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Chapter 1. The Buddhist Attitude of Mind

Among the founders of religions the Buddha (if we are permitted to call him
the founder of a religion in the popular sense of the term) was the only teacher who
did not claim to be other than a human being, pure and simple. Other teachers were
either God, or his incarnations in different forms, or inspired by him. The Buddha
was not only a human being; he claimed no inspiration from any god or external
power either. He attributed all his realization, attainments and achievements to
human endeavour and human intelligence. A man and only a man can become
Buddha. Every man has within himself the potentiality of becoming a Buddha, if he
so wills it and endeavours. We can call the Buddha a man par excellence. He was so
perfect in his 'human-ness' that he came to be regarded later in popular religion
almost as 'super-human'. Man's position, according to Buddhism, is supreme. Man is
his own master, and there is no higher being or power that sits in judgment over his
destiny.
'One is one's own refuge, who else could be the refuge?' said the Buddha. He
admonished his disciples to 'be a refuge to themselves, and never to seek refuge in or
help from anybody else. He taught, encouraged and stimulated each person to
develop himself and to work out his own emancipation, for man has the power to
liberate himself from all bondage through his own personal effort and intelligence.
The Buddha says: 'You should do your work, for the Tathagatas(1) only teach
the way.' If the Buddha is to be called a 'saviour' at all, it is only in the sense that he
discovered and showed the Path to Liberation, Nirvana. But we must tread the Path
ourselves. It is on this principle of individual responsibility that the Buddha allows
freedom to his disciples. In the Mahaparinibbanasutta the Buddha says that he
never thought of controlling the Sangha (Order of Monks), nor did he wanted the
Sangha to depend on him.
He said that there was no esoteric doctrine in his teaching, nothing hidden in
the 'closed-fist of the teacher', or to put it in other words, there never was anything
'up his sleeve'. The freedom of thought allowed by the Buddha is unheard of
elsewhere in the history of religions. This freedom is necessary because, according to
the Buddha, man's emancipation depends on his own realization of Truth, and not on
the benevolent grace of a god or any external power as a reward for his obedient
good behaviour.
The Buddha once visited a small town called Kesaputta in the kingdom of
Kosala. The inhabitants of this town were known by the common name Kalama.
When they heard that the Buddha was in their town, the Kalamas paid him a visit,
and told him: 'Sir, there are some recluses and brahmapas who visit Kesaputta. They
explain and illumine only their own doctrines, and despise, condemn and spurn
others'doctrines. Then come other recluses and brahmapas, and they, too, in their
turn, explain and illumine only their own doctrines, and only despise, condemn and
spurn others'doctrines. But, for us, Sir, we have always doubt and perplexity as to
who among these venerable recluses and brahmapas spoke the truth, and who
spoke falsehood.'
Then the Buddha gave them this advice, unique in the history of religions:
'Yes, Kalamas, it is proper that you have doubt, that you have perplexity, for a doubt
has arisen in a matter which is doubtful. Now, look you Kalamas, do not be led by
reports, or tradition, or hearsay. Be not led by the authority of religious texts, nor by
the delight in speculative opinions, nor, by seeming possibilities, nor by the idea:
'this is our teacher.' But, O Kalamas, when you know for yourselves that certain
things are unwholesome(akusala),and wrong, and bad, then give them up... And
when you know for yourselves that certain things are wholesome(kusala) and good,
then accept them and follow them.' The Buddha went even further. He told the
bhikkyus that a disciple should examine even the Tathagata (Buddha) himself, so
that he (the disciple) might be fully convinced of the true value of the teacher
whom he followed.
According to the Buddha's teaching, doubt (vicikiccba) is one of the five
Hindrances (nivarana)(1) to the clear understanding of Truth and to spiritual
progress (or for that matter to any progress). Doubt, however, is not a 'sin', because
there are no articles of faith in Buddhism. In fact there is no 'sin', in Buddhism, as sin
is understood in some religions. The root of all evil is ignorance (avijja) and false
views (miccba dittbi). It is an undeniable fact that as long as there is doubt,
perplexity, wavering, no progress is possible.
