Given all of these problems, however, three major attitudes or themes towards the world can be discerned within the vast and living tradition which is world Buddhism. Renunciation of the world is the first theme, and it is primarily emphasized by those sutras and those Buddhist traditions which purport to represent the actual teachings and practices of the historical Buddha, such as the Pali canon and the Theravadin schools of South East Asia. The next important theme to emerge from the Buddhist tradition is compassion, which is emphasized by the Mahayana canon and the Mahayana schools of East Asia. Finally, there is the theme of gratitude, which has primarily been emphasized by the New Religions which have emerged in the last two centuries out of the matrix of Mahayana Buddhism and modernization in East Asia.
Admittedly, this may come across as a gross generalization of the Theravada, Mahayana and the New Religions. Compassion is certainly not absent from the Theravada, nor is renunciation itself renounced by the Mahayana, and certainly the best of the New Religions draws upon all of the best elements of traditional Buddhism. However, it is my contention that the themes of renunciation, compassion and gratitude did find their fullest development within the Theravada, Mahayana and the New Religions respectively. In this paper I will provide a broad outline of the development of these themes within these three major movements of the Buddhist tradition. Along the way, I will also show how the Mahayana and the New Religions took undeveloped or subordinate themes from their predecessors and not only developed them but made them the centerpieces of their own teachings.
In book five, "The Flower Bank World," of The Flower Garland Sutra, there is a long passage which describes the many worlds within this universe which is given the name the Flower Bank World. In that passage, one is introduced to worlds with picturesque names such as Supreme Light Shining Everywhere, Beautiful Array of Lotus Flowers of Various Scents, All-Illuminating Light of Ornaments of all Jewels. Our world is also counted among these, but it is simply referred to as the world called Endurance (Saha in Sanskrit).1 Far from seeing this world as the best of all possible worlds, Buddhism views it as a kind of cosmic backwater due to the ruggedness of this world's environment and the vulnerability of its inhabitants in comparison with all of the other worlds that compose the universe of all sentient beings. This may not be very flattering, but at least this world is not dismissed as a mere illusion of cosmic irrelevance. In fact, it is through awakening to the true qualities of this world that enlightenment is achieved according to the Buddha Dharma.
In Theravadin Buddhism, all things are said to have the three marks of impermanence, suffering and lack of an independent and lasting self. It is not taught that the world does not really exist or that it does not matter. Rather, the three marks indicate that the world does not exist in the way that we would like to think it does. Furthermore, we should not become attached to it, because it can not bring us ultimate satisfaction. In fact, the fault is not with the world as such. The real source of our troubles is that we try to wrest from the world a happiness and security that it can not deliver. The world as such is not an illusion, but the world as capable of bringing us lasting self-satisfaction is very much a creation of our own ignorance and wishful thinking.
This teaching of the three marks entered the Mahayana tradition through the teachings of Nagarjuna as the three seals of the Dharma. These three seals are composed of impermanence, selflessness and the peace of nirvana. The peace of nirvana corresponds to the mark of suffering because it means that nirvana alone can bring about the peace which worldly suffering denies us, though sometimes suffering is included as a fourth seal in the Mahayana tradition. In Mahayana Buddhism, any teaching which conforms to these three (or four) seals can be considered a legitimate teaching of the Buddha. Like the three marks, the three seals point out that all phenomena can be characterized as impermanent, lacking in an independent substantial self and that only nirvana can bring the peace we are seeking. In the Mahayana, however, the three (or four) seals are not considered the final word of the Buddha, though they are never contradicted.
the light of the three marks or the four seals, it makes sense to cultivate an
attitude of detachment towards the fleeting and ultimately unsatisfactory phenomena
that make up the world and instead to focus one's attention on the attainment
of nirvana, the peaceful state that transcends the phenomenal world. This theme
of renunciation is in fact articulated with great force in the Ariyapariyesana
"Bhikkhus, there are these two kinds of search: the noble search and the ignoble search. And what is the ignoble search? Here someone being himself subject to birth seeks what is also subject to birth; being himself subject to ageing, he seeks what is also subject to ageing; being himself subject to sickness, he seeks what is also subject to sickness; being himself subject to death, he seeks what is also subject to death; being himself subject to sorrow, he seeks what is also subject to sorrow; being himself subject to defilement, he seeks what is also subject to defilement.
