What is the goal of the Buddha’s teachings? It is to attain Perfect, Complete Enlightenment. Transliterated from Sanskrit, it is called Anuttara-samyak-sambodhi. Out of respect, this phrase was maintained in its original form rather than translated. There are three stages within this enlightenment:
- “Proper Enlightenment”
- “Equal and Proper Enlightenment”
- “Perfect, Complete Enlightenment”
The Buddha told us, that although scientist, philosophers and religious scholars may have reached a good understanding about life and the universe, this realization is neither complete nor proper. Why? Although they may have obtained some understanding, they are far from having freedom from anxiety, from ending their afflictions. They indulge themselves in the Five Poisons of greed, anger, ignorance, arrogance and doubt. They remain mired in all the troubles of human relationships and are swayed by personal feelings. In other words, they are human.
If a person has severed greed, anger, ignorance, arrogance, doubt and afflictions, the Buddha will acknowledge this person as having attained the first level, that of Proper Enlightenment. He or she will be called an Arhat, the initial academic degree in Buddhism. Arhats differ from Buddha in the way they use their mind. They use it in the same manner we do. The difference is that we still have afflictions while Arhats do not. They use it in the same manner that we do. The difference is that we still have afflictions while Arhats do not.
The next higher level of enlightenment is that of Equal and Proper Enlightenment, represented by Bodhisattvas. They resemble Buddhas in motivation but have not reached the same level of enlightenment. The minds of Bodhisattvas are genuine; they remain forever unchanged and are similar to those of Buddhas. Buddhas use the full and perfect true heart. Buddhas represent the highest level of enlightenment, which is the Perfect Complete Enlightenment.
In Buddhist classic literature, the perfect, true mind of a Buddha was symbolized by a full moon. The mind of a bodhisattva was symbolized by a crescent moon, which was neither full nor perfect. And the mind of an Arhat was symbolized by moonlight reflected from the surface of water, it is not real.
These three levels of enlightenment can be compared to our college education system. The level or degree of Arhat is similar to earning an undergraduate degree. The level of Bodhisattva is similar to earning a Master’s degree and the level of Buddha is similar to earning a Doctorate’s degree. The word Buddha is not exclusive to Buddha Shakyamuni, but is a common title for any being who has attained the perfect complete enlightenment. Thus, Buddha, Bodhisattva and Arhat are only names or titles to represent the levels of enlightenment or a degree we receive in Buddhism. And they are most certainly not deities to be worshipped.
So, a Buddha is one who has fully comprehended the truth of life and the universe and acquired the ultimate and perfect wisdom. This is also the goal of Buddhist education; to enable beings to attain this same level of wisdom. Therefore, Buddhism is an education of wisdom.
So what are the objectives of the Buddha’s teachings? The principle of Buddhism is to break through all the superstitions and delusions. It is to resolve delusion to attain happiness and enlightenment, to eliminate suffering to gain sincerity and purity of mind. What is delusion? When we do not thoroughly and properly understand the phenomena around us, we tend to be deluded, to have wrong ideas, which lead us to make mistakes. This will make us suffer ill consequences as a result. However, if we have a correct understanding about life and the universe, we will be free from mistakes in thought, judgment and behavior. Thus, resolving delusions to attain enlightenment is the cause and eliminating suffering to attain happiness and purity is the effect.
Only through resolving superstition and delusion, can enlightenment be attained. This is the objective of the Buddha’s teachings. This wisdom will allow all beings to differentiate true from false, proper from improper, right from wrong and good from bad. It can help to establish a dynamic and caring attitude toward life and our surroundings. So, we can clearly see that Buddhism is neither passive nor obsolete, nor is it retreating from society. As said in the sutras, Buddhism can perfectly solve all afflictions and problems. It enables us to obtain true and ultimate benefits by creating fulfilling lives, happy families, harmonious societies, prosperous nations and a peaceful world. These are the objectives of the Buddha’s teachings for our world today. Therefore, we can see that it is an education that will enable us to attain truth, virtue, beauty, wisdom and genuine eternal happiness.