The Past, Present, and Future of Buddhism

Your Excellency Prime Minister Mr. Surayud Chulanont , Distinguished WFB Chairman H.E. Phan Wannametthee, Respected Venerables, guests, ladies and gentlemen:

Good morning!

Many thanks to the World Fellowship of Buddhists for inviting me to participate in this great event. You were kind enough to ask me to share my thoughts on the topic of “The Past, Present, and Future of Buddhism” today. It is indeed a great honour for me. Unfortunately, when your invitation reached me, I already had another commitment and was unable to come to Bangkok myself. Please accept my apology. I have prepared a short report and asked a student of mine to read it on my behalf. Your comments are most respectfully welcome.

I would like to share my humble opinions on the following three topics:

I.  The original essence of Buddhism: Teaching the truth of the universe and life
II. The present mission of Buddhism: Promoting world harmony through education
III. The future revival of Buddhism: Nurturing excellent teachers

I. The original nature of Buddhism: Teaching the truth of the universe and life
In the 1930s, a Buddhist master made what has become a famous statement: “Buddha¬dharma is Neither a Religion nor a Philosophy. It is a Modern-day Essential.” If Buddhism is neither a religion nor a philosophy, then what is it? In my view, it is an education.

Shakyamuni Buddha renounced his throne to seek answers for the meaning of life at the age of nineteen and attained enlightenment at the age of thirty. He then dedicated the rest of his life to teaching all beings how to eliminate delusion and attain enlightenment, and to end suffering and attain happiness. He did this by lecturing on the Dharma at more than 300 assemblies for forty-nine years. In a very real sense, given the social condition of his time, he was actually a multicultural social educator. One of the ten titles for a Buddha is “Teacher of the Heavenly and Human Beings.” The teacher-student relationship between the Buddha and all beings indicates that Buddhism is an education.

The Buddha affirmed in his teaching that all beings originally have the Buddha’s wondrous wisdom, ability, and appearance. That is to say, all beings and the Buddha are originally equal in nature and abilities. Through practice and cultivation, every being can regain this perfect Buddha wisdom, ability, and appearance hidden in their innate nature. In various religions, God and his people have a father-child relationship. Thus, they cannot be equal. From this, we see that Buddhism is not a religion.

The Buddha told us in the Flower Adornment Sutra that the universe is created by our mind. The creator and the created are not “two,” but one unified entity. This point of view does not exist in philosophy. The natures of the creator and the created are defined as opposite to one another in philosophical discussions. Thus, Buddhism is not a philosophy either.

Therefore, we conclude that Buddhism is an education directed by the Buddha towards all beings about the truth of the universe and life. The Buddha’s teaching is based on the notion that our true nature is innately good and enlightened. The Buddha taught us the principle of “compassion and loving-kindness.” That is, we are to be humble and to respect, love, care for, and cooperate with one another. These virtues flow naturally from innate goodness and innate enlightenment and are thus able to perfectly achieve the objectives of transforming evil to goodness, foes to friends, delusion to awakening, and ordinary people to sages. These are also the common objectives of all the sages’ teachings in the world. Today, they are what we call the “teaching of love.”

II. The present mission of Buddhism: Promoting world harmony through education

Online education is flexible and has no constraint of time and distance. One of the modern propagation of the Buddha’s teachings is through the distribution of DVDs

Today’s world is full of turmoil and conflict. Conflict resolution, peace, and harmony are our most critical issues. Where is the root cause of conflict? The root cause lies in us. The Buddha said “Delusion is the root cause of suffering, while enlightenment is the source of happiness.” When one’s thoughts, speech, and behaviour do not accord with the innate goodness and enlightenment of one’s nature, conflict will arise. The Buddha said that greed, anger, and ignorance are considered the root causes of conflict and called them the Three Poisons. The aim of the sage’s education is to transform one’s mind. When one is able to remove the Three Poisons and resolve conflicts within one’ mind, the external world will be harmonious. The harmony of the world begins in the mind. Through receiving the sage’s education, we restore the goodness, enlightenment, sincerity, respect, humility, and harmony in our intrinsic nature and spread them until they permeate all space and Dharma realms. Thus, we should learn from the Buddha and promote the teaching for the masses. I am now eighty-one years old. Learning from Shakyamuni Buddha, I have taught Buddhism for forty-nine years and continue to give lectures every day to the world via the Internet, satellite television, and DVD distribution.

During the education process, we must pay attention to its foundation. Theravada Buddhism is the foundation of Mahayana Buddhism. However, when we look at the history of Buddhism in China, only Mahayana Buddhism prevailed, Theravada Buddhism did not. Why was it so? In the past, Chinese people received the Confucian and Taoist teachings since a young age and these teachings supplemented the Theravadan teachings and also became the foundation for learning Mahayana Buddhism.

The Confucian textbook Dizigui (The Standards for Being a Good Student and Child), the Buddhist Sutra of the Ten Virtuous Conducts, and the Taoist textbook Accounts of Request and Response are the paragon of traditional Chinese culture. Even today, we still find these books very useful. They can bring about true and ever-lasting harmony, stability, prosperity, and happiness to humanity.

III. The future revival of Buddhism: Nurturing excellent teachers
The revival and future propagation of Buddhism needs excellent teachers. We sincerely hope that the Thai government will take the initiative to establish a centre for the purpose of training and nurturing qualified teachers to facilitate traditional revered education. These teachers should not only be knowledgeable scholars of Buddhism, but more importantly, they should be the role models of morality and virtue for society as well.

The terms and conditions for selecting qualified teachers should be based on sincerity, respect, loving-kindness, filial piety, integrity, and diligence in learning and studying. The centre should provide the teachers with all their living necessities so they will have no worries. They will then be able to concentrate on their studies. They should first learn to practice the moral and virtue teachings based on basic Theravada teachings or basic teachings such as The Standards for Being a Good Student and Child, Accounts of Request and Response, and the Sutra of Ten Virtuous Conducts. Then they should concentrate on and specialise in just one subject or one sutra, study this sutra for ten years, and facilitate further learning by lecturing on this subject daily. They will then be able to truly gain insight into the sutra they are studying.

Their lectures can be recorded and televised using satellite television and the Internet so their teachings can reach all corners of the country and the world. In such a way, these teachers will be able to not only continue to conduct themselves in a virtuous way, but also teach what they have learned to other people as well. With such an establishment, I truly believe that it would take no more than three years to witness a significant improvement of stability and harmony in society, so that people would lead happy and contented lives. Buddhism will also continue to have ever-lasting influence and reach.

I wish Mr. Prime Minister and all of you good health and happiness!

Thank you!

Ven. Prof. Shi Chin Kung AM
President of Pure Land Learning College, Australia
Honorary Professor of University of Queensland and Griffi th University, Australia
Honorary Doctorate, Syarif Hidayatullah Islamic State University (Indonesia)
Honorary Doctorate, Griffi th University and University of Southern Queensland (Australia)