Foundations Of Buddhist Practice Restore Faith

Buddhist Temple

Picture by MikeTowse – sxc.hu

Writer Lewis Richmond has explained how he restored his Buddhist practice after some years of doubt.

Starting in my early 20s, I immersed myself in the study of Soto Zen, first with my Japanese root teacher, and after his death with his American successor. I lived in monastic or semi-monastic settings for a total of 15 years. Early on I was ordained as a priest; at some point I became a teacher myself. During that time, Buddhism was my whole life.

Then, after 15 years my faith in this practice, once so strong, turned to doubt. I began asking myself: What do I really know that is true? Who and what can I really trust? I also asked: What has become of Lew, the person I used to be so many years before?

Lewis Richmond’s doubts became so strong that he eventually left his teaching position and his community and settled into the typical life of a householder with his wife and child. Later he once again began a period of self-examination and eventually came up with seven foundations of Buddhist practice that helped to restore his trust in the teachings.

These were:

  • Sitting
  • Walking
  • Chanting
  • Bowing
  • Precept
  • Robe
  • and Sutra.

I can’t say that all seven are universal to every school of Buddhism, but many of them are, and all of them are common to the meditation schools of the three vehicles — Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana.

To find out more about these seven foundations read Lewis Richmond’s full article in the Huffington Post.

What is Sexual Misconduct?

Reprinted from Good Question Good Answer by Venerable Shravasti Dhammika

The Third Precept says we should avoid sexual misconduct. What is “sexual misconduct”?

If we use trickery, emotional blackmail or force to compel someone to have sex with us, then this is sexual misconduct. Adultery is also a form of sexual misconduct because when we marry we promise our spouse that we will be loyal to them.

When we commit adultery we break that promise and betray that trust. Sex should be an expression of love and intimicy between two people and when it is it contributes to our mental and emotional well-being.

Is sex before marriage a type of sexual misconduct?

Not if there is love and mutual agreement between two people. However, it should never be forgotten that the biological function of sex is to reproduce and if an unmarried woman becomes pregnant it can cause a great deal of problems. Many mature and thoughtful people think it is far better to leave sex until after marriage.

But what about lying? Is it possible to live without telling lies?

If it is really impossible to get by in society or business without lying, such a shocking and corrupt state of affairs should be changed. The Buddhist is someone who resolves to do something practical about the problem by trying to be more truthful and honest.

Well, what about alcohol? Surely a little drink doesn’t hurt!

People don’t drink for the taste. When they drink alone it is in order to seek release from tension and when they drink socially, it is usually to conform. Even a small amount of alcohol distorts consciousness and disrupts self-awareness. Taken in large quantities, its effects can be devastating.

Drinking a small amount wouldn’t be really breaking the precept, would it? It’s only a small thing.

Yes, it is only a small thing and if you can’t practise even a small thing, your commitment and resolution isn’t very strong, is it?

Do Buddhists Believe in God?

Reprinted from Good Question Good Answer by Venerable Shravasti Dhammika

No, we do not. There are several reasons for this.

The Buddha, like modern sociologists and psychologists, believed that religious ideas and especially the god idea have their origin in fear. The Buddha says:

“Gripped by fear men go to the sacred mountains, sacred groves, sacred trees and shrines”. — Dp 188

Primitive man found himself in a dangerous and hostile world, the fear of wild animals, of not being able to find enough food, of injury or disease, and of natural phenomena like thunder, lightning and volcanoes was constantly with him.

Finding no security, he created the idea of gods in order to give him comfort in good times, courage in times of danger and consolation when things went wrong. To this day, you will notice that people become more religious at times of crises, you will hear them say that the belief in a god or gods gives them the strength they need to deal with life.

You will hear them explain that they believe in a particular god because they prayed in time of need and their prayer was answered. All this seems to support the Buddha’s teaching that the god-idea is a response to fear and frustration. The Buddha taught us to try to understand our fears, to lessen our desires and to calmly and courageously accept the things we cannot change. He replaced fear, not with irrational belief but with rational understanding.

