BUDDHISM AMONG THE INTERNATIONAL RELIGIONS OF THE WORLD TODAY
(A talk on the Mahasamaya Day)
U Ba Htu, B.J.S. (Retd.)
Vol. VII, No. 4, 1960
There are three Great International Religions in the world today. They are described as international in the sense that their influence is not confined to one particular race or country but extends far beyond racial and geographical boundaries. They are: Buddhism, Christianity and Islam.
Although Hinduism is the oldest religion, yet it sought no conversion outside India and perhaps for that reason it was not considered an international religion in the world.
Foundation Principles of Christianity and Islam:
The two fundamental principles on which both Christianity and Islam are built up are God and Soul. In fact, these two factors are also found to be the main pillars in all other systems of faith. They are so closely inter related that it appears as if one depends upon the other for existence. inasmuch as God creates the soul of man it becomes necessary for God to salvage the soul from the spiritual consequence of sin.
Salvation in Christianity is contingent upon faith, hope, prayer and grace. in this respect, Buddhism is unique, because it is the only religion that denies the existence of God and Soul. This denial of the existence of both God and Soul is surprisingly striking to the Western student of Buddhist philosophy for any other religion worthy of the name builds up its fundamental doctrines on or around the two themes of God and Soul. In this connection the remarks made by an eminent Western writer may be quoted. "It will seem strange to many that a religion which ignores the existence of God and denies the existence of Soul should be the very religion which has found most acceptance among men." *
Western Scholar's Interest in Buddhism
Western scholars are interested to know what special features there are in Buddhism that stand for God and Soul. After an intensive study of the scriptural texts they find that the entire Cosmos functions at the behests of the Universal Laws of Nature that reign supreme from eternity to eternity. They are described in the texts as "Niyama Dhammas". They exist on their own rights as the Universal Cosmic Order; in this context they are synonymous with the Universal Truths of Nature. And as the Universal Truths they endure for all times. It is quite plain that the entire structure of the Buddha Dhamma stands on the unshakable foundation of the Universal Truths of Nature. For this reason alone, Buddhism has nothing to fear from the shattering discoveries of Modern Science.
In place of Soul there is in the Buddha Dhamma the continuum of consciousness or life-processes motivated by the moral Law of Cause and Effect. This moral Law of Cause and effect is one of the five Universal Laws of nature** mentioned above. No one can put a stop to the operation of this Law of Cause and Effect. Successive rebirth immediately after the termination of one life is the result of the unrelenting operation of this Law and not due to any creator from outside. Naturally, a true Buddhist does not look up to any agency for liberation from suffering. On the other hand, he is self-reliant on his personal efforts while treading the Middle Way chalked by the Omniscient Buddha. As they come to understand the full significance and inner core of the Teaching, it is easy for foreign students of Buddhist philosophy to find that it is founded on Universal Truths and nothing else.
* T. W. Rhys Davids. Buddhism, 1910, p. 156.
** The Five-fold Niyama is as follows:— (1) Utu-niyama (The Caloric Order), (2) Bija-niyama (The Germinal Order), (3) Kamma-niyama (The Moral Order), (4) Citta-niyama (The Psychical Order), (5) Dhamma-niyama (Natural Phenomena1 Sequence). See the Light of the Dhamma, Vol. IV. No. I. p. 1.
|Past, Present and Future
The Buddha Dhamma, unlike other systems, speaks about the past, present and future existences. On the basis of the operation of the Universal Laws of Nature, it becomes quite reasonable and justifiable for the Dhamma to speak about the past, present and future. In Buddhism nothing ever comes out of nothing. The Jataka stories fully explain how the Buddha in his embryonic stages had to pass through millions of lives in the past existences.
The Dhamma not only deals with different's stages of time but also speaks about millions of universes that have gone by and are now no more; it speaks about millions of universes that are existing at present in space and it speaks about millions of universes that are to come in the future. This fact about millions of universes existing at present is fully supported and substantiated by modern science. In this connection it may be interesting to point out the instructive discourse in which the exploits of Rohitanatha (God) are explained. This celestial Rohita possessed iddhi (supernormal powers) or moving about in the air at tremendous speed and had a desire to go to the end of the Cakkavalas (Universes). He tried his utmost for one hundred years when he found that his span of life came to an end and he expired in the midst of adventure.* Not only do we have subjects on time and space fully discussed in the Buddha Dhamma, but it also deals with the infinity of beings that are tirelessly travelling to and from this Samsaric existence against the immense background of time and space mentioned above.
