Buddhism is based on three concepts: dharma (the doctrine of the Buddha, his guide to right actions and belief); karma (the belief that one's life now and in future lives depends upon one's own deeds and misdeeds and that as an individual one is responsible for, and rewarded on the basis of, the sum total of one's acts and act's incarnations past and present); and sangha, the ascetic community within which man can improve his karma. The Buddhist salvation is nirvana, a final extinction of one's self. Nirvana may be attained by achieving good karma through earning much merit and avoiding misdeeds. A Buddhist's pilgrimage through existence is a constant attempt to distance himself or herself from the world and finally to achieve complete detachment, or nirvana. The fundamentals of Buddhist doctrine are the Four Noble Truths: suffering exits; craving (or desire) is the cause of suffering; release from suffering can be achieved by stopping all desire; and enlightenment [Source: Tourism of Cambodia]
Buddhism is a generally tolerant, non-prescriptive religion that does not require belief in a supreme being. Buddhists believe that the only thing that matters is the inward self; that the goal of Buddhism is to reach a state of nothingness; and human beings are compositions of five temporary states — physical form, sensation, perception, volition and consciousness — all of which disappear after death. Buddhist deny the existence of an individual soul and tell their followers they must transcend this egocentric view to reach nirvana. In its purist forms, Buddhism has no beginning and no end, no Creation and no Heaven and no soul. For this reason has Buddhism has been called a religion without God.
Buddhists see the universe and all life as part of a cycle of eternal change. They follow the teaching of Buddha, an Indian prince born in the sixth century B.C. Buddhists believe that a person is continually reborn, in human or nonhuman form, depending on his or her actions in a previous life. They are released from this cycle only when thy reach nirvana, which may be attained by achieving good karma through earning merit and following the Buddhist path of correct living. +
There are many aspects of Buddhism that simply seem to be beyond expression. The religious historian I.B. Hunter described Buddhism as a religion of “affinities, depths, heights and subtleties, with its solidarity and cohesiveness, its clear pointing to something more than could be actually said in words.”
Some view Buddhism as benevolent but ineffectual, pointing out that Buddhist intellectuals supported Japan’s militarist before World War II and supported the Sinhalese in their violent civil war in Sri Lanka against the Tamils. Describing the appeal of Buddhism to its early adherents Nietzsche wrote of “races grown kindly, gentle, overintellectual who feel pain too easily.” Websites and Resources on Buddhism: Buddha Net buddhanet.net/e-learning/basic-guide ; Religious Tolerance Page religioustolerance.org/buddhism ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Internet Sacred Texts Archive sacred-texts.com/bud/index ; Introduction to Buddhism webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/buddhaintro ; Early Buddhist texts, translations, and parallels, SuttaCentral suttacentral.net ; East Asian Buddhist Studies: A Reference Guide, UCLA web.archive.org ; View on Buddhism viewonbuddhism.org ; Tricycle: The Buddhist Review tricycle.org ; BBC - Religion: Buddhism bbc.co.uk/religion ; Buddhist Centre thebuddhistcentre.com; A sketch of the Buddha's Life accesstoinsight.org ; What Was The Buddha Like? by Ven S. Dhammika buddhanet.net ; Jataka Tales (Stories About Buddha) sacred-texts.com ; Illustrated Jataka Tales and Buddhist stories ignca.nic.in/jatak ; Buddhist Tales buddhanet.net ; Arahants, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas by Bhikkhu Bodhi accesstoinsight.org ; Victoria and Albert Museum vam.ac.uk/collections/asia/asia_features/buddhism/index
Dharma, Buddhist Teaching
First Sermon in the Deer Park Dharma, or “what is right and what ought to be,” is Buddha’s teachings. The statements that The Buddha is recorded of having said were generally very brief. He only elaborated upon them if requested to or he viewed such elaborations were necessary. These statements were comprehended in many different ways by many different individuals and thousands of pages were written about them.
According to the Asia Society Museum: “The Buddha's teaching, known to his followers as the Dhamma, is taught on the basis of his own clear comprehension of reality, free from appeals to divine authority and demands for unquestioning faith. Open to reason and critical inquiry, the Dhamma calls out for personal verification. The teaching begins with the observation that human life is beset by a sense of dissatisfaction pain or suffering and the cause for the suffering is the self centered desires. Then follows the most optimistic affirmation of the Buddha that suffering can be totally overcome! Hence liberation from suffering is the goal of the teaching and the Noble Eightfold Path has been laid down as the way to liberation. [Source: Asia Society Museum asiasocietymuseum.org |~| ]
“Buddhism offers, as integral to its path, a profound philosophy, an intricate analysis of the mind, lofty ethics and well-tested methods of meditation. The fruits of the Buddhist Way show in serene understanding, in kindness and compassion towards others, and in equanimity amidst the vicissitudes of life. Free from dogma, emphasizing personal responsibility as the key to right conduct and direct experience as the key to truth, Buddhism has an important role to play in the modern world.” |~|
The Buddha’s teaching was not designed to answer philosophical or speculative questions. It was established to offer a means of escape from suffering. Gautama Buddha was put off by speculation about the cosmos and eternity and was interested mostly in what could help one reach enlightenment in the here and now. Buddhism philosophy and cosmology is either rooted in Hinduism or came about as Buddhism developed after Gautama’s death. On one hand The Buddha encouraged individuals to seek their own inner truths and never said that his teachings and doctrines were sacrosanct and should be followed completely. But on the other hand he said that there was one sole Way to achieve purification and overcome suffering and those who deviated from the Way would some how fall short of achieving his aim.
In Dhammapada 276 The Buddha said: “Sadly lives the man of sloth involved in evil unskilled states of mind, and great is the goal he fails to win. But he who stirs up energy lives happily, aloof from unskilled states of mind and great is the goal he makes perfect. Not through what is low comes the attainment of the highest, but through what is high come the attainment of the highest.”
Dharma is one of the Three Jewels- along with the Buddha and “Sangha” (the community of monks) who preserve and transmit Buddha’s teachings — are central to the understanding and teaching of Buddhism and are the Buddhist equivalent of the Christian Holy Trinity. One definition of a Buddhist is “one who takes refuge in the Three Jewels.” The vow taken by Theravada monks — "I take refuge in the Buddha, I take refuge in the law, I take refuge in the Sangha — is asserts their embrace of the Three Jewels.