The second reason the Buddha did not believe in a god is because there does not seem to be any evidence to support this idea. There are numerous religions, all claiming that they alone have god’s words preserved in their holy book, that they alone understand god’s nature, that their god exists and that the gods of other religions do not. Some claim that god is masculine, some that she is feminine and others that it is neuter. They are all satisfied that there is ample evidence to prove the existence of their god but they laugh in disbelief at the evidence other religions use to prove the existence of another god.

It is not surprising that with so many different religions spending so many centuries trying to prove the existence of their gods that still no real, concrete, substantial or irrefutable evidence has been found. Buddhists suspend judgement until such evidence is forthcoming.

The third reason the Buddha did not believe in a god is that the belief is not necessary. Some claim that the belief in a god is necessary in order to explain the origin on the universe. But this is not so. Science has very convincingly explained how the universe came into being without having to introduce the god-idea.

Some claim that belief in god is necessary to have a happy, meaningful life. Again we can see that this is not so. There are millions of atheists and free-thinkers, not to mention many Buddhists, who live useful, happy and meaningful lives without belief in a god. Some claim that belief in god’s power is necessary because humans, being weak, do not have the strength to help themselves. Once again, the evidence indicates the opposite.

One often hears of people who have overcome great disabilities and handicaps, enormous odds and difficulties, through their own inner resources, through their own efforts and without belief in a god. Some claim that god is necessary in order to give man salvation. But this argument only holds good if you accept the theological concept of salvation and Buddhists do not accept such a concept. Based on his own experience, the Buddha saw that each human being had the capacity to purify the mind, develop infinite love and compassion and perfect understanding. He shifted attention from the heavens to the heart and encouraged us to find solutions to our problems through self-understanding.

But if there are no gods how did the universe get here?

All religions have myths and stories which attempt to answer this question. In ancient times, when many simply did not know, such myths were adequate, but in the 20th century, in the age of physics, astronomy and geology, such myths have been superseded by scientific fact. Science has explained the origin of the universe without recourse to the god-idea.

What does the Buddha say about the origin of the universe?

It is interesting that the Buddha’s explanation of the origin of the universe corresponds very closely to the scientific view. In the Aganna Sutta, the Buddha described the universe being destroyed and then re-evolving into its present form over a period of countless millions of years. The first life formed on the surface of the water and again, over countless millions of years, evolved from simple into complex organisms. All these processes are without beginning or end, and are set in motion by natural causes.

You say there is no evidence for the existence of a god. But what about miracles?

There are many who believe that miracles are proof of god’s existence. We hear wild claims that a healing has taken place but we never get an independent testimony from a medical office or a surgeon. We hear second-hand reports that someone was miraculously saved from disaster but we never get an eye-witness account of what is supposed to have happened. We hear rumours that prayer straightened a diseased body or strengthened a withered limb, but we never see X-rays or get comments from doctors or nurses.

Wild claims, second-hand reports and rumours are no substitute for solid evidence and solid evidence of miracles is very rare. However, sometimes unexplained things do happen, unexpected events do occur. But our inability to explain such things does not prove the existence of gods. It only proves that our knowledge is as yet incomplete.

Before the development of modern medicine, when people didn’t know what caused sickness people believed that god or the gods sent diseases as a punishment. Now we know what causes such things and when we get sick, we take medicine. In time when our knowledge of the world is more complete, we will be able to understand what causes unexplained phenomena, just as we can now understand what causes disease.

But so many people believe in some form of god, it must be true.

Not so. There was a time when everyone believed that the world was flat, but they were all wrong. The number of people who believe in an idea is no measure of the truth or falsehood of that idea. The only way we can tell whether an idea is true or not is by looking at the facts and examining the evidence.

So if Buddhists don’t believe in gods, what do you believe in?

We don’t believe in a god because we believe in man. We believe that each human being is precious and important, that all have the potential to develop into a Buddha – a perfected human being.

We believe that human beings can outgrow ignorance and irrationality and see things as they really are. We believe that hatred, anger, spite and jealousy can be replaced by love, patience, generosity and kindness.

