2,500 years ago, Gautama Sakyamuni – more familiar to us as the Buddha – did not receive wisdom from an angel and was not spoken face to face by the Creator. He also had no divine vision or miraculous power. When his followers demanded to know what he was – for he was certainly no ordinary man, but he insisted that he was neither god, nor angel, nor saint – he replied: “I am awake”. Hence its title – Buddha – comes from Sanskrit, Buddha meaning to wake up and know. Thus, Buddha means “the Awakened” or “the Awakened”.
Buddha attained enlightenment and salvation through his own diligence and discipline. The great gift of Buddhism was therefore the idea of attaining salvation by oneself, without divine intervention, but by good works, physical and spiritual work and meditation. Tied neither to tradition nor to ritual, nor to dependence on higher castes, nor even to a higher divine will, but rather to wisdom, pragmatism and discipline, Buddhism was the first great religion of self-help and the first whose portals of wisdom were opened to all. , regardless of rank or caste, and written in the vernacular of the people it served. It is also a religion that relies on data rather than faith. Buddha admonished his followers not to take anything as true unless it was true in their own experience. “Don’t go by reasoning, or by inference, or by argument,” he said. The seeker of truth must “know for himself”.
Buddha’s democratic vision of spiritual liberation for all – not just a select elite – swept away two-thirds of the world‘s population and civilized India, China, Japan and the Near East. Buddhist monks brought culture and its technologies – the written language and arts such as lacquerware and silk-making to Japan for example – using the beaten paths of trade to bring to light what had been barbarisms.
Buddha said, “One thing I teach: suffering and the end of suffering… It is just evil and the cessation of evil that I proclaim.” He further clarified that “hunger is the worst disease” and that “the gift of food is the gift of life”.
Today’s Buddhists follow Master’s words and as a result there are now 1,765 Buddhist charities and nonprofits in the United States and many others operating globally to reduce hunger, the “worst kind of disease”.
Buddhist World Relief and the Tzu Chi Foundation are two that feed thousands and tens of thousands of people, depending on the help of volunteers to provide not only relief from chronic hunger and malnutrition, but also disaster assistance, medical aid and environmental work such as recycling.
Buddha taught that “By giving food, one gives five things to the recipients: one gives life, beauty, happiness, strength and mental clarity. By giving these five things, one in turn participates in life, beauty, happiness, strength and mental clarity, whether in this world or in the celestial kingdom.
The gifts of Buddhism, now one of the largest religions in the world, go far beyond feeding the hungry. For two and a half millennia, it has also nurtured cultures by making the goal of spiritual freedom – with its wisdom, beauty, strength and joy – a goal accessible to all. And in that sense, Buddhism really feeds the spiritual hunger of all of us.