About

Trusting In Buddha is the blog of a Buddhist lay practitioner living in the UK. Reader comments are welcome and diverse opinions are encouraged. All comments will be held temporarily until approved, however, and inappropriate comments will be deleted. Examples of inappropriate comments include –

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What is Buddhism?

Buddhism is widely acknowledged as one of the world’s great religions [1] and is founded upon cosmological and soteriological doctrines that were written around 100 BCE. These teachings are attributed to an earlier itinerant holy man, Siddhatta Gotama, who wandered Northern India 2500 years ago preaching liberation from an endless suffering cycle of birth, death and rebirth (samsara). Today Gotama is still widely revered by followers as The Buddha: the self-awakened teacher of gods and humans.

Yet many Buddhists nowadays are denying their religious heritage. They see the Buddha as “just a man” who awakened to existence. They claim neither to have blind faith in the Buddha’s teachings nor to worship him as the followers of other religions worship their Gods. They insist that Buddhism isn’t a religion but a way of life, and they reject the abundance of myths and legends in the ancient scriptures as populist “corruptions” of the Buddha’s philosophy. This rationalisation of the Buddha and his teachings is a relatively recent trend in Buddhism’s long history and is reflected in many of the Buddhist commentaries and guides that one is likely to find in bookshops and on the internet.

Of course, one only has to look at the history of religions and media news reports to understand why Buddhists who are committed to free rational enquiry, non-violence, and peace of mind might want to distance themselves from anything religious. This new wave of “Protestant Buddhism” can be traced back to 19th and 20th century modernist and anti-colonial sentiments of political and religious elites within countries like Sri Lanka and Burma, who were keen to forge new national identities founded upon democratic and scientific ideals.  In Britain, Europe, and America, there has been an increasing demand for a spirituality that is compatible with humanist values and Buddhist teachers around the globe have obliged with non-religious interpretations of ancient doctrines. But anyone who claims to follow the Buddha must eventually acknowledge what the ancient scriptures really say about him and refrain from making excuses.

The whole point of Buddhist practice is “knowledge and vision of things as they really are”, for the sake of liberation from delusion, aversion and craving. The fact is the earliest known Buddhist scriptures – the Tipitaka or collected doctrines of the Pali Canon, commonly cited as evidence for an historical buddha – are full of religiosity. [2] Within the realm of religious studies at least, it’s understood that a doctrinal belief in some or other deity doesn’t by itself constitute a religion. The word “religion” is conventionally applied to a communal system having a distinctly recognisable infrastructure of scriptures, shrines, rituals, ethics, and organisations dedicated to the supernatural or transcendental. It’s in this wider sense of the word that Buddhism qualifies as a religion alongside Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism, for example.

Why Trust the Buddha?

“Suffering, as a noble truth, is this: Birth is suffering, ageing is suffering, sickness is suffering, death is suffering, sorrow and lamentation, pain, grief and despair are suffering; association with the loathed is suffering, dissociation from the loved is suffering, not to get what one wants is suffering…” – The Buddha [3]

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The idea of an omniscient, loving creator has never sat well with me. Try as I might, I just can’t reconcile the existence of an entity said to be personally responsible for the existence of predators and prey in a universe of unceasing creation and destruction, and I’ve yet to hear a convincing justification for such a state of affairs from any of the world’s religious representatives.  Not sitting well with me either is the opposite extreme view of a random and meaningless universe emerging from nothing; this is the current orthodoxy frequently championed by humanist scientists and philosophers, who appear not to notice the irony when they speak so eloquently on the beauty of nature and humankind’s progressive mastery of it.

Such arrogance on both sides is all the more striking when compared against the Buddha’s humility.  So far as I know, the Buddha was unique among spiritual leaders in refusing to speculate on the origins of the universe.  In the ‘Aggi-Vacchagotta Sutta’ (Majjhima Nikaya 72), for example, the Buddha refrains from answering metaphysical questions like, is the cosmos eternal or infinite? Are body and soul the same or different? Does an enlightened being exist after death or not? When pressed, the Buddha explains that any answer to these and other such questions would necessarily be speculative and result not in peaceful awakening but in confusion and suffering.  [4]

The Buddha’s claim that all sentient beings experience suffering resonates loud and clear. One could spend a lifetime reading all that has been written on what the Buddha thought and taught, but for me it’s enough to see that stresses and anxieties arise from deluded attachments, and freedom from suffering lies in relinquishing all that I wrongly cherish.  The very fact that body and mind, wealth and status, friends and relatives, etc. are all impermanent means they are beyond my control, not belonging to me, not my true ‘self’. But my ingrained habit is to cling to these things in the erroneous belief that they can insulate me from the vagaries of an uncertain world. Deluded clinging leads to unskillful action that perpetuates suffering.

Old habits die hard. Meditation doesn’t actually suppress or get rid of the primal urges (arousal, fear, aggression, hunger, etc.) that have resulted in each and every one of us being here right now. However, meditation does enable a more wholesome way of relating to these entirely natural energies by breaking down the culturally conditioned responses and deeply rooted attachments of a lifetime. The Buddha’s cure for suffering – the Noble Eigtfold Path – can still feel counterintuitive after almost a decade of practicing, but the benefits are tangible and doubts arise more often than not from misconceptions or misrepresentations of the suttas.

Early followers of the Buddha adopted the custom of taking “refuge” in Buddha (the enlightened one; the inspiration for practice), dhamma (the teachings of Buddha; the way things actually are) and Sangha (the community of ordained monks and nuns; everyone who has studied and practiced to the point of developing trust or confidence in the Buddha – i.e. “Stream-enterers”). All three are traditionally referred to as the “Triple Gem” and viewed as equally important. [5]

My experience is that trust or confidence in the Buddha develops gradually as one practices awareness of Dhamma. Going for refuge isn’t a matter of offering prayers to the Buddha and expecting him to grant salvation.  Trusting in Buddha is nothing at all to do with blind faith or unfounded belief in dogmas. Trusting in Buddha is an attitude of patient acceptance through mindfulness of reality, here and now.  Trusting in Buddha is trusting intuitive awareness more and relying less on personality beliefs, cultural conventions, or over-thinking, to resolve life issues.

Paul Lockey

 

May there be freedom from delusion, greed and hatred.
May all noble dreams come true.

emo1

_______________________

Notes

[1] See also Religion in Wikipedia.

[2] See for example, ‘Mythology, Cosmology & Rituals In Early Buddhism’ by Paul Lockey, Trusting In Buddha, 3 November 2017.

[3]  “Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta: Setting Rolling the Wheel of Truth” (SN 56.11), translated from the Pali by Ñanamoli Thera. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 13 June 2010.

[4] The Buddha saw no beginning or end to the cosmos, just a continuous cycle of death and rebirth on the micro and macro scales. In the ‘Agganna Sutta’ (DN 27) the Buddha does, however, describe the origins of planet Earth and human beings. A superficial reading of this sutta might lead one to assume that the Buddha is contradicting himself, but it’s worth remembering that he wasn’t renowned for being inconsistent or contrary. The Buddha was reputed to be a skilled teacher who would discern the minds of his disciples and instruct them accordingly. His teachings are all about liberation from suffering and were given to people with different spiritual abilities.

[5] “Refuge: An Introduction to the Buddha, Dhamma, & Sangha”, by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 30 November 2013.