We believe that all this is within the grasp of each person if they make the effort, guided and supported by fellow Buddhists and inspired by the example of the Buddha. As the Buddha says:

“No one saves us but ourselves, No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path, But Buddhas clearly show the way”. — Dp 165

Other religions derive their ideas of right and wrong from the commandments of their god or gods. You Buddhists don’t believe in a god, so how do you know right from wrong?

Any thoughts, speech or actions that are rooted in greed, hatred and delusion and thus lead us away from Nirvana are bad and any thoughts, speech or actions that are rooted in giving, love and wisdom and thus help clear the way to Nirvana are good.

To know what is right and wrong in god-centred religions, all that is needed is to do as you are told. But in a man-centred religion like Buddhism, to know what is right and wrong, you have to develop a deep self-awareness and self understanding. And ethics based on understanding are always stronger than those that are a response to a command.

So to know what is right and wrong, the Buddhist looks at three things – the intention, the effect the act will have upon oneself and the effect it will upon others. If the intention is good (rooted in giving, loving and wisdom), if it helps myself (helps me to be more giving, more loving and wiser), then my deeds and actions are wholesome, good and moral.

Of course, there are many variations of this. Sometimes I act with the best of intentions but they may not benefit either myself or others. Sometimes my intentions are far from good, but my actions helps others nonetheless. Sometimes I act out of good intentions and my acts help me but perhaps cause some distress to others. In such cases, my actions are mixed – a mixture of good and not-so-good.

When intentions are bad and the action helps neither myself nor others, such an action is bad. And when my intention is good and my action benefits both myself and others, then the deed is wholly good.

So does Buddhism have a code of morality?

Yes it does. The five precepts are the basis of Buddhist morality. The first precept is to avoid killing or harming living beings. The second is to avoid stealing, the third is to avoid sexual misconduct, the fourth is to avoid lying and the fifth is to avoid alcohol and other intoxicating drugs.

But surely it is good to kill sometimes. To kill disease-spreading insects, for example, or someone who is going to kill you?

It might be good for you. But what about that thing or that person? They wish to live, just as you do.

When you decide to kill a disease-spreading insect, your intention is perhaps a mixture of self-concern (good) and revulsion (bad). The act will benefit yourself (good) but obviously it will not benefit that creature (bad). So at times it may be necessary to kill but it is never totally good.

You Buddhists are too concerned about ants and bugs.

Buddhists strive to develop a compassion that is undiscriminating and all-embracing. They see the world as a unified whole where each thing and creature has its place and function. They believe that before we destroy or upset nature’s delicate balance, we should be very careful.

Just look at those cultures where emphasis is on exploiting nature to the full, squeezing every last drop out of it without putting anything back, conquering and subduing it. Nature has revolted. The very air is becoming poisoned, the rivers are polluted and dead, so many beautiful animal species are extinct, the slopes of the mountains are barren and eroded. Even the climate is changing.

If people were a little less anxious to crush, destroy and kill, this terrible situation may have not arisen. We should all strive to develop a little more respect for life. And this is what the first precept is saying.

Basic Buddhist Concepts

What are the main teachings of the Buddha?

Reprinted from Good Question Good Answer by Venerable Shravasti Dhammika

All of the many teachings of the Buddha centre on the Four Noble Truths, just as the rim and spokes of a wheel centres on the hub. They are called ‘Four’ because there are four of them. They are called ‘Noble’ because they ennoble one who understands them and they are called ‘Truths’ because, corresponding with reality, they are true.

What is the First Noble Truth?

The First Noble Truth is that life is suffering. To live, you must suffer. It is impossible to live without experiencing some kind of suffering. We have to endure physical suffering like sickness, injury, tiredness, old age and eventually death and we have to endure psychological suffering like loneliness, frustrations, fear, embarrassment, disappointment, anger, etc.

Isn’t this a bit pessimistic?

The dictionary defines pessimism as ‘the habit of thinking that whatever will happen will be bad,’ or ‘The belief that evil is more powerful than good.’ Buddhism teaches neither of these ideas. Nor does it deny that happiness exists. It simply says that to live is to experience physical and psychological suffering which is a statement that is so obvious that it cannot be denied.

