Sunday, May 17, 2009

“Impermanence, suffering and non-self”

Impermanence is one of the Three Marks of Existence. The term expresses the Buddhist notion that all compounded or conditioned phenomena (things and experiences) are inconstant, unsteady, and impermanent. Everything we can experience through our senses is made up of parts, and its existence is dependent on external conditions. Everything is in constant flux, and so conditions and the thing itself are constantly changing. Things are constantly coming into being, and ceasing to be. Nothing lasts.

According to the impermanence doctrine, human life embodies this flux in the aging process, the cycle of rebirth (samsara), and in any experience of loss. The doctrine further asserts that because things are impermanent, attachment to them is futile and leads to suffering (dukkha).

Suffering or Dukkha (Pāli दुक्ख; Sanskrit दुःख duḥkha; according to grammatical tradition derived from dus-kha “uneasy”, but according to Monier-Williams more likely a Prakritized form of dus-stha “unsteady, disquieted”) is a central concept in Buddhism, the word roughly corresponding to a number of terms in English including suffering, pain, unsatisfactoriness, sorrow, affliction, anxiety, dissatisfaction, discomfort, anguish, stress, misery, and frustration.

Although dukkha is often translated as “suffering”, its philosophical meaning is more analogous to “disquietude” as in the condition of being disturbed. As such, “suffering” is too narrow a translation with “negative emotional connotations” (Jeffrey Po), which can give the impression that the Buddhist view is one of pessimism, but Buddhism is neither pessimistic nor optimistic, but realistic. Thus in English-language Buddhist literature dukkha is often left untranslated, so as to encompass its full range of meaning.

Anatta (Pāli) or anātman (Sanskrit) refers to the notion of “not-self”. In Indian philosophy, the concept of a self is called ātman (that is, “soul” or metaphysical self), which refers to an unchanging, permanent essence conceived by virtue of existence. This concept and the related concept of Brahman, the Vedantic monistic ideal, which was regarded as an ultimate ātman for all beings, were indispensable for mainstream Indian metaphysics, logic, and science; for all apparent things there had to be an underlying and persistent reality, akin to a Platonic form. Buddhists reject all these concepts of ātman, emphasizing not permanence, but changeability. Therefore all concepts of a substantial personal self are incorrect and formed in the realm of ignorance.

In the Nikayas, anatta is not meant as a metaphysical assertion, but as an approach for gaining release from suffering. In fact, the Buddha rejected both of the metaphysical assertions “I have a Self” and “I have no Self” as ontological views that bind one to suffering. By analyzing the constantly changing physical and mental constituents (”skandhas“) of a person or object, the practitioner comes to the conclusion that neither the respective parts nor the person as a whole comprise a Self.

Dependent arising

The doctrine of pratītyasamutpāda (Sanskrit; Pali: paticcasamuppāda; Tibetan: rten.cing.’’; Chinese: 緣起), often translated as “Dependent Arising,” is an important part of Buddhist metaphysics. It states that phenomena arise together in a mutually interdependent web of cause and effect. It is variously rendered into English as “dependent origination”, “conditioned genesis”, “dependent co-arising”, “interdependent arising”, or “contingency”.

The best-known application of the concept of Pratītyasamutpāda is the scheme of Twelve Nidānas (from Pali nidāna “cause, foundation, source or origin”), which explain the continuation of the cycle of suffering and rebirth (Samsara) in detail.

The Twelve Nidānas describe a causal connection between the subsequent characteristics/conditions of cyclic existence, each giving rise to the next:

  1. Avidyā: ignorance, specifically spiritual
  2. Saṃskāras: literally formations, explained as referring to Karma.
  3. Vijñāna: consciousness, specifically discriminative
  4. Nāmarūpa: literally name and form, referring to mind and body
  5. Ṣaḍāyatana: the six sense bases: eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind-organ
  6. Sparśa: variously translated contact, impression, stimulation (by a sense object)
  7. Vedanā: usually translated feeling: this is the “hedonic tone”, i.e. whether something is pleasant, unpleasant or neutral
  8. Tṛṣṇā: literally thirst, but in Buddhism nearly always used to mean craving
  9. Upādāna: clinging or grasping; the word also means fuel, which feeds the continuing cycle of rebirth
  10. Bhava: literally being (existence) or becoming. (The Theravada explains this as having two meanings: karma, which produces a new existence, and the existence itself.)
  11. Jāti: literally birth, but life is understood as starting at conception
  12. Jarāmaraṇa (old age and death) and also śokaparidevaduḥkhadaurmanasyopāyāsa (sorrow, lamentation, pain, sadness, and misery)

Sentient beings always suffer throughout samsara, until they free themselves from this suffering by attaining Nirvana. Then the absence of the first Nidāna, ignorance, leads to the absence of the others.


