A Buddha is not a god, but rather one who, through complete wisdom and compassion, has attained full enlightenment and is thus beyond the endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. A Buddha exemplifies the highest form of morality and is the supreme teacher showing people the way to relieve suffering. The word “Buddha” is derived from the root budh meaning “to awaken and be aware or completely conscious of.” Buddhists believe that all beings have the Buddha nature, i.e. the potential to become a Buddha.
Buddhism originated approximately 2,500 years ago in northern India (now Nepal) with the supreme enlightenment of and subsequent teachings by Sakyamuni Buddha. Born around 600 B.C. to King Suddodhana, ruler of the Sakya clan, Saykyamuni Buddha was originally named Prince Siddhartha Gautama. In childhood he led a pampered life of royal wealth sheltered from the world’s miseries. But, when as a young man he was at last allowed to venture from the palace, he saw four sights: A decrepit old man, a person wracked with disease, a corpse, and a monk. He thus learned of life’s inevitable sufferings (old age, sickness, and death) and the transience of all worldly pleasure. He also saw that the wise monastic had found peace in spite of life’s ills.
Bodhi” means “enlightenment”; “sattva” means “sentient being.” A Bodhisattva is one who is following the path to enlightenment. In so doing, a Bodhisattva altruistically chooses to put off his/her own final stage of enlightenment in order to completely alleviate the suffering of others. He/She practices the virtues of generosity, morality, renunciation, wisdom, energy, patience, truthfulness, determination, loving-kindness, and even-mindedness to perfection and without self-interest. There are said to be an infinite number of Bodhisattvas. Mahayana Buddhists place particular emphasis on the importance of the Bodhisattva and the Bodhisattva Path as the way to realise one’s Buddha nature.
We know that the founder of Buddhism, Sakyamuni Buddha was born into this world; he cultivated his spiritual development, attained enlightenment, and shared with others in this world the profound truth he had realised. The human world was emphasised in everything he did. Why did the Buddha not achieve Buddhahood in one of the other five realms?
Why did he not attain enlightenment in one of the other ten dharma worlds? Why did he, instead, attain complete enlightenment as a human? There can only be one reason; the Buddha wanted the teachings of Buddhism to be relevant to the human world. The Buddha’s very life as a human being has give us all an inspiration and a model for the spiritual path and for making our own lives a spiritual practice.
The Fundamental Concepts of Humanistic Buddhism
Humanistic Buddhism is the integration of our spiritual practice into all aspects of our daily lives. Humanistic Buddhism has the following six characteristics.
- Emphasis on daily life as spiritual practice
- Universality of wanting to save all beings
It is difficult for people to see the relevance of Buddhism in their modern daily lives and how it adapts to the trends of the present age rather than merely following traditions blindly. Though Buddhism speaks of the past, present & future, it particularly highlights the universal welfare of the beings of this world; and although Buddhism speaks of all beings of the ten-dharma worlds, it reserves the most emphasis for humans. Through training and cultivating ourselves in this human world enlightenment can be achieved.
Therefore, we should cherish our lives, and integrate the Buddhist practice in our daily lives. Some people perceive Buddhism as a religion removed from humanity. This perception of Buddhism is characterised by isolation, retreat to forests, self-concern and individualism; it has lost its humanistic quality.
Humanistic Buddhism encompasses all of the Buddhist teachings from the time of the Buddha to the present – whether they are derived from the three traditions. The goal of Humanistic Buddhism is the bodhisattva way; to be an energetic, enlightened and endearing person who strives to help all sentient beings liberate themselves. Also, well as transforming our planet into a pureland of peace and bliss.
Humanistic Buddhism must focus more on issues of the world rather than on how to leave the world behind; on caring for the living rather than for the dead; on benefiting others rather than benefiting oneself; and on universal salvation rather than cultivation for oneself only.
There are five points that help us in applying Humanistic Buddhism in our everyday living. Humanistic Buddhism is:
- The practice of the five basic moral ethics (Five precepts) and ten virtues
- To develop the four boundless vows of kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity
- Applying the six paramitas and the four great bodhisattva virtues – generosity; amiable speech; conduct beneficial to others; co-operation
- The understanding of cause, condition, effect, and consequence
- Encompasses the teachings of Ch’an; Pureland; and the middle path.
(From the book, “Entry Into the Profound: A first step to understanding Buddhism” published by International Buddhist Association of Australia Incorporated.)