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"Buddhism is not a religion. It's a science of mind."
There is no deity in Buddhism.
"The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend a personal God and avoid dogmas and theology. Covering both natural and spiritual, it should be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual and a meaningful unity. Buddhism answers this description. If there is any religion that would cope with modern scientific needs, it would be Buddhism." ---Albert Einstein
Buddhism was founded by an Indian prince named Siddharta Gautama around the year 500 BCE. According to tradition, the young prince lived an affluent and sheltered life until a journey during which he saw an old man, a sick man, a poor man, and a corpse. Shocked and distressed at the suffering in the world, Gautama left his family to seek enlightenment through asceticism. But even the most extreme asceticism failed to bring enlightenment.
Finally, Gautama sat beneath a tree and vowed not to move until he had attained enlightenment. Days later, he arose as the Buddha - the "enlightened one." He spent the remaining 45 years of his life teaching the path to liberation from suffering (the dharma) and establishing a community of monks (the sangha).
Today, there are over 360 million followers of Buddhism. Although virtually extinct in its birthplace of India, it is prevalent throughout China, Japan and Southeast Asia. In the 20th century, Buddhism expanded its influence to the West and even to western religions. There are now over one million American Buddhists and even a significant number of "Jewish Buddhists." Buddhist concepts have also been influential on western society in general, primarily in the areas of meditation and nonviolence.
Buddhist beliefs vary significantly across various sects and schools, but all share an admiration for the figure of the Buddha and the goal of ending suffering and the cycle of rebirth. Theravada Buddhism, prominent in Southeast Asia, is atheistic and philosophical in nature and focuses on the monastic life and meditation as means to liberation.
Mahayana Buddhism, prominent in China and Japan, incorporates several deities, celestial beings, and other traditional religious elements. In Mahayana, the path to liberation may include religious ritual, devotion, meditation, or a combination of these elements. Zen, Nichiren, Tendai, and Pure Land are the major forms of Mahayana Buddhism.
The Law of Karma
In Buddhist teaching, the law of karma, says only this: `for every event that occurs, there will follow another event whose existence was caused by the first, and this second event will be pleasant or unpleasant according as its cause was skillful or unskillful.' A skillful event is one that is not accompanied by craving, resistance or delusions; an unskillful event is one that is accompanied by any one of those things. (Events are not skillful in themselves, but are so called only in virtue of the mental events that occur with them.)
Therefore, the law of Karma teaches that responsibility for unskillful actions is born by the person who commits them.
Let's take an example of a sequence of events. An unpleasant sensation occurs. A thought arises that the source of the unpleasantness was a person. (This thought is a delusion; any decisions based upon it will therefore be unskillful.) A thought arises that some past sensations of unpleasantness issued from this same person. (This thought is a further delusion.) This is followed by a willful decision to speak words that will produce an unpleasant sensation in that which is perceived as a person. (This decision is an act of hostility. Of all the events described so far, only this is called a karma.) Words are carefully chosen in the hopes that when heard they will cause pain. The words are pronounced aloud. (This is the execution of the decision to be hostile. It may also be classed as a kind of karma, although technically it is an after-karma.) There is a visual sensation of a furrowed brow and downturned mouth. The thought arises that the other person's face is frowning. The thought arises that the other person's feelings were hurt. There is a fleeting joyful feeling of success in knowing that one has scored a damaging verbal blow. Eventually (perhaps much later) there is an unpleasant sensation of regret, perhaps taking the form of a sensation of fear that the perceived enemy may retaliate, or perhaps taking the form of remorse on having acted impetuously, like an immature child, and hping that no one will remember this childish action. (This regret or fear is the unpleasant ripening of the karma, the unskillful decision to inflict pain through words.)
If there are no persons at all, then there is no self and no other. There is no distinction between pain of which there is direct sensual awareness (which is conventionally called one's own pain) and pain that is known through inference (conventionally called another person's pain). Whether pain is known directly or indirectly, there is either an urge to quell it or an urge to cultivate it. Whether joy is known directly or indirectly, there is either an urge to nourish it or to quell it. In the conventional language of speaking of events personally, the urge to quell all pain and to nourish all joy is known as being ethical or skillful or (if you like) good. The urge to nourish pain and quell joy is known as being unskillful, unethical or bad.
