Buddism Essay, Research Paper
I AM AWAKE
In a world filled with technology and industry, it can become increasingly difficult to take a step back and view the world in its natural state. In essence, we are humans trying to figure out how we fit into a world seemingly contradictory to the path of humanity. We look to nature for answers. We look to each other, as well as to one another’s accomplishments for these same answers. In the end, our entire species comes to the same conclusion. In order to fully understand our world, we must first seek inner-peace and come to understand how we can relate to one another on a spiritual level. We must strive for this alternative consciousness if we, as a race are to escape our culture’s self-imposed shackles.
Throughout history there have been hundreds of influential figures. Some are well-known for their charitableness or kindness, or for their supreme knowledge which contributed to the growth of humanity. Others are noted for their religious, literary, or cultural contributions to the world. Yet very few are known as all of these. One figure in particular could be called not only a religious founder, but a humanitarian and a philosopher as well. This is Siddharta Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha. (The word “Buddha” means “one who is intuitive, awakened, or enlightened.”)
Buddhism is based on the beliefs and teachings of one man. The Buddha built a ‘religion’ on a framework that consists of the Four Noble Truths, the 4 passing sights, and the four temptations of Mara. These truths are not fixed dogmatic principles, but living experiences to be explored individually in the heart of the sincere spiritual seeker. He encouraged people to follow a path of balance rather than extremism. He promoted a path he called The Middle Way, rejecting both extremes of the mortification of the flesh and of hedonism as paths toward the state of Nirvana. “Devotion to the pleasures of sense, a low practice of villagers, a practice unworthy, unprofitable, the way of the world [on one hand]; and [on the other] devotion to self- mortification, which is painful, unworthy and unprofitable. By avoiding these two extremes the Buddha has gained knowledge of that middle path which giveth vision, which giveth knowledge, which causeth calm, special knowledge, enlightenment, Nirvana.”
Siddhartha Gautama was born in 566 B.C. His father was the ruler over a district near the Himalayas which is today the country of Nepal. He sheltered his son from the outside world and confined him to the palace where his luxurious upbringing was one of pleasure and wealth. Great lengths were gone to see that nothing ‘unpleasant’ tainted his pretty world. In part, this was due to the lavish lifestyle his family was accustomed to; but his father had some alterior motives in mind during all these pleasantries.
When Siddartha was born his father brought in fortune tellers to discern his future. They agreed he wasn’t an ordinary child, but their predictions were ambiguous. It was said that if he succeeded his father he would conquer the world and unify India, if he forsook the world he would become a ‘world redeemer’. His father made every effort to keep his son on course. Before Siddartha was to leave the palace, scouts were sent out ahead of him to clear the roads of the sick, decrepit, and dying. Despite all his father’s efforts, one day this precaution was overlooked. Siddartha happened to come across an old man for the first time in his life. He was appalled at the wrinkles and decrepitude. On another occasion he observed a sick person and learned about the loathsome nature of disease. On a third outing he witnessed a funeral procession and was able to see the lifeless corpse that was being carried. The suddenness of these three experiences set him thinking about the transitoriness of human life. Finally he came upon a religious ascetic, with a shaven head, and an ocher robe who had renounced materialistic things to seek enlightenment, and was therefore content and happy. This incident left an indelible mark on the mind of the young prince.These 4 inevitable events became known as the 4 Passing Sights.
As time passed these thoughts became great burdens to Gautama and he increasingly became dissatisfied with the shallow dissolute life of the royal court in which he lived. He lost interest in the pleasantries in which his father surrounded him, fleshy pleasures had lost their appeal. One night during his 29th year, although married with a beautiful young son and also the heir to a very rich throne, he forsook it all and took to the woods to begin his journey to attain the truth of life. At the edge of the forest, Siddhartha took off his jeweled sword, and cut off his hair and beard, and entered the forest to seek enlightenment.
Six years followed, during this time he directed his efforts to accomplishing this task.
He studied the Hindu scriptures under Brahmin priests, but became disillusioned with the teachings of Hinduism. He then devoted himself to a life of extreme asceticism in the forest. Legend has it that he eventually learned to exist on one grain of rice a day which reduced his body to a skeleton. He soon concluded, however, that asceticism did not lead to peace and self realization but merely weakened the mind and body. This was the first constructive part of his program, which was the principle of the middle way between extremes of asceticism and indulgence.Gautama eventually turned to a life of meditation. Sensing that a breakthrough was near, he sat down under a fig tree known as the Bohdi tree (meaning, “tree of wisdom”), vowing not to get up until he had achieved his ultimate goal of Enlightenment.
While he was meditating, Mara, the ‘evil one’, attempted to disrupt Gautama’s concentration. He tried to tempt him with disasters, fear, dancing girls and distractions of pleasure. It was a temptation scene involving voluptous women, flaming rocks, (which sounds like a lousy combination to me) and (tempoarily) ended with Mara challanging Gautama’s right to do what he was doing. Legend has it that he touched his finger to the ground, and the earth thundered, ‘i hear you witness’. Mara fled. (as would I)
Siddhartha, entered a deep meditation. The great awakening had arrived. He
recalled all his previous rebirths, gained knowledge of the cycle of births and deaths, and with certainty, cast off the ignorance and passion of his ego which bound him to the world. Thereupon, Siddhartha had attained enlightenment and became the Buddha. His own desire and suffering were over and, as the Buddha, he experienced the highest degree of God-consciousness called Nirvana… ” He believed he had found the answers to the questions of pain and suffering. He finally realized the essential truth about life and about the path to salvation. He realized that physical harshness of asceticism was not a means of achieving Enlightenment and Nirvana. His message now needed to be proclaimed to the whole world. Gautama was gone, and had been replaced by the Buddha.
