Buddhism - Selections
“This book will reward those who study it carefully with a deep and wide understanding of the way these traditions have mapped their respective visions of the path to enlightenment.”—Bhikkhu Bodhi, translator of In the Buddha’s Words
Due to the great kindness of the Buddha, who taught the Dharma and established the Saṅgha, the teachings showing the path to liberation have been clearly set forth for sentient beings to follow. As the Buddha’s doctrine spread throughout the Indian subcontinent and then into other countries, different Buddhist traditions emerged. In ancient times, and even into the modern era, transportation and communication among people from these various traditions were limited. While some may have heard about other traditions, there was no opportunity to check the accuracy of that information. Thus misconceptions arose and passed from one generation to the next.
Due to improvements in transportation and communication, in the twenty-first century, we followers of the Buddha have the opportunity to get to know each other directly. Thanks to new translations, we are now able to read the scriptures of each other’s canons and the commentaries by our respective great masters. Since the translations available still represent only a fraction of the total scriptures, and the potential body of the sūtras and commentaries to read is quite extensive, we offer this humble volume as a bridge to begin learning about one another.
All of us Buddhists have the same Teacher, Lord Buddha. It would be for everyone’s benefit if we had closer relationships with each other. I have had the great fortune to meet many leaders from the Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Jain, and Sikh worlds, but I have had comparatively little opportunity to meet with the great teachers, meditators, and leaders of the different Buddhist traditions. Most Tibetan monastics and lay followers know little about other Buddhist traditions, and I believe the followers of other traditions know little about Buddhism as practiced in the Tibetan community. If our Teacher, the Buddha, came to our planet today, would he be happy with this? All of us, the Buddha’s spiritual children, proclaim love for the same “parent,” yet we have only minimal communication with our brothers and sisters.
In recent years this has fortunately begun to change. Many Buddhists from Asia and the West have come to Dharamsala, India, the center of the Tibetan community in exile; some Tibetan monks and nuns have also visited their countries. Communication with our Theravāda brothers and sisters had been particularly minimal, but some cracks in the centuries-old divisions are beginning to appear there as well. For example, two Burmese monks studying at a university in India came to visit me. They were interested in learning about Tibetan Buddhism so they could broaden their knowledge of the Buddhist world while continuing to practice in their own tradition. I admire their motivation, and I would like to encourage Buddhists from all traditions to gain a deeper understanding of the vastness of the Buddha’s doctrine. This can only help us to appreciate even more the Buddha’s exceptional qualities as a Teacher who has the wisdom, compassion, and skillful means to lead us all to awakening.
A central purpose of this book is to help us learn more about each other. All Buddhists take refuge in the Three Jewels; our teachings are based in the four truths of the āryas (the malaise of duḥkha, its origin, cessation, and path), the three higher trainings (ethical conduct, concentration, and wisdom), and the four immeasurables (love, compassion, joy, and equanimity). All of us seek liberation from saṃsāra, the cycle of rebirth fueled by ignorance and polluted karma. Learning about our similarities and differences will help us be more united.
Another purpose of this book is to eliminate centuries-old misconceptions about each other. Some Theravāda practitioners believe Tibetan monastics do not follow the vinaya—the monastic ethical code—and that as practitioners of tantra, they have sex and drink alcohol. Meanwhile Tibetan practitioners think the Theravāda tradition lacks teachings on love and compassion and characterize those followers as selfish. Chinese Buddhists often think Tibetans perform magic, while Tibetans believe Chinese Buddhists mainly do blank-minded meditation. All of these misconceptions are based on a lack of knowledge. We offer this book as a step toward alleviating these misconceptions.
Now in the twenty-first century East and West, South and North, are coming closer. We Buddhist brothers and sisters must also have closer contact and cultivate mutual understanding. This will benefit us as individuals, will help preserve and spread the Dharma, and will be an example of religious harmony for the world.
Bhikṣu Tenzin Gyatso, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama