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Why Buddhism

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by Sangharakshita

Lecture 18: Why Buddhism?

Sangharakshita At present, that is to say the beginning of this new year 1966 [portion of lecture missing] we raised, and we tried to answer the question of `is religion necessary?' - a question very often asked nowadays by thinking people. Now last week, last Sunday, we split this question up into three separate parts, and we dealt with these parts independently.

First of all, we investigated the nature of religion itself: what we mean when we use this word.

.Then we tried to see in what sense it is possible to speak of religion as being a necessary thing.

And lastly, we tried to understand for what or for whom religion is necessary. I don*t want to go over that same ground again this afternoon, but I will just very briefly recapitulate the conclusions we reached at the end of that talk for the benefit of those who were not here last week, as well as to remind those who were, and this recapitulation will give us a sort of point of departure for today*s talk.

After discussing the meaning of religion, we saw that it meant essentially the achievement of a state or condition of psychological and spiritual wholeness, and also in that state of wholeness, relating to others, to other people, as well as to ultimate reality. We saw further that rather contrary to what people usually think, or what they usually take for granted, we saw that religion isn*t necessary for everybody. Religion is necessary for those who have begun to be self-aware, and who want, in who ardently desire to embark on a higher evolution to psychological and spiritual wholeness, in other words, religion as we*ve already defined it.

Now let us suppose, let us take for granted, let us assume that we are self-aware. Let*s suppose that we*re not just propelled, not just motivated by instinct or custom: suppose we really are self- aware; suppose we really are considering our place in the universe, our place in the whole great system of existence, in the whole scheme of things. Supposing we*re trying to understand that; supposing we*re trying to understand what is the meaning, what is the purpose of life itself? Why .are we here? And supposing, being self-aware in this way, suppose we make up our minds that we wish ourselves to pursue the par for the course of the higher evolution. Suppose we want to achieve wholeness, that is psychological and spiritual wholeness in the full sense, at the highest level as it were, and supposing so wishing, we want to have recourse to religion as we*ve already defined it, for this purpose. For then we find that we*re confronted, as also we saw last week, towards the end of the talk, we*re confronted by a rather serious problem. We*re confronted by the fact that religion does not exist in the singular, though we have so far been speaking of religion, and the necessity of religion; we find in fact that it doesn*t exist at all in the single, but only, very bewilderingly so, in the plural. We find that there isn*t just religion existing in the world, but we find that all over the world there is a plurality, a multiplicity, an immense variety of religions. Thus to speak of the world as a whole - even if we take this one great city of London, within a few miles of this very place, we can encounter ,not only Christian churches, not only other Buddhist organizations, we can encounter also representatives of Islam, of Hinduism, of Judaism, the Bah*ai, the Theosophists; there are so many groups, so many sects, so many churches, so many schools, so many religions in a word, represented even in this one city of London, not to speak of the world outside as a whole.

So the problem which confronts us, or the difficulty which confronts us is `which one, of all these to choose?' Even supposing, even assuming that we do come to the conclusion that religion is necessary for us as a means to our own higher evolution, our own achievement of psychological and spiritual wholeness, even assuming that we do come to this conclusion, and we try to lay hold of religion as it were, then this question arises `Which one? - this one, that one or another one? How are we to choose? How are we to come to a decision in this matter?' Most of us who are here this evening, who are sitting here, most of us, to some degree or other, more or less definitely, have chosen Buddhism. But the question arises `Why? Why Buddhism? Why this particular teaching?' This is the question with which we*re concerned today. `Why Buddhism?' rather than some other teaching, some other system, some other religion.

Well before we go into this main question of the evening, we*ll briefly consider one or two preliminary questions, because these are not only connected with the main question, but they are also of some importance in themselves. First of all, there*s the whole question of choice, selection itself. Should we be free to choose at all? Should we be free to choose our own religion ourselves? Some people think not - the choice is to be made by some other authority, not by ourselves. And some even say that we shouldn*t think in terms of choice at all, we should simply follow that religion into which we happen to have been born. If you*re born in a Christian country, follow Christianity; in a Buddhist country, follow Buddhism; in a Hindu country, follow Hinduism; in a Confucian or Taoist country, follow those religions. That s one school of thought, or one tendency of thought: that one shouldn*t try to make one*s own individual free choice, but that one should simply follow the religion nearest to hand, the one into which as it were, one has happened to be born. Well this particular view, as I can testify from my own experience, is very strong indeed in India. In India, one will hear this sort of idea expressed all the time. I myself have been asked by Hindus why, having been born into a Christian family, I abandoned Christianity, and took to Buddhism? And when I tried to explain the reasons., Hindu friends have told me `Well that doesn.*t matter, you should have stuck to Christianity, after all you were born into that' as though that is the last word on the subject. So this idea is very strong in India among Hindus. It is strong of course, because it is connected, linked with the caste system. The word which we usually translate when speaking about Buddhism or speaking about Hinduism as religion, in the original Indian language is of course Dharma. But in each of the systems, each of the teachings that have sprung up on the soil of India, the word Dharma has a slightly different connotation. What it means for Buddhism we know already, or we should know, at least to some extent. But so far as Hinduism is concerned, it*s got a rather different connotation from what it has in Buddhism. In Hinduism as you know, there is a sort of socio-religious tradition which we call the caste system. It*s a really complex question, there*s no time to go into it in detail, but broadly speaking, we can say that there are four main castes. Actually, in modern India, there are about two thousand separate castes, but theoretically at least, they can all be classified under the four, and the four are, starting from the top, the class of the Brahmins, the priests and teachers, although nowadays often you find them doing very different kinds of work; secondly the Kshatriyas, the land-owners and rulers, warriors; thirdly the Vaisyas, that is the shopkeepers, traders and merchants, sometimes peasants; and fourthly the Shudras, or labourers - the menials, the servants, the coolies. The out- castes, including the Untouchables, about whom I*ve spoken on other occasions, they come outside this system altogether - they*re lower than the low as it were.

Now the Hindus have the view that appropriate to the caste to which you belong, there is a particular kind of duty of religion. So they speak of Dharma in terms of those customs, those practices, those duties, appropriate to the caste into which you happen. to have been born. For instance the Dharma of the Brahmin is to teach. The Dharma of the Kshatriya is to fight. The Dharma of the trader, the Vaisya, is to make money, and the Dharma of the Shudra is to serve the other three castes. And Hindus hold that it is a sin to depart from the Dharma of the particular caste into which you happen to have been born. Orthodox Hindus for instance hold that that the Buddha committed a great sin in as much as having been born into a Kshatriya family, that is a warrior family, instead of devoting himself to fighting, he took up the Dharma of the Brahmin, and actually had the temerity to teach religion. So in this way, the orthodox Hindu view is that a person should confine himself to the practices of Dharma appropriate to the caste into which he happened to have been born. And this idea is very deep-rooted, and that*s why they tend to think that if you*re born a Christian, you should remain a Christian; born as a Buddhist, you should remain a Buddhist. That*s the sort of idea they have. In this connection, I remember a rather amusing story from South India, which shows how deeply rooted this sort of idea goes.

Now the story relates to an old woman in South India. And this old woman apparently had been converted to Christianity. There are many Christian missions in South India, and quite a number of Christians of various churches. So apparently the old woman had been converted by one of these churches - I think it was the Methodist, or the Baptist church, something of that -sort. So what happened, after some months, Christmas came round, so the Padre, the Missionary said to his converts `On Christmas day, you have to come to Church. There won*t only be a service, there*ll be a big feast for all of you, so come to church, and after that we shall have the feast'. So they all came, and amongst others the old woman ...

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