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Passing the Light

Tan Chade Meng


[Note: This is the text of a speech I delievered a few years ago. It addresses the issue of how I think Buddhists should share the teachings of the Buddha. -- Tan Chade Meng ]


In the Udumbara Sutta, the Buddha taught,
"I am not teaching you to have you as my pupil. I am not interested to make you my pupil. I am not interested in breaking you from your old teacher. I am not interested even to change your goal, because everyone wants to come out of sufferings. Try something that I have discovered, and then judge for it yourself. If it is good for you, accept it. Otherwise, don't accept it."

I humbly suggest that, in sharing Buddhism, or Passing the Light, we must always remember this teaching of the Buddha. Our intention should not be to make our peers Buddhists, but simply to share with them something we think is beautiful.

First, we must ask ourselves this question: What is this Buddhism we want to share with our peers?

Buddhism is about the cessation of dukka (unsatisfactoriness). I suggest that in the most simple, laymen terms, Buddhism is the art of discovering peace and happiness within oneself. Many people have the misconception that the most important contribution of the Buddha are the philosophical teachings of Impermanence, No-Self, Sufferings, Karma etc. In fact, this is not really accurate. During the time of the Buddha, such teachings are already well established. There were already Gurus during the time of the Buddha who taught about Impermanence, No-self, Suffering etc. In one sutta for example, the Buddha asked an outsider, "What do you believe?", and he answered, "I believe there is no me, no myself. I believe in Sufferings. I believe in Impermanence". And he was not a student of the Buddha.

The Buddha taught that we should cultivate our minds, destroy our defilements (Greed, Hatred and Ignorance), to come out of Sufferings. Many people believes that this is an exclusively Buddhist teaching. Again, this is not really accurate. In the suttas, one would find that during the time of the Buddha, other Gurus were teaching this as well. Nagantha Nataputta (also known as Mahavira Jain), for example, taught of the destruction of action and the purification of karma. In another sutra, we also find that the Buddha learned to cultivate Samadhi (Concentration) from renowned teachers early in his spiritual life. So, during his time, some form of meditation practices are already well established.

So, what was the Buddhas greatest contribution? I humbly suggest that the Buddhas greatest contribution was in answering the question "How?".

We all agree that, yes, there is sufferings, yes, we should purify our minds, yes, we should destroy our greed and hatred etc etc. But how? If I'm an angry man, how can I be not angry? If I'm depressed, how can I be happy? How can I not be jealous? How can I not have greed and hatred? I know about Impermanence, but how do I let go? We talk a lot about self-cultivation, destruction of defilements, attaining peace etc etc. But at the end of the day, there is this one essential question: How?

The greatest of the Buddhas contribution was his method. He did not just teach that we should not have cravings, aversions, ignorance etc etc. He also taught us how to achieve the wholesome states of mind.

The method taught by the Buddha is summarized in the Eight-fold path. It involves: Perfect Speech, Perfect Action, Perfect Livelihood, Perfect Understanding, Perfect Thought, Perfect Effort, Perfect Mindfulness and Perfect Concentration. This path is a complete package of self-cultivation. It comes in 3 parts: Morality, Concentration and Wisdom.

Morality is the first step. Morality means that we try our best not to cause any sufferings to others, and we try our best to give others causes for happiness. There are 2 advantages to practicing Morality. One of them is the that people like us a little more because we are nice. This, in itself, is a source of happiness. Another is the joy of blamelessness, the happiness of having a clear conscience.

With morality, one achieves some measure of a good conscience. With that foundation, one cultivates Concentration and Mindfulness (samadhi and sati). Samadhi and Sati allows one to cultivate the mind directly. Traditionally, Sati & Samadhi can be cultivated in the meditation on one's breath (Anapanasati) and in Insight meditation (Vipassana). In Anapanasati, one develops awareness and concentrations on one's breathing. In Vipassana, one develops mindfulness on one's body, feelings and thoughts. The basic principle is really quite simple: just observing oneself. Simply observe one's body, thoughts and feelings at all times.

As one slowly develops Concentration and Mindfulness, one begins to gain an insight into how one's mind work. One begins to see how feelings arises, feelings of anger, aversion, joy, hatred, loneliness etc etc. One sees how the mind reacts to these feelings. One develops full understanding and insights into these feelings. In time, one learns to be able to deal with them. For example, when somebody says something nasty, we would normally get angry. But if we have developed a degree of concentration and mindfulness, we can observe how the mind reacts to the nasty words, we observe how the anger begins to arise, we observe how our minds react to the anger, and because of the insights and concentration we have developed, we can calm the anger to a certain degree.

