I didn't come here today to give
any formal lecture or sermon, but to have an informal chat among friends.
I hope that you all agree to this so that we can speak and listen to
each other without formality or rituals, even if our talk here becomes
somewhat different or unusual. Further, I intend to speak only about
the most essential matters, important topics which people consider to
be profound. Therefore, if you don't listen carefully, you may find
it difficult to follow and might misunderstand, especially those of
you who haven't heard the previous talks in this series. (as a matter
of fact, it's also difficult for me, for with each new talk, I must
maintain a connection with the previous ones.)
The last talk was called "What to
do to be void." This time I intend to talk about "No Religion." If you
find the subject strange or incomprehensible, or if you don't agree,
please take the time to think it over. But remember, it isn't necessary
to believe or subscribe to what I say right away.
When we meet together like this,
I feel there is something which prevents us from understanding each
other and this thing is simply the problem of language itself. You see,
there are two kinds of language. One is the conventional language that
ordinary people speak, what I call "people language."
People language is used by the ordinary
people who don't understand Dhamma very well and by those worldly people
who are so dense that they are blind to everything but material things.
Then, there is the language which is spoken by those who understand
reality (Dhamma), especially those who know and understand reality in
the ultimate sense. This is another kind of language. Sometimes, when
only a few words or even just a few syllables are uttered, the ordinary
listener finds Dhamma language paradoxical, completely opposite to the
language he speaks. We can call it "Dhamma language." You always must
take care to recognize which language is being spoken.
People who are blind to the true
reality (Dhamma) can speak only people language, the conventional language
of ordinary people. On the other hand, people who have genuinely realized
the ultimate truth (Dhamma) can speak either language. They can handle
people language quite well and are also comfortable using Dhamma language,
especially when speaking among those who know reality, who have already
realized the truth (Dhamma). Amongst those with profound understanding,
Dhamma language is used almost exclusively; unfortunately, ordinary
people can't understand a word. Dhamma language is understood only by
those in the know. What is more, in Dhamma language it isn't even necessary
to make a sound. For example, a finger is pointed or an eyebrow raised
and the ultimate meaning of reality is understood. So, please take interest
in these two kinds of language - people language and Dhamma language.
To illustrate the importance of language,
let's consider the following example. Ordinary, ignorant, worldly people
are under the impression that there is this religion and that religion,
and that these religions are different, so different that they're opposed
to each other. Such people speak of "Christianity," "Islam," "Buddhism,"
"Hinduism," "Sikhism," and so on, and consider there religions to be
different, separate, and incompatible. These people think and speak
according to their personal feelings and thus turn the religions into
enemies. Because of this mentality, there come to exist different religions
which are hostilely opposed to each other.
Those who have penetrated to the
essential nature of religion will regard all religions as being the
same. Although they may say there is Buddhism, Judaism, Taoism, Islam,
or whatever, they will also say that all religions are inwardly the
same. However, those who have penetrated to the highest understanding
of Dhamma will feel that the thing called "religion" doesn't exist after
all. There is no Buddhism; there is no Christianity; there is no Islam.
How can they be the same or in conflict when they don't even exist?
It just isn't possible. Thus the phrase "No religion!" is actually Dhamma
language of the highest level. Whether it will be understood or not
is something else, depending upon the listener, and has nothing to do
with the truth or with religion.
I'd like to give a simple example
of people language, the language of materialism. "Water" will suffice.
People who don't know much about even the simplest things think that
there are many kinds of water. They view these various kinds of water
as if they have nothing in common. They distinguish rain-water, well-water,
underground-water, canal-water, ditch-water, gutter-water, sewer-water,
toilet-water, urine, diarrhea, and many other kinds of water from each
other. Average people will insist that these waters are completely different,
because people take external appearances as their criteria.
A person with some knowledge, however,
knows that pure water can be found in every kind of water. If we take
rain-water and distill it, we will get pure water. If we take river-water
and distill it, we will get pure water. If we take canal-water, sewer-water,
or toilet-water and distill it, we will still get pure water. A person
with this understanding knows that all those different kinds of water
are the same as far as the water component is concerned. As for those
elements which make it impure and make it look different, they aren't
the water itself. They may combine with water, and alter water, but
they are never water itself. If we look thought the polluting elements,
we can see the water that is always the same, for in every case the
essential of water is the same. However many kinds of water there may
seem to be, they are all the same as far as the essential nature of
water is concerned. When we look at things from this viewpoint, we can
see that all religions are the same. If they appear different, it's
because we are making judgements on the basis of external forms.
On an even more intelligent level,
we can take that pure water and examine it further. Then, we must conclude
that there is no water, only two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen.
Theres no water left. The substance we have been calling "water" has
disappeared, it's void. The same is true everywhere, no matter where
we find the two parts of hydrogen and one part oxygen. In the sky, in
the ground or wherever these parts happen to be found, the state of
water has disappeared and the term "water" is no longer used. For one
who has penetrated to this level of truth, there is no such thing as
In the same way, one who has attained
to the ultimate truth sees that there's no such thing as "religion."
There is only a certain nature, which can be called whatever we like.
We can call it "Dhamma," we can call it "Truth," we can call it "God,"
"Tao," or whatever, but we shouldn't particularize that Dhamma or that
Truth as Buddhism, Christianity, Taoism, Judaism, Sikhism, Zoroastrianism,
or Islam, for we can neither capture nor confine it with labels and
concepts. Still, such divisions occur because people haven't yet realized
this nameless truth for themselves. They have only reached the external
levels, just as with canal water, muddy water, and the rest.
The Buddha intended for us to understand
and be able to see that there is no "person," that there is no separate
individual, that there are only dhammas or natural phenomena. Therefore,
we shouldn't cling to the belief that there is this religion and that
religion. We added the labels "Buddhism," "Islam," and "Christianity"
ourselves, long after the founders lived. None of the great religious
teachers ever gave a personal name to their teachings, like we do today.
They just went about teaching us how to live unselfishly.
Please try to understand this correctly.
When the final level is reached, when the ultimate is known, not even
man exists. There is only nature, only Dhamma. This reality can't be
considered to be any particular thing; it can't be Thai, Chinese, Indian,
Arab or European. It can't be black, brown, yellow, red, or white. It
can't be eastern or western, southern or northern. Nor can it be Buddhist,
Christian, Islamic, or anything else. So please try to reach this Dhamma,
for then you will have reached the heart of all religions and of all
things, and finally come to the complete cessation of suffering.
Although we call ourselves "Buddhists"
and profess Buddhism, we haven't yet realized the truth of Buddhism,
for we are acquainted with only a tiny aspect of our own Buddhism. Although
we be monks, nuns, novices, lay devotees, or whatever, we aware of only
the bark, the outer covering which makes us think or religion is different
from the other religions. Because we have failed to understand and haven't
yet realized our own truth, we look down upon other religions and praise
only our own. We think of ourselves as a special group and of others
as outsiders or foreigners. We believe that they are wrong and we are
right, that we are special and have a special calling, and that only
we have the truth and the way to salvation. We have many of these blind
beliefs. Such beliefs show that we are still ignorant, very foolish
indeed, just like little babies who know only their own bellies. Tell
a small to take a bath and to wash with soap to get all the dirt off;
the little child will scrub only her belly. She does't know to wash
all over. She will never think of washing behind her ears or between
her toes or anywhere like that. She merely scrubs and polishes her tummy
translated from the
Thai by Bhikku Punno
Talk given on January 27, 1964 at Suan Usom Foundation, Bangkok
Buddhadharma Meditation Center
8910 South Kingery Highway,
Hinsdale, Illinois. 60521
(708) 789 8866
For permission to quote, write to:
c/o Suan Mokkh
Surat Thani 84110