Being fully ethical is said to be impossible for those who make a distinction between self and other and show preference for the perceived self over the perceived other, for such perceptions inhibit being fully responsive. Being fully ethical is possible only for those who realize that all persons are empty, that is, devoid of personhood.
The Eight Fold Path
Buddhism does not aim to explain God, creation or eternal concepts. Such truths can only be found within the heart of a person. Whatever one holds within the heart is what is. What Buddhism does aim to do is help us overcome the chaos of this world and point us to a path that leads us to our own spirituality. We are all searching for the same things- freedom from our pain and realizing who we truly are, deep within. The Buddha Siddharthe Guatama, in his contemplation, realized the truth about suffering and the path to liberation from it. This Eight-Fold Path and Four Noble Truths make up the foundation of Buddhism.
The Four Noble Truths:
1. The truth about suffering is that it exists. Life is suffering. Birth, aging and dying is suffering.
2. Our reaching into the world of dreams, our desire to fulfill what cannot be fulfilled is what brings us our suffering.
3. Only when we have broken the mirrors of illusion can we end our suffering, and
4. the Eight-Fold Path can help us to break our habits of suffering.
When we are able to recognize suffering as it enters our lives, see that our own desires have brought us this pain, and understand that letting go of this desire can bring us peace we have attained Right View.
Reality grows in the garden of the mind. Our world is the fruit of our thoughts that sprout from the seeds of ideas. We must therefore be discerning gardeners, looking carefully at what ideas we allow to take root within the mind. We must be able to recognize which ideas and thoughts are born of desire and which carry the seeds of desire that causes our suffering.
The seeds of suffering that take root within the mind are those of greed, ill-will, hostility, denigration, dominance, envy, jealousy, hypocrisy, fraud, obstinacy, presumption, conceit, arrogance, vanity and negligence. In Buddhism, these are known as the 15 defilements, and the Buddha realized 6 methods for removing such defilements from the mind:
Restrain from what pleases the senses but bears poison.
Use all that we are, all that we have, all there is to cultivate peace.
Tolerate all adversity, and never abandon our gardens to the wild.
Avoid all that is impure and spoils the soil of the mind. Tend only to what is pure and that which nurtures the pure.
Remove the defilements by destroying them from the root.
Never cease to develop our skills of peacefulness.
We are often judged by our words. Long after we leave this world, our words shall remain. Words can often be sharper than the blade of the sword, bringing harm to the spirit of a person which can cause wounds that are deeper and last longer than that of a dagger. Therefore, we must choose our words carefully. The Buddha realized 4 methods of speech that bring peace to our lives and the lives of those who surround us.
1. Words of Honesty:
Speaking without truth can be a means to our end and to the end of others. Therefore, honesty is always the best policy.
2. Words of Kindness:
Speaking words of kindness, we will never be the cause that divides hearts or puts brother against brother. We become peacemakers. Our words are cherished and valued and shall bring peacefulness to ourselves and to those surrounding us.
3. Words that are Nurturing:
Words that comfort rather than harm the heart, shall travel to the heart, and bring long lasting peace.
4. Words that are Worthy:
Speaking only what is worthy and valuable for the moment, our words will always be found sweet to the ears of others and shall always be considered in a peaceful manner. Words of gossip, untruth, and selfishness do not return to us with peace. The worth of our words is measured by how much they improve the silence.
All of our lives we have been instructed to do the right thing. Often we are perplexed with what is the right thing. Ultimately, we must decide for ourselves what is right- but often our judgment is clouded by the defilements of the mind. While upon the Eight-Fold path, we must remember that our aim is to end our suffering. All we do, comes back to us in one way or another, eventually. What may be the right thing for the moment may not be the right thing for the next. Although this moment is the only one that exists, we must not fail to realize that within this moment- the past, present and future are contained. The truly right does not change from moment to moment. Look deep within your own heart, and you will know what is right.
The Golden Rule in Buddhism is: Do no harm.
The Buddha practiced the following code of conduct in his own life:
1. Respect life
2. Earn all that you have
3. Control your desire, rather than allow desire to control you.
Often when one begins practicing the ways of Peace, a time comes when lifestyle must be evaluated. In this life, we have the opportunity to liberate ourselves from the cycle of suffering and find peace. We also have the opportunity to help others break free. Does one's way of life support or hinder the ways of Peace? Only the heart knows.
