The Wisdom Blog: Classic & Contemporary Buddhism

The Teachings of the Buddha: The Happiness Visible in This Present Life

by Bhikkhu Bodhi
October 15, 2013
Tue, 10/15/2013 - 10:30 -- bbodhi

This week’s theme from The Teachings of the Buddha is “The Happiness Visible in This Present Life.”—Editor’s note

Is it the case, as some scholars hold, that the Buddha’s original message was exclusively one of world-transcending liberation, with little relevance for people stuck in the routines of worldly life? Did the ancient Buddhists believe that it was only in the monastery that the real practice of the Dhamma began and that only those who left the world were considered proper receptacles of the teaching? Did the Buddha’s teachings for the laity have no more than a token significance? Were they mainly injunctions to acquire merit by offering material support to the monastic order and its members so that they could become monks and nuns (preferably monks) in future lives and then get down to the real practice?

At certain periods, in almost all traditions, Buddhists have lent support to the assumptions that underlie these questions. They have spurned concern with the present life and dismissed the world as a valley of tears, a deceptive illusion, convinced that the sign of spiritual maturity is an exclusive focus on emancipation from the round of birth and death. Monks have sometimes displayed little interest in showing those still stuck in the world how to use the wisdom of the Dhamma to deal with the problems of ordinary life. Householders in turn have seen little hope of spiritual progress in their own chosen mode of life and have thus resigned themselves merely to gaining merit by offering material support to the monks.

While the Nikayas reveal the crown of the Buddha’s teachings to lie in the path to final release from suffering, it would be a mistake to reduce the teachings, so diverse in the original sources, to their transcendent pinnacle. We must again recall the statement that a Buddha arises “for the welfare of the multitude, for the happiness of the multitude … out of compassion for the world, for the good, welfare, and happiness of devas and humans”. The function of a Buddha is to discover, realize, and proclaim the Dhamma in its full range and depth, and this involves a comprehensive understanding of the varied applications of the Dhamma in all its multiple dimensions. A Buddha not  only penetrates to the unconditioned state of perfect bliss that lies beyond samsara, outside the pale of birth, aging, and death; he not only proclaims the path to full enlightenment and final liberation; but he also illuminates the many ways the Dhamma applies to the complex conditions of human life for people still immersed in the world.

To continue reading Bhikkhu Bodhi's introduction to "The Happiness Visible in This Present Life", click here.

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