Life is Full of Suffering So Look Inward
Buddhists believe that life is full of misery and is ultimately is unreal. The cycle of birth and rebirth continues because of attachment and desire to the "unreal self." Meditation and good deeds, it is thought, will ultimately end the cycle and help the individual to achieve Nirvana, a state of blissful nothingness. To achieve this one must look inward and gain control of the mind and find internal peace. To achieve this takes time and is an evolutionary process that takes place in stages through many lifetimes and cycles or birth, death and rebirth to attain the "real soul" within a person which is in a constant state of flux.
Gregory Smits wrote that “Buddhism arose in response to the problem of human suffering. More specifically, if we are all destined to become ill, grow old, and die, what is the point of life? Of course, this is the basic issue with which most religions grapple...After trying various approaches, the original Buddha came up with a core insight that life is infused with suffering because of our insatiable desires. As a result, we should strove to eliminate our desires, which will eliminate the suffering. This proposition may sound reasonable and simple, but putting it into practice is terribly difficult.” [Source: “Topics in Japanese Cultural History” by Gregory Smits, Penn State University figal-sensei.org ]
Buddhists believe: 1) life is full of suffering, death, sickness and the loss of loved ones; 2) life is perpetuated by reincarnation (rebirth); 3) suffering is caused by desire (particularly physical desire and the desire for personal fulfillment) and liberation from rebirth occurs with the elimination of desire; 4) eight steps ("The Eightfold Path") are necessary to live a good life on earth; 5) the only one way to escape suffering is the way of Buddha; 6) this path leads to nirvana; and 7) salvation comes with faith in Buddha and practice of Buddha law (“Dharma” ) as preached by a community of monks (the Sangha).
No Creator God in Buddhism
Sanskrit scholar R.P. Hayes wrote: “The Buddha pointed out that no God or priest nor any other kind of being has the power to interfere in the working out of someone else's Kamma. Buddhism, therefore, teaches the individual to take full responsibility for themselves. For example, if you want to be wealthy then be trustworthy, diligent and frugal, or if you want to live in a heaven realm then always be kind to others. There is no God to ask favours from, or to put it another way, there is no corruption possible in the workings of Kamma. [Source: R.P. Hayes, Buddhist Society of Western Australia, Buddha Sasana =|=]
“Do Buddhists believe that a Supreme Being created the universe? Buddhists would first ask which universe do you mean? This present universe, from the moment of the 'big bang' up to now, is but one among countless millions in Buddhist cosmology. The Buddha gave an estimate of the age of a single universe-cycle of around 37,000 million years which is quite plausible when compared to modern astrophysics. After one universe- cycle ends another begins, again and again, according to impersonal law. A Creator God is redundant in this scheme. =|=
“No being is a Supreme Saviour, according to the Buddha, because whether God, human, animal or whatever, all are subject to the Law of Kamma. Even the Buddha had no power to save. He could only point out the Truth so that the wise could see it for themselves. Everyone must take responsibility for their own future well being, and it is dangerous to give that responsibility to another. =|=
Downplaying Supernatural Gods in Buddhism
The Buddha was neither a deity nor a prophet, but a man who has awakened from ignorance to perfect enlightenment. According to the BBC: “Buddhism is a spiritual tradition that focuses on personal spiritual development and the attainment of a deep insight into the true nature of life. Buddhists seek to reach a state of nirvana, following the path of the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, who went on a quest for Enlightenment around the sixth century BC. The history of Buddhism is the story of one man's spiritual journey to enlightenment, and of the teachings and ways of living that developed from it. [Source: BBC |::|]
“There is no belief in a personal god. Buddhists believe that nothing is fixed or permanent and that change is always possible. The path to Enlightenment is through the practice and development of morality, meditation and wisdom. Buddhists believe that life is both endless and subject to impermanence, suffering and uncertainty. These states are called the tilakhana, or the three signs of existence. Existence is endless because individuals are reincarnated over and over again, experiencing suffering throughout many lives. It is impermanent because no state, good or bad, lasts forever. Our mistaken belief that things can last is a chief cause of suffering. |::|
“Many faiths offer supernatural solutions to the spiritual problems of human beings. Buddhism does not. The basis of all forms of Buddhism is to use meditation for awakening (or enlightenment), not outside powers. Supernatural powers are not disregarded but they are incidental and the Buddha warned against them as fetters on the path. There is no omnipotent creator God of the sort found in Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Gods exist as various types of spiritual being but with limited powers. Siddhartha Gautama was a man who became Buddha, the Awakened One - much in the same way as Jesus became Christ. Since his death the only contact with him is through his teachings which point to the awakened state. The Path to Enlightenment: Each being has to make their own way to enlightenment without the help of God or gods. Buddha's teachings show the way, but making the journey is up to us.” |::|
No-Self and Absence of a Soul in Buddhism
One of the most important, and hard to grasp, of all all Buddhist teachings is the doctrine of anatta, or "no-self". One of The Buddha's teachings about the cause of suffering was that it was a result of false illusions about the self. The self, or soul, or "essential person", was an illusion. Thus Buddhism does not teach that "you" are "soul" which is "reborn" (although certain forms of Hindu teaching may be understood in this way. Rather Buddhism teachers the "Mind" and "Mindfulness" exist, and that there is a karmic continuity between incarnations of mind. The link then is karmic, not essential. The Anattalakkhana Sutta is a document from the Pali canon of Buddhist scriptures in which the Buddha argues for this idea. [Source: Brooklyn College]
The Buddha said: [T]he belief in an [individual soul] is merely an illusion. Just as that which we designate by the name of "chariot," has no existence apart from axle, wheels, shaft, and so forth: or as the word "house" is merely a convenient designation for various materials put together after a certain fashion so as to enclose a portion of space, and there is no separate house-entity in existence:- in exactly the same way, that which we call a "being," or an "individual," or a "person," or by the name "I," is nothing but a changing combination of physical and psychical phenomena, and has no real existence in itself. [Source: Mario Bussagli, “5000 Years of the Art of India” (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., n.d.). Internet Archive, from CCNY]
The Sri Lankan monk Aryadasa Ratnasinghe wrote: “Buddhism stands unique since it denies in the existence of a soul (ego). Buddha said that the idea of a soul is an imaginary, false and baseless belief, which has no corresponding reality, but produces harmful thoughts, selfish desire, craving, attachment, hatred, ill-will, conceit, pride, egoism and other defilements, impurities and problems. In short, to this false view can be traced all the evils in the world which we experience. Soul is usually explained as the principle of life, the ultimate identity of a person or the immortal constituent of self.”
