BASIC BUDDHISM

 

Who was Buddha ?

The Four Noble Truths

The Eigth-Fold Path

The Twelve Links of Dependent Origination

The Six Perfections

The Seven Factors of Enlightenment

The Five Observations

The Five Hindrances

The Five Mindfulness Trainings

The Eight Verses of Training the Mind 


Who was Buddha?

The Life of Buddha

Siddhartha Gautama was born in 637 B.C. at Lumbini grove located in Northeast India. It is said that when he first entered the world he took seven steps in four directions, with his right hand pointed to the sky and his left hand pointed to the ground he spoke, “below the heavens and above the earth ‘I’ is the honored one” (I meaning the ego).

Siddhartha Gautama was born as a prince into a royal family of the Sakyas. After his auspicious birth, his father, King Suddhodana, received many wise men to foresee what lies ahead for his child and the future King of Kapilavastu. As one very old ascetic named Asita was courteously shown the new born Prince and he professed “If this prince remains in the palace after his youth, he will become a great King and rule the Four Seas. But if he forsakes the household life to embrace a religious life, he will become an enlightened one and the world’s Savior.” Asita then began to weep for he was already old in age and would not live long enough to recieve the teachings of the coming Buddha.

It is said that when the Prince was seven years old he ventured outside of the castle with his father King Suddhodana. While watching a farmer ploughing his field the Prince noticed a bird swoop down and pluck worm out of the newly tilled soil. Though a common sight, this deeply affected the Prince and at a young age Prince Siddhartha realized the harsh nature of the world.

As the Prince grew older, his father could see Siddhartha’s deep understanding of the world growing compassion for other beings. The threat of his renouncing hi royal life was ever more present. The King fulfilled each desire of the young Prince and tried his best to keep Siddharta from viewing anything unpleasant hoping this would keep his only son from embracing a religious life. At his father’s wishes, the Prince was surrounded by sensual music, women, food, entertainment and beautiful wife named Yasodara to keep him content. Slowly the Prince became unsatisfied with the life of sensual pleasureand one day Siddaharta along with his trusted attendant Chana and beloved horse Kantaka ventured out to the surrounding life of the castle. In his journey he came across four sights that struck his heart. The first was an old man withering away, the second a sick leper in torn bandages, the third was a dead body and the last an ascetic seemingly disassociated from the suffering of the ordinary world.

After seeing these three sights Siddhartha realized that the only way to free himself and his loved ones from these iminent sufferings was to find the cure for suffering. It was at 29 years of age the prince left his home and became a wandering ascetic.

Through the next six years of Siddhartha’s life he practice with many great teachers yet none of them could lead him to the true freedom from suffering. After learning all he could from his teachers and attaining the same levels of realization as they he left on his own to find the true enlightenment. He practiced many painful and self mortifying ascetic methods to no avail. It was at the point when the Siddhartha had deprived himself of all desires including food for a superhuman length of time and was near to death that he realized that this to was not the way to enlightenment.

After six years of relentless efforts, Siddhartha gained full enlightenment and became a Buddha (Pali for ‘The Awakened One’) under a famous Banyan now named the Bodhi Tree. He called his self realized path to enlightenment the “middle way” . It was called this because the path lies in between the life of materialism and the life of deprivation. The theory of the middle way is also called Dependent Origination. The Buddha realized this in the form of four truths which have never changed since beginningless time. The Buddha’s life was spent teaching this theory and these truths alongside an eightfold method which is the practice to attain these realizations.

The Buddha gave many teachings during his life on a wide variety of topics but the root was all in the same. Through the main teachings of The Four Noble Truths, The Eight Fold Noble Path and the 12 Links of Dependent Origination the Buddha procured and preserved his understanding of reality and the theory of Causality.


What is a Buddha?

The Buddha is one who has realized and vanquished the origin of suffering

The Buddha is one who has understood the true nature of Phenomena through direct experience

The Buddha is one who has freed himself from the dualistic mind and attained complete liberation

    

Four Noble Truths

1. The Existence of Suffering

2. The Origin of Suffering

3. The Cessation of Suffering

4. The Path to Cessation of Suffering


1. Dukkha, the Pali word use by the Buddha and usually translated as suffering encompasses more than the normal interpretation. Dukka: du meaning ‘difficult’ and kha meaning ‘to endure’ implies the very fact that we are living means we will have difficulties to endure. But it is how we endure that creates our difficulties. There are two types of suffering, that on the physical level (bodily pains, negative feelings) and that on the mental level (grasping on “self”). The Buddha said, “Whomsoever has a body forfeits his health… It is impossible to avoid physical pain.” The Buddha also said “ though your body is painful but must not let your mind be so.”

2. Causality was the main theory of the Buddha. The theory of Causality or Dependent Origination follows that all arising phenomena does so from many different causes. These arising phenomena are dependent on each other but give the illusion of one single object. Grasping to the illusion of inherent existence of self is the cause of our suffering.

