Problems Bared, Essays on Buddhism

Essays on various aspects of the Buddha’s teaching.

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Problems Bared, Essays on Buddhism

Problems Bared, Essays on Buddhism

‘‘What I would really like to do is
to rewrite the message of our classics
with their penetrating clarity and insight
into the basic principles of a wholesome life
in a new, young idiomatic language’’.

Vijayalakshmi Pandit


The following “Essays on Buddhism” do not constitute a graduated course on Buddhist Psychology, Logic, Criteriology, Ontology and Ethics, such as can be found in “The Norm” now in course of publication.

Each essay forms a separate unit and can be read independently without reference to other essays. However, they have this in common that the approach is non-dogmatic, even when sayings of the Buddha are quoted by way of illustration. The approach is individualistic and psychological, which may enable each one to solve his own problem for himself.

Henri van Zeyst


This collection of essays has been called “Problems Bared”. The title indicates exactly what the teaching of the Buddha is intended to do. It is a revelation, to an individual, of the truth about his own existence, which is normally not so apparent (paticchannanvavivareyya). It is like a lamp brought into the darkness for those with eyes to see physical forms. One’s existence has to be seen and understood for oneself in the light of the Dhamma.

Yet what most Buddhists do is, instead of looking at their existence they look at the light. They memorise and repeat words and phrases never attempting to know the truth these words point to; or they keep on arguing about the right interpretation. They never look in the direction pointed, they keep on looking at the pointing finger. They think it is a dogma to be believed and defended, or a theory to be discussed as an intellectual pastime. They never realise that the teaching actually leads one to (opanayiko), the understanding of the fact within one’s own experience. Having acquired the ability to repeat certain words and phrases, they believe that they have learnt the Dhamma. This belief is not altogether wrong, for they have learnt it, but the tragedy is, that they have not studied it or understood their experience through it.

Some who think that they have mastered the Dhamma have only found support for their own prejudices in it. It is like a man looking into a clear pond, and instead of seeing the gems beneath, seeing his own face reflected on the surface. Most people do not see the Dhamma even when it is pointed out, because there is too much dust in their eyes.

Yet it is very important for a Buddhist to understand the Dhamma correctly. The purpose is not to satisfy his curiosity, but to understand the problem of his existence and thereby solve it. The practice of Buddhism is actually a solution of the problem of one’s existence. This path of practice pointed out by the Buddha begins in right understanding.

When the problem of one’s existence is properly understood the solution automatically follows. One then starts practising the Dhamma, not because other people desire it, but because one wants it oneself. It then becomes not really a practice, but living in accordance with one’s existence. (dhammanudhamma vatti). It is like a log that has fallen into the river, if there is no obstruction to it, or if it does not sink it will automatically drift into the sea.

In “Problems Bared” the author attempts, as far as he is able to help the reader in understanding his own existence in the light of Buddhism, in order to solve his own problems. The title is not merely suggestive of the theme running through these pages, it is even revealing of the authors’ attitude to the problem. He does not pretend to solve any problems. That is left to the individual concerned. But it is his firm conviction that “a problem will be solved automatically when it is seen in its correct set up, environment, cause, nature, that is, when it is laid bare”.

Thus, when we understand our problems they cease in that understanding. Our not understanding (avijjā), is our greatest fetter, obstacle, hindrance, sin or whatever you like. A systematic endeavour to remove an obstacle in the mind will merely drive it underground to become a “complex”. And every complex (sabbe saṅkhāra) is a conflict (dukkha).

The author is one who has sought the truth by trying to understand the truth through Buddhism unlike most scholars of Buddhism. True Buddhism cannot be found by searching for it. It could be discovered only by him who seeks the truth. For Buddhism is truth, if it is the teaching of an Enlightened One. Buddhism is like a shadow which runs away from you when you run after it, but pursues you when you go your own way. No one can find out what the Buddha taught except by testing the truth of what is presented to one as Buddhism, by the way it lights up one’s experience. Buddhism is revealed by the light in one’s experience while one’s experience is revealed in the light of Buddhism, just as the sun is recognised by the way it lights up the earth and the earth is seen in the light of the sun.

That the author was a seeker of the truth is revealed by his life. He was a Roman Catholic priest in Holland. He gave up his priesthood in 1938 through personal conviction. It was personal conviction which made him a Buddhist too; and those convictions have remained with him up-to-date. He even became a Buddhist monk and was well known as Bhikkhu Dhammapala. As a monk he was a great inspiration to many Buddhists in Ceylon and abroad. He also rendered yeoman service for the cause of Buddhism, by way of illuminating talks and writings, and also through the Kandy Buddhist Association and the All Ceylon Buddhist students’ Union which he founded. He is an eloquent speaker and a challenging writer. His speeches and works have always appealed more to the intellect than to sentiment.

It is this very emphasis of the intellect that seems to have made him give up his life as a monk in 1947. He was not satisfied with the tradition-bound Buddhist practice of today, with the accent on emotion rather than on reason. As he says, it was not always easy to satisfy the devotional hunger of the pious or to conform to traditional rituals which may have sentimental value, but very little rational foundation. I do not condemn, but it is my conviction, which seems to have a certain appeal to others like minded.

Even after his reversion to the household life, he has been functioning as a co-editor of the Encyclopaedia of Buddhism (1957–1967). He also gave a series of broadcasts over the English National service of the Ceylon Broadcasting Corporation, and of has late written a comprehensive presentation of his thoughts in a number of volumes still under print.

The author is one of the very few westerners who have plunged deep into the profound ocean of Buddhism and brought out many gems of rare value. He is fully qualified to speak on the subject. The following pages will speak for themselves in the same manner as his earlier works have done.

Rev. M. Punnaji,
1st March 1970,
Buddhist Information Centre,
50, Green Path,
Colombo 3,

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