Sunday, March 22, 2015

Reconnecting with Buddhism, Part 1

I'm in the process of re-learning Buddhism, starting from the beginning. The material i'm reading right now is "The Art of Living" by S.N. Goenka. 

 The source of suffering lies within each of us. When we understand our own reality, we will recognize the solution to the problem of suffering. “Know thyself,” all wise persons have advised. We must begin by knowing our own nature; otherwise we can never solve our own problems or the problems of the world. But, actually, what do we really know about ourselves?

We are each convinced of the importance of ourselves, of the uniqueness of ourselves, but our knowledge of ourselves is only superficial. At deeper levels, we do not know ourselves at all. The Buddha examined the phenomenon of a human being by examining his own nature. Laying aside all preconceptions, he explored the reality within and realized that every being is a composite of five processes, four of them mental and one physical. The first one is matter.

Let's begin with the physical aspect. This is the most obvious, the most apparent portion of ourselves, readily perceived by all the senses. And yet how little we really know about it. Superficiallywe can control our bodies: it moves and acts according to the conscious will. But on another level, all the internal organs function beyond our control, without our knowledge. At a subtler level, we know nothing, experientially, of the incessant biochemical reactions occurring within each cell of the body. But this is still not the ultimate reality of the material phenomenon.

Ultimately the seemingly solid body is composed of subatomic particles and empty space. What's more, even these subatomic particles have no real solidity; the existence span of one of them is much less than a trillionth of a second. Particles continuously arise and vanish, passing into and out of existence, like a flow of vibrations. This is the ultimate reality of the body, of all matter, discovered by the Buddha 2500 years ago.

Through their own investigations, modern scientists have recognized and accepted this ultimate reality of the material universe. However, these scientists have not necessarily become liberated, enlightened persons. Out of curiosity they have investigated the nature of the universe, using their intellects and relying on instruments to verify their theories. In contrast, the Buddha was motivated not simply by curiosity but rather by the wish to find a way out of suffering. He used no instruments in his investigation other than his own mind.

The truth that he discovered was the result not of intellectualizing but of his own direct experience, and that is why it could liberate him. He found that the entire material universe was composed of particles, called in the ancient language of Pāli, kalāpas, or “indivisible units.”

These units exhibit in endless variation the basic qualities of matter: mass, cohesion, temperature, and movement. They combine to form structures which seem to have some permanence. But actually these are all composed of minuscule kalāpas which are in a state of continuously arising and passing away. This is the ultimate reality of matter: a constant stream of waves or particles. This is the body which we each call “myself.”