During the recent Western Monastic Conference, I raised a question with the Christian monks who were there, regarding an orthodox belief. I asked, “What happens to an unbaptized baby who dies in childbirth or an aborted fetus? Is it going to heaven or not?” One of the monks answered, “Well, technically it’s not going to heaven, because it wasn’t baptized.” It’s easy to think that’s an outrageous belief. However, I like the way Brother Gregory explained the monk’s answer. “Look at it this way: What trumps everything is that God is just. You can reduce everything to this one concept. Everything else fits into this understanding. If some issue doesn’t fit, then either you’re misunderstanding the issue, or it’s been improperly communicated over time. God is just, so God is not going to send somebody to hell who doesn’t deserve it.” Fair enough. For Christians, maybe the ways of God are mysterious and beyond understanding, and the bottom line is God is just. That trumps everything.
Sometimes, over the many months and years of our Buddhist practice, doubts can creep in. In monastic life we have this form—the bowing, the routine, and the other structures we live within—and the doubt may arise, Did the Buddha really teach all the rules we find in the Vinaya? Or we may doubt whether certain parts of the early discourses are legitimate. Did the Buddha really teach those suttas in the Dīgha Nikāya that seem so mythical? How do we deal with that? In Buddhism we don’t have this concept of a permanent deity or a just God—we can’t rely on that. But there’s another trump card we can play: The Buddha existed, and he was fully enlightened. So I can reflect, Perhaps whatever doubts I have arise because the form has been distorted over time or because I’m not understanding how to see through the particular issue at hand. But the bottom line is, the Buddha existed, and he was fully enlightened. That’s a powerful perception, and it’s important that we do not let anything get in the way of that.
We can dwell on the things we don’t like, the things we find frustrating—those things that create doubt—and we can even come up with persuasive reasons why something we doubt is, in fact, wrong. But the effect of dwelling and thinking like this is that the heart can become discontented. We needn’t invite that sort of discontent when we can just as easily dwell on our trump card. The Buddha existed, and he was fully enlightened. When I bring up this perception, there’s immediate joy and love and a recognition that this form, with all its imperfections, has a lineage that connects the Buddha with ourselves, right now. Through hundreds of generations, we’re connected in a direct and tangible way to the living, breathing, walking Buddha— who existed and was fully enlightened. We can easily forget that, because it may seem so far removed from our ordinary, day-to-day experience. So we need to make an effort to bring this trump card into consciousness.
This can be especially useful any time we’re having issues with monastic life or for laypeople who might be struggling with doubt or with their faith. It can also serve as a foundation for our meditation. If we feel dejected because our samādhi meditation isn’t working, or whatever, we can return to this one idea: The Buddha existed and was fully enlightened. It is easily accessible to us and uplifting. As we return to this one idea, over and over again, we may well find that it trumps all our doubts and difficulties.
This reflection by Ajahn Yatiko is from Beginning Our Day, Volume One, pp.241-243.