The main themes in the practice of the Bodhisattva way are faith and determination, loving kindness and compassion and wisdom. They constitute in fact a process of purification and improvement of the human mind according to its natural ability. These have some similarity with the other worldly practices such as Confucianism and Christianity. However, the worldly practices or ideologies tend to cling to one aspect and regard that as the whole, or adopt one aspect and neglect the rest. Hence the practice becomes incomplete.
Confucianism, which represents the mainstream of Chinese culture in China, advocates the Three Virtues, namely knowledge, benevolence and bravery. It takes them as they become moral values for dealing with people and living life in society. In brief, knowledge may be compared with wisdom, benevolence with loving kindness and compassion and bravery with faith and determination.
There is a saying in Buddhism, "Faith instils determination and determination instils diligence (right effort)". With sincere faith we can arouse our greater determination. And with sincere determination, one will naturally become diligent and put right effort into practice. In short, faith leads to determination and determination will lead to bravery and diligence. This is the development of energy from faith.
Diligence and bravery are needed in all meritorious deeds, but it has to begin with faith and determination.
Confucianism over-emphasises the common relationship among human beings, and lacks inspiration. Hence, it is difficult to arouse sincere faith and determination in its followers. Without strong faith, the virtue of bravery cannot be fully expressed. The concepts of "being wise", "being the saintly", "the Law of Heaven", "the conscience", and "the fear of Heavenly commands, fear of the saint and fear of commandments of the authority", all weaken the cultivation of faith and determination. The idea of bravery becomes "one who knows how to feel ashamed is close to being considered brave". This ideology is difficult to spread among the general population, and the faith that arises from this ideology of "to be reborn in heaven" or "to attain Buddhahood". The Chinese nation which has long been under the influence of Confucianism is withering and becoming weaker each day. It has failed to arouse the virtues of bravery from faith, and the Chinese lack strong motivation and enthusiasm for life. From the view of promoting human nature or strengthening the Chinese nation, and cultivating of sincere and dedicated faith and bravery, this decline is something that the Confucianists should take note of.
Christianity (Catholic and Christian) conditions the contemporary culture and spirit of the West. It also has three main themes: faith, hope and love. Christians believe in the existence of God and because of their faith in God there is hope of a bright future for them. Because God loves us, we must in turn love others. Everything was created by God. These teachings are of course very different to the teachings of
Buddhism. However, in general, we may consider faith and hope to be equivalent to faith and determination in Buddhism, and love equivalent to loving kindness and compassion in Buddhism.
Although Christians claim that they have a rational belief in righteousness, it does not emphasise the virtue of wisdom in nature. When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, their eyes brightened. This is the beginning of self-awareness and development of human knowledge. However, for the theist, this is a sin, and is the source of death. Teaching as such is shaken by the development and achievement of modern scientific cultures nowadays.
The Sravakas (the people who lived in the Buddha's time and listened to his teachings personally) placed less emphasis on the cultivation of loving kindness and compassion. There were Sravakas who stressed faith and wisdom but there were none who stressed compassion. This is just the opposite to Christian practice. Christians emphasise faith and love but lack wisdom. The Sravakas stressed faith and wisdom, but undervalued loving kindness and compassion. Both modes of practice are narrow and incomplete. The practice of the Mahayana Bodhisattva, which puts great emphasis on the equal practice of all the three themes, is undoubtedly more complete. Although the teachings of Confucianism are not complete, Their three virtues are closest to the practice of the Bodhisattva.
The Pure Land sect in Chinese Mahayana Buddhism (originated in India and completed in China) also has three main themes. They are: faith, determination (dedication) and practice. The order of faith, determination and practice delineates the process. From faith determination arises, and with determination, effort to practice arises.
When we say the words "to practice" most people interpret it as "practicing diligently" without the concepts of loving kindness and compassion or wisdom. Some Pure Land practitioners practice by chanting the name of the Amitabha Buddha but do not cultivate wisdom or compassion and loving kindness. This type of person will have to wait for a long while before they can fulfil their wish to become enlightened and return to this world in order to relieve the suffering of the worldly beings. This is the result of the imbalance development and negligence of Mahayana philosophy in practice.
When the Pure Land sect spread to Japan, it immersed into its theistic tradition and changed itself into the "Truth" sect, promoting the ideology of rebirth with faith and determination. Even the chanting of the name was not important anymore. This is similar to the Christian doctrine, where those who have faith will be saved.
In short, other religions or ideologies do emphasise the Three Essentials in one way or another but not all. It is important for us to remember that, the main themes of the practice of the Bodhisattva are the completion and perfection in the cultivation of faith determination, wisdom, loving kindness and compassion.
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