Perfecting Life through Buddhism
Posted on January 28th, 2011

by Professor Sunil J. Wimalawansa, Professor of Medicine, Physiology & Integrative Biology Robert Wood Johnson Medical School New Brunswick, NJ

Buddhism is not strictly a religion, in the sense in which that word is commonly understood, for it is not “a system of faith and worship owing any allegiance to a supernatural being.”

Buddhism does not demand blind faith from its adherents.  Here mere belief is dethroned and is substituted by confidence based on knowledge, which, in Pali, is known as Saddha.  The confidence placed by a follower in the Buddha is like that of a sick person in a noted physician or a student in his teacher.  A Buddhist seeks refuge in the Buddha because it was He who discovered and taught us the Path of Deliverance.

A Buddhist does not seek refuge in the Buddha with the hope that he will be saved by His personal purification.  The Buddha gives no such guarantee.  It is not within the power of the Buddha to wash away the impurities of others.  One could neither purify nor defile another.

Getting clear about our aims:

The Buddha’s teaching is directed to lead other people out of their misery and suffering, and to show them the way to the highest happiness and peace.  Out of his great compassion, for 45 years he taught these causes and conditions to the world.  The aim was that people could understand what course of action is to be pursued and avoided.

Thus, our ultimate objective in learning the Buddha’s teachings should be to learn how to distinguish the ways that are harmful and destructive from the ways that are helpful and beneficial, the ways that lead to suffering from the ways that lead to happiness and peace.

Purpose of learning and practicing Buddhism:

Buddhism is a righteous way of life for the peace and happiness of every living being.  It is a method for getting rid of sufferings and miseries, and finding self-liberation.  The teachings of Buddha are not limited to one nation or race; they are for everyone.  It is neither a belief nor a mere faith.  It is a teaching for the entire world for all time.  Its objectives are selfless service, goodwill, peace, salvation, and freedom from suffering.

Doing no harm and the goodwill are common elements found in religions.  Buddhism is based on the principles of peace, equality, and harmony, so there is no place for hatred or violence.  Its beliefs of goodwill and loving-kindness are based on sacrifice and service for the welfare and happiness of others.  Therefore, religious principles should be used positively for the improvement of the quality of life of all living beings.

Practicing Dhamma will develop inner self-awareness, goodwill, and understanding.  One of the reasons Buddhism appeals to intellectuals and those with higher education is that Buddha expressly discouraged his followers from accepting anything they heard, without testing its validity.

Buddhism is a gentle religion, a philosophy in which justice, equality, and peace harness the utmost.  Its central theme is self-reliance.  It teaches that to depend on others for salvation is negative; whereas dependence on oneself is positive.  It further explains that dependence on others means surrendering one’s intelligence, reliance, and efforts.  Moreover, Buddhism gives credit to the human’s intelligence and effort for achievements, rather than to supernatural beings [Protecting oneself, one protects others.  Protecting others, one protects oneself””‚by loving-kindness and compassion; Sathipattana, Samyutta, No. 19].

It is important to realize that salvation, as taught in Buddhism, is an individual affair.  Only you can save yourself, just as you have to eat, drink, and sleep for yourself.  The Buddha’s teachings are only to point out the right path to achieve this.  Buddha did not preach to win converts, but to enlighten listeners.

The main aim of Buddhists is to attain purity of mind and the enlightenment.  Elimination of ignorance, the root cause for birth and death leads to wisdom and the enlightenment.  In this regard, Buddhism is neither optimistic nor pessimistic.  It does not encourage us to look at the world through changing feelings of optimism or pessimism.  Buddhism encourages us to be realistic, to learn to see things as they truly are.

Buddhism is realistic:

Buddhism takes a realistic view of life of the world.  It does not falsely pull us into living in a fool’s paradise, nor does it frighten or terrorize us with all kinds of imaginary fears and guilt-feelings.  It calls us exactly and objectively what we are and what the world around us is, and shows us the way to prefect freedom, peace, tranquility and happiness.  Buddhism is quite opposed to the discontented, sorrowful, repenting, and gloomy attitude of mind, which is in fact, is considered a hindrance to the realization of the Truth.  On the other hand, Buddhist teachings emphasized that “joy is one of the seven “ƒ”¹…”Factors of Illumination,’ the essential qualities to be cultivated for the realization of Nirvana”. 

One way to understand the life is to face and understand death, which is nothing more than a temporary end to a temporary existence.  Nevertheless, most of us do not even like to hear the word “death.”  Whether we like it or not, death is the only certain thing in our life; it will come eventually.  However, the recollections on death with the right mental attitude can give a person courage, understanding, and an insight into the nature of existence, while develop the calmness to face death.  While Westerners seek to conquer the universe for material ends, Buddhism and the Eastern philosophy strive to attain harmony with nature, environment, and spiritual satisfaction.

