Monday, 21 May 2012

Buddhism, The Dharma of Buddhas

La Via Del Nirvana by Gedun Tharchin - English translation of the first chapter.

Buddhism, The Dharma of Buddhas

Every time we get in touch with something new, something different than we have direct knowledge and experience of, we spontaneously react to it with fear and suspicion. This happens because we do not yet understand it. Anyhow, fear and suspiciousness can be a hindrance to our understanding.

During the time when the Buddha was deepening his knowledge, he was often confronted with doubts and criticism about his teachings. The Buddha, responded to whoever approached him expressing their doubts regarding his teachings by saying: “You will always entertain doubts and uncertainties about things you have not experienced yourselves. Therefore I am asking you to come along and check up for yourselves before you decide whether to accept what I am teaching or not”.

Similarly, you who are reading will have to understand what the Buddha said before you make up your mind about whether it is appropriate or not to accept its foundation. During forty-five years the Buddha has given us many teachings. If by studying and investigating you come across some teachings that bring you benefit then make them your teachings and abandon the parts you consider to be superfluous or not very convincing.

The Dharma, Buddha’s teaching, is a way of life which is based on the cultivation of Wisdom; therefore, in reality, if one wishes to practise the way of Buddhism, one does not necessarily have to become a Buddhist.The Buddha often said: “I am only a guide showing you the way to Liberation, you will have to be the ones to attain Liberation yourselves.”

Buddha therefore is not considered a liberator of mankind. He is a teacher and a guide whose example can be followed by whoever wishes to.

During all his lives the Buddha has accumulated so much morality and many practises of ascetism until his efforts became successful and allowed him to reach Enlightenment. If we too want to separate from ties and suffering and wish to achieve Wisdom and Enlightenment, we can follow his example, whatever the conditions we find ourselves in life are.

Even if the Buddha cannot save anyone he represents an inspiring example of the way we can attain the Wisdom leading to Enlightenment and Liberation. Whoever wishes to truly deepen the principles of the Dharma will have to do it with an open and inquisitive mind. That is how any initial sense of suspiciousness eventually disappears. When judgement is not conditioned by distrust fear will be dispelled.

According to the Dharma the effect of turning to the Buddha as an authority, as a teacher, comes about from having critically investigated and examined his essential teaching: The Four Noble Truths. Only after having checked up on the authenticity and reliability of his doctrine can we accept the Buddha as our trustworthy guide. Only at this point we will be able to state “I take refuge in the Buddha”.

The Buddha once said: Everyone is their own saviour or their own enemy.” This statement is valid for all of us: when we try to cultivate goodness and positive thoughts we save ourselves, on the other hand, when we allow negativities to dominate us we destroy ourselves.”

According to Buddhist scriptures the world as we know it is created by the ripening of the force of our previous actions, our karma. Whichever of our actions leave an imprint in our mental continuum, it will be the imprint contributing to our future development. Buddhists believe that the aim of every sentient being is to attain Enlightenment, or Buddhahood, which is an internal state of happiness and ultimate well-being.Following Buddha’s teachings implies the intent to define the problems we encounter in daily life and to indicate the way to solve them. According to this doctrine, pain and discomfort that afflict our society are of two types: physical and mental.

In this context the Buddha stated that, even if one is free of physical pain for a long time, there is no being in Samsara, or mundane existence, who is free of mental discomfort. Discomfort is defined by the state we find ourselves in when we have been harmed. When desire, anger and jealousy arise, they cause discomfort in our minds. All beings are social: it is a fact that no one can live outside society. Every time our senses come into contact with an object we perceive we react with pleasure or disgust, desire or aversion. Every time negative emotions arise within us we feel discomfort.

If we experience pain or unhappiness we complain. It is at that point that negative emotions run through our consciousness. When someone opposes us we get upset, and this does not only happen due to the other person’s behaviour, but also because we easily fall prey to anger. If these feelings were not part of us we would not develop them when dealing with actions or words we get confronted with. The Buddha said that we are responsible for our suffering as well as for our happiness: we are the ones who create paradise or hell. By using a metaphor we could therefore consider the Buddha to be an amazing doctor, the one who has diagnosed our illness and has been able to prescribe the appropriate cure. Consequently, he becomes our refuge.

Dharma is the medicine prescribed by the Buddha.The Dharma presents three aspects:
Sila morality;
Samadhi concentration;
Prajna Wisdom.

Generally speaking Sila stands for ethic rule. Traditionally these ethic rules are collected in the form of various precepts, aimed to help the conduct of lay people or Sangha. Furthermore there are Pratimoksha precepts, also known as individual Liberation vows of the Small Vehicle (also known as Hinayana), the Bodhisattva precepts, known as vows for the universal Liberation of the Great Vehicle (Mahayana), and the Tantric vows belonging to the mystical tradition of Buddhism (Vajrayana).

Sila, or morality, basically means not to do any harm. None of our actions or words should be used to cause harm or discomfort to another sentient being. The very moment we cause harm to a being and we make them unhappy we fail to meet Sila.

The Buddha taught to treat even the lowest creature as we would like to be treated ourselves.Therefore, Buddhist history, theory and practice can be summarized into two principles:Development of a world vision based on the understanding of dependent origination of all events;The practise of a non-violent, compassionate and innocent way of life follows from that.Samadhi, or concentration corresponds to Meditation. Meditation is the method that allows us to control our emotions, thought and feelings in daily life. If we are not able to watch our mind and our feelings how can we be faithful to ethic vows then? 

Whatever virtuous action we do we have to remember that the Dhammapada starts like this:
The mind is the predecessor of any negative state of mind, the mind prevails. 
Whoever speaks or acts with a corrupted mind will endure suffering.
Whoever speaks or acts with a pure mind will be accompanied by happiness.”

The Buddha also said:
The conquest of millions of enemies in a battle is not a real conquest.In reality, the most noble hero is the one who conquers himself.”

Prajna, Wisdom, in this context means the understanding of the true nature of our life. When we realise that existence is changeable in its nature, full of suffering and empty of a permanent self, such cognition can chase away all our negative energies: when Wisdom arises it is possible to eradicate all faults and latent negative dispositions. It is comparable to light appearing to dissipate darkness. Such form of Wisdom can be achieved through meditation and represents the method Dharma uses to cure our suffering.

Whoever practices Sila, Samadhi and Prajna and through practising those means has at some level purified their mind, can be said to have entered the Sangha, the holy community. If we want to be cured from our disease we have to follow the example of the Sangha community and take refuge in it.By understanding the real meaning of taking refuge in the Three Jewels one will comprehend that in fact Buddhism does not exist. Whoever holds the wish to cure their own discomfort can and must practise the triple Dharma; whoever practises it will lead a pure and happy life.

The essence of Buddha’s teachings is summarized as follows in verse 183 of the Dhammapada:
This is the Buddha’s teaching,
Learn to do good actions.
Stop doing bad actions.
Make your mind pure.

Therefore Buddhists affirm that Wisdom and Compassion are complementary virtues and that they should be cultivated contemporaneously if one wishes to attain the Ultimate Truth. Ultimate truth does not depend on time or space, on culture or geopolitics even though mankind can express it very differently. In his first teaching the Buddha introduced the Four Noble Truths and the Gospel also says: “Get to know the truth, knowing the truth will set you free.”

Attaining knowledge of the Truth is the most worthy scope for being a human, anywhere and in any time the knowledge of the Truth cannot be realised through blind faith. “Seeing is believing”, this is the rule of the profound vision no one should neglect.

For this purpose I would like to present to you with a short anecdote. The famous Buddhist sovereign Ashoka who lived in India in the third century before Christ, got to write the following decree on a marble column that was put in a special place in Sarnath, near Benares: Whoever does not respect other people’s religion does not respect their own. Whoever respects other people’s religion also respects their own.” I am convinced of the truth of this statement and this conviction is one of my principal practices.  

As long as space remains, As long as sentient beings remain, Until then, may I too remain. And dispel the miseries of the world.

i Buddha: from bodhi which means awakening; the one who attains Awakening: Lit. the Awakened.

ii Sangha: in a close sense it stands for the community of monks and nuns; in a broader sense it indicates the whole Buddhist community formed by religious and lay people.