Why Do Buddhists Avoid Attachment?

 Wheel in an empty sky; Image © Copyright J.B. Hare 1999, All Rights ReservedBuddhism

“Attachment” May Not Mean What You Think It Does

Buddha With Birds

 

 Birds perch on a Buddha in Trincomalee, Sri Lanka. © Cyrille Gibot / Getty Images

The principle of non-attachment is key to understanding and practicing Buddhist religious philosophy, but like so many concepts in Buddhism, it can confuse and even discourage many newcomers to the philosophy.

Such a reaction is common to people, especially from the West, as they begin to explore Buddhism. If this philosophy that is supposed to be about joy, they wonder, why does it spend so much time saying that life is inherently full of suffering (dukkha), that non-attachment is a goal, and that a recognition of emptiness (​shunyata) is a step toward enlightenment?

All those things sound discouraging, even depressing at first glance.

But Buddhism is indeed a philosophy of joy, and the confusion among newcomers is partly because the words from the Sanskrit language do not have exact translations in English, and partly because the personal frame of reference for Westerners is much, much different than that of Eastern cultures.

So let’s explore the concept of non-attachment as used in Buddhist philosophy. To understand it, though, you’ll need to understand its place within the overall structure of basic Buddhist philosophy and practice. The basic premises of Buddhism are known as the Four Noble Truths. 

THE BASICS OF BUDDHISM

The First Noble Truth: Life is “Suffering.”
The Buddha taught that life as we currently know is full of suffering, the closest English translation of the word dukkha. The word has many connotations, including “unsatisfactoriness,” which is perhaps the translation that might be better suited.

So to say that life is suffering means, really, that there is a vague feeling that things are not entirely satisfactory, not quite right. A recognition of this vague dissatisfaction and suffering is what constitutes what Buddhism called the First Noble Truth.

It is possible to know the reason for this “suffering” or dissatisfaction, though, and it comes from three sources.

First, we are dissatisfied because we don’t really understand the true nature of things. This confusion is most often translated as ignorance or avidya, and its principle feature is that we aren’t aware of the interconnectedness of all things. We imagine, for example, that there is a “self” or “I” that exists independently and separately from all other phenomena. This is perhaps the central misconception identified by Buddhism, and it leads to the next two reasons for dukkha or suffering.

The Second Noble Truth: Here Are the Reasons for Our Suffering
Our reaction to this misunderstanding about our separateness in the world leads to either attachment/grasping/clinging on the one hand, or aversion/hatred on the other hand. It’s important to know that the Sanskrit word for the first concept, Upadana, does not have an exact translation in English; its literal meaning is “fuel,” though it is often translated to mean “attachment.” Similarly, the Sanskrit word for aversion/hatred, devesha, also does not have a literal English translation. Together, these three problems—ignorance, clinging/attachment and aversion—are known as the Three Poisons, and a recognition of them forms the Second Noble Truth.

Now, perhaps, you can begin to see where non-attachment may come into the picture since we will later see that it is an antidote to one of the Three Poisons.

The Third Noble Truth: It Is Possible to End the Suffering
The Buddha also taught that it is possible NOT to suffer. This is central to the joyful optimism of Buddhism—the recognition that a cessation to dukkha is possible. The essence of this cessation is nothing more than to relinquish the delusion and ignorance that fuel both the attachment/clinging and the aversion/hatred that makes life so unsatisfying. The cessation of that suffering has a name that is quite well known to almost everyone: Nirvana.

The Fourth Noble Truth: Here Is the Path to Ending the Suffering
Finally, the Buddha taught a series of practical rules and methods for moving from a condition of ignorance/attachment/aversion (dukkha) to a permanent state of joy/satisfaction (nirvana).

Among those methods is the famous Eight-Fold Path, a set of practical advisory recommendations for living, designed to move practitioners along the route to nirvana.

THE PRINCIPLE OF NON-ATTACHMENT

Non-attachment, then, is really an antidote to the attachment/clinging problem described in the Second Noble Truth. For if attachment/clinging is a condition of finding life unsatisfactory, it stands to reason that nonattachment is a condition conducive to satisfaction with life, a condition of nirvana.

It is important to note, though, that the advice is not to detach or un-attach from people in your life or from your experiences, but rather to simply recognize the non-attachment that is inherent to begin with. This is a rather key difference between Buddhist and other religious philosophies. While other religions seek to achieve some state of grace through hard work and active repudiation, Buddhism teaches that we are inherently joyful and that it is really a matter of simply surrendering and relinquishing our misguided habits and preconceptions that will allow us to experience the essential Buddahood that is within us all.

When we simply relax the illusion that we have a “self” that exists separately and independently from other people and phenomenon, we suddenly recognize that there is no need to detach or un-attach, because we have always been interconnected with all things at all times. Much the way it is an illusion to call the various oceans separate bodies of water when in fact they are part of one large ocean, it is similarly an illusion to imagine that we exist in a distinct separateness from the rest of the world.

Zen teacher John Daido Loori said,

“[A]ccording to the Buddhist point of view, non-attachment is exactly the opposite of separation. You need two things in order to have attachment: the thing you’re attaching to, and the person who’s attaching. In non-attachment, on the other hand, there’s unity. There’s unity because there’s nothing to attach to. If you have unified with the whole universe, there’s nothing outside of you, so the notion of attachment becomes absurd. Who will attach to what?”

To live in non-attachment means that we recognize there was never anything to attach or cling to in the first place. And for those who can truly recognize this, it is indeed a position of joyfulness.

Right Mindfulness: A Foundation of Buddhist Practice

 Wheel in an empty sky; Image © Copyright J.B. Hare 1999, All Rights ReservedBuddhism

Baby Owls

 

© kuritafsheen / Getty Images

Right Mindfulness traditionally is the seventh part of the Eightfold Path of Buddhism, but that doesn’t mean it is seventh in importance. Each part of the path supports the other seven parts, and so they should be thought of as connected in a circle or woven into a web rather than stacked in an order of progression.

Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh says that Right Mindfulness is at the heart of the Buddha’s teaching.

“When Right Mindfulness is present, the Four Noble Truths and the other seven elements of the Eightfold Path are also present.” (The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, p. 59)

WHAT IS MINDFULNESS?

The Pali word for “mindfulness” is sati (in Sanskrit, smriti). Sati can also mean “retention,” “recollection,” or “alertness.” Mindfulness is a whole-body-and-mind awareness of the present moment. To be mindful is to be fully present, not lost in daydreams, anticipation, indulgences, or worry.

Mindfulness also means observing and releasing habits of mind that maintain the illusion of a separate self. This includes dropping the mental habit of judging everything according to whether we like it or not. Being fully mindful means being fully attentive to everything as-it-is, not filtering everything through our subjective opinions.

WHY MINDFULNESS IS IMPORTANT

It’s important to understand Buddhism as a discipline or process rather than as a belief system.

The Buddha did not teach doctrines about enlightenment, but rather taught people how to realize enlightenment themselves. And the way we realize enlightenment is through direct experience. It is through mindfulness that we experience directly, with no mental filters or psychological barriers between us and what is experienced.

The Ven. Henepola Gunaratana, a Theravada Buddhist monk and teacher, explains in the book Voices of Insight (edited by Sharon Salzberg) that mindfulness is essential to help us see beyond symbols and concepts. “Mindfulness is pre-symbolic. It is not shackled to logic,” he says. “The actual experience lies beyond the words and above the symbols.”

MINDFULNESS AND MEDITATION

The sixth, seventh and eighth parts of the Eightfold Path — Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration — together are the mental development needed to release us from suffering.

Meditation is practiced in many schools of Buddhism as part of mental development. The Sanskrit word for meditation, bhavana, means “mental culture,” and all forms of Buddhist meditation involve mindfulness. In particular, shamatha (“peaceful dwelling”) meditation develops mindfulness; people sitting in shamatha train themselves to stay alert to the present moment, observing and then releasing thoughts instead of chasing them. Satipatthana vipassana meditation is a similar practice found in Theravada Buddhism that is primarily about developing mindfulness.

In recent years there has been a growing interest in mindfulness meditation as part of psychotherapy.

Some psychotherapists find that mindfulness meditation as an adjunct to counseling and other treatments can help troubled people learn to release negative emotions and thought habits.

However, mindfulness-as-psychotherapy is not without critics. See “The Mindfulness Controversy: Mindfulness as Therapy.”

FOUR FRAMES OF REFERENCE

The Buddha said there are four frames of reference in mindfulness:

  1. Mindfulness of body (kayasati).
  2. Mindfulness of feelings or sensations (vedanasati).
  3. Mindfulness of mind or mental processes (cittasati).
  4. Mindfulness of mental objects or qualities (dhammasati).

Have you ever suddenly just noticed that you had a headache, or that your hands were cold, and realized you’d been feeling these things for a while but weren’t paying attention? Mindfulness of body is just the opposite of that; being fully aware of your body, your extremities, your bones, your muscles.

And the same thing goes for the other frames of reference — being fully aware of sensations, aware of your mental processes, aware of the phenomena all around you.

The teachings of the Five Skandhas are related to this, and are worth reviewing as you begin to work with mindfulness.

THREE FUNDAMENTAL ACTIVITIES

The Venerable Gunaratana says mindfulness comprises three fundamental activities.

1. Mindfulness reminds us of what we are supposed to be doing. If we are sitting in meditation, it brings us back to the focus of meditation. If we are washing dishes, it reminds us to pay full attention to washing the dishes.

2. In mindfulness, we see things as they really are. The Venerable Gunaratana writes that our thoughts have a way of pasting over reality, and concepts and ideas distort what we experience.

3. Mindfulness sees the true nature of phenomena. In particular, through mindfulness we directly see the three characteristics or marks of existence — it is imperfect, temporary and egoless.

PRACTICING MINDFULNESS

Changing the mental habits and conditioning of a lifetime is not easy. And this training is not something that only happens during meditation, but throughout the day.

If you have a daily chanting practice, chanting in a focused, fully attentive way is mindfulness training. It can also be helpful to choose a particular activity such as preparing a meal, cleaning the floors, or taking a walk, and make an effort to be fully mindful of the task as you perform it. In time you will find yourself paying more attention to everything.

Zen teachers say that if you miss the moment, you miss your life. How much of our lives have we missed? Be mindful!

Buddhism and Equanimity

 Wheel in an empty sky; Image © Copyright J.B. Hare 1999, All Rights ReservedBuddhism

Why Equanimity Is an Essential Buddhist Virtue

balance.jpg

 

© Ascent XMedia / Getty Images

The English word equanimity refers to a state of being calm and balanced, especially in the midst of difficulty. In Buddhism, equanimity (in Pali, upekkha; in Sanskrit, upeksha) is one of the Four Immeasurables or four great virtues (along with compassion, loving kindness, and sympathetic joy) that the Buddha taught his disciples to cultivate.

But is being calm and balanced all there is to equanimity?

And how does one develop equanimity?

DEFINITIONS OF UPEKKHA

Although translated as “equanimity,” the precise meaning of upekkha seems hard to pin down. According to Gil Fronsdal, who teaches at the Insight Meditation Center in Redwood City, California, the word upekkha literally means “to look over.” However, a Pali/Sanskrit glossary I consulted says it means “not taking notice; to disregard.”

According to Theravadin monk and scholar, Bhikkhu Bodhi, the word upekkha in the past has been mistranslated as “indifference,” which has caused many in the West to believe, mistakenly, that Buddhists are supposed to be detached and unconcerned with other beings. What it really means is to not be ruled by passions, desires, likes, and dislikes. The Bhikkhu continues,

“It is evenness of mind, unshakeable freedom of mind, a state of inner equipoise that cannot be upset by gain and loss, honor and dishonor, praise and blame, pleasure and pain. Upekkha is freedom from all points of self-reference; it is indifference only to the demands of the ego-self with its craving for pleasure and position, not to the well-being of one’s fellow human beings.”

Gil Fronsdal says the Buddha described upekkha as “abundant, exalted, immeasurable, without hostility and without ill-will.” Not the same thing as “indifference,” is it?

Thich Nhat Hanh says (in The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, p. 161) that the Sanskrit word upeksha means “equanimity, nonattachment, nondiscrimination, even-mindedness, or letting go.

Upa means ‘over,’ and iksh means ‘to look.’ You climb the mountain to be able to look over the whole situation, not bound by one side or the other.”

We also can look to the life of the Buddha for guidance. After his enlightenment, he certainly did not live in a state of indifference. Instead, he spent 45 years actively teaching the dharma to others. For more on this subject, see Why Do Buddhists Avoid Attachment?” and “Why Detachment Is the Wrong Word

STANDING IN THE MIDDLE

Another Pali word that is usually translated into English as “equanimity” is tatramajjhattata, which means “to stand in the middle.” Gil Fronsdal says this “standing in the middle” refers to a balance that comes from inner stability–remaining centered when surrounded by turmoil.

The Buddha taught that we are constantly being pulled in one direction or another by things or conditions we either want or hope to avoid. These include praise and blame, pleasure and pain, success and failure, gain and loss. The wise person, the Buddha said, accepts all without approval or disapproval. This forms the core of the ” The Middle Way that forms the core of Buddhist practice.

CULTIVATING EQUANIMITY

In her book Comfortable with Uncertainty, Tibetan Kagyu teacher Pema Chodron said, “To cultivate equanimity we practice catching ourselves when we feel attraction or aversion before it hardens into grasping or negativity.”

This, of course, connects to mindfulness. The Buddha taught that there are four frames of reference in mindfulness. These are also called the Four Foundations of Mindfulness. These are:

  1. Mindfulness of body (kayasati).
  2. Mindfulness of feelings or sensations (vedanasati).
  3. Mindfulness of mind or mental processes (cittasati).
  4. Mindfulness of mental objects or qualities; or, mindfulness of dharma (dhammasati).

Here, we have a very good example of working with mindfulness of feelings and mental processes. People who are not mindful are perpetually being jerked around by their emotions and biases. But with mindfulness, you recognize and acknowledge feelings without letting them control you.

Pema Chodron says that when feelings of attraction or aversion arise, we can “use our biases as stepping-stones for connecting with the confusion of others.” When we become intimate with and accepting of our own feelings, we see more clearly how everyone gets hooked by their hopes and fears.

From this, “a bigger perspective can emerge.”

Thich Nhat Hanh says that Buddhist equanimity includes the ability to see everyone as equal. “We shed all discrimination and prejudice, and remove all boundaries between ourselves and others,” he writes. “In a conflict, even though we are deeply concerned, we remain impartial, able to love and to understand both sides.” [The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, p. 162].

what is Buddhism?must watch only religion that goes with modern science.part 1

http://youtu.be/dku88rM73zE (part 2 link)only religion that goes with science must watch you will understand ,what is real truth,
s it god who all controls or it;s up to you…….you will understand
What is Buddhism?

Buddhism is a religion to about 300 million people around the world. The word comes from ‘budhi’, ‘to awaken’. It has its origins about 2,500 years ago when Siddhartha Gotama, known as the Buddha, was himself awakened (enlightened) at the age of 35.

• Is Buddhism a Religion?

To many, Buddhism goes beyond religion and is more of a philosophy or ‘way of life’. It is a philosophy because philosophy ‘means love of wisdom’ and the Buddhist path can be summed up as:

(1) to lead a moral life,
(2) to be mindful and aware of thoughts and actions, and
(3) to develop wisdom and understanding.

• How Can Buddhism Help Me?

Buddhism explains a purpose to life, it explains apparent injustice and inequality around the world, and it provides a code of practice or way of life that leads to true happiness.

• Why is Buddhism Becoming Popular?

Buddhism is becoming popular in western countries for a number of reasons, The first good reason is Buddhism has answers to many of the problems in modern materialistic societies. It also includes (for those who are interested) a deep understanding of the human mind (and natural therapies) which prominent psychologists around the world are now discovering to be both very advanced and effective.

• Who Was the Buddha?

Siddhartha Gotama was born into a royal family in Lumbini, now located in Nepal, in 563 BC. At 29, he realised that wealth and luxury did not guarantee happiness, so he explored the different teachings religions and philosophies of the day, to find the key to human happiness. After six years of study and meditation he finally found ‘the middle path’ and was enlightened. After enlightenment, the Buddha spent the rest of his life teaching the principles of Buddhism — called the Dhamma, or Truth — until his death at the age of 80.

• Was the Buddha a God?

He was not, nor did he claim to be. He was a man who taught a path to enlightenment from his own experience.

• Do Buddhists Worship Idols?

Buddhists sometimes pay respect to images of the Buddha, not in worship, nor to ask for favours. A statue of the Buddha with hands rested gently in its lap and a compassionate smile reminds us to strive to develop peace and love within ourselves. Bowing to the statue is an expression of gratitude for the teaching.
• Is Buddhism Scientific?

Science is knowledge which can be made into a system, which depends upon seeing and testing facts and stating general natural laws. The core of Buddhism fit into this definition, because the Four Noble truths (see below) can be tested and proven by anyone in fact the Buddha himself asked his followers to test the teaching rather than accept his word as true. depends more on understanding than faith
what is Buddhism part 2 [science discovered ]real truth,only religion that goes with science,http://youtu.be/dku88rM73zE

Buddha Teaching – Major Differences

Kamakura butsu Buddha statue [Wikimedia] (Public Domain Image)
Buddhism - Major Differences From Other Religions  1. There is no almighty God in Buddhism. There is no one to hand out rewards or punishments on a supposedly Judgement Day.

2. Buddhism is strictly not a religion in the context of being a faith and worship owing allegiance to a supernatural being.

