All About Buddhism ; For Non-Buddhists and Buddhists
A Five Minute Introduction
What is Buddhism?
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.
Is Buddhism a Religion?
To many, Buddhism goes beyond religion and is more of a philosophy or 'way of life'. It is a philosophy because philosophy 'means love of wisdom' and the Buddhist path can be summed up as:
(1) to lead a moral life,
(2) to be mindful and aware of thoughts and actions, and
(3) to develop wisdom and understanding.
How Can Buddhism Help Me?
Buddhism explains a purpose to life, it explains apparent injustice and inequality around the world, and it provides a code of practice or way of life that leads to true happiness.
Why is Buddhism Becoming Popular?
Buddhism is becoming popular in western countries for a number of reasons, The first good reason is Buddhism has answers to many of the problems in modern materialistic societies. It also includes (for those who are interested) a deep understanding of the human mind (and natural therapies) which prominent psychologists around the world are now discovering to be both very advanced and effective.
Who Was the Buddha?
Siddhartha Gotama was born into a royal family in Lumbini, now located in Nepal, in 563 BC. At 29, he realised that wealth and luxury did not guarantee happiness, so he explored the different teachings religions and philosophies of the day, to find the key to human happiness. After six years of study and meditation he finally found 'the middle path' and was enlightened. After enlightenment, the Buddha spent the rest of his life teaching the principles of Buddhism called the Dhamma, or Truth until his death at the age of 80.
Was the Buddha a God?
He was not, nor did he claim to be. He was a man who taught a path to enlightenment from his own experience.
Do Buddhists Worship Idols?
Buddhists sometimes pay respect to images of the Buddha, not in worship, nor to ask for favours. A statue of the Buddha with hands rested gently in its lap and a compassionate smile reminds us to strive to develop peace and love within ourselves. Bowing to the statue is an expression of gratitude for the teaching.
Why are so Many Buddhist Countries Poor?
One of the Buddhist teachings is that wealth does not guarantee happiness and also wealth is impermanent. The people of every country suffer whether rich or poor, but those who understand Buddhist teachings can find true happiness.
Are There Different Types of Buddhism?
There are many different types of Buddhism, because the emphasis changes from country to country due to customs and culture. What does not vary is the essence of the teaching the Dhamma or truth.
Are Other Religions Wrong?
Buddhism is also a belief system which is tolerant of all other beliefs or religions. Buddhism agrees with the moral teachings of other religions but Buddhism goes further by providing a long term purpose within our existence, through wisdom and true understanding. Real Buddhism is very tolerant and not concerned with labels like 'Christian', 'Moslem', 'Hindu' or 'Buddhist'; that is why there have never been any wars fought in the name of Buddhism. That is why Buddhists do not preach and try to convert, only explain if an explanation is sought.
Is Buddhism Scientific?
Science is knowledge which can be made into a system, which depends upon seeing and testing facts and stating general natural laws. The core of Buddhism fit into this definition, because the Four Noble truths (see below) can be tested and proven by anyone in fact the Buddha himself asked his followers to test the teaching rather than accept his word as true. Buddhism depends more on understanding than faith.
What did the Buddha Teach?
The Buddha taught many things, but the basic concepts in Buddhism can be summed up by the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path.
What is the First Noble Truth?
The first truth is that life is suffering i.e., life includes pain, getting old, disease, and ultimately death. We also endure psychological suffering like loneliness frustration, fear, embarrassment, disappointment and anger. This is an irrefutable fact that cannot be denied. It is realistic rather than pessimistic because pessimism is expecting things to be bad. lnstead, Buddhism explains how suffering can be avoided and how we can be truly happy.
What is the Second Noble Truth?
The second truth is that suffering is caused by craving and aversion. We will suffer if we expect other people to conform to our expectation, if we want others to like us, if we do not get something we want,etc. In other words, getting what you want does not guarantee happiness. Rather than constantly struggling to get what you want, try to modify your wanting. Wanting deprives us of contentment and happiness. A lifetime of wanting and craving and especially the craving to continue to exist, creates a powerful energy which causes the individual to be born. So craving leads to physical suffering because it causes us to be reborn.
What is the Third Noble Truth?
The third truth is that suffering can be overcome and happiness can be attained; that true happiness and contentment are possible. lf we give up useless craving and learn to live each day at a time (not dwelling in the past or the imagined future) then we can become happy and free. We then have more time and energy to help others. This is Nirvana.
What is the Fourth Noble Truth?
The fourth truth is that the Noble 8-fold Path is the path which leads to the end of suffering.
What is the Noble 8-Fold Path?
In summary, the Noble 8-fold Path is being moral (through what we say, do and our livelihood), focussing the mind on being fully aware of our thoughts and actions, and developing wisdom by understanding the Four Noble Truths and by developing compassion for others.
What are the 5 Precepts?
The moral code within Buddhism is the precepts, of which the main five are: not to take the life of anything living, not to take anything not freely given, to abstain from sexual misconduct and sensual overindulgence, to refrain from untrue speech, and to avoid intoxication, that is, losing mindfulness.
What is Karma?
Karma is the law that every cause has an effect, i.e., our actions have results. This simple law explains a number of things: inequality in the world, why some are born handicapped and some gifted, why some live only a short life. Karma underlines the importance of all individuals being responsible for their past and present actions. How can we test the karmic effect of our actions? The answer is summed up by looking at (1) the intention behind the action, (2) effects of the action on oneself, and (3) the effects on others.
What is Wisdom?
Buddhism teaches that wisdom should be developed with compassion. At one extreme, you could be a goodhearted fool and at the other extreme, you could attain knowledge without any emotion. Buddhism uses the middle path to develop both. The highest wisdom is seeing that in reality, all phenomena are incomplete, impermanent and do no constitute a fixed entity. True wisdom is not simply believing what we are told but instead experiencing and understanding truth and reality. Wisdom requires an open, objective, unbigoted mind. The Buddhist path requires courage, patience, flexibility and intelligence.
What is Compassion?
Compassion includes qualities of sharing, readiness to give comfort, sympathy, concern, caring. In Buddhism, we can really understand others, when we can really understand ourselves, through wisdom.
How do I Become a Buddhist?
Buddhist teachings can be understood and tested by anyone. Buddhism teaches that the solutions to our problems are within ourselves not outside. The Buddha asked all his followers not to take his word as true, but rather to test the teachings for themselves. ln this way, each person decides for themselves and takes responsibility for their own actions and understanding. This makes Buddhism less of a fixed package of beliefs which is to be accepted in its entirety, and more of a teaching which each person learns and uses in their own way.
The Four Noble Truths
1. Life means suffering.
2. The origin of suffering is attachment.
3. The cessation of suffering is attainable.
4. The path to the cessation of suffering.
1. Life means suffering.
To live means to suffer, because the human nature is not perfect and neither is the world we live in. During our lifetime, we inevitably have to endure physical suffering such as pain, sickness, injury, tiredness, old age, and eventually death; and we have to endure psychological suffering like sadness, fear, frustration, disappointment, and depression. Although there are different degrees of suffering and there are also positive experiences in life that we perceive as the opposite of suffering, such as ease, comfort and happiness, life in its totality is imperfect and incomplete, because our world is subject to impermanence. This means we are never able to keep permanently what we strive for, and just as happy moments pass by, we ourselves and our loved ones will pass away one day, too.
2. The origin of suffering is attachment.
The origin of suffering is attachment to transient things and the ignorance thereof. Transient things do not only include the physical objects that surround us, but also ideas, and -in a greater sense- all objects of our perception. Ignorance is the lack of understanding of how our mind is attached to impermanent things. The reasons for suffering are desire, passion, ardour, pursue of wealth and prestige, striving for fame and popularity, or in short: craving and clinging. Because the objects of our attachment are transient, their loss is inevitable, thus suffering will necessarily follow. Objects of attachment also include the idea of a "self" which is a delusion, because there is no abiding self. What we call "self" is just an imagined entity, and we are merely a part of the ceaseless becoming of the universe.
3. The cessation of suffering is attainable.
The cessation of suffering can be attained through nirodha. Nirodha means the unmaking of sensual craving and conceptual attachment. The third noble truth expresses the idea that suffering can be ended by attaining dispassion. Nirodha extinguishes all forms of clinging and attachment. This means that suffering can be overcome through human activity, simply by removing the cause of suffering. Attaining and perfecting dispassion is a process of many levels that ultimately results in the state of Nirvana. Nirvana means freedom from all worries, troubles, complexes, fabrications and ideas. Nirvana is not comprehensible for those who have not attained it.
4. The path to the cessation of suffering.
There is a path to the end of suffering - a gradual path of self-improvement, which is described more detailed in the Eightfold Path. It is the middle way between the two extremes of excessive self-indulgence (hedonism) and excessive self-mortification (asceticism); and it leads to the end of the cycle of rebirth. The latter quality discerns it from other paths which are merely "wandering on the wheel of becoming", because these do not have a final object. The path to the end of suffering can extend over many lifetimes, throughout which every individual rebirth is subject to karmic conditioning. Craving, ignorance, delusions, and its effects will disappear gradually, as progress is made on the path.
The Noble Eightfold Path
1. Right View
2. Right Intention
3. Right Speech
4. Right Action
5. Right Livelihood
6. Right Effort
7. Right Mindfulness
8. Right Concentration
The Noble Eightfold Path describes the way to the end of suffering, as it was laid out by Siddhartha Gautama. It is a practical guideline to ethical and mental development with the goal of freeing the individual from attachments and delusions; and it finally leads to understanding the truth about all things. Together with the Four Noble Truths it constitutes the gist of Buddhism. Great emphasis is put on the practical aspect, because it is only through practice that one can attain a higher level of existence and finally reach Nirvana. The eight aspects of the path are not to be understood as a sequence of single steps, instead they are highly interdependent principles that have to be seen in relationship with each other.
1. Right View
Right view is the beginning and the end of the path, it simply means to see and to understand things as they really are and to realise the Four Noble Truth. As such, right view is the cognitive aspect of wisdom. It means to see things through, to grasp the impermanent and imperfect nature of worldly objects and ideas, and to understand the law of karma and karmic conditioning. Right view is not necessarily an intellectual capacity, just as wisdom is not just a matter of intelligence. Instead, right view is attained, sustained, and enhanced through all capacities of mind. It begins with the intuitive insight that all beings are subject to suffering and it ends with complete understanding of the true nature of all things. Since our view of the world forms our thoughts and our actions, right view yields right thoughts and right actions.
