Some salient features of Buddhism
of Buddhism are the four Noble Truths -- namely, Suffering (the raison
d'etre of Buddhism), its cause (i.e., Craving), its end (i.e.,
Nibbana, the Summum Bonum of Buddhism), and the Middle Way.
What is the Noble
Truth of Suffering?
suffering, old age is suffering, disease is suffering, death is suffering,
to be united with the unpleasant is suffering, to be separated from
the pleasant is suffering, not to receive what one craves for is suffering,
in brief the five Aggregates of Attachment are suffering."
What is the Noble
Truth of the Cause of Suffering?
"It is the
craving which leads from rebirth to rebirth accompanied by lust or
passion, which delights now here now there; it is the craving for
sensual pleasures (Kamatanha), for existence (Bhavatanha)
and for annihilation (Vibhavatanha)."
What is the Noble
Truth of the Annihilation of Suffering?
"It is the
remainderless, total annihilation of this very craving, the forsaking
of it, the breaking loose, fleeing, deliverance from it."
What is the Noble
Truth of the Path leading to the Annihilation of Suffering?
"It is the
Noble Eightfold Path which consists of right understanding, right
thoughts, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right endeavor,
right mindfulness, and right concentration."
Whether the Buddhas
arise or not these four Truths exist in the universe. The Buddhas
only reveal these Truths which lay hidden in the dark abyss of time.
interpreted, the Dhamma may be called the law of cause and effect.
These two embrace the entire body of the Buddha's Teachings.
The first three
truths represent the philosophy of Buddhism; the fourth represents
the ethics of Buddhism, based on that philosophy. All these four truths
are dependent on this body itself. The Buddha states: "In this
very one-fathom long body along with perceptions and thoughts, do
I proclaim the world, the origin of the world, the end of the world
and the path leading to the end of the world." Here the term
world is applied to suffering.
on the pivot of sorrow. But it does not thereby follow that Buddhism
is pessimistic. It is neither totally pessimistic nor totally optimistic,
but, on the contrary, it teaches a truth that lies midway between
them. One would be justified in calling the Buddha a pessimist if
he had only enunciated the truth of suffering without suggesting a
means to put an end to it. The Buddha perceived the universality of
sorrow and did prescribe a panacea for this universal sickness of
humanity. The highest conceivable happiness, according to the Buddha,
is Nibbana, which is the total extinction of suffering.
The author of
the article on Pessimism in the Encyclopedia Britannica writes: "Pessimism
denotes an attitude of hopelessness towards life, a vague general
opinion that pain and evil predominate in human affairs. The original
doctrine of the Buddha is in fact as optimistic as any optimism of
the West. To call it pessimism is merely to apply to it a characteristically
Western principle to which happiness is impossible without personality.
The true Buddhist looks forward with enthusiasm to absorption into
enjoyment of sensual pleasures is the highest and only happiness of
the average man. There is no doubt a kind of momentary happiness in
the anticipation, gratification and retrospection of such fleeting
material pleasures, but they are illusive and temporary. According
to the Buddha non-attachment is a greater bliss.
The Buddha does
not expect his followers to be constantly pondering on suffering and
lead a miserable unhappy life. He exhorts them to be always happy
and cheerful, for zest (piti) is one of the factors of Enlightenment.
is found within, and is not to be defined in terms of wealth, children,
honor or fame. If such possessions are misdirected, forcibly or unjustly
obtained, misappropriated or even viewed with attachment, they will
be a source of pain and sorrow to the possessors.
Instead of trying
to rationalize suffering, Buddhism takes suffering for granted and
seeks the cause to eradicate it. Suffering exists as long as there
is craving. It can only be annihilated by treading the Noble Eightfold
Path and attaining the supreme bliss of Nibbana.
These four truths
can be verified by experience. Hence the Buddha Dhamma is not based
on the fear of the unknown, but is founded on the bedrock of facts
which can be tested by ourselves and verified by experience. Buddhism
is, therefore, rational and intensely practical.
Such a rational
and practical system cannot contain mysteries or esoteric doctrines.
Blind faith, therefore, is foreign to Buddhism. Where there is no
blind faith there cannot be any coercion or persecution or fanaticism.
To the unique credit of Buddhism it must be said that throughout its
peaceful march of 2500 years no drop of blood was shed in the name
of the Buddha, no mighty monarch wielded his powerful sword to propagate
the Dhamma, and no conversion was made either by force or by repulsive
methods. Yet, the Buddha was the first and the greatest missionary
that lived on earth.
writes: "Alone of all the great world religions Buddhism made
its way without persecution, censorship or inquisition."
Lord Russell remarks:
"Of the great religions of history, I prefer Buddhism, especially
in its earliest forms; because it has had the smallest element of
In the name of
Buddhism no altar was reddened with the blood of a Hypatia, no Bruno
was burnt alive. Buddhism appeals more to the intellect than to the
emotion. It is concerned more with the character of the devotees than
with their numerical strength.
On one occasion
Upali, a follower of Nigantha Nataputta, approached the Buddha and
was so pleased with the Buddha's exposition of the Dhamma that he
instantly expressed his desire to become a follower of the Buddha.
But the Buddha cautioned him, saying:
"Of a verity,
O householder, make a thorough investigation. It is well for a distinguished
man like you to make (first) a thorough investigation."
