Buddhism is rational and practical.Buddha did not encourage people asking irrelevant and unprofitable questions.His main teaching seems to be,“Be good and do good.” “Lead a life which would confer peace,joy and harmony. Do not waste precious time in futile talk.”
Buddha's teaching led to some misunderstanding about some points.
1.Buddha did not believe in the existence of God
The truth is Buddha did not encourage talk about God.He neither denied nor affirmed God, he simply kept mum on questions about God. Buddha observed that most of the people talking their heads off about God have no intention of either loving or realising Him; they merely love to talk. From Buddha's point of view this is idle talk, a waste of time. Buddha always pointed out that the goal of life is the realization of the only reality which he called Nirvana.
2.Nirvana is a state of nothingness,total annihilation
This is not correct.Nirvana is neither a state of total annihilation nor emptiness (shunyata). Nirvana is indescribable, inexpressible. No creature ever desires annihilation, much less strives to
attain it. Every living being hopes to live and to be happy.
Buddha says of Nirvana:“I attained in experience the Nirvana which is unborn, unrivalled, secure from attachment, undecaying and unstained.This condition is indeed reached by me which is deep, difficult to see, difficult to understand, tranquil, excellent, beyond the reach of mere logic, subtle, and to be realised only by the wise.”
After all Buddha was a student of the Upanishadic tradition. He talked nothing but pure Vedanta. What he called Nirvana is nothing but what the Upanishads call Brahman and equally inexpressible. Hence he refused to talk about Brahman. Instead he pointed out what the Hindus call maya or self or egotism, and the way to get rid of it and realise one’s true nature. Swami Vivekananda said, “Each soul is potentially divine.” Buddha said, “Each soul is a potential Buddha.” His teachings are meant to help one manifest his or her Buddha nature, i.e. divine nature.
3.That Buddhism is merely a religion of morality.
Many consider Buddhism as a religion of morality only.
This is not correct. Morality or righteous living is a required foundation for the attainment of Nirvana i.e., realisation of one’s true nature. Buddha was a strong believer in the law of karma. He used to say that the results of our actions follow our footsteps just as the wheels of a cart follow the footsteps of the oxen. Morality is unavoidable if an individual or a society desires peace, joy and harmony. Any violation of moral law brings on its retribution sooner or later.
Since most people desire only worldly happiness, Buddha prescribed a course of moral conduct; for only meritorious actions can bring happiness to an individual or a society. But for those whose understanding is deeper, and hence desire to go beyond the wheel of transmigration, Buddha advocates a series of spiritual disciplines that can confer the blessing of Nirvana.
Buddha preached his first sermon at Sarnath after his attainment of perfect knowledge in his thirty-fifth year. Buddha was Love and Perfect Wisdom personified. He was a dynamic personality. Out of compassion for humanity he did not cease preaching until he passed away at the ripe age of eighty. Having attained illumination, the Buddha gave forth a joyful utterance in the following words: “I have been looking for the builder of this tabernacle (i.e.this my body, the prison-house of the senses) for long. But now,O you maker of the tabernacle! you have been found out (by me) and you will not (be able to) build this tabernacle again. All your rafters are broken and your ridge-pole is sundered. My mind, being free from predispositions, has attained the extinction of all desires, Nirvana.”
Nirvana is the destruction of all cravings and desires. It is desire or craving which leads to the building of the body, binding it to the wheel of existences. Once desires are dead in us, (the ‘self’ in us) we become free from future births.
In his very first sermon at Saranath Buddha taught the Four Noble Truths about Life which alone lead the way to Nirvana or illumination.This was what Buddha taught:
“The first noble truth is the existence of sorrow. Birth is sorrowful, growth is sorrowful, illness is sorrowful, and death is sorrowful.
“The second noble truth is the cause of suffering. The cause of suffering is desire.
“The third noble truth is the cessation of sorrow. He who conquers self will be free from desire.
“The fourth noble truth is the eightfold path that leads to the cessation of sorrow.
“The eightfold path is (1)right views; (2)right aspirations; (3)right speech; (4)right behaviour; (5)right way of earning a livelihood; (6)right efforts; (7)right thoughts; and (8)right contemplation.This is the dharma.This is the truth.This is religion.
“He who recognises the existence of suffering, its cause, its remedy, and its cessation, has fathomed the four noble truths. “He will walk in the right path. Right views will be the torch to light his way. Right aspirations will be his guide. Right speech will be his dwelling-place on the road. His gait will be straight, for it is right behaviour. His refreshments will be the right way of earning his livelihood. Right efforts will be his steps; right thoughts his breath; and right contemplation will give him the peace that follows in his footprints.”
(To be continued) Swami Dayatmananda
Editorial from Vedanta Magazine
Sept - Oct 2010