Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Truth 3

Basic Buddhism

The Pancha Shila

The Pancha Shila, or five moral precepts: 1. Avoid killing, or harming any living thing.

2. Avoid stealing -- taking what is not yours to take.

3. Avoid sexual irresponsibility, which for monks and nuns means celibacy.

4. Avoid lying, or any hurtful speech.

5. Avoid alcohol and drugs which diminish clarity of consciousness. To these, monks and nuns add...

6. One simple meal a day, before noon.

7. Avoid frivolous entertainments.

8. Avoid self-adornment.

9. Use a simple bed and seat.

10. Avoid the use of money. Full monastic life adds over two hundred more rules and regulations!

The Paramita

The Perfections or Virtues -- noble qualities that we should all strive to achieve. Here are two versions:

1. Generosity (P: dana) 2. Moral discipline (P: sila) 3. Patience and tolerance (P: khanti) 4. Wisdom or (full-) consciousness (P: pañña) 5. Energy (P: viriya) 6. Renunciation (P: nekkhamma) 7. Truthfulness (P: sacca) 8. Determination (P: adhitthana) 9. Loving kindness (P: metta) 10. Equanimity (P: upekkha) 1. Generosity (dana) 2. Moral discipline (shila) 3. Patience and tolerance (kshanti) 4. Energy (virya) 5. Meditation (dhyana) 6. Wisdom or (full-) consciousness (prajña) 7. Skilled methods (upaya) 8. Vow or resolution (pranidhana) 9. The ten powers or special abilities (dashabala) 10. Knowledge (jñana)

The Brahma Vihara

The Brahma Vihara are the four "sublime states" to which we all should aspire. They are the great signs of the Bodhisattva, who vows to remain in samsara -- this world of pain and sorrow -- until all creation can be brought into the state of Nirvana together.

1. Maitri is caring, loving kindness displayed to all you meet.

2. Karuna is compassion or mercy, the kindness shown to those who suffer.

3. Mudita is sympathetic joy, being happy for others, without a trace of envy.

4. Upeksa is equanimity or peacefulness, the ability to accept the ups and downs of life with equal dispassion.

The Sigalovada Sutta

This Sutra is a record of the words of the Buddha to Sigalo, a young middle class man, who was on his way to worship the six directions, east, west, north, south, up, and down. His father had died and asked him to worship in this very ancient fashion in remembrance of him. The Buddha, wishing this ritual to have more meaning for the young man, advised him in detail about how to live a good life as a layman. He phrased himself, as he apparently so often did, using lists, and begins by warning him against many of the evils of the layman's life.

The four vices:

1. The destruction of life 2. Stealing 3. Sexual misconduct 4. Lying

The four things which lead to evil:

1. Desire, meaning greed, lust, clinging 2. Anger and hatred 3. Ignorance 4. Fear and anxiety

The six ways one dissipates ones wealth:

1. Drinking and drugs 2. Carousing late at night 3. Wasting away your time at shows 4. Gambling 5. Keeping bad company 6. Laziness

And he provides details regarding these last six that demonstrate the manners in which drink, etc., lead to one's downfall.

Then he provides a lesson on friendship -- how to distinguish good friends from bad friends.

There are four types that are not really your friends, but will make your life miserable in the long run:

1. The leech who appropriates your possessions 2. The bull-shitter who manipulates you 3. The boot-licker who flatters you 4. The party-animal who encourages you to do the same

A good friend, on the other hand, is one who...

1. is always ready to help you 2. is steady and loyal 3. provides good advice 4. is sympathetic

The Buddha even gives some advice regarding one's finances:

1. One quarter of your earnings should be used to cover, your expenses. 2. Two quarters should be re-invested in your business. 3. One quarter should be put into savings for times of need.

Finally, the Buddha discusses how one might best benefit from worshipping the six directions.

Regarding the east, a child should be good to his or her parents: support them, help them, keep their traditions, be worthy of your inheritance, and offer alms in their honor when they die.

A parent should be good to his or her children as well: keep them from getting into trouble, encourage them to be good, train them for a profession, make sure they are suitably married, and provide a good inheritance.

Regarding the south, a student should be good to his or her teachers: show respect, work hard, and be eager to learn.

A teacher should be good to his or her students: teach them well, make sure they understand, help them achieve their goals.