The path is not an easy one. Our habits of suffering are strong, and deeply imprinted in our way of life. It is difficult to maneuver peacefully in a world of chaos. Many of the things that we know we must let go of are things that we have held dearly for we have fought fiercely to obtain them. Our very own self- identity may have been formed with great personal sacrifice. Discipline and diligence is key to persevering on the path. Therefore, our decision to take up the path to liberation must be firm, and executed with right effort. When we have realized the truth of suffering, and are willing to seek liberation with the same tenacity as a drowning man struggles for a breath, then right effort has been attained.
Being mindful of the heart of matters can help us to overcome suffering with understanding. When sitting, laying or moving, being mindful of the following four frames of references are said by the Buddha to help us achieve great understanding, and can even help us unlock the secrets that are within our hearts.
1. The Body:
Paying attention to our physical being can help us direct the mind away from the distractions of the world. Focusing on our breath, our movements, our actions, our components, and on the sheer miracle of our physical existence we can arrive at calmness and clarity.
Paying attention to our external and internal feelings, observing their rise and fall, can help us realize their origination, development and decline. Understanding the nature of our feelings can help us let go and break our habits of clinging.
Turning the mind upon itself, observing our thoughts, can help us realize the origination and aim of our thoughts. With this understanding, we can understand the nature of the mind and overcome our thought habits of suffering.
4. Mental Qualities:
Paying attention to our mental state of mind can help us recognize the five hindrances of our mentality (sensual desire, ill-will, laziness, anxiety and doubt). Observing their origination, development and decline, can help us realize how we can overcome them. By observing the origination, the components, the development, and the decline of things in regard to these frames of reference, we can find a deep understanding in the nature of ourselves, and to know our own hearts is to know the hearts of others.
As we sail through life, the winds of desire push us toward the Ocean of Suffering. But the skillful stand firm in virtue at the helm, directing the rudder of the mind toward peace. Single-minded concentration on the path to Peace (the Eight-Fold path) is right concentration. It is picking yourself up when you stumble and continuing onward. It is recognizing why you have fallen astray. It is recognizing when you are about to fall. It is continuing upon the path without hesitation or doubt. It is never ceasing to develop our skill in the way.
References: The Mulalapariyaya, Sabbasava, Sammaditthi, Satipatthana, Vitakkasanthana, Abhaya, Mahacattarisaka, and the Bhaddekaratta Suttas of the Majjhima Nikaya (the Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha)
– Ch'onsa Kim
THE FIRST NOBLE TRUTH
What is the Noble Truth of Suffering? Birth is suffering, aging is suffering, sickness is suffering, dissociation from the loved is suffering, not to get what one wants is suffering: in short the five categories affected by clinging are suffering.
There is this Noble Truth of Suffering: such was the vision, insight, wisdom, knowing and light that arose in me about things not heard before.
This Noble Truth must be penetrated by fully understanding suffering: such was the vision, insight, wisdom, knowing and light that arose in me about things not heard before.
This Noble Truth has been penetrated by fully understanding suffering: such was the vision, insight, wisdom, knowing and light that arose in me about things not heard before.
[Samyutta Nikaya LVI, 11]
The First Noble Truth with its three aspects is: "There is suffering, dukkha. Dukkha should be understood. Dukkha has been understood."
This is a very skilful teaching because it is expressed in a simple formula which is easy to remember, and it also applies to everything that you can possibly experience or do or think concerning the past, the present or the future.
Suffering or dukkha is the common bond we all share. Everybody everywhere suffers. Human beings suffered in the past, in ancient India; they suffer in modern Britain; and in the future, human beings will also suffer. What do we have in common with Queen Elizabeth? - we suffer. With a tramp in Charing Cross, what do we have in common? - suffering. It includes all levels from the most privileged human beings to the most desperate and underprivileged ones, and all ranges in between. Everybody everywhere suffers. It is a bond we have with each other, something we all understand.
