Dinh Hy Trinh: In this modern life, Buddhism can be used as a pragmatic ethic

- through Francois Leclercq

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Whether it's his philosophical message or his responses to current challenges, Dr. Dinh Hy Trinh gives us his vision of Buddhism.

The original doctrine of the Buddha?

In my view, it is expressed in the Pali Canon, especially the Nikaya (1), which relate the speeches and the teaching of the Buddha. These texts are very long due to repetitions due to oral transmission. So it seems to me preferable to retain only its quintessence, that is to say the Three Characteristics of existence (suffering, impermanence, non-self), the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path and conditional co-production. The Buddha's message is simple and clear: “Why do we suffer? It is not because of an "original sin" or the will of God, or of the gods, of the Devil or of Mâra... but because of ourselves, because we attach ourselves to permanence (while everything is constantly changing) and to our “me” (which is actually an illusion); and that we are in the grip of our desires, our anger, our ignorance, which by the law of cause and effect, bring about suffering and other negative emotions. It is up to us to stop this spiral, to free ourselves from this suffering by annihilating its causes. For this, let us be responsible and confident in ourselves”. It is a message filled with hope and not nihilistic or desperate, as is too often believed.

A modern and humanist Buddhism?

Buddhism is humanist in itself since it places man and not God at the center of its concern. Even more, the principle of conditioned co-production offers a vision of the world where everything is interdependent, interconnected. This is where its modernity lies, its concordance with science, psychology and ecology. Conditioned co-production, which is the central principle of Buddhism, also explains why empathy, compassion, brotherhood are quite natural feelings. It is enough to become aware of it in the depths of oneself, so that it becomes obvious.

This is why Buddhism must no longer be confined to monasteries and pagodas, but must be actively introduced into everyday life, at all levels. In this modern life, where one feels everywhere stress, agitation, violence, aggressiveness, anxiety, even depression, Buddhism can be used as a pragmatic ethic, a therapy , mental training, a culture of being in its totality and its body-mind unity.

A response to current challenges?

Concerning the environment, which today constitutes a major challenge, requiring collective awareness and coordinated action by all nations, Buddhism can provide a clear answer, thanks to its holistic vision of the world and the principle of co-production conditioning, mentioned above. Everyone must therefore work, at their own level, against climate change, pollution, deforestation, the depletion of natural resources, the disappearance of species, etc. Against all that, in the long term, will be a source of great suffering. This principle also applies to the economy, whose criterion is, for Buddhism, the well-being of man, and not his enslavement to the addictive desire for productivity, performance and wealth. The same applies to science and technology, for example, for digital technology, robotization, artificial intelligence, the development of which risks disrupting human society. There again, Buddhism does not defend ideas, but man in the flesh and his experience, and more broadly all sentient beings and their environment, which are closely linked.

“Buddhism should no longer be confined to monasteries, pagodas, where religious can continue to practice in the traditional way, but should be actively introduced into everyday life. The doctrine of the Buddha is perfectly intelligible, accessible and open to all, without any distinction. »

Finally, concerning bioethics, unlike revealed religions which set up respect for life as it was created by God as an absolute principle, Buddhism advocates a pragmatic ethics, by defining what is good (kusala) as that which produces good effects, that is, which delivers from suffering, and that which is bad (akusala), which generates bad effects and suffering. For example, concerning the limitation of births by contraception, according to the Dalaï-Lama, “it is necessary not only to recommend, but also to develop this important point”. In fact, since demographic expansion and overpopulation, which mainly affect poor countries, cause misery and suffering and contribute to ecological imbalance, it seems obvious that we must slow down the birth rate in the world, and the best method remains contraception. From this simple criterion of "suffering" (or "non-suffering"), we can find answers to many bioethical questions in society, such as euthanasia, homosexuality, assisted reproduction, surrogacy, genetic manipulation...

The pitfalls to avoid in practice?

It seems to me that there are several pitfalls in the study and practice of Buddhism. By Buddhism, I mean the philosophy of life taught by Gautama Buddha, and not the Buddhist religion, whose approach is different because of the faith-devotion that characterizes it.

The first pitfall is to believe that Buddhism is reserved for certain people who would have had the chance to be initiated by masters, gurus, holding the secret of an esoteric Buddhism. This can lead to wasting a lot of time, or even getting lost along the way. In fact, as reported in the Parinirvana Sutra (Complete Extinction), the Buddha declared to his disciples shortly before dying: “I taught the Doctrine without ever distinguishing between the esoteric and the exoteric. In my teaching, there is nothing like the "closed fist of the master". There is therefore no hidden teaching of the Buddha, as claimed by the followers of "esoteric" schools, which appeared several centuries after the death of the Buddha. Nor is there any teaching reserved for the community of monks and nuns, outside the vinaya who teaches them the monastic rules to follow. The doctrine of the Buddha is intelligible, accessible and open to all, without any distinction.

The second pitfall is getting lost in the immensity of scriptures and commentaries on Buddhism, added over the centuries (for the Lama Anagarika Govinda, “three quarters of Buddhist scriptures are useless”). The important thing is to identify the essence of the Buddha's message, and to understand it in depth.

Finally, the third pitfall consists of studying Buddhism in a purely intellectual, bookish way, and not practicing it. Buddhism is not a theory on which one can discuss or speculate, it is above all a practice, a philosophy to be applied, to be experienced in everyday life. It is this practice which, adapted to the environment in which each person finds himself, will make it possible to modernize Buddhism.

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Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

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