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and Śūnyatā in the Early and Developed
Vietnamese translation: Bồ tát và Tánh không trong kinh tạng Pāli và Đại thừa
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Why the Topic
Man has forgotten that he has a heart. He forgets that if he treats the world kindly, the world will treat him kindly in return.
Today, the definition of development and growth has to be revised. The society is supposed to be more civilized though everybody has become lonelier, more worried, tensed and afraid of uncertainty. Science has made it possible to produce more in quality and quantity both but more number of people go to bed with empty stomach, more number of people die without medicine, more number of children are working and lesser going to school. Human race is more aware of the consequence of environmental degradation, pollution etc. but the defense investment on nuclear tests have increased, number of vehicles produced and used have increased, the area of jungle is coming down drastically. In one line it can be said that the world is full of contradictions.
In an era of satellite-communication and advanced technology, man having made great strides in the scientific domain can solve many material problems, but has left unsolved those related to sufferings, sickness, poverty, dissention, hatred, jealousy, doubt and war. Trevor Ling in his famous book Buddha, Marx and God1 expressed that the Western people have created enormous material wealth, but they have also killed off millions of human beings in periodic outbursts of mass violence which they dignified by the name of war, at the same time as well as may be this is the first time in human history, human have to face the threat of extinction of the human race and of all life on this planet by the nuclear-war and others.
And today we have come to believe that our society as a whole finds itself in a great crisis. We can read about its numerous manifestations every day in the newspapers. We face high inflation and unemployment, we have an energy crisis, a crisis in health care, pollution and other environmental disaster, a rising wave of violence and crime, and so on. We are living in a globally interconnected world, in which biological, psychological, social and environmental phenomena are all interdependent. And the present day we find ourselves in a state of profound, world-wide crisis. It is a complex, multi-dimensional crisis whose facets touch every aspect of our lives-our health and livelihood, the quality of our environment and our social relationships, our economy, technology, and politics. Or in other expression, we can be able to say that in this era humanity is primarily faced with problems such as war, increasing population, degrading the environment, collapsing the morals, exchanging the West and East thoughts, for running fast to modern world...
The Crisis of the War
Fritjof Capra, the best-selling author of The Tao of Physic and in The Turning Point2 declared about the crisis of war that men have stockpiled of thousands of nuclear weapons, enough to destroy the entire world several times over and the arms race continues at undiminished speed. In November 1978, while the United States and the Soviet Union were completing their second round of talks on the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaties, the Pentagon launched its most ambitious nuclear weapons production program in two decades; two years later this culminated in the biggest military boom in history: a five-year defense budget of 1,000 billion dollars. The costs of this collective nuclear rue are staggering.
In the meantime more than fifteen million people - most of them children - die of starvation each year; another 500 million are seriously undernourished. Almost 40 percent of the world’s population has no access to professional health services; yet developing countries spend more than three times as much on armaments as on health care. 35 percent of humanity lacks safe drinking water, while half of its scientists and engineers are engaged in the technology of making weapons.
The threat of nuclear war is the greatest danger humanity is facing today. ...The 360 nuclear reactors now operating worldwide, and the hundreds more planned, have become a major threat to our well being.3
As a matter of fact, nowadays, the world is divided into people of various ideologies; with their power-blocs, who devote most of their minds and energies to the sterile, negative, cruel business of wars. The world cannot have peace till men and nations renounce selfish desires, give up racial arrogance and cleanse themselves of the egotistical lust for possession and power. Ideology divides, it brings about conflict. Ideology takes multifarious forms - political, religious, economic, social and educational. Ideology is an escape from reality. It brutalizes man and holds him in bondage to fanaticism and violence.
In consequences, the belief that the only way to fight force is by applying more force has led to the arms race between the great powers. And this competition to increase the weapons of war has brought man to the very brink of total self-destruction. If we do nothing about it, the next war will be the end of the world where there will be neither victors nor victims-only dead bodies.
We should be conscious that what harm is there if we settle our problems and bring peace and happiness by adopting this cultured method and by sacrificing our dangerous pride.
When the United Nations was formed after the horrors of the Second World War, the heads of Nations who gathered to sign the charter agreed that it should begin with the following preamble:
"Since it is in the minds of men that wars begin, it is in the minds of men the ramparts of peace should be erected".4
The Crisis of Increasing Population
There is really no ground to think that this is the only period in which the population of the world has increased. There is no means of comparison with any period of ancient history. Vast civilizations existed and have disappeared in Central Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Ancient America. No census figures on these civilizations are even remotely available. Population, as everything else in the universe, is subject to cycles of rise and fall. In cycles of alarming increases of birth rate, one might be consequently tempted to argue against rebirth in this or other worlds. For the last few thousands years, there has been no evidence to prove that there were more people in some parts of the world than there are today. The number of beings existing in various world systems is truly infinite.
One of the principal reasons of this crisis is the human’s passion as Ven. K. Sri Dhammananda in the book What Buddhists believe pointed out the main its cause of increasing population is the sex conduct or sense craving and he has given resolve for this problem that:
"Population can further increase unless sensible people take measures to control it."5
Hence, the credit or responsibility of increasing the population almost must be given to over enjoyment in sex not knowing another knowledge or healthy entertainment available. This credit or responsibility of increasing population cannot be allotted to any particular religion or any external sources, as there is a belief among certain people that human beings are created by God. Thus, those who believe that god created everything, why so much suffering to his own creatures such as poverty, unhappiness, war, hunger, disease, famine...all unfortunate occurrences that destroy human lives are not due to the will of god or to the whim of some devil instead of why cannot he control the population?6
The Crisis of Degrading Environment
Another reason of the fact makes the hearts of many shudder that is the disasters suffered by people all over the world in recent past. It is proved that now nature herself is letting her fury against man in self-defense in the form of floods, droughts, earthquakes, volcanoes... this has resulted in the destruction of various kinds of flora and fauna making the environment polluted and the future of the planet earth itself unsafe.
