TEACHINGS OF BUDDHISM

INTRODUCTION

Sixth century BC was a remarkable one in the history of mankind. It was full of spiritual unrest, and in that period, many remarkable teachers developed their points of views on the philosophy of human life. Among these were Confucius in China, Parmenides in Greece, Zarathustra in Iran, and the Buddha in India.

Lord Buddha appeared as a great teacher in India during that period, and his teachings profoundly affected both religious and moral ideas of that time and thus, acted as a powerful catalyst in transforming the then existing social conditions. These teachings were such a powerful humanist force that within 1000 years of Buddha’s death, the Buddhism had spread throughout India, Central Asia, China, Tibet, Korea, Japan and Southeast Asia.

Although not widespread in India today, Buddhism is still the living force from China to Southeast Asia, and its underlying principles have assumed new significance in the strife-torn world of today. In fact, the concept of world peace based on kindness, humanity and equality, which United Nations speaks of today, are the beliefs embodied in Buddhism.

THE BEGINNING

Buddhism was not a phenomenon arising out of vacuum. It arose out of the prevailing social conditions, intellectual atmosphere and philosophy. These were based on the view points that human salvation can only be achieved by

  • Either resorting to sacrifices, eg, animal or human sacrifices

  • Or resorting to self-mortification, eg, giving excessive hardships to own body.

Buddha examined both, exercised the later one for 6 years, and found both of them as imperfect, incomplete, not conducive to the welfare of man, and so, incapable of serving the purpose.

Gautam Buddha was born in 623 BC as a son of the ruler of Kapilavastu, a Shakya republic in the Himalayan foothills. As Siddharth, he was brought up in extreme luxury, away from all the miseries and pains of life, and had a beautiful princess Yashodhara as his wife and a lovely son Rahul. Only in his late twenties, that too by sheer coincidences, he came across the inherent truths of life, viz, pain and misery of old age, illness and death. Deeply troubled with all this, one night at the age of twenty-nine he left his comfortable life to find out the true way for achieving freedom from pains and miseries of life.

Gautam met all contemporary philosophers and teachers, and even practiced different kinds of extremely rigid self-mortification and physical torture for six years. At the end, he concluded that nothing of this sort was the way to achieve enlightenment or freedom from miseries. During this period, he however realized that he was getting closer to Truth. So, one day he sat in meditation under a Banyan tree (now known as Bodhi Tree in Bodh Gaya) with a resolution not to leave without attaining the complete Truth. In the night, he discovered a ‘cycle of twelve causes and effects’ that make the Universe as it is. No philosopher had ever thought off this law, and bringing it to the knowledge of mankind elevated Gautam to the status of Buddha.

Gautam Buddha contemplated further under the Banyan tree (now known as Bodhi Tree in Bodh Gaya) and came out with ‘four noble truths of the condition of Universe’, and ‘noble eight-fold path that leads to freedom from suffering’. With this, he then left for Sarnath near Varanasi and preached all this to his five earlier companions who had denounced him when he had left the path of self-mortification. This first preaching by Buddha set the ‘wheel of Dhamma’ in motion to end the suffering. This also was the start of Buddhism.

TEACHINGS OF BUDDHA

Buddhism is not a religion. It is a philosophy on the nature and reality of life, and thinking on the real nature and truth of human existence. Buddha recognized the actual condition of existence of everything in the world including the human beings.

  • He first established Four Noble Truths (Arya Satya) to describe this condition.

  • Like a doctor, he then established the cause through Dependent Origination (Pratitya Samutpada).

  • Lastly he established the remedy as Noble Eight-fold Path (Arya Ashtang Marg), which is also called the Middle Path (Madhyam Marg).

These are the three fundamental aspects of the teachings of Buddhism.

FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS (Arya Satya)

As the first fundamental teachings of Buddhism, the Four Noble Truths are as follows.