what may be said to be subject to birth? Wife and children are subject to birth,
men and women slaves, goats and sheep, fowl and pigs, elephants, cattle, horses,
and mares, gold and silver are subject to birth. These objects of attachment are
subject to birth; and one who is tied to these things, infatuated with them, and
utterly committed to them, being himself subject to birth, seeks what is also
subject to birth."2 The Buddha then goes on to state that all of these things
are also subject to ageing, sickness, death, sorrow and defilement using the same
formula as in the previous paragraph. Gold and silver, however, are exempted from
such things as sickness, death and sorrow as they are not organic. They are, however,
subject to ageing and defilement, since even non-organic phenomena can deteriorate
over time or become mixed or diffused with other elements. Despite the differences
between these various phenomena, the point is made that none of them can be relied
upon to bring permanent fulfillment nor can they enable us to to escape our own
vulnerability to life's inevitable dissolution and end. The ignoble search, then,
refers to the futility of expending our time and energy trying to gain and maintain
happiness within the world through one's family and/or possessions. On what should
we expend our time and energy? On the noble search for nirvana (nibbana in Pali):
"And what is the noble search? Here someone being himself subject to birth, having understood the danger in what is subject to birth, seeks the unborn supreme security from bondage, Nibbana; being himself subject to aging, having understood the danger in what is subject to aging, he seeks the unaging supreme security from bondage, Nibbana; being himself subject to sickness, having understood the danger in what is subject to sickness, he seeks the unailing supreme security from bondage, Nibbana; being himself subject to death, having understood the danger in what is subject to death, he seeks the deathless supreme security from bondage, Nibbana; being himself subject to sorrow, having understood the danger in what is subject to sorrow, he seeks the sorrowless supreme security from bondage, Nibbana; being himself subject to defilement, having understood the danger in what is subject to defilement, he seeks the undefiled supreme security from bondage, Nibbana. This is the noble search.3 It is clear from this passage that one should turn away from the world and seek instead the peace of nirvana. In fact, judging from this passage it would seem as though the world should be totally rejected and not given any further thought. There probably were many Buddhist monks and nuns who did take an attitude of total indifference and aloofness in regard to the world and others in their search for personal liberation from suffering. The idea that one should seek one's own liberation and leave the rest of the world to fend for itself is criticized in Mahayana Buddhism as being a Hinayana or Small Vehicle idea of Buddhism because it is a self-seeking ideal of self-liberation only. Mahayana polemics aside, the Pali canon of the Theravadin tradition may not be a Mahayana recension of the Buddha's teachings, but there are in fact many passages within it which do uphold the ideal of an altruistic and compassionate concern for the world. In the following passage, for instance, the Buddha sends his disciples into the world in order to share the Dharma with others:
Then the Blessed One addressed the bhikkhus: "Bhikkhus, I am free from all shackles whether human or divine. You too are free from all shackles whether human or divine. Go now and wander for the welfare and happiness of many, out of compassion for the world, for the benefit, welfare and happiness of gods and men. Teach the Dhamma that is good in the beginning, good in the middle and good in the end, with the meaning and the letter. Explain a holy life that is utterly perfect and pure. There are beings with little dust on their eyes who will be lost through not hearing the Dhamma. Some will understand the Dhamma. I shall go to Uruvela, to Senanigama, to teach the Dhamma."4 The Pali canon of the Theravada, literally the "Teaching of the Elders," is said to be the recorded teachings of the Buddha prior to the innovations of the Mahayana sutras. In fact, the Theravada prides itself on its conservative adherence to the actual doctrines and monastic precepts of the historical Buddha. In the Mahayana canon, those sutras or discourses which correspond to the Pali canon are collectively known as the Agamas, the "Source Teachings." In them, are those discourses which preserve the very same themes of renunciation and the quest for nirvana. In fact, many of the discourses in the Agamas are simply different recensions of the same discourses collected in the Pali canon. In the Mahayana, however, the Agamas are referred to as the Hinayana teachings. As far as the Mahayana Buddhists were concerned, these teachings may have had occasional references to compassionate concern for the world, but they were too few and far between.
