Peter della santina fundamentals of buddhism


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Peter della santina fundamentals of buddhism

  1. 1. Fundamentals of Buddhism Dr Peter D. Santina e DHANET UD B S BO Y O K LIB R A R E-mail: Web site: www.buddhanet.netBuddha Dharma Education Association Inc.
  3. 3. FOREWORD Buddhism has long been an important part of thecultural heritage of South East Asia. The monuments ofAngkor Wat in Cambodia and Borobudur in Indonesia arejust two of countless testimonies to the former greatnessof Buddhism in this region. In Singapore too Buddhism isan important element in the cultural heritage of the people.The fact that a large section of the Chinese Community aswell as the small but influential Srilankan Communityacknowledge Buddhism as the primary force shaping theirreligious ideals and moral values is more than proof ofthis. Nonetheless, it is certain that if Buddhism is tocontinue to exercise a positive influence upon present andfuture generations, it cannot remain content with theachievements of the past. The religious ideals and moralvalues of Buddhism which have proved so useful to pastgenerations must be transmitted to men and women livingin a changing world. In order that this can be accomp-lished, it is important that the teachings of the Buddha bemade available to the largest number of people. With this objective in mind, the SrilankaramayaBuddhist Temple invited Dr Santina to deliver a seriesof public lectures. The lectures outlined the funda-mentals of Buddhism and were well delivered. As aresult, it was decided to produce transcriptions of thelectures and publish them in the form of a book to bemade freely available. It is also hoped that thepublication will contribute in a small degree to theunderstanding of the genuine teachings of the Buddha. 1
  4. 4. Sincerest thanks are extended to all those who lenttheir invaluable support and contribution to this projectand especially to Dr Santina for imparting to us his deepunderstanding of the Buddha Dharma. N Sumana Thera Resident Monk SRILANKARAMAYA BUDDHIST TEMPLE SINGAPORE VESAK 1984 2
  5. 5. BUDDHISM: A MODERN PERSPECTIVE We are going to cover what we might call basicBuddhist teachings over a series of twelve lectures. Weare going to cover the life of the Buddha, the FourNoble Truths, the Noble Eightfold Path, Karma, rebirth,dependent origination, the three universal characteristicsand the five aggregates. But before I begin the series oflectures, I would like to deal today with the notion ofBuddhism in perspective. There are many ways inwhich different people in different cultures viewBuddhism and particularly, I think we can contrast thewestern or modern attitude towards Buddhism with thetraditional attitude. The reason why this kind of per-spective study is useful is because when we understandhow people of different cultures view a certain thing, wecan then begin to see some of the limitation or one-sidedness of our own view. In the west, Buddhism has aroused extensiveinterest and sympathy. There are many persons ofconsiderable standing in western societies who are eitherBuddhists or who are sympathetic towards Buddhism.This is most clearly exemplified by the remark made byAlbert Einstein in his autobiography, the remark that hewas not a religious man, but if he were one, he would bea Buddhist. This is quite surprising, and off-hand wewould not expect such a remark to be made by theFather of Modern Science. Yet if we look at contem-porary western societies, we will find an astrophysicistwho is a Buddhist in France, we will find an outstandingpsychologist who is a Buddhist at the University ofRome, and until recently a judge from England who is a 3
  6. 6. Buddhist. We will look into the reasons for this interestin Buddhism in the west in a moment. But before we dothat I would like to compare this situation with thesituation that we find in this part of the world. In Europe generally, the attitude towards Buddhismis that it is very advanced, very rational and verysophisticated. It was therefore quite a shock to me when Icame to Singapore and found that a lot of people hereview Buddhism as old fashioned, irrational and too muchtied up with superstitions. This is one of the two attitudesthat work against the appreciation of Buddhism here. Theother is that Buddhism is so deep and so abstract that noone can ever understand it. It is a complete turnabout. Thisis what I mean by perspective, because in the westernperspective Buddhism has a certain image, while in thetraditional perspective we have another image. Thisnegative image that people have about Buddhism has tobe changed before they can really come to appreciate theBuddha’s teachings, before they can get a kind ofbalanced perspective regarding Buddhism. One of the first things that a westerner appreciates aboutBuddhism is that it is not culture bound, not bound toany particular society, race or ethnic group. There arecertain religions that are culture-bound, Judaism is oneexample. Buddhism is not. That is why historically wehave Indian Buddhists, Thai Buddhists, ChineseBuddhists, Srilankan Buddhists, Burmese Buddhists andso forth, and we are going to have in the near futureEnglish Buddhists, American Buddhists, FrenchBuddhists and so forth. This is because Buddhism is notculture-bound. It moves very easily from one culture to 4
  7. 7. another because the emphasis in Buddhism is oninternal practice rather than on external practice. Itsemphasis is on the way you develop your mind ratherthan the way you dress, the kind of food you take, theway you wear your hair and so forth. The second point that I would like to make regardsthe pragmatism or the practicality of Buddhism. Instead oftaking an interest in metaphysics and academic theories,the Buddha deals with problems per se and approachesthem in a concrete way. This is again something which isvery much in agreement with western ideas aboututilitarianism. That is, if something works, use it. It is verymuch a part of western political, economic and scientificphilosophy. This attitude of pragmatism is clearlyexpressed in the Culama-lunkya Sutra where the Buddhamade use of the example of the wounded man. The manwounded by an arrow wishes to know who shoots thearrow, from which direction it comes, whether the arrowhead is made of bone or iron, whether the shaft is of thiskind of wood or another before he will have the arrowremoved. This man is likened to those who would like toknow about the origin of the Universe, whether the worldis eternal or not, finite or not before they will undertake topractise a religion. Just as the man in the parable will diebefore he has all the answers he wants regarding the originand nature of the arrow, such people will die before theywill ever have the answers to all their irrelevant questions.This exemplifies what we call the Buddha’s practicalattitude. It has a lot to say about the whole question ofpriorities and problem solving. We would not make muchprogress developing wisdom if we ask the wrongquestion. It is essentially a question of priority. The first 5
  8. 8. priority for all of us is the problem of suffering. TheBuddha recognized this and said it is of no use for us tospeculate whether the world is eternal or not because weall have got an arrow in our chest, the arrow of suffering.We have to ask questions that will lead to the removal ofthis arrow. One can express this in a very simple way. Wecan see that in our daily life, we constantly make choicesbased on priority. If, for instance, we happen to becooking something on the stove and we decide that whilethe beans are boiling we will dust the house, and as wedust the house we smell something burning. We have tomake the choice, whether to carry on with our dusting orwhether to go to turn down the flame on the stove to savethe beans. In the same way, if we want to make progresstowards wisdom we have to recognize our priorities andthis point is made very clearly in the parable of thewounded man. The third point that I would like to refer to is theBuddha’s teaching on the importance of verificationthrough experience. This point is made clearly in Hisadvice to the Kalamas contained in the KesaputtiyaSutra. The Kalamas were a people very much like us inour modern day when we are exposed to so manydifferent teachings. They went to the Buddha andenquired that as there were so many different teachersand as all of them claimed that their doctrine was true,how were they to know who was telling the truth. TheBuddha told them not to accept anything out ofauthority, not to accept anything because it happens tobe written down; not to accept anything out of reverencefor their teacher; or out of hearsay; or because it soundsreasonable. But to verify, test what they have heard in 6
  9. 9. the light of their own experience. When they know forthemselves that certain things are harmful then theyshould abandon them. When they know for themselvesthat certain things are beneficial, that they lead tohappiness and calm, then they should follow them. TheBuddha gives this advice that one has to verify whatone hears in the light of one’s experience. In the contextof the Buddha’s advice to the Kalamas, I think what theBuddha is saying is to use your own mind as a test tube.You can see for yourself that when greed and anger arepresent, they lead to suffering, pain and disturbance.And you can see for yourself that when greed and angerare absent from your mind, it leads to calm, tohappiness. It is a very simple experiment which we allcan do for ourselves. This is a very important pointbecause what the Buddha has taught will only beeffective, will only really change our life if we can carryout this kind of experiment in our life, if we can realizethe truth of the Buddha’s teachings through our ownexperience and verify it through our own experience.Only then can we really say that we are making progresson the path towards enlightenment. We can see a striking parallel between theBuddha’s own approach and the approach of science tothe problem of knowledge. The Buddha stresses theimportance of objective observation. Observation is in asense the key to the Buddha’s method of knowledge. Itis observation that yields the first of the Four NobleTruths, the truth of suffering. Again at the final stage ofthe Buddha’s path, it is observation that characterizesthe realization of the total end of suffering. So at thebeginning, in the middle and at the end of the Buddha’s 7
  10. 10. path, observation plays an extremely important role.This is similar to the role that objective observationplays in the scientific tradition which teaches that whenwe observe a problem we must first formulate a generaltheory followed by a specific hypothesis. We find thesame thing happening in the teaching of the Four NobleTruths and here the general theory is that all things havea cause, and the specific hypothesis is that the causes ofsuffering are craving and ignorance. This truth that thecauses of suffering are craving and ignorance can beverified by the experimental method. In the context ofthe Four Noble Truths, the experimental method is thepath. Through the path, the truth of the Second NobleTruth (the truth of the cause of suffering), and the ThirdNoble Truth (the truth of the cessation of suffering) areverified because through this cultivation of the path oneeliminates craving and ignorance. And through the elim-ination of craving and ignorance one eliminates suffering.This experiment is repeatable just as in science becausenot only did the Buddha attain the end of suffering, but sotoo did all those who followed His path. So if we look closely at the Buddha’s approach tothe problem of knowledge, we find that His approach isvery similar to the scientific approach and this too hasaroused a tremendous amount of interest in the west.We can now begin to see why it is that Einstein couldmake a remark like the one that he did. We will seemore clearly why this is not as surprising as it seemsinitially because I would like to talk about the Buddhistmethod of analysis and we can begin to see it operatingvery clearly when we look at the Buddhist approach toexperience. 8