Mara was waiting with one last temptation. Who would understand a truth as profound as what Buddha had discovered? Why not wash your hands of the whole mess and be done with your earthly body and slip into a perpetual state of Nirvana? Buddha made a great act of self-sacrifice. He turned back determined to share his enlightenment with others so that all living souls could end the cycles of their own rebirth and suffering. In the end the Buddha responded, “there will be some who understand”. An understatement if i ever heard one; 2500 years later, 150 to 350 million followers around the world follow the teachings of one man, (how ever distorted his original ideas may have become) I believe the heart of his ideas are still the core of the religion.
It wasn’t long before he found the first of these, who did indeed understand. Buddha was somewhat notorious for his subtler teaching methods, on occasion not resorting to words at all. The classic instance of this is the Flower Sermon. Standing on a mountain with his disciples around him, the Buddha simply held up a golden lotus flower. I imagine his disciples gazed at oneanother in quiet discontent, searching for someone who grasped the meaning of this gesture, trying to understand. One man smiled. His name was Mahakasyapa, and his quiet smile, indicating he understood, prompted Buddha to appoint him his successor. The secret of life cannot be expressed in words, it must be experienced.
To become a Buddha that would mean you would have to become fully enlightened. Many people question whether this is level of enlightenment is even possible to attain. One thing that may be close are the Sangha. The Sangha (Buddhist monastic order) are people who follow the Dharma and its teachings. Their monastaries and nunneries are spiritual dynamos, and their monks and nuns are regarded with a great deal of respect. They have rejected a great deal of negative thinking and afflictive emotions. The Sangha provides the outer framework and the favorable conditions for all those who earnestly desire to devote their life to the realization of the highest goal of deliverance, free of worldly distractions.
Buddhism can be better understood when contrasted with Hinduism from which it sprang and split. To understand Buddha’s teachings, we need to understand the Hinduism that provoked it. Buddha sought to create a religion devoid of the elements that clog it’s works; authority, ritual, explanations, tradition, grace, and mystery. Each of these elements would seem at first glance an important piece of religion as a whole, but Buddhism appears to have developed without these ‘important’ aspects in tact, without which we might have said it were impossible for religion to take root.
Buddha preached a religion devoid of authority. He challanged individuals to take responsibility for their own lives. “be lamps unto yourselves,” “work out your own salvation with diligance”. He preached a religion devoid of ritual. He ridiculed the Brahmanic rites as ’superstitious petitions to ineffectual gods’, and unimportant in the grand scheme of things, irrelevant to the process of ego-reduction. Buddha preached a religion without explanations. He doesn’t attempt to explain the world in all it’s mystical functions, whether it’s eternal or not, infinite or not. he ‘maintains a noble silence’ in this regard. Buddhism is without tradition. Buddhists do not celebrate the birth of buddha, and adorn foliage with decrative lights, while singing songs and exchanging gifts with family. In American culture, almost every holiday has some kind of christian or catholic root, in our day to day lives, we don’t consider that most things we celebrate are supposed to reflect our ‘faith in christ.’ I think most people tend to think of these holidays as a free pass from work, or an excuse to get presents, drink green beer, eat candy, etc. Very few celebrate these ‘holidays’ as what they were. Most celebrate them as what they’ve become. Buddhism doesn’t offer the frilly appeals of traditions, which in my opinion only serves to strengthen it as a whole, and redirects attention to the substance of the religion. Buddhism is a religion of self-effort. There is no grace, or glorified anything. He believed that each individual must tread the path (to the end of suffering) him or herself, through determiniation, and effort to achieve the ultimate goal, where as in christianity, there is talk of being ‘graced by god’, and in Hinduism they believed the cycle of samsara to be unending, which the Buddha thought to be like a neverending sentence of ‘hard labor’. “there is a path to the end of suffering” he said, “tread it.” Lastly, Buddhism is a religion without mystical supernatural things. He condemned all forms of divination, and fortunetelling and the like as ‘low arts’. He seemed to acknowledge that the human brain was capable of some unexplainable things, though he discouraged seeking these things.
Buddhism also rejected important views of Hinduism. It did not recognize the validity of the Vedic Scriptures, other sanskrit scriptures, nor the sacrificial cult which arose from it. It also questioned the authority of the priesthood. Also, the Buddhist movement was open to people of all castes, denying the rather concrete Hindu belief that a person’s worth could be judged by their blood and background, that their place in society was set and determined on this basis, that aptitudes were hereditary.
