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The Buddhist attitude of mind

This article is my personal note from Chapter 1 in What the Lord Buddha Taught, written by Dr. W. Rahula.

The book has been translated into many languages since 1959. It was first published in Thailand in 1990 by Haw Trai Foundation.

Among the founders of religions, our Lord Buddha was the only teacher who did not claim to be other than a simple human being. The Lord Buddha claimed no inspiration from any God or external power either. He attributed all his realisation, attainments and achievements to human endeavour and human intelligence. A man and only a man can become a Buddha.

The freedom of thought allowed by the Lord Buddha is unheard of elsewhere in the history of religions. This freedom is necessary because man's emancipation depends on his own realisation of Truth, and not on the benevolent grace of a God or any external power as a reward for his obedient good behaviour.

According to the Lord Buddha's teachings, doubt is one of the five Hindrances to the clear understanding of Truth and to spiritual progress. The Five Hindrances (Nivarana 5) are (1) sensual desire, (2) ill-will, (3) sloth & torpor, (4) restlessness & worry, and (5) doubt. As long as there is doubt, spiritual progress is impossible. Lord Buddha was always eager to dispel doubts. Even just a few minutes before his death, Lord Buddha requested his disciples several times to ask him if they had any doubts about his teaching. But all the disciples were silent.

The question has often been asked: Is Buddhism a religion or a philosophy? It does not matter what you call it. Buddhism remains what it is whatever label you may put on it. The label is immaterial. Even the label "Buddhism," which we give to the teaching of the Buddha is of little importance. The name one gives it is inessential. "What's in a name? That which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet." In the same way, Truth needs no label; it is neither Buddhist, Christian, Hindu nor Moslem. It is not the monopoly of anybody. Sectarian labels are a hindrance to the independent understanding of Truth, and they produce harmful prejudices in men's minds.

Almost all religions are built on faith - rather "blind" faith it would seem. In Buddhism, emphasis is laid on "seeing, knowing, understanding," and not on faith, or belief. We have a word, saddha, which is usually translated as "faith" or "belief." In the real meaning, "saddha" is not faith as such, but rather "confidence" born out of conviction. However, in ordinary usage in the texts, the word "saddha" has an element of faith in the sense that it signifies devotion to the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha.

Buddhism invites you to "come and see," not to come and believe.

Asked by the young Brahmin to explain the idea of maintaining or protecting truth, the Buddha said: 'A man has a faith, If he says, "This is my faith," so far he maintains truth. But by that he cannot proceed to the absolute conclusion: "This alone is Truth, and everything else is false." 'In other words, a man may believe what he likes, and he may say 'I believe this.' So far he respects truth. But because of his belief or faith, he should not say that what he believes is alone the Truth, and everything else is false.

To be attached to one thing and to look down upon other things as inferior - the wise men call a fetter.

The Buddha was not interested in discussing unnecessary metaphysical questions, which are purely speculative and which create imaginary problems. He considered them "wilderness of opinions." However, there were some among his own disciples who did not appreciate this attitude of his. One disciple went to the Lord Buddha and asked him the ten well-known classical questions:

  1. 1. Is the universe eternal or
  2. 2. is it not eternal,
  3. 3. is the universe finite, or
  4. 4. is it infinite,
  5. 5. is soul the same as body, or
  6. 6. is soul one thing and body another thing,
  7. 7. does the Tathagata exist after death, or
  8. 8. does he not exist after death, or
  9. 9. does he both (at the same time) not exist and not exist after death, or
  10. 10. does he both (at the same time) not exist and not not-exist.

The disciple said: "These problems the Blessed One does not explain to me, I do not appreciate it. If the Blessed One explains them to me, then I will continue to follow the holy life under him. If he does not explain them, I will leave the Order and go away."

The Buddha asked if he ever told the disciple to come and lead the holy life under the Blessed One and the Blessed One would explain these questions. The disciple said NO. The Lord asked if the disciple ever told him he would lead the holy life under the Blessed One, and the Blessed One would explain these questions." The answer is still NO.

The Lord Buddha said: ' Suppose a man is wounded by a poisoned arrow, and his friends and relatives bring him to a surgeon. Suppose the man should then say: "I will not let this arrow be taken out until I know who shot me. I will not let this arrow be taken out until I know the kind of bow with which I was shot; the kind of bowstring used; the type of arrow; what sort of feather was used on the arrow and with what kind of material the point of the arrow was made." That man would die without knowing any of these things. Even so, if anyone says: "I will not follow the holy life under the Blessed One until he answers these questions such as whether the universe is eternal or not, etc., " he would die with these questions unanswered by the Tathagata.'

Of what I have known, I have told you only a little, what I have not told you is very much more. And why have I not told you? Because that is not useful.. not leading to Nirvana. That is why I have not told you those things. Then what have I explained? I have explained dukkha, the arising of dukkha, the cessation of dukkha, and the way leading to the cessation of dukkha. Why have I explained them? Because it is useful, is fundamentally connected with the spiritual holy life, is conducive to aversion, detachment, cessation, tranquillity, deep penetration, full realisation, Nirvana. Therefore I have explained them. (The words of our Lord Buddha)

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