Basic Buddhism

The Truth of Suffering

The Buddha’s discovery of the solution to the problem of suffering began with therecognition that life is suffering. This is the first of the Four Noble Truths. If people examine their own experiences or look at the world around them, they will see that life is full of suffering. Suffering may be Physical or Mental

 Physical Suffering
 Physical suffering takes many forms. People must have observed at one time or another, how their aged relatives suffer. Most of these aged suffer aches and pains in their joints and many find it hard to move about by themselves. With advancing age, the elderly find life difficult because they cannot see, hear or eat properly. The pain of disease, which strikes young and old alike, is unbearable, and the pain of death brings much grief and suffering. Even the moment of birth gives pain both to the mother and the child that is born.

 The truth is that suffering of birth, old age, sickness and death are unavoidable. Some fortunate people may now be enjoying relatively happy and carefree lives, but it is only a matter of time before they , too, will experience suffering. What is worse, this suffering must be borne alone.

 Mental Suffering
 Beside physical suffering, there are also various forms of mental suffering. People feel sad, lonely or depressed when they lose someone they love through separation or death. They feel irritated or uncomfortable when they are forced to be company of those whom they dislike or those who are unpleasant. People also suffer when they unable to satisfy their limitless needs and wants.

 Happiness in Life

When the Buddha said that there is suffering in life, He did not deny that there is happiness also. On the contrary, He spoke of various kinds of happiness, such as the happiness of friendship, the happiness of family life, and so on. But all these kinds of happiness are impermanent and when one loses them, one suffers. For example, one may like a pleasant and charming person and enjoy his or her company. But when one is separated from that person, the happiness turns into suffering. One suffers because of one’s attachment to pleasures that do not last.People often remain unaware of the inevitable sufferings of life because they are distracted by temporary pleasures.

The Causes of Suffering

The Buddha had observed that life is suffering. Before He Could find a solution to the problem of suffering in life, He had first to look for the cause of suffering. The Buddha was just like a good doctor who first observes a patient’s symptoms and identifies the cause of the illness before prescribing a cure. The Buddha discovered that the direct causes of suffering are desire or craving, and ignorance. This is the truth of the cause of suffering, which is the Second Noble Truth.

 CRAVING
 Craving is the deep-seated desire that all living beings have for the pleasures of the senses, and for life itself. For instance, people always seek to enjoy good food, entertainment and pleasant company. Yet none of these can give them complete and lasting satisfaction. After the fine meal has been eaten , the beautiful music heard and the pleasant company shared, one is still not content. One would like to enjoy these pleasures again and again, and for as long as possible.

 People who desire to own many things can never be fully satisfied too. Like children in a toy shop, they crave for all the attractive things they see around them. But like children too, they soon become dissatisfied with what they already have and desire for more. Sometimes, they can hardly eat or sleep until they get what they want. Yet when they succeeded in getting what they want, they may still find their happiness short-lived. Many will be too worried for the safety and condition of their new possessions to enjoy it. Then when the object they possess eventually breaks into pieces and has to be thrown away, they will suffer its loss even more.

 When we have obtained something that we desire, we may want more and more of it, and so greed arises. Because of desire and greed, people will lie, cheat and steal to get what they want. Uncontrolled desires can also lead to addiction, for example, to smoking, drinking and overeating, all of which lead to suffering and cause mental and physical harm.

 If one is prevented by another person from getting what one desires, one may feel anger with that person. Desire when obstructed can lead to illwill and anger. This in turn can lead to harsh words, violent quarrels and even fights or killings. All this is suffering.

 IGNORANCE
 Craving or desire is like a great tree having many branches. There are branches of greed, of illwill and of anger. The fruit of this tree is suffering, but how does the tree of craving arise ? Where does it grow ? The answer is that the tree of craving is rooted in ignorance. It grows out of ignorance.

 Ignorance is the inability to see the truth about things, to see things as they really are.There are many truths about the world which people are ignorant of because of the limitations of their understanding.

 Science has shown, for instance, that there are sounds that people are unable to hear and waves of light which they are unable to see. People would be totally unaware of radio waves, or ultra-violet light rays if special instruments had not been developed to enable them to observe these things. So long as people remain ignorant of things about the world in which they live, they suffer from all kinds of misunderstandings and delusions.

When people develop their minds and acquire wisdom through study, careful thought and meditation they will see the Truth. They will see things as they really are. They will understand the suffering and impermanence of life, the Law of Cause and Effect and the Four Noble Truths. By overcoming craving and ignorance, they will attain happiness and Enlightenment just as the Buddha did about 2500 years ago.

