BUDDHISM ANSWERS LIFE
Kongsak Tanphaichitr, M.D.
Answers to Common Questions
1. WHAT IS BUDDHISM?
Buddhism is known in the East as 'Buddha-Sasana' or 'Buddha-Dharma.' The Buddha himself called his teaching 'Dhamma-vinaya,' the Doctrine and Discipline. Buddhism is a complete system taught by the Buddha as a way of life or a total way of being, based on or stemmed from the Supramundane Wisdom he attained through his Enlightenment, in an attempt to lead and guide any human being towards Enlightenment as he had experienced, to realize and penetrate through the true nature of all existence, which bears the Three Universal Characteristics namely 1. Impermanence (Anicca), 2. Imperfection, dis-ease (Dukkha), and 3. Not-self, emptiness, voidness (Anatta), and to see the Ultimate Truth, and free oneself from dis-ease, unsatisfactoriness and suffering (Dukkha), achieving the state of ultimate peace, calm and happiness, living in perfect harmony with nature, i.e. Nirvana. In fact, the whole of Buddhist Teaching is a mass of flexible methods appropriate severally for different time, places and most importantly, for different temperaments of persons. Buddhism is a way of moral, spiritual and intellectual training leading to complete freedom of mind (Nirvana).
Buddhism is the teaching of self-enlightenment. No God, gods, or external power will help one to realize the truth. Everyone has the power of realization, the Buddha Nature, within oneself (whether one is aware of it or not), regardless of age, sex, race, dialect, literacy, occupation, or religious belief, but one has to work with one's own effort to realize it.
2. WHO IS THE BUDDHA?
The Buddha is the title for Prince Siddhartha Gotama once he attained Enlightenment. He was born about 2,600 years ago in the southern part of Nepal (near the northern part of India). He is the founder of Buddha-Sasana or Buddhism, which he himself called Dharma-Vinaya. He attained Buddhahood through his own efforts and declared that it was possible for anyone to do the same. But he stressed that: "You yourselves must make the effort. The Buddhas only point out the Way."
Buddha is a state of mind, an intellectual and moral perfection. It means enlightenment: One who is truly enlightened is a Buddha. Buddhahood is the goal that anyone can attain. Buddhists believe there is no savior outside the brilliancy of enlightened wisdom.
3. WHAT DO BUDDHISTS BELIEVE OR WORSHIP?
The Buddhists have as their highest ideals, the Triple Gem, namely the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha (the Noble Order of Enlightened followers). In the strictest sense, the Buddhists do not 'believe' but understand, and they do not 'worship' but practice what they understand.
The Buddha taught his followers, on how to know which teachers are to be followed or not followed, as appeared in the Kalamas Sutra, which is considered to be the core of Buddhism, as follows:
Do not believe based on:
1 - 4: WHAT ONE LEARNS FROM OUTSIDE INFORMATIONS:
1. Mere report.
4. Holy writings.
5 - 8: REASONING THROUGH INNER THOUGHTS/CONCEPTS:
7. Common sense.
8. Accepted notions or own ideas.
9 -10: PERSONS:
9. Competent person.
10. Our teacher.
The Buddha said that "When you yourselves know (by observation, experience and right judgment): 'Such things are censured by the wise, such things when undertaken and followed lead to harm and ill' - then you should abandon such things. But when you yourselves know: 'Such things are good, such things are praise-worthy, such things are commended by the wise, such things when undertaken and followed lead to the good and welfare of all beings' - then should you accept, hold to and follow such things." In other words, by using intelligence and wisdom, one can form a correct judgment of whatever ideas offered to us.
4. WHAT IS DHARMA?
Dharma/Dhamma defies translation. There are several layers of meaning to the word ' Dharma.' [Dhamma: 1. the Dharma; the Dhamma; the Doctrine; the Teachings (of the Buddha). 2. the Norm; the Law; nature. 3. the Truth; Ultimate Reality. 4. the Supramundane, esp. Nirvana. 5. Righteousness; virtue; morality; good conduct; right behavior. 6. Tradition; practice; principle; rule; duty. 7. justice; impartiality. 8. thing; phenomenon. 9. a cognizable object; mind-object; idea. 10. mental state; mind factor; mental factor; mental activities. 11. condition; cause; causal antecedent. - Dictionary of Buddhism by Phra Dhampidok Payutto]. It can mean 'the Buddha's teachings,' 'the Middle Path taught by the Buddha that will lead to realizing the Ultimate Truth,' and 'the Ultimate of Nature,' or 'the Ultimate Truth.' The Buddha taught 'the secret of nature' which he discovered and penetrated through his enlightenment, that everything exists according to the flow of Nature (Samsara), and it exists according to the 'Law of Dependent Origination' (Paticcasamuppada), i.e., it exists according to cause and effect.
Dharma can be summarized as follows:
'Ultimate of Nature'- Life is suffering. Nothing else in life but suffering: arising, sustaining, and passing away.
'Law of Nature'- There is an end to suffering. With mindfulness and awareness, one can overcome suffering through seeing the truth as it is, without distorted and biased thoughts of self delusion or self-image.
'Duty'- One should work out one's way with diligence to awaken one’s awareness, to understand life, so one would live one’s life with peace and happiness.
'Fruition or Consequence'- As a result of performing one’s duty accordingly through the Middle path, with one's effort and diligence, one would gain sustained awareness, and capable of freeing one's mind, attaining ultimate peace and happiness, Nirvana, and living in perfect harmony with nature.
In one simple word, Dharma is the 'Norm of Life & Universe.' Basically, Dharma is the truth of the way things are, while Dharma as the Buddha's Teachings is a reflection in words of this truth. It is always there and functions accordingly and perfectly at any moment, according to the law of nature, whether the Buddha existed and discovered it or not. The Buddha only discovered this secret through his Enlightenment. With his loving-kindness and compassion, he was compassionate was willing to share the truth with the human race, so they too would be able to understand and penetrate through the secret of this norm of universe, enable them to live in perfect harmony with nature. The Buddha's teachings are for everyone, and no one has never been excluded from becoming a Buddhist by age, sex, literacy, occupation, race, or color, but more importantly, one does not need to be a Buddhist to study 'Dharma,' and to understand this 'norm of life & universe.' It is the Dharma that, when well practiced, will bring us back to nature and the truth of the ordinary.