When we talk about our human suffering, it brings out our compassionate tendencies. But when we talk about our opinions, about what I think and what you think about politics and religion, then we can get into wars. I remember seeing a film in London about ten years ago. It tried to portray Russian people as human beings by showing Russian women with babies and Russian men taking their children out for picnics. At the time, this presentation of the Russian people was unusual because most of the propaganda of the West made them out to be titanic monsters or cold-hearted, reptilian people - and so you never thought of them as human beings. If you want to kill people, you have to make them out to be that way; you cannot very well kill somebody if you realise they suffer the way you do. You have to think that they are cold-hearted, immoral, worthless and bad, and that it is better to get rid of them. You have to think that they are evil and that it is good to get rid of evil. With this attitude, you might feel justified in bombing and machine-gunning them. If you keep in mind our common bond of suffering, that makes you quite incapable of doing those things.
The First Noble Truth is not a dismal metaphysical statement saying that everything is suffering. Notice that there is a difference between a metaphysical doctrine in which you are making a statement about The Absolute and a Noble Truth which is a reflection. A Noble Truth is a truth to reflect upon; it is not an absolute; it is not The Absolute. This is where Western people get very confused because they interpret this Noble Truth as a kind of metaphysical truth of Buddhism - but it was never meant to be that.
You can see that the First Noble Truth is not an absolute statement because of the Fourth Noble Truth, which is the way of non-suffering. You cannot have absolute suffering and then have a way out of it, can you? That doesn’t make sense. Yet some people will pick up on the First Noble Truth and say that the Buddha taught that everything is suffering.
The Pali word, dukkha, means "incapable of satisfying" or "not able to bear or withstand anything": always changing, incapable of truly fulfilling us or making us happy. The sensual world is like that, a vibration in nature. It would, in fact, be terrible if we did find satisfaction in the sensory world because then we wouldn’t search beyond it; we’d just be bound to it. However, as we awaken to this dukkha, we begin to find the way out so that we are no longer constantly trapped in sensory consciousness.
THE SECOND NOBLE TRUTH
What is the Noble Truth of the Origin of Suffering?
It is craving which renews being and is accompanied by relish and lust, relishing this and that: in other words, craving for sensual desires, craving for being, craving for non-being. But whereon does this craving arise and flourish? Wherever there is what seems lovable and gratifying, thereon it arises and flourishes.
There is this Noble Truth of the Origin of Suffering:such was the vision, insight, wisdom, knowing and light that arose in me about things not heard before.
This Noble Truth must be penetrated to by abandoning the origin of suffering....
This Noble Truth has been penetrated to by abandoning the origin of suffering: such was the vision, insight, wisdom, knowing and light that arose in me about things not heard before.
The Second Noble Truth with its three aspects is: ‘There is the origin of suffering, which is attachment to desire. Desire should be let go of. Desire has been let go of.’
The Second Noble Truth states that there is an origin of suffering and that the origin of suffering is attachment to the three kinds of desire: desire for sense pleasure (kama tanha), desire to become (bhava tanha) and desire to get rid of (vibhava tanha). This is the statement of the Second Noble Truth, the thesis, the pariyatti. This is what you contemplate: the origin of suffering is attachment to desire.
THE THIRD NOBLE TRUTH
What is the Noble Truth of the Cessation of Suffering? It is the remainderless fading and cessation of that same craving; the rejecting, relinquishing, leaving and renouncing of it. But whereon is this craving abandoned and made to cease? Wherever there is what seems lovable and gratifying, thereon it is abandoned and made to cease.
There is this Noble Truth of the Cessation of Suffering: such was the vision, insight, wisdom, knowing and light that arose in me about things not heard before.
This Noble Truth must be penetrated to by realising the Cessation of Suffering....
This Noble Truth has been penetrated to by realising the Cessation of Suffering: such was the vision, insight, wisdom, knowing and light that arose in me about things not heard before.
The Third Noble Truth with its three aspects is: ‘There is the cessation of suffering, of dukkha. The cessation of dukkha should be realised. The cessation of dukkha has been realised.’
The whole aim of the Buddhist teaching is to develop the reflective mind in order to let go of delusions. The Four Noble Truths is a teaching about letting go by investigating or looking into - contemplating: ‘Why is it like this? Why is it this way?’ It is good to ponder over things like why monks shave their heads or why Buddha-rupas look the way they do. We contemplate...the mind is not forming an opinion about whether these are good, bad, useful or useless. The mind is actually opening and considering. ‘What does this mean? What do the monks represent? Why do they carry alms bowls? Why can’t they have money? Why can’t they grow their own food? We contemplate how this way of living has sustained the tradition and allowed it to be handed down from its original founder, Gotama the Buddha, to the present time.