2. Right Intention
While right view refers to the cognitive aspect of wisdom, right intention refers to the volitional aspect, i.e. the kind of mental energy that controls our actions. Right intention can be described best as commitment to ethical and mental self-improvement. Buddha distinguishes three types of right intentions: 1. the intention of renunciation, which means resistance to the pull of desire, 2. the intention of good will, meaning resistance to feelings of anger and aversion, and 3. the intention of harmlessness, meaning not to think or act cruelly, violently, or aggressively, and to develop compassion.
3. Right Speech
Right speech is the first principle of ethical conduct in the eightfold path. Ethical conduct is viewed as a guideline to moral discipline, which supports the other principles of the path. This aspect is not self-sufficient, however, essential, because mental purification can only be achieved through the cultivation of ethical conduct. The importance of speech in the context of Buddhist ethics is obvious: words can break or save lives, make enemies or friends, start war or create peace. Buddha explained right speech as follows: 1. to abstain from false speech, especially not to tell deliberate lies and not to speak deceitfully, 2. to abstain from slanderous speech and not to use words maliciously against others, 3. to abstain from harsh words that offend or hurt others, and 4. to abstain from idle chatter that lacks purpose or depth. Positively phrased, this means to tell the truth, to speak friendly, warm, and gently and to talk only when necessary.
4. Right Action
The second ethical principle, right action, involves the body as natural means of expression, as it refers to deeds that involve bodily actions. Unwholesome actions lead to unsound states of mind, while wholesome actions lead to sound states of mind. Again, the principle is explained in terms of abstinence: right action means 1. to abstain from harming sentient beings, especially to abstain from taking life (including suicide) and doing harm intentionally or delinquently, 2. to abstain from taking what is not given, which includes stealing, robbery, fraud, deceitfulness, and dishonesty, and 3. to abstain from sexual misconduct. Positively formulated, right action means to act kindly and compassionately, to be honest, to respect the belongings of others, and to keep sexual relationships harmless to others. Further details regarding the concrete meaning of right action can be found in the Precepts.
5. Right Livelihood
Right livelihood means that one should earn one's living in a righteous way and that wealth should be gained legally and peacefully. The Buddha mentions four specific activities that harm other beings and that one should avoid for this reason: 1. dealing in weapons, 2. dealing in living beings (including raising animals for slaughter as well as slave trade and prostitution), 3. working in meat production and butchery, and 4. selling intoxicants and poisons, such as alcohol and drugs. Furthermore any other occupation that would violate the principles of right speech and right action should be avoided.
6. Right Effort
Right effort can be seen as a prerequisite for the other principles of the path. Without effort, which is in itself an act of will, nothing can be achieved, whereas misguided effort distracts the mind from its task, and confusion will be the consequence. Mental energy is the force behind right effort; it can occur in either wholesome or unwholesome states. The same type of energy that fuels desire, envy, aggression, and violence can on the other side fuel self-discipline, honesty, benevolence, and kindness. Right effort is detailed in four types of endeavours that rank in ascending order of perfection: 1. to prevent the arising of unarisen unwholesome states, 2. to abandon unwholesome states that have already arisen, 3. to arouse wholesome states that have not yet arisen, and 4. to maintain and perfect wholesome states already arisen.
7. Right Mindfulness
Right mindfulness is the controlled and perfected faculty of cognition. It is the mental ability to see things as they are, with clear consciousness. Usually, the cognitive process begins with an impression induced by perception, or by a thought, but then it does not stay with the mere impression. Instead, we almost always conceptualise sense impressions and thoughts immediately. We interpret them and set them in relation to other thoughts and experiences, which naturally go beyond the facticity of the original impression. The mind then posits concepts, joins concepts into constructs, and weaves those constructs into complex interpretative schemes. All this happens only half consciously, and as a result we often see things obscured. Right mindfulness is anchored in clear perception and it penetrates impressions without getting carried away. Right mindfulness enables us to be aware of the process of conceptualisation in a way that we actively observe and control the way our thoughts go. Buddha accounted for this as the four foundations of mindfulness: 1. contemplation of the body, 2. contemplation of feeling (repulsive, attractive, or neutral), 3. contemplation of the state of mind, and 4. contemplation of the phenomena.
8. Right Concentration
The eighth principle of the path, right concentration, refers to the development of a mental force that occurs in natural consciousness, although at a relatively low level of intensity, namely concentration. Concentration in this context is described as one-pointedness of mind, meaning a state where all mental faculties are unified and directed onto one particular object. Right concentration for the purpose of the eightfold path means wholesome concentration, i.e. concentration on wholesome thoughts and actions. The Buddhist method of choice to develop right concentration is through the practice of meditation. The meditating mind focuses on a selected object. It first directs itself onto it, then sustains concentration, and finally intensifies concentration step by step. Through this practice it becomes natural to apply elevated levels concentration also in everyday situations.
..Craving, attachment, and desire are some of the most dangerous words that can be used to describe something that is actually much more fundamental than these seem to indicate. The Buddha did talk about these conventional forms of suffering, but he also talked about the fundamental suffering that comes from some deep longing for a refuge that involves a separate or permanent self. We imagine that such a self will be a refuge, and so we desire such a self, we try to make certain sensations into such a self, we cling to the fundamental notion that such a self can exist as a stable entity and that this will somehow help. The side effects of this manifest in all sorts of additions to mind states and emotions that are not helpful, but these are side effects and not the root that cause of suffering that the Buddha was pointing to.
As stated earlier, a helpful concept here is compassion, a heart aspect of the practice and reality related to kindness. You see, wherever there is desire there is suffering, and wherever there is suffering there is compassion, the desire for the end of suffering. You can actually experience this. So obviously there is some really close relationship between suffering, desire and compassion. This is heavy but good stuff and worth investigating.
We might conceive of this as compassion having gotten caught in a loop, the loop of the illusion of duality. This is sort of like a dogs tail chasing itself. Pain and pleasure, suffering and satisfaction always seem to be over there. Thus, when pleasant sensations arise, there is a constant, compassionate, deluded attempt to get over there to the other side of the imagined split. This is fundamental attraction. You would think that we would just stop imagining there is a split, but somehow that is not what happens. We keep perpetuating the sense of a split even as we try to bridge it, and so we suffer. When unpleasant sensations arise, there is an attempt to get away from over there, to widen the imagined split. This will never work, because it doesnt actually exist, but the way we hold our minds as we try to get away from that side is painful. When boring or unpleasant sensations arise, there is the attempt to tune out all together and forget the whole thing, to try to pretend that the sensations on the other side of the split are not there. This is fundamental ignorance and it perpetuates the process, as it is by ignoring aspects of our sensate reality that the illusion of a split is created in the first place.
These strict definitions of fundamental attraction, aversion and ignorance are very important, particularly for when I discuss the various models of the stages of enlightenment. Given the illusion, it seems that somehow these mental reactions will help in a way that will be permanent. Remember that the only thing that will fundamentally help is to understand the Three Characteristics to the degree that makes the difference, and the Three Characteristics are manifesting right here.
Remember how it was stated above that suffering motivates everything we do? We could also say that everything we do is motivated by compassion, which is part of the fundamentally empty nature of reality. That doesnt mean that everything we do is skillful; that is a whole different issue.
Compassion is a very good thing, especially when it involves one's self and all beings. It is sort of the flip side of the Second Noble Truth. The whole problem is that misdirected compassion, compassion that is filtered through the process of ego and its related habits, can produce enormous suffering and often does. It is easy to think of many examples of people searching for happiness in the strangest of places and by doing the strangest of things. Just pick up any newspaper. The take-home message is to search for happiness where you are actually likely to find it.
We might say that compassion is the ultimate aspect of desire, or think of compassion and desire on a continuum. The more wisdom or understanding of interconnectedness there is behind our intentions and actions, the more they reflect compassion and the more the results will turn out well. The more greed, hatred and delusion or lack of understanding of interconnectedness there is behind our intentions and actions, the more they reflect desire and the more suffering there will likely be....
Today we are going to continue a theme that we began two weeks ago when we talked about the teaching of karma. We are going to consider the results of karma in the next life, in other words rebirth. But before I begin to consider specifically the Buddhist teaching regarding rebirth, I think we need to spend a little bit of time on the concept of rebirth in general. This is because it is a concept which many people have difficulty with, particularly over the last few decades when we have become increasingly conditioned to think in what passes for scientific terms, in what most people would naively believe to be scientific terms. Thinking in this way has caused many people to discard the idea of rebirth as something that smacks of superstition, that is a part of an old-fashioned way of looking at the world. So I think we need to redress the balance and create a certain amount of openness to the concept of rebirth before we treat specifically the Buddhist teaching on rebirth.
There are a number of approaches that we can take to what we might call outlining the case for the reality of rebirth. One line which we might take would be to recall that in almost all the major cultures of the world, at one time or another, there had been a strong belief in the reality of rebirth. This is particularly true in India where the idea of rebirth can be traced back to the very earliest period of Indian civilization where all the major Indian religions, be they theism or atheism, be they schools of Hinduism or non-Hindu doctrines like Jainism, believe in the reality of rebirth. Similarly, in other cultures there has been a belief in rebirth, as for instance even in the Mediterranean world, there is a lot of evidence that belief in rebirth was quite common before and during the first few centuries of the Common Era. So the belief in rebirth has been an important part of the human way of thinking about ones situation.
Specifically, within the Buddhist tradition, we have the testimony of the Buddha on the matter of rebirth. On the night of His enlightenment, the Buddha acquired three varieties of knowledge and the first of these was the detailed knowledge of His past lives. He was able to recollect the conditions in which He had been born in His past lives. He was able to remember what His names had been, what His occupations had been and so on. Besides the Buddhas testimony, His prominent disciples were also able to recollect their past lives. Ananda, for instance, acquired the ability to recollect his past life soon after his ordination. Similarly, throughout the history of Buddhism, saints, scholars and meditators have been able to recollect their past lives.