As we know, the current environmental crisis is owing to environmental pollutions: air, water, earth pollutions which are caused by atomic tests, chemical arms tests, by poisonous gas emitted from engineering factories, and by the fast increase of above world population, etc.
The term pollution is defined by the Environmental Pollution Panel of the President’s Science Advisory Committee held in November, 1965 in its report: Restoring the Quality of Our Environment, as follows:
"Environmental pollution is the unfavorable alteration of our surroundings, wholly or largely as a by - product of man’s actions, through direct or indirect effects of changes in energy patterns, radiation levels, chemical and physical constitution and abundances of organisms. These changes may affect man directly, or through his supplies of water and of agricultural and other biological products, his physical objects or possessions, or his opportunities for recreation and appreciation of nature".7
Mentioning the problem of Nuclear energy, the well-known physicist Fritjof Capra said that:
"The radioactive elements released by nuclear reactors are the same as those making up the fallout of atomic bombs. Thousands of tons of these toxic materials have already been discharged into the environment by nuclear explosions and reactor spills. As they continue to accumulate in the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the water we drink, our risk of developing cancer and genetic diseases continues to increase. The most toxic of these radioactive poisons, plutonium, is itself fissionable, which means that it can be used to build atomic bombs. Thus nuclear power and nuclear weapons are inextricably linked, being but different aspects of the same threat to humankind. With their continued proliferation, the likelihood of global extinction becomes greater every day".8
For water and food pollution, Fritjof Capra added:
"The water we drink and the food we eat, both are contaminated by a wide variety of toxic chemicals. In the United States synthetic food additives, pesticides, plastics and other chemicals are marketed at a rate currently estimated at a thousand new chemical compounds a year. As a result, chemical poisoning has become an increasing part of our affluent life. Moreover, the threats to our health through the pollution of air, water and food are merely the most obvious, direct effects of human technology on the natural environment. Less obvious but possible far more dangerous effects have been recognized only recently and are still not fully understood".9
Moreover, the exorbitant use of petroleum has led to heavy tanker traffic with frequent collisions, in which huge amounts of oil are spilled into the seas. These spilled oils have not only polluted the shores and beaches of Europe, but are also seriously disrupting the marine food cycles and thus creating ecological hazards that are still poorly understood. The generation of electricity from coal is even more hazardous and more polluting than energy production from oil. Underground mining causes severe damage to miners’ health, and strip mining creates conspicuous environmental consequences, since the mines are generally abandoned once the coal is exhausted, with huge areas of land left devastated. The worst damage of all, both to the environment and to human health, comes from the burning of coal. Coal-burning plants emit vast quantities of smoke, ash, gases and various organic compounds, many of which are known to be toxic or carcinogenic. The most dangerous of the gases is sulfur dioxide which can severely impair the lungs. Another pollutant released in the burning of coal is nitrogen oxide, which is also the main ingredient in air pollution from automobiles. A single coal-burning plant can emit as much nitrogen oxide as several hundred thousands cars...At the heart of the problem, as usual, lies ecological shortsightedness and corporate men’s overwhelming greed.
In the Los Angeles, according to a statement by sixty faculty members of the University of California Medical School mentioned that: ‘Air pollution has now become a major health hazard to most of this community during much of the year’.10 This continual pollution of the air not only affects humans but also upsets ecological systems. It injures and kills plants, and these changes in plant life can induce drastic changes in animal populations that depend on the plants.
And they declared that even discounting the threat of a nuclear catastrophe, the global ecosystem and the further evolution of life one earth are seriously endangered and may well end in a large-scale ecological disaster. Over-population and industrial technology have contributed in various ways to a severe degradation of the nature environment upon which we are completely dependant. As a result, our health and well-being are seriously endangered.
This has become clear and firm that our technology is severely disturbing, and may even be destroying, the ecological systems upon which our very existence depends and we can imagine how dangerous the current environmental pollution on earth is! There is neither security nor justice to be universally found. Uncertainty and insecurity have become almost a universal curse. The ‘Conquest of nature’ has not succeeded in achieving either plenty or peace. And this pollution must be evident result of the modem scientific civilization with its fast and uncontrolled; development of industries and economics. This civilization, in its turn, is the result of a very high development of self- thought, way of thinking and enjoying pleasures. So, the main causes of the great environmental crisis which is being warned are desire and ignorance of man.
The Crisis of Human Moral
One of the controversies which is quite heated in the West, specially in the United State today concerns the collapsing moral.
