The teaching of Gotama was essentially practical. This statement may seem paradoxical to the reader who has some acquaintance with the Buddhist scriptures, and he will exclaim that of all religious books, they are the least practical and least popular; they set up an anti-social ideal and are mainly occupied with psychological theories. But the Buddha addressed a public such as we now find it hard even to imagine. In those days, the intellectual classes of India felt the ordinary activities of life to be unsatisfying; they thought it natural to renounce the world and mortify the flesh; divergent systems of ritual, theology, and self-denial promised happiness, but all agreed in thinking it normal as well as laudable that a man should devote his life to meditation and study.
Compared with this frame of mind the teaching of the Buddha is not unsocial, unpractical and mysterious but human, business-like and clear. We are inclined to see in the monastic life which he recommended little but a useless sacrifice, but it is evident that in the opinion of his contemporaries his disciples had an easy time, and that he had no intention of prescribing any cramped or unnatural existence. He accepted the current conviction that those who devote themselves to the things of the mind and spirit should be released from worldly ties and abstain from luxury but he meant his monks to live a life of sustained intellectual activity for themselves and of benevolence for others. His teaching is formulated in severe and technical phraseology, yet the substance of it is so simple that many have criticized it as too obvious and jejune to be the basis of a religion. But when he first enunciated the most basic tenets of Buddhism, some two thousand five hundred years ago, they were not obvious but revolutionary and little less than paradoxical.
The existence of everything depends on a cause: hence if the cause of evil or suffering can be detected and removed, evil itself will be removed. That cause is lust and craving for pleasure. Hence all sacrificial and sacramental religions are irrelevant, for the cure which they propose has nothing to do with the disease. The cause of evil or suffering is removed by purifying the heart and by following the moral law which sets high value on sympathy and social duties, but an equally high value on the cultivation of individual character. But training and cultivation imply the possibility of change. Hence it is a fatal mistake in the religious life to hold a view common in India which regards the essence of man as something unchangeable and happy in itself if it can only be isolated from physical trammels. On the contrary, the happy mind is something to be built up by good thoughts, good words, and good deeds. In its origin, the Buddha’s celebrated doctrine that there is no permanent self in persons or things is not a speculative proposition, nor a sentimental lament over the transitoriness of the world, but a basis of religion and morals. You will never be happy unless you realize that you can make and remake your own soul.
Find an error? Take a screenshot, email it to us at email@example.com, and we’ll send you $3!