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 The Buddhist Way  

    The whole of the Buddha's teaching could be essentially summarised thus: "Nothing, nothing whatsoever, is to be clung to as I or mine.  Such is freedom."  The way to true freedom is through the ending of birth and death - the affect-laden identification with "I" and "mine" - in this very present life. This is why the Buddha's teaching is called the 'doctrine of immediacy.'

    A stable happiness can be achieved in this life -  happiness that is not dependent on circumstances, but one that comes with being attuned to one's full humanness -  and especially to the nature of the mind, which is spacious and vast.  This happiness is not easily acquired, despite our inborn gifts -  it requires an inner dicipline, consisting particularly in the early stages of a loving watchfulness and dispassionate investigation. 

    As His Holiness the Dalai Lama has said in many ways, on many occasions, the discipline amounts to "identifying those factors which lead to happiness and those factors which lead to suffering.  Having done this, one then sets about gradually eliminating those factors which lead to suffering and cultivating those which lead to happiness.  That is the way."  And in this endeavour, he always points out, compassion plays a vital part.

    The way of sincere effort, and of compassion and kindness, is well-exemplified by the following encouraging words from the Buddha, and this short commentary from a teacher, Sharon Salzburg:

Abandon what is unwholesome, oh monks!
One can abandon the unwholesome, oh monks!
If it were not possible, I would not ask you to do so.
If this abandoning of the unwholesome would bring harm and suffering,
I would not ask you to abandon it.Water1.jpg (12543 bytes)


But as the abandoning of the unwholesome brings benefit and happiness,
Therefore, I say, 'Abandon what is unwholesome!'
Cultivate what is wholesome, oh monks.
One can cultivate the wholesome.
If it were not feasible, I would not ask you to do it.


If this cultivation of the wholesome would bring harm and suffering,
I would not ask you to cultivate it.
But as the cultivation of the wholesome brings benefit and happiness,
Therefore, I say, 'Cultivate what is wholesome!'

Anguttara-Nikaya

Sharon Salzburg's commentary is as follows:

    This is one of my favorite passages for many reasons. It beautifully exemplifies the extraordinary compassion of the Buddha. The mind of the Buddha sees only suffering and the end of suffering, and exhorts those heading toward suffering to take care, to pay attention, rather than condemning them. He sees those heading towards the end of suffering and rejoices for them.

    It also inspires a feeling of self-confidence within one -- it can be done... I can do it. Many times if I find difficulty in the teaching, when I am very honest about it, it is because I fear I am not capable of actualizing it. When I feel confidence in myself, my love for the teachings grows exponentially.

    When I first went to Sayadaw U Pandita for metta instructions he asked me if I thought I was going to be successful at it and I thought, "He's looking for conceit." I replied, "Well, I don't know whether I'll be successful or not." He then shook his head dolefully, and said: "You must always approach things with the attitude that you can be successful. This is what the Buddha taught."

    So, it is necessary to develop some skill with the mind -  to take care, and to pay attention.  But this isn't a narcissistic self-absorption -  we unveil our relationship with the world when we reveal the delusions which we live by.  The Buddha taught that by protecting oneself one protects others; and by protecting others, one protects oneself:

"And how, O monks, does one, in protecting oneself, protect others? By frequent practice, development, and making much of the Foundations of Mindfulness.....
And how, O monks, does one, in protecting others, protect oneself? By forebearance, by non-violence, by loving-kindness, by compassion." 

This teaching is reflected in the Mahayana Buddhist commitment to practice for the benefit of all beings.

    These are the essentials of walking the Way:  meditation, mindfulness, investigation (see the Buddha's statements on free inquiry (See Kalama Sutta), unstinting effort to abandon what is harmful and to foster what is conducive to well-being, and the correlative realisation of unlimited compassion, kindness, joy and peace.  The ultimate gift of this way is the realisation of freedom -  a mind that doesn't get stuck on anything is unimpeded.

