Against The Stream ~ THE BIRD OF
MANY BUDDHISTS ARE
PROUD of the fact that not a single drop of blood
has ever been shed in Buddhism’s name, but they
are proud only because they compare Buddhism’s
history with the records of other religions, which
cannot make similar claims; the history of several
world-religions is written in blood. Buddhism never
waged war, nor did it ever practice blood-sacrifice
of any kind, nor persecute anyone for holding different
beliefs. But that is no reason to be proud, for it
is only right that blood should not be shed in the
name of religion (or for any other reason, for that
matter); religion should be used to heal, to improve,
to unite others in understanding, not to hurt, destroy,
or cause division where no natural division exists.
During its history of over 2,500 years,
Buddhism never spread by means of violence or coercion,
but by means of Reason; people embraced it from understanding,
not be-cause of force. And although Buddhism in Asia
is now old, tired, and declining, in the West it is
alive and growing, fulfilling ancient prophesies.
One such prophesy, made about 1,200 years ago, by
Padma Sambhava, the great Indian Buddhist teacher
who spread Buddhism throughout Tibet, and whom Tibetans
revere as Guru Rimpoche— The Precious Guru—
is recorded thus:
When the Bird of Iron flies, and Horses run
on Wheels, then the people of Tibet will be scattered
like ants across the face of the earth, and the Teachings
of the Blessed One will go to the Land of the Red
1,200 years ago, there were no such things
as air-planes or automobiles, and America— the
Land of the Red Man— was yet to be discovered
by Europeans. For centuries, Tibet had been isolated
and was known as ‘The Forbidden Land’.
But when the Chinese communists took-over Tibet in
1958, many Tibetans, with the Dalai Lama, fled their
homeland as refugees, taking with them their culture
and religion, and settled in various parts of the
world, like India, USA, Europe and Australia. The
West gained what the East lost; many Westerners have
eagerly received the Buddha’s Teachings from
Tibetans since then; the Tibetans have been extremely
successful in spreading Buddhism in the West.
But others, too, have carried the Teachings
of the Buddha to the West, and a great drama is unfolding
Many Westerners now openly declare that
they have no religion, but this doesn’t mean
that they are irreligious. In many cases, it means
that they could no longer accept the dogmas and unreason
of religions that require belief in things that have
no factual support; many of them are deeply religious
in the sense of living by principles that are important
to them. If they can hear the Teachings of the Buddha
explained in a clear and reasonable way, many will
accept and live by them.
If we are to present the Buddha’s
Teachings in such a way, we must, therefore, be able
to distinguish the Dharma from the customs and traditions
that have grown up around it in Asia, for Dharma is
not something local or regional, but Universal. The
West will never adopt Asian culture wholesale; it
has its own culture and superstitions to deal with.
Dharma should be propagated in the West in suitable
and acceptable ways, shorn of Asian superstitions
and cultural accretions as far as possible. Western
forms of Buddhism will develop as time passes; we
need the Essence— the Dharma— to inform
and invigorate them.
All religions have elements of the miraculous,
and Buddhism is no exception; there are stories from
the life of the Buddha that are simply incredible.
According to the legends, when the baby Siddhartha
was born, he raised one hand towards the sky and pointed
the other towards the earth, saying: "In the
heavens above and in the earth below, I see no-one
who is my equal. This is my last birth; I shall cross
the Ocean of Existence". He is also supposed
to have taken seven steps, and from each footprint
a lotus-flower sprang up.
Some people still believe these things really
happened, but it is highly unlikely they did. Of course,
we cannot prove they didn’t, any more than we
can prove they did, but it is more likely they were
added to the account later— by people with more
faith than wisdom— to glorify the Buddha, to
‘gild the lily’, as it were. As it stands,
the statement attributed to the baby prince: "I
see no-one who is my equal", seems rather egoistic
for someone who would later proclaim a life of humility,
simplicity and self-effacement— even supposing
that he was able to speak as soon as he was born!
However, in Buddhism, such things are not regarded
as important, and Buddhism neither stands nor falls
because of them; it is based upon a much-firmer foundation
than legends of miracles that cannot now be verified.
Buddhism has two parts: the part of the
past— with accounts of things that cannot be
tested or proved by personal experience, and some
of which is very doubtful, like the myth above—
and the part of the present, the Here-and-Now. This
is the Dharma that people can test for them-selves
and get the results therefrom, just as the Buddha
said we should: "Test my Teachings as a goldsmith
tests gold". These Teachings do not require belief,
but are to be "comprehended by the wise, each
We often hear people telling of how ‘God’
saved them from danger or sickness, etc. But what
about all those not saved? If ‘God’ did
save someone, it must follow, as the inverse of the
claim, that ‘He/It’ must also have neglected
to save the others. The believers conveniently disregard
this aspect of it.
Many Buddhists think of the Buddha and Bodhisattvas
as ‘saviors’, but this is just weak-mindedness.
The Buddha has nothing whatsoever to do with our living
and dying; that is entirely our own affair, and we
should not try to implicate Him! And if we knew what
He taught, we would understand this.
In the Dhammapada, verses 11 and 12 of the
first chapter, the Buddha says:
In the unessential they see
In the essential, they see the unessential.
They who entertain such wrong thoughts
Never realize the essence.
What is essential they regard as essential;
What is unessential they regard as such.
They who entertain such right thoughts
Do realize the essence.
The Essence is more important than the Name and Form.