What is Unique in Buddha Dhamma?

Revised November 16, 2019; August 28, 2022

All Religions Are the Same?

1. When I hear the common statement, “all religions are the same, they teach you how to live a moral life,” I cringe. That is because I think about all those unaware of the Buddha’s actual message. In particular, this is the mindset of those who follow “secular Buddhism.”

  • Most religions indeed teach how to live a moral life. And there is also evidence that atheists may be as moral as religious people are; see, “Morality in everyday life-Science-2014-Hofmann“.
  • However, Buddha Dhamma goes beyond that. The Buddha said, no matter how well we live this life, that will not help us in the long term, in the rebirth process.
  • Yet, even to understand the message of the Buddha, one must live a moral life first.
Two Paths Described by the Buddha

2. I have made a one-pager, which should be referenced here.

Buddha Dhamma - In a Chart

This chart can be viewed in a separate panel by clicking on “Buddha Dhamma – In a Chart” and printed for reference. There are a few key things that need explanation first:

  • The “mundane Eightfold Path” is depicted by the set of boxes in red, starting with “mundane sammā diṭṭhi.” The next box depicts mundane versions of sammā saṅkappa, sammā, vaca, and sammā kammaṃta.” Which means “think, speak, and act morally to avoid bad outcomes/seek good outcomes”) and so on until “mundane sammā samadhi.”
  • Most of these steps (not all) are in other religions and conventional or secular “Buddhism.” They describe how to live a moral life. Most other religions aim to gain a (permanent) heavenly life at death.
  • In the current distorted versions of “Buddhism,” the joys of heavenly lives are highlighted.  Sometimes one is encouraged to “enjoy such heavenly lives” before attaining Nibbāna. They don’t understand the “anicca nature” of any realm in this world, i.e., they don’t comprehend the Four Noble Truths. See “Paṭicca Samuppāda, Tilakkhana, Four Noble Truths.”
What Is a “Good Birth”?

3. This misconception in “Buddhism” arises because the rarity of a “good rebirth” has not been comprehended; see “How the Buddha Described the Chance of Rebirth in the Human Realm.” This is why the Buddha said, “no happiness can be found anywhere in the 31 realms” (the true meaning of anicca).

  • Even if a heavenly rebirth is attained in the next life, a future rebirth in the four lowest realms (apāyā) cannot be avoided without attaining the Sōtapanna stage of Nibbāna.  A phrase used by some bhikkhus in Sri Lanka goes as, “May you attain Nibbāna at the time of the Buddha Maithree (next Buddha).” Why not attain Nibbāna in this life? Who is going to give guarantees that one will be born human during the time of the Buddha Maithree? Everyone should use this rare opportunity to be human, to strive now!
  • Until one comprehends anicca, dukkha, and anatta, one always values future happiness in permanent heaven (most religions) OR temporary happiness in heavenly worlds (traditional “Buddhists”). The difference between a traditional “Buddhist” and a Bhauddhaya is discussed in “A Buddhist or a Bhauddhaya?“.
  • One starts on the transcendental (lokottara) or the Noble Eightfold Path when one comprehends the dangers of the rebirth process and BECOMES a Sōtapanna.
  • When one is trying to attain that understanding, one is called a Sōtapanna magga anugämi; see “Sōtapanna Anugami and a Sōtapanna“.
Two Eightfold Paths

In the “Mahā Cattārisaka Sutta (Discourse on the Great Forty),” the Buddha discussed that one must first follow the mundane eightfold path. That will remove the ten types of wrong views (micchā diṭṭhi) listed in #3 of that post. After that, one needs to comprehend the Tilakkhana (anicca, dukkha, anatta) to some extent to start on the Noble Eightfold Path.

4. Thus, one starts on the Noble Eightfold Path starting with lokottara (transcendental) sammā diṭṭhi of a Sōtapanna (set of blue boxes in the chart). One has seen a “glimpse of Nibbāna,” i.e., one KNOWS that permanent happiness is not possible anywhere in the 31 realms and that whatever effort one makes to achieve such happiness is like chasing a mirage.

  • Note the difference in the box next to “sammā diṭṭhi” in the two cases. In the mundane path, “sammā saṅkappa, sammā vaca, sammā kammaṃta” are “moral thoughts, speech, and actions” intended to avoid bad outcomes and to seek good outcomes.
  • In the Noble path, “sammā saṅkappa, sammā vaca, sammā kammaṃta” are “thoughts, speech, and actions” intended to stop the rebirth process. One does not do immoral things because there is “no point” in doing such things. One knows that such things are unfruitful and dangerous in the long run.
  • And one becomes more compassionate towards all living beings (not just humans) because one can see that each living being suffers because of ignorance of the Buddha’s key message. One also realizes that one needs to fulfill obligations to others to “pay back old debts”; one is bound to the rebirth process not only via cravings for worldly things but also via unpaid debts from previous lives.
Noble Eightfold Path

5. The decision to become a Sōtapanna magga anugami (the path to the Sōtapanna stage) can be made anytime after getting to the “red boxes”, i.e., while one is on the mundane Eightfold Path.

  • In a way,  a Sōtapanna magga anugami is a Bhauddhaya in the real sense. See “A Buddhist or a Bhauddhaya?” Even though not in the Tipiṭaka, sometimes the word “Cūla Sōtapanna” (pronounced “chūla sōtapanna”) is also used to describe the same person.
  • The key is comprehending the “true nature of this world of 31 realms,” Buddha described. That says it is impossible to achieve/maintain anything that can be kept to one’s satisfaction (anicca.) Thus one gets to suffer (dukkha), and thus, one is truly helpless in the rebirth process (anatta). This realization is like lifting a heavy load that one has been carrying, the first true taste of Nibbāna.

6. This “change of mindset”  for a Sōtapanna is PERMANENT, i.e., it will not change even in future rebirths. One has attained an “unbreakable”  level of confidence (saddha) in the Buddha, Dhamma, and Saṅgha.

  • And a Sōtapanna can follow the rest of the seven steps in the Noble Eightfold Path even without help from others. Thus one will attain the next three stages of Nibbāna (Sakadāgāmi, Anāgāmi, Arahant) successively by following those steps.
Mundane Eightfold Path

7. In the Maha Chattarisaka Sutta, the Buddha outlined how one needs first to follow the mundane (“lokiya“) Eightfold Path; see, “Maha Chattarisaka Sutta (Discourse on the Great Forty).” This is the first NECESSARY step to eliminate the worst kinds of “gunk” that have been built up over countless past lives.

  • The unique message of the Buddha has been hidden for hundreds of years. What is conventionally practiced today is just this mundane Eightfold Path. This is what we call “Buddhism” today.
  • That superficial or “secular” Buddhism is not that different from what is advised by most other religions. Thus, it is easier for people to resonate with the mundane concepts in “Buddhism.”  Sammā Diṭṭhi, for example, is considered the “correct vision” of “how to live a moral life.”
  • Of course, that is the first necessary step. That will help one to be able to experience the benefits of moral behavior (even in this life as a “niramisa sukha“; see “How to Taste Nibbāna“) and then comprehend anicca, dukkha, anatta, and embark on the Noble Eightfold Path to seek permanent happiness or Nibbāna.

 Next, “A Buddhist or a Bhauddhaya?“, ……….

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