Mahayana Buddhism, however, compassionate concern for the world would become the
central theme, while renunciation would take on a merely preparatory role in the
endeavor to save all beings. According to Mahayana Buddhism, one should give rise
to the mind of enlightenment which seeks to save all people from suffering. This
mind of enlightenment, or bodhicitta, is almost always expressed in a series of
vows. In these vows the aspirant to buddhahood, or bodhisattva (Thomas Cleary
translates this term as "enlightening being"), makes a commitment to
remain in the world and postpone final liberation until all other beings have
been liberated. The following is an example of such a vow taken from the Flower
Garland Sutra (translated by Thomas Cleary as the Flower Ornament Scripture):
The enlightening beings also conceive this overwhelming determination: "If I attain complete perfect enlightenment first without having established all sentient beings on the path of unsurpassed liberation, I would be violating my original vow - that would never do, so I should first cause all sentient beings to attain unexcelled enlightenment and nirvana without remainder, and then after that fulfill buddhahood. Why? Sentient beings have not asked me to set my mind on enlightenment - I of my own accord act as an unsolicited friend to sentient beings, wishing to first cause all beings to fully develop their good potential and attain omniscience...."5 While the Hinayana Buddhist (whoever might fit that description) seeks nirvana in order to escape the various realms of transmigration within the world of birth and death, the bodhisattva voluntarily stays within the world of birth and death in order to guide others to nirvana. The bodhisattva even volunteers to take up the suffering of others while at the same time transferring all of their merit to them for the sake of universal liberation from suffering. The language used to describe the bodhisattva's resolution in this regard might even strike those who have grown up in a Christian environment as very similar to the Christian doctrine of vicarious atonement. Again, the Flower Garland Sutra provides a very moving example of this resolve:
They also form this thought: "I should accept all sufferings for the sake of all sentient beings, and enable them to escape from the abyss of immeasurable woes of birth and death. I should accept all suffering for the sake of all sentient beings in all worlds, in all states of misery, forever and ever, and still always cultivate the foundations of goodness for the sake of all beings. Why? I would rather take all this suffering on myself than to allow sentient beings to fall into hell. I should be a hostage in those perilous places - hells, animal realms, the nether world, etc. - as a ransom to rescue all sentient beings in states of woe and enable them to gain liberation."6 At this point, it must be pointed out that those who aspire to the compassion of a bodhisattva are in danger of falling into an attitude of sentimentality, pity or condescension instead of genuine compassion. The aspiring bodhisattva might even acquire a martyr complex or messianic delusions of grandeur if their vows are not balanced by the perspective of the perfection of wisdom which sees through the duality of self and other, savior and saved. All of these mistaken ideas and attitudes could be called the near enemies of compassion in the sense that they are often mistaken for genuine compassion and they constantly threaten to subvert authentic expressions of compassion. Perhaps in an effort to help the aspiring bodhisattvas maintain their humility and perspective, some Mahayana sutras introduced the idea of gratitude as an important motivational element of Buddhist practice. The following example of this is from the Meditation on the Mind Ground Sutra:
Worldly and transcendent debts of gratitude are of four kinds. There is the debt of gratitude to one's father and mother. There is the debt of gratitude to all sentient beings. There is the debt of gratitude to the ruler of the country. [Finally] there is the debt of gratitude to the Three Treasures [Buddha, Dharma and Sangha].7 In Mahayana Buddhism, all phenomena give rise to one another. All phenomena derive their temporary and provisional existence from the interdependent network of all other phenomena. This means that all of us depend upon each other and all things in order to be who we are. All of us must have parents in order to come into the world. All of us require the assistance of innumerable living beings in order to acquire food and shelter, companionship, an education, and all of the other things which make life worth living. As human beings, we all grow up with the benefits as well as the constraints of a given language, heritage and culture which all contribute to our character and world view. Finally, for those who seek to free themselves of life's inevitable suffering and to awaken to the true meaning of life, there is always the possibility of encountering the Three Treasures and taking refuge in them. According to the Meditation on the Mind Ground Sutra, we would not even be who we are if it were not for our parents, our fellow beings, our homeland (represented by the ruler) and the Three Treasures. This Mahayana teaching demonstrates the truth that all existence is interdependent existence and therefore the basis of our interactions with others should be a deep feeling of gratitude and appreciation. A good example of this kind of awareness is provided by the Vietnamese Zen monk, Thich Nhat Hanh:
