The first edition of this book came into being in 1964 as a result of questions posed by devotees to the Venerable Author in the course of his delivering a prolonged series of Dhamma talks throughout the length and breadth of Malaysia. He felt that a book of this nature should serve as a handy reference book for Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike, presenting in simplified form the beliefs and concepts of Buddhism, and also Buddhist attitude towards other beliefs.
It is ironical but true that there are people who profess this religion and who even claim to be Buddhist leaders, and yet lack the knowledge of the basic principles of Buddhism. Many of them are well-versed with certain rites and rituals but they do not understand the essence of the Master's Teaching. Ignoring the noble Teachings, they have introduced many baseless beliefs and ill-founded traditions, making a mockery of a rational and gentle religion. As a result, many people concerned themselves more with the devotional and ritualistic aspects of Buddhism whilst paying scant attention to true spiritual development which leads to wisdom and understanding.
This is a sad state of affairs brought about by some selfish and misguided religious workers. Driven by ignorance and goaded by mercenary ends, some people have blemished Buddhism as a religion and given the impression that it encourages superstitious beliefs and dependence on charms and omens. Even some monks have lowered themselves to the status of charm peddlers.
It is ironic that many people do not even know the name of the religion they belong to. There are some who say 'I think I am a Buddhist' This shows the extent to which they have neglected the Buddhist way of life. Such ignorance of the sublime teachings has encouraged unscrupulous missionaries from other religions to ridicule Buddhism with false accusations and misinterpretation. As a result, Buddhists being ignorant of their own Teachings and unable to refute the false allegations, fall easy prey to the snares of conversion.
It is partly with a view to countering such ignorance that the book 'What Buddhists Believe' came into being. This book is intended mainly for those who have a genuine desire to know something about the basic Teachings as well as the more difficult aspects of the religion explained in a manner which can be understood in a modern context and without prior knowledge of the subject. The popularity of this book has gone beyond our expectations. It was revised and expanded in 1973 and again in 1982. The demand for this book continues. Chinese, Korean and Indonesian translations of this book are also available.
This year 1987, being the 25th Anniversary of the formation of the Buddhist Missionary Society, it was decided that 'What Buddhists Believe' should be further revised and enhanced as a 'Special Commemorative Issue' to celebrate the Silver Jubilee Year of our Society. In this connection, the Venerable Author, with over forty years experience as a missionary, has spent much time on extensive research and compiling suitable new chapters to make the 1987 Reprint of 'What Buddhists Believe' as the Book for all those who seek knowledge about what Buddhism is.
In keeping with the original aim of this book, it is to be emphasized that the Ven. Author has no intention whatsoever to denigrate or belittle the beliefs and practices of other religionists and other Buddhist schools of thought. He has repeatedly stressed the Buddha's injunctions in the Kalama Sutta to His followers to be open-minded and rational in accepting any teaching. The Buddha in His time never ridiculed the practices and beliefs of other religionists then prevailing but He expounded the truth. It is also not the aim of this book to seek converts, because such a spirit is alien to the spirit of Buddhism. What it does aim at must be reiterated to inform and educate Buddhists about the basic tenets of their religion and to demonstrate its lofty ideals, making every Buddhist proud to be called a Buddhist. 'What Buddhists Believe' aims at enlightening others about the pristine Teachings so that with greater and wider understanding they will be good and kind enough to refrain from castigating this Noble Religion which is serving and guiding millions of people to the Right Path.
The Buddha's Teaching is the greatest heritage that man has received from the past. The Buddha's message of non-violence and peace, of love and compassion, of tolerance and understanding, of truth and wisdom, of respect and regard for all life, of freedom from selfishness, hatred and violence, delivered over two thousand five hundred years ago, stands good for today and will stand forever as the Truth. It is an eternal message.
We are in a world torn by strife. The Buddha taught that we must develop the 'Bodhi' heart of wisdom, a heart of love, a heart of understanding, to overcome the prevailing vices which have plagued man since the beginning of time. 'Overcome anger by non-anger, overcome hatred by love'. Are we practising the advice given by Him? We are responsible for our destiny. We have to cleanse our hearts, scrutinize our own natures and determine to practise the Teachings not only in the letter but, more importantly, in the spirit. It is to be hoped that this publication of 'What Buddhists Believe' will help in guiding many of our Buddhist friends to tread the true path towards Enlightenment.
As the President of the Buddhist Missionary Society, it has been an honour and a pleasure for me to have been closely associated with Venerable Dr. K. Sri Dhammananda, the author, in the production of this book.
I wish to express our
sincere thanks and appreciation to Mr. Victor Wee and Mr. Vijaya Samarawickrama
for assisting the author in editing the book and for their many useful
suggestions which helped to bring the book to its present form. I also
like to thank Mrs. Chong Hong Choo who had spent endless hours looking
after the innumerable details in the production of the book, from its inception
right to its completion. Thanks are also due to Mr. H.A. de Silva, Misses
Lily See, Lee Lai Fong, Quah Pin Pin, Leong Poh Chwee, Tan Kuee Fong and
Low Mei Ying for the typing work involved and proof reading, without whose
assistance the present book is not possible.
The Thean Choo A.M.N.
Buddhist Missionary Society