Trần Chung Ngọc

ngày 29 tháng 4, 2009

LTS: Niềm tin vào một Thượng đế xa xăm càng ngày càng trở nên phi lý, không phải chỉ vì khoa học, mà còn do chính sự phát triển của lý trí, sự lớn mạnh của tự do ngôn luận, cùng một lúc với sự nghi ngờ về những giáo lý, và sự sụp đổ của đền đài tâm linh do lối sống sa đọa của các người "đại diện Chúa" bị phanh phui. Giữa lúc niềm tin Thiên Chúa Giáo Âu Châu đang bị phá sản như thế, giới trẻ rất cần biết về triết lý Á Đông, mà tiêu biểu là Phật Giáo, để điều hướng suy tư của con người trở về bản ngã nội tại và thực tiễn hơn. Những điều căn bản về nhân sinh quan của Á Đông nói chung, và đạo Phật nói riêng, đã làm điểm tựa thực tiễn và bền vững cho cuộc sống con nguời. Do tiếp xúc với một số bạn trẻ, chúng tôi khám phá ra nhu cầu này trở thành cấp thiết để giúp cho giới trẻ đang chơi vơi trong thế giới tinh thần. Nhiều bạn trẻ ở ngoại quốc, đọc tiếng Anh trôi chảy nhưng đọc tiếng Việt không mấy dễ dàng. Tài liệu nghiên cứu bằng ngoại ngữ về triết lý Phật giáo đã có nhiều, nhưng rất mênh mông. Bài viết ngắn gọn sau đây là một nhịp cầu sơ khởi, trước khi bạn trẻ muốn tìm hiểu rộng rãi thêm ở các tài liệu chuyên đề khác. Xin giới thiệu đến các bạn trẻ. (SH)


What is Buddhism?

Buddhism is simply the Teachings of the Buddha (The Enlightened One). The name Buddhism comes from the word "Buddhi" which means "to wake up" and thus Buddhism is the teaching or philosophy of awakening.

What did Buddha teach?

The Buddha taught many things, contained in several hundred volumes which are classified in three categories called "Three baskets" (Tipitaka): I. Vinaya Pitaka: Basket of Discipline – Rules and Precepts of the Order; II. Sutra Pitaka: Basket of Discourses – Dialogues between Buddha and disciples on his teaching; and III. Abhidharma Pitaka: Basket of doctrinal elaborations – Scholastic discussions of principles and special doctrines. There are many profound teachings of the Buddha, but the most basic ones that every Buddhist knows are: The Four Noble Truths, The Eightfold Path To Self-Salvation, The Twelve Links of Interdependent Co-Arising, and the Theories of Dependent Origination, Karma, Impermanence, and Reincarnation etc...

As for practice, this can be summarized in the following four verses of Paragraph 183 from the Dhammapada Sutra:

"Refrain from doing what is evil;

Do all what is good, wholesome;

Purify your mind;

That’s the teaching of all the Buddhas."

What do Buddhists believe?

Buddhists’ beliefs are through experience, that is knowledge by acquaintance. In the Kalama Sutra, also known as the "Fundamentals For Belief" in Buddhism, the Buddha advised Buddhists not to take anything for granted:

  • Do not believe anything just because it is a legend.
  • Do not believe anything just because it belongs to a tradition.
  • Do not believe anything just because many people talk about it.
  • Do not believe anything just because it is written in the scriptures or books.
  • Do not believe anything just because it is a metaphysical argument.
  • Do not believe anything just because it agrees with your own ideas.
  • Do not believe anything just because it is based on superficial data.
  • Do not believe anything just because it agrees with your own prejudices.
  • Do not believe anything just because it has the support of an authority or a power.
  • Do not believe anything just because it is preached by missionaries or by your spiritual teachers.

When you hear anything, you have to examine it, think about it, and experience it. When you know for yourselves that certain things are wholesome and good, moral, beneficial to yourself and to others, only after that you should believe in them, accept them, and practice them.

