(translated from the Thai by Bhikkhu Punno)
“I’d like to give a simple example of people language, the language of materialism. “Water” will suffice. A person who doesn’t know much about even the simplest things thinks that there are many different kinds of water. They view these various kinds of water as if they have nothing in common. They distinguish rain-water, well-water, underground-water, canal-water, swamp-water, ditch-water, gutter-water, sewer-water, toilet-water, urine, diarrhea, and many other kinds of water from each other. Average people will insist that these waters are completely different, because such people take external appearances as their criteria.
A person with some knowledge, however, knows that pure water can be found in every kind of water. If you take rain-water and distill it, you will get pure water. If you take river-water and distill it, you will get pure water. If you take canal-water, sewer-water, or toilet-water, and distill it, you will still get pure water. A person with this understanding knows that all those different kinds of water are the same as far as the water component is concerned. As for those elements which make it impure and look different, they aren’t the water itself. They may combine with water, and alter water, but they are never water itself. If we look through the polluting elements, we can see the water that is always the same, for in every case the essential nature of water is the same. However many kinds of water there may seem to be, they are all the same as far as the essential nature of water is concerned. When we look at things from this viewpoint, we can see that all religions are the same. If they appear different it’s because we are making judgements on the basis of external forms.
On an even more intelligent level, we can take that pure water and examine it further. Then, we must conclude that there is no water, only two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen. There’s no water left. That substance which we have been calling “water” has disappeared, it’s void. The same is true everywhere, no matter where we find the two parts of hydrogen and one part of oxygen. In the sky, in the ground, or wherever these parts happen to be found, the state of water has disappeared and the term “water” is no longer used. For one who has penetrated to this level of truth, there is no such thing as water.
In the same way, one who has attained to the ultimate truth sees that there is no such thing as religion. There is only a certain nature which can be called whatever we like. We can call it Dhamma,” we can call it “Truth,” we can call it “God,” “Tao,” or whatever we like, but we shouldn’t particularize that “Dhamma” or that “Truth” as Buddhism, Christianity, Taoism, Judaism, Sikhism, Zoroastrianism, or Islam, for we can neither capture nor confine it with labels or concepts. Still, such divisions occur because people haven’t yet realized this nameless truth for themselves. They have only reached the external levels, just as with canal-water, muddy water, and the rest.
The Buddha intended for us to understand and be able to see that there is no person, that there is no separate individual, that there are only dhammas or natural phenomena. Therefore, we shouldn’t cling to the belief that there is this religion and that religion. We added the labels “Buddhism,” “Islam,” and Christianity” ourselves, long after the founders lived. None of the great religious teachers ever gave a personal name to their teachings, like we do today. They just went about teaching us how we should live.
Please try to understand this correctly. When the final level is reached, when the ultimate is known, not even man exists. There is only nature, only Dhamma. This reality can’t be considered to be any particular thing; it can’t be anything other than Dhamma. It can’t be Thai, Chinese, Indian, Arab, or European. It can’t be black, brown, yellow, red, or white. It can’t be eastern or western, southern or northern. Nor can it be Buddhist, Christian, Islamic, or anything else. So please try to reach this Dhamma, for then you will have reached the heart of all religions and of all things, and finally come to the complete cessation of suffering.
Although we call ourselves “Buddhists” and profess Buddhism, we haven’t yet realized the truth of Buddhism, for we are acquainted with only a tiny aspect of our own Buddhism. Although we be monks, nuns, novices, lay devotees, or whatever, we are aware of only the bark, the outer covering which makes us think our religion is different from the other religions. Because we have failed to understand and haven’t yet realized our own truth, we look down upon other religions and praise only our own. We think of ourselves as a special group and of others as outsiders or foreigners. We believe that they are wrong and only we are right, that we are special and have a special calling, and that only we have the truth and the way to salvation. We have many of these blind beliefs. Such ideas and beliefs show that we are still ignorant, very foolish indeed, just like little babies who know only their own bellies. Tell a small child to take a bath and to wash with soap to get all the dirt off; the little child will scrub only her belly. She doesn’t know to wash all over. She will never think of washing behind her ears or between her toes or anywhere like that. She merely scrubs and polishes her tummy vigorously.
In this same way as the child, most of the adherents of Buddhism know only a few things, such as how to take and how to get. Even while doing good, supporting the temples and monks, and observing the precepts, their only objective is to get something, they even want to get more in return than they gave. When they make offerings, some people expect back ten times what they gave, some a hundred times, some a thousand, and some even more. In this case, it would be more accurate to say that these people know nothing at all, for they are acquainted only with how to get and how to take. That isn’t Buddhism at all. It’s the religion of getting and taking. If ever they can’t get or can’t take something, they are frustrated and they suffer.
Real Buddhism is to know how to get without getting and take without taking so that there is no frustration and no suffering at all.
This must be spoken about very often in order to acquaint everyone with the heart of Buddhism: Non-Attachment. Buddhism is about not trying to seize or grasp anything, to not cling or attach to anything, not even to the religion itself, until finally realizing that there is no Buddhism after all. That means, if we speak directly, that there is no Buddha, no Dhamma, and no Sangha!(*) However, if we speak in this way, nobody will understand; they will be shocked and frightened.
[* The Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha (Community) are the beloved Triple Gem which most Buddhists cherish as the basis of their faith.]
Those who understand, see that the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha are the same thing, that is, just Dhamma or just Nature itself.
The compulsion to seize and hang onto things as persons and individuals, as this and that, doesn’t exist in them. Everything is non-personal, that is, is Dhamma or Nature in its pure state or whatever you wish to call it. But we dare not think like this. We are afraid to think that there is no religion, that there is no Buddha, Dhamma, or Sangha. Even if people were taught or forced to think in this way, they still wouldn’t be able to understand. In fact, they would have a totally distorted understanding of what theythought and would react in the opposite way to what was intended.”