It is true that the developed countries marched forward fast to satisfy their ambitions to bring the prosperous richness through the advancement of all their computer-space-scientific-technological accomplishments, however these were the societies which claimed to be sane, though well-documented studies have shown that these very societies have been sick and inflicted by extremely high rates of suicide, homicide, gang, gambling, marijuana, cocaine, alcoholism and the forms of debaucheries etc. Increasing affluence was accompanied by increasing numbers of alcoholics, suicides... and breathtaking advantages of science and technology have destroyed the solid moorings of a more stable way of life, which had its own ethical character... Moral education in industrial societies is disregarded. Most of the people only attach great importance on how to acquire more money. They measure individual value by how much money each one has obtained regardless of the means. In socialist countries where arbitrariness, dogmatism, individualism, and factionalism prevail, the welfare of the majority of the population being despotic and in the minority, is discarded; all economic resources are in the hands of those who hold power. Both above tendencies give prominence to materialistic value, transforming men into machines for production and gratification without ideal and moral. 10
In other words, these countries which are supposed to be ‘the most democratic, peaceful, and prosperous’ are becoming increasingly afflicted with dangerous ailments. Commenting on the book The Sane Society, a famous American psychologist, Erich Fromm, he maintains that a plain picture of society related more particularly to the United States than to European countries. But the social trend in the latter was towards the American situation, in reality.11
Erich Fromm has made an important point to confirm it that:
"Control by the intellect over nature, and the production of more and more things, became the paramount aims of life. In this process man has transformed himself into thing, life has become subordinated to property, "to be" is dominated by "to have". Where the roots of Western culture, both Greek and Hebrew, considered the aim of life the perfection of man, modem man is concerned with the perfection of things, and knowledge of how to make them."12
And Fromm came to conclude that the United States, which is the most prosperous and materially the most advanced, showed the greatest degree of decrepitude.13
As far as the human psychology is concerned, in the face of these increasing difficulties, men do feel more and more anxious, skeptical and therefore tend to forget it by hastening to enjoy life and kill themselves in alcoholism, drug, homicide and suicide etc. It is very logical of Eric Fromm that despite increase in production, facilities, technology, science... in West, in fact the happiness of westerners merely leans on the illusion of full of material and money, then day by day men lose themselves and feel too purpose, void, lonely that they lament agonizingly that in the twentieth century, the burning problem is human was dead.14
It is no doubt that the crisis of war, increasing population, and degrading environment generate the danger for all our living in this earth and make the moral degeneration lead to social crises of various sorts. Terrorists attacks, wars, corruption, crime against children, women and elderly persons have made this world, indeed, a very unhappy and sad place to live and men became indifferent to everything taking place in the world. This indifference, hard and cruel paved the way for a life-style of ruthlessness, unfairness, and violence even how much science progresses but it can not handle as J. Krishnamurti in his well-known Education and the Signification of Life has written that:
"Technological progress does solve certain kinds of problems for some people at one level, but it introduces wider and deeper issue too. To live at one level, disregarding the total process of life, is to invite misery and destruction. The greatest need and most pressing problem for every individual is to have an integrated comprehension of life, which will enable him to meet its ever-increasing complexities.
Technical knowledge, however necessary, will in no way resolve our inner, psychological pressures and conflicts; and it is because we have acquired technical knowledge without understanding the total process of life that technology has become a means of destroying ourselves. The man who knows how to split the atom has no love in his heart and becomes a monster." 15
The Problem of Running Fast to Modern World
The world is moving so fast in modern times, almost with a kaleidoscopic speed. We find a radial transformation in all human activity and organizations that matter most in international situations. But there is no denying the fact that the achievements of science and technology have destroyed the solid moorings of a more stable way of life, which had its own ethical character, and cast large masses of men adrift in a strange and difficult world. The world is fast changing out of recognition.
It is true that the advances in civilization have brought emancipation to humanity and added greatly to the enrichment of our culture, such as it has widened our intellectual horizon but they have also made life very much complicated and troublesome at many levels.
The Matter of Exchanging the Western and Northern Thoughts
Achievement of the so-called ‘scientific-technological-civilization’ of the 21st century has made societies in the world which have been knitted together closer than ever before and made more responsive to men’s needs and demands. Specially with computer-space-scientific-technological accomplishes, the West and the East, the North and the South can be able to exchange each other about their thoughts, ideas as well at all levels of life in religion, politics, economics, societies, psychology, and culture... They are encountering and intermingling with each other in a scope and depth never experienced before to which in physicist Fritjof Capra’s words now often called a ‘paradigm shift’ - a profound change in the thoughts, perceptions and values that form a particular vision of reality and he has given short note of the history of thought exchange that:
"The paradigm that is now shifting has dominated our culture for several hundreds of years, during which it has shaped our modern Western society and has significantly influenced the rest of the world. This paradigm comprises a number of ideas, values that have been associated with various streams of Western culture, among them the Scientific Revolution, the Enlightenment, and the Industrial Revolution. They include the belief in the scientific method as the only valid approach to knowledge; the view of the universe as a mechanical system composed of elementary material building blocks; existence; and the belief in unlimited material progress to be achieved through economic and technological growth".16
The sociologist Pitirim Sorokin17 glosses over the modern paradigm shift as part of a consistent process, a regular fluctuation of value systems traceable in Western society. Sorokin has initiated a discussion on the transvaluation of values that has spared nothing in its orbit of social and cultural dynamism.
However, nowadays while the process of the transformation of mutual understanding one another among cultures is going on in some places, the integration of the world makes the multiplicity of human societies and ideologies more conspicuous, causing unprecedented tensions and antagonisms in all areas of life. The coming global age is producing dissension as well as the quest for a greater, more harmonious unity. The difference, opposition and conflict among various ideologies, value systems and ways of thinking become more and more conspicuous throughout the world. Every civilization or culture is structured round a variety of values, some of which are more primary than other, and proclaims a number of often divergent ideals. These values and ideals may differ even within the same culture at any one time according to the vagaries of geographical location or vary with time according to the predominant Zeitgeist.
Human societies which once maintained their own cultural and intellectual patterns are now being pulled together into one great rushing stream of world history, creating waves which slap and dash one against the other. The synchronization of global space by information and transportation technology requires that all people play their parts on the common stage of world history, and hopefully, come to some awareness of their roles in the drama. Nevertheless, only after divisions and oppositions have been overcome and a new spiritual horizon for humanity has been opened up shall we have a truly united destiny.
A clear, self-conscious realization of one world history will not be produced simply by forces working from without, such as the advancement of scientific technology, but will be the work of an innermost human spirituality.