  11. 11. Experience in Buddhism is comprised of twocomponents — the objective component and thesubjective component. In other words, the things aroundus and we the perceivers. Buddhism is noted for itsanalytical method in the area of philosophy andpsychology. What we mean by this is that the Buddhaanalyzes experience into various elements, the mostbasic of these being the five Skandhas or aggregates —form, feeling, perception, mental formation or volitionand consciousness. The five aggregates in turn can beanalyzed into the eighteen elements (Dhatus) and wehave a still more elaborate analysis in terms of thisseventy two elements. This method is analytical as itbreaks up things. We are not satisfied with a vaguenotion of experience, but we analyze it, we probe it, webreak it down into its component parts like we breakdown the chariot into the wheels, the axle and so on.And we do this in order to get an idea how things work.When we see for instance a flower, or hear a piece ofmusic, or meet a friend, all these experiences arise as aresult of components. This is what is called theanalytical approach. And again this analytical approachis not at all strange to modern science and philosophy.We find the analytical approach very substantially usedin science. In philosophy, we see the analytical traditionperhaps best in Bertrand Russell. There have beenstudies that compare quite successfully the philosophyof Bertrand Russell with the philosophy of the BuddhistAbhidharma. So in western science and philosophy, wefind a very close parallel with the Buddhist analyticalmethod and this again is one of the familiar features thathas attracted western thinkers and academics toBuddhism. In the area of psychology, psychologists are 9
  12. 12. now deeply interested in the Buddhist analysis of thevarious factors of experience — feeling, idea, habit andso forth. They are now turning to Buddhist teachings togain a greater insight into their own disciplines. This growing interest in Buddhism and these manyareas of affinity between the teachings of the Buddhaand the tendencies of modern science, philosophy andpsychology have reached their apex at this very time inthe suggestions now proposed by quantum physics, thelatest developments in experimental theoretical physics.Here too we find that not only is the method of scienceobservation, experiment and analysis anticipated by theBuddha, but that some of the very specific conclusionsabout the nature of man and the universe that areindicated by the latest developments in quantum physicswere also indicated by the Buddha. For instance, theimportance of the mind. A noted physicist not long agoremarked that the Universe is really something like agreat thought. And it is said in the Dhammapada that themind precedes all things, that the mind is the maker ofall mental states. Similarly, the relativity of matter andenergy is mentioned. There is no radical divisionbetween mind and matter. All these indications are nowgradually being revealed by the latest developments inscience. So what has happened is that in the westerncontexts, academics, psychologists, and scientists havefound in Buddhism a tradition which is in harmony withsome of the basic tenets of western scientific thought. Inaddition to this, they find that Buddhism is particularlyinteresting because although the methods and the dis- 10
  13. 13. coveries often resemble closely those of Buddhism, theyfind that in science so far, there is no path or method ofachieving an inner transformation. They have methodsof building better cities and expressways but they havenot had any system which will enable them to buildbetter people. So people in the west are turning toBuddhism. As an ancient tradition, it has many aspectsthat closely resemble practices in the western scientifictraditions and yet goes beyond the materialism of thewestern tradition, beyond the limits of the scientifictradition. 11
  14. 14. THE PREBUDDHIST BACKGROUND We are going to begin today with a considerationof the prebuddhist situation in India. Normally Buddhiststudies courses begin with a study of the life of theBuddha. We are going to begin before the life of theBuddha. Personally I feel this is quite important as I feelit helps one to understand the life and teachings of theBuddha in their broader historical and conceptual con-text and to understand and appreciate better the natureof Buddhism and perhaps Indian thought as a whole. I do not know how many of you have visited India.We have in the North of India two great rivers — one isthe Ganges and the other is the Yamuna. These twogreat rivers have separate sources in the Himalayas andthey flow separately for a good proportion of theirlengths. They unite in the north eastern region of India.From there they flow on together to the Bay of Bengal.In a way the geography of these two great rivers is asymbol of the origin and development of Indianreligion, philosophy and thought because in Indianreligion too we have two great rivers which wereoriginally quite distinct and had separate origins andwhich for a considerable length of time were separatebut which at a certain point of time merged and flowedon united right to the present day. Perhaps as I go intothe prebuddhist history of India, we can keep in mindthe image of these two rivers originally separate and at acertain point merging and flowing together to the sea. When we look at the very early history of India, wefind that there existed in the 3rd Millennium B.C. a very 12
  15. 15. highly developed civilization in the Indian subcontinent.This civilization is as old as those which are called thecradles of human culture, civilizations like those ofEgypt and Babylon. This civilization existed approxi-mately between the year 2800 B.C. and 1800 B.C. Itwas known as the Indus Valley Civilization or it issometimes called the Harappa Civilization, and itextended from what is now Western Pakistan, south to apoint which is near Bombay and eastward to a pointwhich is in the neighborhood of what is now Simla inthe foothills of the Himalayas. If you see a map of India,you will realize that this is a very considerable extent.Not only was this civilization stable for a thousandyears, it was also a very highly developed civilizationboth materially and spiritually. Materially the civiliz-ation was an agrarian one. They were skilled inirrigation and the planning of towns. In addition, theyhad a very highly developed spiritual culture. This isclear from the archaeological evidence that has beendiscovered at Mohenjodaro and Harappa. There is alsoevidence of the fact that they were literate. They haddeveloped a script which unfortunately we are not ableto decipher. The peaceful life of this civilization wasunfortunately interrupted in about the year 1800 or 1500B.C. by an invasion that came from the North West. Theinvading people were known as the Aryans and this is aterm that designated a people of Eastern Europe. Theorigin of the Aryans was in the grassy region extendingfrom Poland to Western Russia. The Aryans were verydifferent from the people of the Indus Valley Civiliz-ation because they were generally nomadic and pastoral. 13
  16. 16. They did not have a highly developed urban civilization.They were a warlike expanding pioneer civilization thatlived in large part from the spoils and plunder that theygathered from the peoples they conquered in the courseof their migration. When the Aryans arrived in India,they very quickly destroyed the Indus Valley Civiliz-ation. The Indus Valley Civilization succumbed veryquickly to the military might of the Aryans. Whatexisted in India after the invasion was an Aryandominated civilization. Here we have a brief outline of the facts regardingthe early history of India. But let us look at the religiousoutlook of the people of the Indus Valley Civilizationand the Aryan Civilization which is of particular interestto us. The Indus Valley Civilization had a script whichwe are unfortunately unable to decipher. But ourinformation regarding the nature of this civilization isfrom two sources, first from the archaeological dis-coveries at the sites of Mohenjodaro and Harappa andsecond from the records of the Aryans who describedthe religious behaviour and beliefs of the people theyconquered. From the archaeological evidence we find anumber of symbols that are of religious significance,that are special to Buddhism: the symbols of the Bodhitree and animals such as the elephant and deer. Perhapsmost importantly there have been discovered severalimages of figures sitting in cross-legged postures withtheir hands resting on their knees, with their eyesnarrowed, half-closed quite evidently in postures ofmeditation. These archaeological findings have beenstudied by eminent scholars and the conclusion is thatwe can quite definitely trace the origin and practice of 14
  17. 17. meditation to the Indus Valley Civilization. When welook at the descriptions of the religion of the IndusValley Civilization from the writings of the Aryans —the Vedas — we find the figure of a wandering asceticfrequently mentioned. We find that they practisedmeditation, that they were celibate, that they observedan austere life, that they were sometimes naked orclothed in most simple garments, that they wanderedabout homeless and that they taught in the way beyondbirth and death. If we put together the evidence of thearchaeological findings and the evidence of Aryanliterature, we find that there emerges a picture of thereligion of the people of the Indus Valley Civilization inwhich there are several important elements. First of all,meditation or mental concentration; secondly renunci-ation, abandoning the household life, living the life of awandering ascetic; thirdly that we have a conception ofrebirth over a long series of lives; fourthly we havea conception of moral responsibility beyond this life, thenotion of karma; and lastly we have a goal of religiouslife, a goal of liberation. These are the salient features ofthe religion of the very earliest Indian Civilization. By contrast, and it would be hard to find tworeligious views that are more different, let us look at thereligion of the Aryans. Here we find it much easier toconstruct a picture because we have a completeliterature with regard to their religion. When the Aryanscame to India, they had a religion which was totallysecular. They were an expanding pioneering society.There are many close parallels between the Aryanreligion and the religion of the Greeks. If you havecome across the description of the Greek pantheon you 15