The End of Suffering

The Buddha’s realization of the end of suffering and his attainment of Nirvana at the age of thirty-five, crowed his search for Truth with success. For six years, the Bodhisattva had spared no effort to find a solution to the problems of suffering. He had tried the principal method of ending suffering and had found them wanting. Eventually he found his own solution to the problems of life.

 Confidence in the Buddha’s Teaching
 Having realised the Truth through his own efforts, the Buddha offered it to all who ready to listen.
 There is an old story of a turtle and a fish. The turtle lived on land as well as in the water while the fish only lived in the water. One day, when the turtle had returned from a visit to the land, he told the fish of his experiences. He explained that creatures walked rather than swam. He refused to believe that dry land really existed because that was something beyond his own experience. In the same way, people may not have experienced the end of suffering, but it does not mean that the end of suffering is not possible.

 A patient must have confidence in an experience doctor, otherwise he will never take the medicine that the doctor has prescribed him and will not cured of his sickness. Similarly, people must have confidence in the Teaching of the Buddha, who has shown that end of suffering is really possible.

 The End of Suffering
 The end of suffering is the final goal of the Buddha’s Teaching. It can be experienced by anyone here and now. For example, when greed and anger arise in one’s mind, one experiences unhappiness and when thoughts of greed and anger cease, one’s mind becomes happy and peaceful. To end suffering completely, one must remove desire, illwill and ignorance. This is the Third Noble Truth of the End of Suffering.

 Happiness
 The Buddha taught that the end of suffering is supreme happiness. Every step towards the end of suffering is accompanied by ever-increasing joy. Those who follow the Teaching of the Buddha live happily without greed among those who are overwhelmed by desire. They live happily without anger among those who harbour illwill. The more people free themselves from desire, illwill and ignorance, the greater will be their happiness. When they have completely overcome desire, illwill and ignorance, they will know the supreme happiness as experienced by the Buddha.

Enlightenment
 By putting the Buddha’s Teaching into practice, people too can achieve supreme Enlightenment. Enlightenment has countless qualities, of which perfect wisdom and great compassion are the most important. Through perfect wisdom, the great compassion, He is able to help countless beings to overcome their suffering.

 Experiencing Nirvana for Oneself
 The end of suffering has been described as supreme happiness and Enlightenment. However, these terms do not fully express the real nature of the end of suffering, or Nirvana. Nirvana cannot be exactly put into words. Attempting to describe Nirvana is like saying that a mango is sweet, and that it is not like banana or an apple. One has to eat a mango in order to know for oneself what the taste is really like. Similarly Nirvana has to experienced for oneself.
 Therefore, if people have confidence in the Buddha’s Teaching and put into practice, they can achieve happiness peace and Enlightenment.

Path Leading to the End of Suffering

The Middle Path
 As a youth, Prince Siddhartha enjoyed the indulgent life of pleasure in his father’s palace. Later, when he renounced the worldly life and become an ascetic, he experienced the hardship of torturing his mind and body. Finally, not long before attaining Enlightenment, he realised the fruitlessness of these two extreme ways of life. He realised that the way to happiness and Enlightenment was to lead a life that avoids these extremes. He described this life as the Middle Path.

 These three ways of life may be compared to the the strings of different tensions on a lute. The loose string, which is like a life of indulgence, produces a poor sound when struck. The overly tight string, which is like a life of extreme asceticism, similarly produces a poor sound when struck and is moreover, likely to break at any moment. Only the middle string which is neither too loose nor too tight, and is like the Middle Path, produces a pleasant and harmonious sound when stuck.

 So these who follow the Middle Path which avoid the extreme of indulging one’s desires and opposite extreme of torturing one’s mind and body unreasonably, will find happiness, peace of mind and Enlightenment. This is the Fourth Noble Truth of the path leading to the end of suffering.

 The Noble Eightfold Path
 Like a wise and experience doctor, the Buddha recognised the sickness of suffering. He identified its caused and discovered its cure. Then for the benefit if mankind, the Buddha put his discovery into a systematic formula which can easily follow in order to get rid of our suffering. The formula includes both physical and mental treatment, and is called the Noble Eightfold Path.

The Eightfold Path

The Noble Eightfold Path, discovered by the Buddha Himself, is the only way to Nirvana. It avoids the extreme of self-torture that weakens one’s intellect and the extreme of self-indulgence that retards one’s spiritual progress.

 It consists of the following eight factors:
    1.       Right Understanding
    2.      Right Thoughts
    3.      Right Speech
    4.      Right Action
    5.      Right Livelihood
    6.      Right Effort
    7.      Right Mindfulness
    8.      Right Concentration

 

1. Right Understanding is the knowledge of the Four Noble Truths. In other words, it is the understanding of oneself as one really is.

