Sabtu, 26 Desember 2009

Buddha's Path

The Buddha's Path, Ch 1, no 1

Dear friends,

This is a book I wrote long ago and I think that it will be helpful
also for beginners. I shall post it in sections.
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Chapter I

Introduction


Why are we in this life? Why do we have to suffer? Men of all times
conceived philosophical systems which could explain the reason for
their existence and give a solution to the problem of suffering.
Religions also try to give an answer to the problem of suffering in
teaching that people should have faith in God and live according to
His commandments; consequently one can, after death, enjoy eternal
bliss in heaven. The Buddha gave his own, unique answer to the
problem of suffering. He taught that the cause of suffering is within
man, namely his own faults and defilements, and not in the external
situation. He explained that only profound knowledge of his own mind
and of all phenomena of his life can lead to the end of suffering. We
read in the Buddhist scriptures (Kindred Sayings I, Chapter III,
Kosala, Part 3, §3, The World) that King Pasenadi had a conversation
with the Buddha at Såvatthí about the cause of suffering. We read:

“…How many kinds of things, lord, that happen in the world, make for
trouble, for suffering, for distress?”
“Three things, sire, happen of that nature. What are the three?
Greed, hate, and delusion—these three make for trouble, for
suffering, for distress…”

The outward circumstances cannot be changed, but the inward attitude
towards the vicissitudes of life can be changed. Wisdom can be
developed and this can eventually eradicate completely greed, hate
and delusion. This wisdom is not developed by speculation about the
truth of life, it is developed through the direct experience of the
phenomena of life as they really are, including one’s own mental
states. That is the Path the Buddha taught, but it takes time to
understand how it is to be developed.

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The Buddha was not a God, not a saviour, who wanted people to follow
him without questioning the truth of his teaching. He showed the Path
to the understanding of the truth, but people had to investigate the
truth and develop the Path themselves. We read in the scriptures
(Dialogues of the Buddha, II, 16, the Book of the Great Decease) that
the Buddha said to his disciple Ånanda:

Therefore, Ånanda, be an island to yourselves, a refuge to
yourselves, seeking no external refuge; with the Teaching as your
island, the Teaching as your refuge, seeking no other refuge…

The Buddha explained that in developing the Path one is one’s own
refuge. The Buddha had found the Path to understanding of the truth
all by himself, without help from a teacher. However, he was not the
only Buddha. Aeons and aeons ago there were other Buddhas who also
found the Path all by themselves and who taught the development of
the Path to others. The Buddha whose teaching we know in this time
was called the Buddha Gotama. His personal name was Siddhattha and
his family name Gotama. He lived in the sixth century B.C. in
Northern India. He was born in Lumbini (now in Nepal) as the son of
Suddhodana, King of the Såkyas. His mother was Queen Måyå. He married
Princess Yasodharå and he lived in great luxury. However, when he
drove out to the park with his charioteer he was confronted with
suffering. We read in the Dialogues of the Buddha (II, 14, The
Sublime Story) that the Buddha related the story of a former Buddha,
the Buddha Vipassi, and explained that all Bodhisattas, beings
destined to become Enlightened Ones, Buddhas, have such experiences.
We read that the Bodhisatta, after he saw in the park someone who was
aged, asked the charioteer the meaning of what he saw. The charioteer
explained to him that the person he saw was aged and that all beings
are subject to old age. On a following occasion there was an
encounter with a sick person and the charioteer explained that all
beings are subject to illness.