3. No saviour concept in Buddhism. A Buddha is not a saviour who saves others by his personal salvation. Although a Buddhist seeks refuge in the Buddha as his incomparable guide who indicates the path of purity, he makes no servile surrender. A Buddhist does not think that he can gain purity merely by seeking refuge in the Buddha or by mere faith in Him. It is not within the power of a Buddha to wash away the impurities of others

4. A Buddha is not an incarnation of a god/God (as claimed by some Hindu followers). The relationship between a Buddha and his disciples and followers is that of a teacher and student.

5. The liberation of self is the responsibility of one’s own self. Buddhism does not call for an unquestionable blind faith by all Buddhist followers. It places heavy emphasis on self-reliance, self discipline and individual striving.

6. Taking refuge in The Triple Gems i.e. the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha; does not mean self-surrender or total reliance on an external force or third party for help or salvation.

7. Dharma (the teachings in Buddhism) exists regardless whether there is a Buddha. Sakyamuni Buddha (as the historical Buddha) discovered and shared the teachings/ universal truths with all sentient beings. He is neither the creator of such teachings nor the prophet of an almighty God to transmit such teachings to others.

8. Especially emphasized in Mahayana Buddhism, all sentient beings have Buddha Nature/ Essence. One can become a Buddha (a supreme enlightened being) in due course if one practises diligently and attains purity of mind (ie absolutely no delusions or afflictions).

9. In Buddhism, the ultimate objective of followers/practitioners is enlightenment and/or liberation from Samsara; rather than to go to a Heaven (or a deva realm in the context of Buddhist cosmology).

10. Karma and Karma Force are cornerstones in Buddhist doctrines. They are expounded very thoroughly in Buddhism. Karma refers to an important metaphysical concept concerned with action and its consequences. This law of karma explains the problem of sufferings, the mystery of the so-called fate and predestination of some religions, and above all the apparent inequality of mankind.

11. Rebirth is another key doctrine in Buddhism and it goes hand in hand with karma. There is a subtle difference between rebirth and reincarnation as expounded in Hinduism. Buddhism rejects the theory of a transmigrating permanent soul, whether created by a god or emanating from a divine essence.

12. Maitri or Metta in Pali (Loving Kindness) and Karuna (Compassion) to all living beings including animals. Buddhism strictly forbids animal sacrifice for whatever reason. Vegetarianism is recommended but not compulsory.

13. The importance of Non-attachment. Buddhism goes beyond doing good and being good. One must not be attached to good deeds or the idea of doing good; otherwise it is just another form of craving.

14. In Buddhism, there is consideration for all sentient beings (versus human beings, as in other religions). Buddhists acknowledge/accept the existence of animals and beings in other realms in Samsara.

15. No holy war concept in Buddhism. Killing is breaking a key moral precept in Buddhism. One is strictly forbidden to kill another person in the name of religion, a religious leader or whatsoever religious pretext or worldly excuse.

16. Suffering is another cornerstone in Buddhism. It is the first of the Four Noble Truths. Sufferings are very well analysed and explained in Buddhism.

17. The idea of sin or original sin has no place in Buddhism. Also, sin should not be equated to suffering.

18. Buddhist teachings expound no beginning and no end to one’s existence or life. There is virtually no recognition of a first cause — e.g. how does human existence first come about?

19. The Dharma provides a very detailed explanation of the doctrine of anatman {anatta in Pali} or soullessness , i.e. there is no soul entity (whether in one life of many lives).

20. The Buddha is omniscient but he is not omnipotent. He is capable of innumerable feats but there are three things he cannot do. Also, a Buddha does not claim to be a creator of lives or the Universe.

21. Prajna [Panna in Pali] or Transcendent Wisdom occupies a paramount position in Buddhist teachings. Sakyamuni Buddha expounded Prajna concepts for some 20 years of his ministry. One is taught to balance compassion with prajna i.e.emotion (faith) with rationale (right understanding / truth / logic).

22. The tradition and practice of meditation in Buddhism are relatively important and strong. While all religions teach some forms or variations of stabilising/single-pointedness meditation, only Buddhism emphazises Vipassana (Insight) meditation as a powerful tool to assist one in seeking liberation/enlightenment.

23. The doctrine of Sunyata or Emptiness is unique to Buddhism and its many aspects are well expounded in advanced Buddhist teachings. Briefly, this doctrine asserts the transcendental nature of Ultimate Reality. It declares the phenomenal world to be void of all limitations of particularization and that all concepts of dualism are abolished.

24. Conditioned Arising [Paticcasamuppada in Pali] or Dependent Origination is another key doctrine in Buddhism. This doctrine explains that all psychological and physical phenomena constituting individual existence are interdependent and mutually condition each other; this at the same time describes what entangles sentient beings in samsara.

25. The concept of Hell(s) in Buddhism is very different from that of other religions. It is not a place for eternal damnation as viewed by ‘almighty creator’ religions. In Buddhism, it is just one of the six realms in Samsara [i.e. the worst of three undesirable realms]. Also, there are virtually unlimited number of hells in the Buddhist cosmology as there are infinite number of Buddha worlds.

26. The Buddhist cosmology (or universe) is distinctly different from that of other religions which usually recognise only this solar system (Earth) as the centre of the Universe and the only planet with living beings. The Buddhist viewpoint of a Buddha world (also known as Three Thousand-Fold World System) is that of one billion solar systems. Besides, the Mahayana Buddhist doctrines expound that there are other contemporary Buddha worlds like Amitabha’s Pure Land and Bhaisajyaguru’s world system.

27. Samsara is a fundamental concept in Buddhism and it is simply the ‘perpetual cycles of existence’ or endless rounds of rebirth among the six realms of existence. This cyclical rebirth pattern will only end when a sentient being attains Nirvana, i.e. virtual exhaustion of karma, habitual traces, defilements and delusions. All other religions preach one heaven, one earth and one hell, but this perspective is very limited compared with Buddhist samsara where heaven is just one of the six realms of existence and it has 28 levels/planes.

Buddha Teaching – Love-Kindness Meditation

Kamakura butsu Buddha statue [Wikimedia] (Public Domain Image)

Loving-ZKindness Meditation - by Ven. Pannyavaro

Loving-kindness meditation can be brought in to support the practice of insight meditation to help keep the mind open and sweet. It provides the essential balance to support Insight meditation practice.

It is a fact of life that many people are troubled by difficult emotional states in the pressured societies we live in, but do little in terms of developing skills to deal with them. Yet even when the mind goes sour it is within most people’s capacity to arouse positive feelings to sweeten it. Loving-kindness is a meditation practice taught by the Buddha to develop the mental habit of selfless or altruistic love. In the Dhammapada can be found the saying: “Hatred cannot coexist with loving-kindness, and dissipates if supplanted with thoughts based on loving-kindness.”

Loving-kindness is a meditation practice, which brings about positive attitudinal changes as it systematically develops the quality of ‘loving-acceptance’. It acts, as it were, as a form of self-psychotherapy, a way of healing the troubled mind to free it from its pain and confusion. Of all Buddhist meditations, loving-kindness has the immediate benefit of sweetening and changing old habituated negative patterns of mind.

To put it into its context, Loving-kindness is the first of a series of meditations that produce four qualities of love: Friendliness (metta), Compassion (karuna), Appreciative Joy (mudita) and Equanimity (upekkha). The quality of ‘friendliness’ is expressed as warmth that reaches out and embraces others. When loving-kindness practice matures it naturally overflows into compassion, as one empathises with other people’s difficulties; on the other hand one needs to be wary of pity, as its near enemy, as it merely mimics the quality of concern without empathy. The positive expression of empathy is an appreciation of other people’s good qualities or good fortune, or appreciative joy, rather than feelings of jealousy towards them. This series of meditations comes to maturity as ‘on-looking equanimity’. This ‘engaged equanimity’ must be cultivated within the context of this series of meditations, or there is a risk of it manifesting as its near enemy, indifference or aloofness. So, ultimately you remain kindly disposed and caring toward everybody with an equal spread of loving feelings and acceptance in all situations and relationships.

How to do it . . .

The practice always begins with developing a loving acceptance of yourself. If resistance is experienced then it indicates that feelings of unworthiness are present. No matter, this means there is work to be done, as the practice itself is designed to overcome any feelings of self-doubt or negativity. Then you are ready to systematically develop loving-kindness towards others.

Four types of persons to develop loving-kindness towards:

    • a respected, beloved person — such as a spiritual teacher;
    • a dearly beloved — a close family member or friend;
    • a neutral person — somebody you know, but have no special feelings towards,
      e.g. person who serves you in a shop;
    • a hostile person — someone you are currently having difficulty with.

Starting with yourself, then systematically sending loving-kindness from person to person in the above order will have the effect of breaking down the barriers between the four types of people and yourself. This will have the effect of breaking down the divisions within your own mind, the source of much of the conflict we experience. Just a word of caution if you are practicing intensively. It is best if you choose a member of the same sex or, if you have a sexual bias to your own sex, a person of the opposite sex. This is because of the risk that the near enemy of loving-kindness, lust, can be aroused. Try different people to practice on, as some people do not easily fit into the above categories, but do try to keep to the prescribed order.

Ways of arousing feelings of loving-kindness:

  1. Visualisation — Bring up a mental picture. See yourself or the person the feeling is directed at smiling back at you or just being joyous.
  2. By reflection — Reflect on the positive qualities of a person and the acts of kindness they have done. And to yourself, making an affirmation, a positive statement about yourself, using your own words.
  3. Auditory — This is the simplest way but probably the most effective. Repeat an internalized mantra or phrase such as ‘loving-kindness’.

The visualisations, reflections and the repetition of loving-kindness are devices to help you arouse positive feelings of loving-kindness. You can use all of them or one that works best for you. When the positive feeling arise, switch from the devices to the feeling, as it is the feeling that is the primary focus. Keep the mind fixed on the feeling, if it strays bring it back to the device, or if the feelings weaken or are lost then return to the device, i.e. use the visualisation to bring back or strengthen the feeling.

The second stage is Directional Pervasion where you systematically project the aroused feeling of loving-kindness to all points of the compass: north, south, east and west, up and down, and all around. This directional pervasion will be enhanced by bringing to mind loving friends and like-minded communities you know in the cities, towns and countries around the world.

Non-specific Pervasion tends to spontaneously happen as the practice matures. It is not discriminating. It has no specific object and involves just naturally radiating feelings of universal love. When it arises the practice has then come to maturity in that it has changed particular, preferential love, which is an attached love, to an all-embracing unconditional love!

Loving-kindness is a heart meditation and should not to be seen as just a formal sitting practice removed from everyday life. So take your good vibes outside into the streets, at home, at work and into your relationships. Applying the practice to daily life is a matter of directing a friendly attitude and having openness toward everybody you relate to, without discrimination.

There are as many different ways of doing it as there are levels of intensity in the practice. This introduction is intended to help you familiarize yourself with the basic technique, so that you can become established in the practice before going on, if you wish, to the deeper, systematic practice — to the level of meditative absorption.


BuddhaNet’s Loving-kindness Meditation Section

Venerable Sujiva’s clear and comprehensive presentation in BuddhaNet of Metta Bhavana(which is the Pali term for the cultivation of loving-kindness) is a step-by-step explanation of the systematic practice. This section, based on the Visuddhimagga, The Path of Purification, is for meditators who are prepared to develop loving-kindness meditation to its fullest and thereby experience the deeper aspects of the practice.

A benefit of developing the five absorption factors of concentration through the systematic practice is that it will counteract the Five Mental Hindrances of the meditator: Sensuality; that is, all forms of ill-will, mental inertia; restlessness and skeptical doubt. When the meditator achieves full concentration, five absorption factors are present: the first two are casual factors: Applied thought and Sustained thought, followed by three effects: Rapture, Ease-of-mind and One-pointedness or unification of mind. The five absorption factors have a one-to-one correspondence to the five mental hindrances, or obstacles, to the meditator: Applied thought, by arousing energy and effort, overcomes the hindrance of sloth and torpor; Sustained thought, by steadying the mind, overcomes skeptical doubt which has the characteristic of wavering; Rapture with its uplifting effervescence, prevails over feelings of ill-will; Ease-of-mind, by relieving accumulated stress, counteracts restlessness or agitation of mind; while One-pointedness restrains the mind’s wanderings in the sense-fields to inhibit sensuality. The benefit of achieving deep concentration with this positive mind set is that it will tend to imprint the new positive conditioning while overriding the old negative patterns. In this way, old negative habits are changed, thereby freeing one to form new, positive ways of relating.

We also have, in BuddhaNet’s Loving-Kindness Meditation section, inspiring instructions by Gregory Kramer of the Metta Foundation on teaching loving-kindness to children within the family context. Gregory gives practical advice to parents on how to bring the practice of loving-kindness within the home. In this way, we can hope that loving-kindness meditation will become a natural part of the Buddhist family’s daily practice, and that one day it will be adopted universally as a practice to uplift human hearts.

May you be happy hearted!

Buddha Teaching – Advice in Meditation

Kamakura butsu Buddha statue [Wikimedia] (Public Domain Image)
Advice on Meditation - by Sogyal Rinpoche

When you read books about meditation, or often when meditation is is presented by different groups, much of the emphasis falls on the techniques. In the West, people tend to be very interested in the “technology” of meditation. However, by far the most important feature of meditation is not technique, but the way of being, the spirit, which is called the “posture”, a posture which is not so much physical, but more to do with spirit or attitude.

It is well to recognize that when you start on a meditation practice, you are entering a totally different dimension of reality. Normally in life we put a great deal of effort into achieving things, and there is a lot of struggle involved, whereas meditation is just the opposite, it is a break from how we normally operate.

Meditation is simply a question of being, of melting, like a piece of butter left in the sun. It has nothing to do with whether or not you “know” anything about it, in fact, each time you practice meditation it should be fresh, as if it were happening for the very first time. You just quietly sit, your body still, your speech silent, your mind at ease, and allow thoughts to come and go, without letting them play havoc on you. If you need something to do, then watch the breathing. This is a very simple process. When you are breathing out, know that you are breathing out. When you breath in, know that you are breathing in, without supplying any kind of extra commentary or internalized mental gossip, but just identifying with the breath. That very simple process of mindfulness processes your thoughts and emotions, and then, like an old skin being shed, something is peeled off and freed.

Usually people tend to relax the body by concentrating on different parts. Real relaxation comes when you relax from within, for then everything else will ease itself out quite naturally.

When you begin to practice, you center yourself, in touch with your “soft spot”, and just remain there. You need not focus on anything in particular to begin with. Just be spacious, and allow thoughts and emotions to settle. If you do so, then later, when you use a method such as watching the breath, your attention will more easily be on your breathing. There is no particular point on the breath on which you need to focus, it is simply the process of breathing. Twenty-five percent of your attention is on the breath, and seventy-five percent is relaxed. Try to actually identify with the breathing, rather than just watching it. You may choose an object, like a flower, for example, to focus upon. Sometimes you are taught to visualize a light on the forehead, or in the heart. Sometimes a sound or a mantra can be used. But at the beginning it is best to simply be spacious, like the sky. Think of yourself as the sky, holding the whole universe.

When you sit, let things settle and allow all your discordant self with its ungenuineness and unnaturalness to disolve, out of that rises your real being. You experience an aspect of yourself which is more genuine and more authentic-the “real” you. As you go deeper, you begin to discover and connect with your fundamental goodness.

The whole point of meditation is to get used to the that aspect which you have forgotten. In Tibetan “meditation” means “getting used to”. Getting used to what? to your true nature, your Buddha nature. This is why, in the highest teaching of Buddhism, Dzogchen, you are told to “rest in the nature of mind”. You just quietly sit and let all thoughts and concepts dissolve. It is like when the clouds dissolve or the mist evaporates, to reveal the clear sky and the sun shining down. When everything dissolves like this, you begin to experience your true nature, to “live”. Then you know it, and at that moment, you feel really good. It is unlike any other feeling of well being that you might have experienced. This is a real and genuine goodness, in which you feel a deep sense of peace, contentment and confidence about yourself.

It is good to meditate when you feel inspired. Early mornings can bring that inspiration, as the best moments of the mind are early in the day, when the mind is calmer and fresher (the time traditionally recommended is before dawn). It is more appropriate to sit when you are inspired, for not only is it easier then as you are in a better frame of mind for meditation, but you will also be more encouraged by the very practice that you do. This in turn will bring more confidence in the practice, and later on you will be able to practice when you are not inspired. There is no need to meditate for a long time: just remain quietly until you are a little open and able to connect with your heart essence. That is the main point.

After that, some integration, or meditation in action. Once your mindfulness has been awakened by your meditation, your mind is calm and your perception a little more coherent. Then, whatever you do, you are present, right there. As in the famous Zen master’s saying: “When I eat, I eat; when I sleep, I sleep”. Whatever you do, you are fully present in the act. Even washing dishes, if it is done one-pointedly, can be very energizing, freeing, cleansing. You are more peaceful, so you are more “you”. You assume the “Universal You”.

One of the fundamental points of the spiritual journey is to persevere along the path. Though one’s meditation may be good one day and and not so good the next, like changes in scenery, essentially it is not the experiences, good or bad which count so much, but rather that when you persevere, the real practice rubs off on you and comes through both good and bad. Good and bad are simply apparations, just as there may be good or bad weather, yet the sky is always unchanging. If you persevere and have that sky like attitude of spaciousness, without being perturbed by emotions and experiences, you will develop stability and the real profoundness of meditation will take effect. You will find that gradually and almost unnoticed, your attitude begins to change. You do not hold on to things as solidly as before, or grasp at them so strongly, and though crisis will still happen, you can handle them a bit better with more humor and ease. You will even be able to laugh at difficulties a little, since there is more space between you and them, and you are freer of yourself. Things become less solid, slightly ridiculous, and you become more lighthearted.