  1. All existence is full of suffering (dukkha): To some, this Truth may appear to be a pessimistic view of life. It must be understood that it is not so, since pessimistic view of life can only be an individual’s psychic disorder, and so, cannot be a universal view or concept. The suffering (dukkha) mentioned here is a ‘philosophical concept’. One is aware of the commonly perceived sufferings like old age, disease, decay, death, etc. Buddha clarified that even the ‘pleasures and worldly happiness’ also is a form of suffering since their end is certain, thus producing suffering. What this Truth comprehensively communicates is that everyone who exists is bound to have suffering (dukkha), irrespective of who is he or where he is. According to Buddhism, the cessation of suffering is nirvana. This state is beyond logical reasoning or description. It is not a negative condition but a positive one in which mind is totally unconditioned.

  1. All suffering has a cause: Buddha clarified that the cause of all suffering is craving (trishna), especially for happiness – a unique concept.

  1. Suffering can be ended: Buddha assured that anyone’s suffering (dukkha) can be ended, but the only way is to remove the cause, i.e. craving (trishna). This is just contrary to the general belief that some other ‘appropriate’ actions or accomplishments can remove the suffering. Buddha tells that this is just not possible, since the desired effect can not be achieved without handling its cause.

  1. There is a way to end the suffering: As the last Truth, Buddha told that the craving (trishna) can be eliminated to end the suffering (dukkha) and attaining supreme peace (nirvana) by taking the eight-fold path (madhyam marg). This approach of middle path is to avoid the two extremes of ‘ascetism’ and ‘materialistic hedonism’.

DEPENDENT ORIGINATION (Pratitya Samutpada).

According to second fundamental teaching of Buddhism, the continuous existence of a being is like a wheel of causes and effects. The ignorance gives rise to actions, then in turn come consciousness, phenomena, the six senses (viz. contact, feelings, craving, grasping, becoming, birth), and lastly the suffering. Thus, the teaching of Dependent Origination tells us that that ignorance is the primary root-cause of all suffering.

So, if the last effect (i.e. suffering) is to be destroyed, the primary cause (i.e. ignorance) must be destroyed, and the way for this is the Eight-fold Path.

NOBLE EIGHT-FOLD-PATH (Arya Ashtang Marg) or MIDDLE PATH (Madhyam Marg).

Buddhism teaches us eight steps that remove the suffering and lead to nirvan. Each of these paths is prefixed by the word samyak that is translated in English as ‘right’. It must be noted that this word does not mean ‘righteous’ in Buddhism. Rather, it connotes ‘correct’ and ‘total’. It is a direction towards being open and attentive to the present. Moreover, each of these ‘rights’ implies and requires the other seven, in the sense that all of these are interdependent.

The Noble Eightfold Path is also called Middle Path because Buddha taught the avoidance of two extremes of self-mortification as well as self-indulgence. He maintained that neither extreme lead to the end of suffering and enlightenment. Only the avoidance of extremes or the Middle Path led to knowledge, vision, tranquility and nirvana.

The eight steps of Middle Path are:

  1. Right view (samyak drishti): It enjoins one to get rid of all superstitions, views, notions, etc that are forced onto oneself, and instead being reasonable, open and flexible.

  2. Right mental resolve (samyak sankalp): With right view, one moves on to acquire right mental resolve, which comprehensively involves ones body, feelings, thoughts, and mind-objects.

  3. Right speech (samyak vachan): Right speech is important since every action is preceded by speech. Words free from lies, anger, abuse, calumny, frivolity and slander are the right speech that is followed by right resolve.

  4. Right action (samyak karma): Abstinence from killing, stealing, indulgence in passions and intoxication is the negative aspect of right action while charity, truth, service and kindness constitute its positive aspect.

  5. Right livelihood (samyak jeevika): As the outcome of right action, earning the livelihood without causing suffering to anybody and through the goodwill of everybody is right livelihood.