3. To truly free ourselves from suffering we must attain full enlightenment; to realize and sustain the “pure natural mind” which exists underneath all our delusions. This is also referred to as our Buddha nature. In Buddhism there are many different methods to reach enlightenment (Actually, the Buddha said there are 84,000 methods because there are 84,000 types of delusions). But, no matter which method or tradition at the core of Buddhism is the theory of selflessness or emptiness and all these methods are used to detach from grasping to the idea of a self or inherent existence.

4. The Eight Fold Noble Path is the way out of suffer and the cure of Dukkha. When we practice the Eight Fold Noble Path we understand it is the way to enlightenment. It is extremely simple, yet all inclusive. The Eight Fold Noble Path is Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration, and Right Understanding. (Right Understanding is the knowledge of The Four Noble Truths). Through this path we can full achieve enlightenment.

     

The Noble Eight-Fold Path – The Middle Way

The Four Noble Truths are the core foundation of the Buddhist doctrine.

The first, second and third ones of the Four Noble Truths are dealing with the omnipresence of suffering.

  • The existence of suffering
  • The cause of suffering
  • The cessation of suffering
  • The path that is leading to the end of suffering

The Noble Eightfold Path is the fourth one of the Four Noble Truths and holds the capacity of leading to wisdom, liberation and freedom.

This comes about through:

1. Right understanding
2. Right thought
3. Right speech
4. Right action
5. Right livelihood
6. Right effort
7. Right mindfulness
8. Right concentration

“The Noble Eightfold Path is the path to consciousness and mindfulness is its basis.

Cultivating mindfulness, concentration is developed, which enables you in the obtaining of insight and wisdom. Due to right concentration you realize right understanding, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood and right effort. The developing understanding and wisdom can liberate you from all suffering and genuine peace and happiness is about to arise.”

 

The Twelve Links of Dependent Origination

Dependent Origination (or the theory of emptiness) explains the conditions that arise to cause suffering. It examines our false view of the inherently existing self.

Beginning with the leading cause of ignorance, and ending with death and decay, the Twelve Links illustrates the cycle of Samsara. This Theory is called The Twelve ‘Links’ because the 12 factors are intertwined, dependent on each other and arise together as do links of a chain. If we gain the wisdom to break the chain we gain the ability to bring an end to our suffering.

A seed does not grow of its own accord. If it is planted in soil and given sunlight and water it may cause the seed to grow into a flower.


Avijja (Ignorance)

Ignorance of the truth is the leading cause of suffering. Avijja is the opposite of knowledge. Sometimes we avoid seeing the truth and sometimes we are simply unaware of it. When some one has a disease, the first step towards wellness is the knowledge of being sick.

Sankhara (Mental Volition)

Sankhara is the energy that arises when we ignore the truth. This volition is equivalent with the term karma. Certain karma or mental volition can be created intentionally to bring about certain results – such as study or meditation. But in reality one is not aware of the results of every action that one makes. Therefore the bulk of karma one creates is unknown to the creator keeping them in ignorance.

Vinnana (Consciousness)

This consciousness is the awareness of ego, the dualistic mind, and the ‘self’. From this ego springs our illusionary, seperated and individual existence.

Nama-Rupa (Name and Form)

Any phenomena we perceive is considered the unity of Name and Form. Whether the sight of a flower or the sound of a bell, the fact that we observe a form and we name the form makes it Nama and Rupa. When in reality how can we say what the ‘true nature’ of a flower is? The names we designate forms are just place-holders, vague descriptions used solely for the purpose of communication.

Salayatana (The bases of metal activity)

The eyes, ears, nose, tongue, sensitive body and thinking mind. These are the six sense organs. But a sense fully fuction you need a sense organ (eye, ear, mouth, etc.), a conciousness of the organ’s recieved information (a dead person has eyes but he cannot see), and a form (an object that the sense interacts with). In Buddhism there is a clear line between the organ itself and the entirety of the function.  

Phassa (Contact)

We have six sense organs: eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, thinking mind. The thinking mind is considered a sense organ because it ‘senses’ the in-comming information from the exterior organs. We can also think of sense organs as doors for external objects to enter into the mind. For example, when a sound (the object) stimulates our ear (the sense organ), the ear consciousness arises and attends to the object. Phassa is the mind coming into contact with the object of experience.

Vedana (Feeling)

Directly after an object of perception has been apprehended by the mind we experience feeling response. Phassa and Vedana arise together one after the other inseparable in our experience. When we see, hear, smell, taste, or contact with the body, feeling arises. When the object changes, the feeling also (quickly) changes. This means that it is our relation to the object of experience (how we name or judge it) responsible for our feeling not the object. Our minds are constantly running with objects and therefor feelings. We are either thinking, seeing, hearing, feeling, or tasting in constant succession and this is what we perceive as our existence.