One introductory text on Buddhism says: “One of the most central of Buddhist ideas is that there is no self. The sense of self that we naively cling to is seen by the naked eye of meditation to be only a tenuous, ever-shifting amalgam of psychological elements, known traditionally as the five skandhas, or "heaps." . . . A key point is duality, which arises at the first skandha, form. Duality is a description for the most basic characteristic of the confused world of ego, the rudimentary building block of the suffering world of samsara.” [Source: Samuel Bercholz and Sherab Chödzin Kohn, eds., Entering the Stream: An Introduction to the Buddha and His Teachings, Shambala, 1993, p. 73.]
Smits wrote: “Notice the phrase "seen by the naked eye of meditation." Buddhist practice relies on various techniques of meditation, which, if practiced diligently over many years, enable practitioners to see themselves and their world in radically different ways. To really understand the Five Heaps, would require years of effort. Nevertheless, let us attempt to summarize them in relatively simple terms.” ~
Buddha's Sermon on the No-Self
Samyutta Nikaya XXII, 59 in the Anattalakkhana Sutta reads:One of the most important, and hard to grasp, of all all Buddhist teachings is the doctrine of anatta, or "no-self". One of Sakyamuni Buddha's teachings about the cause of suffering was that it was a result of false illusions about the self. The self, or soul, or "essential person", was an illusion. Thus Buddhism does not teach that "you" are "soul" which is "reborn" (although certain forms of Hindu teaching may be understood in this way. Rather Buddhism teachers the "Mind" and "Mindfulness" exist, and that there is a karmic continuity between incarnations of mind. The link then is karmic, not essential. The Anattalakkhana Sutta is a document from the Pali canon of Buddhist scriptures in which the Buddha argues for this idea. [Source: Brooklyn College]
I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One was staying at Varanasi in the Game Refuge at Isipatana. There he addressed the group of five monks: 'The body, monks, is not self. If the body were the self, this body would not lend itself to dis-ease. It would be possible (to say) with regard to the body, "Let my body be thus. Let my body not be thus." But precisely because the body is not self, the body lends itself to dis-ease. And it is not possible (to say) with regard to the body, "Let my body be thus. Let my body not be thus."
'Feeling is not self.... Perception is not self.... Mental processes are not self.... 'Consciousness is not self. If consciousness were the self, this consciousness would not lend itself to dis-ease. It would be possible (to say) with regard to consciousness, "Let my consciousness be thus. Let my consciousness not be thus." But precisely because consciousness is not self, consciousness lends itself to dis-ease. And it is not possible (to say) with regard to consciousness, "Let my consciousness be thus. Let my consciousness not be thus."
'How do you construe thus, monks — Is the body constant or inconstant?' 'Inconstant, Lord.' 'And is that which is inconstant easeful or stressful?' 'Stressful, Lord.' 'And is it fitting to regard what is inconstant, stressful, subject to change as: "This is mine. This is my self. This is what I am"?' 'No, Lord.' '...Is feeling constant or inconstant?.... Is perception constant or inconstant?.... Are mental processes constant or inconstant?.... 'Is consciousness constant or inconstant?' 'Inconstant, Lord.' 'And is that which is inconstant easeful or stressful?' 'Stressful, Lord.' 'And is it fitting to regard what is inconstant, stressful, subject to change as: "This is mine. This is my self. This is what I am"?' 'No, Lord.' 'Thus, monks, any body whatsoever — past, future, or present; internal or external; blatant or subtle, common or sublime, far or near: every body — is to be seen as it actually is with right discernment as: "This is not mine. This is not my self. This is not what I am." 'Any feeling whatsoever.... Any perception whatsoever.... Any mental processes whatsoever....
'Any consciousness whatsoever — past, future, or present; internal or external; blatant or subtle, common or sublime, far or near: every consciousness — is to be seen as it actually is with right discernment as: "This is not mine. This is not my self. This is not what I am." 'Seeing thus, the instructed Noble disciple grows disenchanted with the body, disenchanted with feeling, disenchanted with perception, disenchanted with mental processes, and disenchanted with consciousness. Disenchanted, he becomes dispassionate. Through dispassion, he is released. With release, there is the knowledge, "Released." He discerns that, "Birth is depleted, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world."' That is what the Blessed Onesaid. Glad at heart, the group of five monks delighted at his words. And while this explanation was being given, the hearts of the group of five monks, through no clinging (not being sustained), were released from the mental effluents.
Buddhism, Impermanence and Illusion
three baskets texts Buddhists believe there is no permanence; all things are ultimately illusions and there are only sequences of appearances that appear as reality. Death represents the trading of old appearances for new ones. Even gods are only temporary forms of appearance.
The belief that the world is not real but is a world of illusion lies at the heart of Mahayana Buddhist thought. Religious scholar Edward Conze wrote: “In actual reality there are no Buddhas, no Bodhisattvas, no perfections, no stages and no paradise — none of all this. All these conceptions have no reference to anything that is actually there. They are just expedients, concessions of the multitude of ignorant, provisional constructs of thought, which become superfluous after having served their purpose.”
Nirvana, as the true Reality, is one single and has no second. All multiplicity, all separation, all duality is a sign of falseness. Everything apart from the One, also called “Emptiness” or “Suchness” is devoid of real existence.”
True understanding of this reality is extremely subtle and abstruse and is said to take not just many years but many lifetimes to comprehend. According to the Perfect Wisdom sutra: “No one can grasp the perfection of wisdom, for no Dharma at all has been indicated, lit up or communicated. So there will be on one who can even grasp it.” Those taken into the consciousness of the gods found: “There is nothing at all to be understood! For nothing in particular has been indicated, nothing in particular has been explained.”