Buddhism also rejects the yogas; karmayoga and bhaktiyoga. He believed that ritual sacrifice and ‘magic’ are not a part of dharma. He disagreed with Bhaktiyoga because he believed that God, or personal Gods are irrelevant. It may have occurred to the reader that in our discussion thus far no mention has been made of God or an eternal deity. It is clear that Buddha did not claim to be divine. He claimed to be the one to point the way to Nirvana, but it was up to each individual to find his own way there. Buddha wasn’t worshiped as a god, but as a human being who gained enlightenment. The concept of a personal God does not fit into the Buddhist system of religion. Today there are many sects of Buddhism. Many differ in their concept of the divine and of Buddha. In general, Buddhists are pantheistic in their view of God. Buddhism claims that gods have no role to play in human liberation, any more than any other person or spirit. Each person must find his or her own destiny and final path to spiritual redemption. Many view God as an impersonal force which is made up of all living things and holds the universe together. Since Buddhism in general does not believe in a personal God or divine being, it does not have worship, praying, or praising of a divine being. It offers no form of redemption, forgiveness, heavenly hope, or final judgment. The Buddha would say that craving salvation is a selfish desire.
Enlightenment as I understand it, can be described as a complete separation from all worldly ties or attatchments, but it’s much more than that. It’s the elimination of suffering itself and is also referred to as Nirvana. It is a state of perfection where the mind has completely transcended the body and the self. It is the point in which one is no longer susceptable to suffering. Only when the candle of suffering has been blown out can one truly reach enlightenment. In order to help lead us toward enlightenment, Buddha created a set of guidelines which he called the Four Noble Truths..
The first Noble Truth is perhaps the simplest one to comprehend. It is the truth of misery, also known as dukkha. In essence it is merely the realization that suffering exists and that we are all experiencing it nearly every moment of our lives. Physical pain is a part of life, but mental pain is self inflicted. This helps us by identifying the problem which affects every human being. It also allows us to understand the significance of what we face. After we have realized that we do indeed suffer and understand at least some of the extent of this misery, then we can begin to look at the causes of it. Dukkha is broken down then into three categories.
The first, is not getting what you want. When your boyfriend of 5 years asks you to dinner for a special talk, you are ready for the ring. When his idea of a special talk is letting you know that he’s leaving you for a stripper, you experience some heavy duty dukkha. This is a fabulous example of how dukkha is a lot like dookie. There are lots of times in life when we don’t get what we want. We probably dwell on these times a lot more than we should, in fact the Buddha would say that we should never ever dwell on these at all.
The second, is getting what you want. Getting what you want can be satasfying, for a little while. Buddha doesn’t want us to be fooled by this superficial satasfaction, because the satasfaction itself leads to discontent. Perhaps you get a promotion after what feels like a long competition with a co-worker. You’re thrilled, and you celebrate, you got what you wanted. You return to work, and you’re co-worker, who is currently experiencing an unfulfilled desire, wants nothing to do with you. You leave your cubicle for your new office, (it has a window) and your boss fills it with paperwork. You feel overloaded, express your discontent. He says in so many words, that if you can’t handle it, he’ll gladly give the promotion to your co-worker. This is how the satasfaction from getting what you want is superficial, and only sparkles for a short while before discontent returns.
The third, is wanting to get something. Everytime we crave, we suffer. Unfulfilled desires are the cause of much inner turmoil. The desire for a much deserved raise can make everyday on the job painstakingly frustrating. The desire for children when when the odds are really bad, can put a lot of strain on a relationship. It is this kind of dukkha that seemingly reduces us to a childlike nature; “I want I want I want!”
Buddha stresses that the pursuit of happiness is self defeating, and explains it six ways.
The first of which states that sickness, old age, death are inevitable. Yet they seem to be the very core of human fears. The fact that they are enevitable, which we all acknowledge, doesn’t seem to dull the blade so to speak. Death (and icky spiders) are the epitamy of fear to most, though to a buddhist, death would seem a rather arbitrary and relatively meaningless part of existance. We can fight age with anti-aging creams and wrinkle smoothers and face lifts, but this is going to prove fruitless, except to offer some form of denial based satasfaction. Most fear growing old and helpless and being dependent. I would say that most senior citizens fight really hard for independance even after it’s been lost. Unless you’re fortunate enough to croak at the top of the hill, it’s inevitable. All pursuits will be self defeating.
His second statement, is that satasfaction of desire is transitory, knowing it won’t last forever diminishes the satasfaction. When we’re presented with a blow pop, we don’t always think, “well this blow pop is great, but i’m going to be so bummed when it’s gone”, but He wants us to know that that’s how it is. Even the bliss experienced during the peak of a romantic relationship has it’s paranoid moments, when you fear that they might leave you, and that if they did the world would cease to exist and you would perish in a pool of your own blasted misery. The simple fear of a desire ceasing to be satasfied can be nerve wracking. “That pig is paying child support now, but I just know it’s too good be true. He and that stripper are going to hop a plane to Amsterdam, and he’ll be gone, I tell you, gone!” My point is made.
His third statement is that satasfaction of desire is addictive, more you have the more you want. How true. How many times have you sat in front of one of those blasted (illegal) video slot machines, and doubled the ten bucks you just put in?…..If you were smart you’d cash out, but this thing is addictive, you can’t stop, you want more more more! (you lose your 400 credits, and then lose twenty more bucks trying to make your ten back) Those poor souls on Who Wants to be a Millionaire….how many times have you seen the guy win $250,000, and blow the $500,000 question because he decided to make a guess?? He walks away with like $60,000 UNSATASFIED. How does that happen?? I rejoice in small change i find on the floor.