The central concept of most religions is a myth, a legend or a belief that is difficult or impossible to verify. Buddhism starts with an experience, an irrefutable fact, a thing that all know, that all have experienced and that all are striving to overcome. Thus Buddhism is truly a universal religion because it goes right to the core of every individual human being’s concern with suffering and how to avoid it.

What is the Second Noble Truth?

The Second Noble Truth is that all suffering is caused by craving. When we look at psychological suffering, it is easy to see how it is caused by craving. When we want something but are unable to get it, we feel frustrated. When we expect someone to live up to our expectation and they do not, we feel let down and disappointed. When we want others to like us and they don’t, we feel hurt. Even when we want something and are able to get it, this does not often lead to happiness either because it is not long before we feel bored with that thing, lose interest in it and commence to want something else.

Put simply, the Second Noble Truth says that getting what you want does not guarantee happiness. Rather than constantly struggling to get what you want, try to modify your wanting. Wanting deprives us of contentment and happiness.

But how does wanting and craving lead to physical suffering?

A lifetime wanting and craving for this and that and especially the craving to continue to exist creates a powerful energy that causes the individual to be reborn. When we are reborn, we have a body and, as we said before, the body is susceptible to injury and disease; it can be exhausted by work; it ages and eventually dies. Thus, craving leads to physical suffering because it causes us to be reborn. If we stop wanting altogether, we would never achieve anything. True. But what the Buddha says is that when our desires, our craving, our constant discontent with what we have and our continual longing for more and more does cause us suffering,then we should stop doing it.

He asks us to make a difference between what we need and what we want and to strive for our needs and modify our wants. He tells us that our needs can be fulfilled but that our wants are endless – a bottomless pit. There are needs that are essential, fundamental and can be obtained and this we should work towards. Desires beyond this should be gradually lessened. After all, what is the purpose of life? To get or be content and happy.

What or where is Nirvana?

It is a dimension transcending time and space and thus is difficult to talk about or even think about. Words and thoughts being only suited to describe the time-space dimension. But because Nirvana is beyond time, there is no movement and so no aging or dying. Thus Nirvana is eternal because it is beyond space, there is no causation, no boundary, no concept of self and not-self and thus Nirvana is infinite. The Buddha also assures us that Nirvana is an experience of great happiness. He says: “Nirvana is the highest happiness”. (Dhammapada 204 )

But is there proof that such a dimension exists?

No, there is not. But its existence can be inferred. If there is a dimension where time and space do operate and there is such a dimension – the world we experience, then we can infer that there is a dimension where time and space do not operate – Nirvana. Again, even though we cannot prove Nirvana exists, we have the Buddha’s word that is does exist. He tells us:

“There is an unborn, a not-become, a not- made, a not-compounded. If there were not, this unborn, not-made, not-compounded, there could not be made any escape from what is born, become, made, and compounded. Therefore is there made known an escape from what is born, made, and compounded.” — Ud 80

We will know it when we attain it. Until that time, we can practise.

What is the Fourth Noble Truth?

The Fourth Noble Truth is the Path leading to the overcoming of suffering. This path is called the Noble Eightfold Path and consists of Perfect Understanding, Perfect Thought, Perfect Speech, Perfect Action, Perfect Livelihood, Perfect Effort, Perfect Mindfulness, and Perfect Concentration. Buddhist practice consist of practising these eight things until they become more complete. You will notice that the steps on the Noble Eightfold Path cover every aspect of life: the intellectual, the ethical and economic and the psychological and therefore contains everything a person needs to lead a good life and to develop spiritually.

The Second Noble Truth is that all suffering is caused by craving. When we look at psychological suffering, it is easy to see how it is caused by craving. When we want something but are unable to get it, we feel frustrated. When we expect someone to live up to our expectation and they do not, we feel let down and disappointed. When we want others to like us and they don’t, we feel hurt.

Even when we want something and are able to get it, this does not often lead to happiness either because it is not long before we feel bored with that thing, lose interest in it and commence to want something else. Put simply, the Second Noble Truth says that getting what you want does not guarantee happiness. Rather than constantly struggling to get what you want, try to modify your wanting. Wanting deprives us of contentment and happiness.

