His Message
By Ven. Dr. K. Sri Dhammanada - From the book "What Buddhist Believe"
The Following Sections are Covered in this Document
Contents Section
Message for All 1
Miraculous Power 2
The Buddha’s Silence 3
How to Answer Questions 4
The Buddha’s Attitude towards Worldly Knowledge 5
The Last Message of the Buddha 6
Buddha, the flower of mankind, is no more in this world in the physical form but the sweet fragrance of His message of peace remains forever.

BUDDHISM is one of the oldest religions still being prac­tised in the world today. While the names of many other religions which existed in India have been forgotten, the teachings of the Buddha, (better known as the Dharma) are still relevant to the needs of today's society. This is because the Buddha always considered Himself as a human religious teacher whose message was meant to promote freedom, happiness and wellbeing of others. The Buddha's primary concern was to help His followers to live a normal life without going to the extremes of either self-denial or totally surrendering to sensual desires.

The practical nature of the Buddha's teaching is revealed in the fact that not everyone is expected to attain exactly the same goal in one lifetime, since the mental impurities are rooted differently in individuals. Some people are spiritually more advanced than others and they can proceed to greater heights according to their state of development. But every single human being has the ultimate potential to attain the supreme goal of Buddhahood if he or she has the determination and will to do so.

Even now does the soothing, sweet voice of the Buddha ring in our ears. And sometimes we perhaps feel a little ashamed because we do not understand Him fully. Often we only praise His Teaching and respect Him, but do not try to practise what He preached. The Buddha's Teaching and message have had their effect on all people for thousands of years whether they believe in any religion or not. His message is for all.

Though the Buddha, the flower of mankind, is no longer in this world, the sweet fragrance and exquisite aroma of His Teachings have spread far and wide. Its balmy, diffusing fragrance has calmed and soothed millions. Its ambrosial perfume has heartened and cheered every nation which it has penetrated. The reason that His Teachings have captured millions of hearts is because they were introduced not by weapons or political power but by love and compassion for humanity. Not a drop of blood stains its pure path. Buddhism wins by the warm touch of love, not by the cold claws of fear. Fear of the supernatural and the doctrine of everlasting hell-fire have no place in Buddhism.

During the last 25 centuries since the appearance of the Buddha, many changes have taken place in this world. Kingdoms have risen and fallen; nations have prospered and perished. And the world today has forgotten many of these past civilisations. But the name of the Buddha remains alive and fresh in the minds of millions of people today. The Kingdom of Righteousness that He built is still strong and steady. Although many temples, pagodas, images, libraries and other religious symbols erected in His honour were destroyed by religious fanatics from time to time, His untainted Noble Name and the message He gave remain in the minds of understanding people.

The Buddha taught that the greatest of conquests was not the subjugation of others but of the self. He taught in the D HAMMAPADA , ‘Even though a man conquers ten thousand men in battle, he who conquers but himself is the greatest of conquerors'.

Perhaps the best example of how the gentle message of the Compassionate One could rehabilitate the most savage of men is the case of the Emperor Asoka. About two hundred years after the Buddha, this king waged fierce battles across India and caused great anguish and fear. But when he embraced the Dharma, he regretted the evil that he had done. We remember and honour him today because after his conversion to the path of peace, he embarked on another battle: a battle to bring peace to humanity. He proved without doubt that the Buddha was right when He asserted that true greatness springs from love, not hatred, from humility, not pride; from compassion, not cruelty.

The Emperor Asoka's conversion from cruelty to kindness was so complete that he forbade even the killing of animals in his kingdom. He realised that his subjects stole because of want and he set out to reduce want in his kingdom. But above all, he instructed the followers of the Buddha to remember the Master's teaching never to force their beliefs on others who were loyal to other reli­gious leaders. In other cases we have heard of kings who, upon conversion, diverted their thirst for blood by spreading their new religion by the sword! Only Buddhism can take pride in a king who has never been equaled in such greatness before or ever since.

The Buddha's Teachings were introduced in order that societies could be cultured and civilized and live in peace and harmony. All of life's most difficult problems can be better understood if we but try to learn and practise His teachings. The Buddha's approach to the problems and suffering of mankind is straightforward and direct.

The Buddha was the greatest conqueror the world has ever seen. He conquered the world with His infallible weapons of love and truth. His Teaching illuminates the Way for mankind to cross from a world of darkness, hatred, and suffering, to a new world of light, love and happiness.

If a wicked man can become a pure, religious man, this is a real miracle in action.