His fourth statement is satasfaction of desire is insecure, because the more you have, the more you have to lose. You’re dating Britney Spears. ( forgive me, I hate her too) You’re enthralled, enraptured, infatuated. You soon devote you’re entire waking hours to beating the crap out of anybody who looks at her the wrong way, and devoting your sleeping hours to dreaming about different ways to beat the crap out of anybody who looks at her the wrong way. You can’t even enjoy her pleasant company anymore, because your mind is working over time trying to protect your claim. Eventually she learns of your dispicable antics, and she puts a restraining order on you. This is how your pursuit of britney spears (happiness) has been self defeating.
His fifth statement is status. Success sometimes requires losers, success is high risk. Often in life in order to attain private fulfillment it’s necessary to view others as rivals, for either having something you want, or standing in the way of attaining it. It’s unfortunate that there must be this element of yin and yang where success is concerned. Wherever there are winners, there must also be losers. As a for instance: The Art department is involved in awarding a free trip to Italy to 8 students. You know your professor has selected work from certain students for the committee to view, and you happen to know that your work was in the lot, and so was the work of a girl whose art you don’t like and whose attitude you can’t stand. You think you’ve got a pretty good chance, but cringe when thinking of spending 12 days with this girl. When you get your letter in the mail, you do the happy dance. When you read the names of the other 7 students picked, you do the happy dance again, because she’s not among them. How unfortunate. (hehehe) Yet another fine example of how the pursuit of happiness is self defeating. Ok, so pretend you’re the other girl.
His sixth statement, is satasfaction of desires is superficial, because it doesn’t change you on the inside. Taking all of these things into account, the satasfaction of any given desire isn’t going to change the person you are. (unfortunatly, we’ll find out later that there is no ’self’ to change) Winning $60,000 isn’t going to make you a better person (unless you share it with me), and having your lover leave you for an (ugly) stripper isn’t going to make you any less than what you are. You’re still a beautiful person on the inside, or evil rotten bad. The series of losses and gains one experiences during a lifetime isn’t going to change who you are on the inside. Any attempt to change that person is going to have to begin inward. Other pursuits of happiness will prove self defeating.
This is the Second Noble Truth which states that misery originates within us from the craving for pleasure and for being or non-being. Buddha identifies this is as Tanha, which translates as desire, mores specifically, the desire for private fulfillment. One must realize that we suffer because we become tangled in a web of our own attachments. When we take pleasure from something, it is in our nature to grow attached to it. The more we indulge in a particular pleasure, the more the attachment grows and even the possibility of separation from the pleasure results in suffering and misery. Tanha causes dukkha because a selfish desire arises from ignorance of Anatta.
Every time we long for something that we do not possess we suffer. Probably the most significant craving is for that of a self. It is what underlies all suffering. One of the most puzzling aspects of the Buddha’s teachings is the idea of no self. If there’s no self, who gets angry, who falls in love, who makes effort, who has memories or gets reborn? What does it mean to say there is no self? Sometimes people are afraid of this idea, imagining themselves suddenly disappearing in a cloud of smoke, like a magician’s trick.
We can understand no-self in several ways. Buddha calls it the doctrine of Anatta.
The Buddha described what we call “self” as a collection of elements of mind and body that function interdependently, creating the appearance of woman or man. We then identify with that image or appearance, taking it to be “I” or “mine,” imagining it to have some inherent self-existence. For example, we get up in the morning, look in the mirror, recognize the reflection, and think, “Yes, that’s me again.” We then add all kinds of concepts to this sense of self: I’m a woman or man, I’m a certain age, I’m a happy or unhappy person-the list goes on and on.
When we examine our experience, though, we see that there is not some core being to whom experience refers; rather it is simply “empty phenomena rolling on.” Experience is “empty” in the sense that there is no one behind the arising and changing phenomena to whom they happen. A rainbow is a good example of this. We go outside after a rainstorm and feel that moment of delight if a rainbow appears in the sky. Mostly, we simply enjoy the sight without investigating the real nature of what’ s happening. But when we look more deeply, it becomes clear that there is no “thing” called “rainbow” apart from the particular conditions of air and moisture and light.
Each one of us is like that rainbow-an appearance, a magical display, arising out of the various elements of mind and body. So when anger arises, or sorrow or love or joy, it is just anger angering, sorrow sorrowing, love loving, joy joying. Different feelings arise and pass, each simply expressing its own nature. The problem arises when we identify with these feelings, or thoughts, or sensations as being self or as belonging to “me”: “I’m angry, I’m sad.” By collapsing into the identification with these experiences, we contract energetically into a prison of self and separation. The Buddha wants us to conclude that the self is an illusion. No substantial self is discovered in ordinary or mystical experience.
Another important element in the understanding of Anatta, is the disunity of the ’self’ over time. I will first present you with a scenario. A wave in the ocean is at no two points in time made up of the same molecules of water, the same fish. Your bodily, your social, and your moral self are in a constant state of morphing. Your body when your 5 is made up of cells, and by the time your 15 every one of those cells will be gone. Your social behavior when you’re 5 is acceptable, because you’re 5. If you were 15 and behaved as you did when you were 5, it wouldn’t fly. Your morals have evolved since you were 5, I imagine. When your 5 you’ll play with that boy down the street that smells bad and eats dog food to impress you, even though he’s mean to your hampster. When your 15, your morals, just like that boy’s social self will have undergone drastic changes. A boy whose mean to your hampster just might not be worth your time when you’re 15. Each of these components have been argued to be the ’self’. Your social self is your true self, your bodily self is your true self, your moral self is your true self. None of these three components are the same at two given points. None of them are stationary over time. Each thing that might be your true self changes.
