See an index of my posts in this series here.
The first part of this post will be a summary of Buddhadasa's words in this chapter. The second part of the post, the "My Take" section, will be my opinion and commentary on the chapter.
NOTE on Chapter 1: This chapter is mainly about looking at Buddhism in its present status from Buddhadasa's perspective. If you are only interested in studying his core Buddhist principles, that teaching begins in the next chapter. All principles referenced here will be repeated and explored more thoroughly in later chapters.
Summary - Chapter 1: Looking at Buddhism
Scholars have identified that religions originated out of fear; paying reverence to perceived forces that could harm you. Eventually understanding grew such that fear of nature or deities seemed unreasonable. Through the growth of knowledge, our great fear turned to that of dukkha.
Dukkha, translated usually as "suffering", and less often as "unsatisfactoriness", is pain, sickness, greed, hate, anxiety, frustration, anger, loss, discontent, sorrow, loneliness, dissatisfaction, delusion, etc. It is anything you do not want to experience, but it also extends to positive feelings as well, given that they fail to yield lasting satisfaction. So it is far more broad than just "suffering". Instead, it is a status which results from the imperfection in everything.
Furthermore, we learned that dukkha results from our own mental imperfections, so we feared them.
Long ago in India, some wise people dispensed with the customary idolatry and rituals in search of what would eliminate dukkha. Buddhism was born from that search, and was the fruit of seeing life the way it really is. A Buddha is someone who knows the truth of life, and Buddhism is based on that knowledge.
Ironically, the first Buddha rejected the types of religious traditions, rites, and rituals which are now commonplace in Buddhism. Real Buddhism has nothing to do with rites, rituals, or celestial powers.
Instead, real Buddhism involves identifying the true nature of reality for yourself through a growth of knowledge and understanding.
Buddhism, like all religions, is multifaceted thing, and can be looked at the wrong way.
We are each confident in our own opinions, and so naturally our "truths" are subjective. Each person's ability to penetrate to the real truth is limited by intelligence, knowledge, and understanding. Buddhism provides a process for continually expanding your intelligence, knowledge, and understanding until arriving at the ultimate truth, and thereby being liberated.
Any religious text is bound to be tainted by the additions of later authors, and the Tipitaka (the oldest extant Buddhist text) is no exception. Similarly, customs, rites, and rituals have been incorporated into the teachings. While these additions are widely accepted in Buddhism today as true Buddhism, in fact, they are often, if not usually, inconsistent with the Buddha's original teachings, and thereby obscure Buddhism's purpose and while inviting hypocrisy.
We must distinguish between the original Buddhism, which focused on purification of the mind and the building of right understanding, versus the divergent teachings and practices which have emerged and spread since after the time of the Buddha.
Even looking at the real Buddhism, there are several incomplete or otherwise partial ways of looking at it, such as a guide of morality, an intellectual realization of the ultimate truth, a psychological tool, a philosophy, or a culture.
However, a better way of looking at Buddhism is as a religion which provides a direct and practical methodology for understanding the true nature of things and for gaining complete independence from them. This is the essence of Buddhism.
Perhaps the best way of looking at Buddhism is as the art of living in such an exemplary manner that it not only produces admiration, but also automatically encourages emulation. It is the art of developing moral purity, concentration, and wisdom to such a degree that dukkha is completely replaced by an imperturbable bliss.
The truths and teachings of Buddhism enchant and encourage those who have a taste for them, even before full understanding is obtained. That search for the relief from dukkha and the attainment of bliss will drive such people until they are completely liberated from the controlling influence of worldly desires. For such people, stress, anxiousness, worry, sleepless nights, endless pursuits for money and things, and self-serving ambitions all diminish in proportion to their understanding of true reality.
In summary, Buddhism can be viewed from many different perspectives, but real Buddhism is not in books, repetition of sacred texts, rites, rituals, etc. Instead, real Buddhism is the practice of developing the understanding of body, speech, and thought to such a degree that the true nature of everything is clearly revealed and fully comprehended. When this level of wisdom is achieved, appropriate actions are readily perceived and effortlessly selected such that dukkha is never again experienced.
Although Buddhadasa preferred the term religion, it appeared that his approach would be stripped of myths, rites, and other superfluous bells and whistles so common in religions. In fact, the way he described Buddhism, it sounded fairly reasonable.
I'll get into thoughts on the principles of Buddhism in the subsequent corresponding chapters, but I will say that I was happy to get this interpretation of the word dukkha because, in our discussions, Wasam had used "suffering", which is an incomplete rendering. Something was definitely lost in the translation. Accordingly, I will use dukkha throughout the rest of the posts so that the meaning is better understood.