Developments in Buddhist Thought Year 1

Meditation - Samantha/Vipassana

  • Meditation is central to the Buddhist path away from suffering. It is the final stage of the Eightfold Path - a major factor in guiding Buddhists away from suffering and its causes. 
  • Traditional Buddhist teaching emphasises two forms of meditation - samatha and vipassana. 
  • Samatha translates as ''calm'' or ''tranquil'' and seeks to allow one to achieve a peaceful and mindful state. Samatha meditation is practised to gain mindfulness and attain a higher concentration in order to be tranquil and calm. Meditation objects are often used in samatha meditation in order to hold a sense of concentration and focus. These meditation objects can be physical such as religious accoutrements like a Buddharupa, however, they are usuallly just concepts of meditation. 
  • Vipassana is used to focus on insight and being mindful. It guides us away from suffering by eliminating both mental and physical suffering and preventing neurosis. Vipassana meditation tends to be more spiritual and is only really used by those are seeking to achieve full enlightenment. Vipassana seeks to eliminate the mind, which Buddhists believe is the centre of being, from dukkha and samsara. 
  • Samatha meditation can only lead to calm and vipassana meditation can only lead to insight. 
  • Samatha meditation usually precedes vipassana meditation - once the Buddhist practioner has learnt how to carry out samatha meditation (which can sometimes take several months to perfect), they can then proceed with vipassana meditation. 
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Meditation - Practice

  • Samatha meditation usually begins by focusing on something such as an object or aspect of meditation. Most Buddhists like to focus on their breathing patterns and being mindful of the breath - this is called ''mindful breathing'' which begins with ''the longest of counting''. Another popular trend is called ''body sweeping'' which teaches Buddhists to be mindful of the 32 body parts, their functions and their interdependency on one another. 
  • Forest monks (Theravada) tend to be rather unstructured in their meditation. They will usually sit outside and let their minds wander onto other things such as the birds, or the sounds of the trees. This would be more consistent with samatha meditation. Their form of meditation could be known as ''just sitting''. Many Buddhists in Asia, in primitive and ancient colonies, used gardening or growing food as a form of meditation which many Zen Buddhists still do today. 
  • There are Four Foundations of Mindfulness according to Buddhist teaching: 1) Mindfulness of Body (32 body parts), 2) Mindfulness of Feelings (emotions senses etc.), 3) Mindfulness of Mind, 4) Mindfulness of Dharma (awareness of the Buddha's teachings). Most Buddhists keep this in mind when meditating. 
  • Those who attend 10 day vipassana retreats say it is a mental and emotional challenge. It could be argued that 10 days is not enough to learn the ways of vipassana meditation since many have been practising it for years. Example of secular Buddhism/Westernisation. 
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The Jhanas and the Hindrances

  • Buddhists use their meditation in order to seek jhanas - states of bliss that can only be achieved through intense concentration, inner calm and a reinforced wisdom. In order to reach a jhana, the mind goes through several factors/stages in order to achieve this. The meditator must be confident in their meditation and retain a focus on their meditation object (e.g breathing). They then reach a ''one pointedness'' prior to the experience of jhanas. 
  • In meditating, the practioner will often encounter the Five Hindrances - factors which try and prevent us reaching jhanas or nirvana: 1) Sensory desire, 2) Ill-will, 3) Sloth and torpor, 4) Restlessness and Worry, 5) Doubt. In order to overcome these hindrance, the meditator will have to retain a strong focus on their meditation object in order to achieve the Rupa Jhanas and get rid of the Five Hindrances. 
  • The Four Rupa Jhanas: (Basically a state of bliss). 1st) All knowledge of the Five Hindrances Disappears, 2) Bliss, 3) Bliss is halved 4) Bliss disappears but a constant state of content and happiness is maintained. Buddhists argue that these Rupa Jhanas can give you psychic powers and abilities. 
  • The Four Arupa Jhanas: More associated with vipassana meditation. You become mindful of different and transcendent dimensions such as the dimension of space and time. 1) Aware of the dimension of space and time 2) Dimension of infinite consciousness, 3) Dimension of nothingness, 4) Dimension of neither perception nor non perception. 
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The Benefits of Meditation