It is said that reincarnation happens every minute. It’s certainly something to ponder. If this were true, it would give you what looks like a long line of ‘momentary selves’. These momentary selves would be liked by what is called psychological karma. The past is nonexistant, it’s only real to us because we can reconstruct it. The future is only real to us because we can imagine what it might be like. The Buddha wants us to see that the only thing that exists is the here and now. Reincarnation happens every minute, maybe even every second. Your momentary self at this moment is exists, and all other momentary selves don’t. Buddha wants us to see that the only things that make the past and the future alive is memory and anticipation. The idea of the self could be a sequence of stills, like snapshots lined up for a lifetime. Buddha says when examined, you will realize that they don’t make a movie, they simply exist of themselves. Meditative experience will slow the “movie” down, and you will recognize these stills for what they are, each frame can be decomposed.
No one piece of a dog is the dog. The tail isn’t a dog, it’s wet nose isn’t a dog, just the same as no piece of ‘the self’ is ‘the self’. Another nice example is the example of the tornado; a whirling turmoil of things, being picked up and discarded, much like the self. This is evidence of the disunity of the self at a time. Self deception wouldn’t be possible if this weren’t true. My alarm clock is 25 minutes fast, and if it weren’t I would never make it to class. How is it possible to ‘trick’ myself day after day? I know my clock is fast. Why does it work? It seems foolish that I should jump out of bed at the sight of 9:40 as though I’m going to be late. I wanted to start this paper much sooner than I did, why did I experience weakness of will? Damn the disunity! Where was the part of me that wanted to have a good start on this paper while the other part was at my boyfriends house watching movies and kicking back?
Buddhist psychology identifies the self as having 5 parts or skandas. The first of these being form. This part sees the physical world in terms of patches of color, and sequences of sound. This part of the self is experienced externally, where each sense is fused into it’s primary function in each ’still’. The second Skanda is feelings. These are the sensations that change the body schema, and register feelings on basic catagories like pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. The third skanda is Recognition. This skanda deals primarily with the concepts of ’self’ and object desire, like, ‘i want an apple’, and such. The fourth is disposition, which deals with habits, (smoking) emotions, (anger) motives, and intentions. The fifth and final, is the self consciousness. This skanda takes the center, so to speak, as the narritive part of the self, the part that writes the story. It fills in the blanks, connects the 5 skandas, and strings together the ’stills’.
The 5 skandas of the self are said to be no more than ‘heaped’ together, so as to drive home the Buddha’s point of the self’s impermanence. This is called Anicca. He believes that if this point is driven home, we won’t be so inclined to hold on to the notion of permanance. Anicca is, in a sense, the notion of transiency.
Only once we have recognized suffering and understand the cause can we begin to stop it. When we are selfless we are free. The challange is to remain selfless and free. This is difficult because it is the law of life that we see others as an ‘extention of ourselves’, and not our rivals. Often in life in order to attain private fulfillment it’s necessary to view others as rivals, for either having something you want, or standing in the way of attaining it. We don’t usually see people as extentions of ourselves, it seems to be our nature to uphold a very strong sense of self. we “lock ourselves inside our skin encapsulated egos and seek fulfillment through their enlargement.” Buddha wants us to see that it’s the ego that strangles us and holds us back,
“tis the self by which we suffer.”
The Buddha based his teachings on a frank assessment of our plight as humans: there is unsatisfactoriness and suffering in the world. No one can argue this fact. If the Buddha’s teachings were to stop here, we might indeed regard them as pessimistic and life as utterly hopeless. But, like a doctor who prescribes a remedy for an illness, the Buddha offers hope (the third Noble Truth) and a cure (the fourth Noble Truth).
The Third Noble Truth follow logically. If the cause of life’s ‘dislocation’ is selfish
craving, the cure lies in overcoming tanha. This is accomplished only by eliminating the cause itself. If we could be released by the constraints of our narrow self interest , we would be free from our torment. By denying the notion of self and attachment, we deny the ego and therefore suffering itself. It is not enough merely to know that misery pervades all of our existence. The third noble truth is essentially the cessation of dukkha: an end can be found through the relinquishment and abandonment of the cravings. The full realization of the third Noble Truth paves the way for the direct penetration of Nirvana, the transcendent freedom that stands as the final goal of all the Buddha’s teachings, the pure consciousness event.
Since Nirvana is the word used to describe life’s goal, we would be better off to know it’s meaning. Etymologically, it means “to blow out” or to “estinguish”. We should identify what exactly it is that they mean to estinguish, so as to clear up any negative connotations. Buddhism means to estinguish the boundries of the finite self. It is boundless life itself. It is the realization of selflessness, and the cessation of all selfish desire. Only when selflessness is achieved can one relinquish and abandon the desire for private fulfillment, and untangle one’s self from the web of attatchments. Absense of the idea of the self permits awareness of the transience of all things. Once the walls of the ego have been shattered, it permits the understanding of the dukkha of others.