Buddha Teaching – The Law of Karma

Kamakura butsu Buddha statue [Wikimedia] (Public Domain Image)

The Law of Karma

We have come to a couple of related ideas which are common in Buddhism and they are the ideas of karma and rebirth. These ideas are closely inter-related, but because the subject is a fairly wide one, we will begin to deal with the idea of karma todayand rebirth in another lecture.

We know that what binds us in samsara are the defilements — desire, ill-will and ignorance. We spoke about this when we talked about the Second Noble Truth — the truth of the cause of suffering. These defilements are something which every living being in samsara shares, whether we speak of human beings or animals or beings who live in the other realms which we do not normally perceive. In this, all living beings are alike and yet amongst all the living beings that we can normally perceive, there are many differences. For instance, some of us are wealthy, some are less wealthy, some are strong and healthy, others are disabled and so forth. There are many differences amongst living beings and even more so there are differences between animals and human beings. These differences are due to karma.

What we all share – desire, ill-will and ignorance – are common to all living beings, but the particular condition in which we find ourselves is the result of our particular karma that conditions the situation in which we find ourselves, the situation in which we may be wealthy, strong and so forth. These circumstances are decided by karma. It is in this sense that karma explains the differences amongst living beings. It explains why some beings are fortunate while others are less fortunate, some are happy while others are less happy. The Buddha has specifically stated that karma explains the differences between living beings. You might also recall that the understanding of how karma affects the birth of living beings in happy or unhappy circumstances — the knowledge of how living beings move from happy circumstances to unhappy circumstances, and vice versa, from unhappy to happy circumstances as a result of their karma – was part of the Buddha’s experience on the night of His enlightenment. It is karma that explains the circumstances that living beings find themselves in.

Having said this much about the function of karma, let us look more closely at what karma is. Let us define karma. Maybe we can define karma best by first deciding what karma is not. It is quite often the case that we find people misunderstanding the idea of karma. This is particularly true in our daily casual use of the term. We find people saying that one cannot change one’s situation because of one’s karma. In this sense, karma becomes a sort of escape. It becomes similar to predestination or fatalism. This is emphatically not the correct understanding of karma. It is possible that this misunderstanding of karma has come about because of the popular idea that we have about luck and fate. It may be for this reason that our idea of karma has become overlaid in popular thought with the notion of predestination. Karma is not fate or predestination.

If karma is not fate or predestination, then what is it? Let us look at the term itself. Karma means action, means “to do”. Immediately we have an indication that the real meaning of karma is not fate because karma is action. It is dynamic. But it is more than simply action because it is not mechanical action. It is not unconscious or involuntary action. It is intentional, conscious, deliberate, willful action. How is it that this intentional, will action conditions or determines our situation? It is because every action must have a reaction, an effect. This truth has been expressed in regard to the physical universe by the great physicist Newton who formulated the law which states that every action must have an equal and opposite reaction. In the moral sphere of conscious actions, we have a counterpart to the physical law of action and reaction, the law that every intentional, will action must have its effect. This is why we sometimes speak either of Karma-Vipaka, intentional action and its ripened effect, or we speak of Karma-Phala, intentional action and its fruit. It is when we speak of intentional action together with its effect or fruit that we speak of the Law of Karma.

In its most basic sense, the Law of Karma in the moral sphere teaches that similar actions will lead to similar results. Let us take an example. If we plant a mango seed, the plant that springs up will be a mango tree, and eventually it will bear a mango fruit. Alternatively, if we plant a Pong Pong seed, the tree that will spring up will be a Pong Pong tree and the fruit a Pong Pong. As one sows, so shall one reap. According to one’s action, so shall be the fruit. Similarly, in the Law of Karma, if we do a wholesome action, eventually we will get a wholesome fruit, and if we do an unwholesome action eventually we will get an unwholesome, painful result. This is what we mean when we say that causes bring about effects that are similar to the causes. This we will see very clearly when we come to specific examples of wholesome and unwholesome actions.

We can understand by means of this general introduction that karma can be of two varieties – wholesome karma or good karma and unwholesome karma or bad karma. In order that we should not misunderstand this description of karma, it is useful for us to look at the original term. In this case, it is kushala or akushala karma, karma that is wholesome or unwholesome. In order that we understand how these terms are being used, it is important that we know the real meaning of kushala and akushala. Kushala means intelligent or skilful, whereas akushala means not intelligent, not skilful. This helps us to understand how these terms are being used, not in terms of good and evil but in terms of skilful and unskilful, in terms of intelligent and unintelligent, in terms of wholesome and unwholesome. Now how wholesome and how unwholesome? Wholesome in the sense that those actions which are beneficial to oneself and others, those actions that spring not out of desire, ill-will and ignorance, but out of renunciation, loving-kindness and compassion, and wisdom.

One may ask how does one know whether an action that is wholesome or unwholesome will produce happiness or unhappiness. The answer is time will tell. The Buddha Himself answered the question. He has explained that so long as an unwholesome action does not bear its fruit of suffering, for so long a foolish person will consider that action good. But when that unwholesome action bears its fruit of suffering then he will realize that the action is unwholesome. Similarly, so long as a wholesome action does not bear its fruit of happiness, a good person may consider that action unwholesome. When it bears its fruit of happiness, then he will realize that the action is good. So one needs to judge wholesome and unwholesome action from the point of view of long-term effect. Very simply, wholesome actions result in eventual happiness for oneself and others, while unwholesome actions have the opposite result, they result in suffering for oneself and others.

Specifically, the unwholesome actions which are to be avoided relate to the three doors or means of action, and these are body, speech and mind. There are three unwholesome actions of the body, four of speech and three of mind that are to be avoided. The three unwholesome actions of body that are to be avoided are killing, stealing and sexual misconduct. The four unwholesome actions of speech that are to be avoided are lying, slander, harsh speech and malicious gossip. The three unwholesome actions of mind that are to be avoided are greed, anger and delusion. By avoiding these ten unwholesome actions we will avoid their consequences. The unwholesome actions have suffering as their fruit. The fruit of these unwholesome actions can take various forms. The fully ripened fruit of the unwholesome actions consists of rebirth in the lower realms, in the realms of suffering — hell, hungry ghosts and animals. If these unwholesome actions are not sufficient to result in rebirth in these lower realms, they will result in unhappiness in this life as a human being. Here we can see at work the principle of a cause resulting in a similar effect. For example, habitual killing which is motivated by ill-will and anger and which results in the taking of the life of other beings will result in rebirth in the hells where one’s experience is saturated by anger and ill-will and where one may be repeatedly killed. If killing is not sufficiently habitual or weighty to result in rebirth in the hells, killing will result in shortened life as a human being, separation from loved ones, fear or paranoia. Here too we can see how the effect is similar to the cause. Killing shortens the life of others, deprives others of their loved ones and so forth, and so if we kill we will be liable to experience these effects. Similarly, stealing which is borne of the defilement of desire may lead to rebirth as a hungry ghost where one is totally destitute of desired objects. If it does not result in rebirth as a ghost, it will result in poverty, dependence upon others for one’s livelihood and so forth. Sexual misconduct results in martial distress or unhappy marriages.

While unwholesome actions produce unwholesome results – suffering, wholesome actions produce wholesome results – happiness. One can interpret wholesome actions in two ways. One can simply regard wholesome actions as avoiding the unwholesome actions, avoiding killing, stealing, sexual misconduct and the rest. Or one can speak of wholesome actions in positive terms. Here one can refer to the list of wholesome actions that includes generosity, good conduct, meditation, reverence, service, transference of merits, rejoicing in the merit of others, hearing the Dharma, teaching the Dharma and straightening of one’s own views. Just as unwholesome actions produce suffering, these wholesome actions produce benefits. Again effects here are similar to the actions. For example, generosity results in wealth. Hearing of the Dharma results in wisdom. The wholesome actions have as their consequences similar wholesome effects just as unwholesome actions have similar unwholesome effects.

Karma, be it wholesome or unwholesome, is modified by the conditions under which the actions are performed. In other words, a wholesome or unwholesome action may be more or less strong depending upon the conditions under which it is done. The conditions which determine the weight or strength of karma may be divided into those which refer to the subject — the doer of the action — and those which refer to the object — the being to whom the action is done. So the conditions that determine the weight of karma apply to the subject and object of the action. Specifically, if we take the example of killing, in order for the act of killing to have its complete and unmitigated power, five conditions must be present — a living being, the awareness of the existence of a living being, the intention to kill the living being, the effort or action of killing the living being, and the consequent death of the living being. Here too, we can see the subjective and the objective conditions. The subjective conditions are the awareness of the living being, the intention to kill and the action of killing. The objective conditions are the presence of the living being and the consequent death of the living being.

Similarly, there are five conditions that modify the weight of karma and they are persistent, repeated action; action done with great intention and determination; action done without regret; action done towards those who possess extraordinary qualities; and action done towards those who have benefited one in the past. Here too there are subjective and objective conditions. The subjective conditions are persistent action; action done with intention; and action done without regret. If one does an unwholesome action again and again with great intention and without regret, the weight of the action will be enhanced. The objective conditions are the quality of the object to whom actions are done and the nature of the relationship. In other words, if one does a wholesome or unwholesome action towards living beings who possess extraordinary qualities such as the arhats, or the Buddha, the wholesome or unwholesome action done will have greater weight. Finally the power of wholesome or unwholesome action done towards those who have benefited one in the past, such as one’s parents, teachers and friends, will be greater.

The objective and subjective conditions together determine the weight of karma. This is important because understanding this will help us to understand that karma is not simply a matter of black and white, or good and bad. Karma is moral action and moral responsibility. But the working of the Law of Karma is very finely tuned and balanced so as to match effect with cause, so as to take into account the subjective and objective conditions that determine the nature of an action. This ensures that the effects of actions are equal to and similar to the nature of the causes.

The effects of karma may be evident either in the short term or in the long term. Traditionally we divide karma into three varieties related to the amount of time that is required for the effects of these actions to manifest themselves. Karma can either manifest its effects in this very life or in the next life or only after several lives. When karma manifests its effects in this life, we can see the fruit of karma within a relatively short length of time. This variety of karma is easily verifiable by any of us. For instance, when someone refuses to study, when someone indulges in harmful distractions like alcohol and drugs, when someone begins to steal to support his harmful habits; the effects will be evident within a short time. They will be evident in loss of livelihood and friendship, health and so forth. We cannot see the long-term effect of karma, but the Buddha and His prominent disciples who have developed their minds are able to perceive directly the long-term effects. For instance, when Maudgalyayana was beaten to death by bandits, the Buddha was able to tell that this event was the effect of something Maudgalyayana had done in a previous life when he had taken his aged parents to the forest and having beaten them to death, had then reported that they had been killed by bandits. The effect of this unwholesome action done many lives before was manifested only in his last life. At death we have to leave everything behind — our property and our loved ones, but our karma will accompany us like a shadow. The Buddha has said that nowhere on earth or in heaven can one escape one’s karma. So when the conditions are correct, dependent upon mind and body, the effects of karma will manifest themselves just as dependent on certain conditions a mango will appear on a mango tree. We can see that even in the world of nature certain effects take longer to appear than others. If for instance, we plant the seed of a papaya, we will obtain the fruit in shorter period than if we plant the seed of a durian. Similarly, the effects of karma manifest either in the short term or in the long term.

Besides the two varieties of karma, wholesome and unwholesome karma, we should mention neutral or ineffective karma. Neutral karma is karma that has no moral consequence either because the very nature of the action is such as to have no moral consequence or because it is done involuntarily and unintentionally. For example, sleeping, walking, breathing, eating, handicraft and so forth in themselves have no moral consequence. Similarly, unintentional action is ineffective karma. In other words, if one accidentally steps on an insect, being unconscious of its existence, this also constitutes neutral karma because there is no intention – the intentional element is not there.

The benefits of understanding the Law of Karma are that this understanding discourages one from performing unwholesome actions which have suffering as their fruit. Once we understand that in our own life every action will have a similar and equal reaction, once we understand that we will experience the effect of that action, wholesome or unwholesome, we will refrain from unwholesome behavior, not wanting to experience the effects of these unwholesome actions. And similarly, understanding that wholesome actions have happiness as their fruit, we will cultivate these wholesome actions. Reflecting on the Law of Karma, of action and reaction in the moral sphere encourages us to renounce unwholesome actions and cultivate wholesome actions. We will look more closely at the specific effects of karma in future lives and how karma conditions and determines the nature of rebirth in our lecture next week.

Extract from “Fundamentals of Buddhism”, by Dr. Peter Della Santina.

Buddha Teaching – On Reincarnation

Kamakura butsu Buddha statue [Wikimedia] (Public Domain Image)

On Reincarnation - by Takashi Tsuji

 

Do you Buddhists believe in rebirth as an animal in the next life? Are you going to be a dog or a cow in the future? Does the soul transmigrate into the body of another person or some animal? What is the difference between transmigration and reincarnation? Is it the same as rebirth? Is karma the same as fate? These and a hundred similar questions are often put to me.

A gross misunderstanding of about Buddhism exists today, especially in the notion of reincarnation. The common misunderstanding is that a person has led countless previous lives, usually as an animal, but somehow in this life he is born as a human being and in the next life he will be reborn as an animal, depending on the kind of life he has lived.

This misunderstanding arises because people usually do not know-how to read the sutras or sacred writings. It is said that the Buddha left 84,000 teachings; the symbolic figure represents the diverse backgrounds characteristics, tastes, etc. of the people. The Buddha taught according to the mental and spiritual capacity of each individual. For the simple village folks living during the time of the Buddha, the doctrine of reincarnation was a powerful moral lesson. Fear of birth into the animal world must have frightened many people from acting like animals in this life. If we take this teaching literally today we are confused because we cannot understand it rationally.

Herein lies our problem. A parable, when taken literally, does not make sense to the modern mind. Therefore we must learn to differentiate the parables and myths from actuality. However, if we learn to go beyond or transcend the parables and myths, we will be able to understand the truth.

People will say “If such is the case why not speak directly so that we will be able to come to an immediate grasp of the truth?” This statement is understandable, but truth is often inexpressible. [Ed comment: we as human beings are limited in understanding “Buddha Knowledge”. We cannot speak TRUTH, only words ABOUT Truth] Thus, writers and teachers have often resorted to the language of the imagination to lead the reader from a lower to a higher truth. The doctrine of reincarnation is often understood in this light.

What Reincarnation is Not

Reincarnation is not a simple physical birth of a person; for instance, John being reborn as a cat in the next life. In this case John possesses an immortal soul which transforms to the form of a cat after his death. This cycle is repeated over and over again. Or if he is lucky, he will be reborn as a human being. This notion of the transmigration of the soul definitely does not exist in Buddhism.

Karma

Karma is a Sanskrit word from the root “Kri” to do or to make and simply means “action.” It operates in the universe as the continuous chain reaction of cause and effect. It is not only confined to causation in the physical sense but also it has moral implications. “A good cause, a good effect; a bad cause a bad effect” is a common saying. In this sense karma is a moral law.

Now human beings are constantly giving off physical and spiritual forces in all directions. In physics we learn that no energy is ever lost; only that it changes form. This is the common law of conservation of energy. Similarly, spiritual and mental action is never lost. It is transformed. Thus Karma is the law of the conservation of moral energy.

By actions, thoughts, and words, man is releasing spiritual energy to the universe and he is in turn affected by influences coming in his direction. Man is therefore the sender and receiver of all these influences. The entire circumstances surrounding him is his karma.

With each action-influence he sends out and at the same time, receives, he is changing. This changing personality and the world he lives in, constitute the totality of his karma.

Karma should not be confused with fate. Fate is the notion that man’s life is preplanned for him by some external power, and he has no control over his destiny. Karma on the other hand, can be changed. Because man is a conscious being he can be aware of his karma and thus strive to change the course of events. In the Dhammapada we find the following words, “All that we are is a result of what we have thought, it is founded on our thoughts and made up of our thoughts.”

What we are, then, is entirely dependent on what we think. Therefore, the nobility of man’s character is dependent on his”good” thoughts, actions, and words. At the same time, if he embraces degrading thoughts, those thoughts invariably influence him into negative words and actions.

The World

Traditionally, Buddhism teaches the existence of the ten realms of being. At the top is Buddha and the scale descends as follows: Bodhisattva (an enlightened being destined to be a Buddha, but purposely remaining on earth to teach others), Pratyeka Buddha (a Buddha for himself), Sravka (direct disciple of Buddha), heavenly beings (superhuman [angels?]), human beings, Asura (fighting spirits), beasts, Preta (hungry ghosts), and depraved men (hellish beings).

Now, these ten realms may be viewed as unfixed, nonobjective worlds, as mental and spiritual states of mind. These states of mind are created by men’s thoughts, actions, and words. In other words, psychological states. These ten realms are “mutually immanent and mutually inclusive, each one having in it the remaining nine realms.” For example, the realm of human beings has all the other nine states (from hell to Buddhahood). Man is at the same time capable of real selfishness, creating his own hell, or is truly compassionate, reflecting the compassion of Amida Buddha. Buddhas too have the other nine realms in their minds, for how can a Buddha possibly save those in hell if he himself does not identify with their suffering and guide them to enlightenment.

The Lesson

We can learn a valuable lesson from the teaching of reincarnation.

In what realm do you now live? If you are hungry for power, love, and self-recognition, you live in the Preta world, or hungry ghosts. If you are motivated only by thirsts of the human organism, you are existing in the world of the beast.

Consider well then your motives and intentions. Remember that man is characteristically placed at the midpoint of the ten stages; he can either lower himself abruptly or gradually into hell or through discipline, cultivation and the awakening of faith rise to the Enlightened state of the Buddha.