Most of the rich people in the world today (despite their wealth and modern facilities) are suffering from uncertainty, anxiety, and many other physical and mental problems.  With all the money and contacts they have, they cannot find a solution to their problems and sufferings.  In contrast, a poor man who has learned to be contented may enjoy his life far more than many of the richest people.  When they are contended, they have nothing to lose and have little worries. 

Some have too much and yet do crave,

I have little and seek no more;

They are all but poor though much more they have,

And I am rich with little store.

They poor, I rich; they beg, I give;

They lack, I have; they languish, I live.

Buddhism appeals more to the intellect than to the emotion.  It is concerned more with the character of the devotees than with their numerical strength.  The foundations of Buddhism are the four Noble Truths””‚namely, Suffering, its cause (i.e., Craving), its end (i.e., Nibbana), and the Middle Way (the Middle Path). 

Some believe that Buddhism is a sublime system, that it cannot be practiced by ordinary men and women.  Others believe that only in temples and monasteries one can practice Buddhism.  These misconceptions come because of a lack of understanding of the Buddha’s teachings.  His teachings are not meant only for monks in monasteries.  They are for ordinary human beings like You and I.  The Four Nobel Truths and the Eightfold Nobel Path””‚the Buddhist way of life is intended for all people.  When one understands the spirit of Buddhism correctly, he or she can practice it anywhere. 

15 Responses to “Perfecting Life through Buddhism”

  1. jimmy Says:

    nice article
    I enjoyed reading it

  2. Ben_silva Says:

    Good article. Buddism has many good tings such as precepts, mditation, promoting compassion, middle path etc. It is a good religion in an ideal world. It does not appear to cover how to deal with nasty people like Prabakaran, Hitler, Cholas and Muslim invaders whocared very little for the rights of others. Nalanda Buddhists were wiped out by invading Muslims and the Buddhists were so passive that they did not run away or fight back. Buddhism never recovered in India, after the wipe out of Nalanda Buddhists. Very few Buddhists are now left in the origin country of Buddhism. Buddhism has also been wiped out from countries in the silk route,

  3. Fran Diaz Says:

    Dear Mr Ben Silva:
    Buddhist countries have to have armies, like it or not, for the greater good and safety of their population. There are lessons to be learnt from the history of Lanka as it was chequered with wars fought mainly with South Indian invaders. This Heladiva never sat back and looked pious when invaders swarmed into the country. We fought when wars had to be fought, in a fair manner, hand to hand, face to face, and generally always won. Lanka was NEVER the invader. We were always invaded. We do not have WMDs !

    It was after the gun was invented in the west that our armies did not stand a chance. Direct fight Swords had no chance with hidden guns and when Colonial invaders came, we succumbed.

    All the great Teachers said : Do not Kill. The Old Testament says : Thou shalt not Kill.

    Our instinct to survive is great. When someone threatens to kill, the survival instinct fights back. Teachings of the Masters are set aside till the danger is past. Even then, decency toward the vanquished has been the hallmark of Buddhist Lanka.

    Watchful prevention of wars is better than a painful Cure, any day.
    Overpopulation of any country leads to trouble, whatever religion is there.
    Buddhism is a most rational and beautiful religion when practiced properly …..

  4. Patriot-but-not-racist Says:

    This is one of the best from the few valuble articles published in the Lanka Web without cultivating hate among the religious groups & races. I know this author has the real educational & professional qualifications unlike the some of the authors who frequently write on Lanka Web indicating that they have doctorates, law degrees all over the world. I salute you for not being a boot licker.

  5. Ben_silva Says:

    Fran Diaz has made some good points. I agree that Buddhism is a rational religion with high moral standards. My fear is that Buddhists may drop their guard and fail to protect themselves from nasty people, who do not have any moral standards.Weapons and systems need to be developed to protect us, rather than relying on religion to protect us, as`many people tend to believe. Buddhism has been wiped out in Afganistan, India, Malaysia and so on by more powerful armed groups. If we were not protected by the sea some may be preaching the Islam religion, as some suspect ireligion is a mind virus. Also countries such as Tibet and Bhutan, remain primitive and underdeveloped. Thanks to the Chinese, Tibet can now be in the modern world. ountries such as India and China, within a short time after becoming secular, have made rapid progress. Also we must not forget that we have lost the northm the east, hill country and even parts of the Capital, and we would have lost the whole country if Elam was allowed to form. The reasons for the decline of the Sinhalese need to be investigated to arrest further decline. Research has shown that belief systems hinder development and further research shows that, when people develop, they rely less on religion.

