Wisdom from the Great Buddhadasa Bhikkhu
Buddhadasa Bhikkhu is one of the most well-respected and well-read masters of Thai Buddhism worldwide. Achan Buddhadasa was not concerned with ceremony or religious conventions, he lived to serve the truth and had an incredible affinity for nature and all non-human creatures. Instead of building great temples with statues for worship, he simply placed stones in a circle under trees to create a holy place and would share his knowledge and spirit with all who cared to listen. His love of simple truth and nature led him to create the famous monastery, the “Garden of Liberation”, a Zen garden in an ancient forest that evokes peace, love and joy. Here is but some of the important wisdom he shares:
The matter of “I” and “mine”, ego and selfishness, is the single essential issue of Buddhism. The sense of “I” and “mine” is the one thing that must be purged completely. It follows that in this principle lies the knowing, understanding, and practice of all the Buddha’s teachings, without exception.
The words “spiritual” and “mental” have very different meanings. “Mental” refers to the mental factors connected to and associated with the body. If we suffer from mental illnesses, we go to a psychiatric hospital or an asylum; it’s not a spiritual matter. The word “spirit” here doesn’t mean anything like a ghost or a being; it refers to the subtle aspects of the mind that is ill through the power of defilement, in particular through ignorance or wrong view. The mind composed of ignorance or wrong view suffers from the spiritual disease. Seeing falsely causes it to think falsely, speak falsely, and act falsely. The Buddha’s teachings are the cure for the spiritual disease, and the Buddha is the doctor of the spirit. The cure is Dhamma, the single handful of the Buddha’s teachings that must be realized, used, and digested so as to overcome the disease.
You must pay further attention to the point that, these days, humanity pays no heed to spiritual disease, and so things are getting worse for both the individual and society. When everyone has the spiritual disease, the whole world has it. It’s a diseased world, both mentally and spiritually. Rather than lasting peace, we have permanent crisis. For the most part, people don’t see their illness and merely develop a fad for collecting medicine.
Spiritual disease is the disease whose germ lies in the feeling of “we” and “ours”, of “I” and “mine” that is regularly present in the mind. The germ that is already in the mind develops first into the feeling of “I” and “mine” and then, acting through the influence of self-centeredness, becomes greed, hatred, and delusion, causing trouble for both oneself and others. Every branch of philosophy and Dhamma in the Buddha’s time wanted to wipe out I-ing and my-ing. The state free of I-ing and my-ing is considered simply to be a perfect voidness. This voidness is called nibbana, and is absolutely void of “I” and “mine” in every possible respect, without any remainder.
We call it egoism because once the feeling of “I” arises, it naturally and inevitably gives rise to the feeling of “mine”. Therefore the feeling of self and the feeling of things that should belong to the self, taken together, are egoism. Ego can be said to be natural to living beings and, moreover, to be their centre. Since it is so central, ordinary people cannot easily rid themselves of the ego.
When, at the moment of sense contact, the feeling of “I” and “mine” arises, it is the disease fully developed. The feeling of selfishness has arisen powerfully. At this point, we no longer call it egoism but selfishness, because it’s an agitated egoism that leads one into low, false ways, into states of thinking only of oneself without consideration for others. Selfishness leads to greed, hatred, and delusion. It is the greatest danger to the world. That the world is currently so troubled and in such turmoil is due to nothing other than the selfishness of each person and of all the many factions that form into competing groups. They are fighting each other without any real desire to fight, but through compulsion, because they can’t control this thing.
I would like to suggest that the heart of Buddhism is the short saying “Nothing whatsoever should be clung to.” Now, if anyone realizes the truth at this point, that there is not a single thing that should be clung to, then they have no germ to cause the diseases of greed, hatred, and delusion, or of wrong actions of any kind, whether by body, speech, or mind. A person who realizes this truth is like someone who has an antibody that can resist and destroy the disease.
In a moment of true voidness, all the virtues are present. There is perfect mindfulness and self-awareness; perfect sense of shame about doing evil, perfect fear of doing evil, perfect patience and endurance, perfect gentleness, perfect gratitude and perfect honesty. And, in voidness, there is the knowledge and vision according to reality that is the cause for the fruition of the path and the attainment of nibbana. Nowadays there seem to be many callous people who have no sense of fear or shame with regard to doing evil. Being that way, they are able to do improper things and insist on doing them continually. Even when they see that their actions will create disaster for the whole world, they still persist, and so the world is being destroyed because it lacks even this small virtue.
Or, we may take an even humbler virtue, that of gratitude. With just this one virtue, the world could be at peace. We must recognize that every person in the world is the benefactor of everyone else. Never mind people, even cats and dogs are benefactors of humanity, even sparrows are. If we are aware of our debt of gratitude to these things, we will be unable to act in any way that harms or oppresses them. WIth the power of this single virtue of gratitude, we can help save the world.
From: Heartwood of the Bodhi Tree (1962)