  18. 18. will find striking similarities between their pantheon andthe Aryan pantheon. You will find in the Aryan faith anumber of gods who are personifications of naturalphenomena. We have Indra for instance who was theGod of Lightning and the Thunderstorm personifyingpower, we have Agni the God of Fire, and Varuna theGod of Water. We have a religious set-up in which thepriest is the most important figure, while in the IndusValley Civilization the ascetic was the most importantfigure. In the Indus Valley Civilization renunciation wasthe ideal of religious life, while in the Aryan religion theideal state is the householder state. In the Indus ValleyCivilization we have a rejection of sons and offspring,while in the Aryan religion sons are the highest good.While in the Indus Valley Civilization we have thepractice of meditation, in the Aryan religion we have thepractice of sacrifice — sacrifice was an important meansof communication with the gods, of achieving victoriesin battles, of gaining offspring, of going to heaven.While in the Indus Valley Civilization we have belief inthe Law of Karma, and rebirth, in the Aryan Civilizationwe have no conception of rebirth. Just as in the IndusValley Civilization we have the notion of moral res-ponsibility extending over a series of lives, in the AryanCivilization we have no such notion. In fact the highestideal was loyalty, those values that contributed to thepower of the community. Finally while in the IndusValley Civilization we have liberation as the goal ofreligious life, in the Aryan Civilization we have heavenas the goal of religious life. The idea that they had ofheaven was a heaven modelled upon a perfected versionof this life. So if we want to sum up the differencesbetween the religions of these two civilizations, we can 16
  19. 19. say that on the one hand the Indus Valley Civilizationstresses renunciation, meditation, rebirth, karma, thegoal of liberation; on the other hand the Aryan religionstresses this life, material well-being, wealth, power,fame and sacrifices as means of achieving these goals. Itwould be hard to find a set of more diametricallyopposed religious attitudes. In addition, there are twomore important elements of Aryan religion that weought to recall: caste — the division of society intosocial strata; and belief in the authority of the revealedscriptures, the Vedas. These two elements were notpresent in the Indus Valley Civilization. The history of Indian religion from 1500 B.C. upto 600 or 500 B.C., the time of the Buddha, the historyof those 1000 years in India is a history of gradualinteraction between these two totally opposed religiousviews. As the Aryans gradually spread and settledacross the gigantic Indian subcontinent, as theirpioneering exploits diminished, gradually these twototally opposed religious views began to influence,interact and merge with each other. This is the merging Ihad in mind when I talked about the merging of the twogreat rivers. Consequently by the time of the Buddha,we have a very heterogeneous religious scene. We canunderstand this clearly if we look at some of the factsregarding the life of the Buddha. For instance, we findthat when the Buddha was born, two groups of peoplemade prophecies regarding His future greatness. Thefirst prophecy was made by Asita. Asita was a hermit,who lived in the mountains and yet sources tell us thathe was a Brahmin, that he belonged to the priestly class.This in itself is already evidence of the interaction of the 17
  20. 20. two traditions. In the Buddha’s time, Brahmins hadbegun to go forth as hermits. This was unheard of athousand years before. A little later, we are told that 108Brahmins were invited to the naming ceremony. Herewe have examples of priests who had not renounced thehousehold life, an example of an institution that pro-perly and originally belonged to the Aryan Civilization. How is it that the two traditions — the IndusValley tradition and the Aryan tradition, initially sodifferent were able to merge? I think the answer to thislies in the dramatic changes which took place in the lifeof the Indian people between the 2nd Millennium B.C.and the time of the Buddha. The Aryan expansion cameto an end when they had conquered the plains of India.This end of expansion brought about many social,economic and political changes. In the first place, thetribal political society evolved into the institution of theterritorial state so that no longer do you have a tribewith a very close personal set of loyalties. You havenow a territorial state where many people of varioustribes exist together. The kingdom of Magadha ruled byBimbisara in the time of the Buddha is an example of anemerging territorial state. Secondly, you have thisnomadic pastoral lifestyle gradually changed into amore urbanized agricultural settled lifestyle so that thepeople were now living in urban centres, and wereremoved from the natural forces that had beenpersonified in the gods. Economically, commercebecame important. So while in the early days of theAryan Civilization the priests and warriors were themost important figures — the priest because hecommunicated with the gods, the warrior because he 18
  21. 21. waged wars against the enemy and brought spoils intothe community — now the merchants becameincreasingly important. We can see this in the days ofthe Buddha, the famous disciples who were merchants— Anathapindika to name only one. These social,economic and political changes contributed to anopenness on the part of the Aryans to accept thereligious ideas of the Indus Valley Civilization. Whilethe Aryans conquered the Indus Valley peoplemilitarily, the subsequent 1000 to 2000 years saw themcoming increasingly under the influence of ideas takenfrom the Indus Valley Civilization. So that by the firstfew centuries of the Common Era, the distinctionbetween the Aryan tradition and the Indus Valleytradition became more and more difficult to draw. Infact, this fact is at the bottom of the misconception whenit is said that Buddhism is a protest against Hinduism, orthat Buddhism is a branch of Hinduism. In Buddhism we have a religion which draws mostof its inspiration from the Indus Valley religion, theideas of renunciation, meditation, karma and rebirth,ultimate liberation — ideas which were important to theIndus Valley Civilization. The Buddha Himselfindicated the Indus Valley origins of His tradition whenHe said that the path which He taught was an ancientpath and the goal to which He pointed to was an ancientgoal. We also have a Buddhist belief in six Buddhasprior to the Buddha Shakyamuni within this aeon. Allthese point to a continuity between the tradition of theIndus Valley Civilization and the teachings of theBuddha. If we look at Buddhism and Hinduism we willfind a greater or lesser proportion of elements taken 19
  22. 22. from either of the two traditions of the Indus ValleyCivilization and Aryan Civilization. For instance, if welook at Buddhism, the greater proportion was takenfrom the Indus Valley Civilization religion, a lesserproportion from the Aryan tradition. That is why wefind mention of the Aryan gods in Buddhist scripture,though their role is peripheral, an example of an Aryanelement in the Buddhism tradition. On the other hand, ifwe look at some schools of Hinduism, we find a greaterproportion of elements taken from the Aryan traditionand a lesser proportion from the Indus ValleyCivilization. We find caste emphasized, the authority ofthe revealed scripture of the Aryans – the Vedas –emphasized and sacrifices emphasized. Alongside, wefind a place made for renunciation, meditation, karmaand rebirth. 20
  23. 23. LIFE OF THE BUDDHA Today I would like to spend a little bit of time onthe life of the Buddha. I do not intend to spend toomuch time on the life and career of the Buddha sincemost of the biography is essentially narrative. But Iwould like to take the opportunity today to drawattention to a few important Buddhist values whichcome through strikingly in the life of the Buddha. Last week we talked about the two traditions andhow the two traditions which were originally verydistinct gradually began to interact and eventually fusedin India and we said that the beginning of this process ofinteraction can be placed about the time of the Buddha.In fact during the time of the Buddha, we can see thebeginning of the interaction and it was a process thatcontinued until a thousand years later when the twotraditions fused and became difficult to differentiate. Itis not perhaps a coincidence that one of the primaryareas where the two traditions came into the most activecontact was in the area known as Madhyadesha, the areaaround what is now Eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.This area was regarded by the Brahmins as an area ofchallenge to the Aryan tradition. It happens that whentwo traditions of this nature meet, it creates anatmosphere where there is a great potential for thegrowth of new religious directions. To a large extent wecan see the life and teachings of the Buddha in thiscontext. In addition to the interaction of the tworeligious traditions, there were also significant social,economic and political changes that were taking placeand which we have touched on last week. All these 21
  24. 24. contributed to a heightened level of religiousconsciousness. It always happens in times of political andsocial upheaval that man looks inward, that man turnsto religion. When they see the institutions that theirforefathers took as stable and unchanging shaken, thereis a natural tendency to turn to religion, and this con-tributes to heightened religious consciousness and activ-ities. This is very much the case in the 6th century B.C. The values that emerge from the Buddha’s life thatI would like to highlight are essentially three, and theyare renunciation, loving-kindness and compassion, andwisdom. These three values emerge very clearly throughepisodes in the Buddha’s own life. Incidentally it is nocoincidence that these three qualities between themequal the attainment of Nirvana because as you knowthere are three defilements (Klesha) that cause us to beborn again and again — the defilements of desire,ill-will and ignorance. In this context we might alsoremember that renunciation is the antidote for desire,loving-kindness and compassion is the antidote forill-will, and wisdom is the antidote for ignorance.Through cultivating these three qualities one is able toeliminate the defilements and attain enlightenment. So itis no accident that these qualities should stand out soprominently in the life of the Buddha. Let us look at them one by one and let us start withrenunciation. As often happens, some of the very firstevidence of the Buddha’s renunciation manifested itselfwhile He was still very young. Renunciation is basicallya recognition that all existence is suffering. When onerecognizes the fact that all existence is suffering, this 22
  25. 25. brings about what we might call a turning about, inother words, seeing that life is full of suffering onebegins to look for something more. This is whysuffering is the First Noble Truth. This recognition thatexistence is suffering is the essence of renunciation. Youmay know of Prince Siddhartha’s visit to the annualploughing ceremony at the age of seven. It was therethat while watching the ploughing the prince noticed aworm that had been unearthed by the plough devouredby a bird. This sight led the prince to contemplate therealities of life, to recognize the fact that all livingbeings kill each other for food and this is a great sourceof suffering. Already we see at this tender age in thebiography of the Buddha the beginning of thisrecognition that existence is suffering. If we look a littlebit later in the life of the Buddha, we will come to thefamous episode of the four sights which moved theprince to renounce the household life and to follow alife of asceticism to seek the truth. The sights of old age,sickness, death and an ascetic led Him to consider whyit was that He should feel uneasy when in fact He wasHimself not free from, was subject to old age, sicknessand death. This consideration led Him to develop asense of detachment from pleasure, led Him to seek thetruth by way of renunciation. It is interesting to note thatPrince Siddhartha’s renunciation is not renunciation outof despair. He enjoyed the greatest happiness and yetsaw these sufferings of life, recognizing that no matterhow great one’s indulgence in pleasures of the sensesmight be, eventually one would have to face thesesufferings. Recognizing this, He was moved to renouncethe household life and seek enlightenment for the sakeof all living beings. 23
