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WHAT IS BUDDHISM?
This question is easier asked than answered. Lama Anagorika Govinda expressed it as follows in ‘Living Buddhism for the West’:
“Thus we could say that the Buddha’s Dharma is, as experience and as a way to practical realization, a religion; as the intellectual formulation of this experience, a philosophy; and as a result of self-observation and analysis, a psychology.
Whoever treads this path acquires a norm of behavior that is not dictated from without, but is the result of an inner process of maturation and that we – regarding it from without – can call morality.
THE KALAMA DISCOURSE
One time, when the Buddha passed through the city of Kalama, people asked him: “So many teachers were here, and all of them gave us excellent teachings, but they contradict each other. What should we do? The Buddha then gave the so-called Kalama Discourse and expounded on ten aspects that one should consider when listening to spiritual teachings.
Summarized, the Buddha said:
“Do not believe a spiritual teaching just because:
1. it is repeatedly recited,
2. it is written in a scripture,
3. it was handed from guru to disciple,
4. everyone around you believes it,
5. it has supernatural qualities,
6. it fits my beliefs anyway,
7. it sounds rational to me,
8. it is taught by a respectable person,
9. it was said to be the truth by the teacher,
10. one must defend it or fight for it.
However, only when it agrees with your experience and reason, and when it is conducive to the good and gain of oneself and all others, then one should accept the teachings, and live up to them.
“My teaching is not a philosophy. It is the result of direct experience…
My teaching is a means of practice, not something to hold onto or worship.
My teaching is like a raft used to cross the river.
Only a fool would carry the raft around after he had already reached the other shore of liberation.
“If you were to follow the Dharma purely out of love for me or because you respect me, I would not accept you as disciple. But if you follow the Dharma because you have yourself experienced its truth, because you understand and act accordingly – only under these conditions have you the right to call yourself a disciple of the Exalted One.
“The most important thing is not to get trapped in what I see everywhere in the West, a “shopping mentality” : shopping around from master to master, teaching to teaching, without any continuity or real, sustained dedication to any one discipline. Nearly all the great spiritual masters of all traditions agree that the essential thing is to master one way, one path to the truth, by following one tradition with all your heart and mind to the end of the spiritual journey, while remaining open and respectful towards the insights of all others. …
The modern faddish idea that we can always keep all our options open and so never need commit ourselves to anything is one of the greatest and most dangerous delusions of our culture, and one of the ego’s most effective ways of sabotaging our spiritual search.
Few people are capable of wholehearted commitment, and that is why so few people experience a real transformation through their spiritual practice. It is a matter of giving up our own viewpoints, of letting go of opinions and preconceived ideas, and instead following the Buddha’s guidelines. Although this sounds simple, in practice most people find it extremely difficult. Their ingrained viewpoints, based on deductions derived from cultural and social norms, are in the way.
We must also remember that heart and mind need to work together. If we understand something rationally but don’t love it, there is no completeness for us, no fulfillment. If we love something but don’t understand it, the same applies. If we have a relationship with another person, and we love the person but don’t understand him or her, the relationship is incomplete; if we understand that person but don’t love him or her, it is equally unfulfilled. How much more so on our spiritual path. We have to understand the meaning of the teaching and also love it. In the beginning our understanding will only be partial, so our love has to be even greater.
“Three qualities enable people to understand the teachings: objectivity, which means an open mind; intelligence, which is the critical faculty to discern the real meaning by checking the teachings of Buddha; and interest and commitment, which means enthusiasm.
Unfortunately, there are questionable teachers, traditions and centers in the Buddhist world. Unfortunately, the only website that simply listed them was pestered out of existence, so please, do use your critical intellect to analyse and test them as the Buddha advised, before you get seriously involved. Putting your trust in a spiritual teacher is not a small matter, see also the page on a Spiritual Teacher.
Buddhism appears to put less emphasis on faith than many other religions, still the very first words of Shakyamuni Buddha as a teacher were:
“Opened are the gates of immortality, you that have ears to hear, release your faith.”
In Buddhism, faith is defined as: a positive attitude to virtue and objects worthy of respect. It is said to be the doorway for all positive qualities. Several different types of faith are distinguished:
a. Uncritical faith: motivation is for no apparent reason
b. Longing faith: motivation is led by an emotionally unstable mind
c. Conviction: motivated by sound reasoning
Although the first two types of faith may be helpful, it is explained that they may easily collapse ‘when the going gets rough’. In other words, the uncritical and longing faith may easily be forgotten when difficult decisions are to be made. Only the conviction which has arisen from a sound understanding will form a good basis to work with. This is one of the reasons why most Buddhist schools emphasise critical study and proper understanding from the beginning onwards.