Buddha Teaching – Buddhist Ethic

Kamakura butsu Buddha statue [Wikimedia] (Public Domain Image)
Buddhist Ethics

Essentially, according to Buddhist teachings, the ethical and moral principles are governed by examining whether a certain action, whether connected to body or speech is likely to be harmful to one’s self or to others and thereby avoiding any actions which are likely to be harmful. In Buddhism, there is much talk of a skilled mind. A mind that is skilful avoids actions that are likely to cause suffering or remorse.

Moral conduct for Buddhists differs according to whether it applies to the laity or to the Sangha or clergy. A lay Buddhist should cultivate good conduct by training in what are known as the “Five Precepts”. These are not like, say, the ten commandments, which, if broken, entail punishment by God. The five precepts are training rules, which, if one were to break any of them, one should be aware of the breech and examine how such a breech may be avoided in the future. The resultant of an action (often referred to as Karma) depends on the intention more than the action itself. It entails less feelings of guilt than its Judeo-Christian counterpart. Buddhism places a great emphasis on ‘mind’ and it is mental anguish such as remorse, anxiety, guilt etc. which is to be avoided in order to cultivate a calm and peaceful mind. The five precepts are:

1) To undertake the training to avoid taking the life of beings. This precept applies to all living beings not just humans. All beings have a right to their lives and that right should be respected.

2) To undertake the training to avoid taking things not given. This precept goes further than mere stealing. One should avoid taking anything unless one can be sure that is intended that it is for you.

3) To undertake the training to avoid sensual misconduct. This precept is often mistranslated or misinterpreted as relating only to sexual misconduct but it covers any overindulgence in any sensual pleasure such as gluttony as well as misconduct of a sexual nature.

4) To undertake the training to refrain from false speech. As well as avoiding lying and deceiving, this precept covers slander as well as speech which is not beneficial to the welfare of others.

5) To undertake the training to abstain from substances which cause intoxication and heedlessness. This precept is in a special category as it does not infer any intrinsic evil in, say, alcohol itself but indulgence in such a substance could be the cause of breaking the other four precepts.

These are the basic precepts expected as a day to day training of any lay Buddhist. On special holy days, many Buddhists, especially those following the Theravada tradition, would observe three additional precepts with a strengthening of the third precept to be observing strict celibacy. The additional precepts are:

6) To abstain from taking food at inappropriate times. This would mean following the tradition of Theravadin monks and not eating from noon one day until sunrise the next.

7) To abstain from dancing, singing, music and entertainments as well as refraining from the use of perfumes, ornaments and other items used to adorn or beautify the person. Again, this and the next rule.

8) To undertake the training to abstain from using high or luxurious beds are rules regularly adopted by members of the Sangha and are followed by the layperson on special occasions.

Laypersons following the Mahayana tradition, who have taken a Bodhisattva vow, will also follow a strictly vegetarian diet. This is not so much an additional precept but a strengthening of the first precept; To undertake the training to avoid taking the life of beings. The eating of meat would be considered a contribution to the taking of life, indirect though it may be.

The Buddhist clergy, known as the Sangha, are governed by 227 to 253 rules depending on the school or tradition for males or Bhikkhus and between 290 and 354 rules, depending on the school or tradition for females or Bhikkhunis. These rules, contained in the Vinaya or first collection of the Buddhist scriptures,, are divided into several groups, each entailing a penalty for their breech, depending on the seriousness of that breech. The first four rules for males and the first eight for females, known as Parajika or rules of defeat, entail expulsion from the Order immediately on their breech. The four applying to both sexes are: Sexual intercourse, killing a human being, stealing to the extent that it entails a gaol sentence and claiming miraculous or supernormal powers. Bhikkhunis’ additional rules relate to various physical contacts with males with one relating to concealing from the order the defeat or parajika of another. Before his passing, the Buddha instructed that permission was granted for the abandonment or adjustment of minor rules should prevailing conditions demand such a change. These rules apply to all Sangha members irrespective of their Buddhist tradition.

The interpretation of the rules, however differs between the Mahayana and Theravada traditions. The Theravadins, especially those from Thailand, claim to observe these rules to the letter of the law, however, in many cases, the following is more in theory than in actual practice. The Mahayana Sangha interprets the rule not to take food at an inappropriate time as not meaning fasting from noon to sunrise but to refrain from eating between mealtimes. The fasting rule would be inappropriate, from a health angle, for the Sangha living in cold climates such as China, Korea and Japan. When one examines the reason that this rule was instituted initially, the conclusion may be reached that it is currently redundant. It was the practice in the Buddha’s time for the monks to go to the village with their bowls to collect food. To avoid disturbing the villagers more than necessary, the Buddha ordered his monks to make this visit once a day, in the early morning. This would allow the villagers to be free to conduct their day to day affairs without being disturbed by the monks requiring food. Today, of course, people bring food to the monasteries or prepare it on the premises so the original reason no longer applies. As many of you would be aware, in some Theravadin countries, the monks still go on their early morning alms round, but this is more a matter of maintaining a tradition than out of necessity. Also, a rule prohibiting the handling of gold and silver, in other words – money, is considered by the Mahayana Sangha a handicap were it to be observed strictly in today’s world. They interpret this rule as avoiding the accumulation of riches which leads to greed. Theravadin monks tend to split hairs on this rule as, although most will not touch coins, many carry credit cards and cheque books.

Let me now deal briefly with the Buddhist attitude to violence, war and peace. The Buddha said in the Dhammapada:

*Victory breeds hatred. The defeated live in pain. Happily the peaceful live giving up victory and defeat.(Dp.15,5) and

* Hatreds never cease by hatred in this world; through love alone they cease. This is an eternal law. (Dp.1,5)

The first precept refers to the training to abstain from harming living beings. Although history records conflicts involving the so-called Buddhist nations, these wars have been fought for economic or similar reasons. However, history does not record wars fought in the name of propagating Buddhism. Buddhism and, perhaps, Jainism are unique in this regard. His Holiness, the Dalai Lama has never suggested armed conflict to overcome the persecution and cruelty perpetrated by the Communist Chinese occupation forces. He has always advocated a peaceful and non-violent solution. Venerable Maha Ghosananda, the Supreme Patriarch of Cambodia has urged Cambodians to put aside their anger for the genocide of the Khmer Rouge and to unify to re-establish their nation. He has written:

The suffering of Cambodia has been deep. From this suffering comes great compassion. Great compassion makes a peaceful heart. A peaceful heart makes a peaceful person. A peaceful person makes a peaceful family. A peaceful family makes a peaceful community. A peaceful community makes a peaceful nation. A peaceful nation makes a peaceful world.

Going back to the early history of Buddhism, Emperor Asoka, who, after a bloody but successful military campaign, ruled over more than two thirds of the Indian subcontinent, suffered great remorse for the suffering that he had caused, banned the killing of animals and exhorted his subjects to lead kind and tolerant lives. He also promoted tolerance towards all religions which he supported financially. The prevalent religions of that time were the sramanas or wandering ascetics, Brahmins, Ajivakas and Jains. He recommended that all religions desist from self praise and condemnation of others. His pronouncements were written on rocks at the periphery of his kingdom and on pillars along the main roads and where pilgrims gathered. He also established many hospitals for both humans and animals. Some of his important rock edicts stated:

1. Asoka ordered that banyan trees and mango groves be planted, rest houses built and wells dug every half mile along the main roads.

2. He ordered the end to killing of any animal for use in the royal kitchens.
3. He ordered the provision of medical facilities for humans and beasts.
4. He commanded obedience to parents, generosity to priests and ascetics and frugality in spending.
5. All officers must work for the welfare of the poor and the aged.
6. He recorded his intention to promote the welfare of all beings in order to repay his debt to all beings.
7. He honours men of all faiths.

Not all Buddhists follow the non-violent path, however. A Buddhist monk, Phra Kittiwutthi of the Phra Chittipalwon College in Thailand, is noted for his extreme right-wing views. He said that it was not a breech of the first precept to kill communists. He said that if Thailand were in danger of a communist takeover, he would take up arms to protect Buddhism. Sulak Sivaraksa, a Thai peace activist, reports in his book, “Seeds of Peace” that Phra Kittiwutthi has since modified his stance by declaring “to kill communism or communist ideology is not a sin”. Sulak adds that the monk confessed that his nationalist feelings were more important than his Buddhist practice and that he would be willing to abandon his yellow robes to take up arms against communist invaders from Laos, Cambodia or Vietnam. By doing so, he said, he would be preserving the monarchy, the nation and the Buddhist religion. In contrast to the views of Phra Kittiwutthi, Sulak Sivaraksa reports that the Vietnamese monk, Thich Nhat Hanh is of the view that ‘preserving Buddhism does not mean that we should sacrifice people’s lives in order to safeguard the Buddhist hierarchy, monasteries or rituals. Even if Buddhism as such were extinguished, when human lives are preserved and when human dignity and freedom are cultivated towards peace and loving kindness, Buddhism can be reborn in the hearts of human beings.

In conclusion, I will briefly mention some other issues mentioned in the Syllabus.

The third precept on training in restraint of the senses includes sexuality. A Buddhist should be mindful of the possible effects on themselves and on others of improper sexual activity. This precept would include adultery because this also breeches the precept of not taking what does is not freely given. A relationship with someone who is committed to another is stealing. Similarly in cases of rape and child abuse, one is stealing the dignity and self respect of another. One is also the cause of mental pain, not to mention physical pain so one is causing harm to another living being. Therefore, such behaviour is breaking several precepts.

Marriage is not a sacrament in Buddhism as it is in other religions. Marriage is governed by civil law and a Buddhist is expected to observe the prevailing law in whatever country they live. In the Theravadin tradition, monks are prohibited by their Vinaya rules to encourage or perform a marriage ceremony. The rule states:

Should a Bhikkhu engage to act as a go-between for a man’s intentions to a woman or a woman’s intentions to a man, whether about marriage or paramourage, even for a temporary arrangement, this entails initial and subsequent meeting of the Sangha.

In many Theravadin countries, the couple will, following their marriage in a civil ceremony, invite the monks to their home to perform a blessing ceremony. They will offer food and other requisites to the monks and invite their family and friends to participate. In the Mahayana tradition the same rule conveys an entirely different meaning. It reads:

Should a Bhikkshu, seek to establish a conducive situation by means of which a man and a woman engage in sexual misconduct, either by himself, by order, or by means of messages, and as a result of his activities the man and woman should meet, he has committed an offence.

This rule does not preclude marriage but, rather, deals with the monk assuming the role of a procurer for immoral purposes. In Western countries, following the Christian precedent, many Mahayana monks become registered marriage celebrants so that, if called upon, a marriage ceremony can be performed in the temple. Generally, in countries where the law allows, Buddhists accept de-facto relationships. Promiscuity would be frowned upon as sexual misconduct but an ongoing relationship between two people, either within or outside of marriage would be considered moral conduct. As one of the essential Buddhist teachings is that everything is impermanent and subject to change, the irrevocable breakdown of a relationship between a couple would be understood in this light, so divorce would not be considered improper.

As far as bioethical questions are concerned, it is mainly a matter of the attitude of the different traditions or schools of Buddhism. This is tied to the concept of rebirth and when it occurs. According to the Theravadin tradition, rebirth occurs immediately upon death. The body of the deceased is no longer considered as a part of the former being, so such things as autopsies, organ transplants etcetera are allowable. In fact, many Theravadins, especially in Malaysia, encourage the donation of human organs as being the highest form of giving. Often, especially at Vesak, the celebration of the birth, enlightenment and passing away of the Buddha, blood donations are performed in the temple grounds. The Mahayana, on the other hand, believes that there is an intermediate state between incarnations, known as Antarabhava. Most people following this tradition try to avoid touching or moving the body for, at least eight hours after death. This, of course, means that the organs would by then be useless for transfer to another human being.

The Buddhist work ethic and business and professional ethics would, ideally be closely tied to respect for the environment. It is well described in E.F.Schumacher’s book “Small is Beautiful”:

“While the materialist is mainly interested in goods, the Buddhist is mainly interested in liberation. But Buddhism is the Middle Way and therefore in no way antagonistic to physical well being. The keynote of Buddhist economics is simplicity and non-violence. From an economist’s point of view, the marvel of the Buddhist way of life is the utter rationality of its pattern – amazingly small means leading to extraordinarily satisfying results.”

Ken Jones in a paper called “Buddhism and Social Action” comments: “Schumacher outlines a ‘Buddhist economics’ in which production would be based on a middle range of material goods (and no more), and on the other a harmony with the natural environment and its resources.

The above principles suggest some kind of diverse and politically decentralised society, with co-operative management and ownership of productive wealth. It would be conceived on a human scale, whether in terms of size and complexity or organisation or of environmental planning, and would use modern technology selectively rather than being used by it in the service of selfish interests. In Schumacher’s words, ‘It is a question of finding the right path of development, the Middle Way, between materialist heedlessness and traditionalist immobility, in short, of finding Right Livelihood'”.

Despite the theory surrounding Buddhist business practice, greed still seems to be the order of the day in many Buddhist countries. In Thailand, a monk in the north, Acharn Ponsektajadhammo, has been leading a campaign against the environmental vandalism of the timber industry. Tree felling in Northern Thailand has caused erosion, flooding and has economically ruined small farmers. For his environmental efforts, Acharn Ponsektajadhammo has had death threats and was recently arrested. In Japan, another country where the majority of the population is Buddhist, the killing of whales and dolphins is still prevalent. Animals seem to find no place in the group culture of Japanese society.

As may be seen from the foregoing, Buddhist ethical principles are very noble and in an ideal world their practice would lead to peace and harmony but, unfortunately, as the Buddha has taught, people are motivated by greed hatred and delusion – even Buddhists.

Buddhist Ethics

Essentially, according to Buddhist teachings, the ethical and moral principles are governed by examining whether a certain action, whether connected to body or speech is likely to be harmful to one’s self or to others and thereby avoiding any actions which are likely to be harmful. In Buddhism, there is much talk of a skilled mind. A mind that is skilful avoids actions that are likely to cause suffering or remorse.

Moral conduct for Buddhists differs according to whether it applies to the laity or to the Sangha or clergy. A lay Buddhist should cultivate good conduct by training in what are known as the “Five Precepts”. These are not like, say, the ten commandments, which, if broken, entail punishment by God. The five precepts are training rules, which, if one were to break any of them, one should be aware of the breech and examine how such a breech may be avoided in the future. The resultant of an action (often referred to as Karma) depends on the intention more than the action itself. It entails less feelings of guilt than its Judeo-Christian counterpart. Buddhism places a great emphasis on ‘mind’ and it is mental anguish such as remorse, anxiety, guilt etc. which is to be avoided in order to cultivate a calm and peaceful mind. The five precepts are:

1) To undertake the training to avoid taking the life of beings. This precept applies to all living beings not just humans. All beings have a right to their lives and that right should be respected.

2) To undertake the training to avoid taking things not given. This precept goes further than mere stealing. One should avoid taking anything unless one can be sure that is intended that it is for you.

3) To undertake the training to avoid sensual misconduct. This precept is often mistranslated or misinterpreted as relating only to sexual misconduct but it covers any overindulgence in any sensual pleasure such as gluttony as well as misconduct of a sexual nature.

4) To undertake the training to refrain from false speech. As well as avoiding lying and deceiving, this precept covers slander as well as speech which is not beneficial to the welfare of others.

5) To undertake the training to abstain from substances which cause intoxication and heedlessness. This precept is in a special category as it does not infer any intrinsic evil in, say, alcohol itself but indulgence in such a substance could be the cause of breaking the other four precepts.

These are the basic precepts expected as a day to day training of any lay Buddhist. On special holy days, many Buddhists, especially those following the Theravada tradition, would observe three additional precepts with a strengthening of the third precept to be observing strict celibacy. The additional precepts are:

6) To abstain from taking food at inappropriate times. This would mean following the tradition of Theravadin monks and not eating from noon one day until sunrise the next.

7) To abstain from dancing, singing, music and entertainments as well as refraining from the use of perfumes, ornaments and other items used to adorn or beautify the person. Again, this and the next rule.

8) To undertake the training to abstain from using high or luxurious beds are rules regularly adopted by members of the Sangha and are followed by the layperson on special occasions.

Laypersons following the Mahayana tradition, who have taken a Bodhisattva vow, will also follow a strictly vegetarian diet. This is not so much an additional precept but a strengthening of the first precept; To undertake the training to avoid taking the life of beings. The eating of meat would be considered a contribution to the taking of life, indirect though it may be.

The Buddhist clergy, known as the Sangha, are governed by 227 to 253 rules depending on the school or tradition for males or Bhikkhus and between 290 and 354 rules, depending on the school or tradition for females or Bhikkhunis. These rules, contained in the Vinaya or first collection of the Buddhist scriptures,, are divided into several groups, each entailing a penalty for their breech, depending on the seriousness of that breech. The first four rules for males and the first eight for females, known as Parajika or rules of defeat, entail expulsion from the Order immediately on their breech. The four applying to both sexes are: Sexual intercourse, killing a human being, stealing to the extent that it entails a gaol sentence and claiming miraculous or supernormal powers. Bhikkhunis’ additional rules relate to various physical contacts with males with one relating to concealing from the order the defeat or parajika of another. Before his passing, the Buddha instructed that permission was granted for the abandonment or adjustment of minor rules should prevailing conditions demand such a change. These rules apply to all Sangha members irrespective of their Buddhist tradition.