  26. 26. Let us next look at the quality of loving-kindnessand compassion. Here too we can see this qualitymanifested very early in the life of the Buddha. Themost striking example of this is the episode of thewounded swan. We are told that He and His cousinDevadatta were roaming in the park surrounding thepalace when Devadatta shot down a swan with his bowand arrow. Both boys ran towards the spot where theswan had fallen, but Siddhartha being the faster runnercame to the place where the wounded bird lay.Gathering the bird in His arms, He nursed the bird andthis brought about a reaction from Devadatta whoinsisted that the bird ought to be his since he was theone who shot it down. The boys brought this dispute tothe wise man of the court who decided that lifebelonged rightly to the one who preserved it, not to onewho destroyed it. Here we have a striking example ofthe Buddha’s attitude of loving-kindness and com-passion which grows directly out of this recognition thatthe nature of life is suffering. Later too after Hisenlightenment, the Buddha continued to display thisquality, as for instance in the famous episode in whichthe Buddha nursed the sick Tissa whose illness was suchthat the other members of the Order shunned him. Let us look at wisdom which is the third of thethree qualities. Wisdom is the most important of thethree qualities because after all it is wisdom that opensthe door to enlightenment. It is wisdom that uprootsignorance, the underlying cause of suffering. It is saidthat just as one can cut off the branches and trunk of atree and yet if the root of the tree is not taken out thebranches and trunk will grow again. So in the same way 24
  27. 27. one can eliminate desire through renunciation, ill-willthrough loving-kindness and compassion, but so long asignorance is not eliminated, this desire and ill-will areliable to grow again. Wisdom is achieved primarily through meditation.We have an episode again early in the life of the Buddhain which we see His early development of skill inconcentrating the mind and this episode in fact occurredat the same time as the incident we considered amoment ago involving the bird and the worm. We aretold that after having witnessed the bird devouring theworm, having recognized the unhappy nature of life, theyoung prince sat under a tree and began to meditatespontaneously. He achieved the first level of meditationthrough concentrating the mind on the process ofin-breathing and out-breathing. So we have thisexperience of meditation in the early life of the Buddha,and later when He renounced the household life andwent forth to seek the truth, one of the first disciplineswhich He tried was again the discipline of mentalconcentration. We are told that He studied with twoforemost teachers of the time, Arada Kalama andUdraka Ramaputra and He learned from these teachersthe methods of mental concentration. Last week we saidthat amongst the discoveries made at Mohenjodaro andHarappa were images of the figures sitting in postures ofmeditation. We have very good reasons to believe thatthe methods of mental concentration go as far back asthe 3rd Millennium B.C. and it is very likely that thesetwo teachers were exponents of this tradition of mentalconcentration. Yet we find that the prince left the twoteachers because He found that meditation alone could 25
  28. 28. not permanently end suffering. This is importantbecause, although in its emphasis on mentaldevelopment Buddhism is very much in the tradition ofthe Indus Valley Civilization, yet the Buddha goesbeyond the tradition of mere meditation. This is whatdistinguishes the Buddha’s teachings from the teachingsof many other Indian schools, particularly the teachingsof the tradition of Yoga. It is also what distinguishesBuddhism from some of the contemplative traditions ofother religions, because in Buddhism meditation byitself is not enough. Meditation is like sharpening apencil, sharpening the mind so to speak. Just as whenwe sharpen a pencil we sharpen it for a purpose, so thatwe can write with it, so in sharpening the mind we havea purpose and that purpose is wisdom. Sometimes thisrelationship between meditation and wisdom isexemplified by the example of a torch. Suppose wewant to see a picture in a darkened room with a torch. Ifthere are many draughts in the room, we will find thatthe light of the torch will flicker. Similarly, if our handshakes, the light cast by the torch will be unsteady, andwe will be unable to see the image. In the same way, ifwe want to penetrate into the real nature of things, if ourmind is unsteady, distracted, wavers as a result ofemotional disturbances, then we will not be able topenetrate into the real nature of things. The Buddhaapplied this discovery on the night of His enlightenmentwhen we are told that with His mind concentrated, madeone-pointed and supple by meditation, He directed it tothe understanding of the nature of reality and penetratedthe real nature of things. So the Buddha’s enlightenmentis the direct result of this combination of meditation andwisdom — concentration and insight. 26
  29. 29. We also find other aspects of wisdom expressed inthe life of the Buddha, and one of the more importantones is of course the Middle Way. We do not have timetoday to discuss all the various levels of the meaning ofthe Middle Way but suffice it to say that the most basicsignificance of the Middle Way is the avoidance of theextreme of indulgence in pleasures of the senses and theextreme of tormenting the body. The Middle Way isexemplified in the life of the Buddha by His ownexperience of a life of luxury as a prince and by the sixyears of vigorous asceticism which He practised afterHe left His father’s palace. After realizing the futility ofthese extremes in His own experiences, He then hitupon the Middle Way which avoids these extremes. There are many other important episodes in the lifeof the Buddha. But if we can begin to see andunderstand the life of the Buddha as a lesson and notsimply as a biography containing a number of namesand places; if we can begin to appreciate the values andqualities that are exemplified in the life of the Buddha,we will have gained greater insight into the realsignificance of the life of the Buddha. 27
  30. 30. FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS PART I This is the third in the series of lectures and we aregetting into the real heart of Buddhism with today’slecture because in the next hour or so I would like to saya few words regarding the Four Noble Truths. The Four Noble Truths are a very important aspectof the teachings of the Buddha. Their importance hasbeen stated in no uncertain terms by the Buddha. He hassaid that it is because we fail to understand the FourNoble Truths that we have run on so long in this cycleof birth and death. This indicates how important theFour Noble Truths are to the understanding of theBuddha’s teachings and to the realization of the goal ofHis teachings. Similarly, it is no coincidence that in theBuddha’s first sermon the DhammachakkappavattanaSutra to the five monks at the deer park near Benares,the Buddha spoke primarily about the Four NobleTruths and the Middle Path. Here we have two verysignificant indications of the importance of the FourNoble Truths. The Four Noble Truths in a sense are asummary of the Buddha’s teachings both from the pointof view of doctrine or theory and also from the point ofview of practice. So here in the Four Noble Truthswhich are the truth of suffering, the truth of the cause ofsuffering, the truth of the end of suffering and the truthof the path that leads to the end of suffering, we havethe foundation of the teachings of the Buddha forunderstanding and practice. Before we consider the Four Noble Truthsindividually, I would like to say a few words about the 28
  31. 31. nature of the scheme that the Four Noble Truthsrepresent and in this context we can perhaps rememberthat medical science had enjoyed a certain amount ofdevelopment in ancient India. One of the structures thathad been developed by medical science in ancient Indiawas the four fold structure of disease, diagnosis, cureand treatment. Now if you think carefully about thesefour steps in the practice of medicine, the practice of theart of healing, you will see that they correspond quiteclosely to the Four Noble Truths. In other words,suffering corresponds to the illness; the cause ofsuffering corresponds to the diagnosis, in other wordsidentifying the cause of the illness; the end of sufferingcorresponds to the cure; and the path to the end ofsuffering corresponds to the treatment whereby one iscured of the illness. Now having said this about the therapeutic natureof the Four Noble Truths and the stages that theyrepresent, I would like to say something slightly moreconceptual but nonetheless very important for thecorrect understanding of the Four Noble Truths. WhenShariputra, one of the foremost disciples of the Buddhacame upon Ashvajit (who was one of the first fivemonks to whom the Buddha delivered the first sermon)and spoke to Ashvajit about the Buddha’s teachings,Ashvajit said, “I cannot tell you in great detail as I amrelatively new to the teachings, but I will tell youbriefly.” So Shariputra said, “Very well, tell me brieflythen,” and Ashvajit replied with a very brief summaryof the Buddha’s teachings which is as follows — Ofthings that proceed from a cause, their cause theTathagata has told, and also their cessation: Thus 29
  32. 32. teaches the Great Ascetic. Shariputra was greatlyimpressed by this summary and he went to find hisfriend Maudgalyayana and the two of them soon joinedthe Order and became prominent disciples of theBuddha. This summary of the Buddha’s teachings tellsus something about the central concept that lies behindthe Four Noble Truths. It indicates the importance of therelationship between cause and effect. The idea of causeand effect is at the heart of the Buddha’s teachings andis at the heart of the Four Noble Truths. Now in whatsense? Specifically there is a starting point, the problemof suffering. This problem arises from causes. Finallyjust as there is suffering and the causes of suffering, sotoo there is an end of suffering and a cause for the endof suffering. In this case it is a negative process. In otherwords, when the causes of suffering are removed thensuffering ends. If you look at the Four Noble Truths you can seethat they divide quite naturally into two groups. Thefirst two, suffering and the cause of suffering belong tothe realm of birth and death. Symbolically they can berepresented as a circle, in the sense that they are circular.The causes of suffering lead to suffering, sufferingproduces the causes of suffering which again producesuffering. They are circular. They belong to samsara.The second two, the end of suffering and the path to theend of suffering can be symbolized in terms of a spiral.Movement is no longer circular. It is now directedupwards. If we keep this structure, the idea of cause andeffect at the back of our mind when we look at the FourNoble Truths, I think we can find them easier tounderstand. Similarly, if we remember the principle of 30