Nonetheless, neither of these two arguments for rebirth can be expected to be completely convincing in a scientific and rational environment. So perhaps we need to look a bit closer to home so to speak, and here we get help from a very unexpected direction. Most of us may be aware that in the past twenty or thirty years there have been a huge amount of scientific investigations of the question of rebirth and these investigations have been pursued by psychologists and parapsychologists. Gradually through these investigations, we have built up a very convincing case for the reality of rebirth, a case which is developed along scientific lines. There have been many books published in which the details of these investigations have been described and discussed. One scholar who has been particularly active in this area in recent years is Professor Ian Stevenson of the University of Virginia, USA. He has published findings on more than twenty cases of rebirth. Some of us may be familiar with the case of the woman who was able to recall her past life more than a hundred years before as Bridey Murphy in a foreign land which she had never visited in her present life. I am not going to go through these specific cases in detail because if one is interested in this scientific evidence for rebirth one can read about it for oneself. Nonetheless, I think we are now at a point where even the most skeptical of us will have to admit that there is a lot of circumstantial evidence in favour of the reality of rebirth.
But in making the case for rebirth, we can look even closer to our own experience, and here we need to recall and examine it in the true Buddhist way to see what meaning we can distil from our own experience. All of us in this room have our own particular capabilities, our own particular likes and dislikes, and I think it is fair to ask whether these are all merely the result of chance. For instance, some of us are more capable at sport than others, some of us have a talent for mathematics, others have a talent for music, some of us like swimming, others are afraid of water. Are all these differences in our abilities and attitudes merely the result of chance? There are incredible peculiarities in the nature of our experiences. Let me take my own case. I was born in a Roman Catholic family in the United States. There was absolutely nothing in my early background to indicate that by the age of twenty I would have travelled to India and that I would spend the next fourteen years of my life predominantly in Asia, and that I would become deeply involved in Buddhist studies.
Then, too, there are those situations in which we sometimes feel a strong presentiment that we have been in a particular place before although we have not visited this place in our present life. Or, sometimes we feel that we have known someone before. Sometimes we meet a person and within a very short space of time we feel that we have known that person thoroughly. Alternatively, sometimes we have known a person for years and yet we are not close to that person. These experiences of feeling that we have been to a place before or have known a person before are so common and universal even in a culture which knows almost nothing of rebirth. There is a particular phrase for this experience, the French words "deja vu" which mean "already seen or experienced". If we are not dogmatic, when we add up all the evidence of rebirth - the persistent belief in rebirth in many cultures in many different times throughout history, the Buddhas own testimony, the testimony of His prominent disciples, the evidence presented by scientific investigations, and our own personal intimations that we have been here before - we have to admit that there is at least a good possibility that rebirth is a reality.
In Buddhism, rebirth is part of the continuous process of change. In fact, we are not only reborn at the time of death, we are born and reborn at every moment. This too, like many other Buddhist teachings, is easily verifiable by reference to our own experience and by reference to the teachings of science. For instance, the majority of the cells in the human body die and are replaced many times during the course of ones life. Even those few cells which last ones entire life undergo constant internal changes. This is part of the process of birth, death and rebirth. If we look at the mind too, we find that mental states of worry, happiness and so forth are changing every moment. They die and are replaced by new states. So whether we look at the body or the mind, our experience is characterized by continuous birth, death and rebirth.
In Buddhism, it is taught that there are various realms, spheres or dimensions of existence. There are thirty-one planes of existence listed, but for our purposes, we are going to utilize a simpler scheme which enumerates six realms of existence. In general, the six realms may be divided into two groups, one of which is relatively fortunate and the other relatively miserable. The first group includes three of the six realms and they are the realm of the gods, the realm of the demigods and the realm of human beings. Rebirth in these fortunate realms is the result of wholesome karma. The second group includes the three realms that are considered relatively miserable. They are sometimes called the realms of woe, and they are the realm of animals, the realm of hungry ghosts and the realm of hell beings. Rebirth in these states of woe is the result of unwholesome karma.
Let us look at each of these realms individually and starting from the realm at the bottom, let us look at the realm of the hell beings (Niraya). There are various hells in Buddhism, and they are principally eight hot hells and eight cold hells. In the hells, beings suffer incalculable and inexpressible pain. It is said that the suffering experienced as a result of being pierced by three hundred spears in a single day in this life is only a minute fraction of the suffering experienced in hell. The cause of rebirth in hell is continuous, habitual violent actions - habitual killing, cruelty and so forth, actions that are borne of ill-will. Beings born in the hells suffer the pain of hell until their unwholesome karma is exhausted. This is important because we must note that in Buddhism no one suffers eternal damnation. When their unwholesome karma is exhausted, beings in hell are reborn in a more fortunate realm of existence.
The next realm is the realm of the hungry ghosts (Pretas). Beings in this realm suffer chiefly from hunger and thirst, and from heat and cold. They are completely bereft of the objects of their desire. It is said that when the hungry ghosts perceive a mountain of rice or a river of fresh water, and rush towards that vision, they find the mountain of rice is only a heap of pebbles, and the river of fresh water only a ribbon of blue slate. Similarly, it is said that in the summer even the moon is hot, while in the winter even the sun is cold for them. The foremost cause of rebirth as a hungry ghost is avarice and miserliness borne of greed. As with the hells, the beings in this realm are not condemned to eternal existence in the form of hungry ghosts, for when their unwholesome karma is exhausted, they will be reborn in a higher realm.
In the next realm which is the realm of animals (Tiryak), the living beings suffer from a variety of unhappy circumstances. They suffer from the fear and pain that is the result of constantly killing and eating one another. They suffer from the depredations of man who kills them for food or for their hides, horns or teeth. Even if they are not killed, domestic animals are forced to work for man and are driven on by hooks and whips. All these are a source of suffering. The principal cause of rebirth as an animal is ignorance. In other words, the blind, heedless pursuit of ones animal-like desires, the preoccupation with eating, sleeping and sexual desire, and the disregard of developing ones mind to the practice of virtue and so forth lead one to be reborn as an animal.
Now when I say for instance that habitual killing is the cause of rebirth in the hells, or that greed is the cause of rebirth in the realm of the hungry ghosts, or that ignorance is the cause of rebirth in the realm of animals, it does not mean that a specific hateful, greedy or ignorant action will result in rebirth amongst the appropriate class of beings - the hells, the realms of hungry ghosts or the realm of animals. What it does mean is that there is a relationship between hatred and rebirth in the hells, and between greed and rebirth in the realm of hungry ghosts, and between ignorance and rebirth in the realm of the animals. If unimpeded, if unbalanced by other virtuous actions, such actions if habitual are likely to result in rebirth in these three states of woe.
I am going to skip the realm of human beings for the moment and go on to the realm of demigods (Asuras). The Asuras are more powerful physically and are more intelligent mentally than human beings. Yet they suffer because of jealousy and conflict. Mythologically, it is said that the Asuras and the gods share a celestial tree. While the gods enjoy the fruits of this celestial tree, the Asuras are custodians of the roots of the tree. The Asuras are envious of the gods and constantly attempt to take the fruits of the tree from the gods. As a result of this, they fight with the gods, and are defeated by the gods and suffer greatly as a consequence. Because of this constant jealousy, envy and conflict, existence amongst the Asuras is unhappy and unfortunate. As with the other realms, there is a cause of rebirth amongst the demigods. On the positive side, the cause is generosity. On the negative side, the causes are anger, envy and jealousy.
The sixth realm, the realm of the gods (Devas) is the happiest amongst the six realms. As a result of having done wholesome actions, of having observed the moral precepts and having practised meditation, living beings are reborn amongst the gods where they enjoy sensual pleasure or spiritual pleasure, or tranquillity depending upon the level within the realm of the gods in which they are born. Nonetheless, the realm of the gods is not to be desired because the happiness of the gods is impermanent. No matter how much they may enjoy their existence as a god, when the force of their karma is exhausted, when the merits of their good conduct and the power of their experience in meditation are exhausted, the gods fall from heaven and are reborn in another realm. At this moment, at the moment of their death, it is said that the gods suffer even more mental anguish than the physical pain suffered by beings in the other realms. The negative factor associated with birth in the realm of the gods is pride.
So here, as you can see, we have an affliction or defilement associated with the five realms - hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, demigods and the gods, and they are ill-will, desire, ignorance, jealousy and pride. Birth in any of these five realms is undesirable. Birth in the three lower realms is undesirable for obvious reasons, because of the intense suffering and because of the total ignorance of the beings who inhabit these realms. Even rebirth in the realms of the demigods and the gods too is undesirable. This is because, although one experiences a certain degree of happiness and power, existence amongst the demigods and gods is impermanent. Besides, because of the distractions and pleasures in these realms, beings there never think of looking for a way out of the cycle of birth and death. This is why it is said that of the six realms, the most fortunate, opportune and favored is the human realm. This is why I have left the human realm to the last.
The human realm (Manushya) is the most favoured of the six realms because as a human being one has the motivation and the opportunity to practise the Dharma and to achieve enlightenment. One has this motivation and opportunity because the conditions conducive to practising the path are present. In the human realm, one experiences both happiness and suffering. The suffering in this realm, though terrible, is not so great as the suffering in the three realms of woe. The pleasure and happiness experienced in the human realm is not so great as the pleasure and happiness experienced in the heavens. As a result, human beings are neither blinded by the intense happiness experienced by the beings in the heavens, nor distracted by the unbearable suffering that beings in the hells experience. Again, unlike the animals, human beings possess sufficient intelligence to recognize the necessity to look for a means to achieve the total end of suffering.
Human birth is difficult to gain from a number of points of view. First of all, it is difficult to gain from the point of view of its cause. Good conduct is the foremost cause of rebirth as a human being, but how rare is truly good conduct. Again, human birth is difficult to gain from the point of view of number, for human beings are only a small fraction of the living beings who inhabit the six realms. Moreover it is not enough simply to be born as a human being because there are countless human beings who do not have the opportunity to practise the Dharma. It is therefore not only necessary to be born as a human being, it is also necessary to have the opportunity to practise the Dharma, to develop ones qualities of morality, mental development and wisdom.
