|Today, we are very glad to greet you and to give you some ideas of the Buddhist religion and its practice. As this subject may not be very familiar to you, and as the time at your disposal is extremely limited, you will not be able to learn more than the briefest outline of our religion. Therefore, before we begin, it is good for you to remember this and realize that what is nowadays called Buddhism is the result of the Teachings of the Buddha being applied over the last 2,500 years. To understand Buddhism well thorough study is necessary as well as thorough practice, since in our religion, there is no teaching divorced from practice. As one characteristic of the Buddhas Teaching is that it "invites one to come-and-see," so we hope that anyone who is interested to pursue his studies in that direction will do so. Now to come to the principal points to which we wish to introduce you.|
The first Refuge of the Buddhist is our Great Master, the Buddha. This is a title and not a name and it means the Enlightened One, or the One who has awakened (from the sleep of ignorance and craving), The Buddha is the only one of worlds great religious teachers who has preached his doctrines directly and from his own illumination and not at the instance of some God. He never claimed that his Teaching was inspired by any outside power; in fact, just the opposite, for it was knowledge which arose in him of the nature of himself as a man and by extension, of the nature of the world. It was, (and is) knowledge that he rediscovered, since his Teaching, which is called the Dhamma, is always true in its essentials quite regardless of time and place. It is, however, not always known to mankind and its rediscovery is dependant upon someone attaining to that utmost Enlightenment and becoming thereby a Perfectly Enlightened One.
It is this Dhamma which is the second of the three Refuges in which a Buddhist places his trust. As the Buddha was not enlightened by any exterior power, so his Dhamma is a teaching of the Way to Freedom. The mind of mankind is commonly bound up with all sorts of desires and passions (wanting-not-wanting, liking-not-liking, loving-hating, etc.) and dwells in the prison of ignorance closely guarded by the gaoler of craving. The ultimate freedom is when one achieves liberation from the passions and these include the three great roots of all evil actions: Greed, Hatred and Delusion. Most men however are the slaves of their own minds and even if they know that certain things are bad for them, still they do them. Imprisoned by themselves they try to escape in numberless ways by enjoying themselves, amusing themselves and having fun and the more they go the way of indulgence with sense-pleasures, the more they suffer both in mind and body from their own foolishness. How pitiful it is !
When we have taken a good look at our lives, we are always flying away from pain to seek happiness. No one wants pain in body or sorrow in mind; no one wants the pains of disease the weakness of old ages, or the agonies of death. No one wants them but how can they be avoided? No one wants grief, lamentation or despair but how common they are in this world ! No one wants to experience starvation, to die from an incurable disease, or the horrors and madness of war......... but are these not common features in the life of man? To bring the point home: is it not possible that they may form a part of your life ? As least, supposing your life to be relatively happy, you must at the end of it die. At least this suffering awaits you and while drugs may dull the bodys pains, the minds grief cannot be stilled so easily.
It is a sad fact that many people hide away all these unwelcome facts and never consider them. And when they are forced to do so, then it is too late.
Thus to think about the darker side of our existence which is everywhere about us, as we know neither the time nor the place of our death, is not at all a pessimistic thing to do. To do so is to be prepared. Since the innumerable horrors of this world are a part of life we shall be trying to live in a fools paradise if we attempt to ignore them. No religion is pessimistic which urges people to see the world as-it-really-is, devoid of the frills and trimmings with which we like to garnish it. Such a religion is realistic. The Teachings of the Buddha are just a realistic religion.
