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Introduction to Buddhism
The Dalai Lama, the fourteenth incarnation of the Dalai Lama, said in response to the situation where his nation of Tibet and his people are held in subjugation, that compassion would not be possible without the knowledge and realization of impermanence. To me this is the centering principle of Buddhism, compassion in the face of the abuse and the evil that surrounds us. Compassion combined with the realization of impermanence. To understand this it is a good idea to get a overview of Buddhism, of the Four Noble Truths, of the Eightfold Path. If you know nothing at all about Buddhism then my hope is that by reading this you will have a understanding and an appreciation of it. I am a Buddhist and it is my humble desire to inform.
The Buddha, was a historical figure named Guatama Sakayamuni, also known as Siddartha. He lived 1,500 years ago, being born in 563 BC in what is now India. It was his search for understanding of the meaning of life and his quest for ultimate truths that led him from the life of a Prince to the life of a ascetic and ultimately to becoming the Buddha. A Buddha is someone who is 'enlightened' and so the term is not exclusive to the person we regard as the Buddha. The Buddha also never claimed to be a god or a spokesman for a god. As such, Buddhism is the only major religion which believes in no God.
The Four Noble Truths
Through deep meditation and self reflection under the Bodhi tree the Buddha gained enlightenment. He realized that there are Four Noble Truths of life.
1. Life is suffering. It is 'Dukkha'-full of conflict and sorrow. You are born, you live your life and you die. During your life you have pains and suffering and it is without end.
2. Suffering is caused by cravings. The desires of man, his striving for them endlessly is a never-ending source of suffering for him. At once he achieves a 'goal' and that moment of victory is transitory and is soon replaced by more desires which cannot always be quenched. We crave comfort and ease, and happiness and love and all manner of things, those endless cravings create your suffering.
3. Liberation from suffering - Nirvana- is possible but it requires detachment from cravings and desires. This
4. The Noble Eightfold Path is the way to this liberation, this Nirvana comes from following the Eightfold Path to achieve detachment from cravings and desires.
The Noble Eightfold Path
Quite simply the Eightfold Path is a way to learn how to achieve detachment from cravings and desires. Right view and right thought are part of Prajna which means wisdom. Right action, right livelihood and right speech are part of Shila which means morality. Right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration are part of Samadhi which is concentration.
1. Right View
The right view involves understanding the Four Noble Truths. If you read any of the books available by the Dalai Lama or any of the other teachers of Buddhism they make quite a point of telling you that Buddhism isn't a matter of faith but of understanding. As you might know, there is no 'God' in Buddhism and the idea is that we are humans who can make ourselves better. Rather than relying on forgiveness or something outside of ourselves we must, in Buddhism, look to ourselves or as the daily Buddhist prayer says, "I take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha."
2. Right Thought
Right thought is thought that is free of lust, anger, cruelty and lying. Needless to say it is almost impossible to have your thoughts free of many of the negative emotions but by practicing Buddhism you learn to recognize those sort of thoughts as they appear and you can send them away. I'm speaking of the ability to meditate which teaches you to empty your mind. If you've tried to meditate seriously for the first time you will notice that your mind is active and thoughts dance and zoom along and do quite a job of not letting you easily 'clear your mind.' When you practice the tenets of Buddhism you are able to recognize the thoughts of lust, anger, cruelty and such which might come up and you can deal with them.
3. Right Speech
Yes, right speech means no lying, no gossip, no cursing, no vain or harsh talk. It's another aspect of teaching yourself how to be a better person. By putting the various aspects of behavior into their component parts like this it makes it easier to actually practice what is preached. It's not enough and it's not helpful to say that you are going to be a good person when in fact old habits and behaviors make it impossible to be anything other than what you are. If you compartmentalize your behavior and work on each part individually you are better able to reach your goal.
4. Right Action
Right action involves the natural progression from right though and right speech. It is necessary to also engage in 'right action.' So no killing, no stealing, no vandalism, no sexual misconduct. This chant from the Dhammapada brings it all into focus clearly.
The thought manifests as the word;
As the shadow follows the body,
From the Dhammapada (Sayings of the Buddha)
5. Right Livelihood
Right livelihood means that you should practice what you preach, you should have a job that is not harmful to any living thing.
6. Right Effort
Right effort entails the activity of avoiding evil thoughts and overcome them, you need to also create good thoughts and maintain them. This goes to the ability to meditate and the skill of overcoming stray thoughts in an effort to clear the mind and reach that place of peace.
7. Right Mindfulness
Right mindfulness is that effort to pay vigilant attention to every state of the body, feelings and of the mind.