We reflect as we see suffering; as we see the nature of desire; as we recognise that attachment to desire is suffering. These insights can only come through reflection; they cannot come through belief. You cannot make yourself believe or realise an insight as a wilful act; through really contemplating and pondering these truths, the insights come to you. They come only through the mind being open and receptive to the teaching - blind belief is certainly not advised or expected of anyone. Instead, the mind should be willing to be receptive, pondering and considering.
This mental state is very important - it is the way out of suffering. It is not the mind which has fixed views and prejudices and thinks it knows it all or which just takes what other people say as being the truth. It is the mind that is open to these Four Noble Truths and can reflect upon something that we can see within our own mind.
People rarely realise non-suffering because it takes a special kind of willingness in order to ponder and investigate and get beyond the gross and the obvious. It takes a willingness to actually look at your own reactions, to be able to see the attachments and to contemplate: ‘What does attachment feel like?’
For example, do you feel happy or liberated by being attached to desire? Is it uplifting or depressing? These questions are for you to investigate. If you find out that being attached to your desires is liberating, then do that. Attach to all your desires and see what the result is.
In my practice, I have seen that attachment to my desires is suffering. There is no doubt about that. I can see how much suffering in my life has been caused by attachments to material things, ideas, attitudes or fears. I can see all kinds of unnecessary misery that I have caused myself through attachment because I did not know any better. I was brought up in America - the land of freedom. It promises the right to be happy, but what it really offers is the right to be attached to everything. America encourages you to try to be as happy as you can by getting things. However, if you are working with the Four Noble Truths, attachment is to be understood and contemplated; then the insight into non-attachment arises. This is not an intellectual stand or a command from your brain saying that you should not be attached; it is just a natural insight into non-attachment or non-suffering.
THE FOURTH NOBLE TRUTH
What is the Noble Truth of the Way Leading to the Cessation of Suffering? It is the Noble Eightfold Path, that is to say: Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration.
There is this Noble Truth of the Path leading to the Cessation of Suffering: such was the vision, insight, wisdom, knowing and light that arose in me about things not heard before....
This Noble Truth must be penetrated to by cultivating the Path....
This Noble Truth has been penetrated to by cultivating the Path: such was the vision, insight, wisdom, knowing and light that arose in me about things not heard before.
The Fourth Noble Truth, like the first three, has three aspects. The first aspect is: ‘There is the Eightfold Path, the atthangika magga - the way out of suffering.’ It is also called the ariya magga, the Ariyan or Noble Path. The second aspect is: ‘This path should be developed.’ The final insight into arahantship is: ‘This path has been fully developed.’
The Eightfold Path is presented in a sequence: beginning with Right (or perfect) Understanding, samma ditthi, it goes to Right (or perfect) Intention or Aspiration, samma sankappa; these first two elements of the path are grouped together as Wisdom (panna). Moral commitment (sila) flows from panna; this covers Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood - also referred to as perfect speech, perfect action and perfect livelihood, samma vaca, samma kammanta and samma ajiva.
Then we have Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration, samma vayama, samma sati and samma samadhi, which flow naturally from sila. These last three provide emotional balance. They are about the heart - the heart that is liberated from self-view and from selfishness. With Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration, the heart is pure, free from taints and defilements. When the heart is pure, the mind is peaceful. Wisdom (panna), or Right Understanding and Right Aspiration, comes from a pure heart. This takes us back to where we started.
These, then, are the elements of the Eightfold Path, grouped in three sections:
1. Wisdom (panna)
Right Understanding (samma ditthi)
Right Aspiration (samma sankappa)
2. Morality (sila)
Right Speech (samma vaca)
Right Action (samma kammanta)
Right Livelihood (samma ajiva)
3. Concentration (samadhi)
Right Effort (samma vayama)
Right Mindfulness (samma sati)
Right Concentration (samma samadhi)
The fact that we list them in order does not mean that they happen in a linear way, in sequence - they arise together. We may talk about the Eightfold Path and say ‘First you have Right Understanding, then you have Right Aspiration, then....’ But actually, presented in this way, it simply teaches us to reflect upon the importance of taking responsibility for what we say and do in our lives.
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