  • Meditation has been seen to portray lots of benefits and not just for Buddhist practitioners. 
  • Meditation has been known to help with mental illnesses or issues such as anxiety and depression. Meditation is now available as a form of treatment on the NHS. 
  • It has been known to improve circulation and memory. Those who perform meditation have a n increased memory and are less likely to forget things long and short term. 
  • Meditation helps improve empathy and compassion which are central to the Buddhist path. 
  • It allows you to acknowledge dukkha, anicca and anatta and stop blaming yourself for these things. 
  • Furthermore, it emphasises living in the present moment, something that Buddhists are keen to emphasise also. Living in the present is important because we can't hold onto past memories and reflections forever. Everything is moving and changing (subject to anicca). Meditation allows us to move on with our lives and be more accepting of reality. 
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Evaluation of Meditation

  • Buddhist meditation can have many benefits and uses but it has also been criticised by many non-Buddhists. 
  • Buddhist practice has a tendency to be inward looking. Instead of looking at the bigger picture, Buddhists just tend to acknowledge suffering as the main cause of all things. Meditation only focuses on eliminating suffering within the practitioner and doesn't necessarily serve society as a whole. It involves too much ''naval gazing''. In other words, meditation is a waste of time. Why just sit in a room for hours on end when you could be outside helping others. Vietnamese monk and Buddhist activist Thich Naht Hanh says ''you cannot continute meditating while bombs are dropping on the monastery. You must learn to comfort an injured child while still practising mindful breathing''. 
  • There is a view in Theravada Buddhism that arhats are selfish since they only want enlightenment for themselves. Meditation as a means to enlightenment means using the practice as a means to an end. 
  • How do we know that we will reach nirvana through meditation? Surely it's better to focus on other Buddhist teachings such as the Five Precepts (so that we can act morally/compassionately) or the Three Marks of Existence (being aware of the world realistically). 
  • Other faiths tend to focus on eternal life and salvation, but for Buddhists, there is no quasi-magical quality. Praying for salvation in the after life is totally foolish because there is no magic and we are mortal, as was the Buddha himself. Buddhists must therefore, work on their minds because the mind is the centre of being. Descartes called the mind the ''captain of the ship'' - Buddhists must work on reforming this captain of the ship. 
  • Meditation need not be entirely religious. Samatha meditation doesn't require any training or specific Buddhist accoutrements. There are now apps such as ''Headspace'' which emphasise meditation in a secular world. 
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The Three Marks of Existence

  • The teaching of the three marks of conditioned existence is a traditional Buddhist teaching which is accepted by the majority of Buddhist schools. 
  • It teaches of anicca (impermanence), dukkha (suffering) and anatta (the doctrine of no self). Buddhists argue that all life is subject to these marks of existence - especially sentient beings. 
  • These marks are all interlinked and interdependent on one another as a part of samsaric existence. We must take these three factors into account if we are able to realise enlightenment. Buddhists take these factors as having an optimistic or realistic view of the world but others may view it as pessimistic. 
  • Recognition of the TME like awareness of the FNT is a part of wisdom. To gain wisdom, we must fully understand these characteristics. 
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Anicca

  • Anicca is the teaching that everything in life is impermanent - interdependent and therefore subject to growth and decay (change).
  • Change can be seen all around us. The waves in the sea are constantly changing, going back and forth. A sandwich left out in the open will eventually decay and go mouldy. Even something we think is safe, such as a house will eventually erode and become unsafe in years to come. Even a diamond - perhaps the most unchangeable substance in the world can be cut by a skilled person and will eventually wear away after millions of years. These are all examples of anicca - change and decay in the world. 
  • The Buddhist ideal is to live without craving (tanha) and attachment. Anicca helps us to do so. If we realise that nothing stays the same then there is a lesser reason to hold onto it. 
  • Anicca can be gross or subtle. The best example of gross anicca is death - it represents the end of a path of change but brings about change for the people who are concerned with it. Having to let go of a person's existence can be difficult and painful. It is very difficult for people to adjust to an accept. The fact that the world will no longer be the same seems to be the key to it. An example of subtle change would be a child growing. A parent may be acutely aware that their child is growing up but struggle to come to terms with it. 
  • Impermanence forms a large aspect of dukkha/suffering. We suffer when we hold onto things for too long and get upset when we realise that they are gone. Finishing a delicious meal, watching a relative die or losing our favourite t-shirt are all examples of dukkha conditioned by anicca. In order to prevent further suffering we must come to terms with anicca and put our faith in something more permanent (nirvana). 
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Anicca (cont.)

