Introduction to Buddhism

Buddhism is a way of life, a path of life, a philosophy of life, and spiritual development, which aims at the cessation of ignorance and suffering.

This Darsana was founded by Buddha, around 550 BCE, in India. Today Buddhism is spread over the world and there are around 370 million Buddhists. This number is growing day by day and most of them are Westerners. This increase in Buddhist belivers, I believe, is a sign of rediscovery of human harmony and the importance of ethical life in a world which it seems has forgotten it. I say this because Buddhism does not include the idea of worshipping a creator god, some people do not see it as a religion in the normal, Western sense. The basic tenets of Buddhist teaching are straightforward and practical: nothing is fixed or permanent; actions have consequences; change is possible. Thus Buddhism addresses itself to all people irrespective of race, nationality, or gender. It teaches practical methods (such as meditation) which enable people to realise and utilise its teachings in order to transform their experience, to be fully responsible for their lives and to develop the qualities of Wisdom and Compassion.

It is believed by many scholars that the Samkhya and Yoga represent the earliest speculations of Indian Philosophy; but the systematic Samkhya and Yoga treaties, as we have them today, have been written after the emergence of Buddhist Philosophy. However, there are many other scholars who believe that Buddhism drew much of its inspiration from Samkhya and Yoga, as Buddha was a disciple of Samkhya Gurus. The truth? Still to be found out.

Buddha: His Life

Gautama, the Buddha, was born in, or about, the year 560 BCE around the Lubini Groove, near the ancient town of Kapilavastu, in the now dense tarai region of Nepal. Son of Suddhodana, king of Sakya, and queen Mahamaya.

According to the legend, it was foretold that Gautama would become a great king or a great ascetic; an ascetic, which would change the philosophical discourse, of its time, and would be remembered along with the progress of history. His father, wanting him to become a great king, rather than an ascetic, kept him as far as he could from the suffering of mankind. On successive occasions, issuing from the palace, he was confronted by a decrepit old man, a diseased old man, a dead man and a monk. These pictures filled him with amazement and distress and making him realize the impermanence of worldly objects. Determined to understand life he left home and the rest is history, Gautama became the Buddha, the enlightened.

Buddha taught by conversation, his teachings were also imparted orally by his disciples to the successive generations. Our knowledge about Buddha’s teaching today, depends chiefly on the Tripikas, which is believed to contain Buddha’s teachings written down by his most intimate disciples. The Tripikas are divided in three works, Vinayapitaka, Suttapitaka and Abhidhammapitaka. The first deals with the rules of conduct (Sangha), the second contain Buddha’s sermons and dialogues (teachings) and the third contains expositions of philosophical theories.

Buddhism today is spread all over the world, chiefly in south-east Asia, India, China and Japan, and the number of followers is growing as days pass by. Maybe after a century of much caused suffering we are finally realizing the importance of ceasing suffering, or at least reducing it.

The Four Noble Truths

The message of Buddha’s enlightenment is a way of life (a path) which leads beyond suffering. Before finding the path, Buddha believed, one must accept four truths of life, which are known as the Four Noble Truths. In the world there is suffering (Dukha), suffering has a cause (Dukha-Samudaya), it is possible to cease suffering (Dukha Niroda) and there is a path to cease suffering, a way of life which ceases suffering (Dukha Niroda Marga).

Dukha

Life is suffering. “This is the noble truth concerning suffering. Birth is painful, union with the unpleasant is painful, painful is the separation with the pleasant and any craving that is unsatisfied, that too is painful1”. In the Dhammapada, it is said: “Nor in the sky, nor in the depth of the ocean, nor having entered the caverns of the mountain, nay such a place is fund in the world where a man might dwell without being overpowered by death”. Death is the law o all life.

Dukha Samudaya

It will be discussed in detail later on.

Dukha Niroda

Suffering depends on conditions, which logically brings us to the conclusion “if the conditions causing suffering are removed, suffering ceases”. This state of mind can be attained in the present life, but only by following the path which ceases suffering.

Dukha Niroda Marga

It teaches the way of life which must be led in order to cease suffering and attain Nirvana. This path consists of eight rules or steps to be followed by a person over his lifetime.

