Buddhism in Basic English
If you wonder what Buddhism has to offer you, the answer is: nothing. If you think that becoming a Buddhist will bring you all sorts of goodies and fringe benefits, forget it. There's no dream prize, no paradise with vestal virgins. ... What it can help you do is cut through your confusion, your neuroses. It can help you understand yourself in the here and now and hopefully prepare the ground for a more positive future.
Article in Tricycle Magazine
Seeing people floundering like fish in small puddles, competing with one another; as I saw this, fear came into me. Wanting a haven for myself, I saw nothing that wasn't laid claim to. Seeing nothing in the end but competition, I felt discontent. And then I saw an arrow here, so very hard to see, embedded in the heart. Overcome by this arrow you run in all directions. But simply on pulling it out you don't run, you don't sink.
Sutta Nipata 4.15
The Core - The Four Noble Truths
The Practice - The Noble Eightfold Path
- Right View - We should see and understand reality as it actually is. Specifically, we should recognize the Four Noble Truths and the Three Seals.
- Right Intention - We should have a commitment to the discipline of practice, realizing that spiritual development first requires an investment from ourselves.
- Right Speech - We should say only those things which are true and beneficial, always bearing in mind our timing and audience.
- Right Action - We should act in a manner consistent with loving-kindness and in accordance with the Five Precepts and the Three Pure Precepts.
- Right Livelihood - We should make a living through honest and good means, not by deceit, theft or injury.
- Right Effort - We should put our Right Intention into action on the meditation seat, never letting our practice become a secondary matter, for "life and death are of supreme importance."
- Right Mindfulness - We should be mindful, aware of the present moment and all that is around us, seen and unseen. We should be alert and bright, not dull and slow.
- Right Meditation - We should meditate, watching our thoughts come and go like clouds in the sky; clinging neither nor there, not focusing on any thing nor pushing any thing away, but simply being, now, in this present moment.
There are a number of precept formulations throughout
Buddhism, but they point to the same ideal. Here are two common
A beautiful rendition of the Five Precepts by Thich Nhat Hanh
- I undertake the precept to refrain from harming living beings.
- I undertake the precept to refrain from taking things that are not given.
- I undertake the precept to refrain from sexual misconduct.
- I undertake the precept to refrain from false or harmful speech.
- I undertake the precept to refrain from intoxication which leads to carelessness.
- Cease from evil.
- Do good.
- Do good for others.
The Three Seals
All of the Buddha's teaching is in line with the three seals, which themselves represent the core doctrine of reality beyond the Four Noble Truths.
The Ultimate Goal
Nirvana carries an air of mystery (or heavy metal music) in the west.
The word is not usually translated because any English rendition would
be only partial. In fact, no word is sufficient. Nirvana, the ultimate
end of all suffering and connection to the Eternal is beyond any
attributes. It can never be said what Nirvana is, only that whatever
idea someone has of it is certainly incomplete.
Nirvana is the realm of liberation, of non-suffering, of the Eternal,
the Unborn, the Creator.
Nirvana is not something we can attain (indeed, it is not a
all); rather it is something already
within us that merely must be uncovered and seen.
Through practice and meditation we can touch and reside in various aspects of Nirvana. These aspects are often anthropomorphized (made into human likeness) in order to make them more palpable. Called Bodhisattvas, these mythical individuals provide a focus for practice and being enlightenment. Whenever we act in the way of a Bodhisattva, we are in fact being that Bodhisattva. Here are some of the more commonly seen Bodhisattvas:
The Legend of Avalokiteshvara - She began as the daughter of a king who prepared an arranged marriage to a powerful but cruel man. She begged to be allowed to become a nun instead, and he allowed it, although he was strongly opposed. To encourage her to leave the temple, he arranged that the monks would assign her the most humiliating, difficult and menial tasks possible. In this way she was forced to work day and night, even during the sleeping periods, in order to finish her work. However, even through this she never faltered in loving-kindness or hard work. So great was her dedication that even the animals began to assist her with her labor. Her father, the king, was so enraged by this that he lit the temple on fire all around, with the intent to burn it to the ground. However, she extinguished the flames with her bare hands and suffered no burns whatsoever. Her father was now gripped by fear, and ordered her executed. The executioner was moved by her purity and broke the sword rather than put her to death. Later, her father fell ill and she cut off her own arm to create the medicine which brought him back to health. At this he was greatly moved and had a statue constructed in her honor. At her death, she became a Bodhisattva named Avalokiteshvara, "Regarder of the Cries of the World".
The canon of Buddhism is large and ever-growing. The scriptures are
important as guides for practice and realization; empty knowledge of
them is of little value. It is a particular trap for logic-minded
westerners to get caught up in studying Scripture and never get around
to applying it. Scripture exists only to assist you; if you do not
apply it, it cannot help.
Two basic kinds of Scriptures exist: inner and outer. Inner Scriptures are written from the point of view of Meditation and Enlightenment; thus, they can be very difficult to understand for the beginner. Outer Scriptures are written at a more concrete and down to Earth level. The early Pali Scriptures tend to be Outer Scriptures. The later Mahayana Scriptures tend to be inner Scriptures. They seem much more mystical since they operate from the point of view of ultimate non-self reality which can be truly understood only through meditation.
There are many other things which may be said or done, but all words are merely "fingers pointing to the moon". The words do not matter, only that which they point to, the Eternal, Unborn, Enlightenment itself.
BuddhaNet - Lots of Resources
If you would like to talk to someone about Buddhism, send e-mail or find a local center.
Copyright (c) 2011 Steven Kollmansberger