It is also equally undeniable that there must be doubt as long as one does not
understand or see clearly. But in order to progress further it is absolutely necessary
to get rid of doubt. To get rid of doubt one has to see clearly. There is no point in
saying that one should not doubt or one should believe. Just to say 'I believe' does
not mean that you understand and see. When a student works on a mathematical
problem, he comes to a stage beyond which he does not know how to proceed, and
where he is in doubt and perplexity. As long as he has this doubt, he cannot proceed.
If he wants to proceed, he must resolve this doubt. And there are ways of
resolving that doubt. Just to say 'I believe', or 'I do not doubt' will certainly not solve
the problem. To force oneself to believe and to accept a thing without
understanding is political, and not spiritual or intellectual. The Buddha was always
eager to dispel doubt.
Even just a few minutes before his death, he requested his disciples several
times to ask him if they had any doubts about his teaching, and not to feel sorry later
that they could not clear those doubts. But the disciples were silent. What he said
then was touching: 'If it is through respect for the Teacher that you do not ask
anything, let even one of you inform his friend' (i.e., let one tell his friend so that the
latter may ask the question on the other's behalf).
Not only the freedom of thought, but also the tolerance allowed by the
Buddha is astonishing to the student of the history of religions. Once in Nalanda a
prominent and wealthy householder named Upali, a well-known lay disciple of
Nigantha Nataputta(Jaina Mahavira), was expressly sent by Mahavira himself to
meet the Buddha and defeat him in argument on certain points in the theory of
Karma, because the Buddha's view on the subject were different from those of
Mahavira.
Quite contrary to expectations, Upali, at the end of the discussion, was
convinced that the views of the Buddha were right and those of his master were
wrong. So he begged the Buddha to accept him as one of his lay disciples(Upasaka).
But the Buddha asked him to reconsider it, and not to be in a hurry, for 'considering
carefully is good for well-known men like you'. When Upali expressed his desire
again, the Buddha requested him to continue to respect and support his old
religious teachers as he used to.
In the third century B.C., the great Buddhist Emperor Asoka of India,
following this noble example of tolerance and understanding, honoured and
supported all other religions in his vast empire. In one of his Edicts carved on the
rock, the original of which one may read even today, the Emperor declared: 'One
should not honour only one's own religion and condemn the religions of others, but
one should honour others' religions for this or that reason. So doing, one helps one's
own religion to grow and renders service to the religions of others too.
In acting otherwise one digs the grave of one's own religion and also does
harm to other religions. Whosoever honours his own religion and condemns other
religions, does so indeed through devotion to his own religion, thinking "I will glorify
my own religion". But on the contrary, in so doing he injures his own religion more
gravely. So concord is good: Let all listen, and be willing to listen to the doctrines
professed by others'. We should add here that this spirit of sympathetic
understanding has been from the beginning one of the most cherished ideals of
Buddhist culture and civilization.
That is why there is not a single example of persecution or the shedding of a
drop of blood in converting people to Buddhism, or in its propagation during its long
history of 2500 years. It spread peacefully all over the continent of Asia, having
more than 500 million adherents today. Violence in any form, under any pretext
whatsoever, is absolutely against the teaching of the Buddha.
The question has often asked: Is Buddhism a religion or a philosophy?
It does not matter what you call it. Buddhism remains what it is whatever label you
may put on it. The label is immaterial. Even the label "Buddhism" which we give to
the teaching of the Buddha is of little importance.
The name one gives it is inessential.
What's in a name? That which we call a rose,
By other name would smell as sweet.
In the same way Truth need no label: it is neither Buddhist, Christian, Hindu
nor Moslem. It is not the monopoly of anybody. Sectarian labels are a hindrance to
the independent understanding of Truth, and they produce harmful prejudices in
men's mind.
This is true not only in intellectual and spiritual matters, but also in human
relations. When, for instance, we meet a man, we do not look on him as a human
being, but we put a label on him, such as English, French, German, American, or Jew,
and regard him with all the prejudices associated with that label in our mind. Yet
he may be completely free from those attributes which we have put on him.