Tanha (Craving)

This is the craving of an experienced object. We experience an object and we want more of it. Actually we want the feeling that arose from experiencing an object with one of our sense organs. We hear a nice song we want to hear it again. We smell something nice we want to eat it. We experience a good taste we want more of it even if we are already full. We touch something and craving arises. We think and craving arises. It is said that craving defines our mind and our personality.

Upadana (Grasping)

Dana: means unconditional offering. Upa: is the Pali negative prefix. Grasping is strong craving plus the wrong view. The wrong view appears when we desire an object so much that we will ignore the truth consciously or unconsciously to fulfill our desire. “ If we have craving we have attachment. When we have attachment we have worry. If we have no attachment we will have no worry. If we have no worry we will lead peaceful lives. Everyone wishes to lead peaceful lives. This is why we practice the Dharma.” – Sayadaw Nandamalabhivamsa

Bhava (Becoming)

Bhava can be explained as the continual creation of life or the process of existence. This includes that which is invoked by the karmic process. Meaning it is both our actions and the result of our actions. It includes both mind and matter. Bhava is the continual blooming of life in every moment.

Jati (Birth)

The actual appearance and duration of a life existence. One can think of this in either the microcosm or the macrocosm. The fruition of conditions for that form a the duration of thought or a human life.

Jara and Marana (Death and Decay)

Jara is decay and aging. Marana is death the end of a existence or a life. Again, it is important to see these in both the macrocosm and microcosm, in the long term and the short term.

 

“The youth are mad, are crazy, they believe they will be young forever. The young think I am still young I can do everything. Crazy youth may do evil action because they don’t think about getting older. If we contemplate getting older we will never do evil actions we will do what is good for ourselves and good for others.” “We must contemplate on the natures of decay and age.” “We must know ‘I’ can not overcome age and decay.” We should contemplate:

I am the natures of decay. I am subject to age. I am getting older and older. I cannot overcome the natures of decay and age. I cannot overcome death. One day I will surely die.

“We should contemplate in this way.” – Sayadaw Nandamalabhivama

If we are able remind ourselves of the nature of death, to accept our fears and ignorance of the truth, we can set in motion the right thinking and right attitude to transform our lives.


The Six Perfections (Paramitas)

The Sanskrit word paramita means to cross over to the other shore. Paramita may also be translated as perfection, perfect realization, or reaching beyond limitation. Through the practice of these six paramitas, we cross over the sea of suffering (samsara) to the shore of happiness and awakening (Nirvana); we cross over from ignorance and delusion to enlightenment. Each of the six paramitas is an enlightened quality of the heart, a glorious virtue or attribute—the innate seed of perfect realization within us. The paramitas are the very essence of our true nature. However, since these enlightened qualities of the heart have become obscured by delusion, selfishness, and other karmic tendencies, we must develop these potential qualities and bring them into expression. In this way, the six paramitas are an inner cultivation, a daily practice for wise, compassionate, loving, and enlightened living. The paramitas are the six kinds of virtuous practice required for skillfully serving the welfare of others and for the attainment of enlightenment. We must understand that bringing these virtuous qualities of our true nature into expression requires discipline, practice, and sincere cultivation. This is the path of the Bodhisattva—one who is dedicated to serving the highest welfare of all living beings with the awakened heart of unconditional love, skillful wisdom, and all-embracing compassion.

1. The Perfection of Generosity (Dana Paramita)

This paramita is the enlightened quality of generosity, charity, giving, and offering. The essence of this paramita is unconditional love, a boundless openness of heart and mind, a selfless generosity and giving which is completely free from attachment and expectation. From the very depths of our heart, we practice generously offering our love, compassion, time, energy, and resources to serve the highest welfare of all beings. Giving is one of the essential preliminary steps of our practice. Our giving should always be unconditional and selfless; completely free of any selfish desire for gratitude, recognition, advantage, reputation, or any worldly reward. The perfection of generosity is not accomplished simply by the action of giving, nor by the actual gift itself. Rather, the true essence of this paramita is our pure motivation of genuine concern for others—the truly generous motivation of the awakened heart of compassion, wisdom, and love. In addition, our practice of giving should be free of discrimination regarding who is worthy and who is unworthy to receive. To cultivate the paramita of generosity, it is wise to contemplate the enormous benefits of this practice, the disadvantages of being miserly, as well as the obvious fact that our body and our wealth are impermanent. With this in mind, we will certainly be encouraged to use both our body and wealth to practice generosity while we still have them. Generosity is a cure for the afflictions of greed, miserliness, and possessiveness. In this practice of giving, we may offer our time, energy, money, food, clothing, or gifts so as to assist others. To the best of our ability, we may offer the priceless treasure of Dharma instruction, giving explanations on the Buddha’s teachings. This offering serves to free others from misperceptions that cause confusion, pain, and suffering. We can offer fearless giving and protection by delivering living beings (insects, animals, and people) from harm, distress, fear, and terror. In this way, we offer care and comfort, helping others to feel safe and peaceful. We do this selflessly, without counting the cost to ourselves. We practice the perfection of generosity in an especially powerful way when we embrace all living beings continually in the radiant love of our heart.