IN every religion we know of miracles being performed by either the founders of these religions or by some of their disciples. In the case of the Buddha, miracles occurred from the day of His birth until His passing away into Nirvana. Many of the psychic powers of the Buddha were attained through His long and intense training in meditation. The Buddha meditated and passed through all the highest stages of contemplation that culminated in pure self-possession and wisdom. Such attainments through meditation are considered nothing miraculous but fall within the psychic power of any trained ascetic.

Using meditation on the night of His Enlightenment, there arose within the Buddha a vision of His previous births, the many existences with all their details. He remembered His previous births and how He had made use of these births to gain His Enlightenment. Then the Buddha had a second and wider vision in which He saw the whole universe as a system of Karma and Rebirth. He saw the universe made up of beings that were noble and wicked, happy and unhappy. He saw them all continually ‘passing away according to their good and bad deeds', leaving one form of existence and taking shape in another. Finally, He understood the nature of Suffering, the Cessation of Suffering and the Path that leads to the Cessation of Suffering. Then a third vision arose within the Buddha. He realised that He was completely free from all bondages, human or divine. He realised that He had done what had to be done. He realised He had no more rebirth to go through because He had eradicated all craving and He was living with His final body. This knowledge destroyed all ignorance, all darkness, and light arose within Him. Such is the psychic power and the wisdom that arose within the Buddha as He sat meditating under the Bodhi tree.

The Buddha had a natural birth; He lived in a normal way. But He was an extraordinary man, as far as His Enlightenment was concerned. Those who have not learnt to appreciate His Supreme Wisdom try to explain His greatness by peeping into His life and looking for miracles. However, the Buddha's Supreme Enlighten­ment is more than enough for us to understand His greatness. There is no need to show His greatness by introducing miraculous powers. Miracles have little relation to seeing things as they are.

The Buddha knew of the power that could be developed by training the human mind. He also knew that His disciples could acquire such powers through mental development. Thus the Buddha advised them not to exercise such psychic power in order to convert less intelligent people. He was referring to the ‘miraculous' power to walk on water, to exorcise spirits, raise the dead and perform the so-called supernormal practices. He was also referring to the ‘miracles of prophesy' such as thought-reading, sooth-saying, fortune-telling, and so on. When the uneducated believers see the performance of such powers, their faith deepens. But the nominal converts who are attracted to a religion because of these powers embrace a faith, not because they realise the Truth, but because they harbour hallucinations. Besides, some people may pass remarks that these miracles are due to certain charms or tricks. In drawing people to listen to the Dharma, the Buddha appealed to their reasoning power.

The following story illustrates the Buddha's attitude towards miraculous powers. One day the Buddha met an ascetic who sat by the bank of a river. This ascetic had practised austerities for 25 years. The Buddha asked him what he had attained for all his labour. The ascetic proudly replied that, now at last, he could cross the river by walking on the water. The Buddha pointed out that this gain was insignificant compared to all the years of labour, since anyone could cross the river using a ferry for one penny!

In certain religions, a man's miraculous performance can help him to be declared a saint. But in Buddhism, miracles can be a hindrance for a person to attain sainthood, which is a gradual personal attainment and individual concern resulting in completely eradicating defilements from the mind. Each person himself must work for his sainthood through self-purification and no one else can make another person a saint.

The Buddha says that a person can gain miraculous power with­out developing spiritual power. He teaches us that if we first gain spiritual power, then we automatically receive the miraculous or psychic powers too. But if we develop miraculous powers without spiritual development, then we are in danger. We can misuse this power for worldly gain (Pataligama-Udana). There are many who have deviated from the right path by using their miraculous powers without having any spiritual development. Many people who are supposed to have obtained some miraculous powers succumbed to the vain glory of obtaining some worldly gain. Even worse, people with miraculous powers but without spiritual development can be deluded into thinking that they have divine power.

Many so-called miracles talked about by people are merely imagi­nations and hallucinations created by their own minds due to a lack of understanding of things as they truly are. All these miracles remain as miracles only for as long as people fail to know what these powers really are.

The Buddha also expressly forbade His disciples to use miracles to prove the superiority of His teachings. On one occasion He said that the use of miracles to gain converts was like using dancing girls to tempt people to believe something. Anyone with the proper mental training can perform miracles because these are simply an expression of the superiority of mind over matter.

According to the Buddha, the miracle of realisation of the Truth is the only miracle. When a murderer, thief, terrorist, drunkard, or adulterer is made to realise that what he had been doing is wrong and gives up his bad, immoral and harmful way of life, this change can be regarded as a miracle. The change for the better arising from an understanding of Dharma universal law or natural occurrences is the highest miracle that any person can perform.

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When the questioner was unable to understand the real meaning of the answer or when the questions posed to Him were wrong, the Buddha remained silent.