In another occasion, the Buddha went even further. He told the Bhikkhus (Buddhist Monks) that a disciple should examine even the Buddha himself, so that the disciple might be fully convinced of the true value of the teacher whom he followed.

When Buddhists worship the Buddha, is it a form of idolatry?

No! The dictionary defines an idol as "an image or statue worshipped as a god". Buddhists do not believe in a god, or that the Buddha was a god, so the word "worship" is not quite appropriate from the Buddhist point of view. "Paying homage" should be the correct term. Furthermore, Buddha affirmed that the "Buddha Nature" is inherent in all sentient beings. That means, anybody can become a Buddha, the "Awakened One" or the "Enlightened One". A statue of the Buddha with its hands rested gently in its laps and its compassionate smile reminds us to strive to develop peace and love within ourselves. The perfume incense reminds us of the pervading influence of virtue; the candle reminds us of the light of knowledge; and the flowers which soon fade and die, reminds us of impermanence, one of the basic teachings of the Buddha. When we bow or prostrate before the image or statue of the Buddha, we express our gratitude to the Buddha for what his teachings have given us, we bow to our own "Buddha Nature", our own potential to become a Buddha.

If I want to learn more about Buddhism, which books do you suggest?

There are many good books about Buddhism. However, for a basic understanding of Buddhism, I would like to recommend two excellent books to begin with: "Old Path, White Cloud" by the Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh, and "The Three Jewels" by the Ven. Sangarakshita. These books are available at any good book store such as Barnes & Noble or Borders.

What about the "49th-day-after-death" ceremony?

Buddhists believe in the theory of many lives, or rebirth, or reincarnation, now proved by scientific evidence and many authentic cases around the world. The teaching of "Karmic Bardo", an intermediate state of 49 days’ duration between death and rebirth, is peculiar to "Esoteric Buddhism" or "Tibetan Buddhism". This teaching is described in detail in Sogyal Rinpoche’s "The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying" or in the classic book of W.Y.Evans-Wentz "The Tibetan Book of the Dead".

Very briefly, according to this teaching, at death, our "karmic energy" or "consciousness-spirit", that is the sum of all our actions generated from our body, speech, and mind, from this life and from previous lives, in form of energy, leaves the body, usually within three days after death, and travels through space in a state of "Karmic Bardo" or "Bardo of Becoming". The whole "Karmic Bardo" has an average duration of 49 days, and a minimum length of one week. Most ordinary beings do not stay in this bardo longer than four weeks. As this Karmic Energy is no longer limited and obstructed by the physical body of this world, the "possibilities" are infinite for "becoming" reborn in different realms. If one is to be reborn in the realm of human beings, the "consciousness-spirit" will be attracted to and picked up by an appropriate fertilized egg, or if one has good enough karma, one is liberated from the cycles of birth-and-death, and goes directly to the Western Paradise of Utmost Joy, a Realm called Pure Land of Eternal Bliss.

What we can do to help the dead person is called "transference of consciousness". For 49 days after the person’s death, every day or at least every week, we should perform some rituals in which we simply direct our good thoughts toward him/her, and recite some Sutra and Dharani such as the Heart Sutra, the Dharani of the Most Compassionate One, the Rebirth-in-Pure-Land Dharani etc.. which is believed to have the power to purify each of the negative emotions that are the cause of rebirth, and uproot all karmic hindrances so the dead person’s consciousness-spirit can find its way to the realm of Western Paradise of Utmost Joy, thus liberated from the cycles of birth-and-death. When we do this, we also extend the embrace of our compassion to include other dead people in our prayers. These rituals are to be performed daily or weekly for seven weeks, usually in a Buddhist Temple, or at home.

The seventh week is considered a critical juncture, as 49 days is taught to be generally the longest stay in the bardo. Usually, immediate relatives and close friends are invited to attend this grand ceremony to pray together and to dedicate all the merit and well-being that spring from any such acts of kindness and generosity to the dead person, and in fact to all those who have died, so that everyone who has died may find his/her way to the realm of Eternal Bliss.


See also: God in Buddhism (Khmand)

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