2. The Perfection of Ethics (Sila Paramita)

This paramita is the enlightened quality of virtuous and ethical behavior, morality, self-discipline, impeccability, personal integrity, honor, and harmlessness. The essence of this paramita is that through our love and compassion we do not harm others; we are virtuous and harmless in our thoughts, speech, and actions. This practice of ethical conduct is the very foundation for progressing in any practice of meditation and for attaining all higher realizations on the path. Our practice of generosity must always be supported by our practice of ethics; this ensures the lasting results of our generosity. We should perfect our conduct by eliminating harmful behavior and following the Bodhisattva precepts. We abstain from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, divisive speech, harsh speech, gossip, greed, malice, and wrong views. Following these precepts or guidelines is not meant to be a burden or a restriction of our freedom. We follow these precepts so we can enjoy greater freedom, happiness, and security in our lives, because through our virtuous behavior we are no longer creating suffering for ourselves and others. We must realize that unethical behavior is always the cause of suffering and unhappiness. If we give even the slightest consideration to the advantages of cultivating ethical behavior and the disadvantages of unethical behavior, we will certainly develop great enthusiasm for this practice of ethics. Practicing the perfection of ethics, we are free of negativity, we cause no harm to others by our actions, our speech is kind and compassionate, and our thoughts are free of anger, malice, and wrong views. When our commitment is strong in the practice of ethics we are at ease, naturally confident, without stress, and happy because we are not carrying any underlying sense of guilt or remorse for our actions; we have nothing to hide. Maintaining our personal honor and integrity, our moral impeccability, this is the cause of all goodness, happiness, and even the attainment of enlightenment.

3. The Perfection of Patience (Kshanti Paramita)

This paramita is the enlightened quality of patience, tolerance, forbearance, and acceptance. The essence of this paramita of patience is the strength of mind and heart that enables us to face the challenges and difficulties of life without losing our composure and inner tranquility. We embrace and forbear adversity, insult, distress, and the wrongs of others with patience and tolerance, free of resentment, irritation, emotional reactivity, or retaliation. We cultivate the ability to be loving and compassionate in the face of criticism, misunderstanding, or aggression. With this enlightened quality of patience, we are neither elated by praise, prosperity, or agreeable circumstances, nor are we angry, unhappy or depressed when faced with insult, challenge, hardship, or poverty. This enlightened attribute of patience, acceptance, and tolerance is not a forced suppression or denial of our thoughts and feelings. Rather, it is a quality of being which comes from having our heart open and our mind deeply concentrated upon the Dharma. In this way, we have a clear and correct understanding of impermanence, of cause and effect (karma), and with strong determination and patience we remain in harmony with this understanding for the benefit of all beings. The ability to endure, to have forbearance, is integral to our Dharma practice. Without this kind of patience we cannot accomplish anything. A true Bodhisattva practices patience in such a way that even when we are hurt physically, emotionally, or mentally by others, we are not irritated or resentful. We always make an effort to see the goodness and beauty in others. In practicing this perfection of patience and forbearance, we never give up on or abandon others—we help them cross over the sea of suffering. We maintain our inner peace, calmness, and equanimity under all circumstances, having enduring patience and tolerance for ourselves and others. With the strength of patience, we maintain our effort and enthusiasm in our Dharma practice. Therefore, our practice of patience assists us in developing the next paramita of joyous effort and enthusiastic perseverance.

4. The Perfection of Joyous Effort / Enthusiastic Perseverance (Virya Paramita)

This paramita is the enlightened quality of energy, vigor, vitality, endurance, diligence, enthusiasm, continuous and persistent effort. In order to practice the first three paramitas of generosity, virtuous conduct, and patience in the face of difficulties, we need this paramita of joyous effort and perseverance. Joyous effort makes the previous paramitas increase and become even more powerful influences in our life. The essence of this paramita of joyous effort is the courage, energy, and endurance to continuously practice the Dharma and pursue the supreme goal of enlightenment for the highest good of all beings. From a feeling of deep compassion for the suffering of all sentient beings, we are urged to unfailing, persistent, and joyous effort. We use our body, speech, and mind to work ceaselessly and untiringly for the benefit of others, with no expectations for personal recognition or reward. We are always ready to serve others to the best of our ability. With joyous effort, devoted energy, and the power of sustained application, we practice the Dharma without getting sidetracked by anything or falling under the influence of laziness. Without developing Virya Paramita, we can become easily disillusioned and drop our practice when we meet with adverse conditions. The word virya means persistence and perseverance in the face of disillusionment, energetically striving to attain the supreme goal of enlightenment. When we cultivate this type of diligence and perseverance we have a strong and healthy mind. We practice with persistent effort and enthusiasm because we realize the tremendous value and benefit of our Dharma practice. Firmly establishing ourselves in this paramita, we also develop self-reliance, and this becomes one of our most prominent characteristics. With joyous effort and enthusiastic perseverance, we regard failure as simply another step toward success, danger as an inspiration for courage, and affliction as another opportunity to practice wisdom and compassion. To develop strength of character, self-reliance, and the next paramita of concentration, is not an easy achievement, thus we need enthusiastic perseverance on the path.