THE scriptures mention a few occasions when the Bud­dha remained silent to metaphysical and speculative questions posed to Him. Some scholars, owing to their misunderstanding of the Buddha's silence, came to the wrong conclusion that the Buddha was unable to answer these questions.

When the Buddha knew that the questioner was not in a position to understand the answer because of its profundity, or if the questions themselves were wrongly put in the first place, the Blessed One remained silent. Some of the questions to which the Buddha remained silent are:

1. Is the universe eternal?
2. Is it not eternal?
3. Is the universe finite?
4. Is the universe finite?
5. Is it infinite?
6. Is soul the same as the body?
7. Is the soul one thing and the body another?
8. Does the Tathagata exist after death?
9. Does He not exist after death?
10. Does He both (at the same time) exist and not exist after death?

The Buddha who had truly realised the nature of these issues observed noble silence. An ordinary person who is still unen­lightened might have a lot to say, but all would be sheer conjecture based on his or her imagination.

The Buddha's silence on these issues is more significant than attempting to deliver thousands of discourses on them. The paucity of our human vocabulary which is built upon relative experiences cannot hope to convey the depth and dimensions of Reality which a person has not experienced through Insight. On several occasions, the Buddha had very patiently explained that human language is too limited and cannot describe the Ultimate Truth. If the Ultimate Truth is absolute, then it does not have any point of reference for worldlings with only mundane experiences and relative under­standing to fully comprehend it. When they try to do so with their limited mental capacities, they misunderstand the Truth like the seven blind men and the elephant. A listener who has not realised the Truth cannot fathom the explanation given, just like a man who was blind since birth will have no way of visualising the colour of the sky.

The Buddha did not attempt to give answers to all the questions put to Him. He was under no obligation to respond to meaningless questions which reflected gross misunderstanding on the part of the questioner and which in any case had no relevance to one's spiritual development. He was a practical Teacher, full of compassion and wisdom. He always spoke to people fully understanding their temperament, capability and capacity to comprehend. When a person asked questions not with the intention to learn how to lead a religious life but simply to create an opportunity for splitting hairs, the Blessed One did not answer these questions. Questions were answered to help a person towards self-realisation, not as a way of showing His towering wisdom.

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According to the Buddha, there are several ways of answer­ing various types of questions. The first type of question is one that requires a definite answer, such as a ‘yes' or ‘no'. For example, the question, ‘Are all conditioned things impermanent?' is answered with a ‘Yes'. The second type of question is one requiring an analytical answer. Suppose someone says that Angulimala was a murderer before he became an ‘Arahant' and is it possible for any murderer to become an arahant? This question should be analysed before you can say ‘Yes' or ‘No'. Otherwise, it will not be answered correctly and comprehensively. You would need to analyse what conditions make it possible for a murderer to become a saint within one lifetime.

The third type of question is one where it is necessary to ask a counter question to help the questioner to think the problem through. If you ask, ‘Why is it wrong to kill other living beings?' the counter question is, ‘How does it feel when others try to kill you?' The fourth kind of question is one that should be dropped. It means that you should not answer it. These are the questions which are speculative in nature, and any answer to such questions will only create more confusion. An example of such a question is, ‘Does the universe have a beginning or not?' People can discuss such questions for years without coming to a conclusion. They can only answer such questions based on their imagination, not on real understanding.

Some answers which the Buddha gave have close parallels to the kind of responses found in nuclear science. According to Robert Oppenheimer, “If we ask, for instance, whether the position of the electron remains the same, we must say ‘no'; if we ask whether the electron is at rest, we must say ‘no'; if we ask whether it is in motion, we must say ‘no'. The Buddha has given such answers when interrogated as to the conditions of a man's self after his death; but they are not familiar answers in accordance with the tradition of seventeenth and eighteenth century science”.

It is important to note however that the Buddha did give answers to some of these questions to His most intellectually developed disciples after the questioner had left. And in many cases, His explanations are contained in other discourses which show us why these questions were not answered by the Buddha merely to satisfy the inquisitive but undeveloped minds of the questioners.

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Worldly knowledge can never help one to lead a pure religious life that leads to peace and emancipation.

WORLDLY knowledge is useful for worldly ends. With such knowledge, mankind learns how to use the earth's resources to improve the standard of living, grow more food, generate power to run factories and to light up streets and houses, manage factories and businesses, cure sickness, build flats and bridges, cook exotic dishes, and so on. Worldly knowledge can also be used for harmful purposes such as building missiles with nuclear warheads, manipulating the stock market, cheating ‘legally', and inflaming political anxiety and hatred. Despite the rapid expansion of worldly knowledge, especially in the twenty-first century, mankind has been brought no nearer to the solution to human problems and eradicating pervasive unsatisfactoriness. In all likelihood, it never will solve human beings' universal problems and bring peace and happiness because of the premises on which such knowledge, discoveries and inventions are built.

