On the January 15, 2011, I was invited to participate as one of the panel speakers in an Interfaith Forum themed ‘The Purpose of Life according to the Scriptures’ at the Lecture Hall A of Malaysia Science University, Penang, Malaysia. Perspectives of Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam on the aforementioned theme were presented by the panel speakers. It was a human gathering of exuberant joy among peoples of different faiths. It was indeed very rare to have Muslims participating in an interfaith forum in Malaysia. Interfaith forum is necessitated due to the growing gap between image and reality in Malaysia. Fierce Malaysian political rivalry has widened the gap further. Malaysians generally perceive politics sectarianly or denominationally in terms of either A or A’. Representative democracy is the union of A and A’ (the One). The ruling government and the opposition are One and not two in the parliamentary democracy. Political representatives are justly paid by tax payers’ money to represent and service the voters. They must do their jobs to be paid. Do not quarrel unnecessarily when they are doing their jobs well. The Totality (The One) of A and A’ is the unity of the opposites. Ontologically put, the Unity of the opposites is the Buddha or God existence. I have always reiterated that secularity and spirituality are inalienable! This viewpoint is not a political but a spiritual one, written by a spiritualist wondering about the purpose of life. I have no connection with any political party in this world.
Hence, I appreciate the Muslim NGO’s (Malaysia Hidayah Centre, Penang Branch’s) initiative in managing and fully sponsoring interfaith human festival to bring in Muslims’ and Non-Muslims’ participation in a rare but precious interfaith forum.As the majority of the audience were young university students of varying spiritual capacities, I touched superficially on the ‘Purpose of life’ according to Buddhist Scripture. In this article, I would like to delve more deeply in it.
Purpose of Life
Many religious or faith adherents partake of belief in religion so that they, as individuals, can morally restrain themselves, can become altruistic, benevolent and generous toward others. Superficially, such a way of participation in religion seems to be holy and righteous. Nevertheless, if the religious pursuit is egocentric and anthropocentric, it is not truly the Purpose of life according to the Scriptures. Knowing and actualizing the Real Purpose of life is the real meaning. All world religions are oriented toward this communal Purpose. The Purpose is to partake of the Divine Nature or True Self of Man. The Divine Nature or True Self is Buddha-nature or God-head in Man. Such a spiritual participation is called Buddhist Phowa or Christian Theosis.
Unmindfully and perversely, any notion of individual partaker participating in religious life is an obstruction to fulfill this Purpose of life promulgated by all Tathagatas and Prophets. This Purpose is the common ground of all world religions. The common ground of all world religions is deliverance (vimutti) rooted in Self-Awakening (discovery of Self-knowledge). It is known as the doctrine of Theosis in the Eastern Christian Orthodox church and Catholic church. It is correspondingly labelled as the doctrine of Apotheosis in non-Christian Eastern Theology such as Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Hinduism, Islam and Bahaism. Buddhist Apotheosis is Phowa. The direct identification of Buddha-nature or principle of Enlightenment is Phowa.
The Buddha’s recommendation of Mindfulness practice is profound and hence deeply meaningful in pursuit of the purpose of life. Every moment of Mindfulness is indeed a Theosis or Phowa. The Platform Sutra of Sixth Patriarch espouses thus,” A moment of Awakening (Mindfulness) is a Buddha; a moment of unmindfulness (Unawakening) is a sentient being. Likewise, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh’s global preaching of Mindfulness should be taken seriously. Both Buddhists and Christians participate in his Mindfulness retreat. The reason is obvious. Mindfulness is Phowa as well as Theosis. Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh and his retinue will lead Mindfulness retreats in North America in Canada, Colorado, California and New York during August, September, and October in 2011. Please inform your friends there to participate in the purpose of human life.
Confucianism is not only the philosophy of ethics as many people, including some Chinese or Confucian or Western scholars, misconstrue. Confucianism is both philosophy and Theology. Modern Chinese Christian scholars, such as Dr Samuel Wang, have testified that the Confucian tenet of Tao or Shangdi or Tian is the agenda of Theosis or Phowa (Apotheosis). As a devout interfaith and inner Heart-felt interreligious dialogue promoter, their corroborative evidences have verified my interfaith position. Gnosis is the perfect knowledge of the Absolute gained through direct empirical engagement. Gnosis is Buddhist Phowa. Phowa is transfer of human consciousness into Buddha Consciousness while a man still lives in a human flesh. In the Theosis or Phowa, the one and only Truth of Oneness is seen as man’s Union with the Absolute or man’s entrance into the door of Non-duality. Non-duality is Oneness. The systemic self is melted into systemic Whole of Non-self (Anatta). Anatta is Sunyata (Emptiness). Theosis or Phowa is complete Enlightenment.
