By Yan Shi
Department of Chinese Philosophy, College of the Humanities, Xiamen University, Xiamen, China
Image Attribute: Leshan Giant Buddha from above on the Southside / Source: Wikimedia Commons
Nowadays, people all over the world are getting more and more interested in Buddhism. Numerous societies and study groups have emerged, and scores of books on the teachings of the Buddha have appeared. One of the basic issues of Buddhism is the nature of mind, and to understand Buddhism, it is thus necessary to have an in-depth study of this subject. What is the nature of mind? Just because of thoughtless understanding on this very question, some people were of the opinion that Buddhism was unscientific and superstitious and that as a religion, it was completely based on Theology, and apart from its moral teaching, there was not much content to it. Others said that its theory, admittedly profound, was too idealistic, impractical and not worth learning. Indeed, there is much misunderstanding around the world with regard to Buddhism. However, in view of the continual existence of Buddhism in the past two thousand five hundred years and its prevalence in certain parts of Asia at different intervals, I strongly believe that it is clear that its unique value does not lie in religious worship, or else it would have declined and disappeared from human civilization long ago.
Is Buddhism a religion or a philosophy? This is a question often asked. According to the Webster’s Dictionary, the word “religion” is defined as “An organized system of beliefs, rites, and celebrations centered on a supernatural being power; belief pursued with devotion”. Some people insist that the Buddha is such a “supernatural being” with the same concept as the so-called “Creator God” in some religion who has the highest authority over everyone and everything. Based on such a wrong view, some educe unreasonably that all suffering and sorrow are created by the Buddha or the Bodhisattvas, and that a human being can never change his destiny and make himself live a happier life. Even worse, many superstitious beliefs and practices in connection with demons and spirits have been wrongly attributed to be something of Buddhism. As a result, not only the truth of Buddhism is obscured but the understanding of Buddhism is also badly distorted.
In fact, both Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are in the same category of Buddhists. The only difference between them and ordinary Buddhists is that they are at different levels of awareness. The Buddha did not claim that he was a god, or the child of a god or the messenger of a god. He is simply a person who has achieved a complete understanding of the reality of life and the universe. Meanwhile, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas all practice the Dharma to benefit others as well as themselves and, in the spirit of self-abnegation, dedicate themselves to serve sentient beings and the mankind. Moreover, the Buddha taught that all beings can become Buddhas. All beings possess the same ability within to achieve a complete understanding of themselves and their environment and to free themselves from all sufferings and attain utmost happiness. Buddhism is a rational belief, pure and simple, and may also be said to be a living practical knowledge of empirical metaphysics. Consequently, one can see the Buddha not as a God but as a teacher, and one can also see Buddhism not as a religion but as an educational doctrine.
Buddhism is not a pessimistic religion at all. As a matter of fact, Buddhism is a rational belief but not superstition. It is not out of touch with the world, but in and beyond the world. Rather than serving to benefit oneself alone, a Buddhist serves to benefit others as well. Because of this, Buddhism has been able to stand firmly in the world for over two thousand years and carry on its great work unceasingly and continually to the present day.
The dictionary defines the word “pessimism” as “the habit of thinking that whatever will happen will be bad,” or “the belief that evil is more powerful than good”. Buddhism teaches neither of these ideas. Nor does Buddhism deny that happiness exists. In conducting daily affairs, Buddhism is capable of exerting tremendous beneficial influences, and as a result, a great, positive, bright and happy life, embodying the spirit of true freedom and equality, can be realized.
In conclusion, the Buddhist saying “Everything is created by the mind” does not negate the existence of worldly phenomena. Meanwhile, the Buddhist perspective emphasizes that our illusory mind creates the world that is self-centered and elusive. On the other hand, a pure or uncorrupted mind is capable of seeing the world as it really is. As Ch’an Buddhism puts it, an enlightened mind that can realize the ultimate reality of the nature of mind is conducive to “understanding the mind and realizing the self-nature”. Once the mind is enlightened, instantaneously the “True Mind” is also realized.
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