In what follows I will consider the teaching of Buddhism as stated in the two stanzas harmoniously viewed. The body, however evanescent in its character, must be considered holy even as the holy tree, and all the necessary care should be taken to keep it the worthy vessel in which the spirit is lodged.
There are many fanatic believers in asceticism and self-mortification, thinking that this material existence is the root of evil and therefore the more it is tortured the purer and holier will grow the spirit. The flesh is in its very nature antagonistic to the spirit. They cannot thrive in harmonious relation with each other. The stronger the flesh, the weaker the spirit, and vice versa. That is to say, Buddhism does not espouse any ascetic practice, nor does it hold a doctrine tending to a dualistic conception of existence which makes the flesh the source of evil and the spirit the foundation of everything good.
The body as a material phenomenon has its limitations, as a living organism has its impulses, desires, passions, and moods; and there is nothing evil or wicked in it. It is thirsty and it must drink; it is hungry and it must be fed. Exposure to cold affects its well-being, and it must be clothed. Too much strenuosity exhausts its energy, and it must rest. All these things are inherent in it, and unless we demand that the tree grow as the fish, as a Japanese saying goes, it is altogether irrational to wish our bodily existence to be free from all its constitutional wants.
Therefore, Buddhism teaches us not to curb them and torture the body but to regulate them and prevent their going to self-destruction through wantonness. But I am not going to enter into this complicated problem—the problem of mind and body, whether they are one or separate.
To speak more popularly, the mind is the inner side of the body and the body is the outer case of the mind. They both make up one solid reality. Within, it is felt as consciousness; without, it is perceived as body. Now, this body is sacred as the Bodhi tree, and every care has to be taken for its well-being.
So with the mind: it must be made to retain its original purity through moral discipline. The mind as it first came from the hands of God was pure, simple, illuminating as the mirror. But in its constant contact with the world of sense, it has become liable to be carried away by its impressions and impulses without ever reminding itself of its original purity. What comes from outside does not, of course, defile the mind, but when the latter loses its own control and gives way to sensuality, the dust begins to accumulate on it.
When its transparency is thus gone, the mind becomes a plaything of all chance impulses and haphazard impressions, like a river-ark drifting in the ocean and being tossed up and down by the capricious waves. Buddhism calls such a one ignorant and wanting in the Bodhi wisdom. It therefore admonishes us to reflect within ourselves constantly and not to give a free rein to the sensual, selfish, unenlightened passions.
The reason why Buddhism has so many moral precepts and monastic rules to regulate the lives of the lay disciples and monks will now be understood. They are all intended for the purification of the mind and the regulation of bodily desires.
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They are meant to ward off the evil influences that disturb serenity of mind and simplicity of heart, in order that our divine nature residing within us may fulfill its own significance and be free in its own operations. Buddhism does not desire to impede in any way our rational activities but simply to check the progress of evil desires, selfish impulses, and unenlightened motives.
So far we have dealt with the ethical and practical phase of Buddhism as enunciated in the first stanza. Now we must go around and see what is the other side of Buddhism, which constitutes the philosophical foundation of the system. It is not enough for us, it is not worthy of the name of a human being, merely to live and not to endeavor to unravel the mysteries of life.
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As rational, conscious beings, we must look into the reason of things, we must know the why of existence. To live even as a saint is not quite gratifying to the intellectual cravings of the human mind.
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Of course, every religion must find its culmination in our practical life and not in our abstract speculation. Yet we must seek a philosophical basis of conduct. And Buddhism finds this in the second stanza cited at the beginning of this discourse. At first blush the stanza seems to smack not a little of nihilism, as it apparently denies the existence of individuality.
But those who stop short at this negative interpretation of it are not likely to grasp the deep significance of Buddhism. For Buddhism teaches in this stanza the existence of the highest reality that transcends the duality of body and mind as well as the limitations of time and space.
Though this highest reality is the source of life, the ultimate reason of existence, and the norm of things multifarious and multitudinous, it has nothing particular in it, it cannot be designated by any determinative terms, it refuses to be expressed in the phraseology we use in our common parlance. For it is an absolute unity, and there is nothing individual, particular, dualistic, or conditional.
It is a great mistake, an intellectual weakness, to suppose that there is such a thing as a personal God or an immortal soul that stands like a mirror bright and shining and that is susceptible to contamination or corruption.
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For practical purposes we may provisionally admit the existence of an entity that some people call God and that is independent of this world; we may again admit the existence of the soul that is the master of this material phenomenon called body. But to understand these things as actually existing the way our shortsighted intellect conceives them is a fatal mistake.
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