Why do we study Buddhism?
Dr. Tin Htut, Sheffield, UK
Before answering to this question let us explore what Buddhism is. Buddhism comes from a word Buddha + ism, which means a doctrine of Buddha. Buddha is a word in Pali, a spoken language of ancient India, meaning a teacher, a supreme teacher who taught Dhamma. Again, Dhamma is nature in Pali, natural phenomena that apply to everything and everybody.
Since childhood we are asking many questions which we wanted to know. For instance, we may want to know why does the sun rises in the East, why do plants need sun, why babies are born and why old people die, etc. We try to understand, study and explain these natural phenomena through two basic routes, science and religion. Science is a physical study and religion is a spiritual or mental study and it is sometimes called metaphysics, a Greek word relating to the things after or beyond the Physics. Science and religion often do not agree. People who believe and study science sometimes criticise some of the teaching of religion and sometimes it ends up in a conflict. In USA the issue of teaching evolution in schools had been a court case and was not settled for a long period. Basically, science and religion do not mix.
There are many religions in the world, but the major religions that have considerable number of followers are Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. Most of these religions teach us morality, rituals and to have faith in God or the creator for salvation. The only exception to this rule is Buddhism that teaches not only morality, but to rely on yourself for salvation. Among its enormous teachings there are aspects on fundamentals of science, psychology and a detail methodology on how to work for your own salvation. Buddha is a title of a human teacher who possesses unlimited knowledge or omniscience and obtain this knowledge through a series of commitment, determination, effort, etc. which are ten in total. He had fulfilled this merit in a countless number of lives in a time scale that cannot be explained in conventional terms.
Buddha had explained the composition of things in its smallest fractions. He had described about the subatomic particles and the impermanence of these particles. He knew every minute thing and every detail phenomenon of the universe, but he taught only a handful of facts that would lead to self-salvation. His teachings can be matched with the knowledge acquired through science. Even the great twentieth-century scientist Albert Einstein admitted that he himself was not a religious man, but if he had been one, he would have been a Buddhist.
The unique nature of Buddhism, its synergy with science and its practicability are the main reasons for studying the teaching of the Lord Buddha.
Is Buddhism a religion?
The meaning of religion is defined in five ways in the Oxford dictionary.
Buddhism could not be called a religion if defined as the first meaning. There is no supreme God who controls the power although there are gods who can live a very long life and have some power to create illusions. According to Buddhism man and the universe are not created by God, but a result of natural phenomena collectively known as Dhamma in Pali.
It may be qualified to coin Buddhism as a religion with the rest of the definitions. There is a certain quantity of faith, worship, devotion and monastic life exist in Buddhism. We consider three most important and precious things in life as Buddha, Dhamma and Samgha, the monastic order. They are collectively called the Triple Gem. Although Dhamma is present everywhere and is important we put Buddha as the first jewel since he was the person who taught us the Dhamma. There are many worlds, universes and a long expense of time where Buddhas do not appear. In those periods nobody has a knowledge of the Dhamma and nobody knows how to liberate from suffering. Certain persons who have fulfilled merits in their past existences may have a potential to liberate oneself from suffering, but they cannot teach the Dhamma to help salvage others. Such a person is called a Pacceka Buddha and they can appear in a world where there is no knowledge of Dhamma.
We are very fortunate to have been born in this world and have access to the teaching of Buddha. We must not forget this beneficiary and must never try to play down the role of the Buddha.
Although faith exists in Buddhism it is not a blind faith. Buddha allows us to think freely, examine and try it yourself before accepting any of his teaching. He is the all-knowing, exceptionally perfect and has full loving kindness and compassion on everybody despite differences in race, colour, background and even to those who do not have faith in him. He will never punish anybody who tries to oppose him or tried to discredit him. The Dhamma is the law of the empire, the Buddha is the emperor and the Samgha is the courtier in the religion of Buddha.
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