  • The notion of anatta also comes from the teaching of anicca. Our bodies (the five skandhas) are subject to growth and decay, just as everything else in the world is. Even our bodies don't stay the same forever, we are replaced with completely new cells every few months and our bodies begin to age as we get older. The mind is also subject to change and cannot be a constant if it is made up of the five skandhas. 
  • Ultimately, anicca teaches us to put our faith in the only thing which is permanent - nirvana and teaches us that ''nothing lasts forever'' which is central to the Buddhist idea of ''letting go''. 
  • However, many modern scholars are sceptical of whether everything really is subject to anicca or not. If it was, then God would not be a constant and nor would the universals. Mathematical principles never change and time never stops. Too much acceptance of anicca (i,e death) could be seen as passive or morbid. 
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Dukkha

  • Dukkha can mean lots of things, but most of us normally translate it as meaning ''suffering''. On a gross level, dukkha is the serious sufferings of life, on a more subtle level, it is dissatisfaction that we may experience. 
  • The Buddha taught of three examples of dukkha - 1) Ordinary/General Suffering, 2) Suffering from anicca (viparinama dukkha), 3) Suffering from conditioned states (samkhara dukkha). 
  • Dukkha-dukkha is ordinary suffering, as defined by the English word. This includes physical, emotional and mental pain and can be on a gross or subtle level (like Mill's higher and lower pleasures). This suffering is very basic and is usually caused by anything. 
  • Viparinama-dukkha is suffering from impermanence. Basically, anything which is subject to change is dukkha (everything). This means that even happiness can be dukkha because it does not last forever. This does not mean that happiness is bad, but that it's just impermanent, so we shouldn't hold onto it in order to lead to further suffering. If you are happy - enjoy feeling happy, but don't cling to that ideal. 
  • Samkhara-dukka is suffering from conditioned states. This could be interpreted as a sort of dissatisfaction for the things that happen in the world, such as an ice cream flavour not tasting as good as you imagined. This could be translated as ''existential dukkha'' - the view that all life is meaningless. There are sufferings that are unavoidable such as illness, birth and death
  • The Buddha taught that ''all life is suffering''. 
  • The concept of suffering can be illustrated by the Mustard Seed Parable. The parable teaches that the Buddha will save the dead child of a woman who can retrieve a mustard seed from a house that has not experience grief. 
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Anatta

  • Anatta is the doctrine that there is no permanent self. There is no little homunculus living within us which determines our thoughts or impulses. In Buddhism there is no permanent self or soul. 
  • The Buddha doesn't claim that there completely/definitely isn't a self, but that the self that we identify with is not fixed. Since nothing remains the same, there can be no permanent ''I'' to identify with. 
  • The body /self which we wrongly identify with is made up of the five skandhas - aspects which make up our being. The five skandhas are all interdependent on one another and also there being a ''body'' or ''self''. Without one of the skandhas, the others wouldn't exist and vice versa. They must all exist to make up a being. 
  • The doctirne of anatta is explained in the Chariot Analogy - the Questions of King Milinda. The King asks Nagasena about the doctrine of no self. Nagasena responds by saying his name was only a designation - it was not reflective of a permanent individual. The King responded by asking further questions about the existence of a self. Nagasena asked the King, which part of a chariot was representative of the chariot itself in order to help him understand. Was it the wheels, the frame, the seat or the reigns? The King responded no to all of them. Nagasena argued that, there was no chariot. The King acknowledged that the word ''chariot'' was just a designation for all the parts it was made up of. When all the consituent parts are present, we call it a chariot, when all the five skanhas are present we call it a being. 
  • The Buddha rejected eternalism and annihilationism. We are all mortal beings that will live our lives and then die. The whole idea of rebirth is not based on the idea of a soul, but whether we are still a part of samsara and whether we have behaved morally during our lives. Nobody should crave annihilationism. 
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The Four Noble Truths