5. WHAT IS SANGHA?
Sangha is the order or community of righteous followers, who carry on the torch of Buddha's Teachings by treading the path of self-enlightenment themselves, and helping others towards the same goal.
One may say that 'Sangha' is so named because of the beauty of its harmony. In fact, Buddhists learn to form a true Sangha, i.e., to be in harmony with one another, harmony of mind and body, and harmony with nature.
True Sangha means the Noble Order, or the Noble Disciples who are called 'Ariyapuggala.' They are the 'Arahat' - the enlightened one, the 'Anagami'- the non-returner, the 'Sagadagami' - the once-returner, and the 'Sota' - the stream-enterer.
6. WHAT IS LIFE?
The aim of Buddhism is to understand life as it truly is. Therefore, to understand Buddhism, one should know the meaning of 'life.' Life [Oxford Dictionary] means capacity for growth (Anicca or impermanence), functional activity, and continual change (Dukkha or imperfection, imbalance, conflict, stress), peculiar to animals and plants, before death (Anatta or voidness, emptiness, not-self). The definition of life by itself encompasses the true nature of all existence or the Three Universal Characteristics of All Existence.
Life also means state of existence as a living individual, living person, which in Buddhism this is seen as BODY (Rupa or Form) and MIND (Nama or Name).
7. WHAT ARE THE THREE UNIVERSAL CHARACTERISTICS OF ALL EXISTENCE (TILAKKANA)?
The Three Universal Characteristics of All Existence (Tilakkana) are:
1. Anicca - Impermanence: Growth as seen in all life forms is a sign of impermanence. Impermanence allows all life forms to grow by replacing the old cells with the new cells, but this also results in aging during the process of what is distortedly called 'growing.'
Anicca is obscured by Continuity (Santati).
2. Dukkha - Imbalance, imperfection, stress, conflict, dis-ease, suffering: All life forms continue to change, as a result of inability to stop or contain themselves in a perfect condition, i.e. they are imperfect and continue to change due to aging, diseases, environmental factors, or other conditions influencing their living. They, as conditioned things, are in constant stress and continue to change in response to the threat of nature and environment, and even themselves of their own aging. In another word, all conditioned things are imperfect, and suffering (Dukkha).
Dukkha is obscured by Movement, motion (Iriyapatha).
3. Anatta - Not-self, emptiness, voidness: All life forms end in death. They have no capability to be immortal, and hence they cannot say that their lives belong to themselves. If their lives belong to themselves, they should be able to control or tell them not to get old, not to get sick, and not to die, and it continues to get old, get sick, and die, against one's own will. Billions of dollars have been spent in the health care industry to stop or reverse these processes without success, and at the most one can only prolong one's life (the most revered and beloved thing to oneself) to a limit, but yet unable to avoid death, the final state of life. As one cannot have a complete control of one's life, therefore life is not-self or anatta.
Anatta is obscured by Cohesiveness, mass (Ghana).
8. WHAT IS A PERSON OR A LIVING INDIVIDUAL?
A person or a living individual consists of BODY (Rupa or Form) and MIND (Nama or Name). Buddhism, with its scientific outlook, sees life or a living individual is a combination of the FIVE AGGREGATES (Khandha - Pali/Skandha - Sanskrit or the Five Groups of Existence) OF CLINGING (Upadana) or Upadana-Khandha, namely:
1. MATERIAL FORM (Rupa): This is the BODY or physical aspect of a living individual. It is comparable to water foam, temporary holding the shape.
2. FEELING (Vedana): It is comparable to water bubbles, popping up all the time.
3. PERCEPTION (Sanna): It is comparable to mirage, without reality but an illusion.
4. MENTAL/THOUGHT FORMATION or VOLITION (Sankhara): It is comparable to a banana tree trunk, without any core or true trunk upon peeling.
5. CONSCIOUSNESS (Vinnana): It is comparable to a magician, who keeps performing magical tricks.
BODY or Material Form merely represents a combination of the 'Four Elements,' namely: Earth (solidity), Water (softness, cohesiveness), Air (gas, vibration), Fire (metabolic heat). Body continues to change, grow, get old, and finally die against one's own will, so when one looks deeply into it, there is no true self to be clung to.
MIND is made up of the latter four aggregates. Mind is a combination of CONSCIOUSNESS and MENTAL CONCOMITANTS or MENTAL ACTIVITIES (FEELING, PERCEPTION, MENTAL FORMATION), all of which continue to change all the time, without a true self entity to be clung to, therefore soulless or not-self (Anatta).
Clinging to the Five Aggregates or Body & Mind results in suffering, as one would enforce the self concept or self-image into them, trying to keep, control, and condition them, and labeling them as ours, without realizing that we have no power to control them. They continue to change according to the Three Universal Characteristics of Existence, and refuse to perform as we wish, resulting in conflicts and suffering.
Man is comprised of a psychophysical unit of Mind and Matter (Name and Form, or Mind and Body), but 'Mind' or 'Psyche' is not a soul or a self, in the sense of an enduring entity, something ready-made and permanent. It is a force, a dynamic continuum capable of storing up memories not only of this life but also of past lives or experience.
To the psychologist, 'Psyche' is no more a fixed entity.
To the scientist, 'Matter' is energy in a state of stress, change without real substance.
The Buddha stressed that, 'Individual' or 'Being' is a combination of 'physical' and 'mental forces or energies,' a change with continuity (Santati).
He did antedate modern science and psychology by over 25 centuries.
9. WHAT IS NOT-SELF (ANATTA), OR EMPTINESS (SUNNATA)?
The Buddha pointed out that LIFE or the FIVE AGGREGATES OF CLINGING are not-self (Anatta), and empty (Sunnata). One clings to life or these Five Aggregates of Clinging, although there is nothing to be called 'Life' or to be held to or clung to. One does not realize this fact, and so clings to what one likes. When one cannot hold on to it, one suffers, and this is known as dis-ease, imperfection, stress, conflict, suffering (Dukkha), as one’s body, one’s mind, and even the world one lives in are impermanent (Anicca), and not-self (Anatta) [The Three Universal Characteristics of Existence: Anicca, Dukkha, Anatta], void and empty (Sunnata). If one cannot even hold one's own body and mind together as a true self, how can one expect to cling to other things and hold them? These are the ultimate truth and true nature of all existence. Once this is seen and penetrated through, there is realization or enlightenment.