How can we find a common spiritual basis in this pluralistic world without marring the unique characteristics of each of the cultural and spiritual traditions? This is also one of the urgent tasks humankind is now facing.
THE PROPOSED SOLUTION
The Responsibilities of the World
The crisis of man is so deep and appalling that it has affected all aspects of society in its relationships from the individual in his family and home to the community to which he belongs leaving no space on earth without risk of the irrevocable problems that threaten the very existence of such on earth. This encompasses many new conceptions of relationships and implications in society that permeate through global view of education that alone can curtail the narrowness of nationalism and chauvinism from which emanate the vicious circles spreading rancor, apartheid and biases smother the very best in us and in all the faiths and cultures which form the rich legacies of all the time. If we are to be peaceful to all others and ourselves we must discipline ourselves in a way that brings true happiness and peace.
To understand our multifaceted cultural crisis we need to adopt an extremely broad view and see our situation in the context of human cultural evolution. We have to shift our perspective to the better way.
The Tendency of the Religions
As we see that science and technology though having made great progress cannot transform the human mind. Science may solve immediate problems, it feeds more people so that there are more people to feed, it prolongs life but it also finds more effective means of destroying life. According to Robert F. Spencer in The Relation of Buddhism to Modern Science:
"Science, a view today, is nothing more than a method and to make a cult of it, to find in it the answer to problems and questions of the ultimate forms of human destiny, is rank error. It is making a dogma of science where no religious emotion or attitude are ever intended" .18
So, the scientific goal is material to satisfy human desire rather than spiritual to improve upon the human ethics and to resolve this obvious imbalance between science, technology, morality and spirit, it is no way more to return the background to philosophy of life as A. J. Toynbee expresses his idea that:
"I believe that a civilization’s style is the expression of its religion and that is, a civilization is decided by the quality of the religion on which it is based."19
It means a religion is the application for people’s spiritual needs and basis of a national culture as H. G. Wells has expounded that:
"Religion is the central part of our education that determines our moral conduct."20
or the famous German philosopher, Kant, stated that:
"Religion is the recognition of our moral principles as laws that must not be transgressed."21
And the Buddha’s message as a religious way of life:
"Not to do any evil, to cultivate good,
(Sabba pāpassa akaraṇam, kusalassa upasampadā
In a further view, we should understand that religion, if it is true religion, must take the whole of man as its province and not merely certain aspects of his life. The good man, i.e., the man who follows his religion, knows that there can be no happiness or peace on earth as long as there is poverty and starvation, injustice and oppression, discriminative legislation, racial segregation, social disabilities and inequalities, corroding fear, mutual distrust and suspicion. Self-respect without war with others is as necessary to happiness as food, and there can be no self-respect among those who do not have the opportunity to achieve the full stature of their manhood.
However, it is an undeniable fact that not all religions are useful and good for men. But a history is a witness when a certain religion succeeds to satisfy to one’s belief which may actually lead men to both physical and psychological state, religion exists and lives for long. The religious pluralism is also a remarkable cultural and religious phenomenon in our time and one of the important issues to be addressed by religious thinkers and writers of all traditions. Religious pluralism is an issue commonly challenging all religions in our era, but the degree of its seriousness and the manner of its challenge are not necessarily identical for all religions.
However, as far as the considerable difference between Christianity and Buddhism is concerned, it is worthwhile to mention that although in its early centuries Christianity confronted the problems of religious pluralism it has, in recent centuries, enjoyed a virtual religious monopoly in Europe and America. Only recently, with the collapse of the Europe-centered view of the world and the rapid development of international interaction in various fields of human life, have Christians come again to experience intensely the reality of religious pluralism. In this connection they have come to recognize the existence of non-Christian religions and the integrity of non-Christian systems of belief and values, not only in foreign lands, but in Europe and America as well. Hence, religious pluralism now appears to many Christians to be a serious challenge to the monotheistic character of Christianity.
On the other hand, Buddhism, throughout its long history, has existed and spread throughout Asia within a religiously pluralistic situation: in India, it coexisted with Brahmanism, Jainism and many diverse forms of Hinduism; in China with Confucianism and Taoism; and in Japan with Shinto and Confucianism. Thus, to most Buddhists the experience of ‘religious pluralism’ has not been the serious shock it has been to most Christians.23
And in the connection to resolve the problem of above imbalance in religions, societies, economics..., Albert Einstein – the most distinguished scientist in the Relative Theory of the twentieth century- advised that it is quite wise if we know how to combine religion and science that:
"Science can only be created by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration toward truth and understanding. This source of feeling, however, springs from the sphere of religion. To this there also belongs the faith in the possibility that the regulations valid for the world of existence are rational, that is, comprehensible to reason. I cannot conceive of a genuine scientist without that profound faith. The situation may be expressed by an image: science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind."24
While Trevor Ling, Professor of comparative religions at University of Manchester, wondered that "What kind of religion will be most likely to emerge from the encounter?" According to him, it would be very helpful to ask this question with reference to Buddhism, because on the one hand Buddhism was a form of religion which was considered by some to be more compatible with the modem secular climate than most other religions, and on the other hand, the kind of modification of its thought to which Buddhism could be challenged by the encounter with secularism was likely to be of considerable significance to others besides Buddhists.25 Also the same ideas but in other words, Radhakrishman gave more emphasis to confirm:
"If Buddhism appealed to the modern mind it was because it was scientific, empirical and not based on any dogma".26
The Concrete Inclinations of Buddhism
It should be thought that what we need to overcome our multifaceted crisis is not more energy but a profound change of values, attitudes and life styles and to responding with the present circumstances, Buddhism (佛 教) especially Mahāyāna (大 乘) or Bodhisattva-yāna (菩 薩 乘) with the doctrines of Śūnyatā (空 性 , wisdom) and compassion (慈 悲 , karuṇā) seems to be able to agree with it.