Inasmuch as there is the infinity of beings one notices also the diversities that distinguish one from the other. Could you, for one moment find any justification or reason for these appalling, nay staggering diversities among creatures if they issued from a single source? The Buddhist answer for those diversities is that all living beings performed multitudinous acts in the past for which they inherit dissimilarities in status both good and bad in this life and as they still continue to perform variegated acts in this life which will in time produce varying resultants in the future. This view satisfies all who advocate rationalism in religion.**
* Samyutta Nikaya, Sagatha Samyutta Pali, 2. Devaputta Samyutta-vagga, 6. Rohitassa Sutta, p. 60, 6th Syn. Edn.
** Readers' Digest, March 1956 Mystery of Life on a Seashore
Infinity of Beings
Now Science reveals that millions of life matter are to be found in a drop of water. It also tells us that each grain of sand on the seashore holds a film of water about itself and that inconceivably minute beings swim through the liquid film surrounding a grain of sand as fish would swim through the ocean covering the sphere of the Earth. And in this miniature world of their own round a single grain of sand, the immeasurably small creatures are living, dying, feeding, breathing and reproducing in a way most incomprehensible to ordinary human intellect.* Surely, this question forces itself upon us: "If there are millions of living creatures in a film of water around a grain of sand, then in all the waters of the seas and oceans, what would be the magnitude of life ?" Another query that strikes us is: "If this gigantic magnitude of life is the result of creation, then what is the aim and purpose of it all ?" Here, the discourse given by the Omniscient Buddha fully answers the question when He asked the monks after taking some grains of sand on the tip of His finger, "Bhikkhus, which is greater in number, the grains of sand on the tip of my finger or all the grains of sand on the Earth?" The Bhikkhus replied: "Immeasurably greater, Oh Lord, is the number of sands on the Earth." The Omniscient Buddha continued: "So too, Bhikkhus, are the beings in the heavens and in the human world comparable to sands on my finger tip; the rest of the grains on the Earth represents beings in the four abodes of suffering." The Buddha speaks about the infinite vastness of space and inordinately huge number of beings which Modern Science supports in this Twentieth Century. Against this background of the immensity of time and space the pettiness of man is apparent. In time of crisis man displays his pettiness to the extreme. It is certain he can rarely rise above the crowd and environment And if environment lifts him up he is capable of being haughty to the extreme. On the other hand, if his mind is tamed and cultivated, he can rise to the height of nobleness. Man's position and potentiality cannot be underrated. Unlike adherents of other systems of faith, a Buddhist does not look up to an outside agency for liberation from suffering or going to higher abodes of celestial Gods. According to the Buddha Dhamma man's liberation depends upon the practice of morality, meditation and attainment of intuitive knowledge. It emphasises the need for personal efforts to improve one's own mind. The human mind can be brought to the heights of excellence and perfection by following the grand Middle Way prescribed by the Buddha. in the last analysis it is the personal efforts that count on the way to Liberation—to Nibbana.
* Majjhima Nikaya, Culakammavibhanga Sutta, Uparipannasa, page 243, 6th Syn. Edn.
Criticism Against Religion
Eminent men in the West are voicing misgivings against their own religion in the light of modern research. The discoveries of Science have undermined the traditional beliefs of the past. Buddhism is unique in this respect as no responsible criticism has been levelled that its tenets are not tenable in face of scientific progress.
The Buddha Dhamma has not only the answer for solving the riddle of life but also for peace and happiness of all beings. As one walks the Way, peace and happiness comes by spontaneously and when he reaches the Upper heights on the Way he finds that he is at peace with himself and with the world around him.
The Buddha after attaining Omniscience untiringly preached the Dhamma for forty-five years. His teaching is deep and profound and is meant primarily for the wise. It exhaustively deals with ethics, physiology, psychology and philosophy.
In short, it comprises the entire range of subjects leading to knowledge and wisdom for the attainment of both mundane and ultra-mundane objectives in this life. It may be compared to a deep ocean in which invaluable treasures of centuries lay hidden or it is like a precious mine from which priceless stones and jewels may be dug out and owned.
Current Trends of our Small World
The present World conditions do not lead anyone to hope or to complacency. On the other hand, all thinking men sense the imminence of the third global War. Just a handful of men on top seem to think that it is time to uphold their pride and prestige. Surely, by their persistence and waywardness they will knowingly throw this world into a state of abomination or annihilation. As citizens of the World we are constrained to ask: "Is it civilisation by any standard, East or West?" Through the misguided manipulations of a few, this World is again heading for a major catastrophe. The peace-loving peoples of the World should unanimously raise a note of protest and indignation. There is no justification whatsoever, either morally or politically for a small group of men to put an end to life on Earth. At no time in the history of the world is there such a need for men as now the sobering influence of the Buddha Dhamma: Conciliation—Forbearance —Metta.
With Metta: May there be peace and happiness to all beings.
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