During a conference on religion and peace, a Protestant minister came up to me toward the end of one of our meals together and said, "Are you a grateful person?" I was surprised. I was eating slowly, and I thought to myself, Yes, I am a grateful person. The minister continued, "If you are really grateful, how can you not believe in God? God has created everything we enjoy, including the food we eat. Since you do not believe in God, you are not grateful for anything." I thought to myself, I feel extremely grateful for everything. Every time I touch food, whenever I see a flower, when I breathe fresh air, I always feel grateful. Why would he say that I am not? I had this incident in mind many years later when I proposed to friends at Plum Village that we celebrate a Buddhist Thanksgiving Day every year. On that day, we practice real gratitude - thanking our mothers, fathers, ancestors, friends, and all beings for everything. If you meet that Protestant minister, I hope you will tell him that we are not ungrateful. We feel deeply grateful for everyone and everything.
time we eat a meal, gratitude is our practice. We are grateful for being together
as a community. We are grateful that we have food to eat, and we really enjoy
the food and the presence of each other. We feel grateful throughout the meal
and throughout the day, and we express this by being fully aware of the food and
living every moment deeply. This is how I try to express my gratitude to all of
life.8 From this example, we can see that gratitude as an approach to the world
is present within the Mahayana. Gratitude is in fact a consequence of the teaching
of emptiness, whereby all things are empty of self-existence and come into being
through interdependent relationships. In spite of this, the Mahayana tradition,
as a whole, rarely elaborates upon the idea that the world itself should be viewed
with gratitude. The Meditation on the Mind Ground Sutra, for instance, was never
as influential as sutras like the Lotus or the Flower Garland which dwell at great
length upon the theme of compassion for others. The four debts of gratitude are
mentioned in passing in Buddhist liturgies and in case 37 of the Gateless Gate,
but they are rarely the subject of a discourse in and of themselves. In the Pure
Land tradition, teachers such as Rennyo (the 15th century reformer and popularizer
of the Jodo Shinshu) did emphasize gratitude to Amitabha Buddha. However, they
would rarely direct that gratitude to the world which they were hoping to be liberated
from. This is illustrated in the following passage from one of Rennyo's letters:
If you wish to attain faith and entrust yourselves to Amida, first realize that human life lasts only as long as a dream or an illusion and that the afterlife [in the Pure Land] is indeed the blissful result in eternity, that human life means the enjoyment of fifty to a hundred years, and that the afterlife is the matter of greatest importance. Abandoning the inclination toward all sundry practices and discarding the tendency to avoid certain things, entrust yourselves single-heartedly and steadfastly to Amida and, without concerning yourselves with other buddhas, bodhisattvas, and the various kami, take refuge exclusively in Amida, with the assurance that this coming birth is a certainty. Then, in an outpouring of thankfulness, you should say the nembutsu and respond in gratitude for Amida Tathagata's benevolence in saving you.9 Shinran (the 13th century founder of the Jodo Shinshu) took this focus on Amida to the radical extreme of refusing to even recite the nembutsu for his own parents on the grounds that only through the salvation offered by Amitabha Buddha could he possibly repay his debts of gratitude to all sentient beings. Shinran seem to have felt that one could not even hope to repay one's infinite debt of gratitude to all sentient beings without showing gratitude to the infinite saving power of Amitabha Buddha first. For all practical purposes, the focus of gratitude is entirely upon Amitabha Buddha and the Pure Land. Any gratitude shown towards this world would be viewed as misguided self-power effort from this radical Pure Land perspective. The following passage from Shinran's Tannisho makes this clear:
I, Shinran, have not once said the Nembutsu for the sake of fulfilling my obligation of filial piety toward my late parents.
