Thanks to the arrangements of the Hong Kong University’s Centre of Buddhist Studies Alumni Association, I had the chance to join the 12-day cultural exchange trip to Turkey. Indeed, Turkey is different from Hong Kong in many ways: it is an Islamic country while Hong Kong celebrates different religions.
The local women hide themselves in Muslim hijabs and robes while ladiesin Hong Kong are eager to wear their shorts and vests before the summer. However, amiable smiles under thick hijabs are seldom seen in Hong Kong.
During this tour, we met local friends, families, academic institutions, media and charityorganizations etc. It not only strengthened my understanding about the Turkish people, history, culture, religion and economy, but also gave me a chance to learn about their opinionsof Buddhism
We visited a local Islamic family in Istanbul and received a warm welcome in their home for dinner. The householder asked many questions on Buddhism, probably because half of our group was comprised of Buddhist monks, a rare sight in Turkey. Through the open and sincere dialogue, the householder and our Masters both shared their views on the religions keenly and borderless. The chat not only let us to understand others’ beliefs, but also deepened our understanding and reflection of our own belief, especially an issue raised up by the householder: “Is there any reward system in Buddhism?Do Buddhists do good deeds for the reward? ” He also quoted an example that Buddhists used their own time to spread the dharma.
The dialogue aroused a string of reflections in me:
1. What leads a non-Buddhist to have such an opinions about Buddhists?
2. Is there really any reward system that Buddhists look for?
3. If the answer is yes, then what is the expected reward?
4. If not, then comes back to the householder’s question, why does a Buddhist use his/her own time to help others? What are the driving forces behind?
My first reflection: Are there any rituals of Buddhism; such as the prostration bowsbefore the Buddha, the chanting of the sutras, and the freeing of captive animals etc, make others have such an impression on Buddhists? Or do some Buddhists themselves actually expect the merits and virtues in return?
For outsiders, they may misunderstand Buddhist rituals if they only focus on the superficial act without learning the reasons behind. An authentic Buddhist should understand the meaning of the rituals through the principles of Buddhism. We are not just praying soley for the purpose of praying, not just being a vegetarian solely for the purpose of being vegetarian, not just chanting solely for the purpose of chanting; but instead, the main reasons behind areto cultivateour devotion, compassion and wisdom.
It is imprudent to jump to an immediate answer to whether the Buddhists do good things for rewards or not, it depends onthat particular Buddhist’s own mind. As each Buddhist comes from different background, age, region, school, and dharma learning; thus their knowledge on Buddhism principles differs.
We can look into the question from the fundamental need of Why we study Buddhism? Let me quote the words of Master Taixu (太虛大師), “Learning from the Buddha is our yardstick only, and our only goal is to become a Buddha.” In short, all Buddha’s teaching is to guide us towards nirvana. It is Buddhism saying that, “There are many expedient practices, but there is only one way to the Nirvana.” In order to adapt to the different capacities of sentient beings, the Lord Buddha used immeasurableteaching methods. For new beginner, the Lord Buddha said one can gain the reward of rebirth as human beings through practicing the five Percepts. One can gain the blessings from the heavens through performing the 10 good deeds. The intention of the Lord Buddha is to attract the mundane beings with conventional rewards first before guiding them to the profound wisdom of Buddhism. The teachingstarts from preventing the disciples doing willful acts, then teaches them to cultivate some wholesome seeds on the holy path step by step. The ultimate goal of the Lord Buddha is that all sentient beings can relieve from sufferings and attain nirvana.
There is a Buddhist saying: “A person at first starts to learn Buddhism wishing for good results, as their determination is not enough.” Thus, we agree that some beginners, when they preliminary learning Buddhism, may hold a functionalist and instrumentalist approach. Some come to the doors of Buddhism hoping that they can gain merits and virtues, some come for seeking answer from Buddhism when they encountered some difficulties in their daily lives. However, with a deepened understanding of Buddhism, devotion and bodhicitta, they should have a profound knowledge and goal that Buddhism is not for the self.