Mahāyāna Buddhism received significant theoretical grounding from Nāgārjuna (perhaps c.150–250 CE), arguably the most influential scholar within the Mahāyāna tradition. Some of the writings attributed to him made explicit references to Mahāyāna texts, but his philosophy was argued within the parameters set out by the agamas. Nāgārjuna asserted that the nature of the dharmas (hence the enlightenment) to be śūnya (void or empty), bringing together other key Buddhist doctrines, particularly anātman (no-self) and pratītyasamutpāda (dependent origination). His school of thought is known as the Madhyamaka. He may have arrived at his positions from a desire to achieve a consistent exegesis of the Buddha’s doctrine as recorded in the Canon. In the eyes of Nagarjuna the Buddha was not merely a forerunner, but the very founder of the Madhyamaka system.

Sarvāstivāda teaching, which was criticized by Nāgārjuna, was reformulated by scholars such as Vasubandhu and Asaṅga and were adapted into the Yogācāra (Sanskrit: yoga practice) school. While the Madhyamaka school held that asserting the existence or non-existence of any ultimately real thing was inappropriate, some exponents of Yogācāra asserted that the mind and only the mind is ultimately real. Not all Yogācārins asserted that mind was truly existent, Vasubandhu and Asaṅga in particular did not. These two schools of thought, in opposition or synthesis, form the basis of subsequent Mahāyāna metaphysics in the Indo-Tibetan tradition.

In the Mahayana school, emphasis is also often placed on the notions of Emptiness (shunyata), perfected spiritual insight (prajnaparamita) and Buddha-nature (the deathless tathagatagarbha, or Buddha womb, inherent in all beings and creatures). In the tathagatagarbha sutras the Buddha is portrayed proclaiming that the teaching of the tathagatagarbha constitutes the “absolutely final culmination” of his Dharma—the highest presentation of Truth (other sūtras make similar statements about other teachings). This has traditionally been regarded as the highest teaching in East Asian Buddhism. However, in modern China all doctrines are regarded as equally valid. The Mahayana can also on occasion communicate a vision of the Buddha or Dharma which amounts to mysticism and gives expression to a form of mentalist panentheism (God in Buddhism).

Speculation versus direct experience: Buddhist epistemology

Decisive in distinguishing Buddhism from other schools of Indian philosophy is the issue of epistemological justification (from epistemology, Greek: theory of knowledge). While all schools of Indian logic recognize various sets of valid justifications for knowledge, or pramana, Buddhism recognizes a smaller set than do the others. All accept perception and inference, for example, but for some schools of Buddhism the received textual tradition is an equally valid epistemological category.

According to the scriptures, during his lifetime the Buddha remained silent when asked several metaphysical questions. These regarded issues such as whether the universe is eternal or non-eternal (or whether it is finite or infinite), the unity or separation of the body and the self, the complete inexistence of a person after nirvana and death, and others. One explanation for this silence is that such questions distract from activity that is practical to realizing enlightenment and bring about the danger of substituting the experience of liberation by conceptual understanding of the doctrine or by religious faith. Another explanation is that both affirmative and negative positions regarding these questions are based on attachment to and misunderstanding of the aggregates and senses. That is, when one sees these things for what they are, the idea of forming positions on such metaphysical questions simply does not occur to one. Another closely related explanation is that reality is devoid of designations, or empty, and therefore language itself is a priori inadequate.

Thus, the Buddha’s silence does not indicate misology or disdain for philosophy. Rather, it indicates that he viewed these questions as not leading to true knowledge. Dependent arising is, according to some[who?], one of the Buddha’s great contributions to philosophy, and provides a framework for analysis of reality that is not based on metaphysical assumptions regarding existence or non-existence, but instead on direct cognition of phenomena as they are presented to the mind. This informs and supports the Buddhist approach to liberation via ethical and meditative training known as the Noble Eightfold Path.

Accordingly, most Buddhists agree that, to a greater or lesser extent, words are inadequate to describe the goal of the Buddhist path, but concerning the usefulness of words in the path itself, schools differ radically.

