Who is a Buddhist?

So, who is a Buddhist?

And who is not?

This is an issue of some import as we have entered an era where Buddhist thought is cited for various purposes within our culture. And so, who may speak for the tradition? And who should be considered winging it while merely appealing to the name without justification?

It is in fact problematic as Buddhism is some five hundred years older than Christianity and during its whole history has never had a leading or normative institution, such as Christianity’s Roman Catholic Church. (Yes, some would assert the Vinaya ordained sangha could be that institution. But, the Buddhism of Japan is a glaring exception. And many emergent Buddhisms also have problematic relationships with the Vinaya ordained sanghas. So, it just isnt that cut or dried…) So, who gets to say whether one is Buddhist or is not? I find no institution that exists has the universal acceptance of the world Buddhist community or undoubtedly more properly, communities…

Many Christians consider it essential one acknowledges one of the traditional creeds such as the Apostles or the Nicene (or both) to be Christian. I know some throw in another called the Athanasian, as well. But there is also a strong minority position that holds the definition of a Christian is one who can say, “Jesus is Lord.” By that definition, at least on alternative Tuesdays, I could say I’m Christian.

Buddhism seems even harder to define. There is no creedal statement commonly held, although in modern times and in the West in particular many have appealed to the Four Noble Truths as a description of Buddhism.

Of course, some people think the Dalai Lama would be such an authority. But that just shows many people don’t understand where he fits on the Buddhist stage. Rather than being the Buddhist pope, the Dalai Lama is more akin to being the Patriarch of Russian Orthodoxy – that is the leader of a significant although by world standards not a particularly large branch of the religion. In fact few opinions held by Buddhists somewhere are not going to be challenged by Buddhists somewhere else.

And then for me as a Zen Buddhist any definitions are tricky, as words are tricky. Although I find the summary statement in the Heart Sutra, “form is emptiness, and emptiness form” a very good pointer…

But pointer not creed.

Still, Zen is nestled very much within Buddhism, and for me, at least, as with, I’m confident, the majority, if not all, Zen Buddhists; seeing Zen as Buddhist is important.

In some recent correspondence a friend cited one Tibetan authority who asserted four principles that describe Buddhism, and if one does not believe them, then that person is not a Buddhist.

They are 1) All produced things are impermanent
 2) All contaminated things are suffering
 3) All phenomenon are empty and selfless 
4) Nirvana is peace

I looked at this list and thought I could live with it, although I think the word “contaminated” and “suffering” need a little attention. I would substitute compounded for contaminated, as there is no pure reference point. The point as I understand it is that everything made of parts (and what is not?) will come apart, and that grasping at such things as if they’re permanent or whole or unchangeable brings about a sense of dis-ease, unsatisfactoriness, hurt, sadness, suffering, anguish. Each word pointing to this sense captured in the technical term dukkha.

As to Nirvana is peace. That too needs unpacking in that as a Zen Buddhist this is where we come to that Heart Sutra line I cited above. Here the identity of form and emptiness of samsara and nirvana cannot be ignored, and it is in fact the deep insight into this that is awakening. So, this peace that is nirvana also includes all the hurt of the world.

I thought it interesting that in this list the doctrines of karma and rebirth are not included. But, perhaps assumed? I believe any forthright examination must include these points. And I know this is where my orthodoxy starts getting a bit shaky.

In classical Buddhism karma is all about intention. And those intentions are what directly lead to rebirth, and the normative view has been that “rebirth” refers to post mortem reanimation.

Out of respect for the tradition I try to maintain an agnostic view in this regard. But. I’ve noticed agnosticism tends to lean one way or another. So as regards a subject like theism an agnostic might lean toward theism or atheism while professing not knowing. In regard to theism I lean toward the not very likely. In regards to karma and rebirth taken in those classical ways, I’m agnostic but lean rather heavily against the view.

