Buddha’s Philosophy of Life – Article #2
Posted on February 15th, 2011

by Professor Sunil J. Wimalawansa Professor of Medicine, Endocrinology, Physiology & Integrative Biology, USA

Buddha preached a philosophy of life; life after death, and the path leading to Nibbana””‚the birthlessness””‚cessation of rebirth.  The Wisdom of the Truth of birthlessness as taught us by the Buddha is achieved through achieving the Supreme Nibbana.  Attaining Nibbana would indeed be virtuous.  One realizes that, since there is no self, the formless and universal consciousness is never to be born again and hence can never die

“Upon first hearing the tune of birthlessness,
Initially listening to the song of deathlessnesss,
I realized that the Dhamma was the way all along
Neither too little nor too much.”  Master Hua

Life as we experience it, is a continuous stream or flow of dual experiences (happy and sad, pleasure and pain, life and death, etc.).  Nevertheless, our journey in samsara will ultimately end with the non-dual experience of birthlessness and deathlessness.  When there is no birth, there is no death.  With the peak of Wisdom and attaining the Nibbana, we have then completed our devout journey.  

After the death of an individual, ego and the consciousness that never really existed, emerge again in the life after death.  With that the Birthless status is preserved without change in the unending store of the Alaya-vijnana“”‚the cosmic memory that lies beyond the transient memory.  Consequently, one who leads a virtuous life need not have fears about this life or the life after death.  However, if one commits sin””‚the bad kamma, he or she will have to suffer the consequences in this life and/or in the future lives. This is explained in “cause and effect” in Buddhism.

Respect for the Buddha:

Buddhists respect the Buddha as a master teacher.  However, this respect does not imply materialism, attachment to, or a dependence on the Teacher.  It is important to understand that Buddhists take refuge in the Buddha not out of fear of him or a super-natural being, but to gain inspiration and right understanding for their self-purification. 

Francis Story, a well-known Buddhist scholar said, “I go for refuge to the Buddha.  I seek presence of the Exalted Teacher by whose compassion I may be guided through the torrents of Samsara, by whose serene countenance I may be uplifted from the mire of worldly thoughts and cravings, seeing there in the very assurance of Nibbanic Peace, which He himself attained.  In sorrow and pain, I turn to Him and in my happiness I seek His tranquil gaze.  I lay before His Image not only flowers and incense, but also the burning fires of my restless heart, that they may be quenched and stilled.  I lay down the burden of my pride and my selfhood, the heavy burden of my cares and aspirations, the weary load of this incessant birth and death.” 

In Loweda Sangarawa, a famous book written by Ven. Veedagama, this is summarized in the verse, “when one commits sins it is as sweet as honey, but when one suffers the consequences of such sins it is as painful as fire that is hard to bear” (“Karana Kalata pavu mihiriya mee se, vindina kalata duk dedivei gini se”).

The Buddha’s refined his Buddha qualities over thousands of births in the samsara in preparation of understanding the Noble Truth.  Finally, he succeeded.  Meanwhile, the Buddha’s liberal teachings transformed the Indian society of the time.  Although initially many refused to accept his teachings, increasing numbers of intellectuals and people from all societies looked up to Buddhism.  Such acts led an entire kingdom, including monarchs, to being transformed to a just society through embracing Buddhism.

To Buddhists, death is only a stepping-stone to another life.  Buddhism offers unique guidance to human beings to approach their lives, improving the legacy they have been bequeathed, throughout Samsara.  Teachings extend to their future existence in samsara until they attain the Supreme Bliss of Nibbana.  Thus, Buddhism explains the familiar enthusiasm of all human beings "if I had my life to live again..." 
Breaking through Samsara

Samsara means literally, repeated rebirth, thus, repeated death and suffering.  Samsara (the cycle of birth and death) is suffering and thus unsatisfactory.  It is subjected to continuous changes.  It has no permanency, endurance, or lasting happiness.  Buddhism teaches that one works toward the breakthrough of the Samsara.   Consequently, a virtuous person is one who has improved himself in his previous births.  He has the added opportunity of improving himself still more in the current life, as well as in future births, until finally attaining the state of Nibbana, the final aim of practicing Dhamma and meditation. 

Is a society advancing “”‚ Development vs. Materialism:

During the past few decades, science and human intelligence have provided enormous technological and material advances.  Nevertheless, while the population and the sufferings are increasing, resources and peace are dwindling.  Indeed, the pressures under which we live are constantly increasing, and over half of the world’s population has no access to basic human needs.  Despite major scientific breakthroughs and materialistic advances, billions of people””‚half the world’s population””‚live in poverty, and suffer from disease, discrimination, wars, famines, floods, or natural disasters. 

Similar numbers of people are just managing to keep their heads above water and can barely manage their day-to-day lives.  Sixty percent of people in developing and agricultural countries have no access to safe and clean drinking water and toilets.  Others live in anxiety, knowing that even a minor mishap could cause major disruption in their lives, including starvation and death. 

 Development and progress of a country or a society are not just about the construction of buildings and roads.  The affordable access to food, safe and clean water, decent wages and healthy living, freedom of movement, and expression of free speech are in fact, the hallmarks of development.  These are the true elements of progress because they enrich the peace, environment, and quality of life.  Indeed the progress and the development of a country must be measured by how happy they are and not by per capita income.  The latter has never provided a balance picture of society. 

Unfortunately, throughout the world, only a minority of humans enjoy economic security (not necessarily happiness), and even fewer enjoy good health and societal security.  No matter how rich or poor we are, none of us can avoid the decay of old age, sickness, and death.  The latter is the only guaranteed thing in life.  This is dukkha; this is the reality, the Truth of life.  The Buddha taught us a path of actions to eradicate dukkha and breaking the vicious cycle of rebirth””‚death.

Decrease of human suffering:

In Theravada Buddhism, the cause of human existence and suffering is identified as craving, which carries with it various defilements.  These defilements traditionally are summed up as greed, hatred, and delusion and are believed to be deeply rooted afflictions of the mind that create suffering and stress.  Due to multiple reasons including ever expanding advertisements and the media exposures, it is unfortunate that such cravings and materialistic attitudes are increasing, worldwide. 

In Theravada Buddhism, the cause of human existence and suffering is identified as craving, which carries with it various defilements.  These defilements traditionally are summed up as greed, hatred, and delusion and are believed to be deeply rooted afflictions of the mind that create suffering and stress.  Due to multiple reasons including ever expanding advertisements and the media exposures, it is unfortunate that such cravings and materialistic attitudes are increasing, worldwide. 

To be free from suffering and stress, these defilements need to be permanently removed or at least decrease through self-investigation, analyzing, experiencing, and understanding of the true nature of these defilements.  The Buddhist meditation practices would pave the path for elimination of cravings, and hence suffering.  The key means by which the Buddha taught us to achieve the elimination of dukkha is the Noble Eightfold Path.  However, only we can help ourselves. 

Therefore, to achieve freedom from suffering, we must practice regular meditation and the Dhamma.  Intense practices of such will lead to the realization of the Four Noble Truths, Enlightenment; the supreme Nibbana.  Attaining the Nibbana is the ultimate goal of Buddhism.  

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought; it is founded on our thoughts; it is made up of our thoughts.  If a man speaks and acts with pure thought, happiness follow him, like a shadow that never leaves him.  Fools of little understanding have themselves for their greatest enemies, for they do evil deeds which must bear bitter fruits.”  Dhammapada

PS: We hope that brief articles on meditation, Buddhism and Buddhist Philosophy that will appear every other week in this column will initiate healthy and positive discussions.  We also appreciate your suggestion of new topics to be presented in this column.  May the Noble Triple Gem bless you.

4 Responses to “Buddha’s Philosophy of Life – Article #2”

  1. Fran Diaz Says:

    Many thanks to Prof. Wimalawansa for this article which covers a good deal of ground on the subject of Buddhism in the modern world – in other words, practical Buddhism, in his paragraph on Development vs Materialism.

    Some people see Buddhism as a hindrance to progress in acquiring what is needed to live life safely, happily & comfortably today. That would be the wrong interpretation of Buddhism. We must acquire what we must to live, but acquire that which is needed and gives a sense of security & is the entrepreneurs reward, and not the excessive greed and certainly not the ‘unholy’ excessive profit motive.

    The theory of excessive profit motive & the GDP are people killers.

    We have to paste the Buddhist thinking mantle over our business world.

  2. Asoka_Wickramasurya Says:

    To all the wonderful writers, sensible and responsible commentators, is it still relevant to talk about the glory of Buddhism and its past glorious civilisation, while we engage in poojas, yathikas, geethikas, kannalavs in the name of Buddhism. We all talked about the beauty of Buddhism for millennia. But open your own eyes and see how Buddhism is practiced in my own motherland. It is a disgrace to all the sensible minds. This is coming from the so called protectors of the Buddhism, learned (Nayaka Theras) to politicians. Is Buddhism rocket science or something beyond science as one of the leading monks uttered in one of the ABC Radio National multi religious programmes! Or, is Buddhism wisdom, to be practised by all beings, at all times. Isn’t that the case?

    Why pirith nool around cricket balls, why yathika’s for all our cricketers when the whole system is corrupt. Why we have to wait till the auspicious time to come to do things. They are all but our cultural practices but crept into our Buddhism. If anyone has seen Brisbane floods continuously, you will be surprised. No one talked about the Devil, God or the miracles! These are the believers!!! In a sermon on a Sunday one of the priests said God gave us to have courage, show unity, kindness, compassion to each other. And all the Brisbanians and the other Aussies came there by the thousands to help the unknown and total strangers. They did not wait for the auspicious time nor for pirith to be chanted. There were hundreds of little hands and little feets in little boots moving thing around and giving a hand to the humanity. Where do we stand on this? Did anyone helped our own when floods after floods hits our Dhammadweepa. Answer is Big NO. Because they were sinners.

    Start now, walk now, and do now. If you start now, you will go somewhere! Had enough of talking and preaching the glory! Buddha was my Guru, my beloved teacher, my wise man. I follow his wisdom, not his rocket science. I hardly know any temples here. But I ‘walk’ every second of my life as my fingers do the walking now. That will take me somewhere for you all to comment. That is called wisdom which my Loving Guru, Wisest man on earth, taught me.

    I copy this for you all to read; this is for every second, every minute, every day, every week and till the end of time.

    The greatest achievement is selflessness.

    The greatest worth is self-mastery.

    The greatest quality is seeking to serve others.

    The greatest precept is continual awareness.

    The greatest medicine is the emptiness of everything.

    The greatest action is not conforming to the world’s ways.

    The greatest magic is transmuting the passions.

    The greatest generosity is non-attachment.

    The greatest goodness is a peaceful mind.

    The greatest patience is humility.

    The greatest effort is not concerned with results.

    The greatest meditation is a mind that lets go.

    The greatest wisdom is seeing through appearances.

    – Atiśha Dipankara Shrijnana – Bengali Buddhist Sage (980 – 1054 CE)

  3. SW Says:

    One can only change “self”; not ‘others’.

  4. Jayantha W Says:

    I fully agree with what Asoka Wickramasuriya says. It is refreshing to read a comment with such good ideas.

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