    It is clear that there is a relationship between the way we live our daily lives and our realisation of transpersonal depth.   On the other hand, many meditation teachers point out that any effort takes you away from the goal -  there is no way to become what you already are, they say.  So what is this 'Way' that Buddhists speak of, the Way that connects us with our true nature? 

    In general our suffering arises based on ignoring these facts about existence: existence is impermanence, or change; and, there is no permanent and separate self to be found anywhere in the world, inside ourselves or outside -  all things are intertwined with all other things.  It is the lack of recognition of these facts that form the basis of our self-caused suffering.  (On the second of these points, the Buddha's teaching on no-self was a strategy for liberation, not a dogma about reality.   Thanissaro Bikkhu has a helpful short essay on this.)

    Hence the 'Way' consists in connecting precisely, intimately, with our self as we actually are in this moment, and also, helping it to develop and mature through loving, joyful, compassionate and wise action; the way requires connecting with all of our individual experience - with the mind (subtle and gross), including the feelings and emotions, the body, and the objects of mind. So, as we take care of our self we engage in a practice of the self.  The Buddhist Way doesn't involve attaining anything over and above what we already have available to us -  it involves knowing what is here.

    So, is this way 'self-absorbed'?  Contrary to popular thinking, taking care of self-knowledge frees one of our narcissism -  because such an orientation frees us from the tyranny of unexamined falsehoods; and reveals our primordial interdependence.  In so doing it frees us of obsessive self-absorption, and opens the heart to the plight of others, including to other species.  The Way of self-realisation is rather, then, the way of realising universal responsibility through the basic intelligence of compassion and loving-kindness.  We are together in this world, with all its various crises - and, indeed, the individual is society, so what we do matters.  

His Holiness the Dalai Lama, once said: "I think that this is the first time I am meeting most of you.  But to me, whether it is an old friend or new friend, there's not much difference anyway, because I always believe we are the same; we are all human beings.   Of course, there may be differences in cultural background or way of life, there may be differences in our faith, or we may be of a different color, but we are human beings, consisting of the human body and the human mind.  Our physical structure is the same, and our mind and our emotional nature are also the same.  Wherever I meet people, I always have the feeling that I am encountering another human being, just like myself.  I find it is much easier to communicate with others on that level.  If we emphasize specific characteristics, like I am Tibetan or I am Buddhist, then there are differences.  But those things are secondary.  If we can leave the differences aside, I think we can easily communicate, exchange ideas, and share experiences." 

Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, at a public talk in the U.S. Source:  The Art of Happiness: a Handbook for Living, by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler.

From this perspective we can practice the way without withdrawing from the world: 

"The truth is everywhere. Wherever you are, it's right where you are, when you can't see it.  And you can see it through whatever vehicle you are working with, you can free yourself from certain attachments that keep you from seeing it. The scientist doesn't stop being a scientist, nor anybody stop being anything. You find how to do the things to yourself which allow you to find truth where you are at that moment."

-
Ram Dass lecture at the Menninger Clinic, Journal of Transpersonal Psychology,Vol. 2, #2, 1970.


Links to sites that introduce Buddha Dhamma:


Tricycle is a popular international Buddhist magazine
. Recommended. Tricycle: The Buddhist Review

Introduction to Buddhism A well laid out introduction to classical Buddhist concepts.

Dharma The Cat An amusing introduction, but rigorous. 

Buddhadasa and Suan Mokkh "Buddhadasa Bhikkhu became famous and controversial in Siam for his fresh, radical, provocative reinterpretation of Theravada Buddhism."  Good talks on this site from a great master.

Satipatthana Sutta - the Buddha's basic mindfulness and meditation instructions.

Women in Buddhism

For a very detailed advanced discussion of the path, see the Wings to Awakening by Thanissaro Bikkhu. Lots of good translations of the primary Pali Buddhist texts.

A page on Zen Buddhism and Ch'an.

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