. We expect this reconciliation of the Northern and Southern Buddhist groups in Vietnam will contribute towards to unification of the various Buddhist schools of thought through out the world. Towards building and achieving great harmony within the Buddhist world, the followers of the Buddha are encouraged have an open mind and welcome change towards greater understanding and realization of the Buddha’s ideals while gaining deeper insight into the noble content of the Great Master’s teachings.

Buddhism and Science

It is impossible for Buddhism to answer satisfactorily all the problems faced by humans due to the rapid development of technology and its impact on traditional life. Concerns such as maintaining material wealth and productivity,and our power to organize a technological system that does not threaten social order due to rapid change and social breakdown needs to be balanced. We need to look deeply within ourselves as to being responsible in the application of these forces, inventions and economic events to preserve human dignity and prevent social breakdown. On the other hand, Buddhism has a realistic attitude towards essential usefulness and principles of science. Science should be perceived as the very output of man’s thought and consciousness over the experimental and practical problems culminated over time. Scientific theories provide the substratum of the civilization within the world today. But as Indian scholar Kantilya, said: “Philosophy is the lamp of all sciences, the means of performing all”. In other words we need to be guided by philosophies that lead sciences to positive human and social outcomes.

It is interesting that the further science is proceeds into and beyond the atomic age and into macro world of space and the universe, and into the micro world of atomic and sub atomic particles, the closer science expresses ideas, theories and thoughts related to Buddhist concepts. The Buddhist viewpoint of the existence of phenomena seems to on good terms with modern scientific explanations of existence. Hundreds of years before the modern astronomers discovered the existence of the multitude of other worlds in outer space, the Buddha had, from beneath his Boddhi tree of Enlightenment, taught of the Trisaharasramahasahasro lokadhatu or of another three thousand worlds that exist in the universe beyond our world. It was quite impossible for such a radical concept to be acknowledged by his contemporaries and it has been only recently through sciences such as astronomy that such ideas have reaffirmed by modern science.

There is no question that the philosophical questions and concepts of early Buddhism are some of the most original “ideas” which the history of philosophy can hark back to. In its fundamental ideas and essential spirit Buddhism relates remarkably to the advanced scientific thought of the nineteenth century onward. The modernist so called pessimistic philosophies of the German nationals Schopenhauer and Hartmann, seem only a revised version of ancient Buddhism and Indian Philosopher, S Radharkrishnan described Buddhism as a means to reconcile religion and science “As far as the dynamic conception of reality is concerned, Buddhism is a prophecy of the creative evolutionism of Bergson. Early Buddhism suggests the outline of a philosophy suited to the practical wants of present day and helpful in reconciling the conflict between faith and science”.

Buddhism then is thus not only as a philosophy or a spiritual philosophy religion and movement, is also has a functional relationship and basis in the sciences. Besides a way of salvation, Buddhism still expresses itself as the realistic ideology that is capable of evolving into a complete development of modern culture due to its ability to accommodate the arts, learning, science and technology. These times are right for Buddhists endowed with the heritage of wisdom from our Lord Buddha to put His Noble Truth into action. Let’s transcend human conditions and establish a finer better living in a harmonious secular yet religious system on this planet. To those ends Buddhism will adapt to the variety of intellectual ideas of these times.

As to dealing with Buddhist culture here in this essay, its history, it’s of its ability to merge with other cultures ideas and ways of life through over two millenniums, as a general survey I have provided but a short and inadequate description. The most essentials I covered areas follows.

First, we coincided the modern world, contemporary life and its challenges, the problems of our situation at this flux of civilization, this blending of technological and cultural change, and its deliverance by the Buddhist insight, motivation and conscious action.

Secondly we dealt with the misunderstandings that people and critics have levelled against Buddhism. Thirdly, we dealt the fundamental principles of Buddhist teachings.

Last but not least we dealt with the of Buddhist culture and ideas or Buddhist consciousness in relation to science and technology and as a force that should be brought into our lives toward the good of all and the propagation of Dharma Law.

May the Light of Compassion be with us all.

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