Give a look in the history of Buddhism we can see there are two concepts of the most profound, sublime, and influential of all Mahāyāna texts (大 乘 經), are the concepts of Bodhisattva (菩 薩) and Śūnyatā (空 性) as according to the Vajrachedikā prajñā-pāramitā Sūtra (金 剛 般 若 波 羅 密 經) the ideal of Bodhisattva is: "Never to abandon all beings and to see into the truth that all things are empty."27 In fact, after Buddha’s pass away, about the second or first century BC, Mahāyāna played a main and important role in giving rise to the new doctrine of Bodhisattva which succeeded in the Bodhisatta concept in Pāli Nikāya gradually meandering to Northern Asia, Korea, specially in China, Japan and Vietnam... and the standpoint of Bodhisattva’s ideal (菩 薩 理 想), a form of Mahāyāna Buddhism was welcome and influenced widely these countries at all levels of life in religion, politics, economics, societies, psychology, and culture from the ancient time to our modern era as Edward Conze has said that the two great contributions which the Mahāyāna had made to human thought were the creation of the Bodhisattva ideal and the elaboration of the doctrine of "Emptiness".28
However, there are many things, which we should confirm to clarify more the purpose of Buddhist teaching as well as the significance and relevance of research on the topic.
The View of no Dogmas
As we know, Christianity is a salvation religion while Buddhism is the religion of enlightenment. It means the liberation of Christianity, which is the salvation from sin through a Savior, based on certain dogmas followers must trust if they hope to be on heaven after their death. In the Apostle’s Creed are listed many such beliefs and in the ‘Crossing The Threshold of Hope’, John Paul II gave some dogmas and declared that they are ultimate to be obeyed or refused by Christ followers.
And also in the Western religions, God is believed to have the attribute of justice, or righteousness, as the judge, as well as love or mercy as the forgiver. God is the fountain of justice, so everything God does may be relied upon as just.
Since God’s verdict or dogma is absolutely just, human righteousness may be defined in terms of God’s judgment.
The notion of justice or righteousness is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it aids in keeping everything in the right order, but on the other hand, it establishes clear-cut distinctions between the righteous and the unrighteous, promising the former eternal bliss, but condemning the latter to eternal punishment. Further, God in Semitic religions is not merely the One Absolute God in the ontological sense, but a living and personal God who calls humans through his Word and requires that humans respond to his Word.
According to the doctrines of most religions, it is through absolute belief in the Creator or God that the communication between the followers and God or Creator is founded, and that the followers would get luck and happiness by God’s favour in the present as well as future.
Buddha did not support the belief that religious rites and rituals were the only means for man to find salvation. According to the Buddha the development of morality, concentration and the purification of mind are important aspects of religious life leading to final salvation. He pointed out that a religious man must lead a harmless, unblamable, respectable, decent, noble and pure life. The mere act of praying or making offerings, or obeying dogmas does not by itself make a man religious or gain his perfection and salvation.
Buddha also advised people to refrain from evil practices. The reason for keeping away from evil must be for the welfare of living beings and not because of the fear of a god or punishment for its dogma commitment. At the same time, He advised us to cultivate the good humane qualities, practice good deeds and help others without any selfish motives.
The Buddha was the only religious teacher who gave due credit to man’s intelligence. He advised us not to become slaves to external agencies but to develop our hidden powers with self-confidence.
The View of Knowledge
What we here call knowledge is right understanding and right thought that constitute Wisdom (空 性 , Śūnyatā) or the sublime truth. In Dhammapada, the Buddha perceives the being without knowledge:
"Long is the night to the wakeful, long is the road to him who is weary, long is saṁsāra to the foolish who knows not the Sublime Truth."
(Dīghā jāgarato ratti, dīghaṁ santassa yojanaṁ, dīgho bālānaṁ saṁsāro, saddhammaṁ avijānatam).29
This is the agonizing lament of the aspirant for happiness, the sublime truth forever of man. That aspiration is the good mood for the appearance of all the philosophical principles, ethical theories, psychological studies as well as the religious thoughts on the world, is not that?
However, once again we should comprehend the meanings of this knowledge that if to obey the will of God viz. coming to faith was the virtue of other religions, then the Buddha taught that such a belief neither guides Buddhists to the destruction of the states of anxious, skeptical, craving, defilement, and suffering, nor it leads one to true happiness. This belief is only the basis of the knowledge, practice, self-experience and effort by himself that he can be able to get rid of his sufferings and maintain peace, prosperous and happy world for himself and all to live in. That is the reason K.N. Jayatillaka, in his well-read book Early Buddhist Theory of Knowledge has written that,
"To the intellectual, the Buddha taught that one should not accept the statements of anyone, on ground of authority without first examining it. One should test the consequence of statement in the light of our knowledge and experiences with the idea of verifying their relation to truth, and then accept it. In this teaching, there is no reference to the rejection of authority, and the insistence to reply solely on one’s own experience."30
The following sentence in Majjhima Nikāya is crucial for the whole dialectic of the matter of knowledge that ‘My teaching is not to come to believe, but to come, see and practice’.
It may be said without doubt that the message which is very simple, meaningful and practical, proves that Buddha highly appreciated the perceptions of ‘the knowing and the seeing’ than ‘the bare believing’ and this is one of different point of views between Buddhism and other religions.