The Dhamma teaches that "from the arising of craving there is the arising of manifold sufferings." This craving is for pleasures, for prolonged existence, or for the end of existence. While one aims at such things, sufferings are bound to follow. As one might deduce from this Situation, when craving is uprooted from ones character (together with its partner, unknowing or ignorance), there is an end of all the pains of existence. One has broken out of ones self-made cage, come forth out of the gloom of prison, into the glorious golden light of Enlightenment. This is the Way to the real Happiness which all beings decidedly seek in so many other ways. This is the real Liberation, This is the Way trodden by the Buddha after many years of seeking on various religious paths. It leads to purification by accepting the voluntary discipline of the Moral precepts. These help one to restrain oneself and to act wisely in body and speech. Further purification should be undertaken in respect of the mind if one wishes to practise Meditation successfully. With meditation practice, the mental stains (greed, hatred envy, delusion etc.) are weakened even in the subconscious areas of the mind. Finally, there is the purification of Wisdom compared to a sharp sword which cuts off completely all the stains of mind, "as a palm-tree cut down can grow no more." This is the Way to real purification, each step aiding the one beyond it.
Each teaching in the Dhamma centres about the mind for it is at the root of all existence. According to the state of ones mind, so one experiences life. Thus the opening stanzas from the book of short sayings of the Buddha, called the Dhammapada, states:
- Events are heralded by mind,
- Mind is chief, mind-made are they;
- If someone with corrupted mind
- Is wont to speak or act, then ill
- For sure will follow after him,
- As does the wheel upon the oxens hoof."
- Conversely, it is true that :
If someone with mind purified
Is wont to speak or act, then weal
For sure will follow after him,
As does his shadow neer departing."
Everyone can see the truth in this teaching just as ones face may be seen in a mirror. Indeed the Great Master once used the mirror as an example in order to teach the young prince Rahula (his son who had become a novice), how to examine himself. He exhorted him thus :
"Rahula, what do you think about this for what purpose is a looking-glass ?"
"Venerable Sir, It is for the purpose of considering."
"In such a way should you, Rahula, consider again and again and only then do (deliberate) action with the body, or by speech, or in the mind,"
We have already mentioned the Moral Precepts and these are five in number for ordinary lay-people. Each one undertakes to train himself to refrain from :
1. Taking life.
2. Taking what is not given.
3. Improper sexual relations.
4. False speech (lies, angry speech, back-biting, and idle chattery).
5. Drinks and drugs which dull the mind.
Whenever lay-people perform some religious ceremonies or when they come to make merit, they ask first for the Refuges in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha (community) thereby declaring their confidence and satisfaction with the Buddhist Way and themselves as Buddhists and then they receive these Five Precepts for their own training. These are usually taken from a senior monk who has been invited for that occasion. These Five Precepts however, are really suitable for all of mankind. They do not rely on any exterior power and are to be undertaken simply because one understands that they are a step in the direction of that true Happiness. Also because one understands clearly that there is no force outside oneself which is going to punish one or to reward one. All punishments and rewards (in this or future lives) are the results of the commission of deliberate actions on our part. An action done by an individual in the past will come to fruit in the same individuals continuity in the present or future. Evil brings forth suffering as its fruit and the beneficial brings after it happiness. Truly, "As a man soweth, so shall he reap" and if he sows the beneficent skillful actions connected with keeping the Five Precepts, then he will reap a rich crop of happiness. These Precepts are basic to humanity, they are what is expected of a person if he is really to call himself a human being. Falling below this standard of conduct, is to fall into the sub-human states.
Another notable aspect of the Dhamma is the attitude to be adopted to its Teachings. The Buddha never declared that others must believe him; on the contrary, he encouraged his disciples to constantly investigate the Teaching. They should not close their minds with preconceived notions, nor should they believe in him just because he was their teacher. They were not to suppose that certain doctrines were unquestionable but should carefully and thoroughly ascertain the truth in all situations. He encouraged others to satisfy themselves by their own enquiries that indeed there was no trace of evil left in him and that he was truly the Buddha. Likewise he urged people not to accept any religious teaching blindly (including his own), but to make sure that they understood what would be the results of following it. To the Kalama people who were bewildered by the large number of religious doctrines - often in opposition (as people these days are often confused by the various claims of religious bodies to the sole truth), the Great-Master said:
"Do not accept a religious teaching on the grounds of
- an authoritative tradition which has as its origin some revelation from a God.
