THE SAGELY CITY OF TEN THOUSAND BUDDHAS

Preface

Many books have been written to introduce the Buddha’s teachings. Why write another one? There are three main reasons for compiling another work of this kind. These reasons also help to define the uniqueness of this book.

First, this book relies primarily on translations of source materials, rather than narrative explanations and interpretations of the teachings. Most introductory books on Buddhism are written in the second person and not in the Buddha’s own words. Primary source materials such as the Sutras (discourses by the Buddha or his contemporary disciples) appear infrequently, if at all, in most of the literature. This is understandable, because it makes for easier reading. Somewhat more energy and concentration is required to read original sources, because they tend to be more solemn in tone and rich in meaning. However, reading the Sutras directly yields unexpected treasures. One encounters the actual teaching of the Master unfiltered through someone else’s personal views. Therefore, the reader has the freedom to discover his own meanings and draw his own conclusions from the teachings. Buddhism: A Brief Introduction tries to let the Buddha speak for himself directly to the reader by way of brief Sutra passages presented in a manner that weaves the entire body of teachings into a coherent whole.



Second, this small book is distinctive in its attempt to blend the central teachings of the various schools and sects of Buddhism into a unified and cogent philosophy. Thus the reader is being introduced to the fundamental teachings accepted by all major schools of Buddhism. With the intertwining of the Four Noble Truths, the paramount teaching of the Theravada or Southern Tradition, and the Bodhisattva’s Four Magnificent Vows, the essential teaching of the Mahayana or Northern Tradition, a universal Buddhism emerges. This single, unified Buddhism combines the practical wisdom of the Sages with the all encompassing compassion of the Bodhisattvas. The result is a very complete and compelling Buddhism.



The third special quality of this book is its vitality. The quotations taken directly from source materials convey the spirit and purpose of the Buddha’s teaching immediately to the reader. Unfortunately, many modern works on Buddhism, in the name of “scholarly objectivity”, treat the Buddha’s teachings as an academic discipline such as sociology, anthropology, and other social sciences. Here in the realm of wisdom and spiritual insight, however, scholarly interpretations are often inadequate and strangely out of place. Extensive linguistic analysis, archaeological finds, and social analysis may lead to a better understanding of the cultural context within which the Buddha lived and taught, but they offer us, almost no insight into the profound meaning and abiding truths that continue to pulse through these timeless teachings. And in some ways mere scholarship can often inadvertently “miss the forest for the trees”. From the outset of his career, the Buddha explained that his teachings were “only a finger pointing at the moon; not the moon itself”. That is, they were a means or way to be cultivated, not a creed to be believed or a dogma to cling to. You must “drink the water yourself, to know whether it is warm or cold” – see for yourself what is true and attain ultimate freedom from suffering. Thus the Buddha said:

Monks, do you not speak that which is known by yourselves, seen by yourselves, discovered by yourselves?

Yes, Venerable Sir.

You, Monks, have been instructed by this Dharma (teaching) which is evident, timeless, inviting one to come and see, leading onwards, and to be personally known by the wise.

The implication is clear: without actually practicing the teachings it is not possible to fully comprehend them. Mere study cannot compare to actual practice and direct experience. Thus, in the Bodhisattvas Ask For Clarification, Chapter 10, Flower Adornment Sutra, we find this principle stated in the following vivid analogies:

Like a physician who,
though skillful in prescribing medicine,
Is unable to cure his own illness;
Without practicing the Dharma,
Much study is the same way.

Like one who counts the wealth of others’
But has not a penny of his own;
Without practicing the Dharma,
Much study is the same way.

Like a person born in a King’s palace,
Who still suffers hunger and cold;
Without practicing the Dharma,
Much study is the same way.

Like a deaf musician playing tunes
Others enjoy but he himself does not hear;
Without practicing the Dharma,
Much study is the same way.

Like a blind artist whose many drawings
Are displayed for others,
but he himself can never see;
without practicing the Dharma,
Much study is the same way.

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