In a letter to National Geographic, San-Diego-resident Tim Cardoza wrote, “Enlightenment is not a permanent state to be achieved in the future. It happens in the present moment, breath by breath. The concept of a permanent state of enlightenment is the big romantic sham of Buddhism. I fell for it. It is a useful sham, though. Once the practice is started, it’s difficult to quit.”
Illusion of Soul
Sanskrit scholar R.P. Hayes wrote: The Buddha taught that there is no soul, no essential and permanent core to a living being. Instead, that which we call a 'living being', human or other, can be seen to be but a temporary coming together of many activities and parts - when complete it is called a 'living being', but after the parts separate and the activities cease it is not called a 'living being' anymore. Like an advanced computer assembled of many parts and activities, only when it is complete and performs coherent tasks is it called a 'computer', but after the parts are disconnected and the activities cease it is no longer called a 'computer'. No essential permanent core can be found which we can truly call 'the computer', just so, no essential permanent core can be found which we can call 'the soul'. [Source: R.P. Hayes, Buddhist Society of Western Australia, Buddha Sasana =|=]
“Yet Rebirth still occurs without a soul. Consider this simile: on a Buddhist shrine one candle, burnt low, is about to expire. A monk takes a new candle and lights it from the old. The old candle dies, the new candle burns bright. What went across from the old candle to the new? There was a causal link but no thing went across! In the same way, there was a causal link between your previous life and your present life, but no soul has gone across. =|=
“Indeed, the illusion of a soul is said by the Buddha to be the root cause of all human suffering. The illusion of 'soul' manifests as the 'Ego'. The natural unstoppable function of the Ego is to control. Big Egos want to control the world, average Egos try to control their immediate surroundings of home, family and workplace, and almost all Egos strive to control what they take to be their own body and mind. Such control manifests as desire and aversion, it results in a lack of both inner peace and outer harmony. It is this Ego that seeks to acquire possessions, manipulate others and exploit the environment. Its aim is its own happiness but it invariably produces suffering. It craves for satisfaction but it experiences discontent. Such deep- rooted suffering cannot come to an end until one sees, through deep and powerful meditation, that the idea 'me and mine' is no more than a mirage.
According to “Topics in Japanese Cultural History”: “We have seen that desires cause suffering, but to eliminate desires, we must first understand their source. What causes desires? From where do they originate? The basic answer is our sense of existence as a distinct individual, in other words, our sense of self. Nirvana is the complete absence of this sense of self. Without any sense of self whatsoever, a person cannot exist as a distinct individual. In our present state of self-ish existence, nirvana is inconceivable. But suffering is easily conceivable, and characterizing nirvana as the complete absence of suffering or liberation from suffering made its attainment an appealing goal to many in ancient India and elsewhere. [Source: “Topics in Japanese Cultural History” by Gregory Smits, Penn State University figal-sensei.org ~]
“If the sense of self is the source of desires that make our lives constant suffering, we must inquire into what constitutes this sense of self. What makes the thought "I am" seem natural, obvious, and unproblematic? According to basic Buddhist teaching, it is the "Five Heaps" called the "Five Aggregates" or "five skandhas") (1) matter or form; (2) sensation or perception; (3) conception; (4) volition; and (5) consciousness. The teaching that the Five Heaps constitutes our sense of self is extremely difficult to comprehend because it is so foreign to our common-"sensical" feeling that "of course, I am, I really am."~
Emptiness, Wisdom and Mahayana Buddhism
Mahayana Buddhism is very much preoccupied with the idea of “Emptiness” — which one scholar described as “absolute transcendental reality beyond the grasp of intellectual comprehension and verbal expression” — and reaching an “empty” selfless state by purging oneself of one’s self through self-sacrifice, service, insight and wisdom to penetrate to true reality or the “own-being” of things
Conze, wrote: “The perfection of wisdom finally is the ability to understand the essential properties of all processes and phenomena, their mutual relations, the conditions which bring about their rise and fall, and the ultimate unreality of their environmental existence. At the highest point it leads right into the Emptiness which is the one and only reality.”
The primary ontological beliefs in Mahayana Buddhism are :1) Thought in its natural state of “own-being” is perfectly pure and translucent; 2) empirical knowledge is regarded with suspicion and, in the view of some, is factitious; 3) all things are “empty”; 4) Emptiness expressed as “Suchness” or “one,” implies meaning that alone is real and absolute; 5) if all is the same then absolute and relative; conditional and unconditional; true and false ; and yes and no are all the same. With ths being the case self-contradictory statements are often closest to the true reality.
Tibetan monks debating
Perry Garfinkel wrote in National Geographic: “Some people argue that the Buddha was right, that Buddhism should not be categorized as a religion but as a philosophy or form of psychology. After all, unlike other religions, there is no supreme being, and it encourages you to question — even challenge — authority. [Source: Perry Garfinkel, National Geographic, December 2005]
Buddhists believe you shouldn’t delve too deeply into the past, speculating about the future is pointless and the present should be experienced as a state of being rather than analyzed. Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk who was exiled from Vietnam in the 1960s for his nonviolent antiwar activities, told National Geographic, “It all starts with a spin on an old adage: “Don't just do something, sit there...First you must learn what the Buddha learned, to still the mind. Then you don't take action; action takes you." [Ibid]
Philosophical discussions are especially important with Mahayana Buddhists. Monks engage in long philosophical discussions about thing like “What is change?’ and “What is right?” Novice monks learn the subtle points of Buddhist theology by participating in debates on things like whether or not a rabbit has a horn and whether or not past and future events can be described as real.
Some say Buddhism is more a science of the mind than a religion. Describing the Buddhist form of discussion, one American Buddhist told the New Yorker, “The philosophy of the mind” was presented as “a kind of brick-by-brick construction of proper view of consciousness. Each point was introduced, examined from the point of view of several different schools of Buddhist thought, then synthesized into a conclusion that led to the next point.”