What is Buddhism?

Reprinted from Good Question, Good Answer By Venerable Shravasti Dhammika

What is Buddhism?

The name Buddhism comes from the word ‘budhi’ which means ‘to wake up’ and thus Buddhism is the philosophy of awakening. This philosophy has its origins in the experience of the man Siddhartha Gotama, known as the Buddha, who was himself awakened at the age of 35. Buddhism is now 2,500 years old and has about 300 million followers worldwide. Until a hundred years ago Buddhism was mainly an Asian philosophy but increasingly it is gaining adherents in Europe, Australia and America.

So Buddhism is just a philosophy?

The word philosophy comes from two words ‘philo’ which means ‘love’ and ‘sophia’ which means ‘wisdom’. So philosophy is the love of wisdom or love and wisdom, both meanings describe Buddhism perfectly. Buddhism teaches that we should try to develop our intellectual capacity to the fullest so that we can understand clearly. It also teaches us to develop love and kindness so that we can be like a true friend to all beings. So Buddhism is a philosophy but not just a philosophy. It is the supreme philosophy.

Who was the Buddha?

In the year 563 B.C. a baby was born into a royal family in northern India. He grew up in wealth and luxury but eventually found that worldly comforts and security do not guarantee happiness. He was deeply moved by the suffering he saw all around and resolved to find the key to human happiness. When he was 29 he left his wife and child and set off to sit at the feet of the great religious teachers of the day to learn from them. They taught him much but none really knew the cause of human suffering and how it could be overcome.

Eventually, after six years study and meditation he had an experience in which all ignorance fell away and he suddenly understood. From that day onwards, he was called the Buddha, the Awakened One. He lived for another 45 years in which time he travelled all over the northern India teaching others what he had discovered. His compassion and patience were legendary and he had thousands of followers. In his eightieth year, old and sick, but still happy and at peace, he finally died.

Wasn’t it irresponsible for the Buddha to walk out on his wife and child?

It couldn’t have been an easy thing for the Buddha to leave his family. He must have worried and hesitated for a long time before he finally left. But he had a choice, dedicating himself to his family or dedicating himself to the whole world. In the end, his great compassion made him give himself to the whole world. And the whole world still benefits from his sacrifice. This was not irresponsible. It was perhaps the most significant sacrifice ever made.

The Buddha is dead so how can he help us?

Faraday, who discovered electricity, is dead, but what he discovered still helps us. Luis Pasteur who discovered the cures for so many diseases is dead, but his medical discoveries still save lives. Leonardo da Vinci who created masterpieces of art is dead, but what he created can still uplift and give joy. Noble men and heroes may have been dead for centuries but when we read of their deeds and achievements, we can still be inspired to act as they did. Yes, the Buddha is dead but 2500 years later his teachings still help people, his example still inspires people, his words still change lives. Only a Buddha could have such power centuries after his death.

Was the Buddha a god?

No, he was not. He did not claim that he was a god, the child of a god or even the messenger from a god. He was a man who perfected himself and taught that if we follow his example, we could perfect ourselves also.

If the Buddha is not a god, then why do people worship him?

There are different types of worship. When someone worships a god, they praise him or her, making offerings and ask for favours, believing that the god will hear their praise, receive their offerings and answer their prayers. Buddhists do not indulge in this kind of worship.

The other kind of worship is when we show respect to someone or something we admire. When a teacher walks into a room we stand up, when we meet a dignitary we shake hands,when the national anthem is played we salute. These are all gestures of respect and worship and indicate our admiration for persons and things. This is the type of worship Buddhist practise.

A statue of the Buddha with its hands rested gently in its lap and its compassionate smile reminds us to strive to develop peace and love within ourselves. The perfume of incense reminds us of the pervading influence of virtue, the lamp reminds us of light of knowledge and the flowers which soon fade and die, reminds us of impermanence. When we bow, we express our gratitude to the Buddha for what his teachings have given us. This is the nature of Buddhist worship.

But I have heard people say that Buddhists worship idols.