- an unbroken succession of teaching, or teachers.
- report or hearsay.
- according to conformity with scriptures.
- speculative metaphysical theories (i.e. theology, etc.), or from reason and arguments.
- a point of view (perhaps inference).
- after reflecting on reasons.
- accepting a fact as true because it agrees with a theory that one is already convinced of.
- on the grounds of the competence or reliability of a person.
- out of respect thinking, Our teacher says thus and thus...
More texts reveal that he discouraged his disciples from accepting a doctrine on the grounds of the claimed omniscience of the one who uttered it, and on the other hand not to be swayed into accepting the opinions of the majority of ordinary people.
But, to return to the Klmas, in this matter the Great Master advised them further :
"Whenever you know for yourselves that these things are evil, that these things are harmful, that these things are censured by the wise; and that these things (doctrines) if carried out in full conduce to unprofit, conduce to suffering then do you abandon them ?"
And conversely: "Whenever you know for yourselves that these things (doctrines) are meritorious, that they are for the harm of none, that they are praised by the wise, that if performed in full they conduce to benefit to happiness then do you keep on fulfilling them ?"
The Buddha continues by asking Kalamas whether greed, hatred and delusion arise for the good of a man or not. They naturally reply that these states are for a mans disadvantage. He asks further whether a man possesses of these is likely to break the Five Precepts or not, and the Klmas reply that he is likely to do so. Having ascertained that the Klmas understand this correctly the Buddha then asks them to consider the reverse situation. They reply that absence of greed, hatred and delusion (implying the presence of generosity, loving-kindness and wisdom) in a persons character can only be for his benefit and that he will therefore keep and not break the Five Precepts.
This is the true basis for the examination of all religious doctrines, that is to say : Holding this or that belief to be true do I thereby get rid of greed, hatred and delusion in myself or do I thereby increase it ? Doctrines which can neither be said to decrease the conflicts in our hearts, nor to increase them and which are unverifiable, are said by the Buddha to be merely the tangle of speculative views and opinions - and these are without any end.
To return to practical matters: We desire to be happy. Therefore we must act in such a way that happiness will result from our actions. We should, in this case, treat others as they would wish to be treated, for every living being is dear to itself and wishes its own welfare and happiness. We cannot expect to have our own isolated happiness if we maltreat other beings, human or otherwise. For instance as we do not wish to be slaughtered, so we should refrain from slaughtering and so on. Every being desires life and is afraid of death and this is common to you and to all the animals. If someone were to approach you with intent to murder, would you not cry out ?
But only a man who constantly leads an upright and compassionate life is really dear to himself, for he does deeds which are of great profit, of great happiness. Other people although they think that they are dear to themselves are really their own worst enemies, for they go about doing to themselves what only an enemy would wish for them.
Good conduct then, depends on a well-trained mind which has gradually been freed from the clutches of greed, hatred and delusion. To hold ones neighbour as dear as one should truly hold oneself is easily said but with difficulty done. It is the merit of the Buddha's Teachings that they always point out how a doctrine is to be translated into experience and this is done here by a special kind of mental training. Here mental includes emotional for we are now considering the Teaching for the development of Loving-kindness, Compassion, Gladness and Equanimity.
These, especially the first, are very popular meditations in Buddhist countries and we shall give you a short explanation about each one.
Loving-kindness is an unselfish love which can be extended to everyone. It is a love which overcomes sensual attachments (usually also called love in English) as well as antipathies. It can be developed gradually in ones meditation period every day but if it is really effective it must show in ones daily life. It makes life easier by turning persons whom one formerly disliked or hated into at the beginning, those whom one disregards, and then as ones practice becomes stronger, into objects for the arising of Loving-kindness, It is the Buddhas medicine for the disease of hatred and dislike. Finally you should be warned that it has two enemies: the near enemy is sensual attachment miscalled love, while the far enemy to its development is hatred. In the development of loving-kindness one must beware of these.
