The Teachings of the Buddha

Introduction to Buddhism

by Geshe Rabten Rinpoche

Buddhism is neither a strange tradition peculiar to certain foreign lands, a means whereby to escape from personal responsibilities, nor a collection of dry words contained in books and libraries. Although such opinions are widespread nowadays they fail to discern what in fact Buddhism is. Let us try and clarify this misunderstanding.

The Basic Aims

All creatures in this world, whether human or animal, are constantly motivated by the same basic aims: namely the achievement of happiness and the removal of suffering. Usually we unquestioningly take the various activities of ourselves and others for granted and fail to recognise this fundamental truth that underlies them all. But although our entire existence is lived in pursuit of these goals it is sadly true that we never fully achieve them. The real, lasting happiness we desire constantly eludes us and in the depths of our minds we continue to suffer. In our search for satisfaction we construct roads, schools, hospitals and so forth. Although these afford us some temporary relief and contentment they are unable to remove the very roots of physical and mental pain. On the contrary we observe how mental unrest tends to increase with technological progress. But why, despite such enormous efforts, should this be the case? lt would seem to be implied that our efforts have been misdirected.

The Source

We generally consider the source of all our problems to be external to ourselves. We then try to overcome and manipulate these conditions. Of course it cannot be denied that external conditions affect our lives and cause us to suffer, but it has to be recognised that we too are responsible. The root cause for our having to experience suffering is deeply embedded within our own minds. The external situation is only a contributing circumstance. In this light it becomes clear that no matter how much we change the external world we will never arrive at a satisfactory solution. But what is it within us that causes us to continually suffer? It is self-concern, the attitude of cherishing oneself while disregarding others. In dependence upon self-concern attachment to one's own interest and resentment to the interests of others arise. Upon this basis all conflicts ensue: international wars, family disputes, even fighting between insects. If, however, self-concern were absent none of these problems could ever occur. A person who is solely concerned with himself is compared to a man whose body is covered with sores. No matter where he goes or stays his sores will always cause him discomfort. Likewise, as long as the mind is dominated by self -concern we shall never be contented. For even if our situation is pleasant there will always be a restless longing for something else, which prevents any lasting peace and happiness from finding its way into our lives.

The Remedy

However, if this self-concern is decreased, hatred and attachment will likewise diminish in strength. And to the degree in which these factors are reduced we will notice a corresponding increase in our concern for others, as well as in our own contentment and peace of mind. But where can the means be found to transform the mind in this way? They can be found in the Buddha's teachings. Thus the methods shown by the Buddha are extremely valuable for anyone truly seeking happiness, whether Buddhist or not. Therefore Buddhism should be understood as a method for overcoming mental suffering and for increasing the sense of well-being for both self and others.

The Results

We all know how much we appreciate being treated kindly by others. In the same way it should be realised that others too experience much joy upon being treated kindly by us. When concern for others grows strong, self-concern, hatred and attachment will diminish, one's mind shall experience calm and joy, and others will be made happy. All conflicts between individuals, groups of people, even nations will be resolved as soon as concern for others takes the place of concern for self. Concern for others is therefore the source of all individual and collective well-being in all spheres, both secular and religious. To achieve this is the essence of the practice of Buddhism. But the greatest way in which we can benefit others is to enable them to purify their minds of self-concern and cultivate concern for others. To gain the ability to do this the study and practice of Buddhism are very helpful.

© 28.01.24 Rabten Choeling • EditorialData protection