The reason is that all sentient beings have been my parents and my brothers and my sisters during my innumerable past lives. When I become a Buddha in the next life, I must save every one of them.
If the Nembutsu were a good act which we could perform by our own efforts, we could direct the merit that we acquire by saying it towards saving our parents. But since this is not the case, we should discard self-power and attain Buddhahood quickly. Then, through supernatural abilities and expedient means, we will be able to save all beings, beginning with those with whom we have past bonds, no matter what kind of karmic suffering they may be experiencing in the six realms of mortal existence and the four modes of birth.10 Most other Pure Land teachers did not take things to the radical extreme that Shinran did. Still, the less radical Pure Land teachers, and the Mahayana as a whole never tried to put gratitude on an equal footing with compassion and did not develop any substantial doctrines dealing with gratitude towards the world in and of itself.
This would change with the appearance of the New Religions. The New Religions of Asia arose in the last two centuries in part as a spiritual response to the upheaval brought about by renewed contact with the West, the challenge of modernization, and the complacency and spiritual bankruptcy of the established religious traditions. One of the ways in which the founders of the New Religions responded to the collapse of the old values was to draw out new inspiration and guidance from the old traditions by asking new questions relating to democracy, industrialization, human rights, nationalism, communism and other forces and ideas which were reshaping the face of Asia. The influence of post-Enlightenment Christianity, with it's positive assessment of the world and emphasis on social progress, was also a factor in the rise of the New Religions. In those New Religions which emerged out of the older Mahayana Buddhist establishment, the value of gratitude gained an importance it had never enjoyed before. In fact, gratitude would even come to surpass compassion as well as renunciation as the primary attitude of New Religion Buddhists towards the world.
Nikkyo Niwano, the founder
of the Rissho Kosei Kai, provides an excellent example of a founder of a Buddhist
derived New Religion who has made gratitude the primary attitude to be cultivated
towards the world. Rissho Kosei Kai is a Japanese New Religion which is primarily
inspired by the teachings of the 13th century Japanese reformer Nichiren. Nichiren
himself utilized the Meditation on the Mind Ground Sutra and the four debts of
gratitude in several of his epistles and treatises in order to make the point
that one who embarks upon the Buddha Way should be motivated by gratitude for
all that one has received from both mundane and transcendent sources of grace.
Nichiren argued, however, that the debt of gratitude to the Three Treasures has
precedence over the worldly debts to one's parents, fellow sentient beings, and
the ruler. In fact, according to Nichiren, one can not even hope to repay ones
worldly debts of gratitude unless one repays one's debt of gratitude to the Three
Treasures first. This is because only through taking refuge in the Buddha, the
Dharma and the Sangha can one achieve buddhahood and thereby enable others to
attain buddhahood as well. Nichiren makes this argument in his "Letter to
the Brothers," wherein he cites the example of Shakyamuni Buddha himself
as well as a statement attributed to the Meditation on the Mind Ground Sutra (known
as the Shinjikan Sutra in Japan) to support his position:
When Shakyamuni Buddha was a prince, his father, King Suddhodana, could not bear losing his only heir and therefore would not allow him to renounce his royal station. The king kept two thousand soldiers posted at the city's four gates to prevent him from leaving. Nevertheless, the prince eventually left the palace against his father's will. In general, it is the son's duty to obey his parents, yet on the path to Buddhahood, not following one's parents may ultimately bring them good fortune. The Shinjikan Sutra explains the essence of filial piety as follows: "By renouncing one's obligations and entering nirvana one can truly repay those obligations in full." That is, in order to enter the true way, one leaves his home against his parents' wishes and attains Buddhahood. Then he can truly repay his debt of gratitude to them.11 Nikkyo Niwano's essays, however, have a very different emphasis. His concern is not that people are misdirecting their gratitude towards worldly phenomena, but that they do not appreciate nor do they respond with gratitude to the unearned blessings which make their lives possible in the first place. In a feudal and agricultural society, gratitude to the balance of nature, to one's neighbors, and to those in authority is simply common sense. After all, in feudal times one's dependence upon nature, one's neighbors and the feudal order were an immediate and direct matter of life and death. In an industrialized and capitalist society, however, consumerism and self-interest are far more common than gratitude. In the free markets of the industrialized world, one must compete for almost everything. There is no time to be grateful to one's competitors in the economic or political arenas or to the natural world which is now a resource to be managed. It is this kind of society that Nikkyo Niwano is addressing when he emphasize the importance of cultivating a sense of gratitude. In the following passage from an essay entitled "Gratitude," Nikkyo Niwano uses the traditional Mahayana principle of interdependence in order to show that gratitude is the proper response to all the people and things which make our life possible.