The interpretation of the rules, however differs between the Mahayana and Theravada traditions. The Theravadins, especially those from Thailand, claim to observe these rules to the letter of the law, however, in many cases, the following is more in theory than in actual practice. The Mahayana Sangha interprets the rule not to take food at an inappropriate time as not meaning fasting from noon to sunrise but to refrain from eating between mealtimes. The fasting rule would be inappropriate, from a health angle, for the Sangha living in cold climates such as China, Korea and Japan. When one examines the reason that this rule was instituted initially, the conclusion may be reached that it is currently redundant. It was the practice in the Buddha’s time for the monks to go to the village with their bowls to collect food. To avoid disturbing the villagers more than necessary, the Buddha ordered his monks to make this visit once a day, in the early morning. This would allow the villagers to be free to conduct their day to day affairs without being disturbed by the monks requiring food. Today, of course, people bring food to the monasteries or prepare it on the premises so the original reason no longer applies. As many of you would be aware, in some Theravadin countries, the monks still go on their early morning alms round, but this is more a matter of maintaining a tradition than out of necessity. Also, a rule prohibiting the handling of gold and silver, in other words – money, is considered by the Mahayana Sangha a handicap were it to be observed strictly in today’s world. They interpret this rule as avoiding the accumulation of riches which leads to greed. Theravadin monks tend to split hairs on this rule as, although most will not touch coins, many carry credit cards and cheque books.

Let me now deal briefly with the Buddhist attitude to violence, war and peace. The Buddha said in the Dhammapada:

*Victory breeds hatred. The defeated live in pain. Happily the peaceful live giving up victory and defeat.(Dp.15,5) and

* Hatreds never cease by hatred in this world; through love alone they cease. This is an eternal law. (Dp.1,5)

The first precept refers to the training to abstain from harming living beings. Although history records conflicts involving the so-called Buddhist nations, these wars have been fought for economic or similar reasons. However, history does not record wars fought in the name of propagating Buddhism. Buddhism and, perhaps, Jainism are unique in this regard. His Holiness, the Dalai Lama has never suggested armed conflict to overcome the persecution and cruelty perpetrated by the Communist Chinese occupation forces. He has always advocated a peaceful and non-violent solution. Venerable Maha Ghosananda, the Supreme Patriarch of Cambodia has urged Cambodians to put aside their anger for the genocide of the Khmer Rouge and to unify to re-establish their nation. He has written:

The suffering of Cambodia has been deep. From this suffering comes great compassion. Great compassion makes a peaceful heart. A peaceful heart makes a peaceful person. A peaceful person makes a peaceful family. A peaceful family makes a peaceful community. A peaceful community makes a peaceful nation. A peaceful nation makes a peaceful world.

Going back to the early history of Buddhism, Emperor Asoka, who, after a bloody but successful military campaign, ruled over more than two thirds of the Indian subcontinent, suffered great remorse for the suffering that he had caused, banned the killing of animals and exhorted his subjects to lead kind and tolerant lives. He also promoted tolerance towards all religions which he supported financially. The prevalent religions of that time were the sramanas or wandering ascetics, Brahmins, Ajivakas and Jains. He recommended that all religions desist from self praise and condemnation of others. His pronouncements were written on rocks at the periphery of his kingdom and on pillars along the main roads and where pilgrims gathered. He also established many hospitals for both humans and animals. Some of his important rock edicts stated:

1. Asoka ordered that banyan trees and mango groves be planted, rest houses built and wells dug every half mile along the main roads.

2. He ordered the end to killing of any animal for use in the royal kitchens.
3. He ordered the provision of medical facilities for humans and beasts.
4. He commanded obedience to parents, generosity to priests and ascetics and frugality in spending.
5. All officers must work for the welfare of the poor and the aged.
6. He recorded his intention to promote the welfare of all beings in order to repay his debt to all beings.
7. He honours men of all faiths.

Not all Buddhists follow the non-violent path, however. A Buddhist monk, Phra Kittiwutthi of the Phra Chittipalwon College in Thailand, is noted for his extreme right-wing views. He said that it was not a breech of the first precept to kill communists. He said that if Thailand were in danger of a communist takeover, he would take up arms to protect Buddhism. Sulak Sivaraksa, a Thai peace activist, reports in his book, “Seeds of Peace” that Phra Kittiwutthi has since modified his stance by declaring “to kill communism or communist ideology is not a sin”. Sulak adds that the monk confessed that his nationalist feelings were more important than his Buddhist practice and that he would be willing to abandon his yellow robes to take up arms against communist invaders from Laos, Cambodia or Vietnam. By doing so, he said, he would be preserving the monarchy, the nation and the Buddhist religion. In contrast to the views of Phra Kittiwutthi, Sulak Sivaraksa reports that the Vietnamese monk, Thich Nhat Hanh is of the view that ‘preserving Buddhism does not mean that we should sacrifice people’s lives in order to safeguard the Buddhist hierarchy, monasteries or rituals. Even if Buddhism as such were extinguished, when human lives are preserved and when human dignity and freedom are cultivated towards peace and loving kindness, Buddhism can be reborn in the hearts of human beings.

In conclusion, I will briefly mention some other issues mentioned in the Syllabus.

The third precept on training in restraint of the senses includes sexuality. A Buddhist should be mindful of the possible effects on themselves and on others of improper sexual activity. This precept would include adultery because this also breeches the precept of not taking what does is not freely given. A relationship with someone who is committed to another is stealing. Similarly in cases of rape and child abuse, one is stealing the dignity and self respect of another. One is also the cause of mental pain, not to mention physical pain so one is causing harm to another living being. Therefore, such behaviour is breaking several precepts.

Marriage is not a sacrament in Buddhism as it is in other religions. Marriage is governed by civil law and a Buddhist is expected to observe the prevailing law in whatever country they live. In the Theravadin tradition, monks are prohibited by their Vinaya rules to encourage or perform a marriage ceremony. The rule states:

Should a Bhikkhu engage to act as a go-between for a man’s intentions to a woman or a woman’s intentions to a man, whether about marriage or paramourage, even for a temporary arrangement, this entails initial and subsequent meeting of the Sangha.

In many Theravadin countries, the couple will, following their marriage in a civil ceremony, invite the monks to their home to perform a blessing ceremony. They will offer food and other requisites to the monks and invite their family and friends to participate. In the Mahayana tradition the same rule conveys an entirely different meaning. It reads:

Should a Bhikkshu, seek to establish a conducive situation by means of which a man and a woman engage in sexual misconduct, either by himself, by order, or by means of messages, and as a result of his activities the man and woman should meet, he has committed an offence.

This rule does not preclude marriage but, rather, deals with the monk assuming the role of a procurer for immoral purposes. In Western countries, following the Christian precedent, many Mahayana monks become registered marriage celebrants so that, if called upon, a marriage ceremony can be performed in the temple. Generally, in countries where the law allows, Buddhists accept de-facto relationships. Promiscuity would be frowned upon as sexual misconduct but an ongoing relationship between two people, either within or outside of marriage would be considered moral conduct. As one of the essential Buddhist teachings is that everything is impermanent and subject to change, the irrevocable breakdown of a relationship between a couple would be understood in this light, so divorce would not be considered improper.

As far as bioethical questions are concerned, it is mainly a matter of the attitude of the different traditions or schools of Buddhism. This is tied to the concept of rebirth and when it occurs. According to the Theravadin tradition, rebirth occurs immediately upon death. The body of the deceased is no longer considered as a part of the former being, so such things as autopsies, organ transplants etcetera are allowable. In fact, many Theravadins, especially in Malaysia, encourage the donation of human organs as being the highest form of giving. Often, especially at Vesak, the celebration of the birth, enlightenment and passing away of the Buddha, blood donations are performed in the temple grounds. The Mahayana, on the other hand, believes that there is an intermediate state between incarnations, known as Antarabhava. Most people following this tradition try to avoid touching or moving the body for, at least eight hours after death. This, of course, means that the organs would by then be useless for transfer to another human being.

The Buddhist work ethic and business and professional ethics would, ideally be closely tied to respect for the environment. It is well described in E.F.Schumacher’s book “Small is Beautiful”:

“While the materialist is mainly interested in goods, the Buddhist is mainly interested in liberation. But Buddhism is the Middle Way and therefore in no way antagonistic to physical well being. The keynote of Buddhist economics is simplicity and non-violence. From an economist’s point of view, the marvel of the Buddhist way of life is the utter rationality of its pattern – amazingly small means leading to extraordinarily satisfying results.”

Ken Jones in a paper called “Buddhism and Social Action” comments: “Schumacher outlines a ‘Buddhist economics’ in which production would be based on a middle range of material goods (and no more), and on the other a harmony with the natural environment and its resources.

The above principles suggest some kind of diverse and politically decentralised society, with co-operative management and ownership of productive wealth. It would be conceived on a human scale, whether in terms of size and complexity or organisation or of environmental planning, and would use modern technology selectively rather than being used by it in the service of selfish interests. In Schumacher’s words, ‘It is a question of finding the right path of development, the Middle Way, between materialist heedlessness and traditionalist immobility, in short, of finding Right Livelihood'”.

Despite the theory surrounding Buddhist business practice, greed still seems to be the order of the day in many Buddhist countries. In Thailand, a monk in the north, Acharn Ponsektajadhammo, has been leading a campaign against the environmental vandalism of the timber industry. Tree felling in Northern Thailand has caused erosion, flooding and has economically ruined small farmers. For his environmental efforts, Acharn Ponsektajadhammo has had death threats and was recently arrested. In Japan, another country where the majority of the population is Buddhist, the killing of whales and dolphins is still prevalent. Animals seem to find no place in the group culture of Japanese society.

As may be seen from the foregoing, Buddhist ethical principles are very noble and in an ideal world their practice would lead to peace and harmony but, unfortunately, as the Buddha has taught, people are motivated by greed hatred and delusion – even Buddhists.

Buddha Teaching – The Eight-Fold Path

Kamakura butsu Buddha statue [Wikimedia] (Public Domain Image)

The Eight-Fold Path is the fourth of the Four Noble Truths – the first of the Buddha’s teachings. All the teachings flow from this foundation.

The Four Noble Truths are

1. The Noble Truth of the reality of Dukkha as part of conditioned existence. Dukkha is a multi-faceted word. Its literal meaning is “that which is difficult to bear”. It can mean suffering, stress, pain, anguish, affliction or unsatisfactoriness. Each of the English words is either too strong or too weak in their meaning to be a universally successful translation. Dukkha can be gross or very subtle. From extreme physical and mental pain and torment to subtle inner conflicts and existential malaise.

2. The Noble Truth that Dukkha has a causal arising. This cause is defined as grasping and clinging or aversion. On one hand it is trying to control anything and everything by grabbing onto or trying to pin them down, On the other hand it is control by pushing away or pushing down and running away or flinching away from things. It is the process of identification through which we try to make internal and external things and experiences into “me and mine” or wholly ‘”other” than Me. This flies in the face of the three signs of existence – Anicca, Dukkha. Anatta – Impermanence. Stress or Suffering and No-Self. Because all conditioned existence is impermanent it gives rise to Dukkha, and this means that in conditioned existence there is no unchanging and permanent Self. There is nothing to grasp onto and also in reality, nothing or no ‘one’ to do the grasping! We grab onto or try to push away ever changing dynamic processes. These attempts to control, limit us to little definitions of who we are.

3. The Noble Truth of the end of Dukkha, which is Nirvana or Nibbana. Beyond grasping and control and conditional existence is Nirvana. “The mind like fire unbound.” The realisation of Nirvana is supreme Bodhi or Awakening. It is waking up to the true nature of reality. It is waking up to our true nature. Buddha Nature. The Pali Canon of Theravada, the foundational Buddhist teachings, says little about Nirvana, using terms like the Unconditioned the Deathless, and the Unborn. Mahayana teachings speak more about the qualities of Nirvana and use terms like, True Nature, Original Mind, Infinite light and Infinite life. Beyond space and time. Nirvana defies definition.

Nirvana literally means “unbound’ as in “Mind like fire unbound”. This beautiful image is of a flame burning by itself. Just the flame, not something burning and giving off a flame. Picture a flame burning on a wick or stick, it seems to hover around or just above the thing burning. The flame seems to be independent of the thing burning but it clings to the stick and is bound to it. This sense of the flame being unbound has often been misunderstood to mean the flame is extinguished or blown out. This is completely opposite to the meaning of the symbol. The flame “burns” and gives light but is no longer bound to any combustible material. The flame is not blown out – the clinging and the clung to is extinguished. The flame of our true nature, which is awakening, burns independently. Ultimately Nirvana is beyond conception and intellectual understanding. Full understanding only comes through direct experience of this “state’ which is beyond the limitations and definitions of space and time.

4. The Noble Truth of the Path that leads to Awakening. The path is a paradox. It is a conditioned thing that is said to help you to the unconditioned. Awakening is not “made” by anything: it is not a product of anything including the Buddha’s teachings. Awakening, your true nature is already always present. We are just not awake to this reality. Clinging to limitation, and attempts to control the ceaseless flow of phenomena and process obscures our true nature.

The path is a process to help you remove or move beyond the conditioned responses that obscure your true nature. In this sense the Path is ultimately about unlearning rather than learning – another paradox. We learn so we can unlearn and uncover. The Buddha called his teaching a Raft. To cross a turbulent river we may need to build a raft. When built, we single-mindedly and with great energy make our way across. Once across we don’t need to cart the raft around with us. In other words don’t cling to anything including the teachings. However, make sure you use them before you let them go. It’s no use knowing everything about the raft and not getting on. The teachings are tools not dogma. The teachings areUpaya, which means skillful means or expedient method. It is fingers pointing at the moon – don’t confuse the finger for the moon.

The Path

1. * Samma-Ditthi — Complete or Perfect Vision, also translated as right view or understanding. Vision of the nature of reality and the path of transformation.

2. Samma-Sankappa — Perfected Emotion or Aspiration, also translated as right thought or attitude. Liberating emotional intelligence in your life and acting from love and compassion. An informed heart and feeling mind that are free to practice letting go.

3. Samma-Vaca — Perfected or whole Speech. Also called right speech. Clear, truthful, uplifting and non-harmful communication.

4. Samma-Kammanta — Integral Action. Also called right action. An ethical foundation for life based on the principle of non-exploitation of oneself and others. The five precepts.

5. Samma-Ajiva — Proper Livelihood. Also called right livelihood. This is a livelihood based on correct action the ethical principal of non-exploitation. The basis of an Ideal society.

6. Samma-Vayama Complete or Full Effort, Energy or Vitality. Also called right effort or diligence. Consciously directing our life energy to the transformative path of creative and healing action that fosters wholeness. Conscious evolution.

7. Samma-Sati Complete or Thorough Awareness. Also called “right mindfulness”. Developing awareness, “if you hold yourself dear watch yourself well”. Levels of Awareness and mindfulness – of things, oneself, feelings, thought, people and Reality.

8. Samma-Samadhi — Full, Integral or Holistic Samadhi. This is often translated as concentration, meditation, absorption or one-pointedness of mind. None of these translations is adequate. Samadhi literally means to be fixed, absorbed in or established at one point, thus the first level of meaning is concentration when the mind is fixed on a single object. The second level of meaning goes further and represents the establishment, not just of the mind, but also of the whole being in various levels or modes of consciousness and awareness. This is Samadhi in the sense of enlightenment or Buddhahood.

* The word Samma means ‘proper’, ‘whole’, ‘thorough’, ‘integral’, ‘complete’, and ‘perfect’ – related to English ‘summit’ – It does not necessarily mean ‘right’, as opposed to ‘wrong’. However it is often translated as “right” which can send a less than accurate message. For instance the opposite of ‘Right Awareness’ is not necessarily ‘Wrong Awareness’. It may simply be incomplete. Use of the word ‘right’ may make for a neat or consistent list of qualities in translations. The down side is that it can give the impression that the Path is a narrow and moralistic approach to the spiritual life. I use variant interpretations so you consider the depth of meanings. What do these things mean in your life right now?

– John Allan

Introduction to Buddhism – The Three Marks of Existence

Kamakura butsu Buddha statue [Wikimedia] (Public Domain Image)

 

This short essay is intended to give a brief introduction to Buddhism. It will discuss the way Buddhists perceive the world, the four main teachings of the Buddha, the Buddhist view of the self, the relationship between this self and the various ways in which it responds to the world, the Buddhist path and the final goal.Mike Butler


The Three Marks of Existence

Buddhism has been described as a very pragmatic religion. It does not indulge in metaphysical speculation about first causes; there is no theology, no worship of a deity or deification of the Buddha. Buddhism takes a very straightforward look at our human condition; nothing is based on wishful thinking, at all. Everything that the Buddha taught was based on his own observation of the way things are. Everything that he taught can be verified by our own observation of the way things are.

If we look at our life, very simply, in a straightforward way, we see that it is marked with frustration and pain. This is because we attempt to secure our relationship with the “world out there”, by solidifying our experiences in some concrete way. For example, we might have dinner with someone we admire very much, everything goes just right, and when we get home later we begin to fantasise about all the things we can do with our new-found friend, places we can go etc. We are going through the process of trying to cement our relationship. Perhaps, the next time we see our friend, she/he has a headache and is curt with us; we feel snubbed, hurt, all our plans go out the window. The problem is that the “world out there” is constantly changing, everything is impermanent and it is impossible to make a permanent relationship with anything, at all.

If we examine the notion of impermanence closely and honestly, we see that it is all-pervading, everything is marked by impermanence. We might posit an eternal consciousness principle, or higher self, but if we examine our consciousness closely we see that it is made up of temporary mental processes and events. We see that our “higher self” is speculative at best and imaginary to begin with. We have invented the idea to secure ourselves, to cement our relationship, once again. Because of this we feel uneasy and anxious, even at the best of times. It is only when we completely abandon clinging that we feel any relief from our queasiness.

