Back To Yoga Home Page
Some Buddhist Basics (I urge you also to read the webpage called, "On Buddhism and Yoga"):
The very first thing to ponder in Buddhism is the following statement. It should be read very carefully and considered at great length before going any further -
The Buddha said, "One moment spent in the act of meditation is equal to the reading of a thousand teachings."
The Buddha provided many different types of tools to help many different people with different capacities and problems. The historical Buddha was born two thousand five hundred years ago in India, and his teachings have spread to the far corners of the earth, adapting themselves and allowing many contributions from many different people. It can be difficult to jump in and get what Buddhism is about. Here are some notes that may be of help:
The Buddha never claimed to have any kind of special relationship with any god; did not claim to be god's spokesman for the human race. When asked to describe god, Buddha remained silent. In this sense, he was different from all the other founders of major "organized religions." To be a Buddhist does not mean that one believes that the Buddha's word is the word of God.
To be a Buddhist means that one believes that the Buddha achieved enlightenment, and that if one follows the Buddha's path, one can attain enlightenment for oneself. Buddhists do not worship the Buddha as if he were a god. The Buddha said, "It is not I who gather my followers, but my teaching."
Buddhism does not try to explain God's will or God's plan for humans or the human race. The Buddha said, "By my efforts and my efforts alone do I achieve enlightenment."
What does enlightenment mean? It means two things: To come to know the truth and to be liberated from suffering.
How do we know that these two things are the same thing: The conviction that the truth is to be liberated from suffering requires faith.
What was the primary priority for the Buddha, then, if he never talked about God? He was trying to give people the tools to liberate them from their suffering.
The Buddha said that the nature of the mind is to grasp, and that in grasping, it distorts what it grasps. The harder the mind tries to grasp, the more it distorts what it grasps. His meditation path is meant to help people let go of that grasping, so that that the distortion is eventually eliminated, and the essential nature of existence can be perceived, "without defilements."
In this sense, what he provided was not so much an image of God or a world view, but a set of practices to follow. Here are some of the main ones:
* * *
The Four Noble Truths:
1. Suffering is inescapably built into life.
2. We suffer because we are attached to our desire.
3. We relieve ourselves of suffering by detaching from our desire.
4. The path to liberation is the Eightfold Noble Path:
The first three steps on the Path are all part of Shila (Morality) and have much in common with other religions (these are connected with the Paramitas, listed below):
1. Right Speech - not to speak anything counterproductive to progress on the spiritual path for oneself or others.
2. Right Action - not to do anything counterproductive to progress on the spiritual path for oneself or others.
3. Right Livelihood - not to earn a living in a way that is counterproductive to progress on the spiritual path for oneself or others.
The next three are part of Samadhi (bliss) and have much in common with other forms of yoga (these are connected with the Precepts, listed below):
4. Right Effort - to approach meditation in the correct way (see "Precepts").
5. Right Mindfulness - to focus the mind. To concentrate on a specific point. In the Yoga Sutra, this is comparable to Limb 6: "Darani." To be in the moment as best one can. To be in the here and now, and not off in the imaginary past or future.
6. Right Concentration - This is standard Dyani, meditation, altered states that produce Samadhi. To "turn down the volume" of the ego. In the Yoga Sutra, this is Limb 7.
The next two are part of Prajna (wisdom) and are more selective to Buddhism exclusively:
7. Right Understanding - To receive the Buddha's teaching, that which penetrates the illusion of the ego and relieves suffering.
8. Right Thought - To apply the Buddha's teaching to one's life. In Hiniyana Buddhism, this means, to acheive enlightenment, or Nirvana. Nirvana means, "exctintion" as in, "the extinction of all desires and attachments. In Mahayana Buddhism, it means: To understand the true purpose of life: Loving kindness and compassion. (Hiniyana and Mahayana are explained below).
Two types of Buddist meditation:
Shamatha -Calmness meditation, connected with steps 4, 5 and 6 in the Eightfold Path. Similar to other forms of yoga meditation. The goal is to calm the mind and turn down the volume of the ego.