There is a strong tendency today to give logical explanations for everything and to deal with things as matters of rights and duties. For example, some people think that when a parent raises a child, the parent is only obeying an animal instinct, so there is no particular reason for the child to be thankful. Some think that it is only natural for teachers to teach, since after all they receive salaries. Pursuing this line of thought, one concludes that plants give oxygen just because they are alive, and that the sun gives light and heat as just a natural phenomenon. In other words, there is no cause to be thankful.
There is no way for such thinking to make people happy. It can only make people egoistic, cold-hearted, puffed up, and lonely. By contrast, we cannot imagine how much happier it makes us to be grateful to our parents, to the people around us, to the plant kingdom, and for the blessings of heaven and earth. If the number of people who feel such thankfulness grows into the thousands and millions, not only will they support one another with affection, but they will be able to exist in harmony with the plants, the oceans, and the atmosphere. The planet will become a peaceful, comfortable place to live.
When one looks at how the world is formed, one can understand that everything is interdependent, and is connected in some way. Nothing exists entirely in and of itself. Our environment is one of constant, interrelated change, in which the death of one thing becomes the source of life for another. With everything so interdependent, a grand but subtle harmony is built up. As a consequence, we can say that it is most natural to live in grateful acceptance of every encounter with those who share this bond. Conversely, as long as we do not forget to see things as they are, the feeling of gratitude for all things will surely spring forth.12 In Korea, this emphasis on gratitude is even more central in the teachings of Sot'aesan Taejongsa, the founder of Won Buddhism. In an attempt to counteract the aloof and world denying attitudes of traditional Korean Buddhism, Sot'aesan utilized his own unique version of the four debts of gratitude or Four Graces as a concrete way of showing how to "change a life based on resentment into a life based on gratitude."13 Sot'aesan's version of the Four Graces bear a resemblance to the four debts of gratitude of the Meditation on the Mind Ground Sutra, and it is possible that they were inspired by that sutra. As shown above, the four debts of gratitude were composed of parents, sentient beings, the ruler and the Three Treasures. Sot'aesan's version consists of heaven and earth (representing the natural world), parents, brethren (referring to all fellow beings including animals), and law (in the sense of "law and order," which includes but is not limited to the Buddha Dharma).
not Sotaesan derived his concept of the Four Graces from the earlier Mahayana
version, he did make the Four Graces an essential element of Won Buddhism. In
Won Buddhism, the concept of grace would no longer serve a merely supportive or
subordinate role; nor would grace be seen solely in terms of the transcendental
power of many buddhas and bodhisattvas. In fact, grace would become one of the
Four General Principles of Sot'aesan's reformation of Buddhism. In the Scripture
of Won Buddhism the Four General Principles are listed as: "Right Enlightenment
and Right Conduct, Awareness of Graces and Requital of Graces, Practical Utilization
of Buddhism, and Selfless Service to the Public."14 The general principle
of the Awareness and Requital of Graces is described in the following passage:
By awareness of Graces and Requital of Graces is meant that one should be aware of, and feel deeply, the way in which one is indebted to Graces of Heaven and Earth, Parents, Brethren and Laws; when following the way of being indebted, one is to requite these Graces. Even if one is confronted with a case in which one is forced to bear a grudge, one is to find a source of Grace and, by changing resentment to gratitude, one may be able to requite Graces.15 In this passage and in the more detailed descriptions of each of the Four Graces in The Scripture of Won Buddhism, it is made very clear that the grace is something which makes our existence in this world possible and that it is bestowed upon us by the natural world and the beings within it. In Won Buddhism, grace is primarily immanent and operates within and through the things of this world. Of course, this is no different from what is taught in the Meditation on the Mind Ground Sutra and it is certainly in keeping with the teaching of the Flower Garland Sutra and the Buddhist tradition as a whole that all thing exist solely in terms of interdependent origination.