People are so fond of discriminative labels that they even go to the length of
putting them on human qualities and emotions common to all. So, they talk of
different 'brands' of charity, as for example, of Buddhist charity or Christian charity,
and look down upon other 'brands' of charity. But charity cannot be sectarian; it is
neither Christian, Buddhist, Hindu nor Moslem. The love of a mother for her child is
neither Buddhist nor Christian: it is mother love. Human qualities and emotions like
love, charity, compassion, tolerance, patience, friendship, desire, hatred, ill-will,
ignorance, conceit, etc., need no sectarian labels; they belong to no particular
religions.
To the seeker after Truth it is immaterial from where an idea comes. The
source and development of an idea is a matter for the academic. In fact, in order to
understand Truth, it is not necessary even to know whether the teaching comes from
the Buddha, or from anyone else. What is essential is seeing the thing,
understanding it. There is an important story in the Majjhima-nikaya (sutta no.140)
which illustrate this.
The Buddha once spent a night in a potter's shed. In the same shed there was
a young recluse who had arrived there earlier. They did not know each other. The
Buddha observed the recluse, and thought to himself: 'Pleasant are the ways of this
young man. It would be good if I should ask about him'. So the Buddha asked him: 'O
bhikkhu, in whose name have you left home? Or who is your master? Or whose
doctrine do you like?' 'O friend,' answered the young man, 'there is the recluse
Gotama, a Sakyan scion, who left the Saka-family to become a recluse. There is high
repute abroad of him that he is an Arahant, a Fully-Enlightened One. He is my
Master, and I like his doctrine.' 'Where does the Blessed One, the Arahant, the
Fully-Enlightened One live at the present time?' 'In the countries to the north,
friend, there is a city called Savatthi. It is there that that Blessed One, the Arahant,
the Fully-Enlghtened One is now living.'
'Have you ever seen him, the Blessed One? Would you recognize him if you
saw him?' 'I have never seen the Blessed One. Nor should I recognize him if I saw
him.' The Buddha realized it was in his name that this unknown young man had left
home and become a recluse. But without divulging his own identity, he said: 'O
bhikkhu, I will teach you the doctrine. Listen and pay attention. I will speak.' 'Very
well, friend,' said the young man in assent.
Then the Buddha delivered to this young man a most remarkable discourse
explaining Truth (the gist of which is given later). It was only at the end of the
discourse that this young recluse, whose name was Pukkusati, realized that the
person who spoke to him was the Buddha himself. So he got up, went before the
Buddha, bowed down at feet of the Master, and apologized him for calling him
'friend' unknowingly. He then begged the Buddha to ordain him and admit him into
the Order of Sangha.
The Buddha asked him whether he had the alms-bowl and the robes ready.
(a bhikku must have three robes and alms-bowl for begging food.) When Pukkusati
replied in the negative, the Buddha said that the Tathagatas would not ordain a
person unless the alms-bowl and robes are ready. So Pukkusati went out in search of
an alms-bowl and robes, but was unfortunately savaged by a cow and died. Later,
when this sad news reached the Buddha, he announced that Pukkusati was a wise
man, who had already seen the Truth, and attained the penultimate stage in the
realization of Nirvana, and that he was born in a realm where he would become an
Arahant and finally passed away, never to return this world again.
From this story it is quite clear that when Pukkusati listened to the Buddha
and understood his teaching, he did not know who was speaking to him, or whose
teaching it was. He saw Truth. If the medicine is good, the disease will be cured. It is
not necessary to know who prepared it, or where it came from.
Almost all religions are built on faith - rather 'blind' faith it would seem. But
in Buddhism emphasis is laid on 'seeing', knowing, understanding, and not on faith,
or belief. In Buddhist texts there is a word saddha(Skt.sraddha) which is usually
translated as 'faith' or 'belief'. But saddha is not 'faith' as such, but rather 'confidence'
bone out of conviction. In popular Buddhism and also in ordinary usage in the texts
the word saddha, it must be admitted, has an element of 'faith' in the sense that it
signifies devotion to the Buddha, the Dhamma (Teaching) and the Sangha (The
Order).