  • The FNT's comprise the essence of the Buddha's teachings, though they leave much unexplained. They are like the ''nucleus'' of Buddhist teaching and all later teachings have their foundations here. 
  • They are suffering (dukkha), the cause of suffering (tanha), the end of suffering (nirvana) and the path away from suffering (magga). More simply put, suffering exists, it has a cause, it has an end and there is a path which leads us away from it. The Buddha famously said ''I teach but one thing, suffering, its causes and its ends''. 
  • The FNT's treat suffering as similar to the TME. Suffering is caused by change, it's caused by other sufferings and it can be caused by conditioned experience. We must acknowledge that all good experiences are fleeting but so are bad experiences as well. However, the matter of the fact is - suffering is unavoidable. But if we follow the right path, we can get away from it. 
  • The FNT's are illustrated best through the Doctor Analogy. Dukkha represents the illness, tanha the cause of the illness, nirvana the prognosis/cure (i.e you can be well) and magga represents the treatment or medicine to cure the illness. 
  • In his first sermon (The Deer Park Sermon) the Buddha said ''I teach but one thing, suffering, its causes and its ends'' (the goal of Buddhism). He taught this to 5 monks at a deear park and warned them of over-attachment and extreme devotion. 
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Dukkha (FNT)

  • Dukkha is everywhere and can be caused by anything. Birth is dukkha, ageing is dukkha and death is dukkha. Suffering in this way is unavoidable but it can be reduced through following the correct path of living. It's only through following the Eightfold Path that we are able to encounter less dukkhas. We should take suffering as an illness or sickness to be cured. If we let it prolong we will become more and more sick and suffer further. If we try and cure it then the chance of suffering occuring again lessens. None of us can escape dukkha, but we can reduce it and eventually get rid of it all together with nirvana. 
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Tanha

  • Tanha/craving represents one of the 12 links of dependent origination. It is the cause of our suffering. Hanging onto things which are impermanent leads to our suffering. The Buddhist path emphasises non-attachment to things, permanent or ''impermanent''. Instead we should focus on the one thing which is impermanent, which is nirvana. 
  • There are three types of craving that the Buddha identified. Craving for annihiliation - wishing you weren't born, craving for being - wanting to become something, e.g wanting fame, money or power, and craving for sensual desire - being hungry and wanting a sandwich. 
  • Tanha represents the three posions - greed, hatred and delusion. Craving makes us greedy, it can make us nasty (hatred) and ignorant and we must try and avoid it. 
  • However, tanha does not have completely negative connotations. We can crave for nirvana and that isn't bad - that is a good thing since it should be the overall Buddhist goal and it's the only thing which isn't impermanent. 
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Nirvana

  • Nirvana is the ending or cessation of dukkha and is the goal of all Buddhists. 
  • It represents ''nirodha'' letting go or ''cutting off'' all of the ties which bind us to suffering. 
  • Nirvana is enlightenment. With enlightenment we can begin to understand why suffering is an inherent part of our nature and the answers to solving it completely. Nirvana should be the only Buddhist goal and it can be understood through suffering and the other FNT's. 
  • Nirvana is unconditioned existence. It is the only thing in this world which doesn't rely on other things in order to happen (is this true?). Nirvana is the only permanent thing in our lives.  It is not produced, nor is it unproduced. 
  • Parinirvana refers to nirvana after death which shows that one has escaped the wheel of samsara. Nirvana with remainder represents ''blowing out'' the fire that we have been igniting our whole lives. While the five skandas still exist as a residue of the fuel - the fire of suffering is no longer burning. This is the final ''blowing out'' on the moment of death to show that one has escaped samsara. 
  • The issue with nirvana is that it cannot be explained in human terms - it is ineffable and therefore incapable of description. Since we have no experience of it, we cannot speak meaningfully about it. This is reflected in the 79th and 80th dilemmas of King Milinda. In this, Nagasena explains that nirvana is ineffable - it cannot be described but we can compare it to things through use of analogy. He says that nirvana is ''like'' a medicine that cures all suffering, but he cannot actually say what nirvana is. This could also be reflected in the story of the turtle and the fish. 
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Magga - The Eightfold Path

  • Magga - represents the Buddhist path away from suffering, carrying out the right lifestyle in order to bring us closer to nirvana. In other words, magga is basically doing all the right things, to promote good meditation and mindfulness, wisdom and good karma (ethics). 
  • Magga is also referred to as the Eightfold Path as it is 8 stages away from suffering which Buddhists must practice. The 8 stages are grouped into wisdom, ethical conduct and meditation. 
  • The Eightfold Path is interpreted in the raft parable - once the individual reaches the shore, the raft is no longer needed. This is like the teachings of the Buddha or magga. Once one reaches enlightenment - the Eightfold Path is no longer needed. 
  • 1) Right Understanding, 2) Right Intention, 3) Right Speech, 4) Right Action, 5) Right Livelihood, 6) Right Effort, 7) Right Mindfulness, 8) Right Meditation. 
  • The eight stages can be grouped into WISDOM (right understanding and intention), 2) ETHICAL CONDUCT (right speech, action and livelihood) and MEDITATION (right effort, mindfulness and meditation). 
  • By achieving all these things - Buddhists will be well on their way on the track to enlightenment. 
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Samsara