In the Pali Canon and numerous Mahayana Sutras and Tantras, the Buddha is portrayed stressing that Dharma (in the sense of truth) cannot truly be understood with the ordinary rational mind or logic—reality transcends all worldly concepts.

In the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra’s self-styled “Uttara-Tantra”, the Buddha insists that, while pondering upon Dharma is vital, one must then relinquish fixation on words and letters, as these are utterly divorced from liberation and the Bodhi nature. The Tantra entitled the “All-Creating King” (Kunjed Gyalpo Tantra, a scripture of Tibetan Buddhism) also emphasizes how Buddhist truth lies beyond the range of discursive/verbal thought and is ultimately mysterious. The Supreme Buddha, Samantabhadra, states there: “The mind of perfect purity … is beyond thinking and inexplicable ….” Also later, the famous Indian Buddhist practitioner (yogi) and teacher, mahasiddha Tilopa discouraged any intellectual activity in his six words of advice.

Mahayana often adopts a pragmatic concept of truth: doctrines are “true” in the sense of being spiritually beneficial. In modern Chinese Buddhism, all doctrinal traditions are regarded as equally valid.

Theravāda promotes the concept of Vibhajjavada (Pali), literally “Teaching of Analysis”. This doctrine says that insight must come from the aspirant’s experience, critical investigation, and reasoning instead of by blind faith. As the Buddha said according to the canonical scriptures:

Do not accept anything by mere tradition … Do not accept anything just because it accords with your scriptures … Do not accept anything merely because it agrees with your pre-conceived notions … But when you know for yourselves—these things are moral, these things are blameless, these things are praised by the wise, these things, when performed and undertaken, conduce to well-being and happiness—then do you live acting accordingly.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

“Suffering: causes and solution”

The Four Noble Truths
According to the Pali Tipitaka, the Four Noble Truths were the first teaching of Gautama Buddha after attaining Nirvana. They are sometimes considered as containing the essence of the Buddha’s teachings and are presented in the manner of a medical diagnosis and remedial prescription – a style common at that time:

  1. Life as we know it ultimately is or leads to suffering/uneasiness (dukkha) in one way or another.
  2. Suffering is caused by craving or attachments to worldly pleasures of all kinds. This is often expressed as a deluded clinging to a certain sense of existence, to selfhood, or to the things or phenomena that we consider the cause of happiness or unhappiness.
  3. Suffering ends when craving ends, when one is freed from desire. This is achieved by eliminating all delusion, thereby reaching a liberated state of Enlightenment (bodhi);
  4. Reaching this liberated state is achieved by following the path laid out by the Buddha.

Described by early Western scholars, and taught as an introduction to Buddhism by some contemporary Mahayana teachers (e.g., the Dalai Lama).

According to other interpretations by Buddhist teachers and scholars, lately recognized by some Western non-Buddhist scholars, the “truths” do not represent mere statements, but are categories or aspects that most worldly phenomena fall into, grouped in two:

  1. Suffering and causes of suffering
  2. Cessation and the paths towards liberation from suffering.

Thus, according to the Macmillan Encyclopedia of Buddhism they are

  1. “The noble truth that is suffering”
  2. “The noble truth that is the arising of suffering”
  3. “The noble truth that is the end of suffering”
  4. “The noble truth that is the way leading to the end of suffering”

The early teaching and the traditional Theravada understanding is that the Four Noble Truths are an advanced teaching for those who are ready for them. The Mahayana position is that they are a preliminary teaching for people not yet ready for the higher and more expansive Mahayana teachings. They are little known in the Far East

The Noble Eightfold Path

The Noble Eightfold Path, the fourth of the Buddha’s Noble Truths, is the way to the cessation of suffering (dukkha). It has eight sections, each starting with the word samyak (Sanskrit, meaning correctly, properly, or well, frequently translated into English as right), and presented in three groups:

  • Prajñā is the wisdom that purifies the mind, allowing it to attain spiritual insight into the true nature of all things. It includes:

  1. dṛṣṭi (ditthi): viewing reality as it is, not just as it appears to be.
  2. saṃkalpa (sankappa): intention of renunciation, freedom and harmlessness.