Master Yan Shun (印順導師)illustrated three essences that a Buddhist should cultivate oneself: “Bodhicitta,Great Compassion (mahakaruna), and Realization of Empty nature”. Mahayana Buddhism attributesto relieve sentient beings from the sufferings, which is the highest level of the religious spirit. Thus the Buddhist practices are not for the self-interest, but for the interest of all sentient beings. The Buddha hopes that suffering beings can also free from samsara. Thus, the practice of buddhahood is to benefit other sentient beings. Of course, the bodhisattva with the wisdom of emptiness would not cling to any phenomenon including sentient beings, merits and virtues, for so-called sentient beings,merits and virtues are emptiness too.
Then, what are the driving forces for Buddhists to do good without asking for return if everything is emptiness? In fact, any cling to the return of merits and virtues is not the right motivation. As mentioned on Abhisamayālankara 彌勒在《現觀莊嚴論, the driving forces is : “All bodhisattva practices are for the interest of others; and the purpose is to attain bodhi.” Thus, the right driving force of a true bodhisattva is to relieve others from suffering “not for the benefit of oneself, but for the benefit of all sentient beings”.
If a Buddhist cherishes the idea of a self, a person, a living being or a universal self, then that person cannot be said to be an authentic Buddhist. A true Buddhist, in practicing the bodhisattva path and enriching the bodhicitta, should detach herself from the fame, merits, returns, sentient beings… in short, any form or phenomena in his mind. Due to the non-attachment, he or she gets the highest wisdom or attainment in return.
The Pure Land and sentient beings are mutually related. A serene and beautiful Buddha Pure Land comprises the sentient beings; thus the bodhisattva is grateful to sentient beings for giving him/her the chance to practice Buddhahood, so that the sentient being can make offering to the Pure Land eventually. In this subtle relationship, who on earth is asking for any returns? The bodhisattva or the sentient beings?
The Diamond Sutra best illustrates the Buddhist’s right attitude: “Practicing compassion and charity without attachment is the way to reach the Highest Perfect Wisdom. ”. Due to no grasping on reward, one can get the highest rewardWe are not clinging for any phenomenal reward, but at the end, we attain something more profound and ultimate reward. This so-called reward is for the sentient beings. In this respect, how can we conclude that Buddhism is a reward system or not? How can we conclude that who is benefited in this reward?Finally, I would like to quote some words from Professor Shi Weiren: “When a person objectively explains a religion (which he or she doesn’t believe in) to another believer (who doesn’t know the theory very well) he will find that he applied an objective attitude to the other’s religion as well as his own. It is because objectivity has become his or her way of thinking.” Through an Islamic householder’s opinions on Buddhism, I can reflecton and examine my own belief in Buddhism. This is the biggest reward that I gained from this cultural exchange.
Original Chinese text: Cheng Wan Lan Louisa
Translation: Emma Bi Jia
English editing: Raymond Lam
2012年9月，感恩「香港大學佛學研究中心校友會」的安排，令我有機會參加了12天的「土耳其交化交流團」。土耳其確實有很多與香港不同的地方；它是一個回教 (伊斯蘭教) 的國家，而香港是一個兼容不同信仰的地方。當地婦女上街時還要把自己藏在頭巾及長袍裡，而香港的女士夏天未到已迫不及待換上背心短褲。然而，當地婦女在頭巾及長袍包裹下展露的親切笑容，在香港卻是很少看到的。
在伊斯坦堡 (Istanbul) 時，我們探訪當地一個伊斯蘭家庭，並獲他們熱情地招待到家中晚膳。可能我們的團友超過一半是出家人，也可能當地人很少機會接觸佛教徒，所以主人提出很多關於佛教的話題。當主人解釋伊斯蘭教的同時，法師們也積極回應他們對佛教的提問。誠懇的交流，打開彼此宗教之間的溝通，不僅幫助我們理解別人的信仰，同時也加深我們對本身信仰的認識及反思。尤其是主人提出其中一個問題：「佛教徒行善，例如用自己的時間去弘法，是為了回報 (Reward System) 嗎？」