According to Asanga, the great Buddhist philosopher of the 4th century
A.C., sraddha has three aspects: (1) full and firm conviction that a thing is, (2) serene
joy at good qualities, and (3) aspiration or wish to achieve an object in view.
However you put it, faith or belief as understood by most religions has little to do
with Buddhism.
The question of belief arises when there is no seeing - seeing in every sense of
the word. The moment you see, the question of belief disappears. If I tell you that I
have a gem hidden in the folded palm of my hand, the question of belief arises
because you do not see it yourself. But if I unclench my fist and show you the gem,
then you see it for yourself, and the question of belief does not arise. So the phrase in
ancient Buddhist texts reads 'Realizing, as one sees a gem in the palm'.
A disciple of the Buddha named Musila tells another monk: 'Friend Savittha,
without devotion, faith or belief, without liking or inclination, without hearsay or
tradition, without considering apparent reasons, without delight in the speculations
of opinions, I know and see that the cessation of becoming is Nirvana'. And the
Buddha says: 'O bhikkhus, I say that the destruction of defilement and impurities is
(meant) for a person who knows and who sees, and not for a person who does not
know and does not see.'
It is always a question of knowing and seeing, and not that of believing. The
teaching of the Buddha is qualified as ehi-passika, inviting you to 'come and see',
but not to come and believe. The expressions used everywhere in Buddhist texts
referring to persons who realized Truth are: 'The dustless and stainless Eye of Truth
(Dhamma-cakkhu) has arisen.' 'He has seen Truth, has attained Truth, has known
Truth, has penetrated into Truth, has crossed over doubt, is without wavering.' 'Thus
with right wisdom he sees it as it is (yatha bhutam)'. With reference to his own
Enlightenment the Buddha said : 'The eye was born, knowledge was born, wisdom
was born, science was born, light was born.' It is always seeing through knowledge or
wisdom (nana-dassana), and not believing through faith.
This was more and more appreciated at a time when Brahmanic orthodoxy
insisted on believing and accepting their tradition and authority as the only Truth
without question. Once a group of learned and well-known Brahmins went to see
the Buddha and had a long discussion with him. One of the group, a Brahmin youth
of 16 years age, named Kapathika, considered by them all to be an exceptionally
brilliant mind, put a question to the Buddha: 'Venerable Gotama, there are the
ancient holy scriptures of the Brahmins handed down along the line by unbroken
oral tradition of texts. With regard to them, Brahmins come to the absolute
conclusion: "This alone is Truth, and everything else is false'.
Now, what does the Venerable Gotama say about this?" The Buddha
inquired: 'Among Brahmins is there any one single Brahmin who claims that he
personally knows and sees that 'This alone is Truth, and everything else is false?' The
young man was frank, and said: 'No'. 'Then, is there any one single teacher, or a
teacher of teachers of Brahmins back to the seventh generation, or even any one of
those original authors of those scriptures, who claims that he knows and he sees:
"This alone is Truth, and everything else is false"?' 'No.' 'Then, it is like a line of blind
men, each holding on to the preceding one; the first one does not see, the middle one
also does not see, the last one also does not see. Thus, it seems to me that the state of
the Brahmins is like that of a line of blind men.'
Then the Buddha gave advice of extreme importance to the group of
Brahmins: 'It is not proper for a wise man who maintains (lit. protects) truth to come
to the conclusion: "This alone is Truth, and everything else is false'.' Asked by the
young Brahmin to explain the idea of maintaining or protecting truth, the Buddha
said: ' A man has a faith. If he says, "This is my faith", so far he maintains truth. But by
that he cannot proceed to the absolute conclusion: "This alone is Truth, and
everything else is false". In other words, a man may believe what he likes, and he
may say 'I believe this'. So far he respects truth. But because of his belief or faith, he
should not say that what he believes is alone the Truth, and everything else is false.