 The keynote of Buddhism is this Right Understanding. Buddhism, as much , is based on knowledge and not on unreasonable belief.

2. Right Thoughts are threefold. They are:
    •     The thoughts of renunciation which are opposed to sense-pleasures.
    •      Kind Thoughts which are opposed to ill-will.
    •      Thoughts of harmlessness which are opposed to cruelty. These tend to purify the mind.

 

 3. Right Speech deals with refraining from falsehood, stealing, slandering, harsh words and frivolous talks
 

4. Right Action deals with refraining from killing, stealing and unchastity. It helps one to develop a character that is self-controlled and mindful of right of others.
 

5. Right Livelihood deals with the five kinds of trades which should be avoided by a lay disciple. They are:
 (a) trade in deadly weapons (b) trade in animals for slaughter (c) trade in slavery  (d)trade in intoxicants  (e)trade in poisons

 Right Livelihood means earring one’s living in a way that is not harmful to others.
 

6. Right Effort is fourfold, namely:
    •      (a) the endeavor to discard evil that has already arisen.
    •      (b)the endeavor to prevent the arising of unrisen evil.
    •      (c)the endeavour to develop that good which has already arisen.
    •      (d)the endeavour to promote that good which has not already arisen.
 Effort is needed to cultivate Good Conduct or develop one’s mind, because one is often distracted or tempted to take the easy way out of things. The Buddha teaches that attaining happiness and Enlightenment depends upon one’s own efforts. Effort is the root of all achievement. If one wants to get to the top of a mountain, just sitting at the foot thinking about it will not bring one there. It is by making the effort of climbing up the mountain, step by step, that one eventually reaches the summit. Thus, no matter how great the Buddha’s achievement may be, or how excellent His Teaching is, one must put the Teaching into practice before one can expect to obtain the desired result.
 

7. Right Mindfulness is also fourfold:
    •      mindfulness with regard to body
    •      mindfulness with regard to feeling
    •      mindfulness with regard to mind
    •      mindfulness with regard to mental objects.

 Right Mindfulness is the awareness of one’s deeds, words and thoughts.
 

8. Right Meditation

 Meditation means the gradual process of training the mind to focus on a single object and to remain fixed upon the object without wavering. The constant practice of meditation helps one to develop a clam and concentrated mind and help to prepare one for the attainment of Wisdom and Enlightenment ultimately.

Karma

When people are happy and contented, they tend to take life for granted. It is when they suffer, when they find life difficulty, that they begin to search for a reason and a way out of their difficulty. They may ask why some are born in poverty and suffering, while others are born in fortunate circumstances. Some people believe that it is due to fate, chance, or an invisible power beyond their control. They feel that they are unable to live the life they desire so as to experience happiness always. Consequently , they become confused and desperate. However, the Buddha was able to explain why people differ in their circumstances and why some are more fortunate in life than others. The Buddha taught that one’s present condition, whether of happiness or suffering, is the result of the accumulated force of all past actions or karma.

Definition of Karma
 Karma is intentional action, that is, a deed done deliberately through body, speech or mind. Karma means good and bad volition (kusala Akusala Centana). Every volitional action (except that of a Buddha or of an Arahant) is called Karma. The Buddhas and Arahants do not accumulate fresh Karma as they have destroy all their passions.

 In other words, Karma is the law of moral causation. It is action and reaction in the ethical realm. It is natural law that every action produces a certain effect. So if one performs wholesome actions such as donating money to charitable organizations, one will experience happiness. On the other hand, if one perform unwholesome actions, such ass killing a living being, one will experience suffering. This is the law of cause and effect at work. In this way, the effect of one’s past karma determine the nature of one’s present situation in life.

 The Buddha said,
 “According to the seed that is sown,
 So is the fruit you reap
 The door of good of will gather good result
 The door of evil reaps evil result.
 If you plant a good seed well,
 Then you will enjoyed the good fruits.”

 Karma is a law itself. But it does not follow that there should be a law-giver. The law of Karma, too, demands no law giver. It operates in its own field without the intervention of an external, independent agency.

Rebirth

One question that is often asked is, “What happens to us after death?”
 According to the Buddhists, rebirth takes place at the end of this life. Buddhists regard rebirth as a fact. There is evidence that each person has lived many lives in the past and will continue to lives more in the future.

 The Case for Rebirth
 Rebirth is a reality although one may not be aware of it. The existence of past lives has been confirmed by those who have developed their minds through meditation. Meditators who has attained powers of concentration have been able to recall their previous lives in great detail. The Buddha and His prominent disciples in many countries and at different times have been able to prove the existence of past lives. The Buddha, on the night of His Enlightenment, developed the ability to see His past lives. He also saw beings dying in one state of existence and being reborn in another, according to their actions. Thus it was from personal experience that the Buddha taught His followers the truth of rebirth.