5. The Perfection of Concentration (Dhyana Paramita)

This paramita is the enlightened quality of concentration, meditation, contemplation, samadhi, mindfulness, mental stability. Our minds have the tendency to be very distracted and restless, always moving from one thought or feeling to another. Because of this, our awareness stays fixated in the ego, in the surface layers of the mind and emotions, and we just keep engaging in the same habitual patterns of behavior. The perfection of concentration means training our mind so that it does what we want it to. We stabilize our mind and emotions by practicing meditation, by being mindful and aware in everything we do. When we train the mind in this way, phmisperceptions and attachments, we can directly experience the joy, compassion, and wisdom of our true nature. There is no attainment of wisdom and enlightenment without developing the mind throughysical, emotional, and mental vacillations and restlessness are eliminated. We achieve focus, composure, and tranquility. This ability to concentrate and focus the mind brings clarity, equanimity, illumination. Concentration allows the deep insight needed to transform the habitual misperceptions and attachments that cause confusion and suffering. As we eliminate these  concentration and meditation. This development of concentration and one-pointedness requires perseverance. Thus the previous paramita of joyous effort and perseverance brings us to this paramita of concentration. In addition, when there is no practice of meditation and concentration, we cannot achieve the other paramitas, because their essence, which is the inner awareness that comes from meditation, is lacking. To attain wisdom, compassion, and enlightenment, it is essential that we develop the mind through concentration, meditation, and mindfulness.

6. The Perfection of Wisdom (Prajna Paramita)

This paramita is the enlightened quality of transcendental wisdom, insight, and the perfection of understanding. The essence of this paramita is the supreme wisdom, the highest understanding that living beings can attain—beyond words and completely free from the limitation of mere ideas, concepts, or intellectual knowledge. Beyond the limited confines of intellectual and conceptual states of mind, we experience the awakened heart-mind of wisdom and compassion—prajna paramita. Prajna paramita is the supreme wisdom (prajna) that knows emptiness and the interconnectedness of all things. This flawless wisdom eliminates all false and distorted views of the absolute. We see the essential nature of reality with utmost clarity; our perception goes beyond the illusive and deceptive veils of material existence. With the perfection of wisdom, we develop the ability to recognize the truth behind the temporary display of all appearances. Prajna paramita is a result of contemplation, meditation, and rightly understanding the nature of reality. Ultimately, the full realization of prajna paramita is that we are not simply a separate self trying to do good. Rather, virtuously serving the welfare of all beings is simply a natural expression of the awakened heart. We realize that the one serving, the one being served, and the compassionate action of service, are all the same totality—there is no separate ego or self to be found in any of these. With this supreme wisdom, we go beyond acceptance and rejection, hope and fear, dualistic thoughts, and ego-clinging. We completely dissolve all these notions, realizing everything as a transparent display of the primordial truth. If our ego is attached even to the disciplines of these paramitas, this is incorrect perception and we are merely going from one extreme to another. In order to free ourselves from these extremes, we must release our ego attachment and dissolve all dualistic concepts with the insight of supreme wisdom. This wisdom transforms the other five paramitas into their transcendental state as well. Only the illumination of supreme wisdom makes this possible.

 

The Seven Factors of Enlightenment (bojjhanga pabba)

The cause of the appearing of the seven factors of enlightenment is wise attention: (yoniso-manasikara) which views phenomena as impermanent, unsatisfactory and no self.

The cause of the dissolution of the seven factors of enlightenment is unwise attention (ayonisao manasikara) which views phenomena as permanent, satisfactory and as a soul or self.


I. Sati-Sambojjhanga (mindfulness) Mindfulness is that which watches what is occuring at the present moment in the body and mind.

To see through the third eye the reality of the moment.


II. Dhammavicaya-Sambojjhanga (investigation of the Dhamma) Investigation of phenomena. 

This is the wisdom or insight that can differentiate the corporal body and the mind and perceives both as impermanence, unsatisfactory and not self.

Buddha nature

Us (student, practitioner)

Dharma (study of written word)


III. Viriya-Sambojjhanga (effort, energy) This is the balanced mental effort that is generated while being mindful.

To see the impermanence of every thing and realise illusion.


