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What does "a good Buddhist" mean?

Bhikkhu Souraba Nanda

In my five years stay in Sri Lanka I have met many people of various characters. Whenever I wanted to know about them, most of them introduced themselves as good Buddhists.

At times I ask some of them, the question, what do they mean by a good Buddhist? Most of them keep quiet while some say as they are born in pure Buddhist families and that they memorise many Suttas (discourses) of the Buddha.

It should be mentioned that few of them could be really called good Buddhists as they know and really put into practice in their own life, the teaching of the Buddha. But what is the real meaning of a good Buddhist?

Let's have a look into how a man is recognised to be a good Buddhist in the present society. As we know the common religious activities in a Buddhist family are offering Dana (giving), making offerings to the Buddha, taking Panca Sila (five precepts) etc by which, they introduce themselves as good Buddhists.

Some people give Dana because they think they should follow what the ancestors did or what their religion instructs to perform when some one dies.

They are not aware of why they are giving Dana in thereal sense. They are performing that with no conviction (Saddha). Saddha or conviction is very important in Buddhism when someone performs any religious activity. But what is Saddha?

It is from the Sanskrit word sra and dha, sra means mind while dha means to keep or to put, so it has the meaning keeping the mind on something, that's to know exactly what one does.

So if one performs Dana without Saddha, will it produce a suitable result? One must have Saddha when performing Dana or any other religious activities, that is, he has to know in his mind the action being performed, he must know that he is performing that with a generous mind and that he has no attachment in doing that. Then the action will bare a proper fruit.

It is also the same in observing precepts. Some people sometimes take Panca Sila (five precepts) two-three times daily. When they attend to a religious ceremony, they just take Panca Sila and never think of them later, not understanding the meaning and the utility of practising them.

Sometimes they do understand the meaning of each precept that they are promising not to kill, not to take without permission, not to commit adultery, not to tell lies and not to take liquor, but how many are really practising them? In spite of promising in such ways, what do they do? They go back home and do all what they promised not to do.

Is there any meaning in taking Panca Sila in such a way? Why is that? That is because they have no Saddha in taking precepts, that is, they are not aware of what they are doing? So according to Buddhism we ourselves must know what we do exactly in our mind and try our best to keep the promise.

If not with Saddha it is completely useless, on the other hand it will be harmful for us, as we are not keeping to our promise.

As I have mentioned earlier some have the idea of being a good Buddhist as they are born in Buddhist families. Can it be so? If so, we do not need to study them with much difficulty since our ancestors have studied enough. Is it?

Another very significant religious performance practised by most of the Buddhists can be seen everywhere in Sri Lanka. that is offering to God Skanda-Katharagama. Many people believe and have high respect in God Skanda-Katharagama.

Some times I ask people why they do believe in such gods, being Buddhists? In their answer they say that they are not so much interested in gods but they have to follow what their ancestors did for centuries. What do you mean by ancestors? In Kalama Sutta, the Buddha clearly has instructed them.

The Buddha has been very free when preaching Buddhism to others. The Buddha has said that you are the god of yourself; you can only protect yourself, not others.

So we can see how the Buddha gave freedom to others to accept any faith after having a comprehensive thinking, unlike other religions that force others to accept their faith.

So this belief in gods became so strong among people that so many efficient personalities like Ven. Gangodawila Soma, Anagarika Dharmapala and others tried their best to obliterate this misbelief from the society. I do not know how far their effort came to be successful.

There is a female goddess called Bhadrakali, who is also very famous in saving people from misfortunes. If people face any dangerous calamities in their lives, they make offering to this very goddess and pray for their salvation from the very problem. But the way they offer to her is very mysterious.

Yeh, it's true that some people, when they really fell into trouble they prayed to God and sometimes they really got relief. And therefore they think, yes, that's true; there is a God who can save the people from their misfortunes. But do you know what happens really. You get relief not because of the God but because of you yourself, we cannot feel it. But how? That is what is called Power of Mind.

As human beings we have potential to do anything that seems to be impossible with the power of our mind. This is something hidden in ourselves. We are not aware of that because we do not think of or want to develop that power in us as we are busy with our daily activities.

I am sure no one can say that the God has provided whatever he or she desired. If so why about 65% of the population in the world are in misery? Why the God does not have any sympathy to these poor people who even do not have anything to eat?

In Buddhism, the Buddha goes much more beyond than them.

Though he says he is not the saviour, if we think more genuinely, he is the noblest saviour. Unlike others He shows the Real Path of Highest Emancipation and that we have to proceed through ourselves. We have to train ourselves along that path, the Path of Enlightenment.

In fact He was the only human to realise the highest truth. All other religions are based on unknown, unseen, non-human Gods. So according to my knowledge praying to a Fully Enlightened One like Buddha would bring more result as he is the highest being who has trained His mind.

Even in my experience, when I get some problem, I contemplate on the great qualities of the Buddha and wish to get release from the problem. yes, that come true. But still I do not think it is the Buddha who has done it for me.

So it is now up to you to realise the True Path of Real Humanity. It is up to you to decide whether to develop your inner potentiality of your mind which can make you a much more better person than the gods whom you are praying to, or to pray whole day hoping for salvation to an unknown and non-qualified powerful god.


Source: Daily News, Sri Lanka, 01 September 2004, http://www.dailynews.lk

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