The Buddha is my teacher
The Buddha is my teacher—He guides my life
Professor Dhammavihari Thera
Namo = My adoration Tassa Bhagavato Arahato = to the Buddha who is the Worthy One
Samma Sambuddhassa = who is the Fully Enlightened One.
Say these words thrice with awareness, understanding and conviction at least every morning before you start the day.
Dear parents and children. The Buddha, we say, is supreme, i. e. the Buddha is the greatest » of human beings in our world of thinking. He excelled all humans and became transcendental or lokuttara. He guides our lives, yours and mine. He shows us the way to live as good and noble human beings and prevents us from falling into bad ways of life. He helps us to get the best results out of our lives, here and now. He does so to everyone who comes to him and is willing to be corrected. And he offers this guidance to anyone, anywhere in the world: to rich people and the poor, to the mighty and the weak, to the wise and even to the less wise, without any discrimination about race or religion. He has no chosen people whom he promises to save or favor in particular.
The Buddha lived in this world, to be more precise in India, more than two thousand five hundred years ago. He became the Buddha or Enlightened one at the age of thirty-five having left home at the age of twenty-nine, in search of peace for mankind. He had to work very hard, all by himself, to get to this stage. He knew what he wanted. His departure from household life in the world was truly a journey of adventure [anuttaram santivarapadam pariyesamano].
He saw the people of the world having to face many problems like disease, old age and death, of losing friends and making enemies, of not being able to keep what they acquire. Qu`A6ck and unexpected changes of gain and loss disturbed people very much. So did variations of praise and blame, honor and insults. The Buddha’s search for Enlightenment was to put an end to all these changes which beset us and which we are not very happy to face. Work hard and you will get what you need. Diligence and intelligence will deliver to you what you are looking for.
After his Enlightenment, the Buddha knew that he had something very valuable to give to the world. He lived another forty-five years, going on foot from town to town, from village to village, delivering his message of peace and good will, leading people to happiness in this very life and to a more blissful one in the life after, leading to ultimate liberation in Nirvana.
So in our hearts and in our homes, the Buddha as our Teacher and our Guide shall come to occupy a permanent place of reverence and residence. For the entire duration of our lives’ he shall be a permanent pace-setter within us. When the calm and peace which we should strive to maintain within us come to be disturbed by storms of anger, jealousy and rivalry, or when our inner fragrance of moral goodness and loving kindness is made foul and awfully stinking with bitterness and hatred, it is the presence of the Buddha whom we have respectfully installed and enthroned within us who should warn us against such impending disasters.
It is our convinced awareness of his presence within us, and our being sensitive to the great qualities of love and benevolence which his presence would radiate all the time that would enable us to avert and tide over such disasters. It is vitally important that first the parents should understand and be convinced of these aspects of Buddhism and only thereafter endeavor to transmit them to their children.
Therefore let the presence of the Buddha in our midst be proudly admitted by installing an attractive statue or a picture of the Buddha in the home. Please do not lock him up in a glass cabinet together with other curios and family pictures. It should be in a place and position by itself, commanding from all members of the household absolute veneration and admiration. All other decorative commonplace pictures done by all manner of artists, picked up at the market place for larger or smaller sums of money, must necessarily occupy a second place.
Everybody in the home must feel the presence of the Buddha in their home and his presence must be respected and revered. As a maximum expression of this respect, somebody in the home, preferably the mother or the father, as the leaders in the household, must place some fresh flowers in his presence every day. Begin your day with this. It may even be a single flower. But it must be daintily offered, delightfully arranged in a sensibly chosen appropriate container.
It is for this purpose that the Japanese people evolved the art of ikebana or flower arrangement and scored a first-ever at world level in that field. With your flower offerings to the Buddha you and your family must win a world score in artistic accomplishment. Let the lady of the house, young or old, make a start and pass this skill down the line to the children. Enhance the beauty of this offering with a light or two, lighting a delightfully selected lamp. These exercises are going to be much more rewarding in the life of growing up children than learning to swim or playing chess.
This loving and meaningful nearness to the Buddha which is brought about by his personal presence in your home is personal to you. It will make your life very much richer and the atmosphere in the home much more delightfully fragrant. Try it and you would be amazingly rewarded with love and harmony with everyone- around you. The Buddha has a reputation of having trodden in life the path of absolute correctness. There was none with whom he lost his temper. He swore no vengeance on those who offended him. He never kept to himself any right of revenge. Those who erred were never declared to be earning against him, but against themselves. On the Noble Eight-fold Path to liberation, he was always on the Correct Step which is always described as Samma. He was never on the wrong tract. It is for this reason that he is referred to by us even today as the Well-Gone one or Sugato. His knowledge and conduct went hand in hand. He practiced what he preached and preached what he practiced. So he was yathavadi ththa kari and yathakari ththavadi
May all beings be well and happy!