  6. Fran Diaz Says:

    I agree with Mr Ben Silva that “that Buddhists may drop their guard and fail to protect themselves from nasty people, who do not have any moral standards”. This advice is true for almost any Democratic country today, and not only just for Buddhists.
    Democracy allows freedom of thought & speech and certain actions which freedoms could be misused by any group aspiring to conquer through force.

    The crux of the problem is that the followers of other religions, other than Buddhists, have dropped the original teachings of their Masters. All religions forbid Killing.

    We would like to persuade all Lankans to follow the original Teachings of their respective religions … there is no other way,
    other than to convert to Buddhism.

  7. Ben_silva Says:

    Thanks Fran Diaz for the comments. We hope that people will change beliefs, when evidence is presented. Unfortunately, in general, people will not change their religion specially the Muslims. Religion also act like a mind virus. Please google to find good write ups on the topic.My fear is that some Buddhist preachers may attempt to make us passive and send us to extinction as happened to Nalanda Buddhists. What we need is knowledge and skills on how to survive in a highly competitive global economy, not training us to be like Nalanda Buddhists. Please see the map of world religions to see how Buddhism has been wiped out in previous Buddhist countries. Also note that native Indians, Mayans and Aztecs have also been wiped out by aggressive Europians. We also must not forget Australian aborigines and Maories in New Zealand and lots of other tribes in the Amazon who refuse to adapt.
    In my view we need to move away from a 2500 year mind set and move over to the modern highly competitive world.

  8. sanath sirisena Says:

    Dear Folks,

    The first sermon of great BUDDHA, gives a clear picture of our day to day life. The FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS AND THE EIGHT FOLD PATH GUIDES us to live a safe and a peaceful life. In that , the teachigs points out the way to protect ourselves by takingRIGHT ACTION by RIGHT SIGHT. That means We may take action against any evil action by fighting against it firstly in a peaceful way by peaceful discussions and actions.

    The first sermons of our lord BUDDHA, guides us to live the properr way without harming anyone including animals.

    The FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS AND THE EIGHT FOLD PATH highlights the day to day life of all of us. In that, it tell you how to overcome any evil action by RIGHT SIGHT AND RIGHT ACTION.

    Firstly, in a the best possible peaceful way by peaceful discussions and actions. If it fails, We may have to fight our way to protect ourselves as the last resort. that means it may be necessary to face a war only as the last resort. this means RIGHT ACTIONS AGAINST EVIL THREATS.

    As such do not think or come to conclusion that Buddists will RUN away from THREATS.

    We will take RIGHT ACTION BY RIGHT SIGHT AND RIGHT THINKING.

    if

  9. Ben_silva Says:

    Suggestion made by SS has not worked for Nalanda Buddhists, or Buddhists in the countries in the Silk route, or for Buddhists in Malaysia or Indonisia. Neither has the method worked for Tibetians or large number of native people around the world. Unfortunately, these passive Buddhist preachers do not understand the highly competitive nature of the world we live in where only the fittest will survive. Further, these preachers are blinded by religion and affected by the religion mind virus and fail to think rationally.Muslims may quote from Koran and the Christians from the bible, in a response similar to what SS has given. What I have given is evidence from history that passive Buddhism does not work and followers of passive Buddhism has been wiped out. It is time to find out the reasons for our decline so that our decline could be arrested, rather than blindly follow any religion.

  10. Fran Diaz Says:

    Dear Mr Ben Silva,

    I am printing below some thoughts I sent in for another article on the Lankaweb. I would like to add that the Nalanda incident was many centuries ago. In China, the true Buddhism was in decline, not practiced or declined into ritual only, when Mao Tzsetung stepped in. The Muslim invaders of India & the Silk Route cities too never knew their Islam ! Islam means “Peace”. Today, Muslim countries are in a sort of imploding mode. Unless Truth is presented to the individual and that individual feels the presence of Truth/God for himself through Meditation, the discontentment will continue with disastrous results.

    Here is what I wrote :

    “There are many Sinhala Buddhists who are superb scientists, and some know other languages beside excellent English & Sinhala, and have other talents as well. They are computer literate. However, most of these people are from the cities and it is in the villages that people languish.

    How can we make village people appreciate Science, with English as a strong second language without damaging the Sinhala language and the Buddhist religion which is the religion closest to a scientific explanation of the human psyche and the cycle of birth & death ?
    It is the only religion that lays emphasis on Meditation, which overcomes negative mental conditioning and enables a person to realise the Truth/God within himself. Buddhism, when properly practiced leads to Wisdom, as opposed to perceived western fear & greed (which has nothing to do with the True teachings of Jesus Christ). The religion of the west is Christianity. Christ himself was allowed to preach his message of universal love and forgiveness only for three years before he was crucified by an ignorant mob.