02 Mar `07, 11:15PM
The Buddha spoke about the rarity and the precious nature of opportune birth amongst human beings. He used a simile to illustrate this point. Suppose the whole world were a vast ocean, and on the surface of this ocean there were a yoke floating about, blown about by the wind, and suppose at the bottom of the ocean there lived a blind tortoise which came to the surface of the ocean once every hundred years. Just as difficult as it would be for that tortoise to place its neck through the opening in that yoke floating about in the ocean, just so difficult is it to attain opportune birth as a human being. Elsewhere, it is said that just as if one were to throw a handful of dried peas against a stone wall, and just as if one of these peas were to stick in a crack in the wall, so to be born as a human being with the opportunity to practise the Dharma is similarly difficult.
It is foolish to waste human existence along with the conducive conditions that we enjoy in free societies, the opportunity that we have to practise the Dharma. It is extremely important that having this opportunity we make use of it. If we fail to practise the Dharma in this life, there is no way of knowing where in the six realms we will be reborn, and when we shall have such a chance again. We must strive to free ourselves from the cycle of rebirth because failing to do so means that we will continue to circle endlessly amongst these six realms of existence. When the karma, wholesome or unwholesome, that causes us to be born in any of the six realms is exhausted, rebirth will occur, and we will find ourselves again in another realm. In fact, it is said that all of us have circled in the these six realms since beginningless time, that if all the skeletons that we have had in our various lives were heaped up, the pile would exceed the height of Mount Sumeru. If all the mothers milk that we have drunk throughout our countless existences were collected, the amount would exceed the amount of water in all the oceans. So now that we have the opportunity to practise the Dharma, we must do so without delay.
In recent years, there has been a tendency to interpret the six realms in psychological terms. Some teachers have suggested that the experience of the six realms is available to us in this very life. Undoubtedly, this is true so far as it goes. Those men and women who find themselves in prisons, tortured, killed, and so forth are undoubtedly experiencing a situation similar to that of the hell beings. Similarly, those who are miserly and avaricious experience a state of mind similar to that of the hungry ghosts. And those who are animal-like experience a state of mind similar to that of the animals. Those who are quarrelsome, powerful and jealous experience a state of mind similar to that of the Asuras. Those who are proud, tranquil, serene and exalted experience a state of mind similar to that of the gods. Yet, while it is undoubtedly true that the experience of the six realms is to some extent available to us in this human existence, I think it would be a mistake to assume or to believe that the six realms of existence do not have a reality which is as real as our human experience. The hells, the realm of the hungry ghosts, animals, demigods and gods are as real as our human realm. We will recall that mind is the creator of all mental states. Actions done with a pure mind motivated by generosity, love and so forth result in happy mental states or states of existence like the human realm and the realm of the gods. But actions done with an impure mind affected by greed, ill-will and so forth result in unhappy lives like those of the hungry ghosts and hell beings.
Finally, I would like to distinguish rebirth from transmigration. You may have noticed that in Buddhism, we consistently speak of rebirth and not transmigration. This is because in Buddhism we do not believe in an abiding entity, in a substance that trans-migrates. We do not believe in a self that is reborn. This is why when we explain rebirth, we make use of examples which do not require the transmigration of an essence or a substance. For example, when a sprout is born from a seed, there is no substance that transmigrates. The seed and the sprout are not identical. Similarly, when we light one candle from another candle, no substance travels from one to the other, and yet the first is the cause of the second. When one billiard ball strikes another, there is a continuity, the energy and direction of the first ball is imparted to the second. It is the cause of the second billiard ball moving in a particular direction and at a particular speed. When we step twice into a river, it is not the same river and yet there is continuity, the continuity of cause and effect. So there is rebirth, but not transmigration. There is moral responsibility, but not an independent, permanent self. There is the continuity of cause and effect, but not permanence. I want to end with this point because we will be considering the example of the seed and the sprout, and the example of the flame in an oil lamp next week when we discuss dependent origination. And with the help of the teaching of dependent origination, we will understand better how dependent origination makes moral responsibility and notself compatible.
The Law of Karma
We have come to a couple of related ideas which are common in Buddhism and they are the ideas of karma and rebirth. These ideas are closely inter-related, but because the subject is a fairly wide one, we will begin to deal with the idea of karma todayand rebirth in another lecture.
We know that what binds us in samsara are the defilements desire, ill-will and ignorance. We spoke about this when we talked about the Second Noble Truth the truth of the cause of suffering. These defilements are something which every living being in samsara shares, whether we speak of human beings or animals or beings who live in the other realms which we do not normally perceive. In this, all living beings are alike and yet amongst all the living beings that we can normally perceive, there are many differences. For instance, some of us are wealthy, some are less wealthy, some are strong and healthy, others are disabled and so forth. There are many differences amongst living beings and even more so there are differences between animals and human beings. These differences are due to karma.
What we all share - desire, ill-will and ignorance - are common to all living beings, but the particular condition in which we find ourselves is the result of our particular karma that conditions the situation in which we find ourselves, the situation in which we may be wealthy, strong and so forth. These circumstances are decided by karma. It is in this sense that karma explains the differences amongst living beings. It explains why some beings are fortunate while others are less fortunate, some are happy while others are less happy. The Buddha has specifically stated that karma explains the differences between living beings. You might also recall that the understanding of how karma affects the birth of living beings in happy or unhappy circumstances the knowledge of how living beings move from happy circumstances to unhappy circumstances, and vice versa, from unhappy to happy circumstances as a result of their karma - was part of the Buddhas experience on the night of His enlightenment. It is karma that explains the circumstances that living beings find themselves in.
Having said this much about the function of karma, let us look more closely at what karma is. Let us define karma. Maybe we can define karma best by first deciding what karma is not. It is quite often the case that we find people misunderstanding the idea of karma. This is particularly true in our daily casual use of the term. We find people saying that one cannot change ones situation because of ones karma. In this sense, karma becomes a sort of escape. It becomes similar to predestination or fatalism. This is emphatically not the correct understanding of karma. It is possible that this misunderstanding of karma has come about because of the popular idea that we have about luck and fate. It may be for this reason that our idea of karma has become overlaid in popular thought with the notion of predestination. Karma is not fate or predestination.
If karma is not fate or predestination, then what is it? Let us look at the term itself. Karma means action, means "to do". Immediately we have an indication that the real meaning of karma is not fate because karma is action. It is dynamic. But it is more than simply action because it is not mechanical action. It is not unconscious or involuntary action. It is intentional, conscious, deliberate, willful action. How is it that this intentional, will action conditions or determines our situation? It is because every action must have a reaction, an effect. This truth has been expressed in regard to the physical universe by the great physicist Newton who formulated the law which states that every action must have an equal and opposite reaction. In the moral sphere of conscious actions, we have a counterpart to the physical law of action and reaction, the law that every intentional, will action must have its effect. This is why we sometimes speak either of Karma-Vipaka, intentional action and its ripened effect, or we speak of Karma-Phala, intentional action and its fruit. It is when we speak of intentional action together with its effect or fruit that we speak of the Law of Karma.
In its most basic sense, the Law of Karma in the moral sphere teaches that similar actions will lead to similar results. Let us take an example. If we plant a mango seed, the plant that springs up will be a mango tree, and eventually it will bear a mango fruit. Alternatively, if we plant a Pong Pong seed, the tree that will spring up will be a Pong Pong tree and the fruit a Pong Pong. As one sows, so shall one reap. According to ones action, so shall be the fruit. Similarly, in the Law of Karma, if we do a wholesome action, eventually we will get a wholesome fruit, and if we do an unwholesome action eventually we will get an unwholesome, painful result. This is what we mean when we say that causes bring about effects that are similar to the causes. This we will see very clearly when we come to specific examples of wholesome and unwholesome actions.
We can understand by means of this general introduction that karma can be of two varieties - wholesome karma or good karma and unwholesome karma or bad karma. In order that we should not misunderstand this description of karma, it is useful for us to look at the original term. In this case, it is kushala or akushala karma, karma that is wholesome or unwholesome. In order that we understand how these terms are being used, it is important that we know the real meaning of kushala and akushala. Kushala means intelligent or skilful, whereas akushala means not intelligent, not skilful. This helps us to understand how these terms are being used, not in terms of good and evil but in terms of skilful and unskilful, in terms of intelligent and unintelligent, in terms of wholesome and unwholesome. Now how wholesome and how unwholesome? Wholesome in the sense that those actions which are beneficial to oneself and others, those actions that spring not out of desire, ill-will and ignorance, but out of renunciation, loving-kindness and compassion, and wisdom.
One may ask how does one know whether an action that is wholesome or unwholesome will produce happiness or unhappiness. The answer is time will tell. The Buddha Himself answered the question. He has explained that so long as an unwholesome action does not bear its fruit of suffering, for so long a foolish person will consider that action good. But when that unwholesome action bears its fruit of suffering then he will realize that the action is unwholesome. Similarly, so long as a wholesome action does not bear its fruit of happiness, a good person may consider that action unwholesome. When it bears its fruit of happiness, then he will realize that the action is good. So one needs to judge wholesome and unwholesome action from the point of view of long-term effect. Very simply, wholesome actions result in eventual happiness for oneself and others, while unwholesome actions have the opposite result, they result in suffering for oneself and others.
Specifically, the unwholesome actions which are to be avoided relate to the three doors or means of action, and these are body, speech and mind. There are three unwholesome actions of the body, four of speech and three of mind that are to be avoided. The three unwholesome actions of body that are to be avoided are killing, stealing and sexual misconduct. The four unwholesome actions of speech that are to be avoided are lying, slander, harsh speech and malicious gossip. The three unwholesome actions of mind that are to be avoided are greed, anger and delusion. By avoiding these ten unwholesome actions we will avoid their consequences. The unwholesome actions have suffering as their fruit. The fruit of these unwholesome actions can take various forms. The fully ripened fruit of the unwholesome actions consists of rebirth in the lower realms, in the realms of suffering hell, hungry ghosts and animals. If these unwholesome actions are not sufficient to result in rebirth in these lower realms, they will result in unhappiness in this life as a human being. Here we can see at work the principle of a cause resulting in a similar effect. For example, habitual killing which is motivated by ill-will and anger and which results in the taking of the life of other beings will result in rebirth in the hells where ones experience is saturated by anger and ill-will and where one may be repeatedly killed. If killing is not sufficiently habitual or weighty to result in rebirth in the hells, killing will result in shortened life as a human being, separation from loved ones, fear or paranoia. Here too we can see how the effect is similar to the cause. Killing shortens the life of others, deprives others of their loved ones and so forth, and so if we kill we will be liable to experience these effects. Similarly, stealing which is borne of the defilement of desire may lead to rebirth as a hungry ghost where one is totally destitute of desired objects. If it does not result in rebirth as a ghost, it will result in poverty, dependence upon others for ones livelihood and so forth. Sexual misconduct results in martial distress or unhappy marriages.
