Future of Buddhism
Liberation and Society: Deliverance through the Buddhadharma
Cultural diversity and religious tolerance are inevitable trends of the new civilization. Part of the founding spirit of America is the people's freedom of religion, which guarantees religious tolerance and diversity. Actually, the Buddha, in his time, already frequently admonished his disciples to respectfully make offerings equally to ascetic renunciants as well as to brahmins of all religions. That is to say, everyone should have religious faith, and serve and make offerings to religious teachers and practitioners, but needn't necessarily believe in Buddhism.
Buddhism holds that every religion should receive protection and respect as long as they do not contradict the virtuous teachings of the human vehicle (ordinary morality) and heavenly vehicle (virtuous deeds meriting reward). Although Buddhism holds the virtuous teachings of the human and heavenly vehicles to be fundamental, it does not hold them to be ultimate. Above them, there is still the path of liberation from birth and death, the bodhisattva path of awakening oneself and others, and the unexcelled enlightenment of buddhahood. Buddhism supports "seeking common ground while preserving differences," so it is able to accept other cultures and even use their good points to spread Buddhism.
The bodhisattva spirit of entering the world to save it has become the inevitable road that contemporary religions must take. After the Buddha attained enlightenment, with the exception of the three months of the yearly rainy season retreat, the Buddha led his disciples out almost every day to preach the Dharma to people, caring for their sufferings, spreading the word of the liberation path, and encouraging them to work for the benefit of sentient beings. The Buddha spoke on the practices of a bodhisattva as including the six perfections (generosity, morality, patience, diligence, meditation, and wisdom), and four methods of inducement (charity, speaking lovingly, acting beneficially and working well with others). As to the first perfection of generosity, the Buddha said, "Among the higher forms of giving, none surpasses giving the Dharma . . . Among the higher forms of deeds, none surpasses deeds of the Dharma . . . Among the higher forms of beneficence, none surpasses the beneficence of the Dharma."
Nursing the sick and providing care for the dying are now important services of a modern religion. When people these days become seriously ill, they may be hospitalized to receive professional medical care. But on their deathbed, the patients themselves and their family members often fall into panic, apprehension, sorrow, and helplessness. Religious and spiritual care is urgently needed at such times. Therefore, starting in the second half of the 20th century, people in Western societies have been establishing hospice wards to care for the dying.
Actually, similar things were already done in the time of Shakyamuni Buddha. For instance, the Buddha told his monks, "Whoever visits the sick has visited me; whoever takes care of the sick has taken care of me. This is so because I myself want to care for the sick." This means that giving care to the sick is the same as giving care to the Buddha. In one of the scriptures, a monk became deathly ill and had no one to care for him. So the Buddha went to visit him. The sick monk told the Buddha that he felt remorse for not having gained liberation, even as he was dying. The Buddha then gave him a teaching on the conditioned arising of the six sense organs, the six sense objects, and the six consciousnesses. After the Buddha left, the monk died. The Buddha's disciples asked him, "To what realm will that monk be reborn?" The Buddha answered, "When he listened to my teaching, he achieved keen understanding, gained unshakable confidence in the Dharma, and entered nirvana." From this, we can see the importance of giving spiritual support to those approaching death.