Rather for me karma describes the connection of an action or thought to its consequences. And within that unity of action or thought and consequence, rebirth describes the shift or immediate result of any given action or thought within, at least, a human being. I am because of what I was and I will be because of who I am – all right here, in each moment…

Then there are the moral codes, the precepts. Some would include how we interpret them to fall within at least orthodox and heterodox, if not whether one is or is not a Buddhist. The original conversation with my friend turned on how Tibetans in general understand the refraining from inappropriate sexual acts. For the most traditional understanding this means no sex that isn’t for purposes of procreation. With all the fall out that has for homosexual persons…

I have a very strong reaction to this. I find that view ridiculous and body-hating and a shadow of Buddhism writ large. It is part of a Buddhist perspective that needs to be challenged from within the community, as damaging to the wholeness to which we are genuinely called by our tradition. I believe the only appropriate way of understanding the precepts regarding sexuality turn on respect and care and mutuality. Missing this is missing how we engage with open hands the matter of life and death.

I assert these positions I hold are Buddhist, if liberal Buddhist.

Others, I know, think this means I am not a Buddhist. Or, at best, a marginal Buddhist.

But then many Buddhists think the same about Zen Buddhists in general.

The upshot is probably, while quite important, the question of who and who is not a Buddhist is going to remain ambiguous…

Not unlike life, it seems…

But, also, like life, very important to engage fully…

And a Blessed Yuri's Night to All
LEARNING TO FALL A Meditation on the Stoic Way
And Now A Root Canal
Happy birthday, Spike!
  • Vision8

    Thanks for this blog. Here is a definition of a Buddhist, according to Sri Lanka’s Theravada Buddhism:

    Who Is a Buddhist?
    A Buddhist is someone who seeks refuge in the Triple Gem through true realization. The Buddha, His doctrine (Dhamma), and the venerable Buddhist priests (Sangha) are collectively known as the Triple Gem (Theruvan). We have to specially mention ‘true realization’ because many who are born as Buddhists into Buddhist families do not really know the meaning of true realization. Think for a moment – if someone asks you why you are a Buddhist, what would you say? Maybe you would remain silent because you do not know what to say. Many people say they are Buddhists just for namesake. These individuals do not have a true understanding or a true realization of what it means to seek refuge or the sanctuary in the Triple Gem.
    Sometimes, we become Buddhists and seek the sanctuary in the Triple Gem because someone told us to do so. Or, we become Buddhists because our parents are Buddhists. Sometimes, we follow Buddhism because it is our tradition. But, did we think what it really means to seek refuge in the Triple Gem? Many Buddhists find themselves in a helpless and confused situation because they have not truly comprehended what it means to be a Buddhist.

    How Do I Become a True Buddhist?
    We are very familiar when we say the following at the initiation of chantings and sermons:
    “I seek refuge in the Buddha” (Buddhang Saranang Gachchāmi)
    “I seek refuge in the Buddha’s teachings” (Dhammang Saranang Gachchāmi)
    “I seek refuge in the venerable Buddhist priests” (Sangang Saranang Gachchāmi).
    In fact, we repeat these three verses two more times. Now, why do we have to seek refuge in another person like the Buddha? We seek the refuge of another person when we are helpless – we seek refuge in a doctor when we are sick, and when we need money, we seek the help of someone who has lots of money.
    Now, do we really need to seek refuge in someone if we don’t have any needs, or if we don’t feel helpless? Herein lies a fact that not many are aware – even though we may feel powerful and not helpless in anyway, deep inside and hidden, there lies a deep-rooted vulnerability within our lives. This is something we inherit from the moment we are born. A wise person is capable of realizing this, and will become determined to overcome this helplessness and suffering. A true Buddhist is such a person – he seeks, with true realization and determination, refuge in the Triple Gem to overcome this helplessness and suffering.

    What Really, then, Is this Helplessness?
    You may have all the money you want. You may have a beautiful place to live, new and expensive vehicles, a lot of friends, etc. You may be a very popular person in your society. Are you then helpless? The answer is ‘Yes’ – No matter what worldly belongings you have, there exists a hidden helplessness deep down within you. Are you surprised? How can one who has all the comforts and worldly needs be helpless?
    Think for a moment – you may be a young and energetic youth of fifteen to twenty years, or you may be a middle-aged or old person. Do you think you be like this forever? Can you stop getting older each day? You may remember the times when you were very young. Then, suddenly, without you even realizing it, you have outgrown your youth. You mature every day, and you leave your young days and youth behind. No one likes the idea of growing old. Yet, slowly but surely, with each day, you grow older. Getting old is something we cannot turn back. We don’t like it, but we cannot stop growing old. This is one good example of where human beings feel helpless, no matter how powerful or wealthy they may be.
    Think about life for another moment. How many times have you fallen ill? Sometimes people find themselves facing an incurable illness. These illnesses can come without any warning. Can someone tell, with certainty, that he or she is immune from getting life-threatening diseases like cancer? The answer is no. Here is another instance where we feel helpless.
    Thousands of years have gone by. The world has seen many kings, wise people and rich people. There were many beautiful people – you may still be talking about some of them. But could any one of these people have avoided death in the end? No matter how powerful or rich they were, they lost everything when they died. This is sometimes a difficult fact to come to terms with – but, all our belongings, all our power and all our friends – don’t we have to leave them all behind when we die? It may scare you even to think about having to die. But, we all have to die someday. We cannot stop it from happening. This is another instance where most human beings feel helpless.
    Getting old, becoming ill and having to die in the end – think about these for a moment – would not someone feel helpless when he faces these moments in his life? Is there a way to prevent these helpless and scary moments?