  • Śīla is the ethics or morality, or abstention from unwholesome deeds. It includes:

  1. vāc (vāca): speaking in a truthful and non hurtful way
  2. karman (kammanta): acting in a non harmful way
  3. ājīvana (ājīva): a non harmful livelihood

  • Samādhi is the mental discipline required to develop mastery over one’s own mind. This is done through the practice of various contemplative and meditative practices, and includes:

  1. vyāyāma (vāyāma): making an effort to improve
  2. smṛti (sati): awareness to see things for what they are with clear consciousness, being aware of the present reality within oneself, without any craving or aversion
  3. samādhi (samādhi): correct meditation or concentration, explained as the first 4 dhyānas

The practice of the Eightfold Path is understood in two ways, as requiring either simultaneous development (all eight items practiced in parallel), or as a progressive series of stages through which the practitioner moves, the culmination of one leading to the beginning of another.

In the early sources (the four main Nikayas) the Eightfold Path is not generally taught to laypeople, and it is little known in the Far East.

Middle Way

An important guiding principle of Buddhist practice is the Middle Way, which is said to have been discovered by Gautama Buddha prior to his enlightenment (bodhi). The Middle Way or Middle Path has several definitions:

  1. The practice of non-extremism: a path of moderation away from the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification
  2. The middle ground between certain metaphysical views (e.g., that things ultimately either do or do not exist)
  3. An explanation of Nirvana (perfect enlightenment), a state wherein it becomes clear that all dualities apparent in the world are delusory (see Seongcheol)
  4. Another term for emptiness, the ultimate nature of all phenomena, lack of inherent existence, which avoids the extremes of permanence and nihilism or inherent existence and nothingness

The nature of reality

Buddhist scholars have produced a prodigious quantity of intellectual theories, philosophies and world view concepts (see, e.g., Abhidharma, Buddhist philosophy and Reality in Buddhism). Some schools of Buddhism discourage doctrinal study, some regard it as essential, but most regard it as having a place, at least for some people at some stages. The concept of Liberation (Nirvana), the goal of the Buddhist path, is closely related to the correct perception of reality. In awakening to the true nature of the self and all phenomena one is liberated from the cycle of suffering (Dukkha) and involuntary rebirths (Samsara).

“Life and the World”

Karma: Cause and Effect

Karma (from Sanskrit: action, work) is the energy which drives Saṃsāra, the cycle of suffering and rebirth for each being. Good, skillful (Pāli: kusala) and bad, unskillful (Pāli: akusala) actions produce “seeds” in the mind which come to fruition either in this life or in a subsequent rebirth. The avoidance of unwholesome actions and the cultivation of positive actions is called Śīla (from Sanskrit: ethical conduct).

In Buddhism, Karma specifically refers to those actions (of body, speech, and mind) that spring from mental intent (Pāli: cetana), and which bring about a consequence (or fruit, Sanskrit: phala) or result (Pāli: vipāka). Every time a person acts there is some quality of intention at the base of the mind and it is that quality rather than the outward appearance of the action that determines its effect.

In Theravada Buddhism there is no divine salvation or forgiveness for one’s Karma. Some Mahayana traditions hold different views. For example, the texts of certain Sutras (such as the Lotus Sutra, the Angulimaliya Sutra and the Nirvana Sutra) claim that reciting or merely hearing their texts can expunge great swathes of negative Karma. Similarly, the Japanese Pure Land teacher Genshin taught that Buddha Amitabha has the power to destroy the Karma that would otherwise bind one in Saṃsāra.


Each rebirth takes place within one of five realms, according to Theravadins, or six according to other schools.These are further subdivided into 31 planes of existence:

  1. Naraka beings: those who live in one of many Narakas (Hells)
  2. Animals: sharing some space with humans, but considered another type of life
  3. Preta: Sometimes sharing some space with humans, but invisible to most people; an important variety is the hungry ghost
  4. Human beings: one of the realms of rebirth in which attaining Nirvana is possible
  5. Asuras: variously translated as lowly deities, demons, titans, antigods; not recognized by Theravada (Mahavihara) tradition as a separate realm.
  6. Devas including Brahmas: variously translated as gods, deities, spirits, angels, or left untranslated

Rebirths in some of the higher heavens, known as the Śuddhāvāsa Worlds (Pure Abodes), can be attained only by anāgāmis (non-returners). Rebirths in the arupa-dhatu (formless realms) can be attained only by those who can meditate on the arupa-jhānas.

According to East Asian and Tibetan Buddhism, there is an intermediate state between one life and the next, but Theravada rejects this.

The Cycle of Samsara

Sentient beings crave pleasure and are averse to pain from birth to death. In being controlled by these attitudes, they perpetuate the cycle of conditioned existence and suffering (Samsara), and produce the causes and conditions of the next rebirth after death. Each rebirth repeats this process in an involuntary cycle, which Buddhists strive to end by eradicating these causes and conditions, applying the methods laid out by the Buddha.