IV. Piti-Sambojjhanga (explosive deep joy, happiness) This is the interest and lack of boredom that arises due to seeing things as they really are.

It is often associated with a feeling of lightness, lifting of the body or a thrill of joy that can make hair on the body stand up.


V. Passadhi-Sambojjhanga (tranquility, calmness) With the arising of rapture, the mind becomes calm and peaceful. This is called tranquility. To have a cool mind stabilised when facing extraordinary challenges (frightful or charming).


VI. Samadhi-Sambojjhanga (concentration) With the arising of tranquility, the mind is not distracted and no longer wanders here and there but is aware of each object that appears in the mind. This is concentration.

Concentration: To focus on one point, To gather all the power of the thoughts in one far behind the language expression. To be one with the inner mind without help of reason.


VII. Upekkha-Sambojjhanga (equanimity) With the arising of concentration, the mind sees each object in a detached and calm way.

It feels neither aversion to pain nor is it overpowered by pleasure but it is calmly and effortlessly observant of the impermanence, unsatisfactoriness or soullnessness of every constituent of body and mind.

This is called equanimity. Not indifference Not fatalism But to realise The universal illusion Product of our six senses (the brain too) It is intuition of The ultimate truth



For the Chan Academy year 2003 program of the Sumi-e classes taught by Master Andre Sollier at the Chan Academy Australia.  


Text by Master Andre Sollier and Leanne Eames B.A., M.A.

 

The Five Observations

by Anabodhi (pali) Asvaghosa (sanskrit) 1 CE.

 

1. Observing Habitual-Patterns 2. Observing Transformation 3. Observing Present Influences 4. Observation and Analysis 5. Observing the Interdependence of Thoughts

1. Observing Habitual-Patterns

Observing how our habit-patterns work.

Our habit-patterns arise only when insecurity or fear arises in us.

 

2. Observing Transformation

Being aware when the old habit-pattern arises and actively changing it.

 

3. Observing Present Influences

Observing present influences and the effect the five senses have on us in the present moment.

 

4. Observation and Analyzation

Observing phenomena then using the Buddhist logic to analyze. By our own experience and knowledge we understand phenomena in a new way.

 

5. Observing the Interdependence of Thoughts

Observing how thoughts build upon one and other creating an impulse for the next.

Having the freedom to decide whether or not to act upon an impulse in an wholesome or unwholesome way.


Five Hindrances to Meditation Practice

1. Greed (Kamacchanda, Pali)

We constantly search for pleasing objects with our five senses. Superficially, one can say that we want to have pleasant sensations in order to repress disagreeable things. Ultimately, we strive for the stimulation of our sexual sensibility, because all of our sense cravings serve the purpose of preserving our human existence.

After satisfying our wishes and needs, we quickly realize that this satisfaction is not quite sufficient, so we go in search of something new. We would like to constantly quench our thirst, but in this way we create exactly the kind of energy that brings us down the road of ruin. Metaphorically, we behave like the person who is thirsty and drinks salt water, believing it will quench his thirst.

The more we give in to our sense cravings and the more we direct our life toward their satisfaction, the more we lose touch with reality (1). One who strives only to satisfy his needs throughout life behaves – in the Buddha’s words – as unrealistically as one who takes out a big loan without any hope of paying it back.

If we receive pleasing sense impulses, we develop pleasant feelings. Because everything is impermanent, however, this wonderful feeling lasts only a short time, so we chase after it like a hungry ghost through the world. As practitioners, we should be aware of our five senses with full mindfulness, in order to see where they direct us. For example, a young man who is always looking for a woman has to recognize that he continually produces new stimuli and therefore is not able to transform his greed. In fact, we tend to believe that our five senses serve us, but the opposite often applies – i.e., we serve the five senses! This is because we are not mindful enough and therefore cannot recognize if sense perceptions are harmful or not. We accept everything that our senses offer, without a filter.

The Buddha explained that the perception of the five senses creates our world. In order to break out of this illusionary world we need to be steadfast. This state can only be reached through the samatha method, because in this practice we are centered in ourselves and no longer affected by the five senses. If we succeed in overcoming momentary craving, we no longer need to chase after pleasant impulses, and instead we can develop the inner calm to examine ourselves and ask, “Where do we come from?” If we can answer this question, we can also let go of greed.

2. Anger (Vyapada, Pali)

Anger refers to people, objects and situations. The angry person focuses his destructive power on those things or people that have destroyed his idealistic views or expectations. Anger can also be directed towards one’s self – in this case created by feelings of guilt or inferiority. Finally, a practitioner can also project anger onto his object of meditation, because he has the impression that the object does not promote his spiritual development (2).