1. Right knowledge of the four noble truths (Mithyadrsti)
2. Firm determination to reform life in the light of the noble truths (Samyakankalpa)
3. Ethical speech; control of speech (Samyagvak)
4. Ethical conduct; absence from wrong action (Samyakarmantha)
5. Ethical livelihood; sustaining life by honest means (Samyagajiva)
6. Right effort; constant endeavor to maintain moral progress by banish evil thoughts (Samyagvyayama)
7. Right mindfulness; constant rememberance of the perishable nature of things (Samyaksmrti)
8. Right concentration; stages of meditation required to attain Nirvana. (Samyaksamadhi)

Dukha Niroda: The Cause of Sufferin

A wonderful philosophy of dynamism was formulated by Buddha 2500 years ago. A philosophy which is being rediscovered, recreated, for us by the discoveries of modern science and the adventures of modern thought. Impressed by the transistoriness of objects, the ceaseless mutation and transformation of things, Buddha formulated a philosophy of change. He reduced substances, souls, monads, things to forces, movements, sequences, and processes and adopts dynamic conceptions of reality. Life is nothing but a series of manifestations of becoming and extinction1. It is a steam if becoming.

“There are three things, O king, which you cannot find in the world. That which, weather conscious or unconscious, is not subject to decay and death, that you will not find. That quality of anything (organic or inorganic) which is not impermanent, that you will not find. And in the highest sense there is no such thing as being possessed of being”.
1 Milinda, N 7.12, see also Bhikkhunisamyutta; Dhammapada, v. 47-48

Desires cause suffering, since we desire what is impermanent, changeable and perishable. It is the impermanence of the object of desire that causes regret and disappointment. All pleasures are transient. Nothing is permanent and if the permanent deserves to be called Self or Atman, then nothing is Self; everything is Anatta or non-Self. Ignorance is the main cause out of which false desire springs. When knowledge is attained suffering is at an end; which is why ignorance and false desire are the theoretical and practical sides of one fact.

The becoming of all is the central philosophy of Buddhism. To make us understand the ceaseless flux of becoming, the world; Buddha gives us the example of fire. Through the flame maintains itself unchanged in appearance, every moment it’s another and not the same flame. “Everything is, this is one extreme, O Kaccana. Everything is not, is another extreme. The truth is in the middle” (Samyutta Nikaya, Oldemberg Buddha p249). There is no static state when the becoming attains beinghood; it is a becoming without beginning or end. Life is a continuous movement or change. Identity of objects is only another name for continuity of becoming. A child, a boy, a youth, a man and an old man are on. It is the succession that gives the appearance of an unbroken identity.

“I will teach you the Dharma” says Buddha “that being present, this becomes; from the arising of that this arises. That being absent, this does not become; from the cessation of that, this ceases” (Majjhima Nika, ii 32). For Buddha, as for the Upanishads, the whole world is conditioned by causes. While the Upanishads say that things have no self-existence as such, but are the products of a casual series which have no beginning or end, Buddha says things are the products of conditions.

To account for the continuity of the world in absence of a permanent substratum, Buddha explains the law of causation and makes it the basis of continuity. Existence is transformation. All things undergo changes indicated in origination (Utpada), staying (Sthiti), growing (Jara) and destruction (Nirodha). That which constitutes being, in the material realm of things, in Pratityasamutpada, the origin of a thing is dependent on another. Causality is always self-changing or becoming.

Pratityasamutpada

What being, what else is? What happening, what else happens? What not being what else is not? By the being of this, that becomes. By the happening of this, that happens. By the not being of this, that is not. Pratityasamutpada (dependent origination). The coming into being of life, which is suffering and its cessation is accounted for by the doctrine of Pratityasamutpada.

From ignorance spring the samskaras (conformations), from the samskaras spring consciousness, from consciousness springs name and form, from name and form spring the six senses (eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, touch and mind), from the six senses springs contact, from contact springs sensation, from sensation spring desire, from desire spring attachment, from attachment spring becoming, from becoming spring birth, from birth spring old age and death, grief, lamentation, suffering, dejection and despair. Such is the origin of this whole mass of suffering. Again by the destruction of ignorance, which consists in the whole absence of lust, the samskaras are destroyed; by the destruction of the samskaras, consciousness is destroyed […] by the destruction of birth, old age and death, grief, lamentation, suffering, dejection and despair are destroyed. Such is the cessation of this whole mass of suffering’ (Mahavagga, i. I. I-3; S.B.E., xiii; see also Malinda, ii 3. I.)

Those due to past life
1.Avidya (ignorance)
2. Samskaras (predisposition, tendency, conformation)

Those due to the present life Sparsa (contact)
1. Vijnana (consciousness)
2. Namarupa (mind and body)
3. Sadayatana (sense organs)
4. Vedana (sensation)
5. Tanha (craving, desire)
6. Upadana (clinging, attachment)

Those of the future life Jati (birth)
1. Bhava (comings to be, desire to become, becoming)
2. Jaramarana (old age and death)

Life is sorrow because of death, which is a cause of ignorance and the false sense of ‘I’ is the central support of Avidya. Individual existence is an evil; desire is the outer expression of it. Humans are unhappy because they exist, they are alive. The affirmation of life is the source of all sorrow.