While unwholesome actions produce unwholesome results - suffering, wholesome actions produce wholesome results - happiness. One can interpret wholesome actions in two ways. One can simply regard wholesome actions as avoiding the unwholesome actions, avoiding killing, stealing, sexual misconduct and the rest. Or one can speak of wholesome actions in positive terms. Here one can refer to the list of wholesome actions that includes generosity, good conduct, meditation, reverence, service, transference of merits, rejoicing in the merit of others, hearing the Dharma, teaching the Dharma and straightening of ones own views. Just as unwholesome actions produce suffering, these wholesome actions produce benefits. Again effects here are similar to the actions. For example, generosity results in wealth. Hearing of the Dharma results in wisdom. The wholesome actions have as their consequences similar wholesome effects just as unwholesome actions have similar unwholesome effects.
Karma, be it wholesome or unwholesome, is modified by the conditions under which the actions are performed. In other words, a wholesome or unwholesome action may be more or less strong depending upon the conditions under which it is done. The conditions which determine the weight or strength of karma may be divided into those which refer to the subject the doer of the action and those which refer to the object the being to whom the action is done. So the conditions that determine the weight of karma apply to the subject and object of the action. Specifically, if we take the example of killing, in order for the act of killing to have its complete and unmitigated power, five conditions must be present a living being, the awareness of the existence of a living being, the intention to kill the living being, the effort or action of killing the living being, and the consequent death of the living being. Here too, we can see the subjective and the objective conditions. The subjective conditions are the awareness of the living being, the intention to kill and the action of killing. The objective conditions are the presence of the living being and the consequent death of the living being.
Similarly, there are five conditions that modify the weight of karma and they are persistent, repeated action; action done with great intention and determination; action done without regret; action done towards those who possess extraordinary qualities; and action done towards those who have benefited one in the past. Here too there are subjective and objective conditions. The subjective conditions are persistent action; action done with intention; and action done without regret. If one does an unwholesome action again and again with great intention and without regret, the weight of the action will be enhanced. The objective conditions are the quality of the object to whom actions are done and the nature of the relationship. In other words, if one does a wholesome or unwholesome action towards living beings who possess extraordinary qualities such as the arhats, or the Buddha, the wholesome or unwholesome action done will have greater weight. Finally the power of wholesome or unwholesome action done towards those who have benefited one in the past, such as ones parents, teachers and friends, will be greater.
The objective and subjective conditions together determine the weight of karma. This is important because understanding this will help us to understand that karma is not simply a matter of black and white, or good and bad. Karma is moral action and moral responsibility. But the working of the Law of Karma is very finely tuned and balanced so as to match effect with cause, so as to take into account the subjective and objective conditions that determine the nature of an action. This ensures that the effects of actions are equal to and similar to the nature of the causes.
The effects of karma may be evident either in the short term or in the long term. Traditionally we divide karma into three varieties related to the amount of time that is required for the effects of these actions to manifest themselves. Karma can either manifest its effects in this very life or in the next life or only after several lives. When karma manifests its effects in this life, we can see the fruit of karma within a relatively short length of time. This variety of karma is easily verifiable by any of us. For instance, when someone refuses to study, when someone indulges in harmful distractions like alcohol and drugs, when someone begins to steal to support his harmful habits; the effects will be evident within a short time. They will be evident in loss of livelihood and friendship, health and so forth. We cannot see the long-term effect of karma, but the Buddha and His prominent disciples who have developed their minds are able to perceive directly the long-term effects. For instance, when Maudgalyayana was beaten to death by bandits, the Buddha was able to tell that this event was the effect of something Maudgalyayana had done in a previous life when he had taken his aged parents to the forest and having beaten them to death, had then reported that they had been killed by bandits. The effect of this unwholesome action done many lives before was manifested only in his last life. At death we have to leave everything behind our property and our loved ones, but our karma will accompany us like a shadow. The Buddha has said that nowhere on earth or in heaven can one escape ones karma. So when the conditions are correct, dependent upon mind and body, the effects of karma will manifest themselves just as dependent on certain conditions a mango will appear on a mango tree. We can see that even in the world of nature certain effects take longer to appear than others. If for instance, we plant the seed of a papaya, we will obtain the fruit in shorter period than if we plant the seed of a durian. Similarly, the effects of karma manifest either in the short term or in the long term.
02 Mar `07, 11:37PM
Besides the two varieties of karma, wholesome and unwholesome karma, we should mention neutral or ineffective karma. Neutral karma is karma that has no moral consequence either because the very nature of the action is such as to have no moral consequence or because it is done involuntarily and unintentionally. For example, sleeping, walking, breathing, eating, handicraft and so forth in themselves have no moral consequence. Similarly, unintentional action is ineffective karma. In other words, if one accidentally steps on an insect, being unconscious of its existence, this also constitutes neutral karma because there is no intention - the intentional element is not there.
The benefits of understanding the Law of Karma are that this understanding discourages one from performing unwholesome actions which have suffering as their fruit. Once we understand that in our own life every action will have a similar and equal reaction, once we understand that we will experience the effect of that action, wholesome or unwholesome, we will refrain from unwholesome behavior, not wanting to experience the effects of these unwholesome actions. And similarly, understanding that wholesome actions have happiness as their fruit, we will cultivate these wholesome actions. Reflecting on the Law of Karma, of action and reaction in the moral sphere encourages us to renounce unwholesome actions and cultivate wholesome actions. We will look more closely at the specific effects of karma in future lives and how karma conditions and determines the nature of rebirth in our lecture next week.
Four Seals of Dharma
People often ask me: What is Buddhism in a nutshell? Or they ask, What is the particular view or philosophy of Buddhism?
Unfortunately, in the West Buddhism seems to have landed in the religious department, even in the self-help or self-improvement department, and clearly its in the trendy meditation department. I would like to challenge the popular definition of Buddhist meditation.
Many people think meditation has something to do with relaxation, with watching the sunset or watching the waves at the beach. Charming phrases like letting go and being carefree come to mind. From a Buddhist point of view, meditation is slightly more than that.
First, I think we need to talk about the real context of Buddhist meditation. This is referred to as the view, meditation and action; taken together, these constitute quite a skillful way of understanding the path. Even though we may not use such expressions in everyday life, if we think about it, we always act according to a certain view, meditation and action. For instance, if we want to buy a car, we choose the one we think is the best, most reliable and so on. So the view, in this case, is the idea or belief that we have, that is, that the car is a good one. Then the meditation is contemplating and getting used to the idea, and the action is actually buying the car, driving it and using it. This process is not necessarily something Buddhist; its something were doing all the time. You dont have to call it view, meditation and action. You can think of it as idea, getting used to, and obtaining.
So what is the particular view that Buddhists try to get used to? Buddhism is distinguished by four characteristics, or seals. Actually, if all these four seals are found in a path or a philosophy, it doesnt matter whether you call it Buddhist or not. You can call it what you like; the words Buddhist or Buddhism are not important. The point is that if this path contains these four seals, it can be considered the path of the Buddha.
Therefore, these four characteristics are called the Four Seals of Dharma. They are:
All compounded things are impermanent.
All emotions are painful. This is something that only Buddhists would talk about. Many religions worship things like love with celebration and songs. Buddhists think, This is all suffering.
All phenomena are empty; they are without inherent existence. This is actually the ultimate view of Buddhism; the other three are grounded on this third seal.
The fourth seal is that nirvana is beyond extremes.
Without these four seals, the Buddhist path would become theistic, religious dogma, and its whole purpose would be lost. On the other hand, you could have a surfer giving you teachings on how to sit on a beach watching a sunset: if what he says contains all these four seals, it would be Buddhism. The Tibetans, the Chinese, or the Japanese might not like it, but teaching doesnt have to be in a traditional form. The four seals are quite interrelated, as you will see.
The First Seal:
All Compounded Things are Impermanent
Every phenomenon we can think of is compounded, and therefore subject to impermanence. Certain aspects of impermanence, like the changing of the weather, we can accept easily, but there are equally obvious things that we dont accept.
For instance, our body is visibly impermanent and getting older every day, and yet this is something we dont want to accept. Certain popular magazines that cater to youth and beauty exploit this attitude. In terms of view, meditation and action, their readers might have a viewthinking in terms of not aging or escaping the aging process somehow. They contemplate this view of permanence, and their consequent action is to go to fitness centers and undergo plastic surgery and all sorts of other hassles.
Enlightened beings would think that this is ridiculous and based on a wrong view. Regarding these different aspects of impermanence, getting old and dying, the changing of the weather, etc., Buddhists have a single statement, namely this first seal: phenomena are impermanent because they are compounded. Anything that is assembled will, sooner or later, come apart.
When we say compounded, that includes the dimensions of space and time. Time is compounded and therefore impermanent: without the past and future, there is no such thing as the present. If the present moment were permanent, there would be no future, since the present would always be there. Every act you dolets say, plant a flower or sing a songhas a beginning, a middle and an end. If, in the singing of a song, the beginning, middle or end were missing, there would be no such thing as singing a song, would there? That means that singing a song is something compounded.
So what? we ask. Why should we bother about that? Whats the big deal? It has a beginning, middle, and endso what? Its not that Buddhists are really worried about beginnings, middles or ends; thats not the problem. The problem is that when there is composition and impermanence, as there is with temporal and material things, there is uncertainty and pain.