    Does Seeking Refuge in the Triple Gem Prevent Us From Getting Old? From Getting Ill? From Dying?
    This is not how you should ask this question. You also need to think about something else. Those who seek refuge in the Triple Gem also become old, become ill and die. But, there is a difference between others and those who seek refuge in the Triple Gem through true realization – Those who are within the sanctuary of the Triple Gem are never helpless. They don’t feel helpless when they become old. They don’t feel helpless when they are ill. They don’t feel helpless in the face of death. On the other hand, those who don’t seek this refuge will feel helpless under these circumstances. They become sad. They cry. They become desperate. Even during this present moment, when they see signs of their bodies gradually becoming old and their hair becoming grey, they feel sad. As these signs become more prominent, and as the body gets weaker and older, these feelings of helplessness become greater. It is hard to describe the feelings of desperation and helplessness they feel as they face the inevitable end. They cry in despair for weeks and months.
    Those who seek the shelter of the Triple Gem through their own realization are ‘immune,’ or are liberated from this helplessness. Eventually, through the teachings of the Buddha, they will come to the realization that there is a way to become permanently free from getting old, sick and dying.

    How is it that Someone Who Seeks Refuge in the Triple Gem Can Become Free from Death and Dying?
    This is a good question and a crucial one. Yes, someone who seeks refuge in the Triple Gem can become free from death and dying. But, just seeking this refuge is not enough. There are other things one must do.
    Think about this- why will you die? Isn’t it because you were born? If we are able to stay without being born, then we would become free from death and dying. Thus, preventing birth would essentially prevent death and dying. Preventing birth would also liberate us from the course of getting old and sick as well.
    One, who through true realization seeks refuge in the Triple Gem, makes great effort to abolish the process of being born. He models his life in accordance with this effort. His goal is to somehow become free from the cycle of being born and reborn. Therefore, he does not feel sad, desperate or helpless upon getting old and sick – he has the understanding that these processes are inherited by all those who are born. Thus, he strives to understand the cycle of birth, old age, sickness and death, for he knows that no matter how much he laments these undesirable processes, he cannot avoid them.

    Now, how about you? Aren’t you afraid of being reborn?
    Hey, I’m Not Scared to Be Reborn!
    Now, that is very surprising! Let me tell you – I am really scared to be reborn. Tell me, have you seen people with only one eye or those without any eyes at all? Have you seen people with no hands or legs? What about those who cannot talk? Those who are deaf? What about those who suffer because they cannot comprehend what we are saying? When you see such people don’t you feel a sense of shock and sadness? Sometimes you may ask yourself “How is it that these people are so unfortunate?” So, are you not concerned that when you are reborn that you could also be like them? Do you know for certain that you will be reborn without any debilitating physical defect? No, you do not know that answer!
    So, be careful! Even though you have good eyesight, good hearing, and a good physique, it is not guaranteed that it will be like this in your future lives. How we are reborn is determined by the meritorious (good) deeds and the unwholesome deeds (bad deeds or sins) that we do in this life. Looking at it from this point of view, being reborn can be a very uncertain and scary prospect. Only those with very higher states of consciousness and developed states of mind can see what we will be reborn as. I only spoke about being reborn as a human being. What if we are reborn within the animal world?

