Buddha – “Do not accept any of my words on faith, believing them just because I said them. Be like an analyst buying gold, who cuts, burns, and critically examines his product for authenticity. Only accept what passes the test by proving useful and beneficial in your life.”
Like many people I’m sure who attempt to lead a considered life and come to terms with their place in it I came across Buddhism a while ago and was surprised by the simple beauty of its message. In many ways it’s a metaphysical expression of the natural sciences of Physics and Phycology.
I have long been concerned about organised religion and its insistence on swallowing the mantra whole without any opportunity to question the message. But Buddhism at least seems to encourage the questioning of the received text and its very validity. It also encourages those seeking a mentor or guru to choose with wisdom based squarely on the abilities of the teacher. The focus is not on the teacher but the self and the opportunity derived from the transmitted text or message to become enlightened. The teacher should therefore not be worshiped but should be given respect only if that respect is earn’t through their teaching skills. Indeed the first considered enlightened one Gotama Siddhartha is not worshiped as a God but revered for the message that he conveyed through his eighty four thousand teachings given whilst alive. So within Buddhism there is no God figure. Although the Dala Lama has been called the “Pope of the East” he is only one of many teachers that conveys the Buddhist canon and message to the laity. In Tibet at least there are four Buddhist traditions and the Dala Lama has become prominent as the mouth piece of the Tibetans in exile and this gives rise to his notoriety.
The essence of this middle way or Buddhism hinges on self mastery. It encourages a person to deal with the challenges and traumas of life though the gift of Buddhist knowledge and wisdom. Someone once said that “in relative terms it’s easier to change the world than to change yourself”. Buddhism encourages personal change through inward reflection by the practice of meditation to the extent that your personal suffering is completely removed with the goal of eventual enlightenment or Nirvana. On attaining Nirvana freedom from Samsara is attained. Samsara is defined as the eternal cycle of birth and death through the ages.
Meditation is the principle mechanism used in order to attain the prize of enlightenment and freedom from Samsara. There are many strategies used in the practice of meditation. However in its basic form Insight (Vipasanna) or Mindfulness meditation is used. This encourages the meditator to inquiry into the qualities of the mind and to note passing thoughts, feelings, consciousness, sensations within the mind, reactions and emotional conditions. The meditator effectively aims to investigate what arises in the mind by noting the subtle changes it undergoes and also extending those observations more generally to the body. In order to bring the meditator to the condition of initial calmness and equanimity of mind a point of focus is generally used. This aspect of the meditative process is know as Samatha (calm) meditation. A mantra along with a focus on the breath as it rises and falls is commonly used to calm the mind to the point where Insight meditation can be effectively practiced. The breath is generally followed from the tip of the nose, down through the upper chest to the stomach. The out breath is in turn followed from stomach, through the chest to the tip of the nose. As the breath is drawn the words ‘bud’ and then ‘dho’ are used to regulate the breath.
In order to impart wisdom and knowledge 2500 years ago the Buddha’s message was presented to the world in The Four Noble Truths which can be simply stated as:
1. If you are alive then you will suffer.
2. The cause of suffering is attachment.
3. You can end suffering.
4. End suffering by following the Eight-Fold Path.
So from these four basic statements we get the diagnosis, the cause, the prognosis and finally the cure.
The Eight-Fold Path aims to shine a light on the path to Nirvana and personal salvation. This journey aims to improve your Wisdom by the practice of Right View and Right Intention; Ethical Conduct by the practice of Right Speech, Action and Livelihood; Mental Capabilities through the practice of Right Efforts, Mindfulness and Concentration.
What do we mean by suffering? Dukkha (suffering) can manifest as sensual pain by which we mean derived from the senses e.g. tasting, smelling, hearing, seeing and feeling. It may also be simply described as disquiet, uneasiness, or disharmony. The mind is otherwise calm until the senses interact with the surroundings and transmit vibrations from the world to the mind. The mind then becomes agitated and attempts to form order out of chaos.
The senses in turn create craving and attachment to the external world of the mind. The senses describe the exterior world in either good or bad terms. Craving, which is a condition of the mind, reacts in an unsettling manner within the mind. Harmony of mind is disrupted and suffering occurs.
The untrained mind is unaware of the impermanent nature of reality and as such grasps at those things that present the illusion of permanence. Aspects of life come and go in an ever ending cycle of birth and death, rise and fall, coming and going. This is where conditionality comes into play. The precondition of death is birth and the laws of causality are presented in Buddhism as the concept of dependent origination or the interrelatedness of all existence in time and space one condition creating a dependent outcome. Humankind through its ego has traditionally considered itself somehow separate from the world and has the notion that they are lord and master over the elements. Buddhism encourages the idea that we are all interconnected with all existent reality. We are one with the cosmos.
Attachment was initially a concern to me as it seemed to suggest that the attachment was directed at personal relationships. The ultimate end it should be said aims to liberate the adherent from this realm to a higher plane and in that respect personal relationships are superfluous and thereby disregarded. However this is the extreme end of the Buddhist aspiration and in between there are may hues on the road to enlightenment. There is a lesser goal offered and that is a calm disposition and a personal ability to deal more effectively with the stresses of life. In terms of detachment the aim is to master the senses that contribute to agitations in the mind and to lessen the attachment to grasping onto them. Note them, even name them and let them pass.
Here’s a little dialogue around the death of a certain individual and it goes something like this:
Person enquiring about what a dead person had left “So what did he leave?”
Buddhist Respondent “Everything of course!”
So permanence is an illusion of time and consequently nothing lasts, everything comes and goes. Buddhism encourages a grounding in the present and lays down an inward path of personal reflection.