It must never be forgotten that Buddhism is a system of thought and a way of life which springs from the Buddha’s enlightenment. The Buddha, in other words, was the Buddha because he was the Buddha – that is, Fully Enlightened One, a man who by countless lives of self-exertion had attained to the ultimate development of spiritual consciousness. Thereafter He did not express opinions – He knew. This is the only article of faith in Buddhism that the Buddha found a way to supreme Enlightenment, and offered it to all mankind. Thereafter faith must be turned into knowledge by the slow, deliberate testing of the principles expounded, accepting those which are found to fit in with previous experience and helpful on the road to self enlightenment, rejecting those which do not achieve this sole test of “authority.”
As befits a man who had attained complete enlightenment, the Buddha was the supreme realist and at the same time the supreme idealist. Putting aside the irrelevancy of like or dislike, He saw that life is compounded of incessant change, unceasing suffering, and contains no form of life whose life or soul is changeless and immortal. He saw, further, that the minds of men are aflame with hatred, lust and illusion, and therefore, and for no other reason, we wander unhappily in a world of misery when all the time we, too, are, in our inmost essence, “fully enlightened ones.”
The first step in the application of Buddhism is to acknowledge that these facts are true, and not to attempt to avoid them; to achieve an unflinching honesty of vision whereby daily life is seen for what it is and not as we would have it be. The second step is to realise that these facts are facts because we have made them so, and that we who, by our lust and greed and ignorance, have created, a hell on earth, alone can “shatter it to bits and then remould it nearer to the heart’s desire.” And the third step is to realise that this is not the work of masses, nor of governments nor of societies, but of the individual, each cleaning up his own square yard of the hideous mess of present life, and doing it.
The Buddhist sets his face against escapism of every kind. Pleasure, in the sense of sensuous delight, is found to be at the best a waste of time, and happiness, so long as it is sought, will never be found. It is but a by-product of right living, a result of what we shall one day not be ashamed to call the holy life. All the world is at present engaged in making plans, wonderful glittering plans for a heaven on earth, but all of them are plans for what other people should do. The Buddhist makes plans for his own development, for the quenching of the fires of hatred, lust and illusion in himself, and leaves others free to do like wise.
Still less will the Buddhist try to escape Into the great illusion, “peaces War will continue until the last blade of grass has entered Buddhahood, for peace in the world, or war is the outcome of the thinking, right or wrong, of the aggregate of human beings, and so long as the fight between the true self and the false goes on within, so long will that inner war be projected on to the baffle field from time to time to relieve the intolerable pressure. The thunder clouds of hate, born of conflicting desires and fear, born in turn of illusion as to the nature of man and his destiny, sooner or later acquire such a pressure of force that the lighting flash is inevitable. Then the tension is relieved in ram, or on the battlefield in blood.
The Buddhist then, in the application of Buddhist principles, begins with himself, and, having begun, goes on. As someone has said, “Don’t argue about Buddhism – try it! “How? The answer is various. The ways to the Goal are as many as the fives of men.” Here is the vafley floor and there the mountain top. You can cfimb by the broad and easy path that winds about the mountain side, or go straight up the windswept heights are the same when you get to them.
The rules for the journey are simple. Welcome all experience without wasting time on labeling it as pleasant or unpleasant; eschew all thought of suffering, for it matters not as long as you team; and just walk on ! Whatever the chosen path it will have its inner and outer side, periods of meditation and inward-turned activity alternating with more experience in the world of men.
Yet Buddhism is not pessimism, nor the Buddhist life a dreary round of misery. Far from it for “though sorrow be the portion of the night yet joy cometh in the morning, and the Buddha, as already pointed out, was not only the supreme realist but also the supreme idealist. He saw because he had reached it; that peace which passeth understanding. He knew that beyond this vale of woe there is a changeless and abiding joy, a joy which to mere worldly happiness is as the sun to a rush light, and beyond our pitiful imagining. Yet some dim reflection of that glory comes to all of us from time to time, and when it is said and done the application of Buddhist principles is a steady development and brightening of that inner flame, the slow, unceasing movement to become what we already are,; if we but knew it – “fully enlightened ones”.