Understanding Buddhist Wisdom Essay, Research Paper
Understanding Buddhist Wisdom
Throughout history people have wondered about the universe in which we live in and looked for a purpose of our existence. Many Western philosophers believed that an individual is a separate entity from every other individual and nature. In the Buddhist belief however, there is no separation between you and any other person or animal. The goal of living and dying is to eventually see the world as it actually is instead of the illusion that we see with our senses. This state of enlightenment is known as Nirvana. To reach Nirvana it is necessary to give up attachments to the things of this world, see the interconnectedness of everything, and clear your mind so that you can see things the way they actually are.
In the Western world we are very attached to our possessions, to the people that we care about, and especially to ourselves. Most Westerners would be glad to sacrifice something to help another person or even an animal in need if we could. But most people would not sacrifice something very important to us and very few would give up their lives in the spirit of compassion. On the other hand, because the Buddhist belief is that we are all connected to each other by helping another you help yourself and by hurting
another you hurt yourself. In the story of ?The Bodhisattva and the Hungry Tigress? the Buddha tells of a prince who sacrifices his life so that a starving tigress that has just given birth may live. To be able sacrifice shows that you truly understand that there is more than just this life:
Yes self-sacrifice is so difficult! It is difficult for people like us, who mare so fond of our lives and bodies, and who have so little intelligence. It is not at all difficult, however, for others, who are truly men, intent on benefiting their fellow-creatures, and who long to sacrifice themselves (Buddhist Scriptures, p. 57).
The prince was able to give up his life for the tigress because he was aware of that his own life was just a temporary state. His body and his life are not permanent but only a small part of a chain of births and deaths. It is almost impossible for us to imagine having no attachment to our lives or our bodies because in the Western belief that is our self and we are born and grow up with very strong self-preservation instincts. Buddhists on the other hand, believe that we need to ?recognize the true nature of the living world, and do not be anxious; for separation cannot possibly be avoided (Buddhist Scriptures, p. 59). This attachment to our present lives and bodies will help us to ease our suffering and see the world as it truly is.
Another of the beliefs in Buddhism is the system of births and deaths called Samsara. A person is born and reborn until that person reaches enlightenment. Death is not an ending but just a new beginning. Time has no importance and is just an illusion like the world is. All people and things are connected to each other as well as all of the people that those people have been and will be in other lives ?in a thousand relationships to each other, loving, hating, and destroying each other and becoming newly born?
(Hesse, p. 133). In Hesse?s Siddartha, Govidna experiences this ?unity in diversity?. The Buddhist image of reality is everything simultaneously together without divisions such as time and space. These divisions such as time, space, past lives, and everything else around us are simply illusions according to Buddhist beliefs. If everything is just an illusion then why should we love nature and our fellow creatures? The Buddha responded to this by saying ?If they are illusion, then I also am illusion, and so they are always the same nature as myself. It is that which makes them so lovable and venerable? (Hesse p. 132). This is what the prince had in mind when he fed himself to the tigress. Losing our attachment to the things of this world and our connection with everything else in the universe go hand in hand towards seeing things the way they truly are and becoming enlightened.
Even after we lose we attachment to this world and we become aware of our interconnected role in the universe we cannot become enlightened unless we have clarity of mind. To become enlightened is to be aware of your true nature, but that is impossible to do by thinking about it since ?our true nature is beyond our conscious experience? (Suzuki, p. 180). Zen Buddhists practice zazen, or sitting meditation, to achieve a calm mind: ?it is when you sit in zazen that you will have the most pure, genuine experience of the empty state of mind. Actually, emptiness of mind is not even a state of mind, but the original essence of mind? (Suzuki, p. 181). Since this world is a world of illusions then by thinking about the things of this world we are thinking delusions. But when you realize that these clouded thoughts are just delusions, they will drift away and you will be
left with a pure and calm mind. This is the enlightened mind. So by realizing that you are in a world of illusions and that you are thinking in delusions is when you become enlightened. You have to accept the delusion because if you try to expel it, ?it will become busier and busier trying to cope with it? (Suzuki, p. 182). By clearing your mind you can expect every moment to be a moment of enlightenment experience.
All of these readings deal with different aspects of Buddhist belief, but they also have certain things in connection with each other. The goal of Buddhism is not to lead a good life, although that should come along as well, but to see things as they actually are and to reach enlightenment. To see things as they really are means understanding that everything is interconnected with everything else regardless of space or time, understanding that this world is a world of illusions and so should have no attachments to the things of this world, and finally realizing that the enlightened part of us lies in the ?true self? of the clear mind.
Buddhist Scriptures. ?The Bodhisattva and the Hungry Tigress and Parinirvana.? Roots of World Wisdom: A Multicultural Reader. 2nd Edition. Ed. Helen Buss Mitchell. Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing 1999.
Hesse, Hermann. ?Siddhartha.? Roots of World Wisdom: A Multicultural Reader. 2nd Edition. Ed. Helen Buss Mitchell. Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing 1999.
Suzuki, Shunryu. ?Beyond Consciousness.? Roots of World Wisdom: A Multicultural Reader. 2nd Edition. Ed. Helen Buss Mitchell. Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing 1999.