Praised by the Wise

Famous men and women comment on the Buddha and his teachings

Compiled by Venerable S. Dhammika 

Foreword

by Chade-Meng Tan, co-founder of Buddhism.net

Bhante S. Dhammika was one of my earliest Dharma teachers in the late 1980s, when I was a teenager (yes, I am that old, thank you very much).  I was attracted to the gentle and dignified way he carried himself, impressed by his sheer intellectual horsepower, and awed by his ability to explain the Dharma in ways that even I could understand.  Bhante Dhammika was also the person who introduced me to my first real meditation teacher, the great Acharya Godwin Samararatne.  I am immensely grateful to both of them.

Bhante Dhammika is a prolific writer who has written over 35 books.  One of my favorite books was Praised by the Wise, where Bhante compiled over 100 quotes about the Buddha or Buddhism from famous men and women in world history.  The way he did that: he went to the local library, checked out biographies/autobiographies of famous people, looked for Buddha/Buddhism in each book’s index, and then copied down on his notebook what that famous person said about the Buddha or Buddhism.  Remember this was the 1980s, we haven’t invented Google yet.

The effect of that book on me was, “Holy wow.”  I had no idea so many famous people had such a favorable view of Buddhism.  It gave me increased confidence that I was on the right track.  And yes, Buddhism eventually changed my life.

Now that I’m a big boy all grown up, and having co-founded a Buddhism site (hint: this site), I asked Bhante if I could put up his books here to share with you what he had shared with me.  Bhante very graciously said yes.  So here it is, my friends, Venerable Dhammika’s Praised by the Wise.

Introduction

 Venerable S. Dhammika

Anyone who is considering changing their religion, or adopting a religion for the first time is about to do something that may have a profound effect upon their life. It is not the sort of thing that should be done in a rush, nor should it be done under the influence of heightened emotions. If the truth is to be discovered, time must be taken, all the facts must be examined, questions must be asked and different points of view considered. We try to do all this before making most important decisions in our life, so why shouldn’t we do it before making the most important decision in our life ­that concerning our religious convictions? To blindly and unquestionably accept the opinions of others would be foolish but to neglect their opinions altogether would be foolish also. The insights and experiences of others, especially the wise, may help us deepen our understanding and put us in a better position to make the right choice.

With the increased knowledge of Buddhism in the last hundred years a large number of Western intellectuals, including many Nobel Prize winners, have expressed a deep interest in and admiration for this ancient religion. A small but growing number are actually becoming Buddhists. Some have been impressed by Buddhism’s clear, rational thought, others by its gentle tolerance. Some have been surprised by how closely it resembles the discoveries of modern science while others have been attracted by its idea of an ethical life without the need to believe in a supreme god.

The quotations collected in this booklet are of interest for several reasons. Firstly, they show the universal appeal of Buddhism, its ability to speak to psychologist and poet, philosopher and mathematician. Is it not telling that the words of a man who lived so long ago could still be relevant and meaningful to a scientist like Einstein, a poet like Eliot or a philosopher like Russell? Again they tell us as much about the people who wrote them as they do about Buddhism itself. We read what some of the great minds of our time have to say about the Buddhist concept of detachment and love, about the rational element in Buddhism and about the Buddha’s place in human history. They compare Buddhism with other religions, highlight its emphasis on reason and tell us how it may influence modern psychology.

It is hoped that what is said in this booklet and who said it will motivate the reader to look deeper into the teachings of the Buddha, and, if intellectual satisfaction results, put its principles into practice. As the Buddha himself says:

When you yourself know: These things are good; these things are not blamable; these things are praised by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to your welfare and happiness’, then enter upon and abide in them. 

 

Quotes

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The individual feels the nothingness of human desires and aims and the sublimity and marvellous order which reveal themselves both in nature and in the world of thought. He looks upon individual existence as a sort of prison and wants to experience the universe as a single significant whole, the beginnings of cosmic religious feeling already appear in early stages of development ‘e.g. in many of the Psalms of David and in some of the Prophets. Buddhism, as we have learnt from the wonderful writings of Schopenhauer especially, contains much stronger elements of it.