*******

At another occasion the Bodhisatta saw a corpse. The charioteer
explained that that was the corpse of someone who had ended his days.
We read:

…And Vipassi saw the corpse of him who had ended his days and asked
—“What, good charioteer, is ending one’s days?”
“It means, my lord, that neither mother, nor father, nor other
kinsfolk will see him any more, nor will he ever again see them.”
“But am I too then subject to death, have I not got beyond the reach
of death? Will neither the King, nor the Queen, nor any other of my
relatives see me any more, or I ever again see them?”
“You, my lord, and we too, we all are subject to death, we have not
passed beyond the reach of death. Neither the King, nor the Queen,
nor any other of your relatives would see you any more, nor would you
ever again see them.”
“Why then, good charioteer, enough of the park for today! Drive me
back from here to my rooms.”
“Yes, my lord,” replied the charioteer, and drove him back.
And he, monks, going to his rooms, sat brooding sorrowful and
depressed, thinking—“Shame then verily be upon this thing called
birth, since to one born the decay of life, since disease, since
death shows itself like that!”

After the Bodhisatta had been confronted with an old man, a sick man
and a corpse, his fourth encounter was with a monk. The Bodhisatta
asked the meaning of being a monk and the charioteer answered that it
was being thorough in the religious life, in the peaceful life, in
good actions, in meritorious conduct, in harmlessness, and in
kindness to all creatures. The Bodhisatta decided to leave his
worldly life and to become a monk.
The Buddha Gotama, when he was still a Bodhisatta, had the same
encounters as the Bodhisatta Vipassi. He also became a monk after his
fourth encounter in order to seek the solution to the problem of
suffering. He first practised severe austerity, but he saw that that
was not the way to find the truth. He decided to discontinue such
severe practices and to stop fasting. On the day he was to attain
enlightenment he took rice gruel which was offered to him by the girl
Sujåtå. Seated under the Bodhi-tree he attained enlightenment. He
realized the four noble Truths: the truth of suffering, of the cause
of suffering, of the ceasing of suffering and of the Path leading to
the ceasing of suffering. He had attained enlightenment at the age of
thirty-five years and he taught the Path to others for forty-five
years. At the age of eighty he passed away at Kusinårå.

******

His teachings have been preserved in the Buddhist scriptures of the
Vinaya (Book of Discipline for the monks), the Suttas (the
Discourses), and the Abhidhamma (the “Higher Teachings”). These
scriptures which have been written in the Påli language are of the
Theravåda tradition. The term “Theravåda” (Hínayåna or “Small
vehicle” is no longer used) could be translated as “the School of the
Elders”. There is also the Mahåyåna tradition which developed later
on. The two traditions are in agreement with several points of the
Buddha’s teachings, but they are different as regards the practice,
the development of the Buddha’s Path leading to the realization of
the truth. The Theravåda tradition is followed in Thailand, Sri
Lanka, Laos, Cambodia and Bangladesh. The Mahåyåna tradition is
followed in China, Japan, Tibet and Mongolia.
The Buddha, at his enlightenment, understood that the cause of
suffering is craving. He saw that when there is the cessation of
craving there will be an end to suffering. What the Buddha teaches is
contrary to what people generally are seeking in life. Every being
has craving for the experience of pleasant things and therefore
wishes to continue to obtain such objects. The Buddha was, after his
enlightenment, for a moment not inclined to teach the truth he had
realized under the Bodhi-tree. He knew that the “Dhamma”, his
teaching of the truth, would be difficult to understand by those who
delighted in sense pleasures. We read in the Middle Length Sayings
(I, number 26, The Ariyan Quest), that the Buddha related to the
monks his quest for the truth when he was still a Bodhisatta, his
enlightenment and his disinclination to teaching. We read that the
Buddha said:

This that through many toils I’ve won—
Enough! Why should I make it known?
By folk with lust and hate consumed
This Dhamma is not understood.
Leading on against the stream
Deep, subtle, difficult to see, delicate,
Unseen it will be by passion’s slaves
Cloaked in the murk of ignorance.

We then read that the Brahmå Sahampati, a heavenly being, implored
the Buddha to teach the truth.