There is a saying in Buddhism that:
"The one who is perfect in knowledge and conduct is supreme among gods and men" (Vijjācaraṇa-sampanno so seṭṭho devamānuse).31
The View of Faith (Saddhā, 信 心)
In Buddhism, there is no formal act of ‘baptism’ though there is a stereotyped formula used by Buddhists in Buddhist lands to express his act of `taking refuge’ which merely means that the devotee accepts the Buddha as his Teacher and Guide, the Doctrine as his philosophy and his Way of Life and the Sangha (the Community of Monks) as the ideals of this Way of Life.
The Buddhist quality of faith (Saddhā, 信 心) means acceptance in the belief and knowledge that these Refuges are worthy of such acceptance. There is no ‘blind faith’ involved, no case at all of ‘believe or be damned’. In fact, there were instances when followers of other teachers repudiated them and wished to transfer their allegiance to the Buddha, He discouraged them and asked them to give the matter further thought. When they further persisted, He advised them to continue their benefactions to their earlier teachers.
There is a well-known passage in the Kālāma Sūtta that teaches the following lesson:
"Yes, Kālāmas, you may well doubt, you may well waver. In a doubtful matter wavering does arise. Now look you, Kālāmas. Be ye not misled by report or tradition or hearsay. Be not misled by proficiency in the collections, nor by mere logic or inference, nor after considering reasons, nor after reflection on and approval of some theory, nor because it fits becoming, nor out of respect for a recluse (who holds it). But, Kālāmas, when you know for yourselves:
These things are unprofitable, these things are blameworthy, these things are censured by the intelligent; these things, when performed and undertaken, conduce to loss and sorrow, then indeed do ye reject them, Kalamas." 32
(Alaṁ hi vo Kālāmā kaṇkhituṁ alaṁ vicikicchituṁ. Kaṇkhāniye va pana vo ṭhāne vicikicchā uppannā. Etha tumhe Kālāmā mā anussavena mā paramparāya mā itikirāya mā piṭakasampadānena mā takkahetu ma nayahetu mā ākāraparivitakkena mā diṭṭhinijjhānakkhantiyā, mā bhavyarūpatāya mā samaṇo no garū ti, yadā tumhe Kālāmā attanā va jāneyyātha—ime dhammā akusalā ime dhammā sāvajjā ime dhammā viññgarahitā ime dhammā samattā samādinnā ahitāya dukkhāya saṁvattantī ti—atha tumhe Kālāmā pajaheyyātha).33
It is undisputed evidence that man is of this freedom of choice. It states quite categorically that nothing should be accepted merely on the grounds of tradition or the authority of the teacher, or because it is the view of a large number of people, distinguished or otherwise. Everything should be weighed, examined and judged according to whether it is true or false in the light of one’s convictions. If considered wrong, they should not be rejected outright but left for further consideration. Not only is doubt not considered a heinous sin; it is positively encouraged. This is the view of Faith in Buddhism.
The View of Individual (我 , Self, I, or Person)
It is true that the world is riddled with racial, political, religious, communal and ideological misunderstandings. To solve these complex problems, the view of individual (我) plays the central and essence role. Human must know himself who possesses the all powerful force — the creator and destroyer of man and the architect of man’s fate no other else as is illustrated by the Dhammapada as under:
"Self is the refuge of self: for who else could refuge be?
(Attā hi attano nātho, ko hi nātho paro siyā?
Or also the same above idea expressed in different verse:
"By oneself alone is evil done, by oneself is one defiled.
(Attanā‘va kataṁ papaṁ attanā saṇkilissati;
Thus, man should be capable of moulding anything if only he knows how to develop and make use of his mind and capability properly in inculcating ethical-moral co-operation for universal good. The misconceptions which had been held for years by followers specially of Brāhmaṇism and Christianity, declared that every thing in this world, whether existent or nonexistent, good or bad, lucky or unlucky, glad or sad...all come from the power of a supreme creator, the only ruler to have power of reward and punishment, or human in this earth as suffering beings who need to be saved by supernatural power.
And it seems that following the theistic religions as Catholicism, Hinduism, Bodhisattvas in Buddhism were considered similarly as gods or devas who can save and deliver to suffering creatures on this earth. This is misunderstood in the Buddha’s teachings which will lead to the decline in Buddhism if it is not corrected in time. The key resolution is emphasized that we must adjust our points and acknowledge confidently that man’s position according to Buddhism is supreme because of the three supreme qualities human: memory, pure behaviour and perseverance. The human memory is stronger than that of any other creature. The control of carnal impulses, the performance of moral acts for the benefit of others, often at the sacrifice of one’s own profit, is distinctive only in human behaviour. Human beings are capable of withstanding a great deal of suffering and can overcome almost any difficulty that exists in this world. Determination and perseverance to succeed is another supreme quality in him. In other words, man is his own master and there is no higher being or power that sits in judgment over his destiny.
Because of these characters, the Buddha taught, encouraged and stimulated each person to develop himself to work out his own emancipation. Man has the power to liberate himself from all bondage through his own personal effort and intelligence.
From that foundation, we should bear in mind that Buddhism is not a religion in the sense in which that word is commonly understood, for it is not a system of faith and worship. In Buddhism, there is no such thing as belief in a body of dogmas which have to be taken on faith, such as a belief in a Supreme Being, a creator of the universe, the reality of an immortal soul, a personal savior, or archangels who are supposed to carry out the will of the Supreme Deity. It is true that there are different types of Bodhisattvas (菩 薩) mentioned in Buddhism as devas (諸 天) or spiritual beings, but they are beings like ourselves, subject to the same natural law of cause and effect. They are not immortal, nor do they control the destiny of mankind. The Buddha does not ask us to accept belief in any supernatural agency or anything that cannot be tested by experience.