The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend a personal God and avoid dogmas and theology. Covering both the natural and the spiritual, it should be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual and a meaningful unity. Buddhism answers this description . . . If there is any religion that would cope with modern scientific needs it would be Buddhism.

Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

German physicist, mathematician, winner of the Nobel Prize

I have no hesitation in declaring that I owe a great deal to the inspiration that I have derived from the life of the Enlightenment One.

Asia has a message for the whole world, if only it would live up to it. There is the imprint of Buddhistic influence on the whole of Asia, which includes India, China, Japan, Burma, Ceylon, and the Malay States. For Asia to be not for Asia but for the whole world, it has to re-learn the message of the Buddha and deliver it to the whole world.

His love, his boundless love went out as much to the lower animal, to the lowest life as to human beings. And he insisted upon purity of life.

Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)

Indian thinker and apostle of non violence

There may be a great significance in the fact that Pythagoras in Greece and the Buddha in the Orient occur at the same time – in the sixth century B.C. Both are powerfully, perceptively thinking and acting human individuals who, coming out of a past in which only mystically ordained kings counted and humans were omniexpendable pawns, produced mathematical tools and philosophic breakthroughs for individual humans forever thereafter to employ.

R. Buckminster Fuller (1895-1984)

American inventor, social engineer and philosopher

Among the early Buddhists, the metaphysical theory was neither affirmed or denied, but simply ignored as being meaningless and unnecessary. Their concern was with the immediate experience, which, because of its consequences for life, came to be known as ‘liberation’ or ‘enlightenment’. The Buddha and his disciples of the southern school seem to have applied to the problems of religion that ‘operational philosophy’ which contemporary scientific thinkers have begun to apply to the natural sciences.

The modern conception of man’s intellectual relationship to the universe was anticipated by the Buddhist doctrine that desire is the source of illusion. To the extent that one has overcome desire, a mind is free from illusion. This is true not only of the man of science, but also the artist and the philosopher. Only the disinterested mind can transcend sense and pass beyond the boundaries of animal or average-sensual human life.

Perfect non-attachment demands of those who aspire to it, not only compassion and charity, but also the intelligence that perceives the general implications of particular acts, that sees the individual being within the system of social and cosmic relations of which he is but a part. In this respect, it seems to me, Buddhism shows itself decidedly superior to Christianity. In the Buddhist ethic, stupidity, or unawareness, ranks as one of the principal sins. At the same time, people are warned that they must take their share of responsibility for the social order in which they find themselves. One of the branches of the Eightfold Path is said to be ‘right means of livelihood’, the Buddhist is expected to refrain from engaging in such socially harmful occupations as soldiering, or the manufacture of arms or intoxicating drugs.

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963)

British author, playwright and thinker

As a student of comparative religions, I believe that Buddhism is the most perfect one the world has even seen. The philosophy of the theory of evolution and the law of karma were far superior to any other creed.

It was neither the history of religion nor the study of philosophy that first drew me to the world of Buddhist thought but my professional interest as a doctor. My task was to treat psychic suffering and it was this that impelled me to become acquainted with the views and methods of that great teacher of humanity, whose principal theme was the chain of suffering, old age, sickness and death.

Dr C. C. Jung (1875-1961)

Swiss psychologist and founder of The Jungian school of psychology

Here it is grasped that one must not hate even evil, that one must not oppose it, that one must not hate even oneself; that one should not merely acquiesce in the suffering that such a way of lie entails, that one should live entirely in positive feelings, that one should take the side of one’s opponent in word and deed, that through a superfetation of the peaceable, good natured, conciliatory, helpful and loving states one impoverishes the soil in which other states grow – that one requires a perpetual way of living . . . this standpoint is possible only when no moral fanaticism prevails, i.e., when evil is hated, not for its own sake, but only because it opens the way to states that are harmful to us (unrest, work, care, entanglements, dependence). This is the Buddhist standpoint: here sin is not hated, here the concept of sin in lacking.