Regarding the west, a husband should be good to his wife: treat her well, be faithful to her, share authority with her, and give her jewelry ;-)

A wife should be good to her husband: be gracious, faithful, industrious, and frugal.

Regarding the north, a friend should be good to his or her friends: be generous, helpful, loyal, protective, and so on.

Regarding the nadir ("down"), an employer should be good to his or her employees: assign work according to their abilities, provide food and wages, take care of them when they are sick, share delicacies with them, and grant them occasional leave.

Employees should be good to their employers: Get to work early, leave late, perform their duties well, don't pilfer from the supply closet, and uphold their employer's good name.

And finally, regarding the zenith ("up"), lay people should be good to people who have devoted themselves to the spiritual life: kind deeds, kind words, kind thoughts, opening one's home to them, and supplying them with their physical needs.

And people in the spiritual life should be good to lay people: keep them from doing evil, encourage them to do good, make sure they hear the dharma, clarify what they don't understand, point out the way, and generally love them. Keep these relationships in mind, he tells Sigalovada, and the ritual your father asked you to keep will have greater benefits than he ever dreamed of. Although some of the details may be a bit dated -- it has been some 2500 years, after all -- it can still serve quite well as a guide to moral behavior for the common man or woman of today!

Buddha concludes with a poem:H

Who is wise and virtuous, Gentle and keen-witted, Humble and amenable, Such a one to honor may attain. Who is energetic and not indolent, In misfortune unshaken, Flawless in manner and intelligent, Such a one to honor may attain.

Who is hospitable and friendly, Liberal and unselfish, A guide, an instructor, a leader, Such a one to honor may attain.

Generosity, sweet speech, Helpfulness to others, Impartiality to all, As the case demands.

The Ten Duties of a King

(from the Pali Jatakas)

But the common man or woman is not the only one for whom Buddha provides guidance...

1. Dana: Liberality, generosity, charity, concern with the welfare of the people. 2. Sila: High moral character, observing at least the Five Precepts. 3. Parccaga: Willing to sacrifice everything for the people -- comfort, fame, even his life. 4. Ajjava: Honesty and integrity, not fearing some or favoring others. 5. Maddava: Kindness and gentleness. 6. Tapa: Austerity, content in the simple life. 7. Akkodha: Free from hatred, ill-will, and anger. 8. Avihimsa: Non-violence, a commitment to peace. 9. Khanti: Patience, tolerance, and the ability to understand others’ perspectives. 10. Avirodha: Non-obstruction, ruling in harmony with the will of the people and in their best interests. The Buddha's Words on Kindness (Metta Sutta)

This is what should be done By one who is skilled in goodness, And who knows the path of peace: Let them be able and upright, Straightforward and gentle in speech. Humble and not conceited, Contented and easily satisfied. Unburdened with duties and frugal in their ways. Peaceful and calm, and wise and skillful, Not proud and demanding in nature. Let them not do the slightest thing That the wise would later reprove. Wishing: In gladness and in saftey, May all beings be at ease. Whatever living beings there may be; Whether they are weak or strong, omitting none, The great or the mighty, medium, short or small, The seen and the unseen, Those living near and far away, Those born and to-be-born, May all beings be at ease!

Let none deceive another, Or despise any being in any state. Let none through anger or ill-will Wish harm upon another. Even as a mother protects with her life Her child, her only child, So with a boundless heart Should one cherish all living beings: Radiating kindness over the entire world Spreading upwards to the skies, And downwards to the depths; Outwards and unbounded, Freed from hatred and ill-will. Whether standing or walking, seated or lying down Free from drowsiness, One should sustain this recollection. This is said to be the sublime abiding. By not holding to fixed views, The pure-hearted one, having clarity of vision, Being freed from all sense desires, Is not born again into this world.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Truth 2

More basic Buddhism


Samsara is this world, filled as it is with so much pain and sorrow.  All beings in this world are subject to the law of karma. Karma means volitional act, that is, something you do, say, or think that is in fact in your control.  Any such act has moral consequences, called vipaka, which means fruit.  In traditional Buddhism, this consequences can occur in this life, or in a future life.

Most Buddhists believe in rebirth.  For many, rebirth is no different from what the Hindus believed, i.e. reincarnation or transmigration -- moving from one's old body at death to a new body at birth or conception.  A little more precisely, rebirth is nothing more than the transmission of one's karma.  Buddha likened it to the flame that passes from one candle to another.  So the idea of an immortal soul, a continuing personality, is definitely not part of the rebirth idea.