The View of Śūnyatā (空 性 , Emptiness)
Prof. Masao in his perceptive essay on ‘Buddhism and Interfaith Dialogue’36 makes a diatribe on the imperfect reasoning of most Western critics who discuss religion in a way of contrast between the ethical and natural theology (C.P. Tile), prophetic and mystical religion (F. Heiler) and monotheistic and pantheistic religion (W. F. Albright A. Lang). In bringing about such contrasts the Western critics generally discuss the broad features of Judes-Christian-Muslim religions and in a way all the other religious faiths that have their origins in the east.
By this method the Western scholars find solace in forming a comparative judgment in evaluating qualities of a religion, little caring if this approach has not only confused them to comprehend the faiths in a genuine spirit in which their founders had them initiated but canonization was preferred in oral transmission. Codification of the scripture started at a later time firstly in the form of the Sutta-piṭaka, the precepts assuming the shape of Vinaya-piṭaka.
The interregnum between the First Council (Saṅgīti) and the actual codification of the canon is wholly uncertain as is the relation between the canon as it exists at the present time and when it had been compiled in the beginning. Whatever is the accepted period the Sutta and the Vinaya piṭakas are primary sources of the modern studies of primitive Buddhism.
As a matter of fact, Buddhism does not talk about One Absolute God who is essentially transcendent to human beings. Instead, Buddhism teaches Pratitya-samutpāda (緣 起 , 因 緣 生 起) or the law of ‘Dependent Co-origination’ or ‘Conditional Co-production’ as the Dharma, or the Truth. This teaching emphasizes that everything in and beyond the universe is interdependent, co-arising and co-ceasing (not only temporally, but also ontologically) with everything else. Nothing exists independently, or can be said to be self-existing. Accordingly, in Buddhism everything without exception is relative, relational, non-substantial and changeable. Even the divine (Buddha) does not exist by itself, but is entirely interrelated to humans and nature. This is why Gautama Buddha (瞿 曇 佛), the founder of Buddhism, did not accept the age-old Vedantic notion of Brahman, which is believed to be the only enduring reality underlying the universe. For a similar reason, Buddhism cannot accept the monotheistic notion of One Absolute God as the ultimate reality, but instead advocates Śūnyatā (空 性 , emptiness) and Tathatā (真 如 , suchness or as-it-is-ness) as the ultimate reality.
Śūnyatā as the ultimate reality as well as the method is concrete practicing in Buddhism. It literally means ‘emptiness’ or ‘voidness’ and can imply ‘absolute nothingness’. This is because Śūnyatā is entirely unobjectifiable, unconceptualizable, and unattainable by reason and will. It also indicates the absence of enduring self-being and the non-substantiality of everything in the universe. It is beyond all dualities and yet includes them.
In the realization of Śūnyatā not only sentient beings but also the Buddha, not only Saṁsāra (輪 迴) but also Nirvāṇa (涅 槃), are without substance and are empty. Accordingly, neither Buddha nor Nirvāṇa but the realization of the non-substantiality of everything, that is, the realization of Śūnyatā is ultimate.
This realization of the non-substantial emptiness of everything is inseparably related with the law of dependent co-origination (緣 起 , 因 緣 生 起). Dependent co-origination as the Dharma (Truth) is possible only when everything in the universe is without enduring substance (although possessing changeable temporal substance) and is open in its relationship with everything else. We human beings have a strong disposition to substantialize objects as well as our own self as if we and they were permanent and unchangeable substances.
This substantialization of, and the accompanying attachment to, all kinds of objects causes human suffering. With respect to the goal of intersubjective understanding, the most serious cases of this problem lie in the substantialization of self (which results in self-centeredness) and the substantialization of one’s own religion (which entails a religious imperialism). Buddhism emphasizes awakening to Śūnyatā (空 性), to the non-substantiality of everything, including self and Buddha, in order to be emancipated from suffering. Thus it teaches no-self (anatman, 無 我) and awakening to Dharma (法) rather than faith in the Buddha (佛 陀).
With this in mind, we would in what follows like to represent Buddhism under prevailing situation through the book with the title: Bodhisattva and Śūnyatā in Early and Developed Buddhist Traditions.
The Proposed Direction
In this part, it had better to confirm one crucial mark which dials in the whole thesis that the concept of Bodhisatta (菩 薩) is considered as a human being with his own karmas at his very birth as all other creatures, but he can be able to get rid of all his inner conflicts (bad karmas / 業 and sufferings) and external crises (wars, populations, environments disturbances, calamities, moral, dilemma...), can change this unfortunate situation and can make a peaceful, prosperous and happy world for all to live in together by using his effort and determination in cultivating a realistic and practical way - Śūnyatā (空 性 , emptiness) rediscovered and guided by Lord Buddha Gotama, without depending on external powers.
To make this comprehensive, we must neither consider Bodhisattvas (菩 薩) as heavenly gods or devas (諸 天) or permanent entities having the real existences for worship except only as symbolic method of Buddha-dharmas (佛 法) created by intellectual Buddhists after the Buddha’s parinirvāṇa to satisfy the religious need of followers and to preserve Buddhism in response of the circumstance of ‘polytheism’ or ‘religious pluralism’ of one or many societies in a certain historical point in India and Asian countries.
And the concept of Śūnyatā is the Buddhist traditional method of practicing for a Bodhisattva to realize the reality of life and universe, the individual and environment, spirituality and materiality which all are co-arising and co-ceasing by the Law of Dependent Origination. It has been denied the presence of a Creator or God. They give us a scientific and objective outlook of the present world, related to the law of Conditioning. It means that everything is dependent upon conditions to come into being or survive. Putting it differently, there is nothing that can be self-creating and self-existing, independent from others. All sentient beings, objects, elements etc. in this world are determined by the law of conditioning, under the form of formation, stabilization, deterioration, and annihilation. Man is a small cosmos. He comes into being not by himself but by the activation of the law of transformations.