  33. 33. cause and effect it will be of great value to us as wecontinue to study the Buddha’s teachings when wecome to consider karma and rebirth or when we come toconsider dependent origination. In short, throughout allthe Buddha’s teachings we will see that the principle ofcause and effect runs like a thread. Let us now look at the first of the Four NobleTruths, the truth of suffering (Duhkha). Many non-Buddhists and even some Buddhists have felt disturbedby the choice of suffering as the first of the Four NobleTruths and many have said that this is an indication ofpessimism. I often find non-Buddhists saying to me“Why is Buddhism so pessimistic? Why does it beginwith and emphasize suffering?” There are a number ofanswers to this question. Some of you may be familiarwith the distinction between pessimism, optimism andrealism. Let us put it this way. If one is suffering from adisease and one refuses to recognize the fact that one isill this is not being optimistic, this is merely beingfoolish. It is analogous to the ostrich burying its head inthe sand. If there is a problem the only sensible thing todo is to recognize the problem and see what can be doneto eliminate it. Secondly, if the Buddha had taught onlythe truth of suffering and had stopped at that, then theremight be some truth in the charge that the teachings ofthe Buddha are pessimistic. But the teachings of theBuddha do not end with the truth of suffering becausethe Buddha taught not only the truth of suffering butalso the truth of its cause and more importantly in thiscontext the truth of its cessation. 31
  34. 34. All of us, I am quite sure, if we are honest withourselves, will admit that there is a fundamentalproblem with life. Things are not as they should be.Something in somewhere is not quite right. And nomatter how much we may try to run away from it, atsome time or other, perhaps in the middle of the night,or perhaps in the middle of a crowd, or perhaps in themoment during one’s work, we do come face to facewith ourselves, the realization that things are not all asthey should be, that something is wrong somewhere.This is what in fact impels people to seek solutions.They may seek solutions in more material things or theymay seek solutions in various therapies. In Buddhism, specifically the truth of suffering canbe divided into two categories, broadly speaking,physical and mental. Here the physical sufferings are thesufferings of birth, old age, sickness and death. You canrecall that last week we touched upon the Buddha’sencounter with sickness, old age and death in the formof the three sights — the sick man, old man and thecorpse. Here we find a fourth suffering, the suffering ofbirth. Birth is suffering because of the physical painsuffered by the infant and because birth impels all theother sufferings. Birth in a sense is the gateway to theother sufferings of sickness, old age and death whichfollow inevitably upon birth. I think one need hardlyspend much time on the suffering of sickness, old ageand death. Most of us have experience of suffering fromsickness and we have also observed the suffering ofsickness in our friends and relatives. We have allobserved the suffering of old age, the inability to work,to function and to think coherently. We have all 32
  35. 35. observed the suffering of death, the pain, and the fearexperienced by the dying. These sufferings are aninevitable part of life. No matter how happy andcontented our lives may be, the sufferings of birth, oldage, sickness and death are absolutely unavoidable. In addition to these physical sufferings there aremental sufferings. There is the suffering of separationfrom our loved ones, separation either due to reasons ofwork or because those whom we love die or becausethose whom we love have to go away, or because wehave to leave them. Then there is the suffering ofcontact with those whom we dislike or those whodislike us. It can take very mild forms such as acolleague at work who is antagonistic to us and wedread to go to work because we know that this personwhom we dislike somehow always wants to find faultwith us. It can take more radical forms such aspersecution, torture and so forth. Finally there is thesuffering of frustrated desire, when we cannot get whatwe want, when we cannot get that job, the position thatwe want, when we cannot win over this or that person.These physical and mental sufferings are woven into thefabric of our existence. But what about happiness? Isthere no happiness or enjoyment in life? Of course thereis. But the pleasure or happiness which we experience inlife is impermanent. We may enjoy a happy situation,we may enjoy the company of someone we love, wemay enjoy youth and health and yet all these forms ofhappiness are impermanent. Sooner or later we willexperience suffering. 33
  36. 36. If we really want to do something about suffering,to solve the problem of suffering, we must identify itscause. If the lights go out and we want to set it right wehave to identify its cause. We have to find out whether itis a short circuit or whether a fuse has blown or whetherperhaps the power supply has been cut off. Similarly,when we recognize the problem of suffering we have tolook for the cause. It is by understanding the cause ofsuffering that we can do something to solve theproblem. What is the cause of suffering according to theBuddha? The Buddha has taught that craving or desire(Trishna or Raga) is a great cause of suffering —craving for pleasant experiences, craving for materialthings, craving for eternal life and craving for eternaldeath. We all enjoy good food, we all enjoy fine music,pleasant company. We enjoy all these things and wewant more and more of these things. We try to prolongthese pleasant experiences. We try to get more andmore of these pleasures. And yet somehow we are nevercompletely satisfied. We may find that we are fond of aparticular kind of food and yet if we eat it again andagain we get bored with it. We try another kind of food.We like it, enjoy it and again we get bored with it. Wego on to look for something else, we get tired of ourfavourite piece of music. We get tired of our friends. Welook for more and more. Sometimes this chase afterpleasant experiences leads one to extremely negativeforms of behaviour such as alcoholism and drugaddiction. All of these are the cravings for satisfactionof our desires for pleasant experiences. It is said thattrying to satisfy one’s desire for pleasant experiences islike drinking salt water when one is thirsty. If one drinks 34
  37. 37. salt water to satisfy one’s thirst, one’s thirst, rather thanbeing quenched, is only increased. Not only do we crave for pleasant experiences butwe also crave for material things. You can see thisclearly in children. I have a five year old son. Take himinto a toy shop and he will want every toy in the shop.And perhaps he will buy a toy. Almost as soon as he hasbought the toy he begins to lose interest in it, andwithout fail, within a few days the toy will be neglectedin the corner of the room and he will want another toy.While this can be seen very clearly in young children,are we any different? After we have bought that new cardon’t we want another one? After we have got a newhouse don’t we think “Well, this house is quite nice, butit will be even nicer if I can get a better one, one with alittle garden or one with four rooms, or a point block, ora condominium.” And it goes on and on, whether it is atrain set or a bicycle or a video recorder or a MercedesBenz. It is said that the desire for acquiring wealth orpossession is involved with three major sufferings, orproblems. The first one is the problem of getting it. Youhave to work, and save enough to buy that car or thathouse. Secondly, there is the suffering of protecting it.You worry that someone might bang your car, youworry that your house may burn down or be damagedby the rain. Finally there is the suffering of losing them,because sooner or later they will fall apart. Craving for existence or eternal life is a cause ofsuffering. We all crave for existence, we all crave forlife. Despite all the suffering and frustration of life weall crave for life. And it is this craving which causes us 35
  38. 38. to be born again and again. Then there is the desire forannihilation, the desire for non-existence, what wemight call the desire for eternal death. This expressesitself in nihilism and in suicide. Craving for existence isone extreme. Craving for non-existence is anotherextreme. You may ask, “Is craving alone a sufficient causeof suffering? Is craving alone enough to explainsuffering? Is the answer as simple as that?” The answeris no. There is something that goes deeper than craving.There is something which in a sense is the foundation ofcraving. And that something is ignorance (Avidya). Ignorance is not seeing things as they really are, orfailing to understand the reality of experience or thereality of life. All those who are well educated may feeluneasy about being told that they are ignorant. I canrecall what Professor Lancaster who visited Singapore afew months ago said regarding this. He said this is oneof the most difficult things to explain to universitystudents in the United States when they begin a coursein Buddhist studies because they are all very happy andproud to be in the university. Here you have to tell themthat they are ignorant. He says always the hands shootup immediately, “How are we ignorant? In what senseare we ignorant?” Let me say this. Without the rightconditions, without the right training and without theright instruments we are unable to see things as theyreally are. None of us would be aware of radio waves ifit were not for the radio receiver. None of us would beaware of bacteria in a drop of water if it were not formicroscopes, and none of us would be aware of 36
  39. 39. molecular structure if it were not for the latesttechniques of electron microscopy. All these facts aboutthe world in which we live in are known and observedonly because of special training, special conditions andspecial instruments. When we say that ignorance isfailure to see things as they really are, what we mean isthat so long as one has not developed one’s ability toconcentrate one’s mind and insight so one is ignorant ofthe true nature of things. We are familiar with the fearthat we experience when we see a shape in the darknessby the side of the road while walking home alone late atnight. That shape by the side of the road may be a treestump. Yet it is our ignorance that causes us to quickenour steps, perhaps our palms may begin to perspire, wemay reach home in a panic. If there were a light therewould be no fear and no suffering because there wouldbe no ignorance. We would have seen the tree stump forwhat it is. Specifically in Buddhism, we are speaking aboutignorance regarding the self, taking the self as real. Thisis the fundamental cause of suffering. We take our bodyor ideas or feelings as a self, as a real independent egojust as we take the tree stump for a potential assailant.Once we have this idea of self we have an idea ofsomething that is apart from or different from ourselves.Once we have this idea of something that is apart ordifferent from ourselves, then it is either helpful orhostile. It is either pleasant or unpleasant to ourselves.From this notion of self we have craving and ill-will.Once we believe in the real existence of ourselves, that“we” exist in reality, independently, apart from allothers, apart from all the physical objects that surround 37