Rebirth and similar concepts are not a part of most westerners' cultures, so many western Buddhists, as well as some eastern Buddhists, take rebirth as a metaphor, rather than literally.  Buddhism has never been a particularly literalist religion, so this is not at all taboo.  In fact, Buddha often avoids discussing the reality of one metaphysical idea or another as irrelevant to the practice of the Dharma.

Tibetan Wheel of Life
The image to the right is the Tibetan Wheel of Life mythology, which represents Samsara.  In the very center, there is a rooster chasing a pig chasing a snake chasing the rooster -- craving, hatred, and ignorance.  Around that are people ascending the white semicircle of life, and others descending the black semicircle of death.  The greatest portion of the Wheel is devoted to representations of the six realms -- the realm of the gods, the realm of the titans, the realm of humans, the realm of animals, the realm of the hungry ghosts, and the realm of demons -- each realm looked over by its own boddhisattva.  The outermost circle is the 12 steps of dependent origination.  The entire Wheel is held by Yama, the Lord of Death.


This is dependent origination, also known as conditioned arising, interdependent arising, conditional nexus, causal nexus....  It refers to the idea that, as long as we remain ignorant, clinging, and hateful, we will continue to create karma, and so continue to be reborn into this world full of suffering and pain.  It is described using the metaphor of a wheel of life, wherein one thing inevitably leads to another.

“All psychological and physical phenomena constituting individual existence are interdependent and mutually condition each other...” which is what entangles us in samsara. (The Encyclopedia of Eastern Philosophy and Religion)

1.  Ignorance (avidya).  "A" is ignorant of the dharma.  The blind man cannot see the truth

2.  Impulses (samskara).  "A" therefore has intentions (karma), good, bad, or neutral, and acts on them.  A potter creates a new pot from clay and water.

3.  Consciousness (vijñana).  These create a new conscious being, "B," who enters a womb.  A monkey, with no self control, jumps from one branch to another.

4.  Name and form (namarupa).  "B" takes form.  Three or four men in a boat:  The body is the vehicle that carries us through life.

5.  The six bases (shadayatana).  "B" comes into a world of objects ready to be experienced.  House with doors and windows:  The senses let in the world, like windows let light into a house.

6.  Contact (sparsha).  "B" has contact with that world of objects.  Lovers symbolize the intimate contact between world and mind.

7.  Sensation (vedana).  "B" has perceptions of that world of objects.  A man with an arrow in his eye:  Sensations can be so strong that they blind us to the truth.

8.  Craving (trishna).  "B’s" perceptions give rise to desires.  A man drinking:  The promise of satisfaction only leads to intoxication.

9.  Clinging (upadana).  Desire leads "B" to cling to life, even at death.  Like a monkey clinging to a fruit tree, we cling to things.

10.  Becoming (bhava).  And another conscious being, "C," is begun. A pregnant woman:  A new life has begun.

11.  Birth (jati).  Thus, "C" is born.  A woman gives birth.

12.  Old age and death (jara-maranam).  And "C’s" birth leads inevitably to his or her old age and death. An old man carries a corpse to its resting place.

And the cycle continues, one thing leading to another....


The Ten Fetters (Samyojana) bind us to samsara.

1.  Belief in a separate personality or individuality (drishti)
2.  Doubt that has no desire for satisfaction (vichikitsa)
3.  Uncritical attachment to rules and rituals (silabbata-paramasa)
4.  Sensuous craving (kama-raga)
5.  Ill will, wishing harm on others (vyapada)
6.  Craving for a higher material existence (rupa-raga)
7.  Craving for non-material existence (arupa-raga)
8.  Conceit or egotism (mana)
9.  Restlessness (udhacca)
10.  Ignorance (avidya)


Dharmas are the ultimate elements or particles of the universe .  A little like atoms, they are very small, but they exist for only a split second, in keeping with the doctrine of impermanence. And while atoms are purely material, dharmas include all phenomena, mental and physical.  I like to think of them as little flashes of colored light, and I would translate the word as scintilla.  Don’t get confused between these and the Dharma, meaning the teachings of the Buddha!