 In recent years, evidence has been collected and documented, which confirm that rebirth is a fact. There have been cases of people who have been able to recollect their experience Of previous lives. Their description of places and persons of the past were confirmed after thorough investigations.

 The best known example of this is the case of Bridey Murphy. A Mrs. Ruth Simmons of the United States recollected a previous life in Ireland, more than 100 years ago. She said she has been Bridey Murphy in the year 1789 and gave full details of Bridey’s life. The details were later checked and found to be quite accurate. although in the present life, Mrs. Simmons had never been outside America.

 In another case in England, a woman called Mrs. Naomi Henry recollected two previous lives. In the first instance, she recalled her life as an Irishwoman living in a village called Greehalgh in the seventeenth century. Research into her case was carried out and this revealed that such a village did exist then. In the second instance, she remembered that in one of her previous lives, she was a Englishwoman who became a nurse to several children in an English town called Downham in 1902. A search into the official records kept in Downham proved that such a woman did exist.

 Professor Ian Stevenson of the University of Virginia, U.S.A., has researched and published his finding on over twenty cases of rebirth. These cases, which have been well documented and verified, are form various countries including France, Italy, India, Sri Lanka and Burma.

 Rebirth in the Six Realms
 Buddhism teaches that birth, death and rebirth are part of the continuing process of change. This is similar to the continuous process of growth, decay and replacement of cells in one’s body. According to medical expert, after every seven years, all the cells in one’s body are replaced by new ones.

At the moment of death, when this life is over, and the body can no longer survive, the mind is separated from the body. At that time, the craving for lives causes one to seek a new existence, and the karma done previously determine the place of one’s rebirth.

 There are six realms in which one may be reborn after death. They are the realms of gods, the demigods, human beings, animals, hungry ghosts and the hells. These are just general categories and within each, there exist many sub-categories. The six realms of existence include three relatively happy states, and three relatively miserable states. The realms of the gods, the demigods and human beings are considered more happiness and less suffering. The realms of animals, hungry ghosts and the hells are considered relatively miserable because living beings there suffer more from fear, hunger, thirst, heat ,cold and pain.

 In general, wholesome actions like good conduct, charity and mental development, are the cause of rebirth in the happy realms of gods, demigods and human beings. On the other hand, unwholesome actions like immoral conduct, miserliness and cruelty cause rebirth in the unhappy realms of animals, hungry ghosts and the hells.

 One need not wait until one is reborn to imagine what existence in other realms is like. For instance, when one is intensely happy or totally at peace with oneself, one experience a sate similar to that of the gods. When one follows one baser instincts and is totally preoccupied with eating, sleeping and sex, one’s existence is like that of the animals. Then again, when one is overwhelmed by fear and pain, or is tortured and killed in this life, one experience suffering like that of the hells.

 Of all the six realms, the realm of human beings is considered the most desirable. In the realm of human beings, the conditions for attaining Nirvana are better. In general, in the unhappy realms, the suffering of living beings is so intense and their ignorance so great that they are unable to recognise the Truth and follow the path to attain freedom. Alternatively, living beings in the realms of the gods and demigods experience so much happiness and have so many distractions that they do no think of rebirth until is too late. Then they may be reborn in one of the lower realms of suffering. In the realm of human beings, however, people experience both happiness and suffering, and are intelligent enough to recognise the Truth and follow the path to attain freedom from the cycle of birth and death. Therefore, one is indeed fortunate to be born as a human being, and should remember that the principal cause of birth in this realm is Good Conduct.

 The Cycle of Birth and Death
 The Buddha pointed out that whenever one is reborn, whether as a human beings, as an animal, or as a god, none of these states of existence is permanent. The average life span of the living beings in the six realms of existence differ but none of them lasts forever. Eventually, rebirth will take place. The realm into which one is reborn and one’s conditions of rebirth are determined by one’s past and present actions. This is the law of karma at work.

 Beacuse of the force of their karma, people are born and reborn endlessly, in one realm of existence or in another. The Buddha declared that there is no permanent rest in this cycle of birth and death. It is only when one follows the Noble Eightfold path taught by the Buddha and eventually attains Nirvana, that one finally becomes free from this ceaseless cycle and gains supreme and permanent happiness.

 People who understand karma and rebirth see life in a better perspective. They understand that every action they perform will have its effects now and in the future. The knowledge gives them hope and strength in the face of difficulties. It gives them courage to continue doing good. They are convinced that they will experience the good effects of their wholesome actions either in the short-term or in the long-term.


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