“Life of the Buddha”

The following information about Buddha’s life comes from the Tipitaka (other scriptures, such as the Lalitavistara Sutra, give differing accounts).

Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, was born in the city of Lumbini around the year 485 BCE and was raised in Kapilavastu. Moments after birth, according to the scriptures, he performed the first of several miracles, taking a few steps and proclaiming, “Supreme am I in the world. Greatest am I in the world. Noblest am I in the world. This is my last birth. Never shall I be reborn.”[citation needed]

Shortly thereafter, a wise man visited his father, King Śuddhodana. The wise man said that Siddhartha would either become a great king (chakravartin) or a holy man (Sadhu) based on whether he saw life outside of the palace walls. Determined to make Siddhartha a king, Śuddhodana shielded his son from the unpleasant realities of daily life. Years after this, Gautama married Yasodhara, with whom he had a son, Rahula, who later became a Buddhist monk.

At the age of 29, Siddhartha ventured outside the palace complex several times, despite his father’s wishes. As a result, he discovered the suffering of his people through encounters with an old man, a diseased man, a decaying corpse, and an ascetic. These are known among Buddhists as “The Four Sights”, one of the first contemplations of Siddhartha. The Four Sights eventually prompted Gautama to abandon royal life and take up a spiritual quest to free himself from suffering by living the life of a mendicant ascetic—a respectable spiritual practice at the time. He found companions with similar spiritual goals and

teachers who taught him various forms of meditation, including jhāna.

Ascetics practised many forms of self-denial, including severe undereating. One day, after almost starving to death, Gautama accepted a little milk and rice from a village girl named Sujata. After this experience, he concluded that ascetic practices such as fasting, holding one’s breath, and exposure to pain brought little spiritual benefit. He viewed them as counterproductive due to their reliance on self-hatred and mortification. He abandoned asceticism, concentrating instead on anapanasati meditation (awareness of breathing), thereby discovering what Buddhists call the Middle Way, a path of moderation between the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification.

After discovering the Middle Way, he sat under a sacred fig tree, also known as the Bodhi tree, in the town of Bodh Gaya, India, and vowed not to rise before achieving Nirvana. At age 35, after many days of meditation, he attained his goal of becoming a Buddha. After his spiritual awakening he attracted a band of followers and instituted a monastic order. He spent the rest of his life teaching the Dharma, travelling throughout the northeastern part of the Indian subcontinent.

He died at the age of 80 (405 BCE) in Kushinagar, India, from food poisoning.

Scholars are increasingly hesitant to make unqualified claims about the historical facts of Gautama Buddha’s life. According to Michael Carrithers, while there are good reasons to doubt the traditional account, “the outline of the life must be true: birth, maturity, renunciation, search, awakening and liberation, teaching, death.” Most historians accept that he lived, taught and founded a monastic order, but do not consistently accept most details in his biographies.

"Buddhism (2)"

Buddhism is broadly recognized as being composed of two major branches:

Theravada, which has a widespread following in Southeast Asia
Mahayana (including Pure Land, Zen, Nichiren Buddhism, Shingon, Tibetan Buddhism and Tendai), found throughout East Asia. It should be noted that in some methods of classification, Vajrayana is considered a third branch.
While Buddhism remains most popular within these regions of Asia, both branches are now found throughout the world.

Buddhist schools disagree on what the historical teachings of Gautama Buddha were, so much so that some scholars claim Buddhism does not have a clearly definable common core. Significant disagreement also exists over the importance and canonicity of various scriptures.

Various sources put the number of Buddhists in the world between 230 million and 500 million.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

"Buddhism (1)"

Buddhism is a family of beliefs and practices considered by most to be a religion and is based on the teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as “The Buddha” (the Awakened One), who was born in what is today Nepal. He lived and taught in the northeastern region of the Indian subcontinent and most likely died around 400 BCE.

Buddhists recognize him as an awakened teacher who shared his insights to help sentient beings end their suffering by understanding the true nature of phenomena, thereby escaping the cycle of suffering and rebirth (saṃsāra), that is, achieving Nirvana. Among the methods various schools of Buddhism apply towards this goal are: ethical conduct and altruistic behaviour, devotional practices, ceremonies and the invocation of bodhisattvas, renunciation of worldly matters, cultivating continuous mindfulness, meditation, physical exercises, study, and the cultivation of wisdom.