Buddhism is hundred times more realistic than other religions. It has entered upon the inheritance of objectively and cooly putting up with problems. It came to life after several hundred years of philosophical development. The notion of God is done away with as soon as it appears, prayer is out of the question. So is asceticism. No categorical imperative. No coercion at all, not even within the monastic community. Hence it also does not challenge to fight against those of different faiths. Its teaching turns against nothing so impressively as against the feeling of revengefulness, animosity and resentment.

Frederich Nietzche (1844-1900)

German philosopher

If we ask, for instance, whether the position of the electron remains the same, we must say ‘no’; if we ask whether the electron’s position changes with time, we must say ‘no’; if we ask whether the electron is at rest, we must say ‘no’; if we ask whether it is in motion, we must say ‘no’. The Buddha has given such answers when interrogated as to the conditions of a man’s self after his death; but they are not familiar answers for the tradition of seventeenth and eighteenth century science.

J. Robert Oppenheimer (1904-1967)

American Physicist

Of the great religions of history I prefer Buddhism, especially in its earliest forms, because it has had the smallest element of persecution.

Buddhism is a combination of both speculative and scientific philosophy. It advocates the Scientific Method and pursues that to a finality that may be called Rationalistic. In it are to be found answers to such question of interest as “What is mind and matter? Of them which is of great importance? Is the universe moving towards a goal? What is man’s position? Is there living that is noble?” It takes up where science cannot lead because of the limitations of the latter’s instruments. Its conquests are those of the mind.

I cannot myself feel that either in the matter of wisdom or in the matter of virtue Christ stands quite as high as some people known to history. I think I should put Buddha and Socrates above him in those respects.

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)

British mathematician, philosopher, author and social critic. Winner of the Nobel Prize

I know that some will have hard thoughts of me, when they hear their Christ named beside my Buddha. Yet I am sure that I am willing they should love their Christ more than my Buddha, for love is the main thing.

David Henry Thoreau (1817-1862)

American essayist, poet and transcendentalist

The fundamental teachings of Gautama, as it is now being made plain to us by study of original sources, is clear and simple and in the closest harmony with modern ideas. It is beyond all dispute the achievement of one of the most penetrating intelligences the world has ever known.

Buddhism has done more for the advance of world civilization and true culture than any other influence in the chronicles of mankind.

H. G. Wells (1866-1946)

British historian, socialist and science fiction writer

At the back of the shrine outside the temple, grows the sacred tree under which, or rather the ancestor of which, Buddha sat. Squares of gold leaf have been stuck on to the trunk and boughs. The temple, together with several acres of garden full of trees and flowers and votive stones, chapels, bells, and statues, lies on a deep courtyard below the level of the surrounding country. The view when one drives up and sees everything suddenly from the edge of the embankment is, as the books say, not easily forgotten. There can’t be anything like it in the world.

E. M. Forster (1879-1970)

British novelist

Now in this realm Buddha’s speeches are a source and mine of quite unparalleled richness and depth. As soon as we cease to regard Buddha’s teachings simply intellectually and acquiesce with a certain sympathy in the age-old Eastern concept of unity, if we, allow Buddha to speak to us as vision, as image, as the awakened one, the perfect one, we find him, almost independently of the philosophic content and dogmatic kernel of his teachings, a great prototype of mankind. Whoever attentively reads a small number of the countless speeches of Buddha is soon aware of harmony in them, a quietude of soul, a smiling transcendence, a totally unshakeable firmness, but also invariable kindness, endless patience. As ways and means to the attainment of this holy quietude of soul, the speeches are full of advice, precepts, hints. The intellectual content of Buddha’s teaching is only half his work, the other half is his life, his life as lived, as labour accomplished and action carried out. A training, a spiritual self-training of the highest order was accomplished and is taught here, a training about which unthinking people who talk about quietism and Hindu dreaminess and the like in connection with Buddha have no conception; they deny him the cardinal Western virtue of activity. Instead Buddha accomplished a training for himself and his pupils, exercised a discipline, set up a goal, and produced results before which even the genuine heroes of European action can only feel awe.

