On one occasion a Christian delegation visited Ven Dhammananda to have a dialogue. A member of the delegation saw the book on his desk and asked, “Venerable, What do Buddhists believe?” He replied, “Buddhists do not believe anything!” Puzzled, the man asked, “ Then why did you write this book?” Ven Dhammananda smiled and said, “Well, read the book and see for yourself whether there is anything in Buddhism simply to believe.” The man then asked “Alright then, what do Buddhists do?” Ven Dhammananda replied, “Well, first they study, then they practice and finally they experience” (pariyatti, patipatti, pativedha).
From What Buddhists Believe by the Venerable Dhammananda:
I like the fact that Ven. Dhammananda melds together the “Believe” with the “Do”. That belief is inherit with the action – with the physical and mental striving towards the goal of enlightenment rather than apart from it.
This book was written from a Theravadan perspective so I am not surprised that the study of the sutras comes first [first they study, then they practice and finally they experience” (pariyatti, patipatti, pativedha)]. Personally, I think you need to practice first to garner and nurture your own wisdom and insight. Then I believe you can really appreciate the Sutras, otherwise they are just words. Even the Buddha did not appreciate the Dharma until he gathered some wisdom around himself through the guidance of the religious teachers of the time. If he did not study with Alara Kalama, Udaka the son of Rama and wandered five other ascetics he never would have gained the insight to make his own realization of the Dharma. Those early steps are necessary ones.
But that is just my opinion. Another thing that I think isn’t inherit in the statement by Dhammapada is that the journey for some Buddhists is just as palatable and important as the goal itself. Most Buddhists that I know rarely think about the end result of the practice and the striving and the effort rather they focus on applying that effort to the present moment. I rarely focus on the end-result of all this because I don’t really know what it is or what it should be. And without that expectation my practice is much stronger.
It reminds me of sitting for the first time for an extended period. You work past the pain and fatigue and amazingly it isn’t the body that grunts and creaks the most, but actually the mind. Damn, it fidgits and fights but you strive on. It feel that focusing on the end result would not have gotten me through it but focusing on the present does.
Now the mind doesn’t fight so much…but you know I sorta miss that battle.