  • Samsara represents all conditioned existence/experience. Samsara is all suffering and eternal suffering, unless we can escape the wheel. It represents living - birth, death and returning to birth. We will continue to follow this path of cyclical existence if we don't make a conscious effort towards enlightenment. The term can literally be translated as ''continuous movement'. 
  • The arising of samsara comes from the three poisons - greed, hatred and delusion. These are all versions of tanha (craving). If we learn to let go from this craving and conditioning of dependent origination then we will be able to step off the wheel (moksha). Essentially, samsara is life on earth filled with sorrow and pain. 
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Samsara/Karma/Nirvana

  • Samsara relies heavily on the notion of karma - a sort of merit based on our good or bad actions. Good karma can help us get off the wheel, but this can only be achieved following we pay attention to the Eightfold Path. If we have a good karma we may be reborn into a heavenly realm such as the realm of the Titans. If we have a bad karma we have a lesser chance of escaping the wheel and we will most likely be reborn into the hell realms such as the realm of the hungry ghosts. Buddhism believes strongly in the idea that ''what goes around comes around'' - if you behave well you will be rewarded, if you do not - then you won't. 
  • Nirvana also links closely to samsara. Nirvana is an unconditioned state where samsara and nirvana no longer exist. A Theravada arhat will never return to life again - they have completely stepped off the wheel. In Mahayana Buddhism (Madhyamika) - nirvana and samsara are no different but the same thing. Until is reached through enlightenment, the cycle of samsara repeats over and over again. 
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The Six Realms of Existence

  • The wheel of samsara is held by Yama, the monster of impermanence. This represents that all life and experiences are simply anicca and this helps us in letting go. Around the wheel are the 12 stages of conditioned experience (dependent origination). These involve stages such as birth, death, living and craving. They are all interdependent on one another and they all exist as 12 links together - they would not exist independently. All life is contingent. 
  • The wheel of samsara is divided into two main realms - the heavenly realm and the hell realm. Each have three realms within them. 
  • The heavenly realm features the three worlds of the human, demi-god and god realms. The gods and demi-gods are good realms. They represent bliss, happiness and power. However, their bliss is still short lived and they are subject to suffering. The human realm basically represents life on earth and is the best place to be enlightened. Here there is suffering, but not the kind of suffering felt in the hell realms. Humans have the best chance of enlightenment since they are conscious and aware. 
  • The hell realms are the animal, hellish and hungry ghost realms. The animal realm simply reflects the instinctive nature of animals, their desire to satisfy sensory pleasures. If you are like this then you will most likely be reborn in the animal realm. The hell realm represents constant pain and torture but can be escaped with good karma. The hungry ghost realm represents greed. Lingering on the edges of the mortal realm are the hungry ghosts. They gravitate towards huge piles of rice only to realise that they're a pile of stones. They have long necks and big tummies - their necks reflect the fact that they are greedy but do not succeed and their tummies reflect their greed. 
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The Three Poisons

  • The three posions are greed, hatred and delusion. They hold the wheel in place and keep it going. They are the ultimate causes of suffering. 
  • Greed is represented by a pig, hatred by a snake and delusion by a cockerel. 
  • These are basically the essence of tanha or craving and thus lead to ultimate suffering. 
  • They are the primary causes which keep sentient beings trapped in samsara, they are said to be the root of all other bad mental states.
  • The three poisons lead to the cultivation of karmic fruits. Having these three things within you leads to a bad or inbalanced karma and further encourages rebirth in the hell realms. 
  • They are the opposites of wisdom, compassion and goodwill - things that bring about good karma. 
  • In order to escape samsara, we must recognise the three poisons within us an attempt to eliminate them. 
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Dependent Origination

  • Dependent origination is shown around the rim of the wheel of samsara. 
  • It teaches that all phenomena (dharmas) rely on other phenomena in order to exist. It is similar to the notion of karma - the rules of cause and effect. 
  • It represents 12 links/chain of causes which result in rebirth and dukkha. By breaking the chain, liberation from suffering can be attained. Everything except nirvana is conditioned by dependent origination. This principle complements the teachings of anicca and anatta. 
  • Some of the 12 links include: birth, craving, becoming, ageing and death. 
  • It's basically recognising how life works and what leads to what. 
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Evaluation of Samsara