Like the ancient Greeks, the ancient Buddhists thought there were four basic elements:  earth, water, air, and fire.  The dharma theory turns these elements into qualities, or even verbs:  fire becomes hot becomes burning; air becomes cool becomes blowing....  Ultimately, then, all “things” are nothing more than bundles of these qualities or actions, and are “empty” inside.  This led to one of the most important ideas of the Madhyamaka School of Mahayana Buddhism:  Shunyata, which means emptiness.

In Mahayana Buddhism, the dharmas were considered something more like phenomena than atoms, and the Yogachara School took the change even further, and considered them something more like ideas in the universal mind. 

The Skandhas

Skandhas or aggregates are the parts of the self.  Sometimes they are called the aggregates of attachment, which bring about suffering.  Just like a car is nothing more than the sum of its parts, so we are nothing more than the sum of our parts.  There is no atman, meaning soul, self, or ego, holding the pieces together.  Nevertheless, just like the car can run despite being nothing but a collection of pieces, so we can live as a person.

Traditionally, there are five skandhas:

1.  The body, matter or form (rupa).  Includes the body and the sense organs.

2.  Feelings or sensations (vedana).  Pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral feelings, coming out of contact between sense organs and objects, plus out of the contact between mind (manas) and mental objects (ideas, images...).

3.  Thoughts or perceptions (samjña).  Recognition of objects -- form, sound, smell, taste, bodily impressions, mental objects.

4.  Will, mental acts, or mental formations (samskara).  Volition, attention, discrimination, joy, happiness, equanimity, resolve, exertion, compulsion, concentration, etc.

5.  Consciousness (vijñana).  Awareness prior to recognition -- seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, kinesthesia, ideation.

The last four are called naman, name, meaning the psyche. Namarupa (name-form) is therefore the buddhist term for the person, mental and physical, which is nevertheless anatman, without soul or essence.

Ayatana is the six fields of naman: sight, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, and mind, as well as the objects of these six senses.

The Yogachara school adds alaya-vijñana, a “storehouse” consciousness, similar to Jung’s idea of the collective unconscious.  What is stored there are called bijas or seeds, which are inborn and result from our karmic history.  They combine with manas or ego-mind to form the illusion of ordinary existence.  By stilling mind, storehouse consciousness becomes identical with tathagata, “suchness,” or the Buddha-mind.

Chitta means mind or consciousness.  In Yogachara, everything is ultimately chitta.  For this reason, Yogachara is also called the chitta-matra, “nothing but consciousness,” or idealistic school.


The basics of Buddhism.

The Four Noble Truths

1. Life is suffering

2. Suffering is due to attachment;

3. Attachment can be overcome;

4. There is a path for accomplishing this.

1. Suffering is perhaps the most common translation for the Sanskrit word duhkha, which can also be translated as imperfect, stressful, or filled with anguish.

Contributing to the anguish is anitya -- the fact that all things are impermanent, including living things like ourselves.

Furthermore, there is the concept of anatman -- literally, "no soul". Anatman means that all things are interconnected and interdependent, so that no thing -- including ourselves -- has a separate existence.

2. Attachment is a common translation for the word trishna, which literally means thirst and is also translated as desire, clinging, greed, craving, or lust. Because we and the world are imperfect, impermanent, and not separate, we are forever "clinging" to things, each other, and ourselves, in a mistaken effort at permanence.

Besides trishna, there is dvesha, which means avoidance or hatred. Hatred is its own kind of clinging.

And finally there is avidya, ignorance or the refusal to see. Not fully understanding the impermanence of things is what leads us to cling in the first place.

3. Perhaps the most misunderstood term in Buddhism is the one which refers to the overcoming of attachment: nirvana. It literally means "blowing out," but is often thought to refer to either a Buddhist heaven or complete nothingness. Actually, it refers to the letting go of clinging, hatred, and ignorance, and the full acceptance of imperfection, impermanence, and interconnectedness.

4. And then there is the path, called dharma. Buddha called it the middle way, which is understood as meaning the middle way between such competing philosophies as materialism and idealism, or hedonism and asceticism. This path, this middle way, is elaborated as the eightfold path.

The Eightfold Path

1. Right view is the true understanding of the four noble truths.

2. Right aspiration is the true desire to free oneself from attachment, ignorance, and hatefulness.These two are referred to as prajña, or wisdom.