Unity in Diversity
The Scriptures, in fact, are the spiritual mind maps produced by Tathagatas and Prophets. These spiritual maps help mankind to partake of mental development more than individual pursuit of moral self-restraint, self-improvement and self-perfection. Paradoxically, the partaking of self or individuality in religion is not a complete or liberative religious participation. This is mere moral engagement with the secular world. It is still entangled with the bondage of self-centredness and resultant ignorant view of duality. The purpose of life promulgated by any world religion is non-egocentric or non-anthropocentric actions through the body, speech and mind. Negation of self-centredness is the wise application of Non-duality. Wisdom perfection (Prajnaparamita) is a necessary credential to know the Lord dwelling primordially in every human being. The Lord residing innately in Man is called Buddhahood (Buddhism). Man dwelling in the Lord and Lord dwelling in Man are Theosis or Phowa.
Theosis and Gnosis
Let us examine Christian Theosis and Buddhist Phowa simultaneously to delve into the unitarian universality of world’s mystical religions. Self-realization of the Absolute is Theosis or Phowa. Gnosis is the Self-Awakening to one’s True Self. The soteriological commonality is that whoever knows himself knows the Absolute. Christian spirit minus sin is the Holy Spirit. Holy Spirit is the product of Christian Theosis. Theosis is deification or divinization of partaking of the Divine nature in Man while one is still living terrestrially. Correspondingly, Buddhist Apotheosis or Gnosis (Phowa) is the self-realization of Truth Body (Dharmakaya) of partaking of Buddha-nature (Tathagatagarbha) in Man. Whether the Ground of Being is Christian Holy Spirit or Buddhist Truth Body, the communal noble transcendental Spirit is Selflessness (Anatta) or Emptiness (Sunyata) without exception.
Non-Buddhist traditions utilize differing words or paraphrases to elucidate Anatta or Sunyata or Pratityasamutpada (Unity of Interconnected Existence). All Buddhist fundamental doctrines are also evident in tenets of Non-Buddhist Scriptures. Swami Sivananda said, “ The fundamentals and essentials are all the same.” These are what I believe too. Having explored the esoteric dimensions of major Scriptures, I become neither a “Buddhist” nor a “Non-Buddhist.” A label or name is still a concept. Theosis or Phowa transcends concept. Attachment to the name of any religion is itself object-reification or idolatrous view. Attachment, which is self-centredness, veils one from seeing and uniting with the Lord. Precisely and more pertinently depicted, attachment is clinging which is itself drifting from the timeless Truth of the Absolute.
Every name is just a process becoming. John’s Gospel unveils beautifully, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Tao Te Ching asserts: “ In the beginning, it is nameless. When it is named, it is the beginning of the world.” I strongly opine that the Tao Te Ching is the Chinese Bible or Chinese Tripitaka. China is a nation blessed with the timeless perennial wisdom of the Chinese ancient sages and saints which mirrors the communal Voice of all Tathagatas and Prophets.
No believer can see the Essence of the Absolute without knowledge of Anatta (Selflessness)/ Sunyata(Emptiness) / Pratityasamutpada. My interfaith ideas are based on the Anatta-Sunyata-Pratityasamutpada relationship. This three-fold Truth relationship is ontologically constructed upon the Buddhist fundamental doctrine of Three Universal Characteristics (Tilakkhanas) engendering the relative-Absolute or humanity-divinity relationship (Chinese yin-yang relationship). The unveiling evidence is as crystal clear as discovering that all Chinese, Indians, Malays, Japanese, Koreans, Americans, Europeans and so on consist of a synthesis of the same atoms. Everything is Emptiness (Sunyata). No liberated Buddhist can apprehend the Buddha without insightful discernment of Anatta / Sunyata / Pratityasamutpada or Anicca / Anatta / Dukkha. Anatta/Sunyata/pratityasamutpada is the common ground of partaking of Theosis or Phowa.
Metaphorically put, all peoples prepare the cooked rice with water or prepare drinks with water without any exceptions. Water is the underlying substance. Likewise, we are all like the waves that are never separated from the same borderless Ocean. I have always informed my Dharma students or audience that my ideas about the non-Buddhist scriptures are based on my knowledge of Buddhism. Buddhism conditions my apprehension of other Scriptures. Every dollar that I have paid for my university Buddhist studies is worth it. Besides, my personal strivings, all my university lecturers and professors have collectively contributed to my present growth. Dependent Co-origination is Non-self (Anatta). Pure Land Master Jing Kung often reiterates that apprehending one Sutra, one understands everything. I would like add a commentary to it: Understanding one Scripture, one understands all other Scriptures. The reason is simple: There is only one common thread of Truth connecting all world major religions. That Truth is Anatta. When you see it, you embrace, display and actualize it. This is Path, Truth and Life of Theosis or Phowa. Theosis completes one’s life. What is to be done has been done. There is nothing more to be done! This is liberation – the purpose of life fulfilled.