What do like to do best in the whole world, Pooh? “Well’, said Pooh, what I
like best…” and then he had to stop and think because although eating honey was
a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it
which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called.
Winnie the Pooh. AA Milne
Buddhism is based on the understanding that divinity is in the world and in
us. The three jewels of Buddhist practice are the Buddha, the Dharma, and the
Sangha. Dharma refers to the teachings, the practice and conduct which
should follow the eight fold path. The Sangha is the fellowship of other
Buddhists who guide and support each other. Buddhism has many forms from ascetic world denial to the great love for all
sentient beings. Access to an enlightened Buddha mind is available to all who
stop and tune into the wisdom of the universe. Each human works toward
liberation attempting to escape from the ignorance that obscures the radiance of
a clear, untroubled mind.
Many years ago, when the Tibetan Karmapa visited Vancouver, I attended a
Bodhisattva initiation ceremony and he placed a red string around my neck that
signaled my new status. The task of the Bodhisattva is to develop compassion in
the service of fellow sentient beings. This book is one expression of my
Boddhisattva duties. I have studied Buddhist texts from many countries,
practiced meditations and developed a personal version of Buddhist philosophy. When I am asked on a census form to state my
religion, I will write Buddhist. I was not born a Buddhist, nor am I documented
member of a Buddhist group. My wife is a Buddhist from Thailand and does
not discourage my claim to be a Buddhist, although we have discussions
about the differences between my version and her version. My wife’s name is
Sanskrit, Sumala (Rathaporn) Pawakanun. She recites devotional chants in
Sanskrit and Pali, the ancient language of Theravadan Buddhism.
A central principal of Buddhism is that each person is ultimately
responsible for whatever happens. Buddhism is nontheistic and esoteric. Buddhism
developed in Nepal, India, Tibet, China, Japan, Southeast Asia and Indonesia.
Some shared Hindu and Buddhist concepts are:
- 1. Dharma the lawful path of self development that includes precepts, ethics
- 2. Samsāra, the impermanent world of suffering, birth, life, sickness,
death and rebirth.
- 3. Karma the meshwork of causes and effects.
- 4. Moksha, the liberation from suffering in samsara.
- 5. Yogas are paths and practices required for self-discipline, health and
self development. Meditations and yoga are different aspects of the practices
required to study and tame a wild mind.
The Buddha’s path does not point you to a college course, a career, an
investment, a new car or big house as way stations or destinations on the path
toward enlightenment. Much of the work on the path is solitary and has little or no outward
The path of enlightenment is a non-event and is boring. We can develop a
sketch of how a highly developed mind might work and refer to an ideal or
- The enlightened mind sees all, knows all, and identifies with none of the
local conditions that would limit knowledge and understanding.
- The enlightened mind creates the best conditions for the greatest insight,
understanding and greatest opportunity to experience rapture.
- The enlightened mind recognizes the interrelationship of all living beings;
cherishes life and treats others with tolerance and compassion.
- The enlightened mind thrives in the natural world and never kills other
- Ashoka (294-232 BC) is recalled as the greatest King of India who embraced
and promoted the values of the Buddha -- truth, charity, kindness, purity and
goodness. After years of military conquests, he became a pacifist,
declaring an official policy of nonviolence (ahimsa) in his kingdom. Ashoka was
the first of a succession of kings who promoted and exported Buddhism. They are
responsible for the world religion status of Buddhism, a religion that uniquely
spread by peaceful means and promoted the idea of civil society, free of war
He protected domestic animals and wildlife and advocated vegetarianism. Ashoka
had a clear vision of an educated civil society. He built universities,
hospitals, roads and aquaducts. He built stone pillars with Buddhist teachings
engraved; some of these have survived as an enduring record of his teachings.
- His son, Mahindra, and daughter, Sanghamitra, took Buddhism to Ceylon (Shri
Lanka). Asoka dispatched Buddhist teachers throughout Asia and Mediterranean
regions - Syria, Persia, Egypt, Greece, Italy, Turkey, Nepal, Bhutan,
China, Tibet and southeast Asia (now Buddhist countries --Cambodia, Laos,
Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam). He organized a Buddhist council in 250 BC at Pataliputra (Patna).
The Three Jewels
- There is no single contemporary Buddhism and no central authority. The
“religion” is multicultural and has been inflected quite differently at
different times in different places. Several versions of Buddhism have been
transplanted and transliterated into Canadian and US society. Buddhist ideas
have permeated European societies.
- Scientists and mind scientists in particular have been attracted to Buddhism
because it is a religion based on a coherent psychology, epistemology and ethics
that requires no belief, although beliefs and superstitions are often attached
by local groups. Buddhism is an original form of scientific humanism. Thurman
wrote:” When Buddha established educational practices, reality was approached as
both outer environment and inner self, the same as in the West. The self was
chosen as the more important to understand and control. “
- Although Buddhism is a self-reflective religion that proposes to alter the
expression of human nature, Buddhist groups still develop typical human
structures with dogmatic members, bureaucracies and hierarchies. Human
tendencies are well described in old Buddhist texts with warnings not to
perseverate, but innate tendencies prevail, despite insightful teachings. I have
preferred Buddhist paths that are relatively independent and sometime solitary,
although the support of fellow travelers (Sangha) is considered to be one of the
three foundations of practice.
Buddhism is different from dogmatic religions:
- 1. All events are manifest in the mind.
- 2. The cause of suffering is unexamined desire.
- 3. Suffering can be alleviated through self-development.
- 4. The really real is the flux –everything is impermanent
- 5. Nature is the sacred temple.
- 6. The divine principle lives in each person.
- 7. Heaven and hell are not places but states of mind.
- 8. God and the Devil are not rival politicians, but aspects of the dialectic
process alive in every human mind.
- This mind-based understanding merges easily with ideas of neuroscience and
psychology, which recognize that the mind is indeed the center of the universe.
The brain is the organ of the mind and all human experience and knowledge is a
function of the human brain. Each person must bring the universe into existence
and each person is responsible for the intelligent rendering of the really real.
Some do a better job than others. Einstein stated that "Buddhism has the characteristics of what would be
expected in a cosmic religion for the future: It transcends a personal God,
avoids dogmas and theology; it covers both the natural and the spiritual, and it
is based on a religious sense aspiring from the experience of all things,
natural and spiritual, as a meaningful unity."
- Religion for the 21st Century is available as an eBook download. The book is intended for an educated reader who is
interested in a world view of religious expressions past, present and future.
The main theme is that each religious group has its own claims and stories and
will tend to reject others. A reader committed to one point of view may not
accept the egalitarian review presented here. Innate
tendencies are expressed as religions and in the past have created
conflicts that hinder progress towards the real and true.
The book examines paths for religious renewal in the 21st century.
The author is Stephen Gislason
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