    Right now, Buddhist Teachings are caught up in material needs of the population and social change. These factors have to be separated from Buddhism and solved. Also, the Buddhist Temples are caught up in mostly ritual & chanting. There were no rituals or chanting when the Buddha was alive. Ritual & chanting should be minimal. In Mahayana Buddhism, society & social needs are emphasized much more than in the Heenayana Buddhism practiced in Lanka. Perhaps there could be some lessons learnt here.

    Buddhism teaches the Truth which is eternal and cannot be destroyed. After some material needs are met, people will seek Salvation. Questions about Life & Death are eternal in the human mind, and we will rest only when these questions are answered truthfully. The Buddha said “ehi pachtiko” (come and see). Try and test for yourself, do not accept beforehand. What could be more alluring ?

    There should be a peaceful EXCHANGE of knowledge between the West & the East, in both spiritual and material matters”.

  11. Ben_silva Says:

    To respond to Fran Diaz: Nalanda incident happened many cennturies ago. However similar incidents, not to the same scale, has happened recently. From memory, I remenber that LTTE killed pilgrims at Anuradhapura, killed defenceless young Buddhist priests, killed innocent people at Dollar and Kent Farm etc. My main point is defence should be given priority and should receive our attention, before religion.
    Promoting science, as suggested by Fran Diaz may help our progress. The West progressed due to advances in science and scientific thinking. The suggestion by Fran Diaz to promote Science is an excellent idea. A scientific mind will look at theory and evidence , without the influence of bias introduced by religion. If the evidence do not support the theory, then the theory has to be modified or rejected. I suggested a secular path, so that people can think critically, without any bias. This will enable people to understand a situation clearly. Further, religion is a mind virus that affects peoples thinking. As suggested By Needham, belief systems in Asia may have hindered progress.
    In my view, it is time to stop living in the past and move on to the 21st century and deal with problems facing us.

  12. sanath sirisena Says:

    Dear Mr. Ben,

    I only pointed out the real meaning of the Lord Buddha s teachig in a very brief way. Please read it carefully so that you will know what I tried to poinnt out.

    Its true that many buddhists were killed and got killed in the past and recently by Bloody LTTE killers because, the innocent people and the buddist priests at anuradapura were taken by surprise. These innocent people nnever thought that the LTTE will carryout such shameless ,cowardly operations attacking temples. Same thing happened many centuries ago, purly due to unexpected attacks by muslims against other religions as the muslim motivation was to wipe our all other religions from the world by extremist muslims.

    Please read the history of Ahamed Shah Durani a former muslim leader , how he led the war in the middle east and then coming down to India to kill the Hindus and others. there are so many stories in the history that proves the attack by surprise .

    As such in the future I will assure that it will not happen the way you think. All of us got to wake up and be ready to face the music.

    RIGHT SIGHT, RIGHT THINKING AND RIGHT ACTION, THATS THE ONLY WAY TO LIVE UP TO THE CHALLANGES AT PRESENT

  13. Ben_silva Says:

    I wonder how any one, can assure that surprice attacks will not happen in the future ? It has happened in the past, to many nations, many times, and will happen in the future. RW and people with a similar mind set, thought that surprise attacks do not take place.

  14. sanath sirisena Says:

    I am only saying ,that it will not be easy to carryout surprise attacks if we are alert. RIGHT SIGHT. we got to be watchful if there is a threat and make sure we take immediate action to stop it. RIGHT ACTION.

    As an experinced former military man who was battling the LTTE in Batticaloa for one and half years ,my only advise is that all of us need to work together and be aware of surroundings and the people around. This will miimize the surprise attacks. The concept of AWARENESS and RIGHT ACTION, helped me to survive many surprise attacks and I am still alive.

  15. Ben_silva Says:

    According to history, the whole of Sri Lanka was the home land of the Sinhalese. Now We have lost a good chunk of the country. ie We have lost the North, the East, the hill country and even a good part of the Capital. Looks like we have not been doing “RIGHT SIGHT, RIGHT THINKING AND RIGHT ACTION. Neither have the Buddhists in the countries I mentioned previously. In my opinon we have been blinded by religion and has not seen reality. Some have indicated that even the economic power is in the hand of non Sinhalese. Any one going around Colombo can see that. We need to find the cause of our decline and arrest further decline. Now we cannot even sing “may Sinhala apage ratai ” That is the story and appaers that Lanka is not our country any more!.

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