Taking refuge in the Buddha | Sunday Observer
Caste, race, nationality and gender insignificant as long as you practise the Noble Eightfold path

Taking refuge in the Buddha

1 January, 2023

Following are excerpts from an interview with reputed Theravada Bhikkhu and renowned Meditation Guru Ven. Ajahn Suchart Abhijato Maha Thera of Thailand.

Q: I am aware that irrespective of gender one can attain Arhathood or Nirvana. My question is can a person who is destined to become a Buddha be born as a female in the very birth that (s)he will achieve Buddhahood? In short, can a female achieve Buddhahood in that very birth itself?

Ven. Ajahn Suchart Abhijato Maha Thera

A: As I told you on an earlier occasion it does not matter whether you are a male or female, if you follow the Noble Eightfold path, and fulfill the Ten perfections (Dasa Parami) you can become a Buddha. But it has to happen without the assistance of another Buddha. You have to be born in a place where there is no Buddhist teaching –where there is no one around to teach the Noble Eightfold Path or the three characteristics of our existence (namely suffering (dukkha), impermanence (anicca), and no-self (anatta)). If you discover the above all by yourself then you can become a Buddha. For example, if you happen to be living in a remote place where the teachings of the Buddha cannot get through to you and still you want to become Enlightened, you have to find the way all by yourself – you have to look inside your mind and eventually discover the Four Noble Truths, the three Characteristics of Existence and then you can become a Buddha. The meaning of the word Buddha is “becoming enlightened by yourself without the assistance of the teachings of another Buddha.

Q: The majority of people will not consume meat if they have to kill animals by themselves. They eat meat because it is available in meat stalls or being sold. Through the act of buying meat, they create a demand for meat and the result is animals getting slaughtered for meat. If no demand is created, there is no need to slaughter animals for meat. Isn’t that so?

A: Everybody creates some kind of demand. Being born is the real problem. If there is no ‘human being’ then there will be no problem on this earth! So let’s stop birth and this will solve every problem. The real problem is not whether you eat meat or not, the problem is whether you are born or not born. So stop birth, and there will be no problem on this earth because when you are born you create demand for people to look after you. People are different. Some people eat meat; some people do not eat meat.

When you are born you have to be looked after by other people - by your parents, by your doctors, or whoever has to look after you to keep you alive. Some of them eat meat and some don’t. If they do, they are creating a demand for killing because they have to live in the first place, to look after you or to take care of you. So it is better for you not to be born. Better for everybody not to be born, and when there is no birth - no human on this earth- then there won’t be any need to kill animals for meat.

Q: The Buddha was against the caste system. However, the caste to which an individual belongs still plays a considerable role in his life in certain Asian Buddhist countries. It is the case even in Sri Lanka. Are we truly Buddhists, if we still tend to divide people based on their caste?

A: I think the Buddha was not specifically against the caste system. He was only saying that everybody can attain Nibbana regardless of their caste, race or nationality because every mind is the same. Every mind is filled with defilements, and every mind can use the Dhamma to get rid of defilements by the practice of the Noble Eightfold Path. That is what he really meant. So if you are a Buddhist you should be worried more about your practice than what your caste is. You are born into a certain culture and they have their ways of separating people and that is something external that you need not worry about.

All you need to worry about is whether you are practising the Noble Eightfold Path. What matters is whether you practice the Noble Eightfold path or not. If you practise the Noble Eightfold Path you will become Enlightened and be free from all forms of suffering and you will have no rebirth into any caste system or any more.

But if you don’t practise the Noble Eightfold Path you keep on ‘coming back’, being reborn in different caste systems. So don’t worry about the caste system. Sometimes you might have to go along with the system that you live in, but it does not mean that you really believe in that, and that you’re part of the culture.

But as I just mentioned, this is not important as long as you keep practising the Noble Eightfold path and develop the four Brahma Vihara ( Metta, Karuna, Muditha, Upekka) in which you treat everybody the same regardless of their race, culture or caste. When the Buddha said, ‘Sabbe Saththa’ he meant all beings regardless of caste, race, or nationality.

Q: Could you explain the concept of “Anatman’ according to Buddhism?

A: Well, according to Buddhism there is no such thing as self. Self is just a figment of our imagination. The ancient people believed that the earth was flat, for instance. That is just a belief, not the truth. The truth is that the earth is round just like a basketball or golf ball. It is the same way with everything in this world. There is no ‘self’ in anything. Everything is without a self.’ They are all natural products, a work of nature like the tree, the rain, the water, and the wind. They all have no ‘self’ and that is what ‘anatta/anatman’ means.

It is not really a concept, it is the truth. In short, the truth is that there is ‘no self’ in anything, no ego, no I, no ‘me’ or no ‘mine.’

These are all concepts created by the illusion of the mind

Q: What is the best method to follow/ to lead a happy life?

