Should Buddhism Focus On Humans Only?

The good qualities of humanity
are the basis for human beings,
to evolve as humane qualities
for benefitting all sentient beings.

The whole of Buddhism is simply the Buddha’s teachings in all their expressions collectively, in teaching and practice, for benefitting all beings of all realms; they are not merely for human beings. To focus only on the human realm is to be overly anthropocentric, which might become extended egotism of our kind. Thus, we should also practise compassion with wisdom for the sake of all beings seen and unseen, living, dying and deceased – for human beings, animals, (hungry) ghosts, hell-beings, demi-gods (asuras) and gods (devas and brahmas).

The beings of the lower realms can be aided by our sharing of merits for relief of their suffering. Even those of higher realms with depleting merits appreciate that shared with them. For those whom we co-exist with, such as animals and ghosts, they can be directly guided by our sharing of the Dharma too, such as by our advice and chanting. Just as the Buddha manifests to teach beings of all realms, we too should do what we can. Exemplifying the Bodhisattva spirit perfectly, the Buddha never ignored non-humans’ physical and spiritual needs.

‘Human-centric Buddhism’ is sometimes said to be ‘humanistic’ Buddhist teachings focused upon benefitting human beings in this very world and life. To be ‘humanistic’ seems itself contradictory with the ‘Buddhistic’ (or ‘Buddha-istic’). It seems to cling more to being and remaining human, helping mainly humans, while to be Buddhistic is to aim to guide all sentient beings, including non-humans, to become Buddhas. The latter is the true and highest purpose of Buddhism, while the first is very limiting. Of course, it is natural for humans’ Buddhism to first be humanistic, but what matters is that it must go towards being ‘universalistic’, not merely humanistic. Indeed, the Buddha taught the Dharma for all beings, not just human beings.

If only remaining human-centric, this is short-sighted, as not only is this defiled human lifespan short and unpredictable, the lifespan of the true Buddhist teachings in this defiled world is NOT everlasting too, due to the Dharma-Ending Age that we already live in. This means we should be immediately concerned with where is the best destination to reach after this life ends – which is eternal, where we will have immeasurable life for mastering and sharing the always right Dharma.

An ideal Dharma school for learning and practising the Dharma is Amituofo’s (Amitabha Buddha) Pure Land. It is the perfect model for what our world should become. Since this is impossible in the short run, while we do what we can to better this world now, we should practise to reach a perfect world (Pure Land) later too, to perfectly learn from perfect teachers (Buddha and great Bodhisattvas) on how to perfectly purify defiled lands like ours. This is also the swiftest way to advance in the ranks of Bodhisattvahood towards Buddhahood.

Returning to the human realm as an unenlightened being to ‘continue helping’ is dangerous due to the repetitive problem of three lifetimes. One might in this ‘first’ life now do much good, but in the second life forget all done, while becoming complacent as past good karma’s ripens as good fortune, eventually beginning to do evil. By the third life, the good karma from the first life has exhausted while the bad karma from the second life ripens as suffering. This problem recurs indefinitely as all learnt in one life is forgotten in the next, just as we all cannot recall anything from our past lives now. In contrast, what learnt in all lives will be fully recollected in Pure Land for non-backsliding spiritual progress.

As human lifespan in the Dharma-Ending Age shortens while defilements and distractions grow, it is becoming harder for the average person to retain the human rebirth too. As taught by the Pure Land Tradition’s 13th Patriarch Great Master Yinguang (净土宗十三祖印光大师), in his ‘Reply letter to Layman Zhizheng’s Mother’ (复智正居士之母书), ‘In the next life becoming human [again], compared with, when approaching the end of this life being reborn [in Amituofo’s Pure Land, the first] is more difficult, [as it is easy to break the Five Precepts with only limited self-powered practice, thus losing the human rebirth]. Seeking birth in [Amituofo’s] Western [Pure Land], compared with, in the next life becoming human, [the first] is yet easier, [as it is difficult to break the precepts with enough other-powered practice, thus also reaching Amituofo’s Pure Land].’ (来生做人,比临终往生还难。求生西方,比求来生做人尚容易。)

Although Sakyamuni Buddha attained Buddhahood in our human realm, his was a much purer era, and he was no average Bodhisattva. According to the Brahma Net Sutra, he had already remanifested Buddhahood 8,000 times. (We are not even average enlightened Bodhisattvas yet!) This is why he, along with all other Buddhas, recommend all to practise the safe, easy and effective Pure Land path to escape from rebirth.

Even the greatest of Bodhisattvas on the brink of Buddhahood, such as Samantabhadra and Manjusri (who represent perfect Bodhisattva Practice and Wisdom respectively) expressed vows to reach Amituofo’s Pure Land as perfect examples. Even the most famous Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva (Guanshiyin Pusa who represents perfect Compassion) stations and manifests from there! Lastly, in the Immeasurable Life Sutra, Sakyamuni Buddha clearly taught that the Pure Land path is the final way to escape from Samsara in this darkening Dharma-Ending Age.

If the good qualities of humanity
remain only for human beings,
they will not evolve to become
the pure qualities of Buddhahood.

Related Articles:

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Manjusri Bodhisattva’s Verse Of Aspiration For Birth In Pure Land

How Manjusri Bodhisattva Urged Practice Of Nianfo

Some Common Pure Land Misconceptions

The Fastest Way To Buddhahood 

无别偈 Verses On No Other

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