Interdependence — the idea that all beings are linked together in a network known as Indra’s Net — is a key concept in Buddhist. Alan Wallace of the Interdisciplinary Study of Consciousness told Smithsonian magazine, “The pursuit of knowledge in Buddhism in inextricably related to the pursuit of virtue, and the pursuit of virtue is inextricably related to the pursuit of happiness.
The Buddha said "Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it; not in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations; not in anything because it is spoken and rumoured by many; not in anything because it is found written in your spiritual texts; not in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders, but only after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it". (Kalama Sutta).
Existence, Mind and Thoughts
On the characteristics of existence, The Buddha said: Corporeality is transient, feeling is transient, perception is transient, mental formations are transient, consciousness is transient . . . . Suppose, a man who is not blind, were to behold the many bubbles on the Ganges as they are driving along; and he should watch them, and carefully examine them. After carefully examining them, they will appear to him empty, unreal, and unsubstantial. In exactly the same way, does the monk behold all the corporeal phenomena, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and states of consciousness- whether they be of the past, or the present, or the future, far, or near. And he watches them, and examines them carefully; and, after carefully examining them, they appear to him empty, void, and without an [individual soul]. Whoso delights in corporeality, or feeling, or perception, or mental formations, or consciousness, he delights in suffering; and whoso delights in suffering, will not be freed from suffering. . . . In deepest darkness you are wrapped! Why do you not seek for the light? . . . All life must truly end in death. [Source: Mario Bussagli, “5000 Years of the Art of India” (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., n.d.). Internet Archive, from CCNY]
On the Silent Thinker, The Buddha said: "I am" is a vain thought; "I am not" is a vain thought; "I shall be" is a vain thought; "I shall not be" is a vain thought. Vain thoughts are a sickness, an ulcer, a thorn. But after overcoming all vain thoughts, one is called "a silent thinker." And the thinker, the Silent One, does no more arise, no more pass away, no more tremble, no more desire. For there is nothing in him that he should arise again. And as he arises no more, how should he grow old again? And as he grows no more old, how should he die again? And as he dies no more, how should he tremble? And as he trembles no more, how should he have desire? All that we are is the result of what we have thought: it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts. — Dhammapada Chapter 1:1-2
Like as a mother at the risk of her life watches over her only child, so also let every one cultivate towards all beings a boundless (friendly) mind.—Metta-sutta. [Source: “The Essence of Buddhism” Edited by E. Haldeman-Julius, 1922, Project Gutenberg]
With every desire to do good, the ignorant and foolish only succeed in doing harm.... 'Tis knowledge crowns endeavor with success.—Jataka.
Watch your thoughts.—Dhammapada.
May my thoughts, now small and narrow, expand in the next existence, that I may understand the precepts ... thoroughly, and never break them or be guilty of trespasses.—Inscription in Temple of Nakhon Vat.
Use no perfume but sweetness of thoughts.—Siamese Buddhist Maxim.
A contented mind is always joyful.—Fo-sho-hing-tsan-king.
To feed a single good man is infinitely greater in point of merit, than attending to questions about heaven and earth, spirits and demons, such as occupy ordinary men.—Sutra of Forty-two Sections.
If you remove (from conduct) the purpose of the mind, the bodily act is but as rotten wood. Wherefore regulate the mind, and the body of itself will go right.—Fo-sho-hing-tsan-king.
The mind must be brought under perfect subjection.—Inscription on Votive Images.
He whose mind is subdued and perfectly controlled is happy.—Udanavarga.
If only the thoughts be directed to that which is right, then happiness must necessarily follow.—Fa-kheu-pi-u.
Buddhist Sources on The Self, Truth-Seeking, Salvation and Self Examination
Buddhism teaches inner peace leads to outer peace. The Buddha said: “The purpose of the Holy Life does not consist in acquiring alms, honor, or fame, nor in gaining morality, concentration, or the eye of knowledge. That unshakable deliverance of the heart: that, verily, is the object of the Holy Life, that is its essence, that is its goal. [Source: Mario Bussagli,”5000 Years of the Art of India” (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., n.d.). Internet Archive, from CCNY] The faults of others are easily seen; one's own faults are difficult to see.—Udanavarga. [Source: “The Essence of Buddhism” Edited by E. Haldeman-Julius, 1922, Project Gutenberg]
Self-examination is painful.—Pillar Inscriptions of Asoka.
The fool thinks himself alone and commits sin. But I know of no lonely place at all.... Of a bad action my "Self" is a witness far more sharp-sighted than any other person.—Jatakamala.
What has been designated "name" and "family" ... is but a term.—Vasettha-sutta.
Though a man conquer a thousand thousand men in battle, a greater conqueror still is he who conquers himself.—Udanavarga.
Root out the love of self.—Jataka.
The body may wear the ascetic's garb, the heart be immersed in worldly thoughts: ... the body may wear a worldly guise, the heart mount high to things celestial.—Fo-sho-hing-tsan-king.
A man winnows his neighbor's faults like chaff: his own he hides, as a cheat the bad die from the gambler.—Dhammapada.
Those who search after truth should have a heart full of sympathy.—Story of Virudhaka.
Let us then practice good works, and inspect our thoughts that we do no evil. —Fo-sho-hing-tsan-king.
Now, therefore, it behooves me to examine into my faults; and if I find anything wrong in me, to put it away, and practice virtue only.—Jataka.
He speaks truth unmixed with falsehood.—Samanna-phala-sutta.
Work out your own salvation with diligence.—Mahaparinibbana-sutta.
Have you not heard what Buddha says in the Sutra (where he bids his followers), not to despise the little child?—Ta-chwang-yan-king-lun.
In this mode of salvation there are no distinctions of rich and poor, male and female, people and priests: all are equally able to arrive at the blissful state.—From a Chinese Buddhist Tract.
Even the most unworthy who seeks for salvation is not to be forbidden. —Ta-chwang-yan-king-lun.
Importance of Inquiry and Being Down to Earth
R.P. Hayes, formerly Professor of Sanskrit at McGill University in Canada, wrote: “The Buddha warned strongly against blind faith and encouraged the way of truthful inquiry. In one of His best known sermons, the Kalama Sutta, the Buddha pointed out the danger in fashioning one's beliefs merely on the following grounds: on hearsay, on tradition, because many others say it is so, on the authority of ancient scriptures, on the word of a supernatural being, or out of trust in one's teachers, elders, or priests. Instead one maintains an open mind and thoroughly investigates one's own experience of life. When one sees for oneself that a particular view agrees with both experience and reason, and leads to the happiness of one and all, then one should accept that view and live up to it! [Source:R.P. Hayes, Buddhist Society of Western Australia, Buddha Sasana =|=]
“This principle, of course, applies to the Buddha's own Teachings. They should be considered and inquired into using the clarity of mind born of meditation. Only when one sees these Teachings for oneself in the experience of insight, do these Teachings become one's Truth and give blissful liberation. =|=
“The traveller on the way of inquiry needs the practice of tolerance. Tolerance does not mean that one embraces every idea or view but means one doesn't get angry at what one can't accept. Further along the journey, what one once disagreed with might later be seen to be true. So in the spirit of tolerant inquiry, here are some more of the basic Teachings as the Buddha gave them. =|=
“The main Teaching of the Buddha focuses not on philosophical speculations about a Creator God or the origin of the universe, nor on a heaven world ever after. The Teaching, instead, is centred on the down-to- earth reality of human suffering and the urgent need to find lasting relief from all forms of discontent. The Buddha gave the simile of a man shot by a poison-tipped arrow who, before he would call a doctor to treat him, demanded to know first who shot the arrow and where the arrow was made and of what and by whom and when and where ... this foolish man would surely die before his questions could be well answered. In the same way, the Buddha said, the urgent need of our existence is to find lasting relief from recurrent suffering which robs us of happiness and leaves us in strife. Philosophical speculations are of secondary importance and, anyway, they are best left until after one has well trained the mind in meditation to the stage where one has the ability to examine the matter clearly and find the Truth for oneself.” =|=
Buddhist Sources on Perfection and Self Denial
To attain perfection that he may profit others.—Fo-pen-hing-tsih-king. [Source: “The Essence of Buddhism” Edited by E. Haldeman-Julius, 1922, Project Gutenberg]
The present is an imperfect existence: ... I pray for greater perfection in the next.—Inscription in Temple of Nakhon Vat.
Fulfil the perfection of long-suffering; be thou patient under ... reproach.—Introduction to Jataka Book.
My duty is to bear all the insults which the heretics launch against me.—Buddhaghosa's Parables.
Silently shall I endure abuse, as the elephant in battle endures the arrow sent from the bow.—Dhammapada.
Let not the member of Buddha's order tremble at blame, neither let him puff himself up when praised.—Tuvataka-sutta.
The end of the pleasures of sense is as the lightning flash: ... what profit, then, in doing iniquity?—Fo-sho-hing-tsan-king.
How should I be capable of leaving thee in thy calamity?... Whatever fate may be thine I am pleased with it.—Jatakamala.
Buddhist Sources on Purity and Happiness
The higher life maketh he known, in all its purity and in all its perfectness.—Tevijja-sutta. [Source: “The Essence of Buddhism” Edited by E. Haldeman-Julius, 1922, Project Gutenberg]
When pure rules of conduct are observed, then there is true religion.—Fo-sho-hing-tsan-king.
No man can purify another.—Dhammapada.
Like as the lotus is untarnished by the water, so is Nirvana by any evil dispositions.—Questions of King Milinda.
Spotless even as the moon, pure, serene, and undisturbed.—Vasettha-sutta.
If thou be born in the poor man's hovel, yet have wisdom, then wilt thou be like the lotus-flower growing out of the mire.—Jitsu-go-kiyo.
Whatsoever living beings there are, feeble or strong, small or large, seen or not seen, may all creatures be happy-minded.—Metta-sutta. [Source: “The Essence of Buddhism” Edited by E. Haldeman-Julius, 1922, Project Gutenberg]
All beings desire happiness; therefore to all extend your benevolence.—Mahavamsa.
Happy is he that is virtuous—Dhammapada.
To make an end of selfishness is happiness.—Udanavarga.
There is no happiness except in righteousness.—Attanagalu-vansa.
Full of love for all things in the world, practicing virtue in order to benefit others—this man only is happy.—Fa-kheu-pi-u.
He that loveth iniquity beckoneth to misfortune.—Jitsu-go-kiyo.
Let us then live happily, though we call nothing our own.—Dhammapada.
With no selfish or partial joy ... they rejoiced.—Fo-sho-hing-tsan-king.
Five Aggregates Of Clinging: Basis of Being
Bhikkhu Bodhi, the Theravada Buddhist scholar wrote: “The Buddha reveals that what we are, our being or personality, is a composite of five factors which are called the five aggregates of clinging. They are called the five aggregates of clinging because they form the basis for clinging. Whatever we cling to can be found amongst the five aggregates. These five function together as the instrument for our experience of the world. We cling to them as instruments of our experience in this life, and when they break up at death, due to that same clinging - the desire for enjoyment and for existence - a new set of aggregates, a new life arises to continue our experience in another existence. Thus we build up one set of aggregates after another, life after life, and in that way we accumulate Dukkha, the suffering, in the round of samsara. ***
“The Buddha says that the five aggregates have to be fully understood. This is the first Noble Truth, the truth of Dukkha. The five aggregates are our burden, but at the same time they provide us with the indispensable soil of wisdom. To bring suffering to an end we have to turn our attention around and see into the nature of the aggregates. ***
“The five aggregates are: 1) Material form; 2) Feelings; 3) Perceptions; 4) Mental formations; and 5) Consciousness. These five aggregates exhaust our psychophysical existence. Any event, any occurrence, any element in the mind-body process can be put into one of these five aggregates. There is nothing in this whole experiential process that lies outside them. ***
“All these four mental aggregates always exist together; they all depend upon one another. Whenever there is any experience of an object, at that moment there is present, simultaneously, a feeling, a perception, a cluster of mental formations and consciousness, the light of awareness. Whatever we identify ourselves with, whatever we take to be 'I', or 'my self' can be found within these five agggregates. Therefore if we care to understand ourselves, what we have to understand is the five aggregates. To fully understand the five aggregates means to see them as they really are, and this means to see them in terms of the three characteristics of existence, that is, impermanence, unsatisfactoriness or suffering, and selflessness or non-self.” ***
According to “Topics in Japanese Cultural History”: The first heap (aggregate), “"form," is a state of ignorance. For some reason (and I have yet to see a clear explanation given — it seems an article of faith), humans began to notice that the world around them was separate from themselves. It really was not separate, but people nevertheless began to notice forms distinct from themselves instead of undifferentiated, open space. Having made the mistake of seeing the surrounding world as something separate, people defensively seek to preserve this incorrect vision. They do so by trying to experience that separate world through sensory perceptions. "So we begin to reach out and feel the qualities of 'other.' By doing this we reassure ourselves that we exist" (Entering the Stream, p. 77, words of Chögyam Trungpa.) Feeling is the second heap. [Source: “Topics in Japanese Cultural History” by Gregory Smits, Penn State University figal-sensei.org ~]
“Fascinated with what the senses have created, people seek to explore it further, resulting in the third heap of conception. People create categories, distinctions, and theories to explain their differentiated world. They receive information from "outside" themselves and react to it on the basis of these categories, distinctions, and theories. The fourth heap, volition, is much like the third. The major difference is that the third is a passive process, the result of reacting to incoming information. In the fourth heap, the process becomes active. Human agents volitionally seek to name, classify and categorize all existence. People become obsessed with attaching names to the artificial realities they have created. ~
“Consciousness, the fifth heap, is the culmination of the previous four to produce the thoughts and emotions that for most people define their individual identities and their world views. At this stage, "we find the six realms [see Chapter 4] as well as the uncontrollable and illogical patterns of discursive thought" (Entering the Stream, p. 79.) At this point, desires connected with the false sense of self feed on each other, making life constant suffering and, as karma, propelling us from one existence into another.” ~
“Human actions continually reaffirm the false sense of self. Language is the ultimate tool for affirming the artificial world of names, categories and distinctions, making it seem obvious and real, and blocking out any possibility of perceiving the undifferentiated unity that exists prior to the Five Heaps. The nonstop internal conversation most people carry on inside their heads while awake may be the single greatest obstacle to enlightenment.” ~
Illusions, Perversions and Miracles
The Buddha says: 1) All formations are impermanent. 2) All formations are unsatisfactory. And 3) All phenomena, everything whatsoever, are not self.
Bhikkhu Bodhi wrote: “The Buddha says that we have to examine our experience in order to discover its most pervasive features, the universal characteristics of phenomena, namely, impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and egolessness or notself. Formations are things which arise from causes and conditions. They include all compounded or formed phenomena. Although all formations around us have these three characteristics, we are unable to see them because our minds are ordinarily cloaked by ignorance. Ignorance is a mental factor which has been covering the minds of all sentient beings through beginningless time. It covers the minds of every one but the fully enlightened ones, the Buddhas and the arahants. ***
“Ignorance functions in two ways, negative and positive. On the negative side it simply obstructs us from seeing things as they are; it throws up clouds of mental darkness. On the positive side, it creates in the mind illusions called perversions. Due to these perversions, we see things in quite the opposite way from the way they really are. These perversions are: 1) Perversion of seeing what is unattractive as attractive; 2) Perversion of seeing what is Dukkha or unsatisfactory as pleasurable; 3) Perversion of seeing what is impermanent as permanent; and 4) Perversion of seeing what is really not self as self. ***
“These illusions give rise to craving, conceit, wrong view and all other defilements, and in that way we become entangled in dukkha. These universal characteristics have to be understood in two stages: first intellectually, by reflection; and thereafter by direct insight or realisation through insight meditation. When we explain these intellectually, we should not make this a substitute for practice, but only take it as a guideline for understanding what has to be seen by the actual practice of insight meditation.” ***
the Buddha performed miracles that won him admirers but he warned his disciples not to show off their powers Kenneth Woodward wrote in Newsweek: Both Hinduism and Buddhism are quite precise about the kinds of powers or "superknowledges" that a successful practitioner of meditation can expect. Among them are knowledge of one's previous lives, and the abilities to traverse great distances in a moment and to penetrate the minds of others. But Buddhist sages, in particular, are wary of displaying these powers to others, lest it bolster the ego they are trying to overcome. Venerable Master Hsuan Hua, a Chinese Buddhist monk, established a Chan monastery in San Francisco in 1970. In Asia, it is reported that he could heal the ailments of those willing to follow the dharma of the Buddha. But in the United States, where he died in 1995, Master Hua thought that using supernatural powers as a teaching tool would be counterproductive in a rational, scientific society.” However “the "modern" shrine tradition may well have begun 2,500 years ago, when the bones of the deceased Buddha were distributed as relics to tribal chieftains. Later they were collected and enshrined in stupas across northern India. [Source: Kenneth Woodward, Newsweek, April 30, 2000]
Dependent origination is the idea that what seems permanent and "real" is but the product of sensory creation, one thing creating another without stop. Also known as the “Chain of Causation” or “Conditions Arising,” it is a central theme in Buddhist philosophy and is viewed as a 12-linked chain that explains how things are connected and attachments leads to problems. If the chain is unraveled nirvana is attained. While The Buddha sat under the Bodhi he came to the realization that: “He who sees dependent see Dharma. He who sees Dharma sees dependent origination.” Hunter defines dependent origination as “an abstract law of continency denying independent existence to finite thing, though not denying their total reality. Such reality as they have is conditional on occurrence of something else that has already taken place and is conditioned by it.”
Dependent origination operates in three modes within the context of karma and reincarnation: 1) the Past (conditioned by karmic formation or ignorance of karmic formations); 2) the Present (conditioned by consciousness defined by names and shapes; names and shapes detected with the senses; the impact of the senses on feelings; the relationship between feelings and cravings, grasping and becoming); and 3) the Future (conditioned by rebirth, living and dying). Implied in this construct is that transcendence can be achieved by overcoming each stage in a kind of step by step progression with the understanding that if one stage can be overcome the stages before can also be overcome.
In his sermon on dependent origination, Buddha said:
On ignorance depends karma;
On karma depends consciousness;
On consciousness depends name and form;
On name and form depend the six organs of sense;
On the six organs of sense depends contact;
On contact depends sensation;
On sensation depends desire;
On attachment depends existence;
On existence depends birth;
On birth depend old age and death, sorrow, lamentation, misery, grief, and despair.
Thus does the entire aggregation of misery arise. (Indian Philosophy, p. 278.)
The Buddha taught that growth and development through dependent origination was a 12-stage process that was like a circular chain, not a straight line, with each stage giving rise to the one directly after it: 1) Ignorance: inability to see the truth, depicted by a blind man; 2) Willed action: actions that shape our emerging consciousness, depicted by a potter moulding clay; 3) Conditioned consciousness: the development of habits, blindly responding to the impulses of karmic conditioning, represented by a monkey swinging about aimlessly. [Source: BBC |::|]
4) Form and existence: a body comes into being to carry our karmic inheritance, represented by a boat carrying men; 5) The six sense-organs: eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body (touch) and mind, the way sensory information passes into us, represented by the doors and windows of a house; 6) Sense-impressions: the combination of sense-organ and sensory information, represented by two lovers; 7) Sensation: the feelings we get from sense-impressions, which are so vivid that they blind us, represented by a man shot in the eye with an arrow; |::|
8) Craving (tanha): negative desires that can never be sated, represented by a man drinking; 9) Attachment: grasping at things we think will satisfy our craving, represented by someone reaching out for fruit from a tree; 10) Becoming: worldly existence, being trapped in the cycle of life, represented by a pregnant woman; 11) Birth: represented by a woman giving birth; 12) Old age and death: grief, suffering and despair, the direct consequences of birth, represented by an old man. |::|
See Wheel of Life
Buddha Boy in Nepal
Reporting from Bara, Nepal, Raekha Prasad wrote in the Times of London: “Some closed their eyes and clasped their hands in prayer, others knelt and touched their foreheads to the cool earth beneath a canopy of trees deep in the forest of southern Nepal. By early morning hundreds of people had already reached this hidden spot at the end of a mist-shrouded mud track. All had come to see the teenage boy they believe to be a reincarnation of Buddha, sitting silently beneath a peepul tree. [Source: Raekha Prasad, The Times, December 5, 2005]
“Since word spread that Ram Bahadur Bamjan, the 16-year-old son of a maize farmer in a nearby village, has not eaten or drunk in the six months that he has been meditating in the lotus position, tens of thousands of devotees from across Nepal and India have flocked to Char Koshe jungle to worship him. The teenager sat in an alcove of exposed peepul roots. His closed eyes were framed by a messy mop of hair, and a brown robe draped over one shoulder exposed his right arm and hand. [Ibid]
“Having heard that early morning was the time to witness light emanating from the boy’s brow and hand, the pilgrims had set off before dawn to walk miles over a rocky path before removing their shoes and shuffling in a snaking crowd to a fence strewn with marigolds, candles and burning incense. Around the enclosure, local people touted picture postcards, booklets and CDs telling the story of the boy’s life. Makeshift food and tea stalls run by villagers had sprung up. Allowed no closer to Ram Bamjan than 50 metres after concerns that the huge crowds were disturbing his concentration, the devotees stood on tip-toe, craning their necks to catch a glimpse of the distant figure.
“I saw a reddish-yellow light on his forehead. A few minutes later I saw it on his hand. It’s real. I’ve never seen anything like it,” Dhanbaha Durgurung, 60, a retired Gurkha in the British Army, said. He had made the ten-hour journey from his home in Pokhara, in central Nepal, after hearing a BBC radio report about the boy. “I had to see it for myself,” he said. “I believe he’s the reincarnation of Buddha. I’m going to come back in a week and bring my whole family.” The spectacle resembles an episode in the life of Buddha, who found enlightenment more than 2,500 years ago after 49 days under a peepul tree. He was born only 257km (160 miles) from Bara in 540BC. [Ibid]
In the nearby village of Ratanpur, Maya Devi, 50, the mother of Ram Bamjan, said that her son had changed after spending almost two years in Buddhist monasteries in India, including Bodh Gaya, the spot in the state of Bihar where Buddha gained enlightenment. “He had always been a loner, but when he returned from India he just stayed at home and would chant and study Buddhist scripts,” she said, opening a cupboard in her son’s sparse bedroom that was filled with his red, satin-bound religious books.
Maya Devi was sad to see the sixth of her nine children go. He did not tell his family that he planned to live in the forest and crept out during the night to avoid being followed. She said: “I didn’t want him to stay away from home at night in the jungle. It’s a dangerous place. If he had not been called there by God, he would not have survived for so long.” Villagers say that last month Ram shook off the effects of a poisonous snake bite. He apparently told an older brother that he did not want to be followed into the forest and that he was not a Buddha. He said: “I’ve got my education directly from God, but what I’ve learnt I’m not revealing now. I need six years of meditation.”
Local officials have asked scientific and religious bodies in Nepal to investigate whether the claims about the boy are true. In particular they want to know what happens when a curtain screens the boy from observers at night. There have been suggestions that the boy is part of a plot by left-wing guerrillas to collect money from gullible villagers, but officials are hampered by a group of minders who refuse to allow anyone to disturb him. Santa Raj Subedi, the chief government official in Bara, said: “The strength of religious belief means our hands are tied. We can’t just march in and interfere. Besides, being able to meditate is a human right. We can’t stop anyone doing it.” Maya Devi is undecided about whether her son is the reincarnation of Buddha. “He’s certainly extraordinary,” she said. “But I’ll wait until after his six years of meditation to decide whether he’s a god.”
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, Kalachakranet.org (shambala), Julie Chao (Yawning monks) and Joho (debating monks)
Text Sources: East Asia History Sourcebook sourcebooks.fordham.edu , “Topics in Japanese Cultural History” by Gregory Smits, Penn State University figal-sensei.org, Asia for Educators, Columbia University afe.easia.columbia, Asia Society Museum asiasocietymuseum.org , “The Essence of Buddhism” Edited by E. Haldeman-Julius, 1922, Project Gutenberg, Virtual Library Sri Lanka lankalibrary.com “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “Encyclopedia of the World's Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures: Volume 5 East and Southeast Asia” edited by Paul Hockings (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1993); “ National Geographic, the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated September 2018