Buddhist Views on Law and Order
A talk given by Guru Yutang Lin
Reviewed and Revised by Guru Lin
The topic is about "Buddhist Views on Law and Order." Actually my first year in the university in Taiwan, I was also a law student for only one year, and then I went into philosophy. And my Ph. D. was in mathematical logic. Now we come to the topic—oh—first of all, Buddhist view of the Buddhist teaching, it is called "Dharma," that means laws. It is "law" in the sense of—it is truth about our human existence. So, basically, the teaching is first, you look at life and you find nothing is permanent, everything is impermanent, so there’s no lasting happiness and they call this "Suffering." And so Buddha tried to find solutions so we can live and transcend the suffering. And He found that the root of all the problems is because in our mind we have attachments, graspings, and we have views about life which is not in accordance with the reality.
Through very serious practice alone for six years, He was able to purify Himself so that He was no longer under those graspings and illusions. And then He gradually revealed how to escape from these problems through cultivation, through practices to others. After this kind of purification, we are still living the same life, but we are no longer suffering because of our personal illusions and graspings. So, that’s the meaning of what Buddhism is called "Enlightenment." And because this understanding and practices are so important, as truths of life, so it is also called "laws."
And then in the practices that one goes through to liberate oneself from illusions, there are regulations gradually set down by Buddha and through generations of development of Buddhism. And actually at the beginning no emphasis on this kind of regulations about behaviors because one is supposed to realize the suffering of life and one really want to endeavor to change oneself, transform oneself. So, one does not rely on outward regulations. But because Buddha gave teachings to many people and they formed a group, and then sometimes some problems happened. So, to prevent those problems from recurring, so they begin to gradually put down rules. So, in Buddhism, the regulations, there are some basic general ones applied to everyone and then there are some specific ones, those are only for monks and nuns.
And because the Buddhist view is not just limited to human beings, they have in view all sentient beings because from Buddha’s point of view, you know, all of them suffer, too, and they also need liberation. So, the Buddhist view is about all sentient beings. So, for example, the most fundamental rule is "No Killing," but it is not like in human society, this is only about killing of humans. And nowadays, in some countries, societies, there may be laws prohibiting torturing of animals. But when Buddhists say "No Killing," it applies to all sentient beings. And in Mahayana sometimes a Bodhisattva even for no—if there is no special reason, they don’t step on grass because they don’t want to like, hurt them. And, not only they say "no killing of sentient beings," but also try to help them, free them from the fear of being killed or harmed. So in many parts of the world, especially in Asia, Buddhists often do—they go to shops buy fish, buy birds, and then release them back to nature. But because these are regulations, so, just like any law, you know, they also sometimes have to say there are some exceptions. For example, one basic rule is "No Consumption of Alcohol." But in some oriental herbal treatment, you know, sometimes you add some alcohol to enhance the medicine. When it is taken as medicine, it’s okay. And also, for example, same law says "No Alcohol," but at that time they didn’t know of drugs. So nowadays, in spirit, this law should also mean "No Taking of Drugs," addictive drugs.
And, in Chinese Mahayana Buddhism there are ten schools, and many of them emphasize only on the philosophy, different kinds of theories. But there is one school that emphasizes on regulations. That school believes in, you know, paying attention to all details of one’s activities, thoughts and speech, and in this way, they try to transform the person. So, that school is closest to the ordinary study of law because they have to make many detail distinctions about which regulation, how to apply it. (Interpreter: What is the name of the school?) Lyu Zong (律宗), Lyu (律) means "rule." And I’m not a specialist in this kind of regulations, so what I know about the "Buddhist Laws and Orders" are like this only. So I think, you know, it’s of interest for you to know that the Buddhist view of laws are applying to all sentient beings, not just within human society. And also because the Buddhist goal is enlightenment, so, what is right or wrong is based on whether it is helpful toward that goal or not. But, since the personal cultivation also relies on harmonious society, environment, so some basic rules of Buddhism are just common to ordinary law. And, it also tried to sustain harmony, you know, with the society, but the emphasis is less on how to punish the infringement, but rather, you know, how to willingly accept this as way to transform oneself. Because, after all, you know, as religious group and teaching, you know, you don’t have the army and police. Of course, in some place the religion has become mixed with politics, like in Tibet or in Thailand, that kind of thing, then it's a different story, but basically Buddhism is not involved with politics.
I intended to mention one more topic during this talk, but I did not have anything written down to remind me of this and during the talk I forgot about it. Since it is a rather important topic, so I mention it here.
Buddhist view regards all things as connected and governed by "causal laws." All one's situations in life are to be considered as the results of one's past deeds in this life or previous lives. Hence, to escape from "sufferings" in the world and to attain full enlightenment, one needs to gradually extinguish the root cause of all sufferings—an illusive notion of "self," and to transform one's thoughts, speeches and actions through adopting Buddhist practices which are rooted in Bodhicitta—aspiration to help all sentient beings attain full enlightenment.
