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[This version: 8 November 1993]
by Lama Choedak

No 16]

I am extermely happy to be given the opportunity to come and share with
you the contribution Buddhism could make to better the well being of
human society.  Tonight we have come together to discuss the benefits of
sincere sharing of good things we value in our society in general and
particularly religion.  Those of us who believe in one or another
religion have seen the benefits of religious practices if and when we
practise them properly ourselves.  We have also seen the danger and
suffering which  come out of direct misuse of religious beliefs, power
and religious fanaticism.  The benefit or harm caused by religion in
everyday life is not in the merit or demerit of the religions.  It is
entirely dependent on the behaviours of the people who profess
themselves to be religious.  Since the problems of the world are created
by human beings they can only be corrected by human beings, by properly
following the fundamental principles of human values, taught and
practised by wise men and women of the world.  Let us not be in the
illusion that there were only one or few  such wise people who came as
saviours of the world.  We must credit ourselves and thank others for
the good things we enjoy in life and be responsible for the bad things
we experience.  According to Buddhism, Religion or "the Dharma" is no
more than a raft or a path for people who wish to journey on it.  If we
have an accident on the road it is not the road's fault and if we travel
well,  we do not thank the road.    However if we stand in the middle of
the road and tell other people that they do not know how to walk, that
is not just an accident, it is sheer arrogance and ignorance.

I have come here to share with you  the Buddhist perspective and how its
fundamental ideas and practices can benefit individuals and our society
at large.  Buddhism and its teachings respects all other religions and
in fact, in Buddhism, it is a transgression to speak ill of anybody or a
group of people or their philosophical or religious ideas.  Condemning
other people or their religion is considered non-religious conduct and
is an idle-talk which is one of the ten non-virtues deeds one must
abandone.  There is no devil outside  other than one's own inability to
accept and respect other religions.  There is no external god other than
the kindness and compassion that can flow through us to other living
beings.  A mother dog who shows her kindness to her puppy is a much
better example of compassion foe one  to emulate than propagating
teachings which discriminate against colour, race, religion or gender.
If one religion cannot tolerate another how can it teach to tolerate
anything in this world?  Religious intolerance and narrow-mindedness
among Church and religious leaders have let down many of their adherents
who call themselves "free thinkers".  These are not the benefits of
religious practice but the failure to understand and practise religion.
Over the years I have met many people who wish to be identified as "free
thinkers" rather than  belonging to any religious denomination.   Many
regard religion as that which narrows their thinking and limits their
freedom to reason.  Many modern thinkers, who have otherwise distanced
themselves from strict religious dogma have become attracted to the
Buddhist way of life and its powerful ideas, have regarded Buddhism as a
way of life rather than a religion.  Many Australians I have known, who
consider themselves as Buddhists have become interested in Buddhism and
have adopted its non-pressured approach to life, mainly because they do
not have to believe in things they have not examined and experienced
themselves.  They are taught to think for themselves rather than have a
blind faith in something and are not even allowed to think of it
logically.  They are encouraged to find a safe way for themselves rather
than accept the one and only ready-made highway.  There is no one
highway to enlightenment, but there are different footsteps of  past
masters we can follow if we wish.  Learn from everbody and every
circumstance and take what it means most to you, but let us not be
over-ambitious and try to make a highway to lead everyone.  This is how
the seeds of religious fanaticism are planted.

Several years ago there was a big inter-religious conference in London
which was represented by all major religions.  Buddhism was represented
by a Sri Lankan monk.  The conference was held in a beautiful Church and
most of those attending were Christians.  All the speakers sat on the
stage and the Sri Lankan monk who was the smallest in physical size was
asked to speak first.  The first remark he made was nothing but a few
minutes of total silence and the people in the audience thought he was
not going to say anything and the Master of the Ceremony acted rather
anxiously.  Then the monk smiled towards the Master of the ceremony and
nodded as  if he was going to say something after all and then he said:
"I am sorry, Ladies and Gentlemen, there is no God".

