The Teachings of the Buddha

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Je Tsongkhapa

Introduction to Buddhism

by Geshe Rabten Rinpoche

Buddhism is neither a strange tradition from some foreign land, nor a method to flee from one's responsibilities, or a collection of dry words in books and libraries. Though such opinions are widely held today, they do not correspond to the actual meaning of Buddhism. Let us try to overcome this misunderstanding.

Fundamental Goals

Whether human or animal, all beings in this world always aspire to reach the same goals: obtaining happiness and eliminating suffering. We usually take our own and others' activities for granted, and thus cannot even become aware of such fact. Although we spend all our lives aspiring to reach these goals, it seems as if we can never fully accomplish them. The real, lasting happiness that we are looking for always eludes us; instead, in the depth of our consciousness, there remains a permanent suffering. In our quest for fulfilment, we build streets, schools, hospitals and so on. These give us some temporary relief and satisfaction, but it cannot eliminate the roots of physical and mental suffering. On the contrary – we see that a constant increase of mental unrest accompanies the development of technology. Why is that the case, despite our tremendous efforts? Is that an indication that our efforts are not being invested in the right place?

The Cause

Generally, we tend to think that outer circumstances are the causes of our problems, and therefore we try to influence and to overcome them. Of course, nobody will deny that outer circumstances have an effect on our lives and that they do cause us suffering. But once we recognise that the root of our problems lies deep in our own consciousness and that the outer situation is just a contributing circumstance, we realise that changes in the outer situation will never lead to a satisfactory solution by themselves. But what is it in us that permanently causes suffering? It is self-cherishing, the cherishing of oneself and the disregarding of others. That is the cause of all conflicts, of wars between nations, of disputes in families and even of fights between insects. Without this self-cherishing thought, there would be none of these problems. One who thinks only of himself is like a person whose whole body is covered with wounds: regardless of his location or activity, the wounds will always make him feel uncomfortable. In the same way, we will never be happy as long as our consciousness is ruled by self-cherishing: even in pleasant situations, a restless greed for something else will separate us from lasting happiness and calmness.

The Remedy

However, if self-cherishing is diminished, the strength of hatred and greed is reduced. And the more these factors decrease, the more our love for others, satisfaction and fulfilment increase. But where can we find the means that make such a change of our consciousness possible? They can be found in the teachings of the Buddha. Thus, the path shown by Buddha is extremely precious for all of those who sincerely seek happiness – be they Buddhists or Non-Buddhists – and therefore, Buddhism is solely to be understood as a way to overcome mental suffering and to accomplish one's own and others' well-being.

The Result

We all know how much we appreciate being well treated by others. Accordingly, we should understand that others equally appreciate being well treated by us. When love for others becomes strong, self-cherishing, hatred, and greed disappear. One experiences joy, quietude, and happiness; and others experience the same. All the disputes between people, even the conflicts between nations, can be solved at the moment self-cherishing is replaced by love for others. That is why love for others is the origin of individual and general well-being, both in worldly and in religious matters. This realisation is the central point of the practice of Buddhism, and the best way to benefit others is to offer them the possibility to free their own mind from self-cherishing and to develop love for others.

© 13.10.21 Rabten Choeling • EditorialData protection