Sunday, March 09, 2008
Rise and Fall of Buddhism
By: Ven. Balacitta
Venue : Mrs Long’s house
There is a book which was written in China more then 500 years ago called Romance of the Three Kingdoms1. The very first sentence of the book says, kingdom rises and kingdom falls, the whole book shows how a kingdom comes to rise and fall - an obvious indication of Impermanence.
In this world, there has never been recorded in history that there is a “never ending kingdom”. All kingdoms will fall one day. The fall could be due to the negligence of the ruler in carrying out his duty or due to external attack or both. However, if a kingdom is fortunate enough to be ruled by someone who is righteous and wise, then the fall of the kingdom will not be easy.
The same rule of impermanence is applicable also to Buddhism. Buddhism started in India at about 500 BC and flourished for more than one and half millennium but at the end of the 12th and the beginning of 13th century, Buddhism declined. Beautifully, in the middle of the last century, Buddhism started to make a come back to that country. All these indicate the impermanence of all things.
Buddha’s teachings in our country is becoming quite popular currently. We can see many Buddhist societies being formed, many monasteries and meditation retreat centers being built, many people practise meditation, many people offering alms to monks and also many intelligent young people going forth to become monks. All these are indications that Buddhism is rising in this country. But all these will also fall soon if monks, nuns, male lay followers and female lay followers live without respect for the Teacher, the Dhamma, the Sangha, the Training and the Samadhi. It is stated in SN 16.13
As a Buddhist, the Dhamma that we are following is actually none other than the Teachings of Siddharta Gotama, the historical Buddha who lived 2,500 years ago and taught us the Four Noble Truths and Noble Eightfold Path.
If monks, nuns, male lay followers and female lay followers persistently hold the view that is contrary to the Four Noble Truths, and knowingly cultivate something which is against the Noble Eightfold Path, then we can say that these people have no respect for the Teacher and are actually contributing to the decline of the Buddha Sasana. It is highly meritorious if we can correct them.
There is a common misunderstanding about the Buddha’s Teaching that is being falsely grasped by many people including some monks, nuns, male lay followers, and female lay followers and this is to equate the Buddha’s teaching of the highest goal, enlightenment, Nibbana, with the Brahmanic teaching of enlightenment - the union or being one with the the higher self, the Brahma.
Some of you might ask what the problem is with this equation. Is it not that the names are different only but the goal is actually the same, as all roads lead to Rome? Well, actually if you are not a Buddhist, maybe I will just nod my head, smile a little bit and keep silent until the the time is right to speak, as in this way, we can live in harmony. But since you all have taken the Three Refuges, I would have to tell you what I learnt.
The path to enlightenment in the Buddha’s teaching is through the cultivation of the Noble Eightfold Path and if the follower of this Brahmanic teaching also cultivates the same Noble Eightfold Path, then no matter what they call the state of enlightenment, it should be the same - but as recorded in our cannon, it is not the case.
The Brahmanic teaching is actually derived from the Vedas. The Vedas is an oral teaching handed down from generation to generation by the brahmin priests long before the Buddha. The teachers of the Vedas teach about the union of the inner self with Brahma. This Brahma is actually being understood in Buddhism as beings who dwell in the heavenly world known in pali as rupa loka, and that world is not the state of Nibbana because it has a life span, it is impermanent. There are few suttas in the pali canon which indicate that the path to this Brahma world can be gained through the cultivation of the Brahma vihara meditations - loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity meditations.
At the time of the Buddha, as recorded in one sutta, DN 13, there were in existence already many different brahmin teachers, each proclaiming that the path they taught could lead one to ‘union with Brahma’. Sometimes arguments broke out among those brahmins with regard to the paths. A brahmin asked the Buddha if all these different paths will eventually lead one to the same goal, that is, union with the Brahma. The Buddha did not answer the brahmin straight away but asked him in return whether those teachers or those teachers’ teachers back to the first teacher who first taught the Vedas, had ever met the Brahma face to face. In answering that they had not, the Buddha then told the brahmin that it is impossible for them to lead one to be in union with Brahma. At the end, the Buddha make known to them that the path to the Brahma world can be gained through the development of any of the four Brahma vihara meditations. Thus, we can see that the ‘union with brahma’ is different from Nibbana because the path is different.
There is another sutta, AN 4:125, which the Buddha said that those uninstructed worldlings who practice the four Brahma vihara meditations at the time of death if they still maintain that state, will be born in the Brahma world but when they pass away from that Brahma world, they will fall down (eventually) to bad destination. On the other hand, the instructed noble disciple of the Buddha will enter into nibaana there. Thus again, this indicates that to be in union (in company) with the Brahma is impermanent and cannot be equated with Nibbana.
It is not mentioned in that sutta why uninstructed worldlings fall and instructed noble disciples enter into nibana there but one can easily reason it out by thinking that uninstructed worldlings do not possess the virtues from following the Noble Eightfold Path , they just cultivate the brahma vihara meditaiton. As any meditative jhanic state is impermanant, they evetually fall back. One who follows the Noble Eightfold Path is (at least) a stream enterer ( SN 55:5). A stream enterer , as recorded in the cannon, will not fall in to bad destination.
I have shown the differences in the path and state between Nibbana and the Brahma world. Although there are differences, we should not look down on them, because the cultivation of brahma vihara is actually encouraged by the Buddha in many suttas. But we can look down or should look down on any of those so called enlightened holy persons who act immorally.
Earlier, I had talked about the rise and fall of Kingdoms that happened in the outside world. This knowledge can be learnt by reading history books. There is another rising and falling that is more important for us to learn about, that is, the rising and falling of the inside world, the five aggregates, our so called body and mind. To be able to learn about these truly, we have to develop right mindfulness. The learning of this could lead one to be free of attachments. When one is free from attachments, what ever happens to the outside world, one will have no problems in his or her mind. One is at peace all the time.
Bhante Aggacitta is guiding yogi in right mindfulness meditation up in SBS and you all are invited to come to practise. Some of you may have learnt how to meditate but it is still beneficial to come. It is good to associate with spiritual people, they are filled with good wishes. They always wish for your well being, for you spiritual progress, for your happiness. That's all for today, may all of you find real peace, real happiness ..Bhavatu Sabba Mangalam...
1I say, this book is very interesting but unwholesome. Many art of deceiving can be learnt, beware.