Clarifications of video misconceptions on Buddhism
This article hopes to rectify the misrepresentations of Buddhism in the online videos which were recently featured in the news.
1. Last Words of the Buddha
The Buddha’s last words were ‘Subject to change are all conditioned things. Strive on with diligence.’ He was urging us to strive on the way (the Noble Eightfold Path) to liberation (Nirvana; enlightenment) that he already discovered, walked and shared.
2 Definition of Nirvana
Nirvana is the perfect blissful state of liberation from all suffering realised by the Buddha, which can be attained by diligent practice of his teachings. It is a state of awakening led to by the awakened.
3 Dynamics of Karma
Unfortunate experiences, such as being sick, are due to past karma (intentional action) bearing fruit and/or one’s present karma created in the moment. If one has an inexplicable illness, it might be due to ripened negative karma from a past life. If one is sick due to neglect, it is the result of present negative karma. As there is no discernible ‘first’ lifetime in the many rounds of rebirth, it is impossible to be spiritually advanced in one’s ‘first’ lifetime. Furthermore, there must be something done to karmically deserve whatever one experiences.
4 Openness of Karma
As the workings of karma are dynamic, Buddhists do not believe in fatalism or predestination. The effects of our past negative karma can be diluted by our present positive karma, which we actively choose to create now, while our present karma can shape our future at will too.
5 Definition of Rebirth
Reincarnation refers to the idea of an unchanging soul taking upon a new form from one life to the next, while rebirth refers to an ever-changing consciousness that goes from one life to the next. It is due to this constant change that spiritual betterment and perfection is possible. With the precise and intricate workings of karma, one’s rebirth is never by chance, but according to the quality of one’s intentional thoughts, words and deeds. There are many animals in this world because it is relatively not easy to have the precious human rebirth, which requires more positive karma.
6 Validity of Rebirth
Rebirth remains the only viable explanation of how children with no preconceived ideas and adults in deep meditation have vivid memories of detailed past experiences in past lives, many of which are verifiable upon proper research. Babies also exhibit specific untaught character traits which are probably forces of habit carried over from their past lives. For more about scientific research on rebirth, please refer to the detailed works of Dr. Ian Stevenson.
7 Recollection of Past Lives
Though the ability to recall and learn from our past lives arises naturally through practising proper and deep meditation, the main focus of meditation is to realise calm and clear compassion and wisdom. We can also look at the state of our present lives and our habitual tendencies to know what were like in the past.
8 Significance of Chanting
Mantras are in Sanskrit, which are sometimes transliterated into other languages. Mantras are not merely for protection, but for nurturing various virtues too. They are not arbitrary strings of words with arbitrary meanings as they are sacred syllables with profound meanings to be practised with right understanding. Buddhist scriptures which are chanted are sacred teachings by the Buddha. The tunes used are to facilitate rhythmic pronunciation, pacing and memorisation.
9 Nature of Bodhisattvas
‘Pu Men Pin’ is the ‘Chapter on the Universal Gate’, from the Lotus Sutra. It is not called the ‘Goddess of Mercy Sutra’, though the chapter does centre around the enlightened Guanyin (Avalokiteshvara) Bodhisattva, who personifies perfect compassion, and is often mistaken as a mere goddess. Though it is ultimately us who realise timeless liberation ourselves, there is the great assistance of many Buddhas and Bodhisattvas to guide us too.
10 Nature of Buddhas
As the Buddha taught the existence of a creator God to be illusory, it is not a Buddhist goal to be greater than God. Though Buddhism teaches that nature (re)creates nature naturally, the Buddha taught of a god who had mistaken himself to have created the world. Even wise gods, who were once very virtuous humans seek to learn the path to liberation from Buddhas before they fall from the heavens due to their limited positive karma. Transcending all by having broken free of rebirth, Buddhas are also known as ‘Teachers of Humans and Gods’, who teach that we can all become enlightened with perfect compassion and wisdom like them.
11 Nature of Demons
Buddhists have no need to protect themselves from gods, who are mostly good, unless it is Mara (the chief heavenly demon) and his minions. However, when one protects one’s mind with high moral integrity, there already is natural protection with the power of truth and goodness. Even demons have the potential to be enlightened if they change their ways.
12 Nature of Animals
As history and present times have seen many cases of animals taking the initiative to protect and rescue humans and their kind who are in need, some animals can indeed demonstrate a greater sense of humanityand morality than some humans.
13 Equality of Genders
The Buddha taught that both men and women have the ability to attain Nirvana. He was the first founder of a world religion who permitted women to enter monasticism full-time. While one being born a man or woman is a result of karma due to various reasons, it is not true that all men are greater than all women, as there are many women who are spiritually greater than the average man – even in the Buddha’s time.
14 Cases of Healing
There are countless cases of genuine healing via proper Buddhist practice, though Buddhists seldom use healing to attract devotees, while focusing on its core teachings of nurturing compassion and realising wisdom.
15 Minimisation of Attachment
Buddhist monastics practise celibacy and refrain from entertainment to cultivate their minds for greater calmness and clarity. Monastics of some traditions refrain from handling money to minimise attachment to wealth, which might distract them from
furthering spirituality. Novice monastics without proper Buddhist knowledge and practice are not qualified to represent the Buddha’s teachings. In addition, beyondseeking impermanent heavenly rebirths, true monastics aspire for Nirvana.
16 Harm of Misrepresentation
According to Buddhism, intentional and uncorrected misrepresentation of the Buddha’s teachings which endangers the spiritual lives of many can karmically lead to lower rebirths for extended periods of time. For the welfare of all beings, may all practise greater mindfulness of thought, word and deed.