  40. 40. us, we crave and desire and want those things whichbenefit us and we are averse towards those things whichdo not benefit us, which damage us or which areunhelpful to us. Because of this failure to see that in thisbody and mind there is no independent, permanent self,desire and ill-will inevitably thrive. Out of the root andthe trunk of ignorance grow the branches of craving —desire, greed, ill-will, anger, hatred, envy, jealousy,pride and the whole lot. All these branches grow out ofthe root and trunk of ignorance and these branches bearthe fruits of suffering. So here, ignorance is the under-lying cause, and craving, ill-will, greed and anger arethe secondary or subsequent causes. After having identified the causes of suffering oneis in a position to put an end to suffering. Just aswhen one might identify the cause of that pain in one’slower abdomen on the left side as appendicitis, onewould then be in a position to remove the cause of thepain. One can put an end to suffering by eliminating thecause of suffering, by eliminating craving, ill-will andignorance. Here we come to the Third Noble Truth, thetruth of the end of suffering. In dealing with the truth of the end of suffering, thefirst obstacle that we have to overcome is the doubt thatexists in some minds of whether an end of suffering isreally possible. Whether one can really end suffering, orwhether one can really be cured. It is in this context thatconfidence or faith plays an important role inBuddhism. When we speak of confidence or faith we donot speak of faith in the sense of blind acceptance. Wespeak of faith in the sense of recognizing or admitting 38
  41. 41. the possibility of achieving the goal of the end ofsuffering. If you do not believe that a doctor can cureyou of that pain in your abdomen you will never go to adoctor, you will never take the medicine or have theoperation and as a result you may die of that illnesswhich could be cured. So confidence, belief in thepossibility of being cured is an indispensable pre-requisite. Here too, as in other cases, people may say,“How can I believe in the possibility of Nirvana? Howcan I believe that the end of suffering is really possiblewhen I have never experienced it?” Well, as I said amoment ago, none of us would have experienced radiowaves were it not for the development of radioreceivers, and none of us would have experiencedmicroscopic life were it not for the invention of themicroscope. Even now none of us here, unless there isany physicist in this room, have actually observedelectrons and yet we accept them because there are thoseamong us with the special training, and specialinstruments who have observed electrons. So here too asregards the possibility of the end of suffering and thepossibility of attaining Nirvana, we ought not to rejectthe possibility of attaining Nirvana outright simplybecause we have not experienced it, simply because wehave not seen it for ourselves. Many of you may befamiliar with the old story of the turtle and the fish. Oneday the turtle left the pond and spent a few hours on thebank. When he returned to the water he told the fish ofhis experiences on the bank. The fish would not believehim. The fish would not believe that there existed aplace known as dry land because it was totally unlikewhat the fish knew, what the fish was familiar with. Thefish would not believe that there was a place where 39
  42. 42. creatures walked rather than swam, where one breathedair rather than water, and so forth. There are manyhistorical examples of this tendency to rejectinformation that does not tally with what we alreadybelieve, or what we are already familiar with. WhenMarco Polo returned to Italy from his travels to the FarEast, he was imprisoned because his account did nottally with what was then believed about the nature of theuniverse. When Copernicus advanced the theory thatthe sun did not circle the earth but in fact that the casewas the opposite, he was disbelieved and ridiculed. Weought to be on guard against dismissing the possibilityof the complete end of suffering or the possibility ofattaining Nirvana simply because we have not ex-perienced it ourselves. Once we accept that the end ofsuffering is possible, that we can be cured of an illness,then we can proceed with the steps that are necessary inorder to achieve that cure. But unless and until webelieve that that cure is possible there is no question ofsuccessfully completing the treatment. In order thereforeto realize progress on the path, to realize eventually theend of suffering one has to have at least confidence inthe possibility of achieving the goal, in the possibility ofattaining Nirvana. 40
  43. 43. FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS PART II When we speak of the end of suffering, the truth ofthe cessation of suffering, we are speaking of the goal ofthe Buddhist path. In one place the Buddha says thatjust as the ocean, though vast, is of one taste — the tasteof salt, so it is in His teachings. Although there are manyitems, all these teachings as vast as the ocean have onlyone taste, and that is the taste of Nirvana. As you willsee, although there are many items of Buddhistteachings — the Four Noble Truths, the three ways ofpractice, dependent origination, the three characteristicsand so on — all these teachings have one goal in view andthat goal is the cessation of suffering. It is the goal thatgives all the various teachings that we find in Buddhismtheir directions and purposes. The end of suffering is thegoal of Buddhist practice and yet this end of suffering isnot something which is only transcendental, which isonly ultimate. This is interesting because yesterday Iwas asked to speak on the origin and development of theSemitic religions and at the end of the session one of thequestions raised was “What is the final goal of theSemitic religions and what is the distinction between thespiritual goal offered by the Semitic religions and thegoal offered by Buddhism?” In the case of the Semiticreligions, I think it is fair to say that there are two goals.One refers to this life, and is expressed in the sense ofbuilding a kingdom of love, prosperity and justice inthis world. The other higher goal refers to attainingheaven in the after-life. But in Buddhism we have amuch more comprehensive treatment. In other words,this goal of the end of suffering that the Buddha speaks 41
  44. 44. of is very broad and comprehensive in its meaning.Because when we speak of the end of suffering, we canmean the end of suffering here and now, eithertemporarily or permanently. Let us see whether we canexplain this in greater detail. Suppose we happen to bein dire poverty — insufficient food, medicine, schoolsand so forth. There are sufferings such as birth, sickness,disease and old age, separation from one’s loved ones,contact with those we dont want contact. When we remedythe situation here and now through achieving prosperity,through developing our medical and educationalsystems, our sufferings are reduced. Buddhism teachesthat the particular happiness or suffering that isexperienced in this life is the result of our actions donein the past. In other words, if we are in fortunateconditions, these conditions are the results of good orwholesome actions done in the past. Similarly, thosewho find themselves in less fortunate conditions, thoseconditions are the results of unwholesome actions donein the past. What does Buddhism offer in the way of the end ofsuffering? Practising Buddhism results in the short termin relative happiness in this life. This happiness can beof a material variety in the sense of better materialconditions or it can be of a spiritual variety in the senseof greater peace or happiness of mind. All of these areachievable in this very life here and now. This is onedimension of the end of suffering in this life. And this isequivalent to what the Semitic religions call the king-dom on earth. In addition to this, the end of sufferingmeans happiness and good fortune in the next life, in thesense of rebirth in fortunate circumstances, in circum- 42
  45. 45. stances of happiness, prosperity, health, well-being,success and so on. And this can be as a human being onthis earth or it can be in the heavens. We can liken it tothe heaven that the Semitic religions speak of. The goalof Buddhism initially means happiness and prosperity inthis life and next. But the goal of Buddhism is morethan just that and it is here that Buddhism differs fromthe Semitic religions because not only does Buddhismpromise happiness and prosperity in this life and next,Buddhism also offers liberation — Nirvana, the total,absolute and permanent cessation of suffering. This isthe ultimate and final goal of Buddhism. When we speak of Nirvana, we encounter certainproblems of expression because when we are speakingof an experience, the exact nature of that experiencecannot be communicated. It has to be experienceddirectly. This is true of all experiences whether they bethe experiences of the taste of salt, sugar, chocolate orwhatever. All these experiences cannot be exactlydescribed. I often ask people here in Singapore in orderto make this point. Imagine I have just recently arrivedin Singapore and I have not eaten a durian. How wouldyou describe to me the taste of a durian? Would it bepossible to describe accurately the taste of a durian if Ihave not eaten one myself? We can describe it by meansof comparison or simile or by means of negation. So, forinstance, you might say that a durian is slightly sour,that it has a mealy texture. You might say a durian issomething like a jackfruit or you might say a durian isnot like a banana. So we have a similar kind of problemwhen we come to try to describe Nirvana. We find that 43
  46. 46. the Buddha and Buddhist teachers have used these kindsof devices to describe Nirvana. The Buddha described Nirvana as supremehappiness, as peace, as immortal. Similarly, He hasdescribed Nirvana as uncreated, unformed, as beyondthe earth, as beyond water, fire, air, beyond the sun andmoon, unfathomable, unmeasurable. So we have twoapproaches to the description of Nirvana. One is thepositive approach where we liken Nirvana to somethingwhich we experience in this world where, say, when oneexperiences intense happiness accompanied by pro-found peace of mind one can imagine that one isexperiencing a faint glimpse of Nirvana. But a jackfruitis not really like a durian. Similarly, we can say thatNirvana is not like anything in this world, is not like anyexperience that we have from day to day. It is uncreated.It is beyond the sun and the moon. It is beyond all thesenames and forms which we are used to thinking in termsof, through which we experience the world. The point ofall these is that to understand what Nirvana is really likeone has to experience it for oneself. To know what adurian is really like, one has to eat it. No amount ofessays, no amount of descriptions of durians will evenapproach the experience of eating one. One has toexperience the end of suffering for oneself and the waythat one does it is through eliminating the causes ofsuffering — the defilements of desire (Raga) ill-will(Dosha) and ignorance (Avidya). When one has totallyeliminated these causes of suffering, then one willexperience for oneself Nirvana. 44