8. Right Concentration
Meditation, meditation for purity of thought and of life. The foundation, the way we are able to work on the other paths. One of the meditations I do is a meditation on Right Action called The Five Remembrances.
The Five Remembrances
1. There is no way to escape aging. I too will grow old.
2. There is no way to escape physical degeneration. My body too will weaken.
3. There is no way to escape death. I too will die.
4. Everything and everyone changes; we must part even from loved ones.
5. My deeds are always with me as propensities. Only my karma accompanies me when I die; my karma is the ground on which I stand.
I read this everyday.
The Heart Sutra
Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva, practicing deep prajna
paramita (perfect wisdom)
Form is no other than emptiness, emptiness no other
All things are marked by emptiness- not born, not destroyed;
no wisdom, also no attainment. Having nothing to attain,
All Buddhas past, present. and future live prajna paramita
Therefore, know that prajna paramita (perfect wisdom)
This is truth, not deception.
Gatè, Gatè, paragatè, parasamgatè, Bodhi Svaha.
Beyond Good and Evil
Every once in a while you wake up and you learn something that you didn't know before. A bit of information that gives you pause. Someone you know dies. A shock, a tragedy, something not expected. You feel bad, shaken and upset. What if somebody dies that you don't like. Do you cheer? If you are religious do you think about the will of god or the workings of karma? Would you feel smug about it as the death of someone you don't like confirms your vast and secure theories of the universe? That would certainly be arrogant and self delusional of you to think. What if that person who dies is someone you wished was dead. What if the level of dislike and distaste you have for the person is as high as can be, would you feel happy, vindicated, triumphant over the death of the person you despise? What kind of a person would that make you then? Would that make you an evil person? If you felt your life had been destroyed by that person, now dead, would you be an evil person if you felt happy with the knowledge of their death? What is the level of harm that one person can do to you that makes you alright with being happy they are dead? What if you believed that the dead person wished you dead? An eye of the beholder sort of determination? What if you knew all of that and had fleeting feelings of happiness or whatever you might want to call it and then seeing yourself in that instant, felt remorse and afterwards felt bad for feeling good. Perhaps you could then detatch yourself from any feelings and you went beyond good and evil over it. How on earth would that even be possible? Is it possible to feel enough Buddhist detatchment over the whole thing that you could remove yourself from judgment over it?
A good friend lost
As happens once in a while, a friend from a few years back contacts me to catch up, touch base, say hello. My website and my listing in the alumni page at the University of Dayton School of Law leave a trail there for anyone who might care to find me and speak with me. Careful planning makes it so, unfortunately and for a number of reasons I don't often try to find old friends and old classmates. A LexisNexis search, a run through Google or a look through the alumni directory would be sufficient for me to find anyone I would desire to find but I don't do it. There is always time. Time sometime later to make that small effort. So as a result I don't look up people. There is always time right? Yah. Well a friend of mine, Marc did take the time to look me up and it was good to hear from him. In our emails back and forth he mentions a fellow classmate, Andy Johnson or as was the running joke for us "Andy's Johnson."
Andy was a tall, gangly fellow with the disposition of a puppy. We'd constantly make our "Andy's Johnson," clever remarks and he'd smile and never took offense and we never meant any. He was a fellow who seemed not to have a hostile bone in his body and it seemed to me that it would never occur to him to say a bad word about anyone. When he would talk it seemed like he was always laughing even when he wasn't. A smile on his face and he'd always be genuinely glad to see you. When he would tell a joke it was like he was a little kid saying something he knew that grownups would disapprove of so his jokes or something funny were told only after he looked around to make sure that someone who might take offense would be out of earshot.
At the end of a long hard week in class he'd come down to
the local watering hole that some of us had taken as our own. BW3's on
Friday after class was where we would grab some hot wings, some happy
hour beer and Curtis, Johanna, Shaun, others, we'd pull some tables together,
enough to accommodate however many of us would show up. Andy would laugh
with us and we'd talk about what funny things happened in class. Sometimes
he'd get a bit excited, a beer or two down the evening and when he wanted
to say something and his words were tripping around on his tongue his
eyes would sparkle and the smile on his face would broaden as if to acknowledge
that he thought he was being a bit foolish or silly. But we would slap
him on his back, laugh at his jokes and generally do the things that friends
would do with each other as we recognize everyone who would want to be
in the conversation and who would likewise have a patience and joy with
There is no question in my mind that life is not fair. Evil people live and prosper, good people who struggle and fight to get ahead in life die in car accidents. Life is short and brutish and it's a sack full of misery, pain, horror and suffering. A person like Andy makes you almost believe that isn't true, his warm smile and good heart carved a bit of hope and kindness into the world and he will be missed.