    When People Die, Can They Really be Reborn in the Animal World?
    See, you thought that you will always be reborn within the comforts of the human world, didn’t you? The chances of us being reborn in the human world are very limited. There are several worlds a human being can be reborn in. They are the Worlds of the Demons (Præta Lōka, this is some kind of a ghostly (demon) world, the World of Animals, Hell (Niraya), the Worlds of Humans, and the Divine Celestial Worlds (or Worlds of the Gods, Divya Lōka). Whether we like it or not, we will be reborn in one of these worlds according to our conduct (karma). Being reborn in the World of Humans or the Divine Celestial Worlds are rare events. Many of us are reborn in the Worlds of the Demons, in the World of Animals or in Hell. How we conduct our life will determine where we will be reborn.
    By nature, our minds and actions do not tend towards meritorious (good and wholesome) deeds, but towards unwholesome (bad) deeds. Imagine – if we are reborn in the Animal World or Hell, how much suffering would we have to endure. We would be hungry and thirsty all the time. We would always be living with fear and anxiety. Life would be very difficult and unpleasant. But, even though we do not realize it now, we have been born in all these worlds many, many times in our previous lives. You may have heard or read about people being reborn as demons.

    Have We Been Reborn Before?
    Of course! Did you think this life is your only birth? No. We are on a very, very long journey, being reborn over and over again. This is called the “Journey through Sansāra (Journey through Life Cycles, or the Journey of Transmigration or the Circuit of Mundane Existences of Births and Rebirths).” This is a very dangerous journey. It is difficult to even imagine the beginnings of this journey. We have born and died many, many times before.
    Throughout the journey through sansāra, being reborn as a human being is a very rare occurrence. The Buddha gave a nice simile to this: Suppose we throw a piece of wood with a small hole in the middle into the sea. And suppose that a one-eyed deep-sea turtle that comes up to the surface only once every one hundred years, finds that piece of wood, and looks through the hole in it. The likelihood of us being reborn in the Human World is as minimal as this one-eyed turtle finding this piece of wood in the vast sea, and looking through its hole! Imagine, then, how valuable this life of ours is!
    Thus, the Buddha has also said that only a very few of us who are living in this world will be reborn as humans. It is like comparing a little piece of soil on your fingernail to the soil on the entire earth! Many people will be reborn in the World of Demons, the Animal World or in Hell. This is because a majority of people commit unwholesome deeds (sins) as compared to those who do good deeds. Now, do you see how lucky human beings are? Those who have no physical defects or other problems are even luckier!

    Is There Really a World Called Hell?
    Yes, there is a world called Hell. If we accumulate unwholesome (sinful) deeds in our life, we will be reborn in Hell. We have been reborn in Hell many, many times before. The Buddha has described what Hell is, in one of His discourses called the Devadūtha Sūthra. Those who commit what are known as the five major sins (or the ten major sins) are born in Hell. There they are born spontaneously. The caretakers in Hell take those who go there, and pin them to the ground with red-hot metal spikes. More spikes are driven into their feet and chest. They lie there till they have spent their dues, i.e. till they spend their bad karma.
    Those who go to Hell also get their flesh spliced by sharp objects. They are forced to walk on floors with red-hot cinder; they are forced to climb mountains made of burning coal. They are held by their feet and dipped in pots containing melting steel. Thus, these poor beings suffer immensely. But they don’t die till they have spent the due returns of their bad deeds (bad karma). When they say they are hungry, their mouths are forced open and red-hot cinders are pushed into their mouths. These cinders fall down, burning the stomach area and then fall out through the back. When they are thirsty, hot, melting steel is poured down their throats. These are what they get as food in Hell.
    Next, they are taken into the main chambers of Hell, where all walls are on fire. The poor beings run around to escape the unbearable climate of these chambers; their flesh burn, exposing the bones. They are subjected to infinite sufferings in Hell, where they remain there till they have spent their bad karma.
    The Buddha has described the horrors of Hell in many additional discourses as well.
    How Can be Someone be Born as a Prētha (Demon)?
    The reason for a being to be born in the World of Demons is also because they accumulate unwholesome (sinful) deeds during their lives. Certain unwholesome acts lead to the accumulation of bad karma that cause people to be born in the Demon World. The Demon World is also a place of suffering. There is no food there. Those in this world have to eat saliva, other bodily excretions and feces. Even these are not easily found. The book Prētha Vaththu describes the lives of those living in the Demon World.
    Once, the venerable Arahat, Mugalan saw a Demon that looked like a skeleton. Crows were pecking the demon’s bones and devouring the marrow. The demon was crying in pain. A man who slaughtered cattle for his living was reborn as this demon. He had spent many lives in Hell and was then reborn in the Demon World.
    In another instance, the venerable Arahat, Mugalan saw a woman demon who did not have any skin. Vultures were pecking at her flesh. She was screaming in pain. She had committed many sinful acts while being unfaithful to her husband in a previous life.
    These are some of the sufferings seen in the Demon World. Those who are born into the Demon World have extremely ugly, disfigured figures. Since they have very minute or faint bodies, not everyone can see these demons. Even though we live our lives surrounded by comforts, we could be reborn in the Demon World if we commit unwholesome (sinful) acts in our lives.
    If I Can be Reborn in the Divine Celestial World Somehow, it Should be Alright!
    Wait, you think like this because you do not know much about this journey through sansāra (journey through life cycles, or the journey of transmigration or the circuit of mundane existences of births and rebirths). Yes, the best of comforts can be found in the Divine Celestial Worlds. Also, the life span of someone living in these worlds is very long, but, when it is over, then you will be reborn.
    Good, wholesome deeds (good karma) will let you enjoy the comforts and the good life of the Divine Celestial Worlds. But, when you have lived through the period for benefitting from that good karma period, you will have to bid farewell to these Divine Celestial Worlds, as well.
    The Buddha has explained about many Divine Celestial Worlds such as Chāāthummahārajika, Thavthisāā, Yāmaya and Thusithāya. But there is also a finite lifetime within these worlds. Then, one will be reborn again according to the deeds (karma) one has done. But, there is a high likelihood of many of us being reborn in Hell. So, being reborn in the Divine Celestial Worlds does not solve your problems altogether.