  47. 47. How does one remove these causes of suffering?What are the means through which one can remove thedefilements that lead to suffering? This is the pathtaught by the Buddha. It is the Middle Path, the path ofmoderation. You will recall that the life of the Buddhabefore His Enlightenment falls into two quite distinctperiods. The period before renunciation was a periodwhen He enjoyed all the luxury possible. For instance,we are told that He had three palaces, one for eachseason. He experienced luxury to an extent which wecan scarcely imagine. This period of luxury wassuperseded by six years of extreme asceticism andself-mortification when He abandoned the essentialamenities of life, a period in which He lived in the open,wore the poorest garments and fasted for lengthyperiods. In addition to these privations, He experiencedthe suffering of torturing His body through variouspractices of self-mortification — sleeping on beds ofthorns and sitting in the midst of fires in the heat of thenoon-day sun. Having experienced the extremes ofluxury and privation, having reached the limits of theseextremes, He saw their futility and He discovered theMiddle Way that avoids the extremes of indulgence inpleasures of the senses and self-mortification. It wasthrough realizing the nature of the extremes in His ownexperience that He was able to arrive at the Middle Path,the path that avoids the two extremes. As we shall see inthe subsequent weeks, the Middle Path is capable ofmany profound and significant interpretations, but mostimportantly and most essentially, it means moderationin one’s approach to life, in one’s attitude, in all things. We use the example of the three strings of the lute toillustrate the Middle Path. The Buddha once had a 45
  48. 48. disciple by the name of Sona who practised meditationso intensely that he could not progress in his meditation.He began to think of abandoning his life as a monk. TheBuddha, who understood his problem, said to him,“Sona, before you became a monk you were amusician”. Sona said that was true. So the Buddha said,“As a musician which string of the lute produces apleasant and harmonious sound. The over-tight string?”“No,” said Sona, “The over-tight string produces anunpleasant sound and is moreover likely to break at anymoment.” “The string that is too loose?” Again, “No,the string that is too loose does not produce a tunefulsound. The string that produces a tuneful sound is thestring that is not too tight and not too loose.” So here thelife of luxury is too loose, without discipline. The life ofmortification is too tight, too tense, too likely to causethe breakdown of the mind and body just as theover-tight string is likely to break at any moment. Specifically, the path to the Buddhist goal is like amedical prescription. When a competent doctor treats apatient for a serious illness, his prescription is not onlyphysical, it is also psychological. If one is suffering, forinstance, from heart disease, one is not only givenmedication. One is also asked to control one’s diet andto avoid stressful situations. Here too when we look atthe specific instructions with regard to following thepath to the end of suffering, we can see that theinstructions refer not only to one’s body – actions andwords – but also to one’s thoughts. In other words, theNoble Eightfold Path, the path to the end of suffering isa comprehensive path, an integrated therapy. It isdesigned to cure the disease through eliminating the 46
  49. 49. causes, through treatment that applies not only to thebody but also to the mind. Right understanding is the first step of the NobleEightfold Path and it is followed by Right Thought,Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, RightEffort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration.Why do we begin with Right Understanding? It isbecause in order to climb a mountain we have to havethe summit clearly in view. In this sense, the first stepdepends on the last. We have to have our goal in view ifwe are to travel a path to reach that goal. In this sense,Right Understanding gives direction and an orientationto the other steps of the path. We see here that the firsttwo steps of the path, Right Understanding and RightThought refer to the mind. Through Right Under-standing and Right Thought we eliminate ignorance,greed and anger. But it is not enough to say that throughRight Understanding and Right Thought we eliminateignorance, greed and anger because in order to achieveRight Understanding and Right Thought we also need tocultivate, to purify our mind and our body. The way thatthis is done is through the other six steps of the path. Wepurify our physical existence so that it will be easier topurify our mind, and we purify our mind so that it willbe easier to attain Right Understanding. For convenience’ sake, the Noble Eightfold Pathhas been traditionally divided into the three groups oftraining or the three ways of practice and they aremorality or good conduct (Shila), meditation or mentaldevelopment (Samadhi), and wisdom or insight (Prajna).The eight steps of the path are divided into these three 47
  50. 50. ways of practice as follows — Right Speech, RightAction and Right Livelihood belong to the way of goodconduct; Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and RightConcentration belong to the way of mental develop-ment; and Right Understanding and Right Thoughtbelong to the way of wisdom. Because it is necessary topurify our words and actions before we can purify ourmind, we begin our progress along the path with goodconduct. As the Noble Eightfold Path is the means ofarriving at the goal of Buddhism, we will be spendingthe next three weeks dealing with these three ways ofpractice. 48
  51. 51. MORALITY Last week we completed our survey of the FourNoble Truths and in so doing the last topic that we dealtwith was the Noble Eightfold Path to the end ofsuffering. We used the analogy of mountain climbingwhen we talked about treading the Eightfold Path to theend of suffering. We have said that just as when oneclimbs a mountain the first step depends on the last, thelast depends on the first because we have to have oureyes firmly fixed on the summit of the mountain and yetwe also have to be careful not to stumble while takingthe first few steps up to the mountain path. So here inclimbing a mountain, each portion of the path dependson the other portions. In this sense, regarding the NobleEightfold Path, all the steps of the path are interrelated,are dependent on one another. We cannot do away withany one step. Nonetheless, for practical purposes theeight steps of the path have been divided into three waysof practice, or three divisions of training. These threedivisions are good conduct or morality (Shila), mentaldevelopment or meditation (Samadhi) and finally wis-dom or insight (Prajna). Although conceptually andstructurally, the first step depends upon the last and thelast depends upon the first; although they are dependenton one another, still in practical terms when one climbsa mountain one has to climb the lowest slope first. Onemay be attracted to the summit, but in order to get thereone has to cover the lower slope first. It is for this verypractical reason that we find the eight steps of the Eight-fold Path grouped into these three ways of practice. 49
  52. 52. The first of these three ways is good conduct.Good conduct forms a foundation for further progresson the path, for further personal development. It is saidthat just as the earth is the base of all animate andinanimate things, so is morality the foundation of allqualities. When we look around us we can see thateverything rests upon the earth, whether it be thebuilding, whether it be the tree and bush, or whether itbe the animal. The earth is the foundation, and in thesame manner morality is the foundation of all qualities,all virtues, all attainments ranging from the mundane tothe supra-mundane, ranging from success, good fortuneall the way up to skill in meditation, wisdom andenlightenment. Through this metaphor, we can under-stand the importance of good conduct as a foundationfor following the path, as a basis for achieving results onthe path. Why do we take time to stress the importance ofgood conduct as a foundation for progress on the path?The reason is that there is a tendency to think of goodconduct as rather boring, rather dull. Meditation soundsmore exciting and interesting. Philosophy has a kind offascination about it. There is a dangerous tendency toneglect the importance of good conduct and to go to themore exciting parts of the path. But if we do not createthis foundation of good conduct, we will not succeed intreading the other parts of the path. We have to understand the way in which theprecepts or the rules of good conduct are establishedwithin Buddhism because there are various ways inwhich moral or ethical codes are established. If you look 50
  53. 53. at the moral codes of the major religions, you will findthat there is a surprising correspondence. If you look atthe moral teachings of Confucius, of Lao Tzu, of theBuddha, of Hindu teachers, Christians, Muslims, andJews, you will find that regarding the basic rules ofmorality, there is a large degree of correspondence. Butwhile the rules in many cases correspond, the attitude,the ways in which the rules are presented, understoodand interpreted differ considerably from religion toreligion. Essentially, to generalize, there are two ways inwhich moral codes can be established. One way wemight call the authoritarian way, and the other we mightcall the democratic way. And a good example of thefirst is God’s handing down the Ten Commandments toMoses on the mountain. On the other hand inBuddhism, I think what we have here might be called ademocratic way of establishing the rules of goodconduct. You might wonder why I say that. After all wedo have the rules of good conduct laid down inscriptures. So you might ask is this not similar to God’shanding down the tablets to Moses? But I think this isnot really so because if we look closely at the scriptures,we do find what lies behind the rules of good conduct,and the principles that lie behind that are the foundationof the rules of good conduct, are the principles ofequality and reciprocity. What equality means is that all living beings areequal in their essential attitudes. In other words, allliving beings want to be happy. They fear pain, deathand suffering. All want to live, to enjoy happiness andsecurity. And this is also true to all living beings just asit is true to ourselves. We can call this equality the great 51
  54. 54. universality of the Buddhist vision in which all livingbeings are equal. On the basis of this equality, we areencouraged to act with the awareness of reciprocity. Reciprocity means that just as we would not like tobe killed, robbed, abused and so forth, so would allother living beings not like to have these things happento them. One can put this principle of reciprocity quitesimply by saying “do not act towards others in a waywhich you would not want them to act towards you”.Given these principles of equality and reciprocity, it isnot hard to see how they stand behind, how they createthe foundation for the rules of good conduct. Let us now look specifically at the contents ofgood conduct in Buddhism. The way of practice of goodconduct includes three parts of the Noble EightfoldPath, and these three parts are Right Speech, RightAction, and Right Livelihood. Speech is an extremelyimportant part of our life. We often tend to under-estimate the power of speech. We often tend to exercisevery little control over our faculty of speech. Thisshould not be so. We have all been very greatly hurt bysomeone’s words at some time of our life. Andsimilarly, we have been encouraged by the words ofanother. In the sphere of politics, we can see how thosewho are able to communicate effectively are able toinfluence people tremendously for better or for worse.Hitler, Churchill, Martin Luther King were allaccomplished speakers who were able to influencemillions of people with their words. It is said that aharsh word can wound more deeply than weapons. Agentle word can change the heart and mind of the most 52
