|Eighty years before the commencement of the Buddhist Era, a great man was born into the world. He was the son of king Suddhodana and Queen Siri Mah May of Kapilavastu of the Sakka country which is now within the boundaries of Nepal. His name was "Siddhattha". Thirty-five years later, Prince Siddhattha attained Supreme Enlightenment and thereafter became known as the "Enlightened One" or the "Lord Buddha" as he is called in Thai. He proclaimed his "Dhamma" 1 or Universal Truth to the people; and, thereafter, the Buddhist religion (the Teachings of the Buddha) and the Buddhist community of disciples came into existence. The community was composed of bhikkhus or monks (including samaneras or male novices), bhikkhunis or nuns (including samaneris or female novices), upasakas or male lay followers and upasikas or female lay followers.|
At present, in Thailand, we have only monks and novice, upasakas or Buddhist laymen and upasikas or Buddhist laywomen. A monk is a man who has been ordained and conducts himself in accordance with the precepts laid down for a monk. A novice is a person under or over 20 years of age who has been ordained and conducts himself in accordance with the precepts laid down for a novice. A Buddhist layman or laywoman is one who has taken refuge in the Triple Gem, i.e. the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha, and observes the precepts applicable to laymen and laywomen. At present we call laymen and laywomen, whether of age or under age, "Buddhammaka" and "Buddhammik" respectively, meaning "he or she who believes in the Buddha". Buddhism has spread from its place of birth into the various countries of the world.
|The focal point of worship in Buddhism is the Ti-Ratana (the Triple Gem) namely the Buddha who by himself discovered, realized and proclaimed the Dhamma, thereby establishing the Buddhist religion, the Dhamma (Universal Truth) discovered, realized and proclaimed by the Buddha and the Sangha or community of those who hear, follow and realize the Buddhas Teachings. Some members of the Sangha become monks and help in the dissemination of Buddhism and the perpetuation of monkhood up to the present time.|
Everyone who is initiated into the Buddhist religion, whether a layman, a laywoman or a monk, ought to conform to a preliminary rule, namely one must solemnly promise to take refuge in and accept the Triple Gem as ones own refuge or, in other words, to regard the Buddha as ones father who gives birth to ones spiritual life. A Buddhist may associate himself or herself with people of other faiths and pay respect to objects of reverence of other religions in an appropriate manner in the same way as he or she may pay respect to the father, mother or elders of other people while having at the same time his or her own father. He will not lose his Buddhist religion as long as he believes in the Truple Gem, just as he will remain the son of his own father as long as he does not disown him and adopt someone else as his father instead, or just as he will remain a Thai as long as he does not adopt another nationality. Buddhism, therefore, is not intolerant. Its followers may at will associate with people of other nationalities and religions. Buddhism does not teach disrespectfulness to any one. On the contrary, it declares that respect should be paid to all those to whom respect is due and that the Dhamma should not be withheld from the knowledge of others and kept only to oneself. Whoever desires to study and practice the Dhamma may do so without having to profess first the Buddhist faith. The Dhamma as proclaimed by Buddhist religion, will help to demonstrate that it is "Truth" that will be beneficial and bring happiness in the pressent life. The essence of the entire Buddhist teachings lies in the Four Noble Truths.
Noble Truth (Ariya-Sacca) is short for "truth of the noble ones (or of those who have attained a high degree of advanecnent)", "truth attainable by the noble ones", "truth by which one is ennobled". It should first be understood that it is not simply truth that is agreeable to the world or to oneself, but truth that is directly born of wisdom. The four Noble Truths are :
|1. Dukkha or suffering; which means birth, decay and death which are the normal incidents of life. It also means sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair which are at times experienced by our body and mind. To be separated from the pleasant, to be disappointed, or to be in contact with the unpleasant are also suffering. In short our body and mind are subject to suffering or, in other words, we may say that our existence is bound up with suffering.2|
|2. Samudaya; which means the cause of suffering, which is desire. It is a compelling urge of the mind, such as the longing to own what we desire, to be what we desire to be, or to avoid those states to which we feel aversion.|
|3. Nirodha; which means cessation of suffering, which connotes extinction of desire or such longings of the mind.|
|4. Magga; which means the way to the cessation of suffering, which is the Noble Eightfold Path, namely Right Understanding, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration.|
Some people believe that Buddhism is pessimistic in outlook because its teachings deal only with suffering and are of so high a standard that ordinary people are unable to practise it because it advocates extinction of desire, which is very difficult to accomplish. Since such misunderstanding exist, clarification is necessary before the Noble Truths can be dealt with. The Buddhist religion is neither wholly pessimistic nor wholly optimistic.