The cessation of craving for personal fulfillment and happiness is a three step process. The first step is to merely recognize your ‘egomania’. Acknowledge the walls of the ego, without this first step, you have no means to continue. The second step, is the Middle Way. The sincere spiritual seeker is to follow a path of balance, rather than extremism. Moderation will prevent overstimulation. Find a means between the extremes, and this is the path to enlightenment. There must also be some method of purification which will allow us to overcome desire and thus suffering. This method is known as the Eightfold Path, which is the third anf final step, and is contained within the Fourth Noble Truth.
The last of the Noble Truths contains a prescription for the relief of our unhappiness and for our eventual release once and for all from the painful and wearisome cycle of birth and death (samsara) to which through our own ignorance of the Four Noble Truths we have been bound. The Eightfold Path sets forth guidelines to help us not to stray from the middle way. The right mode of seeing things includes the Four Noble Truths themselves which give this doctrine a circular and infinite aspect. By following them, we recognize suffering and how to eliminate it from our lives. The Noble Eight fold Path offers a comprehensive practical guide to the development of those wholesome qualities and skills in the human heart that must be cultivated in order to bring the practitioner to the final goal, the supreme freedom and happiness of Nirvana.
Step one is “Right Knowledge”. It is knowledge of what life is all about; knowledge of the Four Noble Truths is basic to any further growth as a Buddhist. It includes the true understanding of ourselves, of our real motives, of our hopes and fears, envies and hatreds. It is this knowledge that the first step of the path calls for and provides. Know the Four Noble Truths and the path that they lead, and calm your mind.
Step two is “Right Aspiration”. This is those thoughts that are free from lust, form ill-will, and from cruelty. It means a clear devotion to being on the Path toward Enlightenment. One must be sure that they understand what enlightenment is, and be sure that it’s what one truly wants. Seek liberation single-mindedly.
Step three is “Right Speech”. This involves both clarity of what is said and speaking kindly and without malice. It avoids harsh language and foolish talk. It is the speech which is true, kind, efficacious and to the point. Notice your speech and know what it says about your character. Notice how often each day we find it necessary to stray from the truth, we will surely find that we do so to protect something unattractive in ourselves. Our attention would be better directed in resolving the unnattractive things. Avoid engaging in gossip, slander, and idle-chatter.
Step four is “Right Behavior”. This involves reflecting on one’s behavior and the reasons for it. It also involves five basic laws of actions for Buddhists: not to kill. This is extended to all animals, meaning that strict buddhists are vegetarians, and harm no living things. Don’t steal, lie, or be unchaste. This means sexial purity, don’t use others for pleasure. Do not drink intoxicants; drugs cloud the mind, and is inconsistant with a desire for selflessness and enlightenment.
Step five is “Right Livelihood”. This involves choosing an occupation that keeps an individual on the Path; that is, a path that promotes life and well being, rather than the accumulation of a lot of money. Our work does take up most of our waking hours, and Buddha considered spiritual progress impossible if most of one’s day was spent pulling against it. The serious spiritual seeker should join the monastic order, and the layperson should engage in an occupation that promotes life rather than destroys it. It would exclude the professions of soldier, fisherman, hunter, or any profession that kills, harms or promotes the hurting of any living being.
Step six is “Right Effort”. This is the effort to avoid wrong conditioning factors. It means training the will and curbing selfish passions and wants. It also means placing oneself along the Path toward Enlightenment. Buddha laid tremendous stress on moral exertion. One must seek to eliminate any evil qualities within and prevent any new ones from arising. One should seek to attain good and moral qualities and develop those already possessed. Seek to grow in maturity and perfection until universal love is attained.
Step seven is “Right Mindfulness”. This implies continuing self-examination and awareness. Nothing has more infulence over life than the mind. “All we are is the result of what we have thought.” Ignorance is life’s primary adversary. One must be observant, contemplative, and free of desire and sorrow. Self awareness will lead to liberation from unconscious, mechanical existance. See everything as ‘it really is’. Maintain a steady attention to your thoughts and feelings.
Step eight is “Right Absorption.” This is the final goal to be absorbed into a state of Nirvana. With the elimination of the three poisons, delusion, craving , and hostility, we see that things are not as we supposed. It is the kind of mental concentration which is presented in every wholesome state of consciousness, and hence is accompanied by at least Right Thought, Right Effort and Right Mindfulness. Compliance to the path does not guarantee reaching Nirvana, but it is the only path that leads to Nirvana. Only by following this path, a Buddhist could have a chance to reach enlightenment, to free oneself from the continuous rounds of birth, death and rebirth, to have reached the ultimate goal — to be absorbed into a state of Nirvana. Ideally, suppositions of whatever sort have vanished, to be replaced by direct perception. The mind reposes in it’s true condition.
What is Zen you ask? If I were a Zen master, I might lift my index finger in reply, or kick a ball, or perhaps slap you for asking. This is not an easy question to answer, since Zen doesn’t fit very well into conventional categories. In one sense, the question can’t be answered at all; in another sense, many different answers can be given. For example, we can look at the origin of the term: the word “Zen” is Japanese, but it is derived from the Indian words “dhyana” (Sanskrit) and “jhana” (Pali), both of which mean “seated meditation”. But this only tells us about the word.