All states are not-self or soulless: SABBE DHAMMA ANATTA.
10. WHAT IS IGNORANCE?
Ignorance does not mean being illiterate or uneducated. One may have many doctorate degrees or be the smartest person on earth, even a Nobel laureate, yet in Buddhistic view, one is still full of ignorance as long as one has not seen or realized the ultimate truths of life.
Due to ignorance (Avijja) or lack of understanding in 'The Four Noble Truths,' ‘The Dependent Arising,’ and 'The Three Universal Characteristics of Existence' or the true nature of all existence, human being would have tendency to perceive things in a distorted way through perversion, and things appear to be permanent, pleasurable, and belonging to oneself.
The Buddha taught that basically life is 'suffering' (Dukkha), and there is a way to end this suffering, and he guided us to the Middle Path or the Noble Eightfold Path, leading to the extinction of suffering, as illustrated in The Four Noble Truths.
11. WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT KINDS OF TRUTHS?
Buddhism makes a distinction in what one encounters as two forms of truths namely:
1. CONVENTIONAL TRUTH: Truth based on the concepts drawn and accepted among the community, e.g., a carpenter, a doctor, a monk, male, female, monetary system, etc.
2. ULTIMATE TRUTH: Truth as it is in reality, without any change or transformation. It has always been there, whether the Buddha existed and discovered it or not. It is the true norm or the true nature within single one, e.g., people of different occupations or sexes are just human beings, and all are but companions of birth, and death, without any difference. Life is but suffering - arising, sustaining, and passing away.
12. WHAT ARE THE FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS?
The main ideas of Buddhism are contained in the statements known as the FOUR NOBLE or ULTIMATE TRUTHS and the MIDDLE WAY or PATH, namely:
1. SUFFERING (Dukkha): directs at the problems and problematic situations in life, which are to be observed, located and comprehended. It is represented physically by birth, old age, disease and death, and mentally by departure from the loved one, encountering an undesired situation, and not getting what one wants or desires.
2. ORIGIN OF SUFFERING (Dukkha-Samudaya): examines and explains the origin of the problems, by way of causality through the Dependent Origination or Dependent Arising (Paticcasamuppada) - the profound law of causes and effects, which is to be destroyed or eradicated, to experience a free life. Not knowing this Truth or being ignorant of the true nature of existence, people crave and cling to things, motivated by the defilements or impurities (Kilesa) or the 3 Unwholesome Roots, namely Greed/Desire, Hatred/Anger/Aversion, and Delusion. This results in the three kinds of craving/thirst (Tanha), namely: craving for sensual pleasures (Kama-tanha), craving for existence (Bhava-tanha), and craving for non-existence, self-annihilation (Vibhava-tanha). One suffers when one does not get adequate response.
3. EXTINCTION OF SUFFERING (Dukkha-Nirodha): deals with the goal of Buddhist endeavour, which is to be realized. This is Nirvana - the state of perfect peace, absence of defilements, and freedom from suffering, when one is able to eliminate ignorance with true knowledge and wisdom through mindfulness.
4. PATH LEADING TO THE EXTINCTION OF SUFFERING (Dukkha-Nirodhagamini patipada) or THE NOBLE EIGHTFOLD PATH, or MIDDLE WAY or PATH: defines the Buddhist way of life and contains all the ethical teaching and practice of Buddhism, providing the way and means, which is to be developed, to attain the goal set forth. This path consists of eight factors, namely:
4.1 Right View or Right Understanding,
4.2 Right Thought,
4.3 Right Speech,
4.4 Right Action,
4.5 Right Livelihood,
4.6 Right Effort,
4.7 Right Mindfulness,
4.8 Right Concentration.
The eight factors of the Path are organized into a system called the THREEFOLD TRAINING of MORALITY (comprising of Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Livelihood), CONCENTRATION or MIND DEVELOPMENT (comprising of Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration), and WISDOM (comprising of Right View and Right Thought). These practices are sometimes summed up in the 'THREE FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES,' namely:
1. Not to do any evil,
2. To cultivate good,
3. To purify the mind.
This Noble Eightfold Path is the MIDDLE WAY or PATH, avoiding the two extremes of sensual indulgence and self-mortification, and this is the way to live a balanced life in which material welfare and spiritual well-being go hand in hand, run parallel and are complimentary to each other.
13. WHAT IS KARMA IN BUDDHISM?
Karma (Sanskrit) or kamma (Pali) or deed, action is what one does intentionally with the body, speaks with tongue, or thinks in the mind. They are classified as good in intention, evil, or indeterminate. The Buddha taught in the Three Fundamental Principles to his followers to avoid doing bad deed (as it is bad and evil), and to cultivate good (as it is good). According to the Law of Dependent Arising or Origination, good deed would result in a pleasurable and good result, and bad deed would result in an unpleasurable and bad result, e.g. aversion and jealously would make oneself unhappy. Moral responsibility is thus firmly established in the following Buddhist Teaching:
"Volition, O monks, I declare is karma. Having willed, man acts, by deed, word, or thought." (Volition, which is will or a force, is a factor or activity of the mind. Kamma is the action or seed. Kamma-Vipaka is the effect or fruit.).
"I am owner of my karma, heir of my karma, born of my karma, related to my karma and abide supported by my karma. Whatever karma I have done, good or evil, of that shall I be heir (to receive or bear the fruits)."
In the other word, Buddhists have the capability to control one's own destination or future with good or bad deed or karma.
The Buddha also taught another aspect of karma which is unique to Buddhism and differs from other religions, that is the cessation of karma which can be achieved with the cessation of lust or greed, hatred or aversion, and delusion, through seeing one’s thoughts which conditioned one’s mind. This is world-transcending (Lokuttara), above good and above evil, and can be achieved through purifying one's mind with Insight Meditation to attain Nirvana, a state that ends the cycle of birth and death.
14. WHAT IS REBIRTH?
Buddhism does not subscribe to the belief of an everlasting, unchanging entity, as soul, supposedly residing in man and animals. As there is not true-self in one's life or individual, but the Five Groups of existence or Five Aggregates of CLINGING (Upadana-Khandha), therefore soulless, no-soul, no-self or not-self (Anatta), which is the main message of the Buddha, therefore there is no true rebirth of the individual, but only the cycle of birth and death, which are matters of relative truth.
In the strictest Buddhistic view, rebirth or the cycle of birth and death, has been described in the Dependent Origination or Arising (Paticcasamuppada). It actually means the arising and passing away of thought process. With clinging to ‘self’, or being self-centered, one would pre-occupy oneself with the self-image, similar to a visualized ‘hologram’ which is not truly there but emptiness or voidness (Sunnata), i.e, ‘not-self’ (Anatta), resulting in not seeing the truth as it is, and perceiving things in a distorted way. Everything that one comes in contact with through the six sense-organs (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind) would be blinded by greed, hatred, and delusion. As a result, one would see or hear only what one wants or likes to see or hear (and would not see nor hear what one hates or dislikes. Such phenomena have been confirmed by current scientific research studies), with further craving and clinging, becoming, and being born into or dwelling in the thought, until that thought ripens (Jara - aging) and dies down or passes away (Marana - cease, death), yet to be followed by another new wave of thought filling in the next gap. With ignorance or not realizing this truth, as one is so deeply embedded in the ‘self’ concept. One would constantly be involving in rebirth or the cycle of birth/arising and death/passing away of thoughts to please one’s own ego or this self-image. This will continue on and on, endlessly, innumerable times a day. Through mindfulness and awareness, one can see the thought process and catch the thought as it arises. Greed, hatred, and delusion, which normally sneak in with the thought and taint the thought, can no longer do so, as the unintentional thought has been quenched or seized immediately as it arises. One would see oneself, and realize the voidness/emptiness or not-self/selfless nature of one’s own self-image (like an empty hologram), and no longer allows the unintentional or ignorant thought to condition or cloud one’s mind. Rebirth would cease to continue, as its cycle is broken, and life would be a perfect one, totally free from all conditioning, conflicts, and suffering.
15. WHY MEDITATE? WHAT IS INSIGHT MEDITATION?
The Buddha stressed that one needs to put his teaching into practice, not just studying, to be able to see the Ultimate Truth and to penetrate through the true nature of all existence.
One meditates to gain mindfulness (Sati), awareness/ clear or ready comprehension/ wisdom-in-action (Sampajanna), concentration (Samadhi), and wisdom (Panna), so one would be able to penetrate through Not-self/voidness (anatta) and Emptiness (Sunnata), the true nature of all existence, and see things in reality as they truly are, without any biased thought or distorted idea and concept, freeing oneself from all the bondage, craving, and clinging, which form the root of suffering.
Delusion/Ignorance/Self/Egoism is the root of Greed/desire (like), and Hatred/anger (dislike), resulting in personal conflict, problems, stress, and suffering (Dukkha). With awareness/mindfulness/attentiveness, unawareness/inattentiveness disappears, as Mind can dwell in only one phenomenon at any particular moment of time. With increasing awareness, Wisdom will arise, replacing Ignorance/not-knowing/unawarenesss. With Wisdom, conflict/suffering ceases to exist.
There are two main types of meditation: Tranquillity or Concentration Meditation and Insight or Vipassana Meditation.
Tranquillity or Concentration Meditation: is the system of mind development to gain tranquillity, using an object of various kinds, e.g., a crystal ball, a color disk, a Buddha image, etc. as a tool to focus one’s mind from wandering around. One would become blissful, happy, and tranquil, suppressing one’s own greed, hatred, and delusion while maintaining this tranquillity, as a rock covering the grass. Yet, when this temporary tranquillity fades away, one would still face with, sometimes even more pronounced, greed, hatred, and delusion, like the grass would be growing back when the rock is lifted, even more vigorously from a more hardy root.
Insight or Vipassana Meditation: unique to Buddhism, is the system of mind development to gain wisdom, through self-observation to realize the arising and the ceasing of Name (Nama) and Form (Rupa), experiencing the dynamic nature of the mind, catching the mind movement or thinking process as thought arises, seeing the true nature of oneself and all phenomena as Not-self (Anatta). The Buddha has simplified the system and perfected the technique into the Four Foundation of Mindfulness. It is systematized into the method of self-observation of Body, Feeling, Mind, and Dharma or Mental objects/events. The wisdom gained through self-realization will permanently free oneself, like the grass being uprooted will never grow back, as the unintentional thought is being caught as it arises. As a result, greed, hatred, and delusion can no longer sneak in with the thought. One would be free from mental impurities, and become totally free from mental conflict/suffering. One would live peacefully with the norm of life, which is but void and empty, without a true self identity.
Vipassana or Insight Meditation is the very most important key or the core of Buddhism, as it is the tool to arouse and awaken one’s own hidden Buddha Nature, through cultivating Awareness and Mindfulness to gain the Intuitive Wisdom, leading to Enlightenment, freeing oneself from all the bondage and clinging, and getting rid of all the suffering. Without it, Buddhism is but an empty shell of doctrines and theories without any true substance, as lacking the tool to get rid of suffering. With it, the Buddha’s teaching becomes alive, and provable to oneself, as it is the vehicle to take one to Nirvana.
Paradoxically, Buddhism arises directly as the accomplished result of Vipassana or Insight Meditation through which the Buddha attained his self-enlightenment, and realized the true nature of all phenomena. His teaching or Buddha-Dharma is but the reflection and expression in words of what he witnessed as the Ultimate Truths or ultimate reality, the norm of life and universe. One may even say that without Vipassana or Insight Meditation, Insight and Wisdom would not have arisen in Prince Gotama Siddhartha, and Buddhism would not have existed.
Insight Meditation allows one to see things in reality as they truly are. It makes one differentiate all the encountered phenomena into the Conventional Truth and the Ultimate Truth. It takes one beyond Name and Form, through Pure Perception without any biased interpretation, to the Primary Point, where everything encountered is only Substance (Vatthu), without Concept or Supposition but the Absolute (Paramattha), with the vibes of Voidness and Emptiness (Agahn).
Insight Meditation is basically the ultimate self-improvement system, based on self-development, with self-reliance, through self-observation inwardly and directly at oneself, perfecting self-recollection/remembrance or mindfulness, cultivating self-awareness, gaining self-realization - seeing oneself and the Buddha Nature within oneself, attaining self-enlightenment - acquiring supramundane or ultimate wisdom, resulting in self-awakening from ignorance, and self-emancipation - freeing oneself from suffering. Yet, one needs this ‘self’ (Body and Mind) as a media or working ground for self-discovery, to see the Not-self (Anatta) or the void and empty nature (Sunnata) of one’s self-image/self-notion (similar to an empty hologram) to achieve this self-liberation (Nirvana).
17. WHAT IS CONTENTMENT?
Contentment means that one is tranquilly happy with what one gets or owns with the following understanding:
1. One should be delight with what one has gained or inherited,
2. One should be joyful with what one has earned through the best of one's capability,
3. One should be happy with one's own proper status.
This definitely does NOT mean that one should not strive for anything, as Buddhists frequently are being accused as being pessimists and frequently quoted, 'Buddhists hate life.'
On the contrary, Buddhism teaches its followers to be an OPTIMIST by practicing RIGHTEOUS ACTION, and RIGHTEOUS OCCUPATION with RIGHTEOUS EFFORT or STRIVING, i.e. to do one's best when it is a right act to get to one's goal, yet not to cling to it.
Being contented is basically practicing the way of the Middle Path, not to be caught in the two extremes of being too loose and greedy with sensual indulgence, nor being too strict and torturing oneself with self-mortification.
The Buddha taught his followers to be diligent. Even to his last words, he kept arousing everyone to be heedful and mindful as follows:
"PERISHABLE ARE ALL CONDITIONED/COMPONENT THINGS, WORK OUT YOUR SALVATION WITH DILIGENCE."
18. WHAT DID THE BUDDHA TEACH?
The Buddha only taught 'DUKKHA,' and the 'END OF DUKKHA.' In general, human being has tendency to perceive things in a distorted way through perversion. Things appear to be permanent, pleasurable, and belong to oneself, causing one to 'crave' for sensual pleasure, existence, and non-existence, the Cause of Dukkha, motivated by the unwholesome roots, namely greed, hatred, and delusion. This results in 'Dukkha' when one cannot get what one wants, or gets what one does not want. Even at the happiest moment of one's life, one would still face with stress, conflict, dis-ease and unsatisfactoriness (Dukkha), as one’s happiness cannot last forever (Impermanence - Anicca), and therefore it does not truly belong to oneself (Not-self - Anatta).
The Buddha pointed out that it is possible to end Dukkha, as he did find through his Enlightenment, through the Middle Path (Magga). Everyone is capable of ending suffering (Dukkha), by practicing the Middle Path, but one has to make one's own effort to succeed.
19. WHAT IS NIRVANA?
Nirvana (Sanskrit) or Nibbana (Pali) frees one from suffering, death and rebirth, and all other worldly bonds. It is the goal of spiritual practice in all branches of Buddhism. In the understanding of early Buddhism, it is departure from the cycle of rebirths (Samsara) and entry into an entirely different mode of existence. It requires complete overcoming of the three unwholesome roots - desire, hatred, and delusion (akushala) - and the coming to rest of active volition or thought formation (samskara). It ends egoism, and self-conceit. It extinguishes suffering. It means freedom from the determining effect of karma. Nirvana is unconditioned (asamskrita); its characteristic marks are absence of arising, subsisting, changing, and passing away.
Nirvana is here and now, not in next life, nor any heavenly realm, as frequently misinterpreted. It already exists in everyone, and can be realized by anyone, regardless of age, sex, race, dialect, literacy, or religious belief, etc. It is up to the person to awaken it up. This is why the Buddha set forth his endeavour in teaching everyone to witness this ultimate truth as he himself did, and live one’s life to one’s true full potential, while still possible, in perfect harmony with nature and free from suffering.
In Theravada or Hinayana Buddhism, two types of nirvana are distinguished:
1. Saupadisesa-nibbana: nibbana with the stratum of life remaining (Sopadhishesha-nirvana: nirvana with a remainder of conditionality, which can be attained before death); and
2. Anupadisesa-nibbana: nibbana without any substratum of life remaining (Nirupadhishesha-nirvana: nirvana without conditionality, which is attained at death).
Nevertheless we cannot do without language. If Nirvana is to be expressed and explained in positive terms, one would likely and immediately grasp an idea associated with those terms, which may be quite the contrary. Therefore it is generally expressed in negative terms - a less dangerous mode perhaps, and is often referred to by such negative terms as Tanhakkhaya 'Extinction of Thirst', Asamkhata 'Uncompound', 'Unconditioned', Viraga 'Absence of desire', Nirodha 'Cessation', Nibbana 'Blowing out' or 'Extinction'.
A few definitions and descriptions of Nirvana as found in the original Pali texts:
'It is the complete cessation of that very 'thirst' (Tanha), giving it up, renouncing it, emancipation from it, detachment from it.'
'Calming of all conditioned things, giving up of all defilements (Kilesa), extinction of "thirst" (Tanha), detachment (Upadana), cessation (Nirodha), Nibbana.'
'O bhikkhus, what is the Absolute (Asamkhata, Unconditioned)? It is, O bhikkhus, the extinction of desire (ragakkhayo), the extinction of hatred (dosakkhayo), the extinction of delusion (mohakkhayo). This, 0 bhikkhus, is called the Absolute.'
'O Radha, the extinction of "thirst" (Tanhakkhayo) is Nibbana.'
'O bhikkhus, whatever there may be things conditioned or unconditioned among them detachment (Viraga) is the highest. That is to say, freedom from conceit, destruction of thirst, the uprooting of attachment, the cutting off of continuity, the extinction of "thirst" (Tanha), detachment, cessation, Nibbana.'
The reply of Sariputta, the chief disciple of the Buddha, to a direct question 'What is Nibbana?' posed by a Parivrajaka, is identical with the definition of Asamkhata given by the Buddha: 'The extinction of desire, the extinction of hatred, the extinction of delusion.'
'The abandoning and destruction of desire and craving for these Five Aggregates of Attachment: that is the cessation of dukkha.'
'The cessation of Continuity and becoming (Bhavanirodha) is Nibbana.'
The Buddha referred to Nirvana as follows:
'O bhikkhus, there is the unborn, ungrown, and unconditioned. Were there not the unborn, ungrown, and unconditioned, there would be no escape for the born, grown, and conditioned. Since there is the unborn, ungrown, and unconditioned, so there is escape for the born, grown, and conditioned.'
'Here the four elements of solidity, fluidity, heat and motion have no place; the notions of length and breadth, the subtle and the gross, good and evil, name and form are altogether destroyed; neither this world nor the other, nor coming, going or standing, neither death nor birth, nor sense-objects are to be found.'
Because Nirvana is thus expressed in negative terms, there are many who have got a wrong notion that it is negative, and expresses self-annihilation. Nirvana is definitely no annihilation of self, because there is no self to annihilate. If at all, it is the annihilation of the delusion (Moha) or illusion, of the false idea of self (Atta).
Buddhism: Theory & Practice
Buddhism, known in the East where it originated as Buddha-Sasana (the Teaching of the Buddha) or Buddha-Dharma (the Truth taught by the Buddha), is a complete system of living or a total way of being taught by the Buddha, the Self-Enlightened One. The Buddha himself called his teaching 'Dhamma-vinaya,' the Doctrine and Discipline. His Teaching or Buddha-Dharma is the teaching for a practical man. It is based on or stemmed from the Supramundane Wisdom he attained through his Enlightenment, in an attempt to lead and guide any human being towards Enlightenment as he had experienced, to realize and penetrate through the true nature of all existence. Buddhism is basically the awaken way of life (from ignorance, blinded by craving with greed, hatred, delusion), freeing one's mind and liberating oneself (Nirvana) from all the bondage and clinging to "self" (self-image/self-notion - Atta) which is the root to problems/conflict/dis-ease/unhappiness/suffering (Dukkha).
Through his enlightenment, Prince Siddhartha’s mind was 'purified' and revolutionized into the state of Buddhahood with the perfect and supramundane 'wisdom'. With his 'compassion', he started to teach ‘The Secret of Nature’ or ‘The Norm of Life & Universe’ which he discovered through his enlightenment. He taught that basically life is 'Suffering', and there is a way to end this suffering, through practicing 'The Path leading to the Extinction of Suffering' illustrated in 'Ariyasacca - The Four Ultimate or Noble Truths’ (as they literally mean), namely: 1. Suffering (Dukkha - suffering is to be comprehended), 2. Origin of Suffering (Samudaya - the cause of suffering is to be eradicated), 3. Extinction or cessation of Suffering (Nirodha - the cessation of suffering is to be realized), and 4. Path/Middle Path leading to the Extinction of Suffering (Magga - the path is to be developed).
Due to ignorance (Avijja) or lack of understanding in 'The Four Noble Truths' and 'The Three Universal Characteristics of Existence', human being in general would have tendency to perceive things in a distorted way through perversion (confirmed by nowadays neuroscientists that one sees or hears what one only wants to see or hear), and things appear to be permanent, pleasurable and belonging to oneself. Because of this distortion, it gives rise to craving (Tanha) for sensual pleasure, existence, or non-existence, motivated by the defilements/impurities (Kilesa), namely greed, hatred, and delusion. Therefore, the person who can envision 'Dukkha' or unsatisfactoriness in his life is the one who begins to see 'Dharma' or the Ultimate Truth of Nature, as 'Dukkha' is hidden in every moment of one's life and sometimes it exists in a very subtle form. Even at the happiest moment of one's life, one would still face with stress, conflict or unsatisfactoriness (Dukkha), e.g. one would worry that this happiness may not last forever (Anicca - Impermanence), as one has no control nor be able to make it last as long as one wishes because it does not really belong to oneself (Anatta). 'Dukkha' and happiness basically are the opposite extremes of the same process, similar to the opposite sides of one's own hand. If one only sees happiness, he is only looking at the palm without looking at the back of his hand. In fact 'happiness' is merely a subtle form of 'Dukkha', which is parallel to the principle of sensory perception of pleasurable bodily feeling and pain which is basically perceived from the electrical impulses of light and heavy intensities respectively transmitted through the same type of nerve fibers. Any person with enough wisdom to realize in 'Dukkha' is the person who starts to have the 'right understanding' or 'right view,' for seeing things in reality as they truly are, the most important step in practicing Buddhism.
THREE UNIVERSAL CHARACTERISTICS OF EXISTENCE X OBSCURITIES
1. Anicca: impermanence, transience X Continuity (Santati)
2. Dukkha: suffering, unsatisfactoriness, stress, X Motion, movement
imbalance, conflict, imperfection, oppression (Iriyapatha)
3. Anatta: non-self, soullessness, insubstantiality, X Cohesiveness, compactness
voidness, emptiness (Ghana)
Generally speaking, all conditioned phenomena express The Three Universal Characteristics of Existence in themselves, but these are not always perceived as such because they are being obscured by other factors. Impermanence (Anicca) is being obscured by continuity (Santati), e.g., we do not see the impermanence of our own bodies even our body cells die down all the time because they are being replaced by new cells, making us unaware of their death and impermanence. We only distortedly perceive this phenomenon as growing (yet, thanks to impermanence, we can grow). Only when our bodies malfunction or age, then we may begin to realize in their impermanence. Similarly, suffering (Dukkha) is being obscured by constant movement (Iriyapatha), e.g. when we sit or stand in one place for a period of time, we would start to feel uneasy and have to move around to avoid physical pain and suffering. Cohesiveness and compactness (Ghana) obscures the nature of not-self (Anatta) making one think that this body belongs to oneself. In fact it merely represents a combination of 'The Four Elements', namely, earth (solidity), water (softness, cohesiveness), air (gases, vibration), fire (metabolic heat), and The Five Aggregates of Clinging, namely material form, feeling, perception, mental/thought formation, and consciousness, none of which can be identified as belonging to oneself, nor can be truly controlled by oneself.
The Buddha taught that everything exists relatively to each other according to the flow of Nature, and it exists according to The Law of Dependent Origination, that is, it exists according to cause and effect. As a result of the existence of this thing, therefore that thing exists, e.g. suffering is the result of craving and clinging. On the contrary, if this thing does not exist, that thing would not exist, e.g. getting rid of craving and clinging will lead to extinction of suffering. Therefore the Buddha-Dharma or his teaching is basically the teaching about 1. Ultimate of Nature or the Ultimate Truths, i.e. life is suffering and there is an end to suffering, 2. Law of Nature, i.e. Nirvana has always been there whether the Buddha existed or not, 3. Duty to perform according to the Law of Nature, i.e. one should not waste one’s life away and should put in one’s best effort to realize the ultimate truths, and 4. Consequence or Effect of Duty performed according to the Law of Nature, i.e., one would free oneself from suffering and conflicts once achieved the wisdom through realizing the ultimate truths. These are well illustrated in the Four Ultimate Truths, the Law of Dependent Origination, the Five Aggregates of Clinging, the Six Sense Spheres, the Middle Path, and many other principles which make Buddhism unique among all other religions. These are but various means to lead one to witness and realize the Ultimate Truths of Nature or the Norm of Life and Universe. When one sees everything in reality as it truly is, one would also see Dharma.