It derives its outlook from truth, i.e. truth which can only be understood through a combination of insight and purity of mind.
|According to the history of Buddhism, the Buddha did not enunciate the Four Noble Truths to anyone lightly. He would first feed the minds of his listeners with other points of the Dhamma until they became pure enough to be receptive to higher teaching. Then He would expose the Four Noble Truths to them.|
|The other points of the Dhamma that are constantly stressed particularly to laymen, are Dana or charity, Sila or morality, the natural and logical result of charity and morality which is bliss (meaning happiness and prosperity even in this life), the dangers of sensuality (anything that binds one to love and desire) and the advantages to be derived from the renunciation of sensuality. This method of gradual teaching adopted by the Buddha is comparable to the present day method of education. We may say that the Four Noble Truths were taught at university level; pupils at lower educational levels were taught other points of the Dhamma suitable to their understaning. The Buddha would never teach the Dhamma beyond the comprehension of his listeners, for to have done so would not have benefited anyone. For those who are in search of knowledge, although they may not be able to comply with the Four Noble Truths, study of this fundamental point of the Dhamma would certainly advance their rational knowledge of truth and may make them consider how much they can in practice comply with it in spite of the fact that they are still unable to rid themselves of desire. Such consideration is possible as in the following instances:|
|1. Everyone wants to be happy and never wants to suffer. But why are people still suffering and unable to do way with their own sufferings themselves? Sometimes, the more they try to get rid of them, the more they suffer. This is because they do not know what is the true cause of suffering and what is the true cause of happiness. If they knew, they would be successful. They would eliminate the cause of suffering and create the cause of happiness. One of the important obstacles to this success is ones own heart. Because we comply too much with the dictates of our hearts, we have to suffer.|
|2. In saying that we comply with the dictates of our hearts, in fact, we mean that we are gratifying desire or those compelling urges of the heart. In worldly existence, it is not yet necessary to suppress desire totally because desire is the driving force that brings progress to the world and to ourselves. But desire must be under proper control and some limit should be set for satisfying it. If desire could be thus restricted, the probablilty of a happy life in this world would be much greater. Those who start fires that burn themselves and the world are invariably people who do not restrict the desires of their hearts within proper bounds. If we wish to acquire knowledge, we should study hard. If we desire rank and wealth we should persevere in our duty to the best of our ability. This is tantamount to observing the Noble Eightfold Path in relation to the world, which is at the same time acting in accordance with the Dhamma.|
|3. But human beings require some rest. Our bodies need rest and sleep. Our minds also must be given time to be empty. If they are at work all the time, we cannot sleep. Among those who take pleasure in forms and sounds there are, for example, some who are fond of good music; but, if they were compelled to listen to music too long, the lovely music constantly sounding in their ears would become a torment. They would run away from it and long for a return of silence or tranquility. Our mind requires such tranquility for a considerable time every day. This is rest for the mind or in other word the extinction of desire which, in fact, amounts to elimination of suffering. Therefore, if one really understands that elimination of suffering is nothing but keeping the mind at rest and that rest is a mental nourishment which is needs everyday, then one will begin to understand the meaning of Nirodha.|
|4. We should go on to realize that when our mind is restless it is because of desire. The mind then causes us to act, speak and think in consonance with its agitated state. When gratified, it may become peaceful; but only momentarily, because action dictated by a restless mind may very soon afterwards bring us intense pain and severe punishment or make us conscience stricken and cause us to regret it for a very long time. So let it be known that a person with his mind in such a state is termed a "slave of desire". Then is there a way to overcome desire or to master the desire in our own hearts? Yes, there is the Noble Eightfold Path that leads to the extinction of suffering, namely:|
(1) Sammditthi or Right
Understanding, meaning an intellectual grasp of the Four Noble Truths or of the true
nature of existence even in a simplified form as outlined in the preceding paragraphs.
(2) Sammsankappa or Right Intention, meaning intention to be free from all bonds of Dukkha. Such intention should be free from revenge, hatred and harmfulness.
(3) Sammvc or Right Speech, meaning abstinence from lying; from tale-bearing and vicious talk that cause discord; from harsh language; and from vain, irresponsible and foolish talk.
(4) Sammkammanta or Right Action, meaning avoidance of killing and torturing, of theft and misappropriation, and of adultery.