  • Generally the ''hell is real'' stance is found in Hinayana Buddhism whereas the ''hell is mind state'' stance is distinctly Mahayana. 
  • Mahayan incorporates literal and metaphorical aspects of samsara. 
  • Having an inescapable mindset of suffering and pain is more concievable as being literally real whereas the concept of things such as ''hot and cold hells'' is more metaphorical. 
  • Animals do really live in the animal realm and humans do really live in the human realm (most of the time), but that does that mean its always a literal realm, or can we psychologically visit it?
  • Ideas such as the hungry ghost are inconcievable especially in modern day. 
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The Three Refuges

  • The Three Refuges otherwise known as the Triple Gem or the Three Jewels are the heart of Buddhist teaching. 
  • In taking refuge - the Buddhist practioner pays homage to the Buddha (historical Buddha - fully enlightened one), the Dharma (the teachings expounded by the Buddha) and the Sangha (the monastic community). This is performed in nearly all schools of Buddhism. 
  • The English word refuge refers to a sort of ''seeking shelter'', but what from? Buddhists seek shelter from suffering samsara and suffering. Not because they are afraid but because they are able to. The chants performed by Buddhists in taking refuge are as follows "I take refuge in the Buddha. I take refuge in the Dharma. I take refuge in the Sangha''. This is repeated by ''dutiyampi'' and ''tatiyampi'' meaning ''for a second time'' and ''for a third time'' - emphasising the importance of the Triple Gem. 
  • Theravada monk Bhikku Bodhi says that all schools of Buddhism interpret the Triple Gem differently, however, he says: ''The Dharma is like a building of different levels - with stories, stairs and a roof. There must be a door to this building and that is taking refuge in the Triple Gem - the Buddha and the Sangha in order to unlock the Dharma.'' Taking refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha is like entering this building to shield us from suffering and its causes. 
  • The Buddha, Dharma and Sangha are often referred to as the Triple Gem or the Three Jewels  because of their immense value. This is reflected by the chants that Buddhists perform before taking refuge with translations of Pali words becoming ''paying homage to'' and ''the Great and Wise one'' and ''for the Lord of whom I can be grateful to''. 
  • Buddhists take refuge in the Triple Gem because it means taking comfort with you on the Path. It is something that ''keeps us going''. We may have become sluggish in our practice but the Triple Gem restores our faith. 
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The Buddha - Triple Gem

  • Buddhists first take refuge in the Buddha. In most schools, this refers to the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama but it can also refer to Buddha-nature. 
  • Taking refuge in the Buddha shields us from the storms of samsara and guides us away from suffering - Bhikku Bodhi (''perilous ocean of samsara''). Taking refuge in the Buddha is sort of like paying homage to him - he is wonderful and he has provided us with the answers away from suffering, so we must pay homage to him. 
  • However, respecting and taking refuge in the Buddha should not be taken as worship. While Buddhist practioners may be seen bowing down to Buddharupas and profusely chanting - this is not an act of worship, this is an act of respect or ''refuge''. 
  • While the Buddha is personal like God, he is not this transcendent being which we can pray to. He is a teacher and we should follow him. 
  • In Buddhism, there is no quasi-magical quality. We should not pray to the Buddha to take away our suffering because he cannot. He's not a magic wizardly being that is here to fix all our problems. Buddhists do not take refuge for their superstitions, but to pay their respects to their ultimate teacher and/or Buddha nature. 
  • The power of the vow comes from your own sincerity and committment - there aren't any supernatural beings that will come and save you. 
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Dharma - Triple Gem

  • The second element of taking refuge, is to take refuge in the Dharma - the teachings expounded by the Buddha. 
  • This gives us comfort and solace as we learnt the Dharma and its wonderful and timeless message. The Dharma has been virtually untouched and so reflects the words and feelings of the historical Buddha. 
  • Taking refuge in the Dharma is more than trusting the Buddha's teachings - it's about committment to your faith and committment to the Buddhist path (Right Livelihood). 
  • Even the Buddha payed homage to the Dharma on his enlightenment where he said ''let me honour and respect this Dharma to which I have fully awakened''. 
  • The Dharma obviously has a different meaning in different schools. In Theravada, it refers to the acknowledgement of samsaric existence, karma and nirvana whereas in the Mahayana schools it refers to the Wisdom Sutras of Nagarjuna, such as acknowledgement of shunyata or upaya. 
  • Bhikku Bodhi said that there were two levels of teaching the Dharma - the teachings of the Buddha and nirvana. 
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The Sangha