    So, Do I Need to Seek the Refuge of the Triple Gem for this? Why Can’t I Just Do Good Deeds (Good Karma)?
    No! You are wrong again. We traverse the vast realm of these lifecycles (sansara) according to the goods and sins we do. If you commit good and wholesome deeds (good karma), you will be rewarded in many desirable ways. Let’s say that you avoid unwholesome (sinful) acts and do good karma in this life. You will be rewarded someday, somewhere, or sometime during your journey through sansara. But think for a moment – this is not the first time we were born. We know we have been born many, many times before.
    But, do you know the good and bad deeds that you accumulated in your previous lives? No, you cannot even remember what your previous lives were. So, even though we live this life avoiding unwholesome deeds and commit to doing good deeds (good karma), don’t we still have to face the fate of the good and the bad we have accumulated in our past lives (that we still haven’t consumed)? We could be reborn in the undesirable worlds again, due to this.
    Yes, good deeds (good karma) is a good thing that helps us in many ways, but the rewards we get also are temporary – once we have finished the finite time that the karma pays off, these rewards fade away. Now, you should have realized that just committing to do good deeds (good karma) is not going to solve everything.

    Then What Should I Do to Become Completely Free?
    Yes, this is the most important question. There is a way to become completely free. For this, you need to seek, with true understanding, refuge in the Triple Gem, and live your life according to the Buddha’s Teachings. Even Buddhists, who haven’t sought refuge in the Triple Gem with complete and true realization, do not know what exactly to do. They seem to be content with just saying “I seek refuge in the Triple gem”.
    But the True Buddhist is not like this. He seeks refuge in the Triple Gem to get help. As we said earlier, he sought refuge so that he will not feel helpless. This is the helplessness he faces upon getting old, sick and upon facing death. Yes, just because he was born all this will happen to him. Thus, if he is able to become free from being reborn, he will not have to suffer in the Human World, the Animal World, and the Worlds of Demons or in the Worlds of Hell. We already know that even when we are born in a Divine Celestial World, we can spend only a finite time there. Once our good karma has paid off, we could be reborn in other worlds and suffer. Therefore, if we can become free from this cycle of birth-and-rebirth, then we would have given ourselves the greatest gift of all.
    Can We Eliminate the Process of Being Reborn?
    Yes, we can eliminate the process of being reborn. We are reborn because of our desires. By eliminating all desires, we can eliminate being reborn. But eliminating desires should be done in a proper manner. Just because we wish to eliminate our desires, they don’t just go away. The Buddha has explained in great detail how to overcome desires and eliminate them altogether. We need to understand this very clearly and act accordingly.
    The first thing we need to do is live a very basic life of morality (Sīla) described in the Buddha’s Teachings. You may wonder what minimum number of moral deeds you need to do for this. Following the Five Precepts (Five Guidelines) is a very good start. The Five Precepts are:
    1. Refraining from killing any living being.
    2. Refraining from stealing.
    3. Refraining from sexual misconduct.
    4. Refraining from telling lies.
    5. Refraining from consuming intoxicants such as alcohol and drugs.
    Observing these Five Precepts requires your vow to abide by these five rules. You should make great effort to abide by these rules, especially when you are faced with the prospect of associating with one of these five misconducts. Carefully study and believe in what the Buddha has taught, and make these Five Precepts an integral part of your life. Then you become one of many who are on a determined mission to become emancipated from the cycle of being rebirths (sansāra). At the very least, make every effort to abide by these Five Precepts. This would help you to prevent yourself from being reborn in the Worlds of Hell.

