Venerable K. Sri Dhammananda Maha Thera
Buddhism is neither pessimistic nor
optimistic but a realistic religion.
critics argue that Buddhism is morbid, cynical, hovering on the dark and
shadowy side of life, an enemy of harmless pleasures, and an unfeeling
trampler on the innocent joys of life. They see Buddhism as being
pessimistic, as fostering an attitude of hopelessness towards life, as
encouraging a vague, general feeling that pain and evil predominate in
human affairs. These critics base their views on the First Noble Truth
that all conditioned things are in a state of suffering. They seem to have
forgotten that not only had the Buddha taught the cause and end of
Suffering, but he had taught the way to end Suffering. In any case,
is there any religious teacher who praised this worldly life and advised
us to cling to it?
If the founder of this
religion, the Buddha, was such a pessimist, one would expect His
personality to be portrayed on more severe lines than has been done. The
Buddha image is the personification of Peace, Serenity, Hope and Goodwill.
The magnetic and radiant smile of the Buddha which is said to be
inscrutable and enigmatic, is the epitome of His doctrine. To the worried
and the frustrated, His smile of Enlightenment and hope is an unfailing
tonic and soothing balm.
The Buddha radiated His
love and compassion in all directions. Such a person can hardly be a
pessimist. And when the sword-happy kings and princes listened to Him,
they realized that the only true conquest is the conquest of the Self and
the best way to win the hearts of the people was to teach them to
appreciate the Dhamma - Truth.
The Buddha cultivated His
sense of humor to such a high degree that His bitter opponents were
disarmed with the greatest ease. Often they could not help laughing at
themselves. The Buddha had a wonderful tonic; He cleaned their systems of
dangerous toxins and they became enthusiastic thereafter to follow in His
footsteps. In His sermons, dialogues and discussions, He maintained that
poise and dignity which won for Him the respect and affection of the
people. How can such a person be a pessimist?
The Buddha never expected
His followers to be constantly brooding over the suffering of life and
leading a miserable and unhappy existence. He taught the fact of suffering
only so that He could show people how to overcome this suffering and move
in the direction of happiness. To become an Enlightened person, one must
have joy, one of the factors that the Buddha recommended us to cultivate.
Joy is hardly pessimistic.
There are two
Buddhists texts called the Theragatha and Therigatha which
are full of the joyful utterances of the Buddha's disciples, both male and
female, who found peace and happiness in life through His Teaching. The
king of Kosala once told the Buddha that unlike many a disciple of other
religious systems who looked haggard, coarse, pale, emaciated and
unprepossessing, His disciples were 'joyful and elated, jubilant and
exultant, enjoying the spiritual life, serene, peaceful and living with a
gazelle's mind, light-hearted.' The king added that he believed that this
healthy disposition was due to the fact that 'these Venerable Ones had
certainly realized the great and full significance of the Blessed One's
When asked why
His disciples, who lived a simple and quiet life with only one meal a day,
were so radiant, the Buddha replied: 'They do not repent the past, nor do
they brood over the future. They live in the present. Therefore they are
radiant. By brooding over the future and repenting the past, fools dry up
like green reeds cut down [in the sun]" (Samyutta Nikaya).
As a religion, Buddhism
preaches the unsatisfactory nature of everything in this world. Yet one
cannot simply categorize Buddhism as a pessimistic religion, because it
also teaches us how to get rid of this unhappiness. According to the
Buddha, even the worst sinner, after paying for what he has done, can
attain salvation. Buddhism offers every human being the hope of attaining
his salvation one day. Other religions, however, take it for granted that
some people will be bad forever and have an eternal hell waiting for them.
In that respect, such religions are more pessimistic. Buddhists deny such
Buddhism is neither
optimistic nor pessimistic. It does not encourage man to look at the world
through his changing feelings of optimism and pessimism. Rather, Buddhism
encourages us to be realistic: we must learn to see things as they truly
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