These three things: pain, impermanence and egolessness are known as the three marks of existence.

The Four Noble Truths

The first sermon that the Buddha preached after his enlightenment was about the four noble truths. The first noble truth is that life is frustrating and painful. In fact, if we are honest with ourselves, there are times when it is downright miserable. Things may be fine with us, at the moment, but, if we look around, we see other people in the most appalling condition, children starving, terrorism, hatred, wars, intolerance, people being tortured and we get a sort of queasy feeling whenever we think about the world situation in even the most casual way. We, ourselves, will some day grow old, get sick and eventually die. No matter how we try to avoid it, some day we are going to die. Even though we try to avoid thinking about it, there are constant reminders that it is true.

The second noble truth is that suffering has a cause. We suffer because we are constantly struggling to survive. We are constantly trying to prove our existence. We may be extremely humble and self-deprecating, but even that is an attempt to define ourselves. We are defined by our humility. The harder we struggle to establish ourselves and our relationships, the more painful our experience becomes.

The third noble truth is that the cause of suffering can be ended. Our struggle to survive, our effort to prove ourselves and solidify our relationships is unnecessary. We, and the world, can get along quite comfortably without all our unnecessary posturing. We could just be a simple, direct and straight-forward person. We could form a simple relationship with our world, our coffee, spouse and friend. We do this by abandoning our expectations about how we think things should be.

This is the fourth noble truth: the way, or path to end the cause of suffering. The central theme of this way is meditation. Meditation, here, means the practice of mindfulness/awareness, shamata/vipashyana in Sanskrit. We practice being mindful of all the things that we use to torture ourselves with. We become mindful by abandoning our expectations about the way we think things should be and, out of our mindfulness, we begin to develop awareness about the way things really are. We begin to develop the insight that things are really quite simple, that we can handle ourselves, and our relationships, very well as soon as we stop being so manipulative and complex.

The Five Skandhas

The Buddhist doctrine of egolessness seems to be a bit confusing to westerners. I think this is because there is some confusion as to what is meant by ego. Ego, in the Buddhist sense, is quite different from the Freudian ego. The Buddhist ego is a collection of mental events classified into five categories, called skandhas, loosely translated as bundles, or heaps.

If we were to borrow a western expression, we could say that “in the beginning” things were going along quite well. At some point, however, there was a loss of confidence in the way things were going. There was a kind of primordial panic which produced confusion about what was happening. Rather than acknowledging this loss of confidence, there was an identification with the panic and confusion. Ego began to form. This is known as the first skandha, the skandha of form.

After the identification with confusion, ego begins to explore how it feels about the formation of this experience. If we like the experience, we try to draw it in. If we dislike it, we try to push it away, or destroy it. If we feel neutral about it, we just ignore it. The way we feel about the experience is called the skandha of form; what we try to do about it is known as the skandha of impulse/perception.

The next stage is to try to identify, or label the experience. If we can put it into a category, we can manipulate it better. Then we would have a whole bag of tricks to use on it. This is the skandha of concept.

The final step in the birth of ego, is called the skandha of consciousness. Ego begins to churn thoughts and emotions around and around. This makes ego feel solid and real. The churning around and around is called samsara — literally, to whirl about. The way ego feels about its situation (skandha of feeling) determines which of the six realms of existence it creates for itself.

The Six Realms

If ego decides it likes the situation, it begins to churn up all sorts of ways to possess it. A craving to consume the situation arises and we long to satisfy that craving. Once we do, a ghost of that craving carries over and we look around for something else to consume. We get into the habitual pattern of becoming consumer oriented. Perhaps we order a piece of software for our computer. We play with it for awhile, until the novelty wears out, and then we look around for the next piece of software that has the magic glow of not being possessed yet. Soon we haven’t even got the shrink wrap off the current package when we start looking for the next one. Owning the software and using it doesn’t seem to be as important as wanting it, looking forward to its arrival. This is known as the hungry ghost realm where we have made an occupation out of craving. We can never find satisfaction, it is like drinking salt water to quench our thirst.

Another realm is the animal realm, or having the mind like that of an animal. Here we find security by making certain that everything is totally predictable. We only buy blue chip stock, never take a chance and never look at new possibilities. The thought of new possibilities frightens us and we look with scorn at anyone who suggests anything innovative. This realm is characterised by ignorance. We put on blinders and only look straight ahead, never to the right or left.

The hell realm is characterised by acute aggression. We build a wall of anger between ourselves and our experience. Everything irritates us, even the most innocuous, and innocent statement drives us mad with anger. The heat of our anger is reflected back on us and sends us into a frenzy to escape from our torture, which in turn causes us to fight even harder and get even angrier. The whole thing builds on itself until we don’t even know if we’re fighting with someone else or ourselves. We are so busy fighting that we can’t find an alternative to fighting; the possibility of alternative never even occurs to us.

These are the three lower realms. One of the three higher realms is called the jealous god realm. This pattern of existence is characterised by acute paranoia. We are always concerned with “making it”. Everything is seen from a competitive point of view. We are always trying to score points, and trying to prevent others from scoring on us. If someone achieves something special we become determined to out do them. We never trust anyone; we “know” they’re trying to slip one past us. If someone tries to help us, we try to figure out their angle. If someone doesn’t try to help us, they are being uncooperative, and we make a note to ourselves that we will get even later. “Don’t get mad, get even,” that’s our motto.

At some point we might hear about spirituality. We might hear about the possibility of meditation techniques, imported from some eastern religion, or mystical western one, that will make our minds peaceful and absorb us into a universal harmony. We begin to meditate and perform certain rituals and we find ourselves absorbed into infinite space and blissful states of existence. Everything sparkles with love and light; we become godlike beings. We become proud of our godlike powers of meditative absorption. We might even dwell in the realm of infinite space where thoughts seldom arise to bother us. We ignore everything that doesn’t confirm our godhood. We have manufactured the god realm, the highest of the six realms of existence. The problem is, that we have manufactured it. We begin to relax and no longer feel the need to maintain our exalted state. Eventually a small sliver of doubt occurs. Have we really made it? At first we are able to smooth over the question, but eventually the doubt begins to occur more and more frequently and soon we begin to struggle to regain our supreme confidence. As soon as we begin to struggle, we fall back into the lower realms and begin the whole process over and over; from god realm to jealous god realm to animal realm to hungry ghost realm to hell realm. At some point we begin to wonder if there isn’t some sort of alternative to our habitual way of dealing with the world. This is the human realm.

The human realm is the only one in which liberation from the six states of existence is possible. The human realm is characterised by doubt and inquisitiveness and the longing for something better. We are not as absorbed by the all consuming preoccupations of the other states of being. We begin to wonder whether it is possible to relate to the world as simple, dignified human beings.

The Eightfold Path

The path to liberation from these miserable states of being, as taught by the Buddha, has eight points and is known as the eightfold path. The first point is called right view — the right way to view the world. Wrong view occurs when we impose our expectations onto things; expectations about how we hope things will be, or about how we are afraid things might be. Right view occurs when we see things simply, as they are. It is an open and accommodating attitude. We abandon hope and fear and take joy in a simple straight-forward approach to life.

The second point of the path is called right intention. It proceeds from right view. If we are able to abandon our expectations, our hopes and fears, we no longer need to be manipulative. We don’t have to try to con situations into our preconceived notions of how they should be. We work with what is. Our intentions are pure.

The third aspect of the path is right speech. Once our intentions are pure, we no longer have to be embarrassed about our speech. Since we aren’t trying to manipulate people, we don’t have to be hesitant about what we say, nor do we need to try bluff our way through a conversation with any sort of phoney confidence. We say what needs to be said, very simply in a genuine way.

The fourth point on the path, right discipline, involves a kind of renunciation. We need to give up our tendency to complicate issues. We practice simplicity. We have a simple straight-forward relationship with our dinner, our job, our house and our family. We give up all the unnecessary and frivolous complications that we usually try to cloud our relationships with.

Right livelihood is the fifth step on the path. It is only natural and right that we should earn our living. Often, many of us don’t particularly enjoy our jobs. We can’t wait to get home from work and begrudge the amount of time that our job takes away from our enjoyment of the good life. Perhaps, we might wish we had a more glamorous job. We don’t feel that our job in a factory or office is in keeping with the image we want to project. The truth is, that we should be glad of our job, whatever it is. We should form a simple relationship with it. We need to perform it properly, with attention to detail.

The sixth aspect of the path is right effort. Wrong effort is struggle. We often approach a spiritual discipline as though we need to conquer our evil side and promote our good side. We are locked in combat with ourselves and try to obliterate the tiniest negative tendency. Right effort doesn’t involve struggle at all. When we see things as they are, we can work with them, gently and without any kind of aggression whatsoever.

Right mindfulness, the seventh step, involves precision and clarity. We are mindful of the tiniest details of our experience. We are mindful of the way we talk, the way we perform our jobs, our posture, our attitude toward our friends and family, every detail.

Right concentration, or absorption is the eighth point of the path. Usually we are absorbed in absentmindedness. Our minds are completely captivated by all sorts of entertainment and speculations. Right absorption means that we are completely absorbed in nowness, in things as they are. This can only happen if we have some sort of discipline, such as sitting meditation. We might even say that without the discipline of sitting meditation, we can’t walk the eightfold path at all. Sitting meditation cuts through our absentmindedness. It provides a space or gap in our preoccupation with ourselves.

The Goal

Most people have heard of nirvana. It has become equated with a sort of eastern version of heaven. Actually, nirvana simply means cessation. It is the cessation of passion, aggression and ignorance; the cessation of the struggle to prove our existence to the world, to survive. We don’t have to struggle to survive after all. We have already survived. We survive now; the struggle was just an extra complication that we added to our lives because we had lost our confidence in the way things are. We no longer need to manipulate things as they are into things as we would like them to be.

Buddhism Introduction

Kamakura butsu Buddha statue [Wikimedia] (Public Domain Image)

• What is Buddhism?

Buddhism is a religion to about 300 million people around the world. The word comes from ‘budhi’, ‘to awaken’. It has its origins about 2,500 years ago when Siddhartha Gotama, known as the Buddha, was himself awakened (enlightened) at the age of 35.

Is Buddhism a Religion?

To many, Buddhism goes beyond religion and is more of a philosophy or ‘way of life’. It is a philosophy because philosophy ‘means love of wisdom’ and the Buddhist path can be summed up as:

(1) to lead a moral life,
(2) to be mindful and aware of thoughts and actions, and
(3) to develop wisdom and understanding.

How Can Buddhism Help Me?

Buddhism explains a purpose to life, it explains apparent injustice and inequality around the world, and it provides a code of practice or way of life that leads to true happiness.

Why is Buddhism Becoming Popular?

Buddhism is becoming popular in western countries for a number of reasons, The first good reason is Buddhism has answers to many of the problems in modern materialistic societies. It also includes (for those who are interested) a deep understanding of the human mind (and natural therapies) which prominent psychologists around the world are now discovering to be both very advanced and effective.

Who Was the Buddha?

Siddhartha Gotama was born into a royal family in Lumbini, now located in Nepal, in 563 BC. At 29, he realised that wealth and luxury did not guarantee happiness, so he explored the different teachings religions and philosophies of the day, to find the key to human happiness. After six years of study and meditation he finally found ‘the middle path’ and was enlightened. After enlightenment, the Buddha spent the rest of his life teaching the principles of Buddhism — called the Dhamma, or Truth — until his death at the age of 80.

Was the Buddha a God?

He was not, nor did he claim to be. He was a man who taught a path to enlightenment from his own experience.

Do Buddhists Worship Idols?

Buddhists sometimes pay respect to images of the Buddha, not in worship, nor to ask for favours. A statue of the Buddha with hands rested gently in its lap and a compassionate smile reminds us to strive to develop peace and love within ourselves. Bowing to the statue is an expression of gratitude for the teaching.

Why are so Many Buddhist Countries Poor?

One of the Buddhist teachings is that wealth does not guarantee happiness and also wealth is impermanent. The people of every country suffer whether rich or poor, but those who understand Buddhist teachings can find true happiness.

Are There Different Types of Buddhism?

There are many different types of Buddhism, because the emphasis changes from country to country due to customs and culture. What does not vary is the essence of the teaching — the Dhamma or truth.

Are Other Religions Wrong?

Buddhism is also a belief system which is tolerant of all other beliefs or religions. Buddhism agrees with the moral teachings of other religions but Buddhism goes further by providing a long term purpose within our existence, through wisdom and true understanding. Real Buddhism is very tolerant and not concerned with labels like ‘Christian’, ‘Moslem’, ‘Hindu’ or ‘Buddhist’; that is why there have never been any wars fought in the name of Buddhism. That is why Buddhists do not preach and try to convert, only explain if an explanation is sought.

Is Buddhism Scientific?

Science is knowledge which can be made into a system, which depends upon seeing and testing facts and stating general natural laws. The core of Buddhism fit into this definition, because the Four Noble truths (see below) can be tested and proven by anyone in fact the Buddha himself asked his followers to test the teaching rather than accept his word as true. Buddhism depends more on understanding than faith.

What did the Buddha Teach?

The Buddha taught many things, but the basic concepts in Buddhism can be summed up by the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path.

What is the First Noble Truth?

The first truth is that life is suffering i.e., life includes pain, getting old, disease, and ultimately death. We also endure psychological suffering like loneliness frustration, fear, embarrassment, disappointment and anger. This is an irrefutable fact that cannot be denied. It is realistic rather than pessimistic because pessimism is expecting things to be bad. lnstead, Buddhism explains how suffering can be avoided and how we can be truly happy.

What is the Second Noble Truth?

The second truth is that suffering is caused by craving and aversion. We will suffer if we expect other people to conform to our expectation, if we want others to like us, if we do not get something we want,etc. In other words, getting what you want does not guarantee happiness. Rather than constantly struggling to get what you want, try to modify your wanting. Wanting deprives us of contentment and happiness. A lifetime of wanting and craving and especially the craving to continue to exist, creates a powerful energy which causes the individual to be born. So craving leads to physical suffering because it causes us to be reborn.

What is the Third Noble Truth?

The third truth is that suffering can be overcome and happiness can be attained; that true happiness and contentment are possible. lf we give up useless craving and learn to live each day at a time (not dwelling in the past or the imagined future) then we can become happy and free. We then have more time and energy to help others. This is Nirvana.

What is the Fourth Noble Truth?

The fourth truth is that the Noble 8-fold Path is the path which leads to the end of suffering.

What is the Noble 8-Fold Path?

In summary, the Noble 8-fold Path is being moral (through what we say, do and our livelihood), focussing the mind on being fully aware of our thoughts and actions, and developing wisdom by understanding the Four Noble Truths and by developing compassion for others.

What are the 5 Precepts?

The moral code within Buddhism is the precepts, of which the main five are: not to take the life of anything living, not to take anything not freely given, to abstain from sexual misconduct and sensual overindulgence, to refrain from untrue speech, and to avoid intoxication, that is, losing mindfulness.

What is Karma?

Karma is the law that every cause has an effect, i.e., our actions have results. This simple law explains a number of things: inequality in the world, why some are born handicapped and some gifted, why some live only a short life. Karma underlines the importance of all individuals being responsible for their past and present actions. How can we test the karmic effect of our actions? The answer is summed up by looking at (1) the intention behind the action, (2) effects of the action on oneself, and (3) the effects on others.

What is Wisdom?

Buddhism teaches that wisdom should be developed with compassion. At one extreme, you could be a good hearted fool and at the other extreme, you could attain knowledge without any emotion. Buddhism uses the middle path to develop both. The highest wisdom is seeing that in reality, all phenomena are incomplete, impermanent and do not constitute a fixed entity. True wisdom is not simply believing what we are told but instead experiencing and understanding truth and reality. Wisdom requires an open, objective, unbigoted mind. The Buddhist path requires courage, patience, flexibility and intelligence.

What is Compassion?

Compassion includes qualities of sharing, readiness to give comfort, sympathy, concern, caring. In Buddhism, we can really understand others, when we can really understand ourselves, through wisdom.

How do I Become a Buddhist?

Buddhist teachings can be understood and tested by anyone. Buddhism teaches that the solutions to our problems are within ourselves not outside. The Buddha asked all his followers not to take his word as true, but rather to test the teachings for themselves. ln this way, each person decides for themselves and takes responsibility for their own actions and understanding. This makes Buddhism less of a fixed package of beliefs which is to be accepted in its entirety, and more of a teaching which each person learns and uses in their own way.

The Creed of Buddha: LIGHT FROM THE EAST

Kamakura butsu Buddha statue [Wikimedia] (Public Domain Image)

The Creed of Buddha, by Edmond Holmes, [1919], at sacred-texts.com


p. 231

UNABLE to meet its obligations, unable to supply the soul with the ideas that it needs for the due interpretation and evolution of its desires, Western thought can save itself from hopeless insolvency only by borrowing ideas from some other source. If it will condescend to do this, and if, having enriched its treasury with these new ideas, it will put them to a profitable use, by bringing them into harmony with what is true and of lasting value in its own theory of things, it will not only extricate itself from its embarrassments, but will be able in due course to pay back its debt with more than compound interest.

But the ideas that are borrowed must be those which the soul really needs. Now the soul needs, above all things, to be allowed to believe in itself. Belief in oneself is the supreme motive force in Nature, the power which is behind every desire, every enterprise, every effort, to grow, every “instinct to live.” What we call the feud between the heart and the head is really the soul’s indignant protest, on the plane of instinct and desire, against a theory which satisfies it, for the time being, on the plane of conscious thought,–the theory that

p. 232

the material world is the whole world, that all phenomena, up to and including the spiritual life of man, admit of being stated and explained in terms of physical force and physical law, and that therefore the soul itself is not a reality but an empty name. In other words, the heart’s revolt against the head is the soul’s protest against its own disparagement of itself. The first, and in a sense the last, desire of the soul is to be allowed to believe in itself; for all faith, all hope, all joy, all that makes life worth living, is present in embryo in that one belief.

