A letter sent to the press:
I refer to the 2 June 2010 article in The Straits Times, ‘Pray, let’s live and let live’ by Lee Wei Ling, which defined Vesak Day as the celebration of ‘the birth, enlightenment and death (or passing on to Nirvana) of Buddha’. However, enlightenment itself already is Nirvana, while the physical passing of the Buddha is called Parinirvana. As Buddhists believe the Buddha has already transcended the rounds of life and death, he is beyond death.
While it is true, that ‘whether the written record of his teachings conforms accurately with his words can never be known for sure’, it is nevertheless true that the teachings of the Buddha were transmitted via communal recitation and memorisation, which allowed less room for error than text-copying by individuals.
It was said that it is uncertain ‘whether Buddha specifically approved of the notion of reincarnation’. In fact, the Buddha was recorded to disapprove reincarnation in terms of an unchanging soul migrating from life to life, while scriptures state his personal recollection of many past lives, through which he evolved spiritually and discerned the law of karma. Buddhists prefer to call this phenomenon of change ‘rebirth’.
On not seeing ‘clear scientific evidence for reincarnation’, the detailed works of Dr. Ian Stevenson from the University of Virginia, who investigated some 3,000 cases suggestive of past lives over 40 years of research might be of interest.
The line ‘What seems certain is that Buddha denied he was God’ could be misleading as he clearly taught that there is no almighty and good creator God, with whom there would be no slightest evil or suffering in our world. However, Buddhism teaches the existence of many gods, who were humans who did much good, but are still unenlightened. One of the traditional titles of the Buddha is ‘Teacher of Humans and Gods’, as he transcends both in compassion and wisdom.
It is true that Buddhists are not supposed to pray to the Buddha’s relics for ‘things that he taught would bring suffering’, while it was recorded that he advised the use of his relics for reverencing and remembering his teachings.
It was suggested that ‘religion creates illusory, compensatory fantasies for the poor’ and that ‘religion tells them this is okay since they will find happiness in the next life’. However, the Buddha remarked that even if there is no afterlife (or karma), one who lives spiritually already lives happily here and now.
Why Be Good?