The Buddha is neither a god nor a prophet nor the incarnation of a god, but a human being who achieved perfect wisdom and discovered the path to go out of suffering, through his own effort.
His teaching, when followed and practiced as it was intended, is like book of mechanics: just as a book of mechanics can show you how to open the engine of a car, understand the different parts and tinker with them, change them, how to take the car apart until you see what it really is and all that it is made of, the teaching of the Buddha can show one how to open up and look inside oneself, to understand who one really is and how to find truth and wisdom.
It is not much use if you only read or chant the words in the manual without understanding their meaning and without following their instructions. Nor does praying to the author of the manual fulfil the purpose of the class of mechanics. Unlike most Buddhist schools and traditions, we do not practice any ritual chanting here, nor any other rites and rituals commonly practiced in Buddhism. We also do not have any statues or visual representations of the Buddha.
The heart of this teaching is contained in the Four Noble Truths:
- suffering (birth, decay, death, sorrow, pain)
- the cause of suffering (desire)
- the ending of suffering
- the path leading to the ending of suffering. This path, known as the Noble Eightfold Path, consists in cultivating the following eight qualities:
- Right View
- Right Thought
- Right Speech
- Right Action
- Right Livelihood
- Right Effort
- Right Meditation
- Right Concentration
Anicca (impermanence, changing), Dukkha (suffering), Anata (non-self, no soul) are the three fundamental qualities of all things in this world and this life.
In Buddhism, “Kamma” means “action.” Every single action that we do – including thinking, speaking, and acting physically – is called kamma.
The Law of Kamma means that we inherit our own actions. In other words,
“Do good – you receive good (with interest). Do bad – you receive bad (with interest).”
Kamma as action gives results and bears fruit with time, and the result of one’s action will be different according to the nature of the action that has been done; in the same way as, if you plant the seed of an apple, you will in some years harvest hundreds of apples; if you plant the seed of a cucumber, you will get to harvest cucumber; if you plant the seed of a thistle, you will get thistles.
No blind faith
There is an important difference between the Buddha’s teaching and the vast majority of world religions. While most religions ask their followers to have faith in a deity or in some supernatural power without ever having seen any evidence for its existence, the Buddha actively discouraged such blind faith. Recorded in the Kalama Sutta are the following guidelines on how to decide what to believe and from whom:
- Be not led by reports
- Be not led by traditions
- Be not led by hearsay
- Be not led by authority of texts
- Be not led by mere logic
- Be not led by mere reasoning
- Be not led by a trustworthy appearance
- Be not led by agreement with a familiar theory
- Be not led by an initial impression of good sense
- Be not led by the thought “This is our teacher.”
Instead, all faith should be based on what you can see for yourself. As with a book of mechanics, it is only when you have the engine open and you see everything inside it for yourself that you can say you know and believe for yourself what is written in the book. This is what we mean when we say “Believe in what you see.” or Seeing is believing.
Morality, or sila, is the foundation of the practice for liberation, as well as the means to simply being peaceful and living a good life, whether as a layperson or a monk. The purification of the mind and the practice for concentration and wisdom can have no result whatsoever if one does not practice for goodness and harmlessness from the beginning. It is important to know that morality is not only a matter of obeying laws simply because somebody said so – it is essential to understand the principal on which those laws are based and applying it everywhere. As a practitioner, one works to practice not only right livelihood, right speech and right action, but right thought as well.
All, however, must start from the base of deciding to take on and practice the five precepts, renouncing these five kinds of wrong action and thus agreeing to:
- Abstain from the killing of any living being
- Abstain from stealing
- Abstain from sexual misconduct
- Abstain from false speech
- Abstain from intoxication
The Buddha teaches the way to go out of Samsara, which is system within which beings continue to be born and to die through countless cycles of life after life.
The Ten Paramis or Ten Qualities in Buddhism are an important base which can allow us to “organise” the work of improving ourselves and working on good qualities. Each is like a link in a chain, and we should constantly examine ourselves according to this chain, checking which links are weak and need more soldering.
Being able to correctly work on qualities also depends on understanding well what those qualities mean:
Dana – Generosity
Sila – Morality
Nekkhama – Renunciation
Panña – Wisdom
Viraya – Persistence, effort
Khanti – Patience
Sacca – Honesty
Adhitthaana – Determination
Metta – Friendliness/ compassion
Upekkha – Equanimity
This cycle of birth and death is not the same as Reincarnation. Reincarnation implies that each being has a soul: an essential, permanent self, which is carried over from one life to the next, always staying the same.
The Buddha taught that in fact there is no such thing as a permanent self or soul that is carried from one life to the next. In rebirth, both mind and body die, and what is carried from one life to the next is one’s kamma, one’s habits, one’s good and bad qualities (which are in themselves also habits of the mind), and the spark of consciousness, which is carried from one body and mind to another in the same way that as a candle burns very low, you can transfer its flame to a new one; such that while both wax and wick are lost and gone, the flame continues.
Body and Mind – the Five Aggregates
What we call “I”, or the “Self,” can be divided into these five parts:
- Rupa (Body)
- Vedana (Feeling of agreeable/disagreeable, the base of all emotions)
- Sanña (Memory, that is the “memory card” as well as the “files of memory)
- Sankhara (Intention of action, including thoughts, speech, and physical action.)
- Vinñana (awareness or consciousness, which is divided into six kinds depending on the object and sense door through which it arises: consciousness of sight, consciousness of sound, consciousness of smell, consciousness of flavour, consciousness of physical sensations, and consciousness of the mind.)
One of the main aims of the practice of meditation is to realise that each of these things is impermanent, changing, painful and unsatisfactory – and is not mine, I am not this, it is not myself.