So, that’s all I have to say and you are welcome to raise questions.
Q1: His question was a little about politics; what do you think, in future Tibet can become independent country or not, what do you think?
A1: Ooh, I cannot tell the future, you know. So, I don’t know.
Q2: She would like to find inner balance and control emotion and sorrows and feeling, and so she thinks maybe it will be good to start to meditate, and could you say her—how the most easy way and the most practical way to start meditate and get the balance and peace…
A2: Yeah, yeah, first of all, you know, it’s difficult for people to say, oh, just believe in this religion because you have no reason to believe in. But, some Buddhist practices you can take it as method to help you concentrate. Right now you find imbalance because you have many distractions in mind, you know, you’re always think of this or that, and you have emotional problems inside. And try the repetition of a mantra or a Buddha’s name, and you have to—everyday do as much as possible, then gradually you will sense that this kind of practice can help you naturally reduce the tensions inside, and you'll find peace in this way—that’s the simplest way. (Interpreter: Could you say also about the ethics?) Wait. And, and the reason that this method works is because, at first, you have no escape, whatever you think is related to all the rest, it’s all connected, so your mind cannot rest. But now a Buddha’s name or a short mantra is unrelated to whatever you have. So, when you begin to repeat this one, you’re cultivating a new habit, and this habit has nothing to do with your original habits, so, gradually as you put more and more attention to this one, then there’s no attention pay to your original problem, so those problems just evaporate.
So, this is the reason why this method works, and you don’t need to believe in anything. You just try it; you gradually sense its benefits. Also through this practice, your ability to concentrate will gradually improve, and concentration is very important in anything you do. So, just think of it as a daily mental exercise, helpful; then you'll benefit from it. And also I have written a short book on meditation and it’s translated into Polish, and it's posted at our websites, so you can get it and study more because if you want to really go into meditation, it involves change of the whole way of life. We have websites and I will ask my disciple to give you cards, so you can find the website. The works posted there are easy to understand and they are in English or Chinese. Also we have a Polish website with some works translated into Polish.
Q3: She has next question. Because in Christianity people usually said, our good and bad are coming from our heart, but she thinks in Buddhism people think and tell, good and bad are coming from our mind, and everything is coming from our mind. Is it the same or different? Why it's in Christianity they say it’s coming from—good and bad coming from heart, and in Buddhism they believe it’s coming from mind?
A3: Oh, when you say it’s from heart, you know, you mean we have intuitive sense of what’s good or bad, but actually in different societies they have formed different prejudices, so it’s not all that reliable. And when people say Buddhists think that good or bad is from the mind— ah—actually what Buddhists mean by this is that, they see that all these are man-made, originally there’s no concept of good or bad, so whatever concept of good or bad is relative to certain society only. So, to be free from suffering, you need to be able to go beyond concepts, go beyond the relative thing of any area—that’s only partial, then, you can sense that originally there are no such human-made distinctions, and then in that case, you become really, naturally relaxed and free.
And also, Buddhist teaching understands that this relativity is also applied to their own teaching because they said what we think of as good or bad is just to try to help you, free you from that kind of distinction. And after you have reached (the good of) that distinction, there’s no need for you to hold on to our good or bad. Fundamentally the Buddhist view is that, as long as there are still human-made distinctions, then, there is no end to problems. Because as soon as you think this is good, this is better, this is right, then, there’s always fighting. But, of course, society relies on this kind of distinctions, so we need the laws that you are studying to keep the society in order.
So, Buddhism, what it is saying is not that you don’t rely on this, but rather you know your limitations, and you should be able to see beyond this. That only when you can see beyond this, you can have the whole picture of the whole thing, and bring more harmony. For example, you study the law, and you become a judge, but then when you face real cases, you realize that there are areas, there are reasons, that the law cannot cover everything. Then you rely on your own good sense of how the situation is, what is really fair to make the judgment. And you can have all kinds of laws but you cannot make everyone tell you that—the truth, so that shows limitations of laws, you know. And that’s also the reason why Buddhism emphasized on, you know, your own inner willingness to seek transformation.
Q4: Is it possible we find harmony in life?
A4: Yes, yes, it’s possible. When you can first purify yourself, and then your mind becomes much bigger than just this one person, and you see that all are basically the same, and all have problems, and you develop compassion for all, then you get harmony. So, mainly, be able to see all the rest.
Q5: So, she is interesting in Buddhism, there are also some miracle thing, like, for example, somebody is praying for healing and the person is healed, or some miracle things.