An angry person always has an explanation for the cause of his anger, because he feels he is absolutely in the right, and from his point of view the other person is always wrong (3). The energetic potential of anger is very high, and the angry person uses it to differentiate himself from other people, as well as make it outwardly clear who he is.

Following the words of the Buddha, anger is a kind of sickness, and as a sickness it keeps us from experiencing freedom and bliss, because it gets in the way of joy and inner contentment.

When someone harms us, we normally ask, “Why is this being done just to me?” A practitioner should ask the question in a different way, namely, “Why am I drawn into this situation with this person?” If we can change our perspective in this way, we can use anger as an opportunity to discover our own faults. When we practice loving kindness at the same time, we develop compassion for our self and can eventually forgive ourselves. If we are able accept our weaknesses and forgive ourselves, then we can begin to practice mercy for others and forgive them. In this way we see that the practice of loving kindness is an effective tool against anger.

If we constantly feel anger in our meditation practice, we cannot develop inner calmness or peace, so our practice does not lead to the results we desire and makes little sense. In order to rid ourselves of the presence of anger in our meditation, we should deliberately turn our attention to the breath, and make it clear to ourselves that breath is not harmful. When we breathe in, we tell ourselves that breath sustains our life, and when we breathe out, that breath supports our practice.

The angry person should understand that only he is responsible for his own well-being, which includes learning to accept his shortcomings. He can then recognize the idealistic views he has created for himself, with what means he maintains them, and what defensive strategies he employs out of fear that these illusions will be destroyed.

3. Torpor (Thina-Middha, Pali)

The energy of torpor lies deeply in our physical body and our mind, and causes a state of drowsiness and frustration. If a meditator succumbs to torpor, he has the feeling of falling apart, feels faint, and in the worst case, wants to lie down and go to sleep. Torpor can also become habitual in one’s meditation practice. Torpor exists in everyone, but if we allow our selves to succumb to it and do not correctly identify its cause in our actions and perceptions, dullness will spread through our mind and our analytical thinking capacity will be hampered. The Buddha explained that a state of torpor resembles the situation of a person who stays in a dark room although the sun is shining outside.

In fact, our consciousness has the function of regulating impulses or directing orders, but the energy of torpor makes it so that our consciousness ties us to reality.

In order to overcome torpor, we should increase our effort – a possibility that we always have but do not always recognize. If we are torpid, we should set small targets for ourselves in daily life. When we carry out these small, planned steps, we feel that we have more strength than we believed. This gives us the motivation to continue. If we also focus on the positive aspects of daily life, we can increase our motivation to create new impulses. In general, developing curiosity is helpful, because in this way new perspectives can be discovered that also encourage us to practice.

4. Restlessness (Uddhacca-Kukkucca, Pali)

A person that can never find rest or be content – no matter where they are – is restless. Restlessness is an energy that leads us to constantly look for mistakes in ourselves; therefore we are never content with what we have. Subsequently, we turn to the outside world, hoping to find or reach perfection there; however, the perfection we aim for – from our perspective – cannot be found in the near future. Because we fear that we will not be able to achieve our purpose at the given time, we always feel the need to run. The Buddha compares the restless person to a slave who runs around for his master day after day, never allowed to rest.

Because our present action cannot make us content, we think of the next one while still busy with the first. For this reason, we are uneasy during walking meditation and try to finish it as soon as possible.

Feelings of guilt and regret are our constant companions, occurring as karmic results of previously unwholesome actions. For example, after we attack and insult other people – a characteristic behavior of restless people – we feel guilty and regret the action a short time later. We then try to forcibly remove this feeling of guilt from ourselves, and generate intense aggression against our self and our surroundings.

For the meditator, restlessness embodies the greatest danger. In the practice of Samadhi, a restless person struggles in an effort maintain previous expectations of calmness. It’s difficult for him or her to recognize that success in meditation occurs when one is relaxed, with one’s consciousness directed on the object without expectation. Because the restless person wants to achieve all the stages of Samadhi meditation as fast as possible, he cannot differentiate between what part of the practice is real and what is projection; consequently, he creates illusionary jhanas. Furthermore, since the self-created image in his jhanas is an illusion, he cannot generate concentration because the image is constantly in motion.

The restless person should learn to accept everything as it is and be content with little. He is then free from the need to always look for faults. If he practices frugality, happiness can be achieved with very few things. Because he no longer seeks “more and more” bliss, it is important to feel gratitude in each present moment (4).

A restless person should develop strict discipline and create order in his life (5). Walking meditation is a good method to begin with, to cultivate stable, down to earth behavior.

5. Doubt (Vicikiccha, Pali)

A doubting person continuously questions his abilities and actions, which creates a state of bewilderment and a lack of inner peace in himself. In fact, he tries to find clarity again and again by looking for ways to orientate himself, but through this constant scrutiny just goes around in circles. The doubting person questions not only himself, but also the people around him; he or she is skilled at discerning the faults of others and denouncing them.