  55. 55. hardened criminal. Probably more than anything else,the faculty of speech differentiates man from animals.So if one is to develop a society in which harmony,well-being, communication and co-operation are goalswhich are to be realized, one must control, cultivate andutilize one’s faculty of speech positively. All the rules of good conduct involve respect thatis founded upon the understanding of equality andreciprocity. In this context, right speech involves respectfor truth and respect for the welfare of others. If onespeaks with these criteria in mind, one will becultivating right speech and through this one willachieve greater harmony within society. Traditionallywe speak of four aspects of right speech. Right speechmeans to avoid lying, to avoid back biting or slander, toavoid harsh speech, and to avoid idle talk. Some of youmay recall the Buddha’s instruction to Rahula regardingthe importance of avoiding lying. He used the exampleof a vessel. The vessel had a tiny bit of water in thebottom and He asked, “Rahula, see the small amount ofwater in the bottom of the vessel. Those who are notashamed of lying, their virtue is small, their renunciationis small like the small amount of water in the vessel.”Then the Buddha threw away the water and said, “thosewho are not ashamed of lying throw away their virtuejust as this water is thrown away.” Then the Buddhashowed Rahula the empty vessel and said, “just soempty is the virtue, the renunciation of those whohabitually tell lies.” Thus He used the vessel as a means to illustrate thepoint that lying is intimately associated with one’s 53
  56. 56. practice of wholesome actions, with one’s goodconduct, with one’s character. Once we are confidentthat we can act in one way and speak in another, thenwe will not be afraid to act badly, because we will beconfident that we can cover up our bad actions by lying.Lying therefore opens the door to all kinds ofunwholesome actions. Slander is divisive. It createsquarrels between friends. It creates pain and discord. Sojust as one would not want to be divided from one’sfriend by slander, so ought one not to slander another.So also one ought not to abuse others with harsh words,but on the contrary should speak courteously to othersas one would like to be spoken to oneself. Regardingidle talk, often you hear of people saying that we cannoteven indulge in a bit of idle talk. It is not quite that bad.Here the kind of idle talk that is particularly indicatedrefers to malicious gossips, diverting oneself, entertain-ing oneself, recounting the faults and failings of others.Rather than use this faculty of speech which is sopowerful for deception, for dividing others, for abusingothers, for idling away time at the expense of others,why not use it constructively, to communicate meaning-fully, to unite others, to encourage understandingbetween neighbours and friends, and to communicatehelpful, meaningful advice. The Buddha once said,“Pleasant speech is as sweet as honey, truthful speech isas beautiful as a flower, and wrong speech is unwhole-some and filthy”. So let us try for our own good and thatof others to cultivate Right Speech, respect for truth, andrespect for the welfare of others. The next part of the path that falls under goodconduct is Right Action. Right Action entails respect for 54
  57. 57. life, respect for property, and respect for personalrelationships. We will recall what was said a momentago about life being dear to all. It is said in theDharmapada that all tremble at punishment, all feardeath, and that all living beings love life. So again,keeping in mind the principles of equality andreciprocity, we ought not to kill living beings. Onemight be ready to accept this in regard to human beings,but we might demur with regard to other livingcreatures. Some of the developments that we have seentaking place in the world of science and technology inrecent years ought to give the most skeptical free-thinker food for thought. When one destroys a certainstrain of insects, is one absolutely sure of accomplishingthe greatest good, the long-term good of theenvironment? Or do we more often than not contributeunwittingly to an imbalance which creates even greaterproblems in the future? Respect for property — not tosteal from or cheat others. This is important becausethose who take what is not given, by stealth, by treachery,are as guilty of breaking this precept as those who stealby force. In other words, the employer who does notpay his employee an honest wage that is commensuratewith his work is guilty of taking what is not given.Similarly, the employee who collects a salary and shirkshis duties is guilty of lack of respect for property.Finally respect for personal relationships means to avoidadultery, to avoid sexual misconduct. You can see how,if these guidelines are sincerely cultivated within asociety, such a society will be a better place to live in. The third step of the Noble Eightfold Path includedin the way of good conduct is Right Livelihood. Right 55
  58. 58. Livelihood is an extension of the rules of Right Actionto one’s role as a breadwinner in a society. We haveseen that with regard to Right Speech and Right Actionthe underlying principles behind the rules are respect fortruth, life, property and personal relationships. RightLivelihood means that one ought not to earn a living insuch a way as to violate these principles which areunderlying principles of good conduct. Specifically,there are five kinds of livelihood that are discouragedfor Buddhists. These are trading in animals forslaughter, dealing in slaves, dealing in weapons, dealingin poisons, and dealing in intoxicants, those are drugsand alcoholic drinks. These five kinds of livelihood arediscouraged because they contribute to the ills of societyand because they violate the principles of respect for lifeand so forth. Dealing in the slaughter of animals violatesrespect for life. Dealing in slaves violates respect for lifeand personal relationships. Dealing in deadly weaponsviolates the principle of respect for life. Dealing inpoisons violates the principle of respect for life. Dealingin intoxicants violates the principle of respect for thewelfare of others. All these trades contribute to theinsecurity, to the suffering and discord in society. How does good conduct function? We have saidthat, in regard to society, following the rules of goodconduct creates a society characterized by harmony andpeace. All social goals can be achieved through theprinciples and rules of good conduct based upon thefundamental recognition of equality and reciprocity. Inaddition, the individual also benefits through thepractice of good conduct. In one Sutra, the Buddha said,“he who has practised respect for life and so forth, he 56
  59. 59. feels as a king duly crowned and his enemies subdued.He feels at peace, at ease.” The practice of good conductcreates within the individual an inner sense of peace, ofstability, of security and of strength. Once he has createdthat inner peace, he can then fruitfully and successfullypractise the other steps of the path. He can cultivate anddevelop meditation. He can achieve wisdom only whenhe has created both inwardly and outwardly in hisrelationships with others and in himself the necessaryfoundation of good conduct. Very briefly, these are the origin, contents and goalof good conduct. I would like to touch on one pointbefore I stop today, and that is when people look at therules of good conduct, they often say how can theypossibly follow the rules of good conduct? It is terriblydifficult to observe the precepts. For instance, even theprecept against taking life can sometimes seem awfullydifficult to follow. When you clean up your kitchen, youquite likely may kill some ants. Again, it may seemdifficult to always observe the precept of Right Speech.How are we to deal with this problem which is agenuine one? It is not the point whether we can observeall the rules of good conduct all the time. The point is, ifthe rules of good conduct are well founded, if we canaccept that equality and reciprocity are principles webelieve in, if we acknowledge that the rules areappropriate to implementing those principles, then it isour duty to practise, to follow the rules of good conductas much as we can. That is not to say that we will beable to follow the rules absolutely all the time. But it isto say that if we accept that in order to live at peace withourselves and others, we ought to respect the life of 57
  60. 60. other living beings, respect their property and so forth.And if a situation arises in which we find ourselvesunable to apply a particular rule in a particular situation,then that is not the fault of the rule. That simply is thegap between our own practice and the ideal. When a navigator steers his ship across the oceanby the stars, he is not able to follow precisely the courseindicated by the stars. Yet the stars are his guide and byfollowing the stars however inaccurately or approxi-mately, he reaches his destination. In the same way,when we follow the rules of good conduct we do notpretend that we can observe them all the time. This iswhy for instance the five precepts are called the trainingprecepts and that is why we take them again and again.What we have in the rules of good conduct is aframework through which we can try to live in accordwith the fundamental principles that illuminate theBuddhist teachings, the principle of the equality of allliving beings and the principle of respect for others. 58
  61. 61. MENTAL DEVELOPMENT Our topic today is mental development. We aregoing to look at the steps of the Noble Eightfold Paththat fall into the group known as mental development,meditation or Samadhi. We have spoken about how thesteps of the path are interrelated and in this context it isparticularly interesting to understand the position ofmental development because standing as it is betweengood conduct and wisdom it is relevant and importantfor both of them. You may ask why this is the case. Infact sometimes people have said to me regarding theneed for meditation: if one simply follows the moralprecepts, is that not sufficient to lead a moral life? I think there are several answers to this question.First of all, in Buddhism there is not only one goal.Besides the goal of happiness and good fortune, there isalso the goal of freedom. If one wants to attain the goalof freedom, the only way that can be achieved isthrough wisdom. And in order to achieve wisdom onehas to purify the mind, develop the mind throughmeditation. Even for the practice of good conduct, forthe observance of moral rules, mental development isnecessary. Why? Because it is relatively easy to followthe rules of good conduct when things are going well. Ifwe have a good job, if we live in a stable society, if weearn sufficiently to support ourselves and our families, itis relatively easy to observe the precepts. But when wefind ourselves in circumstances of stress, of instability,as for instance when we lose our job, when we findourselves in a situation where lawlessness prevails, thisis the point at which the observance of good conduct 59