Compassion is taking note of the sufferings of other beings in this world. It overcomes callous indifference to the plight of suffering beings, human or otherwise. Likewise, it must be reflected in ones life by a will-ingness to go out of ones way to give aid where possible and to help those in distress. It has the advantage of reducing ones selfishness by under-standing others sorrows. It is the Buddhas medicine for cruelty, for how can one harm others when one has seen how much they have to suffer already ? It also has two enemies: the near one is mere grief, while its far enemy is cruelty. These one must beware of.
Gladness is to rejoice with others over their successes, gains and happiness. It overcomes the grudging attitude to others and the jealousy which may arise on hearing of others happiness. It must show in ones life as a spontaneous joy when learning of the happiness of others. It has the advantage in making one openhearted towards others and does away with secretiveness. A person who has gladness attracts many friends devoted to him and lives in harmony. It is the Buddhas medicine for envy which it can inhibit completely. The two enemies of gladness are the merely personal happiness of reflecting on ones own gains this is near enemy, while the far one is aversion to or boredom with this gladness.
Equanimity is to developed to deal with situations where one should admit that it is beyond ones powers to do anything. It overcomes worry and useless distraction over affairs which either do not concern one or else cannot be changed by oneself. It is reflected in ones life by an ability to meet difficult situations with tranquillity and undisturbed power of mind. The advantage to be seen is its power to make ones life more simple by disengaging one from useless activity. It is the Buddhas medicine for distraction and worry, and its enemies are mere indifference which is the near one, while greed and its partner resentment which involve one unskillfully in many affairs, are its far enemies.
The mind well-practised in these virtues and then well-trained in their use in daily life, has you will agree, already gained very much. But this is only a step on the path to Nibbna. To go a stage further one requires meditations which develop not only calm but calm and insight linked together.
Mindfulness of breathing is just such a meditation and is traditionally the method used by the Buddha to gain both calm and insight on the night before his Enlightenment. First, we should like to make it clear that this is not a forced yoga breathing exercise (the practice of which can be very dangerous). It is simply using the breath to calm the mind by adopting a watchful attitude to the breathing process. All attention is to be fixed on the natural breathing in and out and nothing must be forced.
- A fairly quiet place should be selected,
- This meditation is best done when one is not tired and for this reason, early morning in suitable,
- However one sits (cross-legged is better but a chair may be used) one should have a straight but not strained back with ones head held naturally and not drooping,
- To attain a straight back when seated cross-legged a rather hard cushion will be found helpful if placed under the buttocks,
- Clothing should be loose and comfortable,
- One should practise regularly every day and keep on with the practice regardless of whether one seems to be making any progress or not.
We should add here that if one is really serious, a good meditation master is certainly essential to guide ones practice in the right way and guard one from all dangers.
Following these simple directions, the practice should begin by extending first to oneself the fervent wish: May I dwell in loving-kindness towards myself May I be happy. Then, when some calm is established, to wish sincerely: May all living beings dwell in peace May they all be happy. Finally, with the mind to some degree concentrated and withdrawn from exterior sense stimulation as well as from the usual incessant burbling which goes on in the mind one should concentrate in a natural and unforced way, all ones attention on the breath as it enters and leaves the nostrils. One may come to know the breath in this way and how it is long and short and how it varies. Steadily ones mindfulness increases until ones whole attention is unwaveringly fixed on this quiet breathing. As mindfulness becomes stronger yet more refined, so does the breath become finer and finer. The mind now being concentrated, it feels at ease and one will experience if the practice goes well the arising of such joy and happiness as one has never known before. The mind feels so cool since it is far separated from the gross passions which normally disturb it.
It is at this point where one needs a meditation master who has already accomplished the training of his own mind and heart for we are not only considering the intellect but also the emotions. And it is at this point that one has to consider whether or not one wishes to follow whole-heartedly, the Way shown by the Perfectly Enlightened One, which leads to that true Happiness, to that Peace and Perfection which we call Nibbna.
May all beings, wheresoever they dwell be happy.
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