Such statements only reflect the misunderstanding of the persons who make them. The dictionary defines an idol as “an image or statue worshipped as a god”. As we have seen, Buddhist do not believe that the Buddha was a god, so how could they possibly believe that a piece of wood or metal is a god?

All religions use symbols to express various concepts. In Taoism, the ying-yang is used to symbolise the harmony between opposites. In Sikhism, the sword is used to symbolise spiritual struggle. In Christianity, the fish is used to symbolise his sacrifice. And in Buddhism, the statue of the Buddha also reminds us of the human dimension in Buddhist teaching, the fact that Buddhism is man-centred, not god-centred, that we must look within not without to find perfection and understanding. So to say that Buddhist worship idols is not correct.

Why do people burn paper money and do all kinds of strange things in Buddhist temples?

Many things seem strange to us when we don’t understand them. Rather than dismiss such things as strange, we should strive to find their meaning. However, it is true that Buddhist practice sometimes has its origin in popular superstition and misunderstanding rather than the teaching of the Buddha. And such misunderstandings are not found in Buddhism alone, but arise in all religions from time to time.

The Buddha taught with clarity and in detail and if some fail to understand fully, the Buddha cannot be blamed. There is a saying: If a man suffering from a disease does not seek treatment even when there is a physician at hand, it is not the fault of the physician. In the same way, if a man is oppressed and tormented by the disease of defilements but does not seek the help of the Buddha, that is not the Buddha’s fault. — Nor should Buddhism or any religion be judged by those who don’t practise it properly. If you wish to know the true teachings of Buddhism, read the Buddha’s words or speak to those who understand them properly.

If Buddhism is so good why are some Buddhist countries poor?

If by poor you mean economically poor, then it is true that some Buddhist countries are poor. But if by poor you mean a poor quality of life, then perhaps some Buddhist countries are quite rich. America, for example, is an economically rich and powerful country but the crime rate is one of the highest in the world, millions of old people are neglected by their children and die of loneliness in old people’s homes, domestic violence and child abuse are major problems. One in three marriages end in divorce, pornography is easily available. Rich in terms of money but perhaps poor in terms of the quality of life.

Now if you look at some traditional Buddhist countries you find a very different situation. Parents are honoured and respected by their children, the crime rates are relatively low, divorce and suicide are rare and traditional values like gentleness, generosity, hospitality to strangers, tolerance and respect for others are still strong. Economically backward, but perhaps a higher quality of life than a country like America. But even if we judge Buddhist countries in terms of economics alone, one of the wealthiest and most economically dynamic countries in the world today is Japan where 93% of the population call themselves Buddhist.

Why is it that you don’t often hear of charitable work being done by Buddhists?

Perhaps it is because Buddhists don’t feel the need to boast about the good they do. Several years ago the Japanese Buddhist leader Nikkho Nirwano received the Templeton Prize for his work in promoting inter-religious harmony. Likewise a Thai Buddhist monk was recently awarded the prestigious Magsaysay Prize for his excellent work among drug addicts.

In 1987 another Thai monk, Ven.Kantayapiwat was awarded the Norwegian Children’s Peace Prize for his many years work helping homeless children in rural areas. And what about the large scale social work being done among the poor in India by the Western Buddhist Order? They have built schools, child minding-centres, dispensaries and small scale industries for self-sufficiency. Buddhists see help given to others as an expression of their religious practice just as other religions do but they believe that it should be done quietly and without self-promotion. Thus you don’t hear so much about their charitable work.

Why are there so many different types of Buddhism?

There are many different types of sugar: brown sugar, white sugar, rock sugar, syrup and icing sugar but it is all sugar and it all tastes sweet. It is produced in different forms so that it can be used in different ways. Buddhism is the same: there is Theravada Buddhism, Zen Buddhism, Pure Land Buddhism, Yogacara Buddhism and Vajrayana Buddhism but it is all Buddhism and it all has the same taste – the taste of freedom.

Buddhism has evolved into different forms so that it can be relevant to the different cultures in which it exists. It has been reinterpreted over the centuries so that it can remain relevant to each new generation. Outwardly, the types of Buddhism may seem very different but at the centre of all of them is the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. All major religions, Buddhism included, have split into schools and sects. But the different sects of Buddhism have never gone to war with each other and to this day, they go to each other’s temples and worship together. Such tolerance and understanding is certainly rare.

