(Reverend Yin Tak is the Abbess and Director of Tung Lin Kok Yuen, Canada Society)
Founded by Sakyamuni Buddha over two thousand years ago, Buddhism has generally been regarded, together with the Christian, Catholic and Islam, as one of the three major religions in the world. In fact, amongst all the religions, Buddhism has shown itself to be quite distinctive from other religions. Some characteristics are illustrated below:
When this (cause) exists, that (effect) is;
When this (cause) does not exist, that (effect) is not.
With the rising of this (cause), that (effect) arises;
With the cessation of this (cause), that (cause) ceases.
All realities we have caught sight of or touched are only the combination of changing condition. Things around us are built on a set of interdependent relations which will give rise to the arising, continuity and cessation of existence. This phenomenal interdependence and relativity, known as The Law of Cause and Effect is regarded as The Law of Dependent Origination (Pratitya-samutpada) in Buddhism.
All matters due to arising from conditional causation are dominated by the Principle of Cause and Effect. They go through the process of changes and destruction under complicated factors and the flow of existence and non-existence continuously without a permanent entity. The world we live today is ever changing, experiencing a sequence of Formation, Existence, Destruction and Void. It will be destroyed one day. There is no exception to our mind and body. Our physical body will undergo metabolism, passing through the process of Birth, Aging, Illness and Death, and our mind being Existence, Staying, Changing, and Extinction. It is therefore understood that everything in the universe is impermanent (Anicca), unreal, false, temporary just as what the Diamond Sutra says, Everything with form is unreal. Should we understand such rationale and when face with unreal phenomena, we are not in a state of taking, giving, making difference or being attached to them, then we would naturally set our mind at ease and are completely liberated from the bounds of all phenomena. This is the Truth discovered by the Buddha in his Enlightenment which was passed to us. It is also a particular point that other religious theories do not touch upon.
Ah! How marvellous it is! All beings on the earth are endowed with all the wisdom and virtue of Tathagatas, but because of polluted thought and attachment, they cannot realize Enlightenment. If they can get rid of their polluted thought, all wisdom (Panna) and insight will appear before them.
This is obvious a proof by the Buddha after his Enlightenment that everyone has the potential to attain Buddhahood. Therefore Buddhism advocates that all sentient beings are endowed with a Buddha nature with which the accomplishment of Buddhahood is possible. The reason that we are unable to attain Buddhahood is attributed to our Buddha nature being covered up by defilements. In case we can eradicate the barrier of defilements which obstructs the attainment of Buddhahood, we will be Buddhas right away at the end of our cultivation. Such a discovery that human beings are all potential Buddhas by Sakyamuni Buddha is another characteristic, different from other religions. In the opinion of other religions, no matter how pious their disciples are, they are ever the followers of their Supreme Being and could never ascend to the position that the Being enjoys.
The above are some characteristics to manifest that Buddhism is quite different from other religions. If we are aware, we shall know and realize the fundamental theory and aims of Buddhism and have a clearer picture on religious knowledge no matter if we are Buddhists or not.