Upali, who was
overjoyed at this unexpected remark of the Buddha, said: "Lord,
had I been a follower of another religion, its adherents would have
taken me round the streets in a procession proclaiming that such and
such a millionaire had renounced his former faith and embraced theirs.
But, Lord, Your Reverence advises me to investigate further. The more
pleased am I with this remark of yours. For the second time, Lord,
I seek refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma and the Sangha."
Buddhism is saturated
with this spirit of free enquiry and complete tolerance. It is the
teaching of the open mind and the sympathetic heart, which, lighting
and warming the whole universe with its twin rays of wisdom and compassion,
sheds its genial glow on every being struggling in the ocean of birth
The Buddha was
so tolerant that he did not even exercise his power to give commandments
to his lay followers. Instead of using the imperative, he said: "It
behooves you to do this -- It behooves you not to do this." He
commands not but does exhort.
the Buddha extended to men, women and all living beings.
It was the Buddha
who first attempted to abolish slavery and vehemently protested against
the degrading caste system which was firmly rooted in the soil of
India. In the Word of the Buddha it is not by mere birth one becomes
an outcast or a noble, but by one's actions. Caste or colour does
not preclude one from becoming a Buddhist or from entering the Order.
Fishermen, scavengers, courtesans, together with warriors and Brahmins,
were freely admitted to the Order and enjoyed equal privileges and
were also given positions of rank. Upali, the barber, for instance,
was made, in preference to all others, the chief in matters pertaining
to Vinaya discipline. The timid Sunita, the scavenger, who attained
arahatship was admitted by the Buddha himself into the Order. Angulimala,
the robber and criminal, was converted to a compassionate saint. The
fierce Alavaka sought refuge in the Buddha and became a saint. The
courtesan Ambapali entered the Order and attained arahatship. Such
instances could easily be multiplied from the Tipitaka to show that
the portals of Buddhism were wide open to all, irrespective of caste,
colour or rank.
It was also the
Buddha who raised the status of downtrodden women and not only brought
them to a realization of their importance to society but also founded
the first celibate religious order for women with rules and regulations.
The Buddha did
not humiliate women, but only regarded them as feeble by nature. He
saw the innate good of both men and women and assigned to them their
due places in his teaching. Sex is no barrier to attaining sainthood.
Pali term used to denote women is matugama, which means "mother-folk"
or "society of mothers." As a mother, woman holds an honorable
place in Buddhism. Even the wife is regarded as "best friend"
(parama sakha) of the husband.
are only making ex parte statements when they reproach Buddhism
with being inimical to women. Although at first the Buddha refused
to admit women into the Order on reasonable grounds, yet later he
yielded to the entreaties of his foster-mother, Pajapati Gotami, and
founded the Bhikkhuni Order. Just as the Arahats Sariputta and Moggallana
were made the two chief disciples in the Order of monks, even so he
appointed Arahats Khema and Uppalavanna as the two chief female disciples.
Many other female disciples too were named by the Buddha himself as
his distinguished and pious followers.
On one occasion the Buddha said to King Kosala who was displeased on hearing that a daughter was born to him: "A woman child, O Lord of men; may prove even a better offspring than a male."
Many women, who
otherwise would have fallen into oblivion, distinguished themselves
in various ways, and gained their emancipation by following the Dhamma
and entering the Order. In this new Order, which later proved to be
a great blessing to many women, queens, princesses, daughters of noble
families, widows, bereaved mothers, destitute women, pitiable courtesans
-- all, despite their caste or rank, met on a common platform, enjoyed
perfect consolation and peace, and breathed that free atmosphere which
is denied to those cloistered in cottages and palatial mansions.
It was also the
Buddha who banned the sacrifice of poor beasts and admonished his
followers to extend their loving-kindness (metta) to all living
beings -- even to the tiniest creature that crawls at one's feet.
No man has the power or the right to destroy the life of another as
life is precious to all.
A genuine Buddhist
would exercise this loving-kindness towards every living being and
identify himself with all, making no distinction whatsoever with regard
to caste, colour or sex.
It is this Buddhist
metta that attempts to break all the barriers which separate one from
another. There is no reason to keep aloof from others merely because
they belong to another persuasion or another nationality. In that
noble Toleration Edict which is based on Culla-Vyuha and Maha-Vyuha
Suttas, Asoka says: "Concourse alone is best, that is, all should
harken willingly to the doctrine professed by others."
Buddhism is not
confined to any country or any particular nation. It is universal.
It is not nationalism which, in other words, is another form of caste
system founded on a wider basis. Buddhism, if it be permitted to say
so, is supernationalism.
To a Buddhist
there is no far or near, no enemy or foreigner, no renegade or untouchable,
since universal love realized through understanding has established
the brotherhood of all living beings. A real Buddhist is a citizen
of the world. He regards the whole world as his motherland and all
as his brothers and sisters.
Buddhism is, therefore,
unique, mainly owing to its tolerance, non-aggressiveness, rationality,
practicability, efficacy and universality. It is the noblest of all
unifying influences and the only lever that can uplift the world.
These are some
of the salient features of Buddhism, and amongst some of the fundamental
doctrines may be said: Kamma or the Law of Moral Causation, the Doctrine
of Rebirth, Anatta and Nibbana.