You certainly think highly of Buddhism. I suppose you think your religion is right and all the others are wrong.

No Buddhist who understands the Buddha’s teaching thinks that other religions are wrong. No one who, has made a genuine effort to examine other religions with an open mind could think like that either.

The first thing you notice when you study the different religions is just how much they have in common. All religions acknowledge that man’s present state is unsatisfactory. All believe that a change of attitude and behaviours is needed if man’s situation is to improve. All teach an ethics that includes love, kindness, patience, generosity and social responsibility and all accept the existence of some form of Absolute. They use different languages, different names and different symbols to describe and explain these things; and it is only when they narrow­mindedly cling to their one way of seeing things that religious intolerance, pride and self­righteousness arise.

Imagine an Englishman, a Frenchman, a Chinese and an Indonesian all looking at a cup. The Englishman says, “That’s a cup”. The Frenchman answers, “No it’s not. It’s a tasse”. The Chinese comments, You’re both wrong. It’s a pet”. And the Indonesian laughs at the others and says “What fools you are. It’s a cawan.”

The Englishman gets a dictionary and shows it to the others saying, “I can prove that it is a cup. My dictionary says so”. “Then your dictionary is wrong”, says the French­man “because my dictionary clearly says it is a tasse”. The Chinese scoffs at them. “My dictionary is thousands of years older than yours, so my dictionary must be right. And besides, more people speak Chinese than any other language, so it must be a pet”.

While they are squabbling and arguing with each other, a Buddhist comes up and drinks from the cup. After he has drunk, he says to the others, “Whether you call it a cup, a tasse, a pet or a cawan, the purpose of the cup is to be used. Stop arguing and drink, stop squabbling and refresh your thirst”. This is the Buddhist attitude to other religions.

Is Buddhism scientific?

Before we answer that question it would be best to define the word ‘science’. Science, according to the dictionary is: “knowledge which can be made into a system, which depends upon seeing and testing facts and stating general natural laws, a branch of such knowledge, anything that can be studied exactly”.

There are aspects of Buddhism that would not fit into this definition but the central teachings of Buddhism, the Four Noble Truths, most certainly would. Suffering, the First Noble Truth, is an experience that can be defined, experienced and measured. The Second Noble Truth states that suffering has a natural cause, craving,which likewise can be defined, experienced and measured. No attempted is made to explain suffering in terms of a metaphysical concept or myths. Suffering is ended, according to the Third Noble Truth, not by relying on upon a supreme being, by faith or by prayers but simply by removing its cause. This is axiomatic. The Fourth Noble Truth, the way to end suffering, once again, has nothing to do with metaphysics but depends on behaving in specific ways. And once again behaviour is open to testing.

Buddhism dispenses with the concept of a supreme being, as does science, and explains the origins and workings of the universe in terms of natural law. All of this certainly exhibits a scientific spirit. Once again, the Buddha’s constant advice that we should not blindly believe but rather question, examine, inquire and rely on our own experience, has a definite scientific ring to it. He says:

“Do not go by revelation or tradition,do not go by rumour, or the sacred scriptures, do not go by hearsay or mere logic, do not go by bias towards a notion or by another person’s seeming ability and do not go by the idea ‘He is our teacher’. But when you yourself know that a thing is good, that it is not blameble, that it is praised by the wise and when practised and observed that it leads to happiness, then follow that thing.”

So we could say that although Buddhism in not entirely scientific, it certainly has a strong overtone and is certainly more scientific than any other religion. It is significant that Albert Einstein, the greatest scientist of the twentieth century said of Buddhism:

“The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend a personal God and avoid dogmas and theology. Covering both natural and spiritual, it should be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual and a meaningful unity. Buddhism answers this description. If there is any religion that would cope with modern scientific needs, it would be Buddhism.”

Next section: What are the main teachings of the Buddha?

Good Question, Good Answer By Venerable Shravasti Dhammika