The soul, then, must be allowed to believe in itself; and if this, its fundamental act of faith, is to be really effective, if it is to give the soul the stimulus and the guidance that it needs, if it is to make an end of the intestine strife that tears the soul asunder, it must be free from any suspicion of doubt. This means that no attempt should be made to prove the reality of the soul. For if its reality were provable, it would obviously not be final or complete. Proof implies the unprovable. To prove reality is to build, in the last resort, on the rock of what is unprovably real. How do I know, for example, that the outward and visible world is real, in any sense or degree? Because my senses and my reason assure me (provisionally and within limits) of its reality. But what is the value of this assurance if I, whose reality is unprovable, am other than real? And because my reality is unprovable, it stands to reason that, just so far as the reality of the outward world is provable, it is to that extent provisional and incomplete. It is

p. 233

my secret doubt as to the intrinsic reality of the outward world, which makes me attempt to prove it; and when the process of proof has reached its conclusion, its very conclusiveness becomes the measure of its failure; for it is only by postulating a higher and more intrinsic reality (in myself) that I am able to prove that the outward world is real in any sense or degree. For most men, indeed, the proof of the reality of the outward world is a process which gives satisfaction long before it has reached its final term,–in other words, long before the appeal to the soul’s guarantee has become necessary. From this we may infer, if we please, that the average man’s instinctive and sub-conscious belief in the solvency of the guarantor is complete, though he is incapable of the sustained effort of thought which might enable him to realize the significance of this belief, or even to become conscious of its existence. But what distinguishes the soul from all other objects of speculative thought, is that any attempt which may be made to prove its reality is, in the nature of things, foredoomed to miscarry at the very outset. This fact is deeply significant; but it is on its vital rather than its metaphysical significance that I wish to dwell. Belief in its own reality is the very root of the soul’s life: to prove or attempt to prove its reality is to undermine and otherwise weaken its roothold; and to weaken its roothold is to retard the process of its growth.

But to allow the soul to believe in itself is to make faith, instead of reason, the basis of one’s philosophy of life. The answer to this possible

p. 234

protest is that the highest function of reason (as the word is understood by those who oppose it to faith) is to prove; and that, inasmuch as proof implies the unprovable, the philosophy that is based on reason hangs in mid-air instead of resting on the solid earth. This means that no philosophy is or can be based on reason, and that every philosophy, including materialism itself, is based on an act of faith. But as every act of faith resolves itself into faith in the source of all faith, the soul (even the materialist’s belief in the intrinsic reality of the outward world being resolvable, in the last resort, into belief in his own self as the guarantor of its reality), it seems to follow that the soul’s belief in itself is the only belief which is self-sanctioned, and therefore the only philosophical postulate which allows the thinker to proceed at once on his way.

If the soul is to believe in itself, it must break away, finally and completely, from Western standards of reality, or rather–for the Western mind does not think in the category of the real and the unreal 1–from Western criteria of existence. While it is engaged in freeing itself from these fetters, its conception of Nature will undergo a profound and far-reaching change. Vast possibilities will begin to dawn upon its vision. No longer bound by the crude assumption that the palpable is the real and the impalpable the non-

p. 235

existent, it will begin to use its long-pinioned wings; and as it ascends from height to height, and discovers horizon beyond horizon, it will begin to suspect that, after all, the normal limits of human vision may not be the limits of the Universe. It will begin to wonder whether there may not, after all, be other worlds than that which the bodily senses reveal to us; other planes of being than the physical; other senses in man than those which he shares with the lower animals; other forces than those of material Nature. In the light of this dawning conception, the postulate of a supernatural order of things, which has done so much to narrow and debase man’s conception of Nature, will become finally discredited by being justified and explained. The idea of the Supernatural cannot be wholly illusory. However erroneous, however mischievous may be its mode of expressing itself, we must needs believe that at the bottom of an idea which has ruled the lives and swayed the hearts of men in many lands and many ages, there is a real experience and a real desire. The supernatural world is the impalpable side of Nature, including all that is “inward and spiritual,” expressed in a semi-materialistic notation. It follows that, when the soul is allowed to believe in itself, the supernatural world will be re-absorbed into Nature by a quasi-spontaneous process, for the inward side of Nature will then be seen to be the real side,–the substance of which the outward world is the shadow, the vital essence of which the outward world is the expression and the form. Nor is it only the soul’s conception of Nature which will expand indefinitely

p. 236

when the conventional criterion of existence becomes discredited. It is also the soul’s conception of itself. Allow the soul to believe in itself, and it will try to discover what its self really is. This means that it will wander far and wide, wander to the uttermost ends of the world, in quest of its own boundaries; and as these will never be discovered, it will not rest till it has absorbed all things into itself. In other words, it will not rest till it has spiritualized Nature,–spiritualized her so completely that the very things which it once regarded as the only substantial realities will begin to pass before it as moving shadows, and the material world, which it once regarded as the Alpha and Omega of Nature, will begin to melt into a dream.

Two things, then, will happen when the soul has learned to believe in itself. Its conception of Nature, freed from the limits which the popular criterion of existence imposed upon it, will be raised to an infinite power. So will its conception of itself. And these two parallel conceptions, meeting at last “at infinity,” will become one.

Thus the first idea that the soul needs, if it is to be restored to a state of spiritual solvency–the idea that the soul itself is real–will give an immense stimulus to its flagging vitality, will rekindle the flame and widen beyond measure the range of its desire, will revive its dormant spirit of enterprise, will dispose it for new and daring ad-ventures. But if these adventures are to be properly equipped and directed, further ideas will be needed; and these, too, must be provided by thought. The general idea of the soul’s intrinsic

p. 237

reality must be supplemented by speculative ideas of large import,–ideas as to the law of’ the soul’s life, as to its inward standard of reality, as to its origin and its destiny, as to the relation between its individual and its universal self. In evolving these ideas, thought will half lead and half follow desire, and will thus both guide and stimulate it. But if the ideas are to be effective, they must remain ideas, and not be allowed to degenerate into formulæ. To go far into detail, to map out a complete chart for the soul on the eve of its voyage of discovery, would stultify its spirit of enterprise; and to stultify its spirit of enterprise is to damp down the very flame of its life. If the chart which thought provides is both complete and correct in all its details, it must needs be that the far-off world of mystery which draws to itself the soul’s desires has already been fully explored and surveyed, and that there is nothing left in it to discover. It is by desire, even more than by thought, that the blighting influence of dogmatism makes itself felt; and desire is the soul’s instinctive effort to grow. The very basis of dogmatism is the false assumption that ultimate truth is communicable from without–as “theological information”–instead of being the inmost life of the soul, a life which the soul must win–or rather, evolve–in and for itself. When the soul realizes that it is real–and, if real at all, then supremely real–it will also realize that truth, which is the subjective counterpart of reality, is intimately its own; and it will instinctively reject all teaching which does, or pretends to do, for it what it ought to do and must do for itself.

p. 238

[paragraph continues]Thus the primary idea that the soul is real will automatically protect the soul from the cramping and warping pressure of dogmatism, and, while disposing it to welcome all sub-ideas which give it stimulus and guidance, will strengthen it to reject the teaching that is merely formal, and that does not reveal to it what is and has ever been its own.

This leads me to say again that, whatever spiritual ideas the thought of the West may borrow from whatever quarter, it must be able to assimilate these, if they are to rescue it from its present state of insolvency, and make them its own. I mean by this, first, that it must learn at last to recognize them as belonging to that inner life of the soul which it is the function of thought to interpret; and, next, that as they come to it–nominally from without, but really from within–it must meet them along its own line of approach, and give them the particular expression which is in keeping with its own criticism of life. For just as the individual soul, in the course of its development, should prove its individuality by universalizing itself in its own particular way, so if the soul of the West is to make the ideas which it borrows really productive, it must transform them by processes of its own till it has made them available, first for the special needs of the West, and then for the more general needs of Humanity. In this, and in no other way, will it be able to pay them back in due season, enriched and expanded by the use that it has made of them.

Four things, then, are needed if the bankruptcy of Western thought is to come to an end. In the

p. 239

first place, the idea that the soul is ultimately real–an idea which the heart imperatively needs, but which the head is unable to supply–must be borrowed from some other source. In the second place, the idea must be accepted on its own evidence, and therefore without any shadow of reserve or doubt. This means that the source from which the idea is borrowed must be one in which, having always been regarded as demonstrably indemonstrable, it has the force and authority of an axiom,–not of a mere assumption, still less of a logical conclusion. In the third place, with this master idea the soul must borrow the subsidiary ideas by which it has been interpreted and otherwise supported in the land of its origin; but it must take care that these subsidiary ideas, while giving it stimulus and guidance, do not in any way cramp or deaden its life, or impede the free play of its thought and its desire. In the fourth place, it must make the ideas that it borrows its very own; for until it has done this it will not be able to trade with them to advantage; and it is only by trading with them to advantage that it can hope to pay them back, with the generous interest which is due for so timely a loan.

 

In asking the West to adopt this heroic remedy, I can appeal to a precedent which Christendom at least will regard as authoritative,–to the example of Christ. Nearly 2000 years ago, when the ideals of Paganism had exhausted their influence, and when, as a consequence of this, the soul of the West was sinking deep into the mire of materialism–a

p. 240

materialism of thought as well as of desire–Christ renewed its failing strength, and drew it back to firm ground, by borrowing from the Far East the master idea of the soul’s intrinsic reality and the derivative ideas that revolve round this central orb, and by making these his own. As regards the source to which he went, the ideas that he borrowed, and the use that he made of them, we who revere Christ as our Lord and Master, shall do well to follow his lead.

To the pious Christian, who believes that Christ brought his ideas–or shall I say, his store of “theological information”?–down to earth from the supernatural Heaven, the suggestion that he borrowed ideas from India, or any other terrestrial land, may possibly seem profane. Yet Theology itself admits, or rather insists, that Christ was (and is) “very man” as well as “very God”; and if he was “very man,” if he was open to all human influences, we may surely take for granted that his pure and exalted nature was peculiarly sensitive to the spiritual ideas of his age. That Christ had come under the influence of the spiritual ideas of the Far East is a hypothesis which explains many things, and for which therefore there are many things to be said. To attempt to prove in detail the indebtedness of the “Gospel” to the “Ancient Wisdom” would carry me far beyond the limits which the aim of this work has imposed upon me. But I would ask anyone who can approach the question with a genuinely open mind to make the following simple experiment. Let him first saturate himself with the spiritual thought

p. 241

of India,–with the speculative philosophy, half metaphysical, half poetical, of the Upanishads, and with the ethical philosophy of Buddha. Let him then study the sayings of Christ, making due allowance for the distorting medium (of Jewish prejudice and Messianic expectation) through which his teaching has been transmitted to us. He will probably end by convincing himself, as I have done, that the spiritual standpoints of the Sages of the Upanishads, of Buddha, and of Christ were, in the very last resort, identical.

With this hypothesis to guide us, let us study some of the more characteristic sayings of Christ. What is the “Sermon on the Mount” but a systematic and strenuous attempt to revolutionize human life by giving men a new ideal and a new standpoint,–by substituting, in accordance with the central trend of Indian thought, an entirely inward for an entirely outward standard of moral worth? The sayings in it which seem to be violent and paradoxical, when we interpret them literally, disclose their meaning and their purpose directly the light of this conception is turned upon them. To say that “every one that looketh upon a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” is, one would think, to disparage by implication the self-control which arrests lawless desire on the threshold of lawless action; but the words had to be spoken in order that the reality of the inward standard might be emphasized, and the hollowness of formal rules, when divorced from the spiritual principles that are behind them, might be brought home to his hearers. The words,

p. 242

[paragraph continues]“if thy right eye cause thee to stumble pluck it out and cast it from thee” are, as they stand, a hard saying. But when he spoke them, Christ was but expressing in his own language the profound truth which Indian thought had long insisted upon,–that the outward self (form, sensation, perception and the rest) is unreal and valueless, in comparison with the overwhelming reality and incalculable value of the inward life. His stern and terrible command is in its essence the echo of what Buddha had said, centuries before, in quite other words: “The material form is not the self: the sensations are not the self: the perceptions are not the self: the conformations [predispositions] are not the self: the consciousness is not the self.” 1

The “Kingdom of Heaven,” which figures so prominently in Christ’s discourses, is obviously the kingdom of soul-life;–a kingdom which is ever at hand, ever in the midst of us; which immingles itself with “the world,” or kingdom of the surface life, as the eternal immingles itself with the transitory, the real with the phantasmal, truth with illusion, light with darkness; or, again, which waits with divine patience at the heart of “the world,” as “perfect peace” waits at the heart of fever and strife. To enter this inward

p. 243

[paragraph continues]Kingdom is to enter “the Path” into which Buddha led his disciples. To become (in the fullest sense of the words) a naturalized citizen of the Kingdom is to pass into Nirvâna. When Christ says, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon the earth, where moth and rust doth consume, and where thieves break through and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth consume and where thieves do not break through nor steal; for where thy treasure is there will thy heart be also,” he is but harping on the theme, so familiar to Indian thought, of the impermanence of outward things and the permanence of the inward life. When he likens the kingdom of heaven to the “hidden treasure” or the “pearl of great price,” to win which a man will sell all that he has, he is but echoing the teaching of the Indian sages that the Self within the self is alone real, and that all the things which we prize must be surrendered in order that He may be won.

Even the words which Christ is reported to have used about his own kinship to and oneness with “the Father”–words on which all the fantastic structures of Christian theology have been based–are but the expression, in a new notation, of the sublime Indian doctrine that “He is the true self of every creature,”–that “Brahma and the self are one.”

Lastly, the great question in which the whole of Christ’s spiritual teaching is summed up and typified–“What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul; or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?

p. 244

with its implicit assumption that the soul is greater and more precious than “the whole world,” is the very question which India had again and again asked herself, and in which all her meditations on great matters had centred.

The ideas which dominated Christ’s teaching, and which, according to my hypothesis, had come to him from the Far East, were not wholly new to the Græco-Roman world of his day. Xenophanes, Parmenides, Pythagoras and (above all) Plato had expounded them, each from his own point of view and in his own language, to esoteric circles of disciples. But no popular exposition of them had been attempted in the West till Christ came ender their influence and was captivated by their truth and beauty. Whether they were consciously or unconsciously adopted by Christ matters little. The broad fact confronts us that the ideas which he expounded coincide, at every vital point, with ideas which were current in India many centuries before the Christian era. Had India, through all those centuries, been entirely walled off from Western Asia and Southeastern Europe, the coincidences between the teaching of Christ and the teaching of Buddha and his forerunners might conceivably be regarded as purely fortuitous. But never, before the establishment of British rule in India, had the opportunities for intercourse between East and West been so numerous or so favourable as in the centuries which immediately preceded the birth of Christ. For during a part, at least, of that period a chain of partially Hellenized kingdoms stretched from India to the Mediterranean, forming

p. 245

a broad highway along which the spiritual ideas of India travelled, slowly but surely; Westward. We need not lay much stress on the inscription which records the intention of the Buddhist Emperor, Asoka, to send missionaries from India to Syria, Egypt, and other Hellenized lands, in order to preach the gospel of deliverance; for we have no evidence that those missionaries were ever sent. But the migration of a spiritual idea is not dependent, wholly or even mainly, on the labours of its accredited agents. The decadence of religion and philosophy in the Græco-Roman world during the centuries which intervened between the death of Alexander and the birth of Christ, had created a spiritual vacuum which was waiting to be filled; and the westward set of the current of Indian ideas was as natural a movement as that of the Trade Winds or the Gulf Stream.

But if we may not say that Christ originated the ideas which he expounded, we may–and must–say that he was grandly original in the use that he made of them. The inspired teacher is not he who invents new ideas–for great ideas are never invented–but he who having received them, from whatever quarter, is able to assimilate them and make them his own. It is because he did this to the largest and most luminous ideas that have yet dawned upon the human spirit, that Christ must take rank with Buddha as one of the foremost teachers of mankind. What Buddha had done to the ideas of the Upanishads, Christ did to the same ideas when they had come to him, as they probably did, through the medium of Buddha’s ethical

p. 246

teaching, he made them available for the daily needs of ordinary men.

But the method by which Christ worked was entirely his own. To graft the spiritual idealism of India on the stem of Hebrewpoetry, and so to bring it home to the heart, rather than to the mind or the conscience, was the work of his life. Leaving it to thinkers, like Plato, to develop the idea of soul-growth through the medium of abstract thought,–leaving it to moralists, like Buddha, to develop it through the medium of a scheme of life,–Christ was content to develop it through the medium of poetic emotion. Out of the rival conceptions of God which were symbolized by Brahma and Jehovah respectively, he devised a third–the “resultant” of their respective forces–the idea of the All-Father who loves and is loved by his children, men. Setting before men, as Plato and Buddha had done, the finding of the soul or true self as the goal of their life’s endeavour, he neither gave them reasons for pursuing that goal (as Plato had done) nor directions for pursuing it (as Buddha had done), but he gave them instead of these a motive for pursuing it–of all motives the strongest and the purest–the quasi-personal love of the All-loving God. Where Plato and where Buddha were strong, each in his own way, Christ was by comparison weak; but he had a strength which was all his own. Plato reasoned about God. Buddha kept silence about God. Christ made him the theme of his poetry. Each of these modes of dealing with the idea of the Divine has its own merits and its own defects. The defects of Christ’s treatment

p. 247

of the idea are obvious. The teacher who tries to popularize spiritual truth by formulating it in terms of poetry, may almost be said to invite men to literalize and despiritualize his teaching. Christ took this risk and paid the penalty of his daring. But though the penalty was a heavy one, yet when he had paid it in full there was a substantial balance in his favour. As a speculative thinker he does not compete with Plato. As a systematic teacher he does not compete with Buddha. But as a source of spiritual inspiration he has no rival.

