This post is a follow up from the previous one titled, No servants and slaves in Buddhism
“Let each of you be an island unto yourself” In this 1st sentence, Buddha was quoted, exhorting his disciples to rely on their individual effort to gain salvation. In other words, we are supposed to take charge of our spiritual progress; Not wail and lament that Buddha is no longer physically around to help us. Not pray for enlightenment or happiness.
“One must have faith in Buddha.” In this 2nd sentence, many great masters advise their disciples to have faith in Buddha. Many people inevitably interpret this as having faith in an imaginary Buddha sitting in the sky. In that manner, their refuge in Buddha is almost similar to having faith in a divine being. I know because I was like that. And I was like that because I was taught to pray in that manner by my parents. It gave me that warm fuzzy feeling that there is a powerful being our there watching my back, looking out for me, protecting me, and taking care of me.
The above 2 position seem at odds with each other. How can that be? Actually, the contradiction hinges upon misunderstanding the masters.
Faith in Buddha is not the same as faith in god. 1st of all, we need to have faith that Buddha is enlightened. Secondly, we need to have faith that Buddha taught the methods to enlightenment without any reserve. Nothing was withheld from us. In other words, we can be enlightened just like Him. Finally, we need to have faith that his methods work equally well for us. When we have such faith, bring an island unto ourselves is possible.
Having said all that; We also have to recognise the spiritual needs of various people. Not everyone is receptive to the notion of No-God. Not everybody function well without a figure head or an authoritative figure.
In short, some prefer to be owned and to be lord over. They want to believe that taking refuge means entrance to an exclusive spiritual club. A membership that provides spiritual protection against misfortunes in life and guarantees blessings in kind. They want to be told what must be done and what not to be done.
That is their way of relating to chaos in the world and making sense out of it. In this manner, it is inconsiderate and non compassionate of us to belittle their beliefs. For people who have been in the Buddhist world for long, you may be aware of various mystical practices.
People visits monks, nuns and teachers to consult them in a manner that is similar to visiting fortune teller or witch doctors. Especially when big decision is to be made.
Should I take up the new job offer? Should I purchase that house? Should I relocate to another city…
While the Buddha specifically discourage such activities, there is demand for such spiritual services amongst the laity.
Who are we to criticise? Some Buddhist teachers are good at incorporating Buddhist teachings in the guise of fortune telling and shamanistic practices.
Relating to Buddha as if He is a Deity is classified as Kriya Tantra in Tibetan Buddhism. We don’t criticise that it is a wrong type of refuge. Similarly, we will see many Buddhists relating to Buddha in this manner over different parts of the world.
As mentioned earlier, it gives us that warm fuzzy feeling that is quite addictive. Feeling safe in this chaotic world is important.
May all be well and happy.