Avidya is so strong that in spite of life being the worst suffering, men exhibit a tenacious clinging towards it. The second link in the chain is Samskaras. The word comes from the root which means to prepare or arrange; it stands for the product as well as for the process of making and it’s usually translated as ‘synthesis’ or ‘conformation’. It also means action, pure and impure, action possessing merit to be rewarded or guilt to be punished, here or hereafter. The dependence of Vedana to Spara, Sparsa to Sadayatana, Sadayatana to Namarupa and Namarupa to Vijnana is easily understandable. Explaining from Tanha; we are because we thirst for being. ‘Whomsoever thirst holds is subjection to that thirst, that contemptible thing which pours its venom through the world, his suffering grows as the grass grows. Whosoever holds it in subjection […] suffering falls off from him as water drops from the lotus flower’ (Dhammapada, v 335). From thirst (Tanha) comes clinging (Upadana). The flame of thirst clings to the fuel of Upadana. From clinging comes the desire of becoming (Bhava); which is also interpreted as the Karma which brings about rebirth. From Bhava comes birth (Jati) from which old age and death.

The whole scheme is dogmatic. It aims at showing that consciousness of ‘I’ does not reside in an eternal soul, but it is a continuous phenomenon arising by cause and effect. The individuality to which we cling is only a form, an empty appearance occasioned by ignorance, the root cause. The persistence of ignorance is indicated by the persistence of individuality. The sense of ‘I’ which generates an illusion is itself an illusion. Individuality is the symptom as well as the disease.

It is the cause as well as the product, the deceiver as well as the deceived. Individuality means limitation and limitation means ignorance. Buddha recognizes that ignorance is nothing absolute. We cannot say ignorance is real, for it can be sublated. Nor it is unreal, for in that casa it could not produce an effect (remember that for Buddhism, that is real which can cause an effect). For Buddhism Avidya is the source, the cause of all existence.

Conclusion

“According to the Buddhist everything has momentary existence. So, when the second moment arrives, the thing which was existing in the first moment ceases to exist, and an entirely new thing springs up. Accordingly, you cannot maintain that the preceding thing is the cause of the succeeding thing, or that the latter is the effect of the former. The preceding thing, according to the theory of momentariness, has ceased to be when the succeeding moment comes into being, and therefore cannot be regarded as producing the latter, since non-existent cannot be the cause of existent” (V.S., chap. ii. II ff.). The validity of this objection is admitted by some later Buddhists who argue that there is a permanent element underlying all changes. Even though the surface of a wheel which is touching the ground changes every moment, the locus of the wheel is permanent, never changing.

I cannot help feeling that Buddha overemphasizes the dark side of things. Its emphasis on sorrow is neither true nor false and so is also the predominance of sorrow over pleasure. After all, the value of life seems to rise with the evanescence. If the beauty of the youth and the dignity of old age are transient, so are the travail of birth and the agony of death.

If pessimism means that life on earth is not worth living unless it is purity and detachment, then Buddhism is pessimistic. If it means that it is best to be done with life on earth for there is bliss beyond, then Buddhism is pessimistic. But this is not true pessimism. A system is pessimistic if it stifles al hope and declares that life is suffering and there is no escape from it, no liberation. Some forms of Buddhism do that, but as far as early Buddhism is concerned it is not pessimistic. It is true that is considers life to be an unending succession of torments, but it believes in the liberating power of ethical discipline and the perfectibility of human nature.

Desire is there to impel us to the supreme effort to abandon all desire. Each man has his own burden to bear, and every heart knows its own bitterness, and yet through it all goodness grows and progress becomes perfection. Buddha does not preach the mere worthless of life. He asks us to revolt against suffering and attain a life of finer, real, quality; an Arhata state.

Bibliography
A History of Indian Philosophy – S. Dasgupta
Indian Philosophy – Radhakrishnan
An Introduction to Indian Philosophy – Dutta & Chatterjee

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3 Responses to Introduction to Buddhism

  1. Bodee D says:

    Good description of Buddhism. The problem is that 2500 years and 370 million followers later, the world is not free. Luckily we have discovered the truth of liberation: You don’t exist. This is the same as Buddha’s teachings on enlightenment but it is accessible to everyone today.

    Look and see the truth. There is no you.

    The truth will set you free.

    • faustoaarya says:

      I think the world can ever be free, but it is us who can be free or not when choose to take the path which makes us free or the path which binds us.

      I understand your point, but i don’t agree completely (and i’m not talking on the point of view of whether buddhism is right or wrong, but my opinion). We might say there is no you, but there is you in as much as there is that person (energy or what you wish to call it) which understands that there is no you. A non existing entity cannot understand, it cannot be free … so that which understands, that which can free herself is existent.

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