    How Can I Prevent Myself from Being Reborn in the Animal World, the World of Demons or Hell?
    Now, you already know why we can be born in Hell. Once unwholesome (sinful) acts have accumulated, and as a result of their reaction (karma), we can be born in the Animal World, the Worlds of Demons or Hell. Think for a moment – if you happen to have accumulated unwholesome deeds, but if you eliminate all their consequences (karma), and if you do not commit any unwholesome (sinful) acts again, you will not be reborn in these dreadful worlds. It is a very rare thing indeed to be fortunate enough to be able to learn how to achieve this. Only the Great Buddhas know and teach this.
    Only during the very rare time when a Buddha and His Teachings are found, do we get to learn how to avoid being reborn. If you decide to follow the Buddha’s teachings, you also will be able to overcome the helplessness we described earlier, and eventually overcome being reborn. The Buddha’s teachings state that once a person attains the higher state of mind and consciousness called Sōthāpanna (Stream-Enterer or Stream Winner), he will never be reborn in the Animal World, the Worlds of Demons or Hell. (Stream-enterer means the wholesome doctrine found within one who enters the stream that leads to enlightenment or Nirvāna).

    Is it Really True that a Person Who Has Attained the State of Sōthāpanna Will Never be Reborn in Hell?
    Yes, this is true. A person who is a Stream-Enterer (the state of Sōthāpanna) will never be reborn in the Animal World, the Worlds of Demons or Hell. If he had any bad karma that were to be realized, then he will be free from all of them, too. Just because of this, he will never be reborn in these treacherous worlds. In other words, he will never commit any unwholesome (sinful) deeds that will take him to these worlds.
    This person may be reborn a maximum of seven times. During these lives he will completely become emancipated from being reborn, and also will become free from the helplessness we talked about before. During these seven lives, he will only be reborn in the Human Word or in the Divine Celestial Worlds. See, what a sanctuary he would have made for himself!
    If all except for a few drops of water in the ocean dry up, just like the water that has dried up, the person who is a Stream-Enterer, or one who has attained the state of Sōthāpanna is free from most of the karma that bring suffering. The Buddha has mentioned that such a person has only a very few karma that could bring him suffering – just like the few drops of water that was left when the ocean dried up.
    To Attain the State of a Stream-Enterer (Sōthāpanna), One Must Seek Refuge in the Triple Gem, Through True Understanding. But remember, this journey through the vast realm of birth and rebirth (sansāra) holds true not only for you, but to ALL beings as well, whether they are Buddhists, Catholics, Hindus or Muslims. We all have to face the helplessness that old age, sickness and death brings. But, one who seeks refuge in the Triple Gem through true realization, will never become helpless.

    But, We are not Buddhist Priests Who Can Live a Life Like This. It would be Difficult for Us to Do These Things!
    Stop right there! Never say that! You are mistaken again. As a lay person (a person other than a Buddhist priest), it is you who have to face all the burdens in life. Think for a moment about this – Whenever you were happy, didn’t something always come up sooner or later, to ruin that happiness? To free oneself from suffering, and to achieve the state of Sōthāpanna, one does not have to become a Buddhist priest. Be it lay persons or Buddhist priests, we all are in various stages of our journey through life cycles (sansāra).
    So, don’t think that attaining the state of a Stream-Enterer (Sōthāpanna) is difficult. Whilst living as a normal (lay) person, try to live your life according to what the Buddha taught us. Remember, we spoke earlier about this being very simple. Just because a person becomes a priest, he does not automatically become free from being reborn in the Animal World, the Worlds of Demons or Hell. Whether it is a Buddhist priest or a normal (lay) person, if they are reborn in these worlds, they cannot evade suffering. That is one big reason why you should take the step towards leading a life according to what the Buddha taught.