For example, we try to find the perfect Master on the spiritual path, and when are finally sure we found him, he loses this value for us because our perception is marked by compulsive doubt. Then, we ask ourselves if we have really found the right Master and if the method he uses is the right one for us. As soon as we have problems with ourselves or with our practice, we criticize the Master, and lash out at him – for instance – by pointing out his faults to others (6). Essentially, the goal of our action is to find an excuse for the fact that we do not progress in our practice. Actually, we – not our Master – are to blame! In general, we give the responsibility for our problems to others and demand that they manage absolutely everything for us.

The situation of a doubting person can be compared to that of a someone who gets lost in the desert and is hungry, thirsty, and lacking all orientation. Indeed, the doubting person longs for other individuals and groups, but is not really in the position to engage in relationships, so he finally prefers to stay in the desert.

Of all the above hindrances, doubt is the greatest barrier for the practitioner, and can only be transformed with lots of patience and time. Doubting people need distance from everything, in order to see that their problems come from the inside; therefore, they have to take charge of them, without expecting others to solve them. They will hold long inner dialogues with themselves and attempt to justify their behavior. But, in the end, they will have to face and deal with themselves. They will then recognize that deep in their heart they are afraid of getting hurt. In order to lessen the fear of being wounded and to overcome doubt, they should develop inner stability (7); however, this will only succeed if they admit their mistakes to themselves.

Notes

(1) Abuse in the family, for example, can be explained by exactly such a loss of reality.

(2) Strait away, when a Master has chosen a suitable object for meditation, an outburst of extreme anger can occur.

(3) “You don’t have the right to say that to me,” is one saying of an angry person.

(4) What exactly is gratitude? One is happy with what one gets. If one sees how rich one is in gifts, then one does not always have to look for faults in others.

(5) This begins the instant he starts to organize his personal things.

(6) The more doubt one has, the more destructively he acts. The doubting person tries to blame others, and in this way hurts them over a long period of time.

(7) Meditation, therefore, is an important method.

 

(Thich Nhat Hanh, 1991, Old Path White Clouds)

 

The Five Mindfulness Trainings

The First Training:

Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I vow to cultivate compassion and learn ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to condone any act of killing in the world, in my thinking and in my way of life.

The Second Training:

Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing and oppression, I vow to cultivate loving kindness and learn ways to work for the well-being of people, animals, plants and minerals. I vow to practice generosity by sharing my time, energy, and material resources with those in real need. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others. I will respect the property of others, but I will prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the suffering of other species on earth.

The Third Training:

Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I vow to cultivate responsibility and learn ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families and society. I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without love and a long-term commitment. To preserve the happiness of myself and others, I am determined to respect my commitments and the commitments of others. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct.

The Fourth Training:

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I vow to cultivate loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others and relieve others of suffering. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I vow to learn to speak truthfully, with words that inspire self-confidence, joy and hope. I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to criticize or condemn things of which I am not sure. I will refrain from uttering words that can cause division or discord; or words that can cause the family or the community to break. I will make all efforts to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small.

The Fifth Training:

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I vow to cultivate good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking and consuming. I vow to ingest only items that preserve peace, well being, and joy in my body, in my consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family and society. I am determined not to use alcohol or any other intoxicant or to ingest foods or other items that contain toxins, such as certain TV programs, magazines, books, films and conversations. I am aware that to damage my body and my consciousness with these poisons is to betray my ancestors, my parents, my society and future generations. I will work to transform violence, fear, anger and confusion in myself and in society by practicing a diet for myself and for society. I understand that a proper diet is crucial for self transformation and the transformation of society.


The Eight Verses of Training the Mind

by Geshe Langri Tangpa (AD 1054 – 1123)

 

With the intention to attain
The ultimate, supreme goal
That surpasses even the wish-granting jewel,
May I constantly cherish all living beings.

Whenever I associate with others,
May I view myself as the lowest of all;
And with a perfect intention,
May I cherish others as supreme. 

Examining my mental continuum throughout all my actions,
As soon as a delusion develops
Whereby I or others would act inappropriately,
May I firmly face it and avert it
.

Whenever I see unfortunate beings
Oppressed by evil and violent suffering,
May I cherish them as if I had found
A rare and precious treasure.

Even if someone I have helped
And of whom I had great hopes
Nevertheless harms me without any reason,
May I see him as my holy Spiritual Guide.

When others out of jealousy
Harm me or insult me,
May I take defeat upon myself
And offer them the victory.

In short, may I directly and indirectly
Offer help and happiness to all my mothers,
And secretly take upon myself
All their harm and suffering
.

 Furthermore, through all these methods practices,
Together with a mind undefiled by stains of conceptions of the eight extremes
And that sees all phenomena as illusory,
May I be released from the bondage of mistaken appearance and conception.