Some people think that Buddhists are pessimistic, always talking about death, impermanence and aging. But that is not necessarily true. Impermanence is a relief! I dont have a BMW today and it is thanks to the impermanence of that fact that I might have one tomorrow. Without impermanence, I am stuck with the non-possession of a BMW, and I can never have one. I might feel severely depressed today and, thanks to impermanence, I might feel great tomorrow. Impermanence is not necessarily bad news; it depends on the way you understand it. Even if today your BMW gets scratched by a vandal, or your best friend lets you down, if you have a view of impermanence, you wont be so worried.
Delusion arises when we dont acknowledge that all compounded things are impermanent. But when we realize this truth, deep down and not just intellectually, thats what we call liberation: release from this one-pointed, narrow-minded belief in permanence. Everything, whether you like it or noteven the path, the precious Buddhist pathis compounded. It has a beginning, it has a middle and it has an end.
When you understand that all compounded things are impermanent, you are prepared to accept the experience of loss. Since everything is impermanent, this is to be expected.
The Second Seal:
All Emotions are Painful
The Tibetan word for emotion in this context is zagche, which means contaminated or stained, in the sense of being permeated by confusion or duality.
Certain emotions, such as aggression or jealousy, we naturally regard as pain. But what about love and affection, kindness and devotion, those nice, light and lovely emotions? We dont think of them as painful; nevertheless, they imply duality, and this means that, in the end, they are a source of pain.
The dualistic mind includes almost every thought we have. Why is this painful? Because it is mistaken. Every dualistic mind is a mistaken mind, a mind that doesnt understand the nature of things. So how are we to understand duality? It is subject and object: ourselves on the one hand and our experience on the other. This kind of dualistic perception is mistaken, as we can see in the case of different persons perceiving the same object in different ways. A man might think a certain woman is beautiful and that is his truth. But if that were some kind of absolute, independent kind of truth, then everyone else also would have to see her as beautiful as well. Clearly, this is not a truth that is independent of everything else. It is dependent on your mind; it is your own projection.
The dualistic mind creates a lot of expectationsa lot of hope, a lot of fear. Whenever there is a dualistic mind, there is hope and fear. Hope is perfect, systematized pain. We tend to think that hope is not painful, but actually its a big pain. As for the pain of fear, thats not something we need to explain.
The Buddha said, Understand suffering. That is the first Noble Truth. Many of us mistake pain for pleasurethe pleasure we now have is actually the very cause of the pain that we are going to get sooner or later. Another Buddhist way of explaining this is to say that when a big pain becomes smaller, we call it pleasure. Thats what we call happiness.
Moreover, emotion does not have some kind of inherently real existence. When thirsty people see a mirage of water, they have a feeling of relief: Great, theres some water! But as they get closer, the mirage disappears. That is an important aspect of emotion: emotion is something that does not have an independent existence.
This is why Buddhists conclude that all emotions are painful. It is because they are impermanent and dualistic that they are uncertain and always accompanied by hopes and fears. But ultimately, they dont have, and never have had, an inherently existent nature, so, in a way, they are not worth much. Everything we create through our emotions is, in the end, completely futile and painful. This is why Buddhists do shamatha and vipashyana meditationthis helps to loosen the grip that our emotions have on us, and the obsessions we have because of them.
Question: Is compassion an emotion?
People like us have dualistic compassion, whereas the Buddhas compassion does not involve subject and object. From a buddhas point of view, compassion could never involve subject and object. This is what is called mahakarunagreat compassion.
Im having difficulty accepting that all emotions are pain.
Okay, if you want a more philosophical expression, you can drop the word emotion and simply say, All that is dualistic is pain. But I like using the word emotion because it provokes us.
Isnt pain impermanent?
Yeah! If you know this, then youre all right. Its because we dont know this that we go through a lot of hassles trying to solve our problems. And that is the second biggest problem we havetrying to solve our problems.
The Third Seal:
All Phenomena are Empty; They Are Without Inherent Existence
When we say all, that means everything, including the Buddha, enlightenment, and the path. Buddhists define a phenomenon as something with characteristics, and as an object that is conceived by a subject. To hold that an object is something external is ignorance, and it is this that prevents us from seeing the truth of that object.
The truth of a phenomenon is called shunyata, emptiness, which implies that the phenomenon does not possess a truly existent essence or nature. When a deluded person or subject sees something, the object seen is interpreted as something really existent. However, as you can see, the existence imputed by the subject is a mistaken assumption. Such an assumption is based on the different conditions that make an object appear to be true; this, however, is not how the object really is. Its like when we see a mirage: there is no truly existing object there, even though it appears that way. With emptiness, the Buddha meant that things do not truly exist as we mistakenly believe they do, and that they are really empty of that falsely imputed existence.
It is because they believe in what are really just confused projections that sentient beings suffer. It was as a remedy for this that the Buddha taught the Dharma. Put very simply, when we talk about emptiness, we mean that the way things appear is not the way they actually are. As I said before when speaking about emotions, you may see a mirage and think it is something real, but when you get close, the mirage disappears, however real it may have seemed to begin with.
Emptiness can sometimes be referred to as dharmakaya, and in a different context we could say that the dharmakaya is permanent, never changing, all pervasive, and use all sorts of beautiful, poetic words. These are the mystical expressions that belong to the path, but for the moment, we are still at the ground stage, trying to get an intellectual understanding. On the path, we might portray Buddha Vajradhara as a symbol of dharmakaya, or emptiness, but from an academic point of view, even to think of painting the dharmakaya is a mistake.
The Buddha taught three different approaches on three separate occasions. These are known as The Three Turnings of the Wheel, but they can be summed up in a single phrase: Mind; there is no mind; mind is luminosity.
The first, Mind, refers to the first set of teachings and shows that the Buddha taught that there is a mind. This was to dispel the nihilistic view that there is no heaven, no hell, no cause and effect. Then, when the Buddha said, There is no mind, he meant that mind is just a concept and that there is no such thing as a truly existing mind. Finally, when he said, Mind is luminous, he was referring to buddhanature, the undeluded or primordially existing wisdom.
The great commentator Nagarjuna said that the purpose of the first turning was to get rid of non-virtue. Where does the non-virtue come from? It comes from being either eternalist or nihilist. So in order to put an end to non-virtuous deeds and thoughts, the Buddha gave his first teaching. The second turning of the Dharma-wheel, when the Buddha spoke about emptiness, was presented in order to dispel clinging to a truly existent self and to truly existent phenomena. Finally, the teachings of the third turning were given to dispel all views, even the view of no-self. The Buddhas three sets of teaching do not seek to introduce something new; their purpose is simply to clear away confusion.
As Buddhists we practice compassion, but if we lack an understanding of this third sealthat all phenomena are emptyour compassion can backfire. If you are attached to the goal of compassion when trying to solve a problem, you might not notice that your idea of the solution is entirely based on your own personal interpretation. And you might end up as a victim of hope and fear, and consequently of disappointment. You start by becoming a good mahayana practitioner, and, once or twice, you try to help sentient beings. But if you have no understanding of this third seal, youll get tired and give up helping sentient beings.
There is another kind of a problem that arises from not understanding emptiness. It occurs with rather superficial and even jaded Buddhists. Somehow, within Buddhist circles, if you dont accept emptiness, you are not cool. So we pretend that we appreciate emptiness and pretend to meditate on it. But if we dont understand it properly, a bad side effect can occur. We might say, Oh, everythings emptiness. I can do whatever I like. So we ignore and violate the details of karma, the responsibility for our action. We become inelegant, and we discourage others in the bargain. His Holiness the Dalai Lama often speaks of this downfall of not understanding emptiness. A correct understanding of emptiness leads us to see how things are related, and how we are responsible for our world.
You can read millions of pages on this subject. Nagarjuna alone wrote five different commentaries mostly dedicated to this, and then there are the commentaries by his followers. There are endless teachings on establishing this view. In Mahayana temples or monasteries people chant the Prajnaparamita Heart Sutrathis is also a teaching on the third seal.
Philosophies or religions might say, Things are illusion, the world is maya, illusion, but there are always one or two items left behind that are regarded as truly existent: God, cosmic energy, whatever. In Buddhism, this is not the case. Everything in samsara and nirvanafrom the Buddhas head to a piece of breadeverything is emptiness. There is nothing that is not included in ultimate truth.
Question: If we ourselves are dualistic, can we ever understand emptiness, which is something beyond description?
Buddhists are very slippery. Youre right. You can never talk about absolute emptiness, but you can talk about an image of emptinesssomething that you can evaluate and contemplate so that, in the end, you can get to the real emptiness. You may say, Ah, thats just too easy; thats such crap. But to that the Buddhists say, Too bad, thats how things work. If you need to meet someone whom you have never met, I can describe him to you or show you a photograph of him. And with the help of that photo image, you can go and find the real person.
Ultimately speaking, the path is irrational, but relatively speaking, its very rational because it uses the relative conventions of our world. When Im talking about emptiness, everything that Im saying has to do with this image emptiness. I cant show you real emptiness but I can tell you why things dont exist inherently.
In Buddhism theres so much iconography that you might think it was the object of meditation or an object of worship. But, from your teaching, am I to understand that this is all non-existent?
When you go to a temple, you will see many beautiful statues, colors and symbols. These are important for the path. These all belong to what we call image-wisdom, image-emptiness. However, while we follow the path and apply its methods, it is important to know that the path itself is ultimately an illusion. Actually, it is only then that we can properly appreciate it.
The Fourth Seal
Nirvana is Beyond Extremes
Now that I have explained emptiness, I feel that the fourth seal, Nirvana is beyond extremes, has also been covered. But briefly, this last seal is also something uniquely Buddhist. In many philosophies or religions, the final goal is something that you can hold on to and keep. The final goal is the only thing that truly exists. But nirvana is not fabricated, so it is not something to be held on to. It is referred to as beyond extremes.
We somehow think that we can go somewhere where well have a better sofa seat, a better shower system, a better sewer system, a nirvana where you dont even have to have a remote control, where everything is there the moment you think of it. But as I said earlier, its not that we are adding something new that was not there before. Nirvana is achieved when you remove everything that was artificial and obscuring.
It doesnt matter whether you are a monk or a nun who has renounced worldly life or you are a yogi practicing profound tantric methods. If, when you try to abandon or transform attachment to your own experiences, you dont understand these four seals, you end up regarding the contents of your mind as the manifestations of something evil, diabolical and bad. If thats what you do, you are far from the truth. And the whole point of Buddhism is to make you understand the truth. If there were some true permanence in compounded phenomena; if there were true pleasure in the emotions, the Buddha would have been the first to recommend them, saying, Please keep and treasure these. But thanks to his great compassion, he didnt, for he wanted us to have what is true, what is real.
When you have a clear understanding of these four seals as the ground of your practice, you will feel comfortable no matter what happens to you. As long as you have these four as your view, nothing can go wrong. Whoever holds these four, in their heart, or in their head, and contemplates them, is a Buddhist. There is no need for such a person even to be called a Buddhist. He or she is by definition a follower of the Buddha
Mindfulness is the English translation of the Pali word Sati. Sati is an activity. What exactly is that? There can be no precise answer, at least not in words. Words are devised by the symbolic levels of the mind and they describe those realities with which symbolic thinking deals. Mindfulness is pre-symbolic. It is not shackled to logic. Nevertheless, Mindfulness can be experienced -- rather easily -- and it can be described, as long as you keep in mind that the words are only fingers pointing at the moon. They are not the thing itself. The actual experience lies beyond the words and above the symbols. Mindfulness could be describes in completely different terms than will be used here and each description could still be correct.
Mindfulness is a subtle process that you are using at this very moment. The fact that this process lies above and beyond words does not make it unreal--quite the reverse. Mindfulness is the reality which gives rise to words--the words that follow are simply pale shadows of reality. So, it is important to understand that everything that follows here is analogy. It is not going to make perfect sense. It will always remain beyond verbal logic. But you can experience it. The meditation technique called Vipassana (insight) that was introduced by the Buddha about twenty-five centuries ago is a set of mental activities specifically aimed at experiencing a state of uninterrupted Mindfulness.
When you first become aware of something, there is a fleeting instant of pure awareness just before you conceptualize the thing, before you identify it. That is a stage of Mindfulness. Ordinarily, this stage is very short. It is that flashing split second just as you focus your eyes on the thing, just as you focus your mind on the thing, just before you objectify it, clamp down on it mentally and segregate it from the rest of existence. It takes place just before you start thinking about it--before your mind says, "Oh, it's a dog." That flowing, soft-focused moment of pure awareness is Mindfulness. In that brief flashing mind-moment you experience a thing as an un-thing. You experience a softly flowing moment of pure experience that is interlocked with the rest of reality, not separate from it. Mindfulness is very much like what you see with your peripheral vision as opposed to the hard focus of normal or central vision. Yet this moment of soft, unfocused, awareness contains a very deep sort of knowing that is lost as soon as you focus your mind and objectify the object into a thing. In the process of ordinary perception, the Mindfulness step is so fleeting as to be unobservable. We have developed the habit of squandering our attention on all the remaining steps, focusing on the perception, recognizing the perception, labeling it, and most of all, getting involved in a long string of symbolic thought about it. That original moment of Mindfulness is rapidly passed over. It is the purpose of the above mentioned Vipassana (or insight) meditation to train us to prolong that moment of awareness.
When this Mindfulness is prolonged by using proper techniques, you find that this experience is profound and it changes your entire view of the universe. This state of perception has to be learned, however, and it takes regular practice. Once you learn the technique, you will find that Mindfulness has many interesting aspects.
The Characteristics of Mindfulness
Mindfulness is mirror-thought. It reflects only what is presently happening and in exactly the way it is happening. There are no biases.
Mindfulness is non-judgmental observation. It is that ability of the mind to observe without criticism. With this ability, one sees things without condemnation or judgment. One is surprised by nothing. One simply takes a balanced interest in things exactly as they are in their natural states. One does not decide and does not judge. One just observes. Please note that when we say "One does not decide and does not judge," what we mean is that the meditator observes experiences very much like a scientist observing an object under the microscope without any preconceived notions, only to see the object exactly as it is. In the same way the meditator notices impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and selflessness.
It is psychologically impossible for us to objectively observe what is going on within us if we do not at the same time accept the occurrence of our various states of mind. This is especially true with unpleasant states of mind. In order to observe our own fear, we must accept the fact that we are afraid. We can't examine our own depression without accepting it fully. The same is true for irritation and agitation, frustration and all those other uncomfortable emotional states. You can't examine something fully if you are busy reflecting its existence. Whatever experience we may be having, Mindfulness just accepts it. It is simply another of life's occurrences, just another thing to be aware of. No pride, no shame, nothing personal at stake--what is there, is there.
Mindfulness is an impartial watchfulness. It does not take sides. It does not get hung up in what is perceived. It just perceives. Mindfulness does not get infatuated with the good mental states. It does not try to sidestep the bad mental states. There is no clinging to the pleasant, no fleeing from the unpleasant. Mindfulness sees all experiences as equal, all thoughts as equal, all feelings as equal. Nothing is suppressed. Nothing is repressed. Mindfulness does not play favorites.
Mindfulness is nonconceptual awareness. Another English term for Sati is 'bare attention'. It is not thinking. It does not get involved with thought or concepts. It does not get hung up on ideas or opinions or memories. It just looks. Mindfulness registers experiences, but it does not compare them. It does not label them or categorize them. It just observes everything as if it was occurring for the first time. It is not analysis which is based on reflection and memory. It is, rather, the direct and immediate experiencing of whatever is happening, without the medium of thought. It comes before thought in the perceptual process.
Mindfulness is present time awareness. It takes place in the here and now. It is the observance of what is happening right now, in the present moment. It stays forever in the present, surging perpetually on the crest of the ongoing wave of passing time. If you are remembering your second-grade teacher, that is memory. When you then become aware that you are remembering your second-grade teacher, that is mindfulness. If you then conceptualize the process and say to yourself, "Oh, I am remembering", that is thinking.
Mindfulness is non-egoistic alertness. It takes place without reference to self. With Mindfulness one sees all phenomena without references to concepts like 'me', 'my' or 'mine'. For example, suppose there is pain in your left leg. Ordinary consciousness would say, "I have a pain." Using Mindfulness, one would simply note the sensation as a sensation. One would not tack on that extra concept 'I'. Mindfulness stops one from adding anything to perception, or subtracting anything from it. One does not enhance anything. One does not emphasize anything. One just observes exactly what is there--without distortion.
Mindfulness is goal-less awareness. In Mindfulness, one does not strain for results. One does not try to accomplish anything. When one is mindful, one experiences reality in the present moment in whatever form it takes. There is nothing to be achieved. There is only observation.
Mindfulness is awareness of change. It is observing the passing flow of experience. It is watching things as they are changing. it is seeing the birth, growth, and maturity of all phenomena. It is watching phenomena decay and die. Mindfulness is watching things moment by moment, continuously. It is observing all phenomena--physical, mental or emotional--whatever is presently taking place in the mind. One just sits back and watches the show. Mindfulness is the observance of the basic nature of each passing phenomenon. It is watching the thing arising and passing away. It is seeing how that thing makes us feel and how we react to it. It is observing how it affects others. In Mindfulness, one is an unbiased observer whose sole job is to keep track of the constantly passing show of the universe within. Please note that last point. In Mindfulness, one watches the universe within. The meditator who is developing Mindfulness is not concerned with the external universe. It is there, but in meditation, one's field of study is one's own experience, one's thoughts, one's feelings, and one's perceptions. In meditation, one is one's own laboratory. The universe within has an enormous fund of information containing the reflection of the external world and much more. An examination of this material leads to total freedom.
Mindfulness is participatory observation. The meditator is both participant and observer at one and the same time. If one watches one's emotions or physical sensations, one is feeling them at that very same moment. Mindfulness is not an intellectual awareness. It is just awareness. The mirror-thought metaphor breaks down here. Mindfulness is objective, but it is not cold or unfeeling. It is the wakeful experience of life, an alert participation in the ongoing process of living.
Mindfulness is an extremely difficult concept to define in words -- not because it is complex, but because it is too simple and open. The same problem crops up in every area of human experience. The most basic concept is always the most difficult to pin down. Look at a dictionary and you will see a clear example. Long words generally have concise definitions, but for short basic words like 'the' and 'is', definitions can be a page long. And in physics, the most difficult functions to describe are the most basic--those that deal with the most fundamental realities of quantum mechanics. Mindfulness is a pre-symbolic function. You can play with word symbols all day long and you will never pin it down completely. We can never fully express what it is. However, we can say what it does.
Three Fundamental Activities
There are three fundamental activities of Mindfulness. We can use these activities as functional definitions of the term: (a) Mindfulness reminds us of what we are supposed to be doing; (b) it sees things as they really are; and (c) it sees the deep nature of all phenomena. Let's examine these definitions in greater detail.
(a) Mindfulness reminds you of what you are supposed to be doing. In meditation, you put your attention on one item. When your mind wanders from this focus, it is Mindfulness that reminds you that your mind is wandering and what you are supposed to be doing. It is Mindfulness that brings your mind back to the object of meditation. All of this occurs instantaneously and without internal dialogue. Mindfulness is not thinking. Repeated practice in meditation establishes this function as a mental habit which then carries over into the rest of your life. A serious meditator pays bare attention to occurrences all the time, day in, day out, whether formally sitting in meditation or not. This is a very lofty ideal towards which those who meditate may be working for a period of years or even decades. Our habit of getting stuck in thought is years old, and that habit will hang on in the most tenacious manner. The only way out is to be equally persistent in the cultivation of constant Mindfulness. When Mindfulness is present, you will notice when you become stuck in your thought patterns. It is that very noticing which allows you to back out of the thought process and free yourself from it. Mindfulness then returns your attention to its proper focus. If you are meditating at that moment, then your focus will be the formal object of meditation. If your are not in formal meditation, it will be just a pure application of bare attention itself, just a pure noticing of whatever comes up without getting involved--"Ah, this comes up...and now this, and now this... and now this".