A: The Noble Eightfold Path. The Path of charity, morality, and meditation. This is the best path to follow to lead a happy life.

Q: As per The Jataka Tales, in his 550 births, the Bodisatva had donated all his possessions including kingdoms, his own children, and wife, in fulfillment of ‘Paramitas.’ However, in today’s context, a parent has no legal right even to donate his own child to another, nor does he have any right to give away his own wife to another. How would you justify the act of the ‘Bodhisattva’?

A: It means he just gave up his attachments to them, that is all. They can do whatever they want - they can stay with him if they want to stay or they can leave him if that is what they want. That’s what he meant by the practice of giving up on things - letting go, having no attachment to them. If they had decided that he was not good enough to be with or if they want to live with somebody else, a Bodisatva will not get hurt.

The Bodisatva will leave it to his children and his wife to decide on what to do with themselves. This is what he meant by fulfilling the Paramita,- not being attached to any possession. You have to happily give up on anything anytime when there is a need for it to be done. So this is the same thing. You don’t have to do it actively; you can do it even passively. You don’t have to tell your wife to go away, but you can just let her decide for herself what she wants to do. If she wants to stay with you, that’s fine. If she does not want to stay with you, that is fine too. It is the same way with the children. This is in today’s context fulfilling the Paramita of dana or charity.

Q: Killing a living being is a violation of the First Precept. Is killing a mosquito as same as killing a cow in terms of acquiring bad Kamma?

A: No, the wrongness of killing depends on the value of the one (living being) that is being killed. If the one that is being killed is more valuable than another, then if you kill the more valuable person or being, it is this particular killing that is considered more wrong. If you kill somebody who is more valuable to you than another person/being, then you will get more bad Kamma by performing that act. If you kill someone who has less value or who is less beneficial, then you will get less bad Kamma.

I can give you an example. Killing somebody whom you don’t know and killing your parents are two different acts. The Kamma - the bad Kamma- is different. Killing your parents is considered to be worse than killing someone whom you don’t know. Killing a thief who is coming into your house to steal your valuable things and killing your parents are not the same, they are two different Kamma(s).

It is the same way with killing a mosquito and killing a cow. A cow is more valuable than a mosquito to you because you can use the cow to help you with your cultivation or help you plough the field. But with the mosquito, you cannot do much or get anything from it. So the bad Kamma you get from killing the mosquito is less than the bad Kamma you get by killing a cow.

Q: Isn’t the amount of bad Kamma acquired through killing an animal determined by the size and the thinking capability of the animal (that is being killed)?

A: No, it is based on the value of that animal to that person. If that person is valuable to you then it is considered to be more harmful to you when you kill that person/being.

These five are considered to be the worst Kamma that anybody can perform.

1) Killing of your mother,

2) killing of your father,

3) killing of an Arhant,

4) Causing the Buddha to bleed,

5) Breaking up of the Sangha.

So you can see that they are all very valuable and important people or institutions. You should not hurt them because they bring benefits to us. The parents give you birth, Arhants or Buddha can guide you to attain Enlightenment or Nibbana. It is the same with the Sangha. You do not want to harm these five people or institutions because they only do good things for the world.

Q: What is your view on imposing the death penalty on wrongdoers?

A: Well, according to Buddhism you should not punish anybody by killing them. You can imprison them for the rest of their lives, but you should not kill them because killing is wrong regardless of what the reason is.

Q: Many young ones and even schoolchildren are falling prey to illegal drugs. They are being lured into such self-destructive behaviour. What is your advice?

A: We need to educate the young on the danger of drugs. You have to try to separate the young people from being able to access any drugs, any addictive substance. You have to educate them and have to make it hard for them to access these drugs. That is all you can do. If they still want to go after illegal drugs then it is their own problem. What we can do as teachers or parents is to teach them the danger of using these illegal drugs, and try to make it hard for them to access these substances. That’s all. But still, if they are after it, then it is not your problem, it is their problem

Q: Please give a few tips that would help them maintain a happy and virtuous life.

A: Just like I said, practise charity, morality, and meditation. This is the way to maintain a happy and virtuous life. Your family must educate them.

(Ven. Ajahn Suchart Abhijato Maha Thera was born on November 2, 1947. Having completed his degree in Civil Engineering at California State University, Fresno, USA, he returned to his motherland where he designed an ice cream parlour for a brief stint.

Quite soon, inspired by a Dhamma book, he decided to go in search of ‘true happiness,’ to find inner peace through the practice of Buddhist meditation. He became a bhikkhu at the age of 27 and received ordination at Wat Bovornives in Bangkok on February 19, 1975, with Somdet Phra Ñanasarivara, the late Supreme Patriarch (Somdet Phra Sangharaja), as his preceptor.

Ven. Ajahn Suchart Abhijato Maha Thera resides in Wat Yansangwararam, Thailand)