Buddhist outlook on the Individual

By Dhammika – Courtesy Vesak Lipi

The Buddha – Dhamma does not consider that man is a sinner as is alleged elsewhere as the result of the original sin of Adam and Eve; nor does the Buddha – Dhamma consider that man is too weak (mental energy) to free himself from sin. On the contrary, the Buddha – Dhamma has been a source of inspiration to the vilest criminal, the bloody murderer and the despised courtesan to gain the highest summit of mental perfection and liberation from suffering.
The Buddha – Dhamma does not subscribe to the view of a vicarious salvation by sacrificing one’s life in order to redeem sinners. On the contrary, in no unmistakable terms it states:-

In the Pali language

Attanava Katam papam Attana sankilissati Attana akatam papam Attanava visujjhati Suddhi asuddhi paccattam Nannamanno visodhaye
– Dhammapada, verse 165

English translation
“By oneself alone is evil done, by oneself is one defiled, By oneself is evil avoided, by oneself is one purified Purity and impurity depend on oneself. No one can purify another.”

This vicarious salvation from sin(as stated in Christianity) has not helped man to stop committing sin. (“sin” is taught in Christianity. In Theravada Buddhism there is no concept of “sin”) Wars, in which millions are massacred are fought in the name of the Supreme Being to stop wars.in our own times Hiroshima and Nagasaki were entirely devastated by two atom bombs, and the few who survived are suffering with loss of memory and physical disabilities to tell the world of the dire consequences of thermo-nuclearweapons. The original sin still persists, and man in his weakness expects yet another divine incarnation to redeem himself from sin. Wars can never prevent wars. Those who think so. Take to heart these words of the Buddha:- “Victory brings hatred, for the conquered sleep in sorrow”.

I mentioned earlier of a vicarious salvation. This is the belief that God appeared on this earth in human flesh as Christ, and sacrificed his life to redeem all sinners. It implies mass salvation. The Buddha-Dhamma unequivocally states that so long as the urge to live or the craving for existence (bhava thanha) persists in man, there will be individual existence with its consequent suffering. It is by individual effort that craving can be uprooted each one by himself for himself, which then is the cessation of becoming (bhava-nirodha). Remember the word of the Buddha: “Work out your deliverance with needfulness”. Each being must work out his own salvation.

The Buddhas only show the way. Gotama Buddha did not attempt to do the impossible, namely salvation en masse; for He saw that the cosmic process of arising and passing away of all cosmic properties will continue ad infinitum. As long as beings desire to be in this cosmic process so long will they roam being born and dying the good as well as the bad. The evil-doer cannot escape the consequences of his evil deeds, for his actions will turn upon him and punish him. The doer of good will be rewarded by his good actions. This is the natural law of cause and effect. Punishment or reward is his own seeking and is not dealt out by a mighty divine potentate who is also subject to this inexorable law which is woven into the very texture of the universe. How revealingly true are the words: ‘what thou sowest the same thou shall reap’. In passing the kinship of theistic religions is seen in that this belief in a vicarious salvation exists in the Hindu faith. Lord Krishna, it is said took human shape and lived among men, died for sinners.

Whosoever that understand the Law of Causality pursues the Path oi Purity (purity of body, purity of consciousness and purity of super-consciousness) to understand himself as he really is; when he realizes by his own efforts what he truly and really is, he is overcome with an aversion for existence. Then he gets will for Deliverance. Once this will gets possession of him, no power on earth or in heaven, can stop him from going beyond the cosmos of change, suffering and insubstantiality. His mind gradually mellows to Maturity knowledge (gotrabhu-nama). At this moment his consciousness transcends the world of sense-desires to the extraworldly (lokuttara) consciousness.

Then he graduates through the Four Paths of Holiness together with their immediate Fruitions (phala) and with the total extinguishing of the fires of greed, hatred and delusion he attains Nibbana. From his supramundane heights, the Arahant suffuses the universe,which he had transcended, with loving-kindness. He also surveys with compassion all those standing below him who are being consumed with the fires of greed, hatred and delusion. This is individual salvation which has been interpreted by our Mahayana brethren as selfish.

This unfortunately is the price that the Buddha-Dhamma had to pay for logicians par excellence, who in their eagerness to exhibit their dialectical skill conveniently let slip the clear and unequivocal teaching of the Buddha on the matter of individual deliverance from suffering. At verse 55 of the Dhammapada (this is only one instance among many) the Blessed One says:-

Appaka te manussesu, Ye jana paragamino
Athayam itara paja, tiremevanudhavati

” Few are there amongst men who go Beyond (Nibbana) the rest of mankind only run about on this bank (world existence where passions dominate).
(Trsl. by the Ven’ble Narada Maha Thera)

The Mahayana Buddhist philosophers do not speak of a vicarious salvation. They say that the Buddha was a human being who lived for men (did not die for men) and passed away as a human being. But they argue that He has not yet attained Nibbana. He and His Arahats (those who have been already saved) are in Sukhavati awaiting the event till all beings are saved to enter Nibbana together.

I have so far attempted to show that Buddha-Dhamma is not a religion in the sense of absolute resignation to the will of a divine power, unseen, unknown and unknowable, on whom one is asked to obey without question and pay pooja; nor does it accommodate in its Teaching substituted salvation en masse, nor does it state anywhere in the Buddhist Canon of universal salvation as advocated by the Mahayana Buddhist School of philosophy.

The Buddha-Dhamma is a teaching founded on ethical earnestness, absolute integrity of moral character is a sine qua non for the training of mind to elevate it above sense desires and evil unwholesome things! To gain the acme of perfect poise of mind, and thus penetrate phenomenal existence to see: its impermanence, its imperfectness and its impersonality. Hence the Buddha-Dhamma is to be realized by one’s own self by following the middle Path is indicated by the Shower of the Way. This done, its purpose is over and the Arahant stands on the Further Shore secure from the Floods (ogha) of: sense-desire, of becoming, of false views and of ignorance.

The quotation from the Majjhima Nikaya with which I prefaced this Essay concludes with the words: “kamma as refuge” (Kamma patisarana). The accent is on the word sarana, meaning refuge. Undoubtedly it refers to the refuge obtained through wholesome actions (kusala-kamma) which can arise only in a wholesome consciousness (kusala-citta) which again with detachment from sensual desires lead to tranquility and to wisdom. It is through purity of word, purity of deed and purity of livelihood that one can gather wholesome actions or kusala-kamma, the prerequisite to the Walk to the Supreme (brahmacariya). It is for this reason that kamma is one’s refuge (sarana). It is, also for this reason that the first book of the Abhidhamma Pitaka, the Dhamma-sangani examines different types of consciousness in the light of wholesome things ( kusala-dhamma) unwholesome things (akusala-dhamma) and indeterminate things (abyakata-dhamma).