(5) Sammjiva or Right Livelihood, meaning rejection of wrong means of livelihood and living by right means.
(6) Sammvyma or Right Effort, meaning effort to avoid the arising of evil; effort to overcome evil and demeritorious states that have already arisen; effort to develop good and beneficial states of mind, and effort to maintain them when they have arisen.
(7) Sammsati or Right Mindfulness, meaning dwelling in contemplation of the true stations of the mind, for instance, the Satipatthana or four Stations of Mindfulness which are the Body, Sensation, Mind and Dhamma.
(8) Sammsamdhi or Right Concentration, meaning the fixing of the mind upon a single deed which we wish to perform along the right path.
The Noble Eightfold Path is in reality one complete path with eight component parts which may be summed up in three stages of training (sikkh) namely:
Sila Sikkh or Training in Morality, which includes Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood. In general this means that whatever we say or do, we must say or do in the right way. This also applies to our livelihood. We must reject wrong means of livelihood and live by right ones. If we do not yet have a means of livelihood, for instance if we are students depending on the support of our benefactors, we must spend the money given us properly and not squander it extravagantly. We must learn to control ourselves and refrain from spending it wrongly or improperly on ourselves and our friends.
Citta Sikkh or Mental Training, which includes Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration. Generally speaking, the subject of the mind is very important. We must study and train our minds. It is not really difficult to do so if only we can get started. For instance we can begin developing diligence, train ourselves in mindfulness and cultivate our memories by focussing our minds on what is beneficial and by practicing concentration. Such training can be applied to our study since it requires diligence and proper use of our memory and powers of concentration.
Pa˝˝ Sikkh or Training in Wisdom, which includes Right Understanding and Right Intention. Generally speaking, man succeeds in his own development through insight by means of which he makes right decisions. Right intention means right deliberation and right understanding leads to right decisions. Students in the various fields of study all aim at acquiring wisdom in order to enable them to deliberate rightly and arrive at correct decisions in accordance with reason and reality. The training in wisdom should in particular include the knowledge of Ti-lakkhana or the Three Characteristics of Existence and the practice of Brahma-Vihra or the Four Sublime States of Consciousness.
All sankhra or phenomenal (compounded) things are subject to Anicc or impermanence, Dukkha or suffering and Anatt or non-self, which are the three characteristics of existence.
Anicc or impermanence means transience. Everything that has come into existence will eventually have to pass away. Everything exists only temporarily.
Dukkha or suffering consists of continual change. All things are subject to incessant and continual decay. Their owners consequently have to suffer just as much as the things they possess. For instance, one falls ill when ones body is out of order.
|Anatt or non-self means void of reality or self-existence. anatta may be explained in three stages as follows :|
l. Not to be too self-centered. Otherwise one would become selfish and would be actuated only by self-interest and would not know oneself in the light of truth. For instance, being too egoistic, one would believe one is in the right or entitled to this or that but in truth ones belief is erroneous.
2. We cannot give orders to anything, including our bodies and minds, to remain unchanged according to our wish. For instance we could not order our bodies to remain always young and handsome and our minds always happy and alert.
3. One who has practiced and attained to the highest level of knowledge will discover that all things including ones own body and mind are devoid of self; or, as the Buddhist proverb puts it, "one becomes non-existent to oneself". Some people with great insight have no attachment to anything at all in the world. Nevertheless, during their lifetimes, they are able to conduct themselves in the right manner (without defilements) appropriate to the place and circumstances in which they live. Brahma-vihara
|Brahma-vihva or the four Sublime States of Consciousness denote four qualities of the heart which, when developed and magnified to their fullest, lift man to the highest level of being. These qualities are :|
1. Mett, which means all-embracing kindness or the desire to make others happy, as opposed to hatred or the desire to make others suffer. Metta builds up generosity in ones character, giving it firmness, freeing it from irritation and excitement, thus generating only friendliness and no enmity nor desire to harm or cause suffering to anyone, even to the smallest creatures, through hatred, anger or even for fun.
2. Karun, which means compassion or desire to free those who suffer from their sufferings, as opposed to the desire to be harmful. Karuna also builds up generosity in ones character, making one desirous to assist those who suffer. Karuna is one of the greatest benefactions of the Buddha as well as of the monarch and of such benefactors as our fathers and mothers.
3. Mudit, which means sympathetic joy or rejoicing with, instead of feeling envious of, those who are fortunate. Mudita builds up the character in such a way that it promotes only virtues and mutual happiness and prosperity.
