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Unpopular Truths

August 29, 2013

Q: Why do you think that authentic Theravāda Buddhism will never become a popular movement?

The Arahant: Even in Thailand and Sri Lanka, it is not popular. Yes, there is a more or less popular religious ‘Buddhism’, but it has little to do with the original teaching of the Buddha. Those who are actually following the Buddha’s teaching now are very few, just a handful.

It has a lot to do with people’s aim in life. Most people just want to get through their day a little easier. Maybe a few of them want to improve their life materially. A tiny percentage of those are curious about the truth; and an insignificant few actually want to attain enlightenment.

Most people are driven by status, enjoyment and convenience; the Buddha’s original teaching is not about any of that. In fact, it is full of unpopular, inconvenient truths. That is why people demand a phony religious ‘Buddhism’, to hide the fact that the Buddha’s actual teaching is so full of unpopular truths behind a facade of ritual and high-sounding words.

Let me list just a few of them:

  • The whole world is empty of actual Being.
  • The ‘self’, ‘ego’ or ‘I’ is simply a fabrication.
  • The Vinaya is the highest moral standard in the world.
  • Material ‘becoming’ conditions kamma leading to suffering.
  • Designations of status, power and authority are illusory traps.
  • Heaven and hell really exist, and a typical lifestyle leads to hell.
  • Religious groups do not lead to enlightenment; seclusion does.
  • An intelligent person should be interested in renunciation, not acquisition.

You can find many more with a little research in the Suttas. Of course, there are unpopular only because people are so deluded, they see untruth as truth, illusion as reality, conditioned ‘existence’ as real Being. Some monks argue that we have to meet people where they are and give them a teaching they can understand. But the problem with that is, the more you deviate from the Buddha’s original teaching, the more untruths you introduce into ‘Buddhism’, the less helpful it can be to people.

The actual purpose of the Buddha’s teaching is the cessation of suffering (dukkha), as he states himself:

“When — having entirely abandoned passion-obsession, having abolished aversion-obsession, having uprooted the view-&-conceit obsession ‘I am’; having abandoned ignorance & given rise to clear knowing — he has put an end to suffering & stress right in the here-&-now, it is to this extent, too, that a disciple of the noble ones is a person of right view… who has arrived at this true Dhamma.” — Sammaditthi Sutta (MN 9)

This is the right view of the Buddha’s teaching. Its purpose is not any kind of material enjoyment or economic advancement; its purpose is to put an end to conditioned ‘being’ and ‘becoming’ altogether. Unfortunately, people are so ignorant that this is an unpopular proposition. But we can’t change the Buddha’s teaching just to cater to people who are in illusion, or the teaching will itself be covered by illusion. Then there is no possibility of helping anyone.

If you complain to your doctor, “This medicine tastes bad,” would you expect him to give you a medicine that did not cure your condition but tastes better? That would be unethical, wouldn’t it? No, more likely he would try to convince you that the bad-tasting medicine was the best thing for you, and to tolerate the taste until it has its effect.

Similarly, what is needed in presenting the Buddha’s teaching today is not to compromise with the patients, but to educate them why the Buddha’s teaching must be like it is, if it is to help us eradicate our dukkha.

From → Q&A

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