Like Buddhism generally, in Zen there is no mention of God, sin, or how the world was created; unlike the rest of Buddhism, Zen also says very little about rebirth or holiness or even karma. When the Japanese Zen master Hakuin was asked, “What happens to a Zen master after he dies?” he responded “Why ask me?” “But you are a Zen master!” “Yes”, he said, “but not a dead one”. In Zen there is little emphasis on rites and rituals, and even more confusing is that Zen sometimes seems actually anti-religious. A common Zen phrase is, “If you meet the Buddha, kill him!”, so Zen does not seem like a religion in the usual sense of the word.
Zen does have many profound, if often paradoxical, things to say about the nature of reality, but perhaps the most radical claim in Zen is that philosophy is not the way to experience the truth; that philosophizing is part of the problem of life, not the solution, (’you have the philosophers disease!’) because our usual ways of thinking obstruct our experience of reality. In this sense Zen might be called an anti-philosophy. The claim of Zen is quite extraordinary: that Zen practice can lead one to discover one’s true nature – something philosophers have been trying to determine for over 2500 year, but this realization is a non-philosophical experience, which can only occur when we stop clinging to things – especially to concepts and theories about reality. So it cannot be said that Zen is a philosophy, although Zen teachings do have philosophical implications.
Zen wants to provoke us into an experience that is exceedingly rare and precious: Enlightenment. Zen practice is not an attempt to solve the problems of the ego. Its goal is to help us realize there is no ego. Unlike psychotherapy, Zen dialogues are short, sharp and to the point, with no concessions to personal problems.
So is it possible to make any sense out of Zennists? Are they serious or are they just full of crap? Well the answer is yes. They are serious, although we cannot hope to capture their perspective completely with words, which confirms zen’s obsession with that very point; the limits of language. We know very well that menus aren’t meals, and maps aren’t really land. The point Zennists want to make is that too often ’spiritual nourishment’ ends with ‘menu reading’. They believe that words will intervene with a delicate meaning. The Flower Sermon would’ve been pointless if Buddha just sat down and said what he meant. The Zennists would say that he couldn’t have. Reason is too short a ladder to reach the truths full height.
The reasons that language misrepresents reality are many. Language generates self consciousness. Words like “I”, “me”, and “mine”, forces one into phrasing things with the ’self’ as the center of dialogue. Language is said to substitute direct experience, as a for instance:
mountains are not “mountains” and corndogs are not “corndogs”. Mountains are mountains and corndogs are corndogs. Language represents the past and the future as being real, when in fact only the here and now exist. Language contributes to the misconception about the past and the future.
We can begin to understand Zen by defining it’s four key terms; zazan, koan, sanzen, and satori. Zazen literally means ’seated meditation’. The bulk of Zen training is going to be spent in meditation for hours in the lotus position, eyes half open gazing floorward. (i made that word up) There you sit, hour after hour, year after year, trying to awaken the Buddha nature within you. A distinct feature of this meditation is the koans they attend to. A koan is a problem in essence, but a surreal one. As a for instance:
What is the sound of one hand clapping?
What was the appearance of your face before your ancestors were born?
One’s first impulse is to try and clap with one hand and conclude it has no sound,
and then declare that you had no face before your ancestors were born, and these will seem like pretty logical answers that only took ten seconds. So how could one sit for two years trying to discern and answer? Well, a Zen practitioner isn’t permitted to dismiss the questions as absurd, they must direct their full mind to them, but not in what we would think of as reasoning. Zen is convinced there are other ways. It is meant to finally exasperate the rational thinker, until the mind sees that thinking is never more than ‘thinking about.’ Ideally a flash of insight at this point of exsperation will bridge the gap.
Twice a day the Zen practitioner will confront his master in a brief meeting, called sanzen. She will state the koan she’s working on, and follow it with and ‘answer’, which the master will either confirm or reject. But what is the point, you ask? In spite of its rather special character, Zen is purely Buddhistic in its essence because its aim is no other than that of the Buddha himself: the attainment of enlightenment, an experience known in Zen as satori. Zen is unique in that it concentrates exclusively on this experience and is not interested in any further interpretations. Satori is the first important breakthrough which is Zen’s version of the mystical experience. The experience may come in a flash of understanding, it is described as sense of reality which defies ordinary language. Zen is determined to widen the doors of perception so that the satori experience can seep into everyday life. The difference between Satori and the mystical experience, is that satori is seen as just the beginning of the quest.This is how Satori is seen as an ‘introverted mystical experience’.
Another important aspect to Zen, is the Tao. Tao is the way of nature, it’s the principle of growth and development of all things, including humanity.. In the writings of The Tao Te Ching, Tao is described as having existed before heaven and earth. Tao is formless, stands alone without change and reaches everywhere without harm. The Tao however, is a bit of a mystery, because even though the Tao is called Tao, the Tao has no name. The very first verse in the Tao Te Ching;
The way you can go,
is not the way.
The name you can say
isn’t the real name.
The poem goes on to say that ‘names’s the mother of the ten thousand things’. This seems consistant with the Zen problem of language misrepresenting reality, which i’m sure is why ‘the Tao has no name’. Since it’s near impossible to say exactly what Tao is, we can at least say what Tao isn’t. Tao is not God, Tao isn’t beyond the material world. Tao isn’t Brahman, there’s no mystical experience required to come into harmony with the Tao. Tao is not Nirvana, it is not a state of being. Tao is not physical nature.