    But, Will Our Lives Become Unsuccessful? Will We Become Tired of Life?
    No. That will never happen. Not only will your life be successful, but it will also become meaningful and satisfying. Life becomes unsuccessful when you live life the wrong way. When you remember the sins that you committed, and when you are facing the consequences of their karma, life is going to become miserable. The life of one who has attained the state of the Stream-Enterer (Sōthāpanna) is a very beautiful and serene life. Have you heard about Visākha? She was a person who had attained this state, but yet lived a lay life. Visākha attained the state of Sōthāpanna when she was only seven years old. Since she lived a life of great luxury and comfort, one would have expected her to become tired of life after many years of being in the state of Sōthāpanna. But that never did happene. Visākha eventually became married and lived a life filled with happiness.
    The life of the very rich nobleman, Anēpindu, who had attained the state of Sōthāpanna, was also filled with happiness. These are just a few examples of those who had sought refuge in the Buddha’s doctrine (Dhamma or Teachings) and lived very happy lives. Reflect, for a moment, about the following – during the days of the Buddha, the population of the city of Sāāvathi was about seven million. Out of these, five million people had attained various states of lamdre (Mārga Pala), which are very high states of mind! This made the city of Sāāvathi a very pleasant and peaceful place. The lives of these people, who followed the Buddha’s teachings, were peaceful, and they were able to face any obstacle without worry or fear. If one can face the problems and obstacles in one’s life without worry and fear, think how wonderful that would be!
    If you seek refuge in the Triple Gem with true understanding, you will be able to achieve all these successes in your life. The Buddha described a way that will help you to understand this – it is called the Mirror of Dhamma.

    What is the Mirror of Dhamma?
    Just like we use a mirror to look at ourselves, we use the Mirror of Dhamma to look at ourselves and our lives. And, this does not include looking at others. There are four requirements to complete the Mirror of Dhamma. The first is having faith and trust in the Buddha. You should have a great trust in the Buddha, the One you sought refuge in. You can achieve this trust by understanding the Buddha’s great virtuous qualities and believing in them with great devotion (these great, virtuous qualities of the Buddha are discussed in a later chapter of this book). If you harbor any doubts on any of these great attributes of the Buddha, then the Mirror of Dhamma won’t be complete.
    Next, you should clearly understand the principles of the supreme doctrine of the Buddha, and have complete faith in them.
    Also, you should know the qualities and virtues of the Buddhist priests, who perpetually make faithful and determined efforts to abide by the Buddha’s teachings (the attributes of the Great Sangha are also described in a later chapter). In this manner, you should understand the virtues of the Teachings you are seeking refuge in – there are twenty four of them, and these will be discussed at another time.
    The fourth requirement is to observe the five precepts we have described above, and make a determined effort to abide by them without breaching them in any way.

    What Do We See When We Look at Ourselves Through the Mirror of Dhamma?
    Yes, this is a good question. As we discussed, if four factors are not completed, then the Mirror of Dhamma will not be complete. If one wholeheartedly seeks the refuge of the Buddha and his Teachings, sincerely seeks refuge in the Buddhist monks (The Sangha), and strives to abide by the five precepts, then these four factors will gradually become fulfilled.
    Once the Mirror of Dhamma is complete, we begin to see our lives through it. The Buddha has preached that anyone who fulfils these four facts will never be reborn in the Animal World, the Worlds of Demons or Hell. This person will eventually realize this himself. Anyone who seeks refuge in the Buddha with true understanding will never be born in these forbidding worlds. According to the Buddha’s teachings, once one lets go of his worldly body, he would attain a divine body (divya kaya).
    Not only that, but when this person is faced with life’s crises, the Mirror of Dhamma helps him to triumph over them. Even on his death bed, one who has the Mirror of Dhamma with him will not feel afraid since he knows that he will not be reborn in the forbidding worlds. Thus, he even faces death without fear. Therefore, you must become determined to wholeheartedly seek refuge in the Triple Gem.