The Buddha says : 'To be attached to one thing (to a certain view) and to look down
upon other things (views) as inferior - this the wise men call a fetter.'
Once the Buddha explained the doctrine of cause and effect to his disciples,
and they said that they saw it and understood it clearly. Then the Buddha said: 'O
bhikkhus, even this view, which is so pure and so clear, if you cling to it, if you fondle
it, if you treasure it, if you are attached to it, then you do not understand that the
teaching is similar to a raft, which is for crossing over, and not for getting hold of.'
Elsewhere the Buddha explains this famous simile in which his teaching is
compared to a raft for crossing over, and not for getting hold of and carrying on one's
back: 'O bhikkhus, a man is on a journey. He comes to a vast stretch of water. On this
side the shore is dangerous, but on the other it is safe and without danger. No boat
goes to the other shore which is safe and without danger, nor is there any bridge for
crossing over. He says to himself: "This sea of water is vast, and the shore on this side is
full of danger; but on the other shore it is safe and without danger. No boat goes to
the other side, nor is there a bridge for crossing over. It would be good therefore if I
would gather grass, wood, branches and leaves to make a raft, and with the help of
the raft cross over safely to the other side, exerting myself with my hands and feet".
Then that man, O bhikkhus, gathers grass, wood, branches and leaves and
makes a raft, and with the help of that raft crosses over safely to the other side,
exerting himself with his hands and feet. Having crossed over and got to the other
side, he thinks: "This raft was of great help to me. With its aid I have crossed safely
over to this side, exerting myself with my hands and feet. It would be good if I carry
this raft on my head or on my back wherever I go". 'What to you think, O bhikkhus, if
he acted in this way would that man be acting properly with regard to the raft? " No,
Sir".
In which way then would he be acting properly with regard to the raft?
Having crossed and gone over to the other side, suppose that man should think: "This
raft was a great help to me. With its aid I have crossed safely over to this side,
exerting myself with my hands and feet. It would be good if I beached this raft on
the shore, or moored it and left it afloat, and then went on my way wherever it may
be". Acting in this way would that man act properly with regard to that raft. 'In the
same manner, O bhikkhus, I have taught a doctrine similar to a raft - it is for crossing
over, and not for carrying (lit. getting hold of). You, O bhikkhus, who understand
that the teaching is similar to a raft, should give up even good things (dhamma); how
much more then should you give up evil things (adhamma).'
From this parable it is quite clear that the Buddha's teaching is meant to
carry man to safety, peace, happiness, tranquility, the attainment of Nirvana. The
whole doctrine taught by the Buddha leads to this end. He did not say thing just to
satisfy intellectual curiosity. He was a practical teacher and taught only those
things which would bring peace and happiness to man.
The Buddha was once staying in a Simsapa forest in Kosambi(near
Allahabad.). He took a few leaves into his hand, and asked his disciples: 'What do
you think, O bhikkhus? Which is more? These few leaves in my hand or the leaves
in the forest over here?' 'Sir, very few are the leaves in the hand of the Blessed One,
but indeed the leaves in the Simsapa forest over here are very much more
abundant.'
'Even so, bhikkhus, of what I have known I have told you only a little, what I
have not told you is very much more. And why have I not told you (those things)?
Because that is not useful... not leading to Nirvana. That is why I have not told you
those things.' It is futile, as some scholars vainly try to do, for us to speculate in what
the Buddha knew but did not tell us. The Buddha was not interested in discussing
unnecessary metaphysical questions which are purely speculative and which
create imaginary problems. He considered them as a 'wildness of opinions'.