Mindfulness is at one and the same time both bare attention itself and the function of reminding us to pay bare attention if we have ceased to do so. Bare attention is noticing. It re- establishes itself simply by noticing that it has not been present. As soon as you are noticing that you have not been noticing, then by definition you are noticing and then you are back again to paying bare attention.
Mindfulness creates its own distinct feeling in consciousness. It has a flavor--a light, clear, energetic flavor. Conscious thought is heavy by comparison, ponderous and picky. But here again, these are just words. Your own practice will show you the difference. Then you will probably come up with your own words and the words used here will become superfluous. Remember, practice is the thing.
(b) Mindfulness sees things as they really are. Mindfulness adds nothing to perception and it subtracts nothing. It distorts nothing. It is bare attention and just looks at whatever comes up. Conscious thought pastes things over our experience, loads us down with concepts and ideas, immerses us in a churning vortex of plans and worries, fears and fantasies. When mindful, you don't play that game. You just notice exactly what arises in the mind, then you notice the next thing. "Ah, this...and this...and now this." It is really very simple.
(c) Mindfulness sees the true nature of all phenomena. Mindfulness and only Mindfulness can perceive the three prime characteristics that Buddhism teaches are the deepest truths of existence. In Pali these three are called Anicca (impermanence), Dukkha (unsatisfactoriness), and Anatta (selflessness--the absence of a permanent, unchanging, entity that we call Soul or Self). These truths are not present in Buddhist teaching as dogmas demanding blind faith. The Buddhists feel that these truths are universal and self-evident to anyone who cares to investigate in a proper way. Mindfulness is the method of investigation. Mindfulness alone has the power to reveal the deepest level of reality available to human observation. At this level of inspection, one sees the following: (a) all conditioned things are inherently transitory; (b) every worldly thing is, in the end, unsatisfying; and (c) there are really no entities that are unchanging or permanent, only processes.
Mindfulness works like and electron microscope. That is, it operates on so fine a level that one can actually see directly those realities which are at best theoretical constructs to the conscious thought process. Mindfulness actually sees the impermanent character of every perception. It sees the transitory and passing nature of everything that is perceived. It also sees the inherently unsatisfactory nature of all conditioned things. It sees that there is no sense grabbing onto any of these passing shows. Peace and happiness cannot be found that way. And finally, Mindfulness sees the inherent selflessness of all phenomena. It sees the way that we have arbitrarily selected a certain bundle of perceptions, chopped them off from the rest of the surging flow of experience and then conceptualized them as separate, enduring, entities. Mindfulness actually sees these things. It does not think about them, it sees them directly.
When it is fully developed, Mindfulness sees these three attributes of existence directly, instantaneously, and without the intervening medium of conscious thought. In fact, even the attributes which we just covered are inherently unified. They don't really exist as separate items. They are purely the result of our struggle to take this fundamentally simple process called Mindfulness and express it in the cumbersome and inadequate thought symbols of the conscious level. Mindfulness is a process, but it does not take place in steps. It is a holistic process that occurs as a unit: you notice your own lack of Mindfulness; and that noticing itself is a result of Mindfulness; and Mindfulness is bare attention; and bare attention is noticing things exactly as they are without distortion; and the way they are is impermanent (Anicca) , unsatisfactory (Dukkha), and selfless (Anatta). It all takes place in the space of a few mind-moments. This does not mean, however, that you will instantly attain liberation (freedom from all human weaknesses) as a result of your first moment of Mindfulness. Learning to integrate this material into your conscious life is another whole process. And learning to prolong this state of Mindfulness is still another. They are joyous processes, however, and they are well worth the effort.
Mindfulness (Sati) and Insight (Vipassana) Meditation
Mindfulness is the center of Vipassana Meditation and the key to the whole process. It is both the goal of this meditation and the means to that end. You reach Mindfulness by being ever more mindful. One other Pali word that is translated into English as Mindfulness is Appamada , which means non-negligence or an absence of madness. One who attends constantly to what is really going on in one's mind achieves the state of ultimate sanity.
The Pali term Sati also bears the connotation of remembering. It is not memory in the sense of ideas and pictures from the past, but rather clear, direct, wordless knowing of what is and what is not, of what is correct and what is incorrect, of what we are doing and how we should go about it. Mindfulness reminds the meditator to apply his attention to the proper object at the proper time and to exert precisely the amount of energy needed to do the job. When this energy is properly applied, the meditator stays constantly in a state of calm and alertness. As long as this condition is maintained, those mind-states call "hindrances" or "psychic irritants" cannot arise--there is no greed, no hatred, no lust or laziness. But we all are human and we do err. Most of us err repeatedly. Despite honest effort, the meditator lets his Mindfulness slip now and then and he finds himself stuck in some regrettable, but normal, human failure. It is Mindfulness that notices that change. And it is Mindfulness that reminds him to apply the energy required to pull himself out. These slips happen over and over, but their frequency decreases with practice. Once Mindfulness has pushed these mental defilements aside, more wholesome states of mind can take their place. Hatred makes way for loving kindness, lust is replaced by detachment. It is Mindfulness which notices this change, too, and which reminds the Vipassana meditator to maintain that extra little mental sharpness needed to keep these more desirable states of mind. Mindfulness makes possible the growth of wisdom and compassion. Without Mindfulness they cannot develop to full maturity.
Deeply buried in the mind, there lies a mental mechanism which accepts what the mind perceives as beautiful and pleasant experiences and rejects those experiences which are perceived as ugly and painful. This mechanism gives rise to those states of mind which we are training ourselves to avoid--things like greed, lust, hatred, aversion, and jealousy. We choose to avoid these hindrances, not because they are evil in the normal sense of the word, but because they are compulsive; because they take the mind over and capture the attention completely; because they keep going round and round in tight little circles of thought; and because they seal us off from living reality.
These hindrances cannot arise when Mindfulness is present. Mindfulness is attention to present time reality, and therefore, directly antithetical to the dazed state of mind which characterizes impediments. As meditators, it is only when we let our Mindfulness slip that the deep mechanisms of our mind take over -- grasping, clinging and rejecting. Then resistance emerges and obscures our awareness. We do not notice that the change is taking place -- we are too busy with a thought of revenge, or greed, whatever it may be. While an untrained person will continue in this state indefinitely, a trained meditator will soon realize what is happening. It is Mindfulness that notices the change. It is Mindfulness that remembers the training received and that focuses our attention so that the confusion fades away. And it is Mindfulness that then attempts to maintain itself indefinitely so that the resistance cannot arise again. Thus, Mindfulness is the specific antidote for hindrances. It is both the cure and the preventive measure.
Fully developed Mindfulness is a state of total non-attachment and utter absence of clinging to anything in the world. If we can maintain this state, no other means or device is needed to keep ourselves free of obstructions, to achieve liberation from our human weaknesses. Mindfulness is non-superficial awareness. It sees things deeply, down below the level of concepts and opinions. This sort of deep observation leads to total certainty, and complete absence of confusion. It manifests itself primarily as a constant and unwavering attention which never flags and never turns away.
This pure and unstained investigative awareness not only holds mental hindrances at bay, it lays bare their very mechanism and destroys them. Mindfulness neutralizes defilements in the mind. The result is a mind which remains unstained and invulnerable, completely unaffected by the ups and downs of life.
Here an objection can be raised as to what was the first cause or where does the process of causation end?
In primitive times,people saw the wonders of nature and became curious to get some satisfactory explanation of them.Being ignorant and out of fear of the unknown forces of nature,they naturally tried to explain them by superstitous belief in gods or goddesses.The primitive man belived that the wind blows because the Wind God goes in a procession to get married or fire was caused by fire god.If science had accepted it we would not know that the movement of winf is due to differences of atmospheric pressure.
It is common for people who are exploring religion to ask questions regarding the origins of the world. Since time immemorial people have speculated about this question. Most religions will teach that the world was created by a Creator. For many people, this seems to be satisfactory. However, if one seriously thinks about it, this answer is merely a placebo - something that does not have any real value other than to satisfy the incessant queries of a questioner. To say that the world started with a Creator is no better than to say that the origin of yoghurt is milk, or the origin of a plant is the seed. Simplistic minds do not seem to have a need to see further back beyond that.
Everything has a cause, that there must be a first cause, and that God is the first cause. This old argument contains its own refutation, for if everything has a first cause then the first cause must also have a cause.These are the basic ingredients of all religions even today..A theistic or superstitious explanation puts an end to all free inquiry.
Does Buddhism share this viewpoint?No,Buddha did not recognise such concept but teaches the principle of Dependent Origination The purpose of this topic is just to share the ideas and views from Buddhism.
What are the consequences of the concept of interdependence on cosmological ideas in Buddhism? The concept of interdependence implies that the elements of the conventional reality we are all familiar with do not possess an existence that is permanent and autonomous. This thing exists because something else exists, that happens because this has occurred. Nothing can exist by itself and be its own cause.
Everything depends on everything else. Suppose that there is an entity that exists independently of all the others. This implies that it is not produced by a cause, that is, either it has always existed or it does not exist at all. Such an entity will be unchanging since it cannot act on others and others cannot act on it. The world of phenomena could not function. Thus interdependence is essential for phenomena to manifest themselves.
Because the concept of interdependence implies that nothing can exist by itself and be its own cause, it goes against the idea of a creative principle, a First Cause or a Creator that is permanent, all-powerful, that has no other cause than itself, and which created the universe. In the same vein, Buddhism rejects the idea that the universe can be born out of nothing - a creation ex-nihilo - because the universe has to depend on something else to emerge. If the universe was created, it is because there was a potentiality already present. The coming into being of the universe is merely the realization of that potentiality. One can thus interpret the Big Bang as the manifestation of the phenomenal world emerging from an infinite potentiality already in existence. In a poetic language, Buddhism speaks about of particles of space which carry in them the potentiality of matter. This is strongly reminiscent of the vacuum filled with energy that is thought to have given birth the material content of the universe in the modern Big Bang theory. Material phenomenon and things are not created in the sense that they go from a state of non-existence to one of existence. Rather they go from an unrealized state to a realized state. Once it has come into existence, the universe goes through a series of cycles, each composed of 4 stages: birth, evolution, death and a state where the universe is pure potentiality but has not manifested yet itself. This cyclic universe has no beginning nor an end.