  • Years ago, the Sangha used to only refer to the monastic community, but now it refers to the community of all Buddhist practioners. 
  • The Sangha can be very helpful in restoring our faith and getting us back on the Path. We may feel as if we are the only person in our state or country to practice the Buddha-dharma if we do not belong to any specific Buddhist community. As a result we may become sluggish in our meditation or practice. However, if we acknowledge that we have a whole community to help us restore our faith, then our faith will continue and we will regain our religious strength once again. The Sangha helps us stay motivated and on course. 
  • We could compare taking refuge in the Sangha like Christians when they go to Church. They go to Church to reap the teachings of Jesus just as Buddhists reap the teachings of the Buddha. They are able to interact with the rest of the community and share a common outlook in their beliefs. 
  • For lay Buddhists, taking refuge in the Sangha means speaking well, being generous and generally performing the 5 precepts. For monks and nuns, it also refers to the rules of the Vinaya Pitaka - the monastic rules for which monks and nuns must follow (there are around 300 rules for nuns and 250 for monks). 
  • During the 2004 tsunami, many monks provided refuge for injured people and those who'd lost their families and tried to explain why such a thing could've happened. 
  • Being a part of the sangha means care and generosity. For examples, monks can ''put up'' ordinary people free of charge providing that they help with domestic tasks and chores. 
  • Lay monk ''I go to the hospital when my body is sick. I go to the monastery when my mind is sick'' 
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Triple Gem - Modern Day

  • Taking refuge seems to be a human trait. While Buddhists encourage non-attachment, they can attach themselves to the Triple Gem. This is a way of them allowing themselves to become attached to something else. 
  • 'No magic' seems to be a recurring theme in the age of science and technology. People are more likely to associate themselves with the idea of taking refuge than praying to God to fix their suffering. 
  • The refuges display and inter-relationship and can work with one another. Even if you spend more time on one than you do the other - it doesn't matter because all the Gem's are interrelated. 
  • People's reliance on the sangha as a monastic community. 
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The Buddha and his life

  • Buddha - born Siddhartha Gautama; in a caste called the Shakyas (Shakyamuni) in modern day Nepal around 2,500 years ago. 
  • Prophecy about his birth - either a king or a holy man. 
  • His mother's dream about him on the night that she concieved him. White elephant holding a lotus flower entered her womb. She had a virtually painless birth under the blossom trees. 
  • The Buddha stood up almost seconds after he was born and said ''I alone am the World Honoured One''. This was unusual but the Buddha was special. His mother sadly died seven days later. 
  • White elephant - represents fertility and wisdom. The lotus represents a common symbol for enlightenment. 
  • Newcomers to Buddhism tend to dismiss the Buddha's birth story as a myth since it can be hard to reconcile with Buddhist teachings. His birth sounds more like the birth of a god which he was not. The declaration of ''I alone am the World Honoured One'' is a bit hard to reconcile with Buddhist teachings on non-theism and anatta. In Mahayana Buddhism, this is interpreted as the baby Buddha speaking of the inherent Buddha nature within all beings. 
  • Some Mahayana Buddhists say happy birthday to each other when it is the Buddha's birthday. The Buddha's birthday is everyone's birthday since we all have an inherent Buddha-nature. 
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The Four Sights

  • The Buddha's rich and wealth father wanted to fulfil the prophecy that he was told by a holy man - that his son would become a great king (he ignored the religious leader part). He shielded Siddhartha from the outside world, from suffering - old age, sickness and death. Instead the Buddha was surrounded by luxuries and this was the only life he'd ever known. However, Siddhartha displayed signs of compassion towards other things, e.g he saved an injured swan. 
  • Old age - represented by an old man that the Buddha sees on his travels. He understands that people grow old eventually. 
  • Sickness - represented by a sick person that the Buddha sees. He begins to understand that everyone gets sick and will eventually die - this is unavoidable.
  • Death - a dead man and his funeral. The Buddha understood that eventually, everyone dies and that this cannot be avoided. It's a part of the journey of suffering. 
  • Finally, he sees a holy man who is at peace with himself and looks free of suffering. Siddhartha decides that he wants to be like this man and free himself from suffering. 
  • The Four Sights is a key story in the Buddha's awakening because it makes him realise the right path which he begins to Buddha-hood. It also shows us that he's an ordinary man and not a god - he made changes for himself, not for others. 
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Ascetic Path