While Buddhism can bring greater understanding on how to lead a good worldly life, its main focus is how to gain liberation through the development of wisdom, mental culture and purity. For ordinary human beings, there is no end to the search for worldly knowledge, which in the final analysis does not really matter. For as long as we are ignorant about the Dharma, we will forever be trapped in Samsara, the repeated cycle of birth and death. According to the Buddha:

‘For a long time, Brothers, have you suffered the death of a mother; for a long time, the death of a father; for a long time, the death of a son; for a long time, the death of a daughter; for a long time, the death of brothers and sisters; for a long time have you undergone the loss of your goods; for a long time have you been afflicted with disease. And because you have experienced the death of a mother, the death of a father, the death of a son, the death of a daughter, the death of brothers and sisters, the loss of goods, the pangs of disease, company of the undesired, you have truly shed more tears upon this long way—hastening from birth to death, from death to birth—than all the waters that are held in the four great seas.'


Here the Buddha was describing the Suffering of continuous births and deaths in the world. He wanted to show people the Way out of all these Sufferings.

Why did the Buddha speak in this manner to His disciples? And why did He not make an attempt to solve the problems as to whether the world is eternal or not, whether it is finite or not? Such problems might be exciting and stimulating to those who have the curiosity. But in no way would the answers to these problems help a person to overcome Suffering. That is why He ignored questions like these because they were futile and the knowledge about such things would not contribute to one's spiritual wellbeing.

The Buddha knew that to speak on things which were of no practical value and beyond the power of comprehension, was a waste of time and energy. He foresaw that to advance hypotheses about such things only served to divert thoughts from their proper chan­nel and hinder spiritual development.

Worldly knowledge and scientific research should be comple­mented and balanced with religious and spiritual values. Otherwise such worldly knowledge does not in any way contribute to one's progress in leading a pure, religious life. Human beings have come to the stage where their minds fed by the instruments and fruits of technological advancements, have become obsessed with egoism, craving for power, and greed for material wealth. Without religious values, worldly knowledge and technological advancement can lead to their downfall and destruction. These will only inflame their greed which will take on new and terrifying dimensions. On the other hand, when worldly knowledge is harnessed for moral ends, it can bring maximum benefit and happiness for humanity.

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‘When I am gone, my Teaching shall be your Master to guide you.'

THREE months before His passing away the Buddha addressed His disciples and said; ‘I have delivered sermons to you during these forty-five years. You must learn them well and treasure them. You must practise them and teach them to others. This will be of great use for the welfare of those living now and for the welfare of those who come after you'.

‘My years are now full ripe; the life span left is short. I will soon attain Parinirvana. You must be earnest. O monks, be mindful and of pure virtue! Whoever untiringly pursues the Teaching, will go beyond the cycle of birth and death and will make an end of Suffer­ing.'

When Ananda asked the Buddha what would become of the Order after He passed away, the Buddha replied, ‘What does the Order expect of me, Ananda? I have preached the Truth without any distinction; for in regard to the Truth, there is no clenched fist in the Teachings of the Buddha… It may be, Ananda, that to some among you, the thought will come ‘The Master's words will soon end; soon we will no longer have a Master.' But do not think like this, Ananda. When I am gone, my Teaching and the disciplinary code shall be your Master.'

The Buddha further explained: ‘If there is anyone who thinks, ‘It is I who will lead the brotherhood', or ‘The Order is dependent on me, it is I who should give instructions', the Buddha does not think that he should lead the Order or that the Order is dependent on him. I have reached the end of my days. Just as a worn-out cart can only be made to move with much additional care, so my body can be kept going only with much additional care. Therefore, Ananda, be a lamp and refuge unto yourselves. Look for no other refuge. Let the Truth be your lamp and your refuge. Seek no refuge elsewhere.'

At the age of eighty, on His birthday, He passed away without displaying any supernatural powers. He showed the real nature of component things even in His own life.

When the Buddha passed away into Nirvana, one of His dis­ciples remarked, ‘All must depart—all beings that have life must shed their compounded forms. Yes, even a Master such as the Buddha, a peerless being, powerful in Wisdom and Enlightenment, must pass away.'

  ‘Appamadena Sampadetha Vaya Dharma Sankhara'.  
  ‘Work diligently. Component things are impermanent.'  
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After the Buddha - Next
Buddhist Teachings His Message