With the light of Śūnyatā, Bodhisattva who is an individual, can be able to eliminate the clings on wrong views, thoughts relating to languages, political systems, custom, ways of life, religions, beliefs, race, sex, and environment..., can reply the misunderstood perceptions about Buddhism, God, ātmā, man, karma, world ...with some questions as such ‘who am I?’, ‘where did man go and come from?’, ‘why does man get birth, old age, sickness, suffering and death?’, ‘where will he go after death?’, ‘This world is permanent or impermanent?’ and ‘who creates the cosmos?’ etc.; and from that man in all countries can be able to connect in the close relationship, can sit side by side, sympathy and love each other to together build up a better world.
Following the subject-matter, the arrangement of the different chapters has been done as under:
Chapter One describes the brief Significance and Relevance of Research on this topic. Chapter Two we will give an explanation of the Meaning and the Development of the Concept of Bodhisatta as depicted in Pāli Nikāyas. Chapter Three shall relate the Process of Practice of Bodhisatta Gotama before the Time of his Enlightenment. Chapter Four an attempt has been made to elaborate about the historical situation and the needs for the Development of new Doctrine of Bodhisattva in Mahāyāna sūtras. Chapter Five is a detailed survey of the Meanings of the Concept of Sūññatā as shown in Pāli Nikāyas. Chapter Six will give a critical approach to the Denotations of Śūnyatā through Mahāyāna Sūtras and in this part, it also discusses the Relation between the Concepts of Sūññatā and Śūnyatā as a Buddhist Traditional Method of Practicing. Chapter Seven will try to represent the Role or a Relevant Application of the Śūnyatā Concept in Bodhisattva-caryā in the present time, the Major Characteristics of Bodhisattva as well as the Connection between Pāramitās and Bhūmis. Chapter Eight is an effort to clarify Buddha’s Major Characteristics through Buddha Body Perceptions as well as the Way of Right Understanding of Mahāyāna Buddhism. And in the chapter Nine, the discussions pursued in the above chapters shall be summed up. If monotheistic religions such as Brahmanism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam place more emphasis on the self-negating, non-substantial aspect of their God rather than the self-affirmative, authoritative aspect of God, or, in other words, if these religions understand the oneness of the ultimate reality or absolute God in terms of non-dualistic oneness rather than in terms of monotheistic oneness, then they may overcome serious conflicts with other faiths and may establish a stronger interfaith cooperation among all religions to resolve the crises as well as contribute to world peace and happiness by a deep and expansive human spirituality.
1Trevor Ling, Buddha, Marx and God, London; 1979, pp. 5-6.
2Fritjof Capra, The Turning Point, London, 1982, p.1.
3Ibid., pp. 2-3.
4See Ven. K. Sri Dhammananda, What Buddhists Believe, CBBEF, Taipei, 2000, p. 285.
7Edward J. Kormondy, Concept of Ecology, New Delhi, 1991, p. 246.
8Fritjof Capra, The Turning Point, p. 3. 7
9Paul R. Ehrlich, and Anna H. Ehrlich, Population Resources Environmental, San Francisco, 1972, p. 147.
11Trevor Ling, Buddha, Marx and God, p. 5.
12Erich Fromm, Psychoanalysis and Zen Buddhism, p. 79.
13Trover Ling, op.cit., p.6.
14Minh Chi - Ha Thuc Minh, Dai Cuong Triet Hoc Dong Phuong, Truong Dai hoc Tong Hop, Tp. HCM, 1993, pp. 32-3.
15J. Krishnamurti, Education and the Signification of Life, Krishnamurti Foundation India, 1994, p.19.
16Ibid., p. 17.
17Pitirim A. Sorokin, Social and Cultural Dynamics, 4 vols., New York, 1937-41.
18Buddhadasa P. Kirthisinghe ed., Buddhism and Science, Delhi, 1996, p. 18.
19A. Toynbee, Daisaku-Ikeda, Man Himself Must Choose, Tokyo, 1976, p. 288-0.
20Ven. K. Sri Dhammananda, Buddhism as a Religion, Malaysia, 2000, p. 7.
22Dhammapada, verse 183, pp. 97-8.
23Masao Abe, Buddhism and Interfaith Dialogue, ed. by Steven Heine, Hong Kong, 1995, pp. 17-8.
24Albert Einstein, Ideas and Opinions, London, 1973, p. 46.
25See detail in Buddha, Marx and God, op. cit., pp. 8-9.
26Wang Chi Buu, "A Scientist’s Report on Study of Buddhist Scripture", Corporate Body of the Buddha Education Foundation, Taipei, Taiwan, R.O.C.
27Edward Conze, Buddhism: Its Essence and Development, Delhi, 1994, p. 130.
28Edward Conze, Thirty Years of Buddhist Studies, London, 1967, p. 54.
29Dha, verse 60, p. 33-4.
30K.N. Jayatillaka, Early Buddhist Theory of Knowledge, London, 1963, p. 391.
31Quoted in Damien Koewn, The Nature of Buddhist Ethics, London, 1992, p vii.
32The Book of Gradual Sayings, I, 171-2.
33Anguttana Nikāya, I, 189.
34Dha, verse 160, pp. 83-4.
35Ibid., verse 165, pp. 87-8.
36Prof. Masao, Buddhism and Interfaith Dialogue, ed by Steven Heine, Hong Kong, 1995, p. 6-7.
Sincere thanks to Bhikkhuni Gioi-Huong for giving the digital files (Binh Anson, 07-2009).