*****

The Buddha surveyed the world with the eye of an Awakened One, and he
saw beings with different dispositions, some of whom were not capable
to accept his teaching, and some who were capable to be taught. We
read that the Buddha used a simile of different kinds of lotuses in a
pond:

…Even as in a pond of blue lotuses or in a pond of red lotuses or in
a pond of white lotuses, a few red and blue and white lotuses are
born in the water, grow in the water, do not rise above the water but
thrive while altogether immersed; a few blue or red or white lotuses
are born in the water, grow in the water and reach the surface of the
water; a few blue or red or white lotuses are born in the water, grow
in the water, and stand rising out of the water, undefiled by the
water; even so did I, monks, surveying the world with the eye of an
Awakened One, see beings with little dust in their eyes, with much
dust in their eyes, with acute faculties, with dull faculties, of
good dispositions, of bad dispositions, docile, indocile, few seeing
fear in sins and the world beyond.

Out of compassion the Buddha decided to teach Dhamma. His teaching
goes “against the stream”, it is deep and it can only be understood
by studying it thoroughly and by carefully considering it. Generally,
people expect something else from the Buddhist teachings. They
believe that the Buddha taught a method of meditation to reach
tranquillity, or even extraordinary experiences such as a mystical
trance. It is understandable that one looks for a way of escape from
a life full of tension and troubles. Extraordinary experiences,
however, cannot give the real solution to one’s problems. It is a
wrong conception of Buddhism to think that the goal of the Buddha’s
Path are mystical experiences to be reached by concentration. The
Buddha’s Path has nothing to do with unworldly mysticism, it is very
concrete and matter of fact. Understanding should be developed of all
that is real, also of our faults and vices as they naturally appear
during our daily activities. We have to know ourselves when we laugh,
when we cry, when we are greedy or angry, we have to know all our
different moods. All troubles in life are caused by our defilements.
It is through the development of understanding that defilements can
be completely eradicated. Comprehending, knowing and seeing are
stressed time and again in the Buddhist teachings.

*******

It is felt by some people that, in order to develop understanding of
one’s mind, one should retire from daily life and sit still in quiet
surroundings. It may seem that, when one is in isolation, there is no
anger or aversion and that it is easier to analyse one’s mental
states. However, at such moments there is bound to be clinging to
quietness and when there is clinging there is no development of
understanding. We read in the scriptures about people who could
develop calm in concentrating on a meditation subject. They were very
skilled, they knew the right method to attain calm, which is a
wholesome mental state. However, through the development of calm
defilements are not eradicated, they are merely temporarily
suppressed. The Buddha taught the way to develop the understanding
leading to the complete and final eradication of all that is impure,
of all defilements. In order to reach the goal there is no other way
but developing understanding naturally in one’s daily life.
It cannot be expected that there will be the eradication of
defilements soon since they are so deeply rooted. The Buddha had,
during countless lives when he was still a Bodhisatta, developed
understanding of all phenomena of life. Only in his last life, at the
moment he attained enlightenment, all defilements were eradicated.
How could we expect to reach the final goal within a short time?
The Buddha taught the way to the eradication of all defilements.
Defilements are not eradicated by rituals or by sacraments. The way
to eradicate them is an inner way, namely the understanding of all
mental and physical phenomena of one’s life. The Buddha taught very
precisely what defilements are. They are not exactly the same as what
is generally meant by “sin”. By sin is usually meant an evil deed,
evil speech or evil thought which has a high degree of impurity.
According to the Buddhist teachings defilements include all degrees,
even slight degrees, of what is impure. Even slight degrees of
defilements are unhelpful, not beneficial. The term
“unwholesomeness”, that which is unhelpful, not beneficial, includes
all degrees of defilements. If one thinks in terms of sin one will
not understand that ignorance of the phenomena of life is
unwholesome, that ignorance is harmful since it blinds one to see the
truth. Or one will not understand that even a slight degree of
attachment is unwholesome, even harmful, because it is accumulated
and it will arise again and again.