Well, I am not going to repeat  it here but such comments do raise
questions  as to what Buddhism is all about and the role of Buddha for
Buddhists.  To be frank Buddha was a great critic of the idea of
creation of the world by some supreme God-Head and the idea of the
original sin and eternal heaven and hell.  To the Buddha, most important
thing was "now", the present moment and how we go from here rather than
what happened in the past and what might or will happen in the future.
Past is gone and future is not yet due except what we are creating now.
He did this not out of believing in some theory but examining it for
himself through analysis and rationality.

Buddha  came up with four fundamental principles which he thought was
univeral to all human problems.  Even to his most faithful disciples,
the Buddha after his enlightenment, warned of the danger of "blind
faith" and asked them not to believe everything what he said just
because he  taught them.  He emphasised the importance of individuals to
test and examine the authenticity of his teaching through personal
experience, not through mere belief.

These four principles are called the four Noble Tuths. The first is
called the Truth of Suffering (Dukkha Satya). When people face suffering
in their lives, the first thing they do is deny it, reject it and worst
of all they try to avoid it.  This he said was the obvious reason why we
suffer in life, because we fail to see the truth, the meaning and its
purpose of suffering.  Although nobody desires suffering, they always
get it, not because of the suffering itself, but because they fail to
apply the correct antidote to the problem.  He explained that people
fail to apply the antidotes to their suffering, not because they do not
want to but because they do not know the causes of the suffering.  We
think that the cause of our problem is something or someone outside us
and this, he says "is barking up the wrong tree" as the saying goes.  We
must remember that suffering is a mental phenomenon and it can only be
changed or eliminated  by correct perception and transformation of our
mental attitude.  For instance if a person called John loves his friend
Barry, and Barry has become very fond of Chris, who John dislikes, John
will be upset.  This experience of upset, John believes is due to the
behaviour of his friend Barry who has become fond of Chris.  But if we
examine it carefully, the cause of upset is largely due to John's own
dislike, resentment and hatred towards Chris, rather than the
relationship of Barry and Chris.  If friendship is to be admired and
desired, then one must be able to rejoice in other's friendship.  That
which is causing John to be upset is because of his feeling of
insecurity and jealousy provoked by his own anger which he had not dealt
with effectively in the past.

Let me elaborate this from the point of view of the importance of
solving a problem at hand rather than of the distant past.  If a man is
shot by an arrow into his eyes, what should he do?  Most people fail to
remove the arrow struck in their eyes but instead waste time trying to
apprehend and convict the accused. They are more interested to find out
what happened before the arrow struck in the eye than to remove the
arrow from the eyes.   If the hurt is caused by the arrow in the eye,
then obviously the arrow must be removed first.  But we don't.  We want
to find out the beginning of the problem how it all started from
scratch, i.e. "the creation".  The spillover of this way of dealing with
suffering is so epidemic and extremely hard to overcome.  We deny and
disapprove the hurt that we have  already experienced but attempt to
bring  similar if not heavier hurt upon someone else, whether proven
guilty or innocent.  Blaming the past and the way we were treated in our
childhood, by our parents does not address the problem at hand but makes
the individual feel more resentful towards their past to the extent of
developing self-hatred.

This takes us to the second Truth, the truth of the origin of the
suffering.  In Buddhism, the basic ignorance, greed and hatred in our
minds are called "the three poisons".  The benefits of religious
practice can only be appreciated if individuals take full responsibility
for their own poisons of the mind.  The events of the past are not
happening now, except by oneself playing it back in one's own mind.  We
can see how our mental  problems are created from small factors.  To
reduce or eliminate suffering caused by one's own poisons of the mind,
one must not see them as bad or eternally evil.  People who do not know
anything about poison become its victims.  There are also large numbers
of people who know the danger of the poisons of the mind but they
suppress them without becoming able to detoxify them.  Familiarity and
undertsanding of this second truth is crucial to be able to do something
about the upset which I referred to earlier.  When we become aware that
all human beings are victims of their own poisons of the mind, we have
no time to become angry at the other person, but instead we feel empathy
for the other person.  This feeling of empathy brings ourselves to the
same level as the other person and become more connected.  By doing this
we will not dwell in our own misery to deepen and enlarge it, but it
sharpens one's focus on the other person's needs.  If the cause of the
hurt is the event of the past, it has already gone and is not happening
now except oneself playing it back in one's own mind as if it was
unforgettable.  The moment we express our feelings and care for the
other person, we will discover that he is in a similar if not worse
mental state than we were.  There will be an instant cure of the hurt
that one has been experiencing out of misunderstanding.  This changes
the mental climate of anger into compassion and one will feel powerful
to bring this change in one's mind without feeling powerless and
hopeless.  His Holiness the Dalai Lama has said that anger does not help
us to solve the problem at hand, but  robs us of our sleep, appetite and
make us unable to appreciate the good things we have in life.