  6. Right effort (samyak vayam): Endeavor for mental and moral elevation is right effort. This means discarding the existing evils, preventing the oncoming of fresh evils, developing the good that has not yet arisen and promoting the good that has already risen.

  7. Right mindfulness (samyak sati): It is the constant attention paid to the activities and weaknesses of one’s body, feelings, thoughts and mind. Any slackness towards this invariably leads to some or the other slip.

  8. Right concentration (samyak samadhi): This last step enjoins one to fix all the mental faculties on a single object, which is the chosen path of oneself.

First two steps are grouped under WISDOM, next three under MORALITY and last three under CONCENTRATION.

In addition to the Dependent origination, Noble Truths and Eightfold Path, Buddha also elaborated on practice of the modes of sublime states (Brahma Vihars) and theory of karma and rebirth.

MODES OF SUBLIME STATES (Brahma Vihars)

Buddha pointed out that anger, cruelty, jealousy, attachment to the pleasurable and aversion to non-pleasurable are the vices inherent in man. These cause individual as well social suffering destroying peach and harmony. In order to subdue these vices and promote peace and harmony in individual as well as social spheres, he taught practice of the modes of sublime states i.e. four Brahma Vihars. These are:

  1. Loving-kindness (Metta) : To subdue anger, loving-kindness towards all without exception should be developed and nurtured with sincere effort. This leads to abolition of fear and establishment of peace and harmony among all. Practice of absolute non-violence is essential for this Brahma Vihar.

  1. Compassion (Karuna) : The vice of cruelty can be removed by cultivating compassion all without exception. Selfless service for removing the woes of others is the chief characteristics of karuna.

  1. Joy (Mudita) : Jealousy is the vice that leads to unnecessary competition and rivalry resulting ultimately to conflict. Cultivation of the habit of joy in everything and every situation destroys this vice. This brahma vihar requires greater personal effort as compared to metta and karuna.

  1. Equanimity (Upekka) : Attachment to pleasurable and aversion to non-pleasurable are also universal vices. For the removal of these, Buddha advised practice of equanimity towards everything including pleasure and pain. As all the things and conditions in the world are transient and impermanent, wise one totally disregards attachment or aversion these.

THEORY OF KARMA AND REBIRTH

The theory was established since ancient times in India. Buddha accepted both these concepts. The theory lays down that the deeds (karmas) of this life determine the state of life in the next rebirth. A karma or deed may be mental, oral or physical. Its nature is judged by its accompanying volition. Involuntary or unconscious acts are not treated as karma. However, theory of karma was highly developed by Buddha and later by his followers. Unlike ancient conception, Buddhist doctrine of karma holds that a being possesses the freedom to act irrespective of his acts in his previous births. Existence in any conditions, good or bad, in this life is impermanent. Although existence in good conditions is better and can be achieved by good karma, best is freedom from karma i.e. naishkarmya leading to Arhatship and consequently to nirvana.

Buddha was opposed to caste distinctions by birth supposed to be established divinely according to the karmas of previous birth. He also opposed elaborate rites, ceremonies and sacrifices associated with religious practice. Such acts were not included in the category of good karma by Buddha.

CONCLUSION

Buddha taught everyone to be virtuous and wise without any distinction of any kind whatsoever. His Dhamma is not a dogmatic, elaborate system of rites, rules or methods of prayer but a way of life enjoining purity of thought, speech and action.

All the teachings of Buddhism are an evidence of logical reasoning and practical wisdom of Buddha. These teachings have philosophical, moral and ethical components intricately and inseparably interwoven into a composite whole. It is difficult to understand one aspect of these teachings without understanding the others.

It would not be wrong to conclude that Buddha was the first rationalist of the world who asserted that one was one’s own saviour through actions and master through the will and volition without reference to any outside power. For the last 2500 years, his teachings enshrined in Buddhism have shown the path towards enlightened human life, both at personal and social levels. In the modern world of increasing personal, communal and social disharmony, teachings of Buddhism may be the only hope of future.

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