 

With Christ’s example before us, we need not hesitate to go for spiritual ideas to the only land in which they have ever (as far as we know) been indigenous,–to Ancient India. In the India which gave birth to the Upanishads, belief in the soul grew on its own stock and sprang from its own roots. No attempt was made to prove the reality of the soul, or to apologize for the belief in it. So far as any reason was given for the “soul-theory,” it was a reason which proved–if I may be allowed the paradox–that the reality of the soul is unprovable.

“Only by soul itself
Ts soul perceived.–when the Soul wills it so!
There shines no light save its own light to show
Itself unto itself.” 1

The idealistic ventures of the West have all suffered shipwreck on the rock of the average man’s “common-sense,”–an euphemistic title for his spiritual indolence, his lack of imagination, and his

p. 248

inability to think clearly or coherently. But the spiritual thought of India, in the days when her soul was awake and active, was, at its highest level, strictly esoteric. In the teaching of Buddha we have the nearest approach to popularizing it that was ever made; but what Buddha submitted to the average man were, not the conclusions of Indian idealism, not the reasons for those conclusions, but their practical consequences. That the average man was deeply interested in the soundness of Buddha’s scheme of life, was no reason (so its author seems to have thought) for allowing him to examine the philosophical conceptions that underlay it. The average man is deeply interested in the stability of the Forth Bridge; but had the engineers of that structure invited him to handle the profound mathematical problems which had to be solved before their designs could be completed, they would justly have been deemed insane. Not less insane would it have seemed to the Master Thinkers of India to allow the average man to handle the problem of reality, or any kindred problem.

It is true that to ignore the average man in the region of high thinking is a loss to the life of a nation as well as a gain; and that India has paid heavily for having ignored him. But the gain to her thought, while her spiritual life was at or near its zenith, was immense. Serenely indifferent to the verdict of the market place, Indian idealism never explains itself, never gives account of itself, never even for a moment distrusts itself. This means that under its ægis the soul’s belief in itself

p. 249

is complete. And this again means that the soul is not curious about itself, or about .the worlds of which it is at once the centre and the circumference; that it is content with ideas and impatient of formulæ; that high thinking is neither the master nor the servant of spiritual desire, but its peer and its other self; that the head is ready to give the heart the guidance that it really needs,–the guidance that stimulates to fresh endeavour, not the guidance that blinds the vision and paralyzes the will.

It is to India then–the India of the Upanishads and of Buddha–that the West must go for the ideas, both central and subordinate, which shall rescue it from its embarrassments and restore it to a state of spiritual solvency. The central idea for which it is waiting is that of the reality of the soul. Of the sub-ideas to which this idea is central it must select those which it will find most easy to assimilate. For if it is to put the ideas that it borrows to a profitable use, it must make them its own; it must, in a manner, re-create them by bringing them into harmony with the highest achievements of its own thought. Now the highest achievements of the Western mind are and have long been scientific. It is in the sphere of physical science that its most successful work has been done, and that its most characteristic qualities have been developed. There are obvious reasons–in the West, where for centuries men have been authoritatively taught to identify the impalpable with the supernatural, there are special reasons–why the physical or palpable side of Nature should have

p. 250

been the first for Science to explore. But there is no reason why Science should confine her operations to that particular sphere. To be immersed in physical matter is not of the essence of Science. What is of her essence is the secret faith which is the mainspring of all her energies,–the faith of the soul of man in the intrinsic unity of Nature, its latent belief that the Universe is “not an aggregate but a whole.” The aim of science–an aim which is not the less real because it is seldom consciously realized–is to discover one all-pervading substance, one all-controlling force, one all-regulating law. Subordinate to, but vitally connected with, the belief in the unity of Nature is the belief in law,–the belief of the soul in the veracity of Nature, in the stability and self-identity of the Universe. These two beliefs (if we are to call them two) constitute the true creed of Science. They are beliefs, be it observed, not disbeliefs. Each of them has its counterpart in what I may call a cosmic desire,–in the instinctive response of the soul to a message from the heart of the Universe. What passes in certain quarters for the creed of Science is a series of dogmatic negations or disbeliefs. But the true creed is a faith, a hope, and an aspiration; and, sooner or later, it will find expression for itself in action, in conduct, in life.

Such being, in its essence, the creed or secret faith of Science, it is a shock to the scientific thought of the West, when it asks philosophy to give it the ground plan of the Universe, to find itself face to face with the dualism of popular thought. The veryraison d’être of Science is to prove that the

p. 251

[paragraph continues]Universe is an organic whole; and it is therefore an insult and a mockery to the mind which has long been living in an atmosphere of scientific effort and achievement, to be told that there are two worlds or spheres of being in the Universe, not one; that these two worlds are parted by an unfathomable abyss of nothingness which makes natural intercourse between them impossible; and that the Supreme Power which is supposed to have fashioned the world of Nature, and which now dwells apart from it in the supernatural Heaven, reveals itself at its own good pleasure to the dwellers in Nature by suspending the laws which are (one must believe) the expression of its own being,–in other words, by stultifying its own work and thwarting its own will. What wonder that the Western mind, in the violence of its re-action from so irrational a philosophy, should surrender itself to a theory of things which it regards as the only possible alternative for dualism,–to a materialistic monism in which unity is achieved by suppressing the impalpable, and therefore by despiritualizing and devitalizing the Universe? And what wonder that it should be unable to realize, owing to the poison of dualism being still in its veins, that a monism which is based on a comprehensive negation is not an alternative for dualism, but a new version of it;–the attempt to escape from dualism, by suppressing one of the terms of a given antithesis, leading one of logical necessity into the toils of a deadlier fallacy,–the fundamental dualism of the existent and the non-existent?

If the “advanced” thought of the West desires,

p. 252

in general, to convince itself of the unity of the Universe, it desires, more particularly, to bring the life of the soul–to bring the moral and spiritual worlds in which the life of the soul expresses itself–under the reign of natural law. This desire, which is ‘both legitimate and salutary, is systematically thwarted by the dogmatic teaching of those who pose as the champions of the soul. For twenty centuries the “soul-theory” has been presented to the consciousness of the West in the notation of the Supernatural. As so presented, it outrages at every turn man’s sense of law and his cognate (and virtually identical) sense of justice. To teach man that sin entered the world because his “first parents” violated an arbitrary command of the supernatural God; that because of this one original act of disobedience the whole human race stands condemned to eternal death; that the death of Christ on the cross has made it possible for men to escape from the terrible consequences of Adam’s sin; that this one brief earth-life decides for all time the destiny of each individual soul; that either eternal salvation or eternal damnation awaits the departed spirit; that grace (the higher life of the soul) is a supernaturally communicated gift, a water of healing which (as some contend) is “laid on” at every priest-served altar, or (as others contend) takes possession of the “elect” in a sudden and irresistible stream,–to teach man such things as these is to make open mockery of his sense of law and order and justice, and to warn him at the outset that there can be no science of the inner life. To this mockery and this warning the scientific

p. 253

thought of the West has begun to reply with open defiance. Forbidden by supernaturalism to bring the life of the soul under the sway of natural law, it is being led by the secret logic of its faith (for it cannot but cling to its intuitive conviction that the realm of natural law is co-terminous with the Universe) to disbelieve in the life of the soul, to ask for proofs of its existence, and at last to relegate the whole “soul-theory” to the limbo of exploded superstitions. In thus abandoning the “soul-theory,” the advanced thinkers of the West imagine that they are undoing the demoralizing work of supernaturalism. But in this matter, as in their treatment of the general problem of dualism, the remedy that they offer is worse than the disease. The West has never realized–so faulty has been its ethical training–that the inward consequences of moral action are regulated by one of Nature’s most just and most inexorable laws; and the normal attitude of the average man towards the problem of moral responsibility is that, apart from legal and social considerations, it matters little how one acts. He still feels, however, that it matters some-thing; for the general idea that moral goodness makes for the well-being of the soul has always been formally countenanced by supernaturalism, and is still, in some degree, a restraining, if not an inspiring, influence in his life. But let him be fully convinced that he has no inward life, and that therefore his conduct can have no inward consequences,–and it will not be long before he feels his way to the logical conclusion that (again apart from legal and social considerations) it matters nothing how one acts.

p. 254

We see, then, that the advanced thought of the West has, unknown to itself, a true and deep philosophy of its own,–a philosophy which centres in recognition of the essential unity of Nature and of the all-pervading supremacy of natural law. In virtue of this unformulated philosophy, it is the sworn enemy of dualism in general and of supernaturalism in particular; but it cannot yet realize what its hostility to dualism means, or where it is to find the remedy for the evil which it dimly discerns. The remedy for dualism is not the monism (if one must call it so) which suppresses one of the terms of a world-embracing antithesis, but the higher monism which recognizes that each term is the complement and correlate of the other; nay, that there is a reciprocal relation between the two in virtue of which each in turn owes to the other its meaning, its purpose, and (in the last resort) its very right to exist;–which recognizes, for example, that silence “implies sound,” that failure is “a triumph’s evidence,” that the supernatural world is at the heart of Nature, that form is as truly the expression of spirit, as spirit is the soul and life of form. 1

Such a monism was once taught in the Far East. The Indian doctrine of the fundamental identity of the individual and the universal life, and, more especially, of the ideal identity of the individual with the Universal Soul, makes an end, once and

p. 255

for all, of the false dualism of the human and the Divine, 1 and provides for the return of the Lord and Giver of Life from his exile in the supernatural dreamland to his home at the heart of Nature. If Western thought will accept this doctrine as a provisional theory of things, and try to master its meaning, it will be able to extend the conception of natural law to the inner life of man and to all the worlds–moral, æsthetic, poetic, religious, and the rest–which the ferment of that life has generated; it will be able, in due course, to take in hand the task for which its special bent and special training are even now equipping it, the task of building up the science of the soul.

When it takes that task in hand, it will find that Buddha has anticipated it, to the extent of indicating the main lines on which it will have to work. An attempt has been made by some of the Western exponents of Buddhism to show that the teaching of Buddha falls into line with the anti-idealistic theories of the dominant school of Western thought. The attempt has not been successful; for it can be shown, I think, that Buddha based his scheme of life, not on rejection of the “soul-theory,” but on whole-hearted acceptance of it. But those who contend that Buddha’s philosophy is modern and Western, have come within a little of stumbling

p. 256

upon an important truth. Though he belonged to a far-off age and a far-off land, the founder of Buddhism was akin to us in the scientific bent of his mind, in his grasp of the idea of law. His teaching does not fall into line with our thought, for in truth he was far more “advanced” than we are; but it is possible that our thought, as it develops, will come into line with his teaching.

The scientific achievements of the West, so far as they have any philosophical significance, fall under two main heads, the discovery (if I may use the word), on the physical plane, that the Kingdom of Nature is under the reign of law (a conception of Nature which Science must have unconsciously brought with her to her work of investigation, and which has made that work possible); and the further discovery that all laws of Nature are subordinate to the master law of development or growth1 Both these discoveries were anticipated by Buddha; but they were made by him–or by the thinkers who sowed what he reaped–not on the physical plane, but on the spiritual, on the plane of man’s inner life. Buddha realized, as no man before (or since) had ever done, that the soul is a living thing, and that, as such, it comes under the all-pervading, all-controlling law of growth. And he realized the practical bearing of this conception.

Physical science says to the husbandman, “Do such and such things, and your crops (taking one

p. 257

season with another) will be abundant: neglect to do them, and your crops will be poor;” or, in other words, “Bring your husbandry into harmony with certain laws of physical Nature, and you will fare well. Disregard those laws, and you will fare ill.” What the science of the West is doing for the growth (and the development) of wheat and barley, Buddha did for the growth of the soul. He taught men that, if they would bring their lives into harmony with certain fundamental laws of Nature, their souls would grow–as well-tended crops grow–vigorously and healthily; and that the sense of well-being which accompanies successful growth, and which, when consciously realized, is true happiness, would be theirs. He taught them this; and, in teaching it, he made that appeal to their will-power which is his chief contribution to the edification, as distinguished from the instruction, of the soul. The husbandman must take thought for his plants if their lives are to be brought into harmony with the appropriate laws of Nature; but the plant which we call the soul must take thought for itself. Penetrated with the conviction that what a man does re-acts, naturally and necessarily, on what he is, and so affects for all time the growth of the soul and its consequent well-being; penetrated with the conviction that conduct moulds character, and that character is destiny,–Buddha called upon each man in turn to take his life into his own hands, and himself to direct the process of his growth.

This message was his legacy to the ages. It is for Western thought to take it up and repeat it,

p. 258

developing in its own way the mighty ideas that are behind it. Dr Rhys Davids seems to think that it is “unmanly” 1 to take thought for one’s soul; and it is possible that care for the soul has at times taken forms which are open to this reproach. But when the idea of soul-growth is interpreted in the light of the idea of inexorable law, it loses the sickly savour which clings, in some slight measure, to the ideal of saintliness, and one begins to realize that to take oneself in hand and to make one’s soul grow, by the constant exercise of initiative and self-control, is to rise to an even loftier level than that of manliness (which, after all, is but the virtue of a sex), to the level of true manhood. The scheme of life in which Buddha embodied his science of the soul is in the highest degree bracing and stimulating; and one of the chief sources of its tonic influence is the sternness with which it insists on the merciless majesty of Nature’s laws. Just as physical science warns us that, if we drink polluted water (let us say), our health will suffer, and the elimination of the poison from our bodies will be a long and painful process, so Buddha warns men that wrong-doing is not less certain to work itself out of the soul as sorrow and suffering than is right-doing to work itself into the soul as health, and therefore as happiness and peace. That nothing can come between conduct and its inward consequences–between what we do and what we are and shall be–is the conviction

p. 259

on which the whole of his teaching is hinged. The ideas about God and Man and the Universe which have made possible the Christian belief in the forgiveness of sins, belong to a quarter of thought in which his mind never moved. Unlike Jehovah, who is angry and then repents and forgives, the power which is at the heart of Nature

“Knows not wrath nor pardon.”

[paragraph continues]If we sow the seed of wheat we shall reap wheat, and reap it, if we have been wise husbandmen, in abundant measure. But if we sow the seed of thistles, we must know for certain that our crop will be thistles, not wheat.

These ideas are eminently congenial to the scientific tone of Western thought; and the day will come (I venture to predict) when the conception of life which they embody will be accepted in the West as the sanest and truest conception that the mind of man has yet devised, and as the only stable foundation on which to build–what will surely be the fittest monument to Buddha’s greatness–the science of the soul. The task of building that monument, of interpreting in the light of modern experiences and adapting to modern needs the spiritual ideas of ancient India, will probably devolve upon the West (which is unconsciously preparing itself for the task by its arduous work in the field of physical science), rather than upon the East. Should that be so, and should the West rise to the level of its opportunity, it would at last find itself in a position to pay back the loan that had saved its credit; for

p. 260

it would have traded with its borrowed ideas to the best advantage, and would have duly enriched them with its own thought, its own labour, and its own life.

Before these things can come to pass one practical difficulty will have to be overcome. It is possible that the sentimental thought of the West will offer as strong an opposition to the idea of the life and destiny of the soul being regulated by inexorable law, as is now offered by the intellectual thought of the West to the root-idea of soul-life. But the advanced thinker of that distant day will be able to re-assure his weaker brethren. For he will remind them that the Universal Soul, which is the true self of each of us, and which the process of soul-growth will therefore enable each of us to realize, is the same for all men; and he will ask them to infer from this that the most inexorable of all Nature’s laws is the law to which even the master law of growth is in a sense subordinate,–the law which makes the Universe one living whole, the law of centripetal tendency, the law of Love.

THE END


Footnotes

234:1 Its favourite category is a hybrid one,–that of the real and the not-existent. But by the real it obviously means theexistent. The idea that there are degrees of reality lies beyond the horizon of its thought.

242:1 Compare Sâriputta’s words in his dialogue with Yamaka: “As regards all form . . . all sensation . . . all perception . . . all predispositions . . . all consciousness . . . the correct view in the light of the highest knowledge, is as follows: ‘This is not mine: this am I not: this is not my Ego.'” Can it be that the beautiful story of Kunâla [the son of the great Buddhist Emperor, Asoka], whose eyes were “plucked out” by order of his wicked stepmother, had made its way to Galilee?

247:1 “The Secret of Death,” by Sir Edwin Arnold.

254:1 The initial mistake of modern materialism is to assume that there can be no form except what is discernible, directly or indirectly, by man’s bodily senses,–a naïvely egotistic assumption which has nothing to say for itself except that it seems a truism to a certain type of mind.

255:1 I am sometimes told that, if I do not believe in the supernatural Divinity of Christ, I have no choice but to regard him as a “mere man.” What is a “mere man”? I have not the faintest conception. What is “mere” Nature? What is “mere” beauty? What is “mere” life? When a noun has an unfathomable depth of meaning, “mere,” in the limiting sense of the word, is surely the last adjective to apply to it.

256:1 We speak of the growth of an individual organism; of the development of a type. As the soul is both individual and universal, either term may be applied to it.

258:1 “The ancient Aryans were far too manly and free to be troubled much about their own souls, either before or after the death of the body.”–“American Lectures on Buddha,” p.17.