With Concentration and Mindfulness, we begin to change ourselves! We become less angry, less hateful, less jealous, more joyful, more appreciative etc etc. We learn to accept and to let get go. In other words, we slowly learn to be at peace despite pleasure or pain. This is not a theory, but first-hand experiences of those among us who practices Concentration and Mindfulness.

As the Buddha taught, "By observing oneself, one becomes liberated from sufferings."

When we begin to gain insights into ourselves and begin to change ourselves, we begin to gain Wisdom. Slowly and surely, we will find ourselves kinder, happier, and on the path to the cessation of all sufferings.

Notice one important point about the Buddhas path? One of the most important thing about the Buddhas path is that it is universal. Whatever one's religion is, whether or not one believes in God, one can still practice Morality, Concentration and Mindfulness. One can still gain the fruits of the practice, peace and happiness.

When we share the Teachings of the Buddha with our friends, I suggest that we should always keep this in mind. We are not interested to make them Buddhists. What we are really interested in, is the well-being of our friends. We have found a method which allows us to change ourselves for the better, and achieve a great degree of peace and happiness within ourselves. We have found that this method can work for us no matter what our believes are. And we want to share this method for the benefit of others. Once we adopt this attitude, Passing the Light would become much meaningful and much more fruitful, for both ourselves and our friends.

Having adopted this attitude, how then should we share what we know? What is the method of delivery? Sariputta, the Buddhas chief disciple, gave the following advice:
"When one wishes to teach another, let him establish five things. Let him think, I will speak at the right time, not at the wrong time. I will speak about what is, not about what is not. I will speak with gentleness, not with harshness. I will speak about the goal, not about what is not the goal. I will speak with a mind filled with love, not with a mind filled with ill-will."

Hatthaka was one of the Buddhas lay disciples. Hatthaka was most famous for attracting huge numbers of people to the Buddha's talks. When he was asked how he managed to attract so many people, he said,
"I am generous to people. I speak to them with kind words. I do them good turns. And I treat them as my equals."

The Buddha explained that it was Hatthakas good character that attracted people to the Dharma, Hatthaka possessed eight marvelous qualities. He has faith, virtue, conscientiousness and fear of blame, he is learned, generous, wise and modest.

I suggest that the best way for us to share the Dharma is first to practice the Dharma ourselves. Practice Morality, Concentration and Mindfulness, and from that, develop peace, kindness, and happiness. With that foundation, share the Dharma with kindness when the situations arise. This, I humbly suggest, is the best way.

Lastly, I would like to share the stories of the conversion of Sariputta and Hatthaka.

Sariputta was in Rajagaha when he saw a monk. He was deeply impressed by the grace and poise of this monk, who appeared to radiate calmness and radiance. That monk was Assaji, one of the Buddha's five original disciples. Assaji was already Enlightened by then. Sariputta was so impressed that he couldn't help walking towards the monk and asked, "Venerable Sir, who is your teacher? What is his Dharma?". Assaji replied that his teacher was the Buddha and gave a short summary of the Four Noble Truths. Upon hearing this, Sariputta became a Stream-Winner and he decided there and then that he wanted to be the Buddha's disciple.

Hatthakas story was even more interesting. Hatthaka was taking a walk one winter night when he saw a Buddhist monk sleeping by the road. This monk was wearing a single thin robe and was sleeping on cold, hard floor. Hatthaka was very impressed to see the monk radiating happiness and serenity despite such harsh conditions. He walked over to the monk and asked, "Venerable Sir, are you happy?". And the monk answered, "Yes, I am very happy". Hatthaka was extremely impressed. He sat down beside the monk and they both talked the whole night about the Buddha-Dharma. By morning, Hatthaka accepted the Dharma. That monk was the Buddha.

In the scriptures, we can find many people who accepted the Dharma because they heard it and found it reasonable. However, the most powerful way people accepted the Dharma was when they were moved when they saw for themselves how calm, peaceful and happy a practitioner is, and cant help going towards that person and ask, "Venerable Sir, who is your teacher and what is his Dharma"?

The Dharma is a living knowledge. Its purpose is to allow one to discover peace and happiness within oneself, despite pain or pleasure. Hence, I believe that the best way to share the Dharma is not by reasonable arguments, but by example. By practicing the Dharma ourselves and then show an example of how the Dharma can improve our lives.

Therefore, my friends, my humble advice is: Practice the Dharma, be kind, be at peace, and most important of all, be happy. Be happy. Once you achieve this, you will automatically be Passing the Light.


Tan Chade Meng