Te is the Tao of ordinary life. It points to the natural goodness of the simple life, and the spontanious goodness of simple people. A verse from the 46th poem of the Tao Te Ching:
The greatest evil: wanting more.
The worst luck, discontent.
Greed’s the curse of life.
Unlike a lot of the Tao Te Ching, this verse requires little interpretation. It points to the reality that the simple life is the best life, and one shouldn’t be dissatasfied. It can be compared with tanha, the desire for private fulfillment, which is something that needs to be eliminated in Buddhist practice. The last stanza of the poem;
To know enough’s enough
is enough to know.
I think that this means that it’s important to know when you’re leading a life of indulgence, or when to be content that you’re living the good and simple life. It is ‘enough to know’ when you know when to say ‘enough’s enough’. It makes more sense (to me) backwards, and although it’s presented in it’s rawest form possible, it still catches one off guard, strikes one as being complicated. It’s a pretty simple statement, but it’s a big statement. All you need to know is when to stop wanting more.
A big aspect of the Tao is Ch’i; using the stuff you’ve got, and doing everything you can to accumulate more. Ch’i is the ‘life force’ , spiritual power, “mojo”, or spiritual substance. The ’stuff of life’ if you will. Over and over in the Tao Te Ching La Tzu says ‘wu wei’. It translates to mean something along the lines of ‘do without doing’. It’s action by inaction. “you do nothing yet it gets done. . .”
Not prizing rare treasures
keeps people from stealing.
Not looking at the desireable
keeps the mind quiet.
* * *
When you do not-doing,
nothing’s out of order.
So wu-wei is kind of like getting the best milage out of the Ch’i in your tank. Not accelerating down hills and such, using your Ch’i wisely; a minumum Ch’i expenditure. Sometimes the best way to get things done is by not doing anything. Act without acting.
I think we could all take a lesson in Ch’i management. Sometimes in life the best thing to do is “just leave it alone.” Too often perhaps we put a lot of time and energy into trying to make things go our way, or trying to remedy things in hopes that things will go our way. Trying to make someone ‘feel better’ by ‘talking about it’ is often the wrong thing to do. What might be seen by many as a passive attitude is far from it, however not consistant with the American way. The best course of action, may be no action.
Buddhism, Zen, and the Tao make no promises of forgiveness or eternal life. Buddhists hope to enter into the state of Nirvana, but there is no clear, objective proof or teaching on what occurs beyond the grave. Even Buddha himself was not certain what lay beyond death. He left no clear teaching on Nirvana or eternity. What he did leave are philosophical speculations. Today the body of Buddha lies in a grave in Kusinara, at the foot of the Himalaya Mountains. The facts of life after death still remain an unsolved mystery in Buddhism. This is a point of concern for some, who want answers, but the Buddha, and Zen are not God, Buddha never claimed to be anything more than a man. He never claimed to know any answers.
As Americans, most of our religions involve a clear cut picture of exactly who God is, and what he’s about. There isn’t much room for speculation if you’re religious person and you believe what the scriptures of your specific religion are telling you. Regardless if there’s a God or there isn’t – the old argument stands: They can’t all be right. Even the simple comparisson of Buddhism and Christianity leaves you with two very opposite ideas about what life is all about. The two are so different, they cannot both be right at the same time, nor can the two be blended together, or should be.
The United States of America may be the most powerful, wealthy, and attractive country in the world. The varieties of class, individuality, religion, and race are a few of the enrichments within the “melting pot” of our society. The blend of these numerous diversities is the crucial ingredient to our modern nation. Even though America has been formed upon these diversities, its inhabitants- the “average American”- have a single thing in common; a single idea; a single goal; the American Dream. The original dream consisted of a seemingly simple concept; success. Americans dreamed of a successful marriage, family, successful job, and own a Victorian-style home with a white picket fence and an oak tree with a swing tire in the front yard, 2.5 children and a golden retreaver.
It seems to be honest enough, sincere enough, attainable enough; but i’m not so sure it’s still here. It seems to me, that the American Dream has gone from success, freedom, and happiness to having lots of money and dying with the most toys. It has been said that Americans are no longer trying to keep up with the Joneses, we’re instead trying to keep up with Bill Gates. We all wanna make our million. We’ve got dukkha coming out our ears. 5 years ago my dad owned a 86 Jeep Cherokee. Today, my garage has a 1969 stingray corvette in it. American Dream? I think not. Ridiculous? Indeed. Now maybe i only feel this way because i’m not allowed to breathe on it…..but i think i’m on to something here.
It seems almost embarassing to consider that the Buddhists are over there trying to achieve enlightenment, and we’re over here spending $85 a week to have someone clean our house because we’d rather be golfing. They’re over there renouncing all their material posessions to find the meaning of life, and we still think the meaning of life is material posessions. The Buddha sat in the woods for 6 years to reach nirvana, and we spend $65,000 on a SUV so we can drive through the woods listening to Nirvana on our cd player.
The so-called American Dream that got discarded as soon as “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” started airing could use a heavy dose of the Buddha nature, and at least find some happy meduim. America could sure use a ‘middle path’ about now.