Vipashyana - Insight meditation, connected with steps 7 and 8 of the Eightfold Path. More specifically Buddhist meditation. The goal is to realize transcendental wisdom through comprehending the three charactaristics of the phenomenal world:
1. Duhkha - suffering - that all conditioned experience causes and is caused by suffering. To understant the true nature of suffering is to progress on the spritual path. To believe that suffering can somehow be avoided in the mind is to not yet grasp the First Noble Truth.
2. Anitya - impermanence - that all conditioned experience is temporary, therefore subject to distortion, illusion, suffering, change, decay and end. We begin to suffer when we choose to once again be reborn. Nirvana means "extiction" - the end of all desire. We stop suffering when we exit Samsara, the continuous cycle of death and rebirth, desire and punishment. All experience within this cycle is temporary.
3. Anatman - "no-self" - that I am temporary; that the idea that I have a continuous, ongoing personal identity is an illusion, provoked by attachment and subject to change through attachment in an impermanent, illusory universe. The Buddha said, "We suffer from the illusion that we are separate." The Buddha is the bringer of Buddha nature. This means that through following the Buddha path, we come in touch with our Buddha nature, out true nature, our original mind, Universal Mind, immune to the distortions of conditioned existance - temporary mind. Anatman means that there is no distinction between my Universal Mind, my Buddha nature, and any other Buddha nature. There is no seperation in Universal mind.
Ponder this statement (from Zen Buddhism):
"As the teardrop enters the ocean."
In other words, my personal suffering still exists, but is indistinguishable from all the other mass of water in the ocean. Where does a teardrop go when it enters the ocean? It still exists, but loses it's personal identity.
These three above concepts separate Buddhism from other spiritual belief systems.
+ + +
1. Not to kill.
2. Not to take what isn't given.
3. Not to have sexual promiscuity.
4. Not to lie.
* * *
The 12 linked chain of dependent origination:
1. craving creates
2. grasping creates
3. becoming creates
4. birth creates
5. suffering creates
6. ignorance creates
7. formations creates
8. consciousness creates
9. mind & form creates
10. the 6 senses creates
11. sense contact creates
12. feeling creates
(13.)craving again creates numbers 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, etc.
+ + +
The three kinds of suffering (Dukkha):
1. Physical and mental pain.
2. Dissatisfaction arising from change - that getting what I want doesn't make everything okay.
3. The inherent interconnectedness of actions and deeds, which exceeds single lives; exceeds human vision and experience. No simple translation can capture its full significance.
The Five Skandas, or sense aggregates that create the illusion of individual self (see the below section on the Five Tathagathas) -
4. Mental Formations
* * *
Generally speaking the above body of work constitues the core of what is usually called Hinayana, or Theravadin Buddhism. ("Hinayana" means, "Small Vehicle." "Theravadin" means, "the Way of the Elders." This is based on the earlist teachings attributed to the historical Buddha, whose hame was Siddhartha Guatama.
Within two centuries after the life of the historical Buddha, there appeared a schism in Buddhism that created a second path, called Mahayana. This was based on the realization that, since separation is illusion, there is no point meditating purely for one's own liberation, and that all sentient beings must enter Nirvana together.
This gave rise to the concept of the Boddhisatva, who is ready to acheive enlightenment but decides to stay behind in order to help others achieve enlightenment. The Mahayan revolution (which took place without any warfare or bloodshed, for the record) also gave rise to a number of other concepts, some of which are listed below.
There are five meditational Buddhas, or Dhyanibuddhas, all of whom emanate from the original or primeval divinity, Adibuddha, who is also sometimes referrd to as Vajradhara. This being is largely symbolic and is envisaged as sunya, or the void. Sunyata means zero or emptiness and signifies a state of mind that equates with neither existence nor nonexistence but lies somewhere between, a state of mind that the advanced disciple seeks to achieve as a penultimate stage before total enlightenment.
Manusibuddha is the human Buddha, Sidhartha. Tathagata is the mystical and spiritual counterpart, "he who has arrived at the truth".
The five Tathagata or Dhyanibuddhas personify the five cosmic elements, the pancaskandhas: Bodily form, sensation, perception, consciousness and conformity.
Some Buddhist - Hindu connections -
Avalokitishvara - Vishnu
Samantapadra /Adibuddha - god of creation
Manjusri - Brahma
+ + +
The Six Paramitas -
6. Wisdom (Maha Prajna Paramita)
* * *
Back to Top