3. Right speech involves abstaining from lying, gossiping, or hurtful talk.

4. Right action involves abstaining from hurtful behaviors, such as killing, stealing, and careless sex.

5. Right livelihood means making your living in such a way as to avoid dishonesty and hurting others, including animals. These three are referred to as shila, or morality.

6. Right effort is a matter of exerting oneself in regards to the content of one's mind: Bad qualities should be abandoned and prevented from arising again; Good qualities should be enacted and nurtured.

7. Right mindfulness is the focusing of one's attention on one's body, feelings, thoughts, and consciousness in such a way as to overcome craving, hatred, and ignorance.

8. Right concentration is meditating in such a way as to progressively realize a true understanding of imperfection, impermanence, and non-separateness. The last three are known as samadhi, or meditation.

The Kalama Sutta

In the Kalama Sutta, we find the Kalamas, a people of apparently skeptical natures, asking Buddha for guidance in distinguishing good teachers from bad ones, and proper teachings from evil ones. The Buddha answers in three parts, which are treasures of wisdom. First, he outlines the criteria we should use to distinguish good from bad teachers and teachings:

"It is proper for you, Kalamas, to doubt, to be uncertain.... Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another's seeming ability; nor upon the consideration, 'The monk is our teacher....'

"What do you think, Kalamas? Does greed appear in a man for his benefit or harm? Does hate appear in a man for his benefit or harm? Does delusion appear in a man for his benefit or harm?" -- "For his harm, venerable sir." -- "Kalamas, being given to greed, hate, and delusion, and being overwhelmed and vanquished mentally by greed, hate, and delusion, this man takes life, steals, commits adultery, and tells lies; he prompts another too, to do likewise. Will that be long for his harm and ill?" -- "Yes, venerable sir...."

"Kalamas, when you yourselves know: 'These things are bad; these things are blamable; these things are censured by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to harm and ill,' abandon them.

Next, Buddha presents The Four Exalted Dwellings or Brahma Vihara:p

"The disciple of the Noble Ones, Kalamas, who in this way is devoid of coveting, devoid of ill will, undeluded, clearly comprehending and mindful, dwells, having pervaded, with the thought of amity, all corners of the universe; he dwells, having pervaded because of the existence in it of all living beings, everywhere, the entire world, with the great, exalted, boundless thought of amity that is free of hate or malice.

"He lives, having pervaded, with the thought of compassion, all corners of the universe; he dwells, having pervaded because of the existence in it of all living beings, everywhere, the entire world, with the great, exalted, boundless thought of compassion that is free of hate or malice.

"He lives, having pervaded, with the thought of gladness, all corners of the universe; he dwells, having pervaded because of the existence in it of all living beings, everywhere, the entire world, with the great, exalted, boundless thought of gladness that is free of hate or malice.

"He lives, having pervaded, with the thought of equanimity, all corners of the universe; he dwells, having pervaded because of the existence in it of all living beings, everywhere, the entire world, with the great, exalted, boundless thought of equanimity that is free of hate or malice

And finally, Buddha reveals how, no matter what our philosophical orientation, following this path will lead to happiness, The Four Solaces:

"The disciple of the Noble Ones, Kalamas, who has such a hate-free mind, such a malice-free mind, such an undefiled mind, and such a purified mind, is one by whom four solaces are found here and now.

"'Suppose there is a hereafter and there is a fruit, result, of deeds done well or ill. Then it is possible that at the dissolution of the body after death, I shall arise in the heavenly world, which is possessed of the state of bliss.' This is the first solace found by him.

"'Suppose there is no hereafter and there is no fruit, no result, of deeds done well or ill. Yet in this world, here and now, free from hatred, free from malice, safe and sound, and happy, I keep myself.' This is the second solace found by him.

"'Suppose evil (results) befall an evil-doer. I, however, think of doing evil to no one. Then, how can ill (results) affect me who do no evil deed?' This is the third solace found by him.

"'Suppose evil (results) do not befall an evil-doer. Then I see myself purified in any case.' This is the fourth solace found by him.

"The disciple of the Noble Ones, Kalamas, who has such a hate-free mind, such a malice-free mind, such an undefiled mind, and such a purified mind, is one by whom, here and now, these four solaces are found." (quotations adapted from The Anguttara Nikaya 3.65, Soma Thera Trans., emphases added.)

For other original sutras concerning the basics of Buddhist wisdom, see the following: