Buddhism - Religion or Philosophy ?


Michael Holmboe Meyer

The Buddha's Words on Kindness

This is what should be done
Be the one who is skilled in goodness,
And who knows the path of peace:
Let them be able and upright,
Straightforward and gentle in speech.
Humble and not conceited,
Contented and easily satisfied.
Unburned with duties and frugal in their ways.
Peaceful and calm, and wise and skillful,
Not proud and demanding in nature.
Let them not do the slightest thing
That the wise would later reprove.
Wishing: In gladness and in safety,
May all beings be at ease.
Whatever living beings there may be;
Whether they are weak or strong, omitting none,
The great or the mighty, medium, short or small,
The seen and the unseen,
Those living near and far away,
Those born and to-be-born,
May all beings be at ease!

An Image of Buddha
Let none decive another,
Or despise any being in any state.
Let not through anger or ill-will
Wish harm upon another.
Even as a mother protects with her life
Her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings:
Radiating kindness over the entire world
Spreding upwards to the skies,
And downwards to the depths;
Outward and unbounded,
Freed from hatred and ill-will.
Whether standing or walking, seated or lying down
Free from drowsiness,
One should sustain this recollection.
This is said to be the sublime abiding.
By not holding to fixed views,
The pure-hearted one, having clarity of vision,
Being freed from all sense desires,
Is not born again into this world.

Coexist with any other religion

Buddism is probably the most tolerant religion of the world, as the teaching can coexist with any other religion. Other religions however, aim to be exclusive and cannot accommondate Buddism at the same time. The Buddhist teaching on God - in the sense of an ultimate Reality - is neither agnostic (as is sometimes claimed), nor vague, but clear and logical. Whatever Reality may be, it is beyond the conception of the finite intellect, as it follows that attempts at description are misleading, unprofitable, and a waste of time.

For these good reasons the Buddha maintained about Reality a noble silence. If there is a Causeless Cause of all Causes, an Ultimate Reality, a Boundless Light, an Eternal Noumenon behind phenomena, it must clearly be infinite, unlimited, unconditioned and without attributes. It follows that we can neither define, describe, nor usefully discuss the nature of THAT which is beyond the comprehension of our finite consciousness. It may be indicated by negatives and described indirectly by analogy and symbols, but otherwise it must ever remain in its truest sense unknown and unexpressed, as being to us in our present state unknowable.

In the same way, Buddhism denies the existence in man of an immortal soul. The Enlightenment which dwells in life does not belong to one form of life. All that is man's changing and mortal; the Immortal is not any man's.

The Buddha examined the phenomenal life objectively. Studying effects, and tracing their causes, he produced a science of living which ranks with any other science known to man. Having analysed form, he described the life which uses it, and showed it to be one and indivisible. Man, he declared, can become Buddha, Enlightened, by the principle of Enlightenment within. The process, therefore, is to become what you are, to develop to the full the innate Buddha-Mind by destroying the ignorance-produced, desire-maintained illusion of self which binds us from life to life on the Wheel of Becoming. All forms of life, said the Buddha, can be shown to have three characteristics in common; impermanence, suffering, and an absence of permanent soul which separates each from the other forms of life.

The Buddha pointed out how no thing is the same at this moment as it was a moment ago. Even the everlasting hills are slowly being worn away, and every particle of the human body, even the hardest, is replaced every seven years. There is no finality or rest within this universe, only a ceaseless becoming and a never-ending change.

Buddism is a natural religion; it does not violate either mind or body. Its ethics closely approximate the Natural Law. The Buddha became cognizant of how men are born and die according to their good and evil actions, according to their self-created Karma (or the consequence of meritorious and demeritorious deeds).

Buddhism is a teaching of the Buddha who was born a prince of Kapilavathu, at the part of the Himalaya mounatins near the border of Nepal in 623 B.C. He married and had a son. Although surrounded by all the Court's glamour and luxuries, the sight of a decrepit old man, sick man, dead man and mendicank monk, these four signs left such a deep impression upon His Mind that, at the age of twenty-nine, He decided to leave His palace and enter "the homeless life" of a monk to seek the truth and find a way to salvation for all sentient beings. In His search for salvation among the teachers, He surpassed them and found that their doctrines were insufficient, not leading to Awakening, to Extinction and to Enlightenment and Insight. He departed those teachers and turned to practice self-mortification for six years with great zeal and effort.

Buddha met five ascetics who offered their services to Him, and finally, the Buddha realized that the ascetic exercises were not the right way to attain salvation. He had practiced self-mortification to the limit of His endurance and felt very weakened without achieving anything. So, He partook of food, regained strength and began to practice meditation which finally led to His enlightenment under the Holy Bodi tree near the town of Uruvela, the present Buddha-Gaya when he was only thirty-five years old.

The Four Noble truths

1. The Noble Truth of Suffering: Rebirth, old age, disease, death, sorrow, lamention, pain, grief and despair, association with objects we dislike, separation from objects we love, not to obtain what one desires cause suffering. There are also many happy hours and pleasure in man's life-time, but according to the law of nature, they are impermanent and these last only for a short time and vanish into nothing. Only sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair are left by them behind.

2. The Noble Truth of The Arising of Suffering: The Threefold Craving leads every being from birth to birth and is accompanied by joy and lust, seeking its gratification here and there, namely: Sensual Craving, Craving for Existence and Craving for Wealth and Power. There are also a sixfold craving, namely the eye craves for forms, the ear craves for sounds, the nose craves for odours, the tongue craves for taste, the body craves for objects, and the mind craves for noun, dreams or illusions. These Cravings and ignorance of the law of nature are the condition of origin of individual sufferings.

3. The Noble Truth of the Cessation of Sufferings: The condition of cessation of suffering is the complete fading away and extinction of this three fold craving, forsaking it and giving it up, the liberation and detachment from it. The condition of mind of a person who has been giving up his threefold cravings or this sixfold craving together with ignorance can realize Nirvana (or the Extinction of the Cravings).

4. The Noble Truth of The Path leading to the Cessation of Suffering: It is the Noble Eightfold Path (or the Middle Path because it avoids the two extremes of sensual pleasure and self-mortification), that leads to the Cessation of Sufferings.

To weed out cravings and ignorance, these two chief evil-doers of individual existence and to overcome rebirth, old age, disease, death, sorrows, lamentation, pain, grief and despair, to make an end of this whole mass of misery and thus to attain Nirvana, Liberation and Salvation one should practice the Noble Eightfold Path (or the Middle Path)

The Noble Eightfold Paths are:

1. Right Knowledge, which means an intellectual grasp of the Teaching of Dharma, the Four Noble Truths and the Law of Karma -

2. Right Intention, which involves the elimination of all ambitions, revenge, hatred, greed lust and violence -

3. Right Speech, which means stamping out all lies, controlling speech, being courteous, considerate, scrupulously true, no evil words escape from lips, compassionate and full of sympathy, with a heart full of loving-kindness and free from secret malice -

4. Right Action, which means the avoidance of destruction of any living being, of taking what has not been given, indulging in sensuality, slander and intoxicating liquor or drugs -

5. Right Livelihood, which means pursuing a trade or occupation compatible with the above -

6. Right Effort, means to prevent new evil entering one's mind, to remove all evil already there, to develop such good in one's mind and to maintain a good and meritorious state of mind that has already arisen -

7. Right Attentiveness, which means the continual recollection of all phenomena about bodily structure, all parts of the human body, all states of health, all impurity and purity of mind, contemplation of various states of mind and all kinds of temperaments -

8. Right Concentration , which is the threshold of Nirvana, consist of the Four Great Efforts, namely, the effort to avoid and to overcome evil states of mind, and the effort to develop and to maintain good states of mind. It also composes a state of mind which is accompanied by Right Knowledge, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort and Right Attentiveness. The purpose of attaining Right Concentration is to develop the eye of wisdom.

The most simple teaching which the Buddha taught, was to do good, to avoid evil and purify the heart. According to the Buddha, the hearts of ordinary men are not pure. They are filled with greed, ill will and delusion.

Greed and hatred are impurities caused by desires which ignorance is the cause of delusion, especially delusion of self.

Ignorance, in fact, is the cause of desire itself and thus the primary cause of all suffering and of rebirth. The Lord taught, purifying the heart:

  • By practicing self-control, and self restraint
  • By meditating upon one's ownself
  • By following the Holy Eightfold Path that leads to cessation of all sufferings

    Paralelled in the origin of Christianity ?

    The degradation of the Noble idea is paralleled in Christianity, in which the teaching of Paul has been caricatured in the conception of an eternal soul which distinguishes each man from his neighbour, and which will be either saved or damned at death according as the preponderance of his deeds in one short life has been good or bad.

    The most far-reaching universal event in Jerusalem's history took place around the year 33 A.D when a twenty-nine-year-old Jewish rabbi out of Nazareth was tried and crucified as a heretic. As the father of a religion Jesus did not found, his road to and from Calvary has been traveled by more than any road in history. The details of the event scarcely need another recounting here but comment needs to be made concerning the incongruities that have laid false blame on Jesus' own people.

    For two thousand years Christians have heard it proclaimed from their pulpits: Be not deceived: God is not mocked for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.

    Jesus of Nazareth, whose Hebrew name was Jisho Ha` Notzri, is reported to have said upon the Mount:

    "Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?"
    Mattew 7, 2-3

    Jesus of Nazareth came from one of the most aristocratic families in the world of Torah. Most people believe Jesus of Nazareth a genius, a great prophet and a teacher, and one of the worlds foremost humanitarians. Treating him as "a son of man" rather than a deity, we often get contrasting views, for the historical Jesus and the religious Jesus are often wholly different matters. During the Greek rule of the Hasmonean era, directly preceding Roman rule, a small sect of ultra-pious Pharisees quit Jerusalem and the world to shrink into a monastic orders known as the Essens. They had the look and style of pre-Christians. The main group of Essens lived in a cave area along the Dead Sea. They left Jerusalem in disgust over priestly corruption and perversions of the religion.

    With their rigid structure, seclusion from the outside world, the practice of celibacy, study, prayer, a self-contained communal life, secret rituals, they were remarkably similar to the early Christian monastic sects. The essens left a great deal of written literature, some of which was miraculously discovered by a young Bedouin shepherd, searching for a stray goat in the Desert, entered a long-untouched cave and found jars filled with ancient scrolls, known to us as the Dead Sea scrolls. It proved them to have been devout Jews but somewhat ethereal and a bit "off the wall" in mysticism. They where heavily into apoctryptic literature which envisioned the end of the mortal world and the coming kingdom of God. They also practiced baptism, expanding on the ancient Hebrew ritual of the mikva bath, symbolic act of purification by water.

    John the Baptist was an Essene or was greatly influenced by them. However there is no certain exact link between Jesus and the Essens, but it is most likely to believe that Jesus spent time in the wilderness. One senses the strong philosophical continuity and can even speculate on the possibility that Jesus of Nazareth had been an Essen.

    In Hebrew teaching there are four species: The Etrog, the Lulav, the Hadas (myrtle) and the Arava (willow). Their initials spell out "A'ale" (I shall go up). The Hadas is called a branch of interwoven foliage. What is special about the Hadas? Three leaves in a row emerge from the stalk at the same spot. The three leaves are three hearts. These are the three loves about which have been commanded. First of all "Ve'ahavta et Hashem Elokecha " ("You shall love the Lord your God") - this is one leaf of the Hadas. Secondly, "Ve'ahavte le Reacha" ("Love your neighbor as yourself") - this is the second leaf. And the third is "uverachta et Hashem Elokecha al ha'aretz hatova sher natan lach" ("Bless the Lord your God in the good Land which he has given you").

    The law by which the part progresses towards Enlightenment or reunion with the Whole in Karma, literally action, in the sense of cause-effect and their intimate relationship. From the Buddhist viewpoint, Karma, stresses the converse of the Christian presentation of this law.

    It is clearly present in the teaching by Jesus of Nazareth, consider - for example - the story of the man born blind, and the rumours that Jesus was Jeremiah or Elias come again. Even Herod seems to think that he was John the Baptist "risen from the dead".

    The truth of the doctrine cannot of course be "proved", but it is at least immensely reasonable.

    Whatsovever a man reaps, say the Buddhist, that he also sown.

    Believing in the operation of natural justice. Buddhism would say in reply to Biblical inquiry: "Who did sin, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?", that is was this man who have "sinned", that is, had so behaved in a previous life as to cause in the life in question the effect of blindness.