The Path leading the mind to the cessation of suffering is the MIDDLE PATH or MIDDLE WAY, the only way to attain enlightenment, avoiding the two extremes of 'Sensual Indulgence' and 'Self-mortification'.
THE MIDDLE WAY
Sensual Indulgence <-----X---- or ----X------> Self-Mortification
(unproductive, vulgar) THE MIDDLE PATH (painful, useless)
[the only way to
THE NOBLE EIGHTFOLD PATH
(The Noble Truth of the Way to the Cessation of Suffering)
3. Right Speech 6. Right Effort 1. Right Understanding
4. Right Action 7. Right Mindfulness 2. Right Thought
5. Right Livelihood 8. Right Concentration
MORALITY MENTAL DISCIPLINE WISDOM
(Sila) (Samadhi) (Panna)
The Noble Eightfold Path, once well practiced and well balanced among its 3 components, i.e. Sila (Morality), Samadhi (Mental Discipline, Concentration), and Panna (Wisdom) will strengthen themselves to become Supreme Morality (Adhisilasikkha) which is basically one’s norm acting like a shield or a defender towards any harm, Supreme Concentration (Adhicittasikkha) with a calm, cool, clear, yet interactive mind, and Supreme Wisdom (Adhipannasikkha) with pure perception, thoroughly realizing all phenomena as they truly are. They will unite to form 'Maggasamangi' or the united path, giving rise to 'Sammanana' or Right Insight or Knowledge. It will overcome those taints of desiring (Kamasava), becoming (Bhavasava), and ignorance (Avijjasava) or delusion, resulting in 'Sammavimutti' or Right Deliverance with perfect freedom and cessation of suffering, i.e. Nirvana.
The Foundation of Buddhism can be summarized as follows:
TEACHING PRACTICE VIRTUES
3 Fundamental Principles Threefold Paths The Buddha
Do Good M Giving (Dana) U A Compassion (Karuna)
I D T
Avoid Doing Evil Mindful Precepts (Sila) Mindful Purity (Parisutti)
N D U
Purify Your Mind D Meditation (Bhavana)
H R Wisdom (Panna)
STUDYING PRACTICING EXPERIENCING
(Pariyatti) (Patipatti) (Pativedha)
The Buddha emphasizes that besides studying (Pariyatti) his teaching, one has to put it into action by practicing it (Patipatti), and finally experiencing (Pativedha) the cessation of suffering by oneself, as the Buddha is only pointing out the way, and one has to practice it by oneself. This is the path that the monks and devout Buddhists are treading to similarly acquire the three main Virtues of the Buddha, namely Wisdom, Purity and Compassion, through The Threefold Training of Morality (Sila), Concentration (Samadhi) and Wisdom (Panna), or the three components of the Noble Eightfold Path. For lay Buddhists, this is being practiced in a similar but less stringent Threefold Paths of Giving (Dana), Morality or Precepts (Sila), and Meditation (Bhavana).
Giving (Dana) is one way of doing good, and is generally based upon compassion to initiate one to give to others (excluding those who give to gain fame). It is compassion-in-action. The Buddha taught us to be rich in our heart and mind, as the persons who can give are the persons who have rather than have not. In the strictest sense, 'Dana' or giving is an act of giving parts of oneself away, so one will not be clinging so tightly to the idea of ‘self’. It is an introductory level of 'anatta' or non-self.
Precepts or moral disciplines (Sila) are the codes to control one's own body and speech, the end-organs where one's mind and thoughts react. This is truly achieved and fulfilled by 'Virati' or abstinence in one's mind and volition, preventing one from doing bad things. Constant guarding of one's mind with the precepts will make it easier for the person to purify his mind. The basic moral codes in Buddhism are the five precepts, namely 1. Do not kill, 2. Do not steal, 3. Do not lie, 4. Do not practice adultery, and 5. Do not consume liquor or intoxicants. It is these five precepts that make human being superior to other animals, and when well practiced and observed will reassure the person to be reborn in a realm no less than a human being. Even animals themselves prefer to live under these five moral codes, e.g., they would not like to be killed, have their food stolen, have their mates taken away from them, be cheated or lied to, or be poisoned or intoxicated. It is also these very same five precepts that when well observed and practiced along with 'concentration' and 'wisdom' of 'The Middle Path' can lead one to attain enlightenment and become one of the noble or holy disciples of the Buddha.
The heart of Buddhism is in fact centered at one's own "BODY" and "MIND", or more precisely at the "MIND", as 'good' and 'evil' start and end in one's own mind, directing one to act through one's body, speech, and mental action accordingly. The 'Buddha Nature' resides in everyone, regardless of age, sex, race, literacy, dialect, etc., and can be realized with awareness through practicing 'The Middle Path,' transcending oneself above the concept of good and evil, attaining Nirvana with cessation of suffering.
Meditation (Bhavana) plays the most important aspect of Buddhism. By practicing Insight Meditation (Vipassana Bhavana), one would see things truly as they really are with the 'inner vision' through 'The Eye of Dharma' or 'The Eye of Wisdom', and would gain 'Right Understanding' and 'Supramundane Wisdom' and thoroughly understand 'The Three Universal Characteristics of Existence', namely: 1. Impermanence (Anicca), 2. Suffering, stress, imperfection, imbalance, unsatisfactoriness (Dukkha), 3. Non-self, emptiness, voidness, insubstantiality, soullessness (Anatta). As a result of thoroughly experiencing things in reality with one's whole mind, one would be enlightened with direct and immediate insight and understanding in the true nature of our existence, bringing liberation and release the mind from all the bondage and fetters, attaining 'Nirvana', the state of ultimate peace, calm and happiness. This is why 'Practicing Dharma' is so crucial in Buddhism, as it is the path that will lead one to the level of 'Penetration' or experiencing the Buddha Nature within oneself. Buddhism is 'the way of life' that stresses on 'Purifying one's own mind' through self-observation, and if one were to practice in a different method, away from one's own mind, one would have totally missed Buddhism.
