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Apr 24, 2010

The Buddhist attitude

In Buddhism, right attitude is closely connected with understanding and knowledge. It is founded on wisdom. With right attitude we see Buddhism not simply as a system of beliefs, but a teaching that offers an effective system for exploring reality and the deeper levels of mind, one that leads to the very foundation of consciousness itself. This naturally entails an element of penetrative insight and constant awareness. In addition to these more profound teachings, Buddhism also presents us with a system of rituals which are the natural result of over twenty-five centuries of cultural growth and development.

Because Buddhism is a religion of self-help, the first and foremost duty of a Buddhist is to understand the supreme position of the human being and one's responsibility toward both oneself and fellow sentient beings. The Buddha did not claim any divine affinity. His enlightenment was a result of his own efforts, unaided by teachers or divine providence. There was no need for him to base his teachings on divine revelation, as is usually done by religious teachers and prophets. The Dhamma that he expounded is the Truth itself -- to introduce divine elements into it would be a superfluous exercise. His realization of the Dhamma and the validity of the teaching itself are the strength of his teachings, and this has rendered so-called divine inspiration or intervention irrelevant in the Buddhist context.

According to Buddhism, humanity's position is supreme. Human beings are their own masters, endowed with great potential, from mundane material concerns up to the highest spiritual achievements. This position is clearly exemplified by the Buddha's own struggles and successes. He attributed his enlightenment and all his achievements to human effort, not to divine grace. It is encouraging to know that, according to the Buddha, only a human being can become a Buddha, a position to which even gods and deities cannot aspire. Every human being possesses the seed of Buddha-nature, the potential to become a Buddha, and that potential can only be actualized through human endeavor.

The Buddha's assertion, unique and unparalleled in the history of religions, presupposes the principle of individual responsibility. Because man is supreme, a master of his own destiny, it follows that he must also be responsible for his own action and inaction. "You must walk the path yourself," says the Buddha, "the Tathagata (Buddha) only points the way."

Sometimes this statement is misconstrued to imply the Buddha's inability, or unwillingness, to be of real assistance to his followers. It is pointed out that in contrast with other religious teachers, prophets, or even deities, whose alleged role is that of a 'savior,' the function of the Buddha is merely that of a teacher, giving instruction and little else. This criticism is based on ignorance of the real personality and powers of the Buddha on the one hand, and blind faith in the so-called savior on the other. Even in so simple a matter as quenching thirst or hunger, one has to consume drinks or food oneself: is it not curious that one would look to an outside savior to fulfill one's larger and more profound needs? The problem becomes more complex when the savior has to respond to millions of prayers all at once, many of which are locked in conflicting interests. The Buddha was too honest and straightforward to suggest that anyone other than oneself, even a God (if one does exist), could be of real assistance if one fails to take responsibility for one's own actions. "You are your own refuge, who else could be your refuge?" These are the Buddha's words, as true and valid today as when they were pronounced by the Master more than 2,500 years ago.

Right attitude is possible only in a framework of freedom of thought, another prominent feature of Buddhist philosophy, and freedom of thought is possible only in the context of trust and confidence. The extent that freedom of thought is encouraged by the Buddha is uniquely characteristic of both the religion and its founder: not only did he insist that his disciples examine and reexamine his teachings, but he was willing even to subject himself and his character to their close scrutiny. Only a teacher of the highest impeccability could allow such an investigation.

Freedom of thought should therefore be considered an integral ingredient of the Buddhist attitude. This quality is essential in the context of Buddhism, which is known for its scientific approach. Like a good scientist, a Buddhist should constantly examine the Dhamma and experiment with its principles through practical application, by rationalizing and investigating them with an open mind. It is through such a process that faith and conviction, based on wisdom, will grow and become strengthened. To blindly believe, without exercising one's own reasoning faculties and without attempting at a direct experience, is, according to Buddhism, counterproductive to the development of wisdom.

Since freedom of thought occupies an important place in the Buddhist system, this naturally leads to another essential characteristic of the religion. A religious attitude rooted in freedom of thought points to religious tolerance, or tolerance with regard to the views and opinions of others. This explains why Buddhists are usually very tolerant people and why their religion has spread peacefully through the ages.

The Dhamma is like a raft, says the Buddha. It is used for crossing the river of pain, suffering, and conflict. Once the crossing has been accomplished, it is not necessary to cling onto the raft or carry it around. With such broad minded attitudes and intellectual maturity, Buddhists can share room on the 'raft' of Dhamma with others, without stubbornly holding on to it and arguing with one another as to the quality and the beauty of different 'rafts.'

Buddhism views all phenomena in terms of causal relationship. This means that all phenomena, all occurrences, whether empirically perceivable or otherwise, are subject to the law of cause and effect. Everything is conditioned by causal factors, and all things are themselves conditioning factors for other occurrences. Nothing is absolutely independent, for, according to the Buddhist philosophy, absolute existence is not possible.

Based on this principle of causal relationship, it naturally follows that all phenomena are interrelated and interdependent. One single event, trifling and insignificant as it may seem, may in fact be related to thousands of other events, and this relationship may extend, in the final analysis, to all other conceivable phenomena, even though they may seem as remote as the wildest imagination can stretch. Thus, Buddhism perceives all lives, human as well as nonhuman, and all things and events, not as independent entities, but rather as part and parcel of the whole cosmic order, interconnected in an infinitely complex relationship by the common law of conditionality.

Buddhist attitude allows for the growth of mutual understanding, trust and a deep sense of altruistic consideration. Selfishness and greed are the usual negative ramifications of a narrow world view, based on the philosophy of narcissistic hedonism. Buddhist philosophy is an antidote to this. It poses universal compassion as the foundation and driving motivation for social responsibility and action.

Buddhists regard the Buddha as the greatest teacher, the Dhamma, his great teachings, and the Sangha, his well-trained followers. The Buddha has shown the way, having himself gone before, but it is up to us to walk that way ourselves. This is a responsibility that each and every person must undertake individually. A Buddhist should maintain a scientific attitude, questioning, investigating, and experimenting with the Dhamma to develop full understanding of the Buddha's teachings. Practice of the Dhamma should be properly grounded on wisdom and supported by a conviction that all that is noble and good can be achieved by one's own efforts. Even the highest level of spiritual attainment, Buddhahood, is not beyond reach of those who persevere in their efforts.
[source: buddhanet.net]
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