Compassion is taught in all religions but compassion without wisdom is
likened in Buddhism to a bird with only one wing.  While we all believe
in compassion and its virtues, we mustn't use anything to impose upon
others in the name of compassion.  If someone does not want our
compassion, we must have the wisdom to accept the rejection of our
compassion but at the same time not to be discouraged by such
experiences.  This raises the importance and need of balance and
moderation in whatever we do in our lives, be it religious,
compassionate or otherwise.  If we go into extremes, religion can bring
more suffering than it can benefit  the world, as we all know.  There
are certain things we should not be too certain about.  So let the law
of cause and effect take its own course of reality.  Some things we just
have to accept. They will change in their own time for nothing is
permanent in the world.

No matter how hurtful it may have been, it will pass or it mustn't have
happened at all.  So do not dwell on the past whether good or bad for it
may obscure  the good things which surrounds you now.  The ability to
maintain the mind in a free and accepting state is an art of happiness,
joy and love.  This is called the truth of the path, the third noble
truth. It is also the path known as "The Middle Way (Madyam marga). This
comprises of eight fold paths:

1. Right View:  All things are in a state of dissatisfaction, whether
you are young or old, have a partner or do not have a partner, or you
have a job or do not have a job and so forth.  Even if you obtain
something you desire, it will never remain the same as all things are
impermanent. If we wish things were permanent instead, you are asking
for more trouble.  If you are enjoying this meeting, that is because it
was not here before and it will soon be over.  If we sit here longer
than it is comfortable, we will be in heaps of trouble, so we must move
on. Reflection on the law of impermanence can resuscitate you when you
are short of breath in certain problems of life and help to cultivate
right view.

2. Right Thought: Through the correct attitude that things are not as
real, satisfactory and durable as it appears or we want them to be, it
will enable us to let go of things so we can become more flexible and
less rigid and thus experience less stress.  This helps us to sort out
the thoughts and to get rid of certain thoughts which are harmful to
dwell on.  Certain thoughts such as kindness, impermanence and
compassion towards other living beings can become a very powerful way of
directing one's energy.  Lots of the sufferings come from one's
selfishness and the unability to think of positive things.  Therefore it
is important to choose the right things to think about.  We see and hear
what is in our mind.

3. Right Concentration: This way we will sort out  the priorities in our
lives and we  will not waste time on trivial matters.  There will be a
sense of focus and discipline in life which will inject much needed
motivation to live and help others rather than cherish for one's own
welfare.  This requires the adoption of a practice of meditation which
one should learn from  qualified teachers; not from books or people who
have not invested  devotion and faith in teachers, and lineage in which
such teachings are kept, but teach from books without any experience and
authority.  Like a camera, one's mind has to be carefully focussed
through attentive concentrated meditation to see the clear picture of
reality as it is.  If the camera of mind is out of focus, then our
mental lens  will project the incompetence of the cameraman who may in
turn blame the object for being too close or far.  His picture will be
unclear if any.

4. Right Action: One will have the ability to restrain one's senses
(particularly when things are going into extremes) and refrain from
inflicting lots of unnecessary suffering by sheer carelessness and
indulgence.  By conserving all the physical energy one will  carefully
utilise them to benefit others but not to cause any injury to their
life, health, property and relationship.  A person practising right
action, who is able to give so much to others enjoy  good health and
will be full of energy.  He will not feel worn out or exhausted.