is different in the Won Buddhist teaching is that our repayment of the graces
that make our worldly existence possible should likewise take place within the
world. In other words, one does not need to leave the world for rebirth in a pure
land in order to achieve buddhahood so that one can save the beings within it,
as in the Pure Land tradition of Mahayana Buddhism. In Won Buddhism, worldly or
immanent grace is never overshadowed by the transcendental power of the buddhas
and bodhisattvas or even by the power of the Three Treasures which lead to liberation
from the inevitable shortcomings and sorrows of the worldly life. The Won Buddhist
ideal is to act on and to express one's gratitude immediately and directly. The
following passage provides a good example of Sot'aesan's focus on the immanence
Kwang-Jun asked again, "How do we practice our faith in the Truth of Won?"
The Great Master answered, "The way is to believe in the Truth of Won as our object of faith and to pray for all blessedness and happiness from the Truth. Il-Won-Sang is composed of the Four Graces, and the Four Graces comprise all beings in the universe. All things that we see in the universe are nothing but Buddhas. Therefore, at all times and in all places we must be very respectful and cautious toward all things, keeping a pure mind and a pious manner as if we were before the real Buddha. You are also to try to practice Offering Worship to Buddha directly in all things with which you are involved, thereby creating blessedness and happiness in your real life. In a word, this is the way to turn a partial faith into a perfect one, and a superstitious belief into an actual one."16 Now that we have come to the end of this brief survey of Buddhist attitudes in regard to the world, I would like to make a few observations. It must not be forgotten that while the themes of renunciation, compassion and gratitude were each given precedence in three subsequent Buddhist movements, they are by no means restricted to those movements in which they arose. In this area, as well as in many others, there is a significant amount of overlapping between the Theravada, the Mahayana and the New Religions. Thich Nhat Hanh, especially, is a good example of this overlapping. As a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist, Thich Nhat Hanh draws upon both the Pali suttas of the Theravada and the Sanskrit sutras of the Mahayana. In his teachings, one finds renunciation of materialism and self-interest, compassion for others and a keen sense of appreciation and gratitude. Renunciation and compassion as well as gratitude are also found in the teachings of Nikkyo Niwano and Sot'aesan Taejongsa. The association of the Theravada with detachment, the Mahayana with compassion and the New Religions with gratitude is merely a matter of emphasis and not exclusivity.
Another important point is that these three attitudes are ideally complementary. If renunciation mistakenly leads to aloofness or apathy, a sense of compassion and gratitude can help one reconnect with others. If compassion mistakenly leads to condescension or delusions of grandeur, a sense of gratitude for the unearned benefits received from others can help restore a sense of humility. On the other hand, if compassion should mistakenly lead to an over identification with the suffering of others, a sense of detachment can help restore a sense of perspective. Finally, an unbalanced sense of gratitude can lead to mistaken feelings of obligation or even codependence, so gratitude must also be balanced by detachment and compassion so that one can understand clearly what is and is not of benefit to oneself and others. One could say that each of these three attitudes must maintain a balance with the other two if it is to remain healthy and conducive to enlightenment.