  • The Buddha decided to join a group of ascetics - holy wanderers who practiced extreme techniques in order to reach enlightenment. 
  • The Buddha became the most extreme of the ascetic group - starving himself, not washing and only drinking drops of water every few days. The ascetics began to respect him and worship him. However, the answers to his questions did not appear, so he made himself endure suffering even more. 
  • One day a young girl offered him a bowl of rice. He suddenly realised that corporeal austerity was not the way to enlightenment and achieving inner liberation. ''If the string is too slack it won't play. But if it is too tight, it will snap''. Living under these harsh physical constraints was not helping him achieve this release. 
  • He decided to abaondon the ascetic path and founded ''the Middle Way''. His ascetic followers abandoned him. 
  • He decided that in order to reach liberation, it was necessary for him to cleanse himself mentally. He sat and meditated under a bodhi tree. He encountered many challenges such as meeting Mara - the psychological devil, who sent his daughters to tempt Siddhartha back into samsara. When Mara attempted to claim the enlightened state as his own, Siddhartha put his hand to the ground, banishing Mara and achieving liberation. He realised the answers to his questions and spent the rest of his life preaching the Dharma. 
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Brahminism

  • While the Buddha formulated ideas of his own, he was greatly influenced by the Hindu society and culture at the time of his teaching career. Gavin Flood argues that ''any definition of Hinduism has fuzzy edges'' while Article 25 of the Indian Constitution argues that ''Hinduism is a cultural practice taken to include the Jains, Sikhs and Buddhists''. 
  • Brahminism is another influence in Buddhist thought. Brahminism was based on the worship of Brahma (God) and revolved around holy books (Vedas) and complex rituals. 
  • The holy books called Vedas, acted as a guide to performing complex rituals such as animal sacrifice in which the role of a priest was essential. Meditation was also a key act of Brahminism and originally existed as a sort of pre-sacrifice tool, however, it soon became a substitute for the sacrifice and was used as a means of mental focus and internalisation. 
  • The atman and Brahma (which the Buddha both rejected) became a key aspect of Brahminism, as did reincarnation, the idea that we are reborn as something else which our soul inhabits. 
  • The Buddha rejected the majority of these ideas - he called all talk of Brahma ''blind talk'' and was heavily against animal sacrifice which he did not believe brought good to anyone and simply represented a superstitious action. The role of the priest was also redundant in Buddhism - the priest has the same role as a monk. The Buddha rejected the notion of an atman also since we do not have a permanent self or soul - our bodies are subject to change. This meant that the Buddha rejected reincarnation since the ''being'' within us dies with the physical body. Instead our karmic merit decides how we are reborn. He supported the ideas of samsara and meditation. 
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Sramanas

  • Sramana = wanderer or truth seeker. It's also an umbrella term for several cultural practices. It is argued that the Buddha was a Sramana since he joined a group of wandering ascetic monks in search for truth. 
  • The Jains: The jains accepted rebirth and the idea of samsara. They rejected the traditional view on escaping samsara (karma). Instead of a soul, the Jains believed in a life essence called a jiva (which the Buddha rejected). By cultivating this life essence within us, we would be able to escape the cycle of samsara. In order to cultivate the jiva, the Jains followed strict practices such as intense yoga and meditation, starving themselves etc. and also practising non-violent actions (ahisma). 
  • The Ajivikas: Rejeted the idea of karma and replaced this with a thing called niyati which means ''destiny''. (Rejected by Buddha). Argued that we all have a predetermined fate so the idea of karma becomes redundant. In pratice they were very similar to the Jains - strict practice. 
  • The Sceptics: Didn't really have any set of beliefs and spent most of their time contemplating life and not reaching any conclusions. 
  • The Materialists: Empiricist group of sramanas. They believed if you couldn't identify something with the senses, i.e karma, rebirth and the existence of a soul, it didn't exist. They follow a noble life and path but the Buddha rejected their teachings saying that we all have an inherent Buddhanature (capacity for enlightenment). This didn't need to be proved by empiricism. 
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