4. Upekkh, which means equanimity or composure of mind whenever necessary, for instance, when one witnesses a persons misfortune, ones mind remains composed. One does not rejoice because that person is ones enemy nor grieve because that person is ones beloved. One should see others without prejudice or preference but in the light of Kamma or will-action. Everyone is subject to his own Kamma, heir to the effects of his own will-actions. Earnest contemplation of Kamma or the law of Cause and Effect will lead to the suppression of egocentric contemplation and result in the attainment of a state of equanimity. Upekkh builds up the habit of considering everything from the point of view of right or wrong and ultimately leads to a sense of right-doing in all things.
These four qualities should be cultivated and developed in our hearts by generating metta or loving-kindness to all beings in general and to some in particular. If this practice is repeated often, our minds will become impregnated with them often, thus displacing hindrances such as hatred and anger. Pursued long enough, it will ultimately become a habit which will bring with it only happiness.
There is a Buddhist proverb which states that "Nibbna is Supreme Happiness". Nibbna means elimination of desire, not only worldly desire but also desire in the sphere of the Dhamma. Action not dictated by greed is action leading to Nibbna.
|The Buddha was once asked what was meant by saying that "Dhamma" including "Nibbna" may be "realized by everyone personally". The Buddhas reply was as follows. When ones mind is subdued by greed, hatred and delusion volition harmful to oneself or others or to both oneself and others will arise, causing physical and/or mental suffering. As soon as such volition arises, unwholesome actions, be it of body, speech or mind, will inevitably follow. One in such a state of mind will never be able to recognize, in the light of truth, what is to his own or others benefit, nor to the benefit of both. However when greed, hatred and delusion are eliminated, when there is no more volition harmful to oneself or others, or to both, no more unwholesome bodily, verbal or mental actions, when what is to ones own or others benefit, or both, is recognized in the light of truth and no more suffering of the body nor even of the mind occurs, this is the meaning of "Dhamma" leading to "Nibbna".|
According to this explanation of the Buddha, realization of the Dhamma means realization of ones own mental states, good as well as bad. No matter in what state the mind may find itself, one should realize it correctly in the light of truth. This is what is called realization of the Dhamma. It may be asked what benefit can be derived from such realization ? The answer is that it will bring peace of mind. When the mind is poisoned with desire, hatred and delusion, it always flows outward. If it is brought back to be examined by itself, the fire of desire, hatred and delusion will ultimately subside and peace of mind will ensue. This peace should be carefully discerned and securely retained. This then is realization of peace of mind which is realization of Nibbna. The way to realize the Dhamma and attain Nibbna as taught by the Buddha is a natural one which can be practiced by all from the simplest and lowest to the highest level.
|The Noble Truths, the Three Characteristics of Life and Nibbna are Sacca Dhamma, i.e. Universal or Absolute Truth as realized and taught by the Buddha (as expounded in the First Sermon and in the Dhammaniyma or Fixedness of the Dhamma). This may be termed Truth in the light of the Dhamma, which may be attained through Pa˝˝ or insight, and this is the Buddhist way to end all suffering. Buddhism simultaneously teaches the worldly Dhamma or Lokasacca. This is worldly truth, a "relative reality" or conventional truth which views the material universe as it really is, i.e. an aggregate of composite factors existing in relation to certain imperfect states of consciousness such as belief in the existence of selfhood and all its belongings. But in the worldly sense it has a conventional identity as exemplified in the Buddhas saying "A man is his own refuge". In this connexion, the Buddha said "As the assembled parts of a cart comprise a cart, so the existence of khandhas or composite factors of being comprise a being". The worldly Dhamma includes conduct in human society, for instance, the Six Directions (conduct towards our fathers and mothers, our teachers, our religions, our wives and children and our servants), as well as religious precepts and disciplinary laws.|
Along with our practice of the Dhamma to liberate our minds from suffering according to Absolute Truth, we should also practice the Dhamma in the light of worldly or conventional truth. For example, if one is a son, a daughter or a pupil, one should comply with the Dhamma in a manner appropriate to ones status and try to study and use the Dhamma in the solving of ones daily problems. He should try every day to apply the Dhamma in his study, work and other activities. He who conducts himself in this manner will see for himself that the Dhamma is truly of immeasurable benefit to his own existence.
Home | Table of Contents
Copyright © 2002 Mahidol
University All rights reserved.