A5: Oh, that’s possible, and the basic reason is because we hold on to distinctions—each one of us, but these are learned through our life. But actually before there’s no such distinction, it’s only in your mind. So, if you can free yourself from all these mental constructions, then you go into the reality and the reality is that, in spirituality, all are just one, no separation, no limitation. And because of this reality, once people have purified themselves to that extent, then when they are praying, since there is no distinction and limitation, the power reached you immediately, and that’s how it works.
Q6: So, how is everyday life, if somebody who is practicing Buddhism?
A6: Oh, better develop habit to do it, you know, at a certain time of the day, when you know that time you will be free and not be disturbed, then you concentrate at that time to do simple practice and usually I recommend begin with repetition of Buddha name or mantra, and do some prostration. And the reason for prostration is because, on the one hand, it's physical exercise, good for you; on the other hand, is because when you’re willing to lower yourself, humble yourself to show respect to Buddha, you know, that is a way that you can easily reduce your self-centeredness, and your wisdom will grow.
Q7: Could you say something comparing between Christianity and Buddhism like you did in your book "Crossing the Threshold of Liberation"? Could you say something about this comparing?
A7: Well, basically, you know, these are all ways to purify you spiritually. But, you know, and in Buddhism there are all sorts of ways to practice it. And, as far as I know, you know, in Christianity, you know, more emphasis are on, you know, understanding the Bible and then say prayers in accordance to the teachings. So, this kind of practice, you know, involves thinking more, more thinking, more rely on thinking. And it’s also important, you know, to be able to gradually—ah—change your thoughts, so you think in terms of what the teaching says, instead of your self-interest. But, as practices for spiritual development, you know, whatever always relies on thinking is limited because the real higher level of spirituality is beyond thoughts. However still, in the Russian Orthodox Church, they also have practice of repeating a short prayer, it’s called "The Prayer of Jesus," and it goes like: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have mercy on me, a sinner." And there are books on this practice. According to what they described in the books, you know, it’s very similar to Buddhist practice of repeating a mantra. You have to keep repeating it, even go into retreat, just repeating this. And also you need guidance from a Guru who has done this already. And, finally they reach the—the level that every time when their heart beat once, they, inside, repeat this prayer once. And, when people reached that level, then they can do exorcism, they can do healing.
And my personal experience is that, when I began to study Buddhism, I also study Bible, but my inspirational experiences came, not at the time when I read, but at the time when I decided to do practices. And after I did repetition of "Namo Amitabha" over four million times, I also saw Jesus several times in my dream. So, this shows, you know, it is not our worldly distinction of this or that religion, but the matter of spiritual purity.
And—so, when we go to a religion, you know, you should pay more attention on this kind of spiritual purity, and also pay attention on the part that emphasizes on mercy, compassion to others, instead of, you know, division and criticism. And, Buddhist view about the teachings are more relative, always think of all the teachings as simply educational ways to help you attain enlightenment. So, there is no insistence on its absoluteness. And also more open to other kind of religious teachings because we also view them as, you know, certain method for certain situation. And also because ultimately Buddhism says, go beyond concepts, so we don’t stay fighting with any kind of thoughts.
So, these are the essential difference I see, and I emphasize that if you have faith in Christianity already, you rely on those methods that I mentioned, you know, that can help you really advance in your spiritual purity.
Q8: She is interesting—how is it about men and women? Like the position in society—women, you think they are lower or same like men, what’s this in Buddhism?
A8: Oh, the fundamental Buddhist view is, even all sentient beings are equal, not to say male or female. So, you know, some even practice to the extent, for example, they let mosquitoes bite and they don’t try to kill mosquitoes. So, if—they even respect the mosquitoes, why not respect a woman? you know, because in the sense that basically just human. And actually in Vajrayana, you know, we also have female Buddhas. And also in Tantric Buddhist practices, doesn’t matter whether you are male or female, you can visualize yourself as a female Buddha. Because you want to go beyond your human level, and when you visualize yourself as a female Buddha, you are emphasizing the wisdom aspect of Buddha. So, you will find Buddhism most suitable.
Ah, if no other question, you know, I am very happy because you showed so much interest and raised many important questions. And, at the websites I have many short poems, so, when you have time, you know, read one or—read some of them, and they—on the one hand talked about some theories, but always at the end I bring it to daily life, so you will find it useful.
Q9: So, when she would like to study your book, you think she should study like "Crossing the Threshold of Liberation" or may be about meditation?
A9: Oh, no. Just glance as she likes and whenever she finds something interesting, just read that, and, when she finds the subject too deep, ignore it; just do like that. Because we all learn religion, you know, gradually like this, you know, pick up a little bit here and there, and gradually you know more. But the "Golden Ring" is a good beginning in book.
Thank you (Guru Lin said this in Polish).
October 11, 2014