******

The Buddha, when he was sitting under the Bodhi-tree, realized the
four noble Truths: the Truth of suffering, the Truth of the origin of
suffering, the Truth of the ceasing of suffering, and the Truth of
the Path leading to the ceasing of suffering. As to the Truth of
suffering, this is not merely suffering caused by bodily and mental
pain. The Truth of suffering pertains to all phenomena of life which
are impermanent. They arise and then fall away immediately, and thus
they cannot be our refuge. Suffering in this sense is the
unsatisfactoriness inherent in all phenomena of life. Only when the
arising and falling away of physical phenomena and mental phenomena
can be directly experienced, can one begin to grasp the Truth of
suffering.
The Truth of the origin of suffering is craving. Craving in this
sense is not only strong attachment or greed, it includes many shades
and degrees of attachment. There is craving for pleasant colours,
sounds, odours, flavours and tangible objects, for all that can be
experienced through the senses. There is craving for the continuation
of life. It is craving which conditions rebirth in new existences,
again and again. Craving pushes beings on in the cycle of life, the
continuation of rebirth and death. There is not only this present
life, there were also past lives and there will be future lives. I
will deal with this subject later on. So long as there are ignorance
and clinging there are conditions for being in the cycle of birth and
death. Through wisdom, understanding, there can be liberation from
it. When there are no more conditions for rebirth, there is the end
of old age, sickness and death, the end of all suffering.

******

The third noble Truth, the cessation of suffering, is nibbåna. The
Buddha experienced at his enlightenment nibbåna. It is difficult to
understand what nibbåna is. Nibbåna (more popularly known in its
Sanskrit form of nirvåùa) is not a place such as heaven or a paradise
where one enjoys eternal bliss. There are heavenly planes, according
to the Buddhist teachings, where one can be reborn as a result of a
good deed, but existence in such planes is not forever. After one’s
lifespan in such a plane is ended there will be rebirth in other
planes, and thus there is no end to suffering. Nibbåna is only an
object of speculation so long as it has not been realized. It can be
realized when there is full understanding of all phenomena of life
which arise because of their own conditions and then fall away. The
conditioned phenomena of life are, because of their impermanence,
unsatisfactory or suffering. Nibbåna is the unconditioned reality, it
does not arise and fall away and therefore it is not suffering, it is
the end of suffering. Nibbåna is real, it is a reality which can be
experienced, but we cannot grasp what an unconditioned reality is
when we have not realized the truth of conditioned realities. Nibbåna
is not a God, it is not a person or a self. Since negative terms are
used to express what nibbåna is, such as the end of rebirth, it may
be felt that Buddhism propagates a negative attitude towards life.
However, this is not the case. It has to be understood that rebirth
is suffering and that nibbåna is the end of suffering. Nibbåna is
freedom from all defilements, and since defilements are the cause of
all unhappiness nibbåna should be called the highest goal. We read in
the Kindred Sayings (IV, Kindred Sayings on Sense, Part IV, Chapter
38, §1, Nibbåna) that the wanderer Rose-apple-eater came to see the
Buddha’s disciple Såriputta and asked him what nibbåna was. Såriputta
answered:

The destruction of lust, the destruction of hatred, the destruction
of illusion, friend, is called nibbåna.

“Extinction” and “freedom from desire” are meanings of the word
nibbåna. Nibbåna means the end of clinging to existence and thus it
is deliverance from all future birth, old age, sickness and death,
from all suffering which is inherent in the conditioned realities of
life.