Hermann Hesse (1877-1962)

German author and winner of the Nobel Prize

I am ignorant of Buddhism and speak under correction, and merely in order the better to describe my general point of view; but as I apprehend the Buddhistic doctrine of karma, I agree in principle with that.

William James (1842-1910)

American philosopher and psychologist

To the Christian, Love is the highest virtue; to the Buddhist, Wisdom, for they hold that ignorance is the root of all evil. Love, all the same, ranks high . . . Tolerance and loving kindness, both based on Buddhist wisdom, are perhaps the chief reason why the middle way of Gotama has come down through 2500 years.

Sir Charles A. Bell KCIE, CMG (1870-1945)

British diplomat and lexicographer

If I knew the Buddha would be speaking here tomorrow, nothing in the world could stop me from going to listen to him. And I would follow him to the very end.

J. Krishnamurti (1895-1986)

Indian philosopher

Whenever one thinks of the Buddha, one inevitably thinks of His great teaching; and I often feel that, perhaps, if we think more of that basic teaching of the avoidance of hatred and violence, we may be nearer the solution to our problem.

In this world of storm and strife, hatred and violence, the message of the Buddha shines like a radiant sun. Perhaps at no time was that message more needed than in this world of the atomic and hydrogen bombs . . . Let us remember that immortal message and try to fashion our thoughts and actions in the light of that teaching . . . and help a little in prompting right thinking and right action . . . If any question has to be considered, it has to be considered peacefully and democratically in the way taught by the Buddha.

Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964)

Indian Prime Minister

While the materialist is mainly interested in goods, the Buddhist is mainly interested in liberation. But Buddhism is ‘The Middle Way’ and therefore in no way antagonistic to physical well-being. It is not wealth that stands in the way of liberation but the attachment to wealth; not the enjoyment of pleasurable things but the craving for them. The keynote of Buddhist economics, therefore, is simplicity and non-violence. From an economist’s point of view, the marvel of the Buddhist way of life is the utter rationality of its pattern – amazingly small means leading to extraordinarily satisfactory results.

It is in the light of both immediate experience and long-term prospects that the study of Buddhist economics could be recommended even to those who believe that economic growth is more important than any spiritual or religious values. For it is not a question of choosing between modern growth’ and ‘traditional stagnation’. It is a question of finding the right path of development, the Middle Way between materialist heedlessness and traditionalist immobility, in short, of finding ‘Right Livelihood’.

Dr E. F. Schumacher CBE. (1911-1977)

British. Rhodes Scholar, economist, journalist and economic Adviser to the National Coal Board from 1950 to 1970

In divining that the experience of pain was an inseparable concomitant of consciousness and will, the Buddha has shown a penetrating psychological insight.

Hinduism regards man’s universe as being an illusion; the Buddha anticipating some of the schools of modern Western psychologists by about twenty-four centuries, held that the soul is an illusion too.

Arnold Toynbee (1889-1975)

British historian

The Indian, the Aztec, old Mexico! All that fascinates me and has fascinated me for years, there is glamour and magic for me. Not Buddha. Buddha is so finished and perfected and fulfilled and ‘volendet’ and without new possibilities – to me I mean.

D. H. Lawrence (1885-1930)

British novelist

Rightly or wrongly – and here I am not defining a thesis, I am only describing the state of mind of a Victorian girl in her teens, the Buddha and his philosophy seemed logically and ethically superior to the Christ and the teachings of the New Testament. Further, Buddhist metaphysics had at least a superficial likeness to the philosophy of modern science. The agnosticism of Buddha as to an ultimate cause was even more complete than that of Herbert Spencer. Unlike the crude eternal bliss and eternal damnation of the Christian Church, the doctrine of Karma seemed in harmony with such assumptions of modern science as the universality of causation and the persistence of force.

Beatrice Webb (1881-1943)

British social reformer, economist and Fabian Socialist

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