ESSENTIALS OF THE TEACHINGS OF THE BUDDHA
"Buddham Sharanam Gatchami (vow to take refuge in the Buddha)"
"Sangham Sharanam Gatchami (vow to take refuge in Sangham)"
"Dharmam Sharanam Gatchami (vow to take refuge in Dharma)"
The Buddhist Philosophy can be comprehended by considering the following segments:
1) SUFFERING AND ITS CAUSES:
The cornerstone of the Buddha’s teachings is that of human suffering. He stated that the existence itself is painful; the same conditions that make an individual also give rise to suffering. Individuality (a basic tenet of the Western psyche and which can be based on the notion of “I” and “mine”) implies limitation; limitation gives rise to desire; desire brings suffering.
This suffering is caused by the fact that what is desired is often transitory, changing and perishing. It is this impermanence of the object of one’s desire that leads to disappointment and sorrow. The Buddha’s teachings are directed to removing the “ignorance” and thus guides to freedom from this suffering.
3) NONSELF (NONEGO):
The Buddha described the human existence as an aggregate of five constituents as follows:
a) Corporeality or physical form (“rupa”),
b) Feelings or sensations (“vedana”),
c) Ideations (“samjna”),
d) Mental formations or dispositions (“samskara”),
e) Consciousness (“vijnana”).
He argued that as the human existence requires all five of the above constituents and each of them in isolation will not form the self or soul without the help of the others, the Buddha termed this state as “nonself” or “nonego”.
Despite this notion of “nonself” or “nonego”, the Buddha taught that one carried one’s Karman from one life to the next. For example, good conduct is believed to bring pleasant and desirable results and bad conduct to lead to an evil result and repeated evil actions. This formed the basis for moral conduct to improve one’s lot.
However, the belief in “nonself “(i.e. absence of belief in a soul), while believing in repeated births and improving or worsening Karman have been attacked by non-Buddhist Philosophers. They question how a rebirth can take place without a permanent subject to be reborn. This argument remains unsettled.
5) FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS:
The Buddha formulated his “Four Noble Truths” to pave the way to removing the human misery. He described these tenets as follows:
a) The truth of misery (“dukkha”),
b) The truth that the misery originates from the craving for pleasure,
c) The truth that this misery can be eliminated,
d) The truth that this elimination results from a methodical way that must be followed. This
depends on an understanding of the evolution of a person’s psychosocial development.
6) THE LAW OF DEPENDENT ORIGINATION:
This law explains how every condition is interdependent on another prior condition. He stated that the original condition is ignorance (avijja); next is the cooperating karmic agents (i.e. mental qualities, dispositions and habits); then consciousness and then “name and form” (the naming and materiality of things). The next in line are the five sense organs and the mind; these in turn “condition” contact. This contact leads to the psyche, mental or emotional responses to sense objects (vedana). These objects lead to craving, the grasping for and attachment to the objects. This attachment determines “bhave” (or coming into existence) and hence “jati” (birth). The birth ultimately leads to old age, misery, death and so on….The Buddha includes the present day ignorance to the cooperating karmic agents from inheritance from the past. Solitary meditation by the Buddhist aspirant is an essential and fundamental means to understand this dependent origination. Likewise, present day karmic charge is believed to project into the future. Thus the dependent origination takes men into space and time, with the consequence of birth and death cycles.
7) EIGHTFOLD PATH:
The Buddha contemplated this “Eightfold Path” as the means to escape the above cyclical events. Ethical conduct has a major role in this purification process. With sincerity, reinforced by continued meditation, the Buddhist aspires to be liberated. The essentials of the “Noble Eightfold Path” are:
i) the right mode of seeing things (right view),
ii) right thinking,
iii) right speech,
iv) right action,
v) right mode of living,
vi) right effort in every mode of being,
vii) right mindfulness,
viii) right meditation or concentration.
Every Buddhist aspires to be rid of the delusion of ego, free oneself from the fetters of this world, thus overcome the repeated rounds of rebirths. This state of “Enlightenment” is a goal, not a “heavenly world or paradise”. To put it another way, the Buddhists aim to extinguish the fire that accompanies living; the fire of illusion, passion and craving. They search for not just the cessation of this fire but for the eternal, the immortal. Nirvana is thus explained as an ideal state, as ultimate bliss.
The ultimate explanation is offered by the Buddha in his inimitable style and language:
“There is an unborn, an unoriginated, an unmade, an uncompounded; were there not, there would be no escape from the world of the born, the originated, the made, the compounded.”
NB: When words in italics appear in the text, within parentheses, they are Sanskrit words accompanying the English translations.
1) Encyclopedia Britannica, 18th ed. 1989, Vol. 15, pp 274-76