Ven. Narada Thera
The Island, Dec 8, 2003
Colombo, Sri Lanka — As long as this kammic force exists there is rebirth, for beings are merely the visible manifestation of this invisible kammic force. Death is nothing but the temporary end of this temporary phenomenon.
It is not the complete annihilation of this so-called being. The organic life has ceased, but the kammic force which hitherto actuated it has not been destroyed.
As the kammic force remains entirely undisturbed by the disintegration of
the fleeting body, the passing away of the present dying thought-moment
only conditions a fresh consciousness in another birth.
It is kamma, rooted in ignorance and craving, that conditions rebirth. Past kamma conditions the present birth; and present kamma, in combination with past kamma, conditions the future. The present is the offspring of the past, and becomes, in turn, the parent of the future.
If we postulate a past, present, and a future life, then we are at once faced with the alleged mysterious problem — « What is the ultimate origin of life? »
Either there must be a beginning or there cannot be a beginning for life.
One school, in attempting to solve the problem, postulates a first cause, God, viewed as a force or as an Almighty Being. Another school denies a first cause for, in common experience, the cause ever becomes the effect and the effect becomes the cause. In a circle of
cause and effect a first cause is inconceivable. According to the former,
life has had a beginning, according to the latter, it is beginningless.
From the scientific standpoint, we are the direct products of the sperm and ovum cells provided by our parents. As such life precedes life. With regard to the origin of the first protoplasm of life, or colloid, scientists plead ignorance.
According to Buddhism we are born from the matrix of action (kammayoni). Parents merely provide an infinitesimally small cell. As such being precedes being. At the moment of conception it is past kamma that conditions the initial consciousness that vitalizes the fetus. It is this invisible kammic energy, generated from the past birth that produces mental phenomena and the phenomenon of life in an already extant physical phenomenon, to complete the trio that constitutes man.
For a being to be born here a being must die somewhere. The birth of a being, which strictly means the arising of the five aggregates or psycho-physical phenomena in this present life, corresponds to the death of a being in a past life; just as, in conventional terms, the rising of the sun in one place means the setting of the sun in another place. This enigmatic statement may be better understood by imagining life as a wave and not as a straight line. Birth and death are only two phases of the same process. Birth precedes death, and death, on the other hand, precedes birth. The constant succession of birth and death in connection with each individual life flux constitutes what is technically known as Samsara – recurrent wandering.
What is the ultimate origin of life?
The Buddha declares: « Without cognizable end is this samsara. A first beginning of beings, who, obstructed by ignorance and fettered by craving, wander and fare on, is not to be perceived. »
This life-stream flows ad infinitum, as long as it is fed by the muddy waters of ignorance and craving. When these two are completely cut off, then only, if one so wishes, does the stream cease to flow, rebirth ends as in the case of the Buddhas and Arahants. An ultimate beginning of this life-stream cannot be determined, as a stage cannot be perceived when this life-force was not fraught with ignorance and craving.
The Buddha has here referred merely to the beginning of the life-stream of living beings. It is left to scientists to speculate on the origin and the evolution of the universe. The Buddha does not attempt to solve all the ethical and philosophical problems that perplex mankind. Nor does he deal with theories and speculations that tend neither to edification nor to enlightenment. Nor does he demand blind faith from his adherents. He is chiefly concerned with the problem of suffering and its destruction. With but this one practical and specific purpose in view, all irrelevant side issues are completely ignored.
But how are we to believe that there is a past existence?
The most valuable evidence Buddhists cite in favor of rebirth is the Buddha, for he developed a knowledge which enabled him to read past and future lives.
Following his instructions, his disciples also developed this knowledge and were able to read their past lives to a great extent. Even some Indian rishis, before the advent of the Buddha, were distinguished for such psychic powers as clairaudience, clairvoyance, thought-reading, remembering past births, etc.
There are also some persons, who probably in accordance with the laws of association, spontaneously develop the memory of their past birth, and remember fragments of their previous lives. Such cases are very rare, but those few well-attested, respectable cases tend to throw some light on the idea of a past birth. So are the experiences of some modern dependable psychics and strange cases of alternating and multiple personalities.
In hypnotic states some relate experiences of their past lives; while a few others, read the past lives of others and even heal diseases.
Sometimes we get strange experiences which cannot be explained but by rebirth. How often do we meet persons whom we have never met, and yet instinctively feel that they are quite familiar to us? How often do we visit places, and yet feel impressed that we are perfectly acquainted with those surroundings?
The Buddha tells us: « Through previous associations or present advantage, that old love springs up again like the lotus in the water. » Experiences of some reliable modern psychics, ghostly phenomena, spirit communications, strange alternating and multiple personalities and so on shed some light upon this problem of rebirth. Into this world come Perfect Ones like the Buddhas and highly developed personalities. Do they evolve suddenly? Can they be the products of a single existence?