It seems that there were some among his own disciples who did not
appreciate this attitude of his. For, we have the example of one of them,
Malunkyaputta by name, who put to the Buddha ten well-known classical
questions on metaphysical problems and demanded answers. One day
Malunkyaputta got up from his afternoon meditation, went to the Buddha, saluted
him, sat on one side and said: 'Sir, when I was all alone meditating, this thought
occurred to me: There are these problems unexplained, put aside and rejected by
the Blessed One. Namely, (1) is the universe eternal or (2) is it not eternal, (3) is the
universe finite or (4) is it infinite, (5) is soul the same as body or (6) is soul one thing
and body another thing, (7) does the Tathagata exist after death, or (8) does he not
exist after death, or (9) does he both (at the same time) exist after death, or (10) does
he both (at the same time) not exist and not not-exist. These problems the Blessed
One does not explain to me.
This (attitude) does not please me, I do not appreciate it. I will go to the
Blessed One ask him about this matter. If the Blessed One explains them to me, then
I will continue to follow the holy life under him. If he does not explain them, I will
leave the Order and go away. If the Blessed One knows that the universe is eternal,
let him explain it to me so. If the Blessed One knows that the universe is not eternal,
let him say so. If the Blessed One does not know whether the universe is eternal or
not, etc., then for a person who does not know, it is straight-forward to say " I do not
know, I do not see".'
The Buddha's reply to Malunkyaputta should do good to many millions in
the world today who are wasting valuable time on such metaphysical questions and
unnecessarily disturbing their peace of mind: 'Did I ever tell you, Malunkyaputta,
"Come, Malunkyaputta, lead the holy life under me, I will explain these questions to
you?"' 'No, Sir.' 'Then, Malunkyaputta, even you, did you tell me: "Sir, I will lead the
holy life under the Blessed One, and the Blessed One will explain these questions
to me"?' 'No, Sir.' 'Even now, Malunkyaputta, I do not tell you: "Come and lead the
holy life under me, I will explain these question to you".
And you do not tell me either: "Sir, I will lead the holy life under the Blessed
One, and he will explain these questions to me". Under these circumstances, you
foolish one, who refuses whom? 'Malunkyaputta, if anyone says: "I will not lead the
holy life under the Blessed One until he explains these questions," he may die with
these questions unanswered by the Tathagata.
Suppose Malunkyaputta, a man is wounded by the poisoned arrow, and his
friends and relatives bring him to a surgeon. Suppose the man should then say: " I
will not let this arrow be taken out until I know who shot me; whether he is a
Ksatriya (of the low caste); what his name and family may be; whether he is tall,
short, or of medium stature; whether his complexion is black, brown, or golden; from
which village, town or city he comes. I will not let this arrow be taken out until I
know the kind of bow with which I was shot; the kind of bowstring used; the type of
arrow; what sort of feather was used on the arrow and with what kind of material the
point of the arrow was made." Malunkyaputta, that man would die without knowing
any of these things. Even so, Malunkyaputta, if anyone says: " I will not follow the
holy life under the Blessed One until he answers these questions such as whether
the universe is eternal or not, etc.," he would die with these questions unanswered by
the Tathagata.'
Then the Buddha explains to Malunkyaputta that the holy life does not
depend on these views. Whatever opinion one may have about these problems,
there is birth, old age, decay, death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, distress, " the
Cessation of which (i.e. Nirvana) I declare in this very life." 'Therefore,
Malunkyaputta, bear in mind what I have explained as explained, and what I have
not explained as unexplained. What are the things that I have not explained?
Whether the universe is eternal or not, etc., (those 10 opinions) I have not explained.
Why, Malunkyaputta, have not explained them? Because it is not useful, it is not
fundamentally connected with the spiritual holy life, is not conducive to aversion,
detachment, cessation, tranquility, deep penetration, full realization, Nirvana. That
is why I have not told you about them.
Then, what, Malunkyaputta, have I explained? I have explained dukkha, the
arising of dukkha, the cessation of dukkha, and the way leading to the cessation of
dukkha. Why, Malunkyaputta, have I explained them? Because it is useful, is
fundamentally connected with the spiritual holy life, is conducive to aversion,
detachment, cessation, tranquility, deep penetration, full realization, Nirvana.
Therefore I have explained them.' Let us now examine the Four Noble Truths which
the Buddha told Malunkyaputta he had explained.


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