5. Right Speech: Excercising  restaint over one's physical energy will
enable one to conserve one's energy.  So much suffering in our lives are
created by our mouth's Karma.  So if we understand the meaning of right
speech we should watch out for our mouth.  Go for a short retreat and
see how much peace there is in silence and see how  much garbage we talk
every day.  Gain some power over your speech so that no hurtful words
will slip out of your mouth.  Say what is good for the many and that
which is only truthful and helpful.  When you do this, you will hear
both praise and blame as the echo of voidness and oneself will be
unaffected by other's verbal abuse.  Rather they will become objects of

6. Right Livelihood: This world is for all creatures not just for human
beings and the powerful ones.  We must give a fair go and act decently
towards other living beings.  It is not considered clever to take
advantage of others who are weaker than ourselves.  Cultivate the
ability to treat others with respect as an individual just as oneself
desires to be happy.  Think of animals and their welfare if you cannot
deal too many unruly human beings.  Focus on what you can do without
causing direct harm on others and share things you have with others who
need them most.  Give to the needy and do not hoard wealth for it will
only become one's own prison and create many enemies. You can not take
anything with you when you die anyway.

7. Right Mindfulness: We know we should be fair to others but without
deliberate mindfulness we are often very forgetful to do the very things
we want to do ourselves.  We may become angry with ourselves just
because we were not mindful enough to bring the key left on the table
before closing the door.  You may become very cranky and may have a very
hard day at work.  This will create a very bad working environment for
your colleagues who will blame it on your temper and so forth.
Mindfulness practice requires consistent daily meditation practice on
how to integrate it into every day life.  In one Sutra it says: "One
with mindfulness is happy and one without is unhappy".

8. Right Effort: One must be diligent to change one's habitual patterns.
Just as weight conscious people get up early in the morning to jog and
do excerice,  likewise one who is concious of the actual health of mind,
one must employ right effort to break the negative habitual pattern of
one's attitude to life and its problems.  The effort to come here
tonight can be regarded as right effort but we must implement what we
have learnt from this meeting tonight.  You do not learn these things in
school, college, univeristy, on the soccer field or in the pub.  One
should create an environment in the house to change one's habits, in the
bed room, in the kitchen and wherever you are by yourself.  Develop
strong will inside you and this undying will and courage to do good for
the benefit of many will be of great benefit whether you regard yourself
as religious or not.

If we have individuals who adopt this theory of the eight noble paths
they will experience the fourth noble truth, the truth of the cessation
of suffering.  Whether you believe in god or you are an aethiest, or
believe in reincarnation or in an eternal heaven and hell, it does not
matter.  You will only experience what you deserve.  You will be a kind
and sincere person, that is the purpose of religion.  Who cares what we
believe in?  It largely depends on how  we conduct  our everyday lives.
That is the essence of religious practice, the eight noble paths I have
spoken about tonight are one of the many ways to practise it.

In brief, do not be too happy when everything is fine with you for there
are many less fortunate beings who are suffering at this very moment. Do
not forget the poor, sick, abandoned children, the lonely and aged
people.  Share your happiness by thinking of their welfare.   Think of
those caught in the war in former Yugoslavia and places like Cambodia
and do something useful with compassion instead of indulging in your own
fortune.  Also do not be too sad when things are not going well with
you.  You are one of the many fortunate people in the world.  Appreciate
and be grateful for the things you have, this will reduce your
sufferings.  In order to experience the cessation of suffering, the
fourth noble Truth, learn to be durable like the earth, fluid like the
water, creative and light like the air and free and vast like the sky.
Learn these qualities you yearn to cultivate from the mother nature, if
one fails to find any human being devoid of  fault.  Finally may the
ills of humanity not defile the ever shining truth of the enlightened
ones, like the lotus flower untainted by the soil in which it grows.
Accept what you can now, for this cannot be repeated again.  What you
can not accept now, do not reject it straight away, for you might find
it useful later on. Let there be awareness, compassion and tolerance
among all living beings.

*This was delivered at the Australian  Parliament of World Religions,
Pilgrim House, Canberra 26 June, 1993 and was subsequently published in
Bhakti magazine.
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