How are we to account for great characters like Buddhaghosa, Panini, Kalidasa, Homer and Plato; men of genius like Shakespeare, infant prodigies like Pascal, Mozart, Beethoven, Raphael, Ramanujan, etc.?
Heredity alone cannot account for them. « Else their ancestry would disclose it, their posterity, even greater than themselves, demonstrate it. » Could they rise to such lofty heights if they had not lived noble lives and gained similar experiences in the past? Is it by mere chance that they are been born or those particular parents and placed under those favorable
The few years that we are privileged to spend here or, for the most five score years, must certainly be an inadequate preparation for eternity. If one believes in the present and in the future, it is quite logical to believe in the past. The present is the offspring of the past, and acts in turn as the parent of the future.
If there are reasons to believe that we have existed in the past, then surely there are no reasons to disbelieve that we shall continue to exist after our present life has apparently ceased.
It is indeed a strong argument in favor of past and future lives that « in this world virtuous persons are very often unfortunate and vicious persons prosperous. »
A Western writer says: « Whether we believe in a past existence or not, it forms the only reasonable hypothesis which bridges certain gaps in human knowledge concerning certain facts of everyday life. Our reason tells us that this idea of past birth and kamma alone can explain the degrees of difference that exist between twins, how men like Shakespeare with a very limited experience are able to portray with marvelous exactitude the most diverse types of human character, scenes and so forth of which they could have no actual knowledge, why the work of the genius invariably transcends his experience, the existence of infant precocity, the vast diversity in mind and morals, in brain and physique, in conditions, circumstances and environment observable throughout the world, and so forth. »
It should be stated that this doctrine of rebirth can neither be proved nor disproved experimentally, but it is accepted as an evidentially verifiable fact.
The cause of this kamma, continues the Buddha, is avijja or ignorance of the Four Noble Truths. Ignorance is, therefore, the cause of birth and death; and its transmutation into knowingness or vijja is consequently their cessation.
The result of this analytical method is summed up in the Paticca Samuppada (Dependent Arising).
Buddhism and Psychology
The South Asian tradition was the earliest civilizational tradition to observe and study mental processes. The beginnings of this were in the Vedic literature going back to around 2000 B.C. It got a major fillip as the center of Indic civilization shifted to the Ganges in the Upanishad era around the period 7th to 8th C B.C. When Jainism and Buddhism arrived in the 6th C B.C, very sophisticated discussions on the mind and mental processes emerged. Greek thought which emerged around the 5th C B.C had also some discussions on the mind. But these, in comparison with South Asian thought, they were elemental.
After the Christian thousand years descended on Europe from the 4th C to around the 14th C, Europe sank into superstition and ignorance, the Dark Ages. It was only with the advent of the Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution from the 16th and 17th centuries that Europe got out of its slumber. But even here the Church’s dogma reigned and the principal philosopher of the time Descartes separated mind and matter as two separated worlds. This was convenient leaving the mind and the mental to a non-existent God while scientists like Newton could concentrate in understanding the physical world.
In the meantime, South Asian discussions continued in their sophisticated path. Buddhism especially charted new areas of exploration of the mind and human behavior. Abhidhamma developed sophisticated theories and practices. The Sinhalese Theravada tradition became one of the great centers for the study of the mind as any objective comparative study reveals.
We became one of the major hubs of philosophical and psychological discourse. We developed valid descriptions of human behavior based on careful observation. And in our discourse, there is no artificial division between mind and matter, both are intertwined.
Real discussions on psychology in Europe comparable with South Asian discussions however had to wait till the 19th C and early 20th C. Those like William James are still considered as important, but once highly regarded figures like Freud and Jung are today considered no better than kattadiyas.
Western psychology has really developed only in the last 50 years using not only overt behaviors but going to the molecular levels for behavior substrates. And in the last twenty years, there has been a major interaction between some Western psychology and Buddhist thought. It is aspects of this we record here.
Incidentally as the West distanced itself from Freud, Sri Lankan anthropologists like Gananath Obeysekera used the soiled Freudian techniques to distort Sinhalese and Buddhist behaviour. They distorted and lied. The extent of misinformation is indicated when Obeysekera called Anathapindika (the greatest philanthropist in Buddha’s time and benefactor of the Buddha), the Buddha’s great physician.
Varela, an important author in cognitive sciences, stated: « It is our contention that the rediscovery of Asian philosophy, particularly of the Buddhist tradition, is a second renaissance in the cultural history of the West, with the potential to be equally important as the rediscovery of Greek thought in the European renaissance ».
How far this may be true is for the future to decide. However, a strategic alliance of Buddhist approaches, and aspects of Western knowledge in psychology is probably in the making.