Another important point is that all three of these attitudes are applications of the teaching of interdependence. It should not be thought that there is a Buddhism of renunciation, a Buddhism of compassion and a Buddhism of gratitude. It would be more proper to say that there is the Buddha Dharma of interdependence, which has different meanings in different situations. As it says in the Mahahatthipadopama Sutta: "One who sees dependent origination sees the Dhamma; one who sees the Dhamma sees dependent origination."17 Since dependent origination refers to the lack of an abiding subsistent self, it is also known as the teaching of emptiness or nonform. It is this teaching which leads to all others according to the Sutra of Innumerable Meanings, the prologue to the Lotus Sutra: "As natural desires are innumerable, preaching is immeasurable, and as preaching is immeasurable, meanings are innumerable. The Innumerable Meanings originate from one law. This one law is, namely, nonform."18 This assertion is borne out in this survey. Renunciation is the attitude to be cultivated by those who cling to the world as though it did have an abiding and graspable existence. Compassion is the attitude to be cultivated by those who need to awaken to their inseparability from all others. Finally, gratitude is the attitude to be cultivated by those who need to recognize that their own existence would be impossible without the world which supports them. In each case, it is dependent origination or interdependence which is the common root of all three attitudes. This is why it can be said that renunciation, compassion and gratitude are all a part of the one Buddha Dharma of interdependence.
closing, I would like to come back again to the question, "what is the Buddhist
view of the world?" Is the world a place of suffering to leave behind? Is
it the home of countless fellow beings who need to be saved from suffering? Or
is it, perhaps, a source of endless unearned blessings? Is it all of the above
or none of the above? And which, if any, version of Buddhism is in accord with
the actual views of the Buddha himself? Different movements, schools and teachers
within Buddhism give different answers to these questions. That the world is a
world in process, a world of interdependent phenomena, a world without abiding
subsistent existences is the view common to all Buddhists. It would seem, however,
that this can mean different things to different people at different times. At
this point, the best answer to the question "what is the Buddhist view of
the world?" might be that according to Buddhism only a buddha can really
be said to truly understand the nature of the world. As the Lotus Sutra says,
"Only a buddha together with a buddha can fathom the Reality of All Existence...."19
1. The Flower Ornament Scripture, tr. by Thomas Cleary. Boston, Massachusetts: Shambhala Publications. 1993. p. 217.
2. The Middle Discourses of the Buddha, tr. by Bhikkhu Nanamoli and Bhikkhu Bodhi. Boston: Massachusetts: Wisdom Publications in association with the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies. 1995. p. 254.
3. Ibid, pp. 255-256.
4. The Life of the Buddha: According to the Pali Canon, tr. and arranged by Bhikkhu Nanamoli. Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society. 1992. p. 52.
5. Cleary, p. 471.
6. Ibid, pp. 534-535.
7. Hsin-ti-kuan-ching Taisho shinshu daizokyo, no. 159 Chuan 2, p. 297, tr. by Michael and Yumi McCormick.
8. Living Buddha, Living Christ, by Thich Nhat Hanh and David Steindl-Rast. New York, NY: Riverhead Books. 1995. pp. 25-26.
9. Rennyo: The Second Founder of Shin Buddhism (Nanzan Studies in Asian Religions Vol 3) by Minor L. Rogers and Ann T. Rogers. Berkeley, California: Asian Humanities Press. 1991. p. 161.
10. Strategies for Modern Living: A Commentary with the Text of the Tannisho by Alfred Bloom and Gary Snyder. Berkely, California: Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research. 1993. p.6.
11. Letters of Nichiren, tr. by Burton Watson, ed. by Philip B. Yampolsky. New York: Columbia University Press. 1996. p. 234.
12. Invisible Eyelashes, Nikkyo Niwano. Tokyo, Japan: Kosei Publishing. 1994. pp. 30-33.
13. The Scripture of Won Buddhism tr. by Pal-kyn Chon. Iksan, Korea: Won Buddhist Publishing Co. 1988. p. 37.
14. Ibid, pp. 34-35.
15. Ibid, p. 35.
16. Ibid, pp. 100-101.
17. Bikkhu Nanamoli and Bikkhu Bodhi, p. 284.
18. The Threefold Lotus Sutra, tr. by Bunno Kato et al. Tokyo, Japan: Kosei Publishing Co. 1988. p. 12.
19. Ibid, p. 52.
© The Institute of Won Buddhist Studies. 1998.
Written by [now Rev.] Ryuei Michael McCormick.
Used with the permission of Rev. Bokin Kim, Editor.