Buddhism and Science
DHARMA VOICE, a publication of the college of Buddhist Studies, Los Angeles.
Vol. 2, No. I & 2. October 1981.
"The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend a personal God and avoid dogmas and theology. Covering both the natural and the spiritual. It should be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual, as a meaningful unity. Buddhism answers this description." -- Albert Einstein
The age of science has changed radically the way people view life. People are more rationalistic than in the past and inclined to accept the truth of things by observation and experiment rather than more belief. As a result, blind belief is fast disappearing and science has taken a superior position, often viewed as separate from religion and even somewhat of a threat to many religions.
Buddhism, on the contrary, emphasizes the importance of the scientific outlook in dealing with the problems of morality and religions. The Buddha’s teaching or the Dharma is capable of verification, as it is timeless and can be witnessed by oneself or be self-realized. One is encouraged to come and see, as the Dharma is directly experienceable and provable by each intelligent person. The practical aspect of Buddhism is basically a self-observation technique to gain insight and see things in reality as they truly are, a similar approach to the way scientists observe the experimental results as they encounter in their scientific researches.
Buddhism, known in the East as Buddha Sasana or Buddha Dharma, is a way of life taught by the Buddha, the Self-Enlightened One, and has become a subject of interest to more and more Westerners who seek a religious philosophy not contradictory to their scientific beliefs.
The Buddha's teachings are based upon or stem from the experience of or the proceeding towards Enlightenment. The main ideas of Buddhism are contained in the statements known as The Four Noble Truths, namely suffering (Dukkha), the origin of suffering (Samudaya), the extinction of suffering (Nirodha) and the path leading to the extinction of suffering (Magga). He taught the Middle Way or Path (Magga), that persons should avoid the two extremes of sensual indulgence and self-mortification. In fact, the whole of Buddhist teaching is one mass of flexible methods appropriate for different times, different places, and most importantly, for different temperaments of persons.
The Buddha taught us the Three Fundamental Principles: that everyone should avoid doing evil, should cultivate doing good, and should purify the mind in order to free oneself from both good and evil. This emphasis upon the purification of mind is one of the unique aspects of Buddhism which make it different from other religions. Purification of the mind can be achieved through Insight or Vipassana Meditation in order to gain intuitive and supermundane wisdom, to seeing things in reality as they truly are. One would perceive things with the correct perspective, different than previously did, transcending the biased way of experiencing all phenomena, and freeing oneself from all the defilements, craving and clinging, which originated from and are rooted in the mind. Therefore, the Buddha stressed the importance of studying as well as 'practicing the Dharma, finally penetrating or thoroughly experiencing things in reality with one's whole mind.
With right understanding and wisdom, one would thoroughly understand the Three Universal Characteristics of Existence, which govern every worldly phenomenon, from the universe to the subatomic particles, from mass to energy, from body to mind, namely: 1. impermanence (Anicca); 2. stress, conflict, imbalance, imperfection, suffering or unsatisfactoriness (Dukkha); 3. non-self, emptiness, voidness, soullessness, or insubstantiality (Anatta). One gains supermundane wisdom cultivated through insight meditation to fully realize, experience and penetrate through these subjects, especially the subject of non-self, emptiness or insubstantiality, with one's whole mind to achieve the state of ultimate peace, calm and happiness, to attain enlightenment and to reach Nirvana. This is to say that anyone may achieve Buddhahood through insight meditation, as everyone has the Buddha nature in oneself or one's own mind.
Science is not only complimentary to Buddhist teachings, but has also proved the theory of The Three Universal Characteristics of Existence. For example, the very large supernova recently spotted on 2/23/87, the Supernova Shelton or 1987A, represents the process of a dying sun, (Anicca) resulting in a massive explosion (Dukkha), which occurred 170,000 light years away from our earth. This means that the event occurred 170,000 years ago while human beings were still living in the stone age. In other words, at this moment there is probably nothing left out there where it actually took place but vast emptiness (Anatta). What we are seeing on this earth is just an illusory vision perceived by our mind as an ongoing event, through the contact of our eyes with the light originated from the supernova that has been traveling through space and time all those years, long after the actual event.
The universe is mostly vacuum (Sunnata). In the remote regions between galaxies, one would be lucky to find a single atom in a space the size of a stadium. The atoms are packed more densely in our own world of solids, liquids, and gases. A close-up of an atom would reveal that the nucleus, which carries 99.9 percent of the weight, hovers in the center of the atom. Except for a few electrons that waft about, the rest is empty space. Since we and our world are made of such insubstantial stuff, it is surprising how much thought and energy (not to mention money) scientists spend trying to unravel the riddle of matter. Instead one should be worrying about the nature of the vacuum (Sunnata), which is by a wide margin the major constituent of the universe.
The world, modern physics tells us, can no longer be divided into matter and empty space. The world is just a ‘pale blue dot’ in the vast universe, and human beings are proportionally smaller than specks of dust, comparable to the invisible subatomic particles. Yet all the problems and conflict start at these subatomic particles, i.e., these human beings, busy being self-centered (Atta) as though each one is the center of the universe, not realizing the insubstantiality (Anatta) of oneself and this world.
Through surveying and judging its value against the ground of various branches of modern arts and sciences, the Buddha's teaching has withstood such testings, and in fact such actions have resulted in being complimentary to the teaching. It is the teaching for a practical person. Its depth can never be judged or measured by argument, but by one's own experience. Therefore, what is of utmost importance is the practice of it.
The Buddha never encouraged wrangling, animosity and strife. Addressing the disciples he once said, 'I quarrel not with the world, monks, it is the world that quarrels with me. An exponent of the Dharma quarrels not with anyone in the world.'
Buddhism is the teaching of self-enlightenment. No God, gods, or external power will help one to realize the truth. Everyone has the power of realization, or Buddha Nature, within oneself (this is the Secret of Nature or the hidden Norm of Life and Universe, which is always existing within everyone, either one is aware of it or not, or the Buddha existed or not). The Buddha clearly stated that he was only a teacher pointing out the way and guiding the followers to their individual deliverance. He said, 'You yourselves must make the effort. The Buddhas only point out the Way.'
The Buddha was always full of compassion. At the very last moment of his life, he preached his last sermon, exhorting his followers to strive ceaselessly for their own salvation. His last words were: 'Perishable are all component things. Work out your salvation with diligence.'