******

The Buddha experienced at his enlightenment the unconditioned reality
which is nibbåna. His passing away was the absolute extinguishment of
conditions for the continuation of the life process. When the Buddha
was still alive people asked him what would happen to him after his
passing away. He explained that this belongs to the questions which
cannot be answered, questions which are merely speculative and do not
lead to the goal. The Buddha’s passing away cannot be called the
annihilation of life, and there cannot be rebirth for him in another
plane, either. If there would be rebirth he would not have reached
the end of all suffering.
The fourth noble Truth, the way leading to the ceasing of suffering,
is the development of the eightfold Path as taught by the Buddha. I
will deal with the eightfold Path more extensively later on in this
book. The eightfold Path is the development of understanding of all
physical phenomena and mental phenomena which occur in daily life.
Very gradually these phenomena can be realized as impermanent,
suffering and “not self”. The Buddha taught that there is in the
absolute sense no abiding person or self. What is generally
understood as a person is merely a temporary combination of mental
phenomena and physical phenomena which arise and fall away. The
Buddha’s teaching of the truth of “non self” is deep and difficult to
grasp. This teaching is unique and cannot be found in other
philosophical systems or religions. I will deal with the truth of
“non self” later on in this book. So long as there is still clinging
to the concept of a self defilements cannot be eradicated. There has
to be first the eradication of the wrong view of self and then other
defilements can be eradicated stage by stage.

******

There were many monks, nuns and laypeople who developed the Path and
realized the goal, each in their own situation. The development of
the eightfold Path does not mean that one should try to be detached
immediately from all pleasant objects and from existence. All
realities, including attachment, should be known and understood. So
long as there are conditions for attachment it arises. The
development of understanding cannot be forced, it must be done in a
natural way. Only thus can understanding, knowing and seeing, very
gradually lead to detachment. When one is a layfollower one enjoys
all the pleasant things of life, but understanding of realities can
be developed. The monk who observes the rules of monkhood leads a
different kind of life, but this does not mean that he already is
without attachment to pleasant objects. He too should develop
understanding naturally, in his own situation, and come to know his
own defilements.
The development of the Buddha’s Path is very gradual, it is a
difficult and long way. It may take many lives before there can be
the attainment of enlightenment. Since the development of the Path is
so difficult there may be doubt whether it makes sense to start on
this Path. It is complicated to understand all phenomena of life,
including our own mental states, and it seems impossible to eradicate
defilements. It is useless to expect results soon, but it is
beneficial to start to investigate what our life really is: phenomena
which are impermanent and thus unsatisfactory. When we start on the
Buddha’s Path we begin to see our many faults and vices, not only the
coarse ones but also the more subtle ones which may not have been so
obvious. Before studying the Buddhist teachings, selfish motives when
performing deeds of generosity were unnoticed. When the deep,
underlying, impure motives for one’s deeds are realized is that not a
gain? A sudden change of character cannot be expected soon as a
result of the Buddhist teachings, but what is unwholesome can be
realized as unwholesome, and what is wholesome can be realized as
wholesome. In that way there will be more truthfulness, more
sincerity in our actions, speech and thoughts. The disadvantage and
danger of unwholesomeness and the benefit of wholesomeness will be
seen more and more clearly.

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The Buddha taught about everything which is real and which can be
experienced in daily life. He taught about seeing and hearing, about
all that can be experienced through the senses. He taught that on
account of what is experienced through the senses there is
attachment, aversion and ignorance. We are ignorant most of the time
of the phenomena occurring in daily life. However, even when we only
begin to develop understanding we can verify the truth of what the
Buddha taught. Seeing, hearing, attachment, anger, generosity and
kindness are real for everybody. There is no need to label what is
true for everybody as “Buddhism”. When we begin to investigate what
the Buddha taught there will gradually be the elimination of
ignorance about ourselves and the world around us.
We read in the Kindred Sayings (IV, Kindred Sayings on Sense, The
Third Fifty, Chapter I, §111, Understanding):

By not comprehending, by not understanding, without detaching himself
from, without abandoning the eye, one is incapable of the destruction
of suffering. By not comprehending…the ear…nose…tongue…body…mind…one
is incapable of the destruction of suffering.
But by comprehending, by understanding, by detaching himself from, by
abandoning the eye…nose…tongue…body…mind…one is capable of the
destruction of suffering.

In the following sutta we read that, for the destruction of suffering
colours, sounds, scents, savours, tangible objects and mind-states
have to be understood. This is the way leading to the end of
suffering. The Buddha taught about realities for the sake of our
welfare and happiness.

_________

Nina.

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