By Doug Spear
Renshi: Shin Sei Kan
Buddhism is a religion to about 300 million people around the world. The word comes from 'budhi', 'to awaken'. It has its origins about 2,500 years ago when Siddhartha Gotama, known as the Buddha, was himself awakened (enlightened) at the age of 35.
Buddhism goes beyond religion and is more of a philosophy or 'way of life'. Its teachings are on a life of peace, loving and kindness and wisdom and to rid the mind from a negative state of thought. It is a philosophy because philosophy 'means love of wisdom' and the Buddhist path can be summed up as:
•To lead a moral life
•To be mindful and aware of thoughts and actions, and
•To develop wisdom and understanding
Meditation is at the heart of the Buddhist way of life. It is essentially a method for understanding and working on our own mind. We first learn to identify our different negative mental states known as 'delusions', and learn how to develop peaceful and positive mental states or 'virtuous minds'.
The Buddha's enlightenment (around 2500 years ago) has been described as involving the deepest understanding of the Four Noble Truths. He devoted the rest of his life (45 years) to teaching this "Way to the cessation of suffering" to wanderers and ordinary householders.
The Four Noble Truths
1. Dukkha (suffering, stress, unsatisfactoriness, unfulfilment) exists
2. The origin of suffering is taha (craving, thirst, attachment, emotional investment in desire satisfaction)
3. The cessation of dukkha lies in cessation of taha. The cessation of dukkha involves Nibbana (the extinction of defilements that spring from taha and the 'uncovering' of the unconditioned mind).
4. There is a Path to the cessation of dukkha (and hence to Nibbana) - the Noble Eightfold Path, which involves virtue (sila), meditation (samadhi) and insight-wisdom (pañña).
Four Noble Truths in more Detail
1.Reality of Suffering: 3 levels
•Overt physical/mental pain
•Change (e.g. suffering in anticipation of pleasurable experience ending)
•Conditions (The Buddha said everything is dukkha - i.e. unsatisfactory. That is, every facet of the conditioned world is impermanent (anicca) - including our psycho-physical constitution - so is an unworthy source of permanent peace of mind and happiness)
Through seeing this First Noble Truth in depth, the aspirant becomes deeply disenchanted with the conditioned world as a source for real happiness.
2. Origin of Suffering: Taha
•Unquenchable thirst: taha - relentless. The Buddha mentioned three objects of taha: Taha for objects of sense desire; Taha for existence; Taha for non-existence.
•Psychologically, the taha is manifested in three main defilements of the mind: Greed; Aversion; Delusion.
•Greed for objects of sense desire: leads to clinging and attachment, wanting to possess them. Leads to suffering since the (impermanent) object of desire will either not be gained; or will be gained and lost; or the (impermanent) mind-state, having gained the object, will become dissatisfied and look for satisfaction elsewhere.
•Greed for existence: the urge to exist, to be a particular kind of person, to be wanted, accepted and respected, to live forever. Leads to suffering, since death is certain, and rejection, at some time, is inevitable.
•Aversion: towards unpleasant sensations. Leads to suffering since the world will inevitably bring one in contact with unpleasant sensations. Aversion can develop towards one's general existence if desires are frustrated often enough, creating states of depression, suicidal tendencies; hence the taha for non-existence.
•Delusion: greed and aversion are symptomatic of a failure to see things the way they really are: namely, that since the nature of things in the world are impermanent, craving will never find in them lasting satisfaction, so suffering will continue on indefinitely. Through not seeing this clearly, we continue to look for lasting satisfaction in what can never produce lasting satisfaction. Intellectual recognition of such facts is still bound up with delusion, so long as taha continues.
•Taha binds a person (a bundle of processes) to the cycle of Dependent Arising for countless rebirths.
3. Cessation of Suffering: Nibbana.
•If taha is the source of suffering, then the cessation of taha will lead to the cessation of suffering. Seeing this third Noble Truth with maximal clarity entails release from the bondage of existence and suffering: Nibbana.
•'Nibbana' literally means "blowing out" or "extinguishing", and is thus, in this context, suggestive of an event. What is extinguished? The fires of greed, aversion and delusion.
•Nibanna has also been characterized more positively as "the unconditioned". There are passages in the suttas to suggest that Nibbana is unconditioned by limitations, such as space and time, that govern the conditioned world. There are also passages to suggest that Nibbana, although an exalted 'experience' is beyond description, so cannot be captured by words or imagined by reference to ordinary experience.
•The awakened person who has attained Nibbana (termed an Arahant) is motivated by generosity, friendliness, compassion and wisdom. Every trace of greed, aversion and delusion has been eliminated from their mind (in a dispositional as well as occurant sense).
•An Arahant is not re-born into the cycle of Dependent Arising. What happens to the Arahant after death? This was a question the Buddha refused to discuss, although see Thanissaro Bhikkhu on the analogy of fire in The Mind Like Fire Unbound (on reading list).
4. The Noble Eightfold Path to the Cessation of Suffering
(Adapted from Rupert Gethin, The Foundations of Buddhism)
Understanding the Four Noble Truths
Refraining from false speech
Refraining from derisive speech
Refraining from hurtful speech
Refraining from idle chatter
Refraining from harming living beings
Refraining from takings what's not given
Refraining from sexual misconduct
Not based on wrong speech and action
To prevent unarisen unwholesome states
To abandon arisen unwholesome states
To arouse unarisen wholesome states
To develop arisen wholesome states
Contemplation of body
Contemplation of feeling
Contemplation of mind
Contemplation of dhamma
Practice of the four jhanas