    In Karma is to be found, in conjunction with its commonsense corollary, Rebirth, a natural and therefore reasonable answer to the apparent injustice of the daily round. Why should this man be born a beggar, this a prince? Why this a cripple, this a genius, that a fool?

    Why this a high-born Danish woman, that a low-born Indian man? These are effects. Does the cause lie in the hands of an irresponsible and finite God or, as the Buddhists say, within the lap of law?

    As it is man who suffers the effects, so it is man who generates the cause, and having done so he cannot flee the consequences.

    "By oneself evil is done; by oneself one suffers. By oneself evil is left undone; by oneself one is purified".

    And, again "Not in the sky, not in the midst of the sea, nor anywhere else on earth is there a spot where a man may be freed from (the consequences of) an evil deed".


    All action has its due result. A stone thrown into a pond causes wavelets to circle outwards to a distance proportionate to the initial disturbance; after which the initial state of equilibrium is restored. And since each disturbance must start from some particular point, it is clear that harmony can be restored only by the re-converging to that point of the forces set in motion. Thus the consequences of an act re-act, via all the universe, upon the doer with a force commensurate with his own.

    Karma involves the element of time; and it is unreasonable to hold that all the causes generated in an average life will produce their full effect before the last day of that period. The oldest sage would admit that at the close of a life on study his wisdom was a raindrop to the sea.

    Nor is the idea of rebirth new. Almost every country of the East accepts the doctrine as too obvious to need proof, and Western writers have traced its presence in the legends and indigenous ideas of nearly every country in the world. It is to be found in most of the greatest minds of Europe and America, from Plato to Orgin, from Blake to Schopenhauer, from Boeme, Kant, Goethe and Swedenborg to Browning, Emerson, Walt Whitman, and leading minds of Western world today.

    A life on earth is, to the Buddhist, as a wayside inn upon a road.

    At any moment there are many travelers therein, and even as we speak more enter through the doors of Birth, and others leave by one whose name is Death. Within the common meeting-rooms are men and woman of every type whose relation to one another form that reaction to environment we call experience. Such belief affects all blood relationships. The child may be an older pilgrim than its parents, and is at least entitled to its point of view.

    In the West we say that a child of a father is musical - if be so - because of heredity. In Buddhist lands it would be explained that the child was born into a musical family, because the child had developed musical propensities in previous lives, and was attracted to an environment suitable for the expression of those "gifts", a reversal of the Western view.

    "A Buddhist is as Buddhist does"

    Buddhism admits no caste, no sex or race superiority. Its inmost shrines are open to all. Buddhism is utterly tolerant, and seeks no converts. The Buddhist proclaims the Dharma to mankind. Anyone who wishes may accept and apply it - those who do not wish to do so pass with a blessing upon their way.

    It is all the same to the speaker, because a buddhist is as Buddist does. There is no salvation by formula.

    The Buddhist Goal is conceivable and worthy - the Road lies clear ahead: Why, then, tarry in the house of suffering?

    It is the mind which moulds man's destiny, action being but precipitated thought. For 'Better than sovereignty over the earth, better than the heaven state; better than dominion over all the world is the first step to the Path of holiness.

    Civilization is inseparable from competiton, which produces and implies antagonism. Man against man, business firm agains business firm, nation against nation and race against race, such is the ceaseless cry. Competition has its uses, but when its usefulness is past it becomes a fetter in the path og progress, and must give way in time to co-operation based on mutual understanding and respect. One of the greates pronouncements ever made in the field of morality is: Hatred ceaseth not by hatred, hatred ceaseth but by love. This is the eternal law.

    All forms of life, being manifestation of one life, are interrelated in a complex web beyond our full conceiving. Love is the fulfilling of the Law, and like the light and darkness, male and female, life and form are ultimately and, if the truth were known, immediately One. In the Law of laws - eternal Harmony, all who love are healers of those in need of it. `The light is within thee`, said the Egyptian Hierophants; `let the Light shine`. I am, therefore `I am`.

    Some practice and Rules:

    The five Rules Morality (Pancha Sila) for laity, namely, abstention from:
  • Killing any living being
  • Stealing
  • Adultery
  • Lying
  • Drinking Intoxicating Drinks


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