Buddhism originated sometime between the 4th and 6th centuries BCE, when Siddhartha Gautama gained enlightenment and began teaching the Dharma. Since then his teachings have spread out from India, integrated with local cultures and belief systems resulting in many schools and traditions. However, despite their diversity, all these schools have one thing in common, the Middle Way taught by the Buddha.
the Contemporary Practice of
Buddhism was brought into this current world by Shakyamuni Buddha, a ruling-class descendant who gave up on his royal life to embark on a spiritual journey seeking for liberation from birth, old age, sickness and death. In a span of over 2500 years, this personal quest ultimately became a guiding light to many who are also finding for solace, answers, a direction and maybe for meaning to this materialistic and yet momentary world we live in. But to a devoted Buddhist the quest is always for enlightenment.
*If you cannot accept that all compounded or fabricated things are impermanent, if you believe that there is some essential substance or concept that is permanent, then you are not a Buddhist.
If you cannot accept that all emotions are pain, if you believe that actually some emotions are purely pleasurable, then you are not a Buddhist.
If you cannot accept that all phenomena are illusory and empty, if you believe that certain things do exist inherently, then you are not a Buddhist.
And if you think that enlightenment exists within the spheres of time, space and power, then you are not a Buddhist.
“What Makes You Not A Buddhist?”
Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche
Bhutan by Steve Evans
Contrary to the belief that Buddhism is a means of escaping from reality and is nihilistic, the core values of Buddha’s realization is absolutely about understanding and embracing the nature of reality and to overcome our irrational fear for discomfort and pain. Before the term Buddhism was even coined, Buddha – the awakened one showed us that the route to salvation lies within and it is the mind that confuses, convolutes and causes us to respond in ways that bring about suffering. Hence, the key lies quite likely in the taming of our unruly mind.
Throughout the centuries various interpretations, translations and explanations of the Buddha’s words or the Dharma have surfaced in India, Sri Lanka, China, South East Asia, Tibet, Mongolia, Bhutan and even in the Western hemisphere. The Dharma to some are neither mystical nor magical but they were rather psychological. Some factions do believe that the Buddha was like a doctor who prescribed healing methods to managing and transforming our mind. The Four Noble Truths, which are notable to be the Buddha’s first teaching upon attaining enlightenment, point to the fact that the suffering we experience externally actually arises out of our own thoughts, emotions and actions. It is through meditation and insightful contemplation that we are able to gently accept without resistance that our wants, fears, desires for praises and abhorrence for criticisms, anger, hatred and our secret dark thoughts are not our true nature. Hence these defilements can be responsibly discarded. And by virtue of Buddhist practices we clear ourselves of these layers of negative filters like wiping away the dirt from our eyes.
As Buddha is said to have given 84,000 teachings or methods to cater to the needs of 84,000 types of minds, one size certainly does not fit all. Hence from the land of snow, we encounter wrathful Tibetan Buddhist deities of 18 legs and 4 arms with bulging eyes. We are able to witness these representations in thangkas or traditional paintings from Tibet and be in awe of the over-bearing statues found in monasteries and homes of devotees. Instead of being taken literally, these wrathful deities are iconographically and symbolically illustrative of specific qualities of the Dharma. For example, the three-bulging-eyes on a deities’ faces show the vision of the “three times” (past, present and future) and also points to the third eye being able to see beyond the physical realms. And the two hands of the deity are said to refer to the two truths; namely the conventional truth and the absolute truth.
Although the shape and form of Buddhism have grown and changed since Buddha’s time, we must always remember three salient points when one is interested in or is curious about the Buddhist path. Firstly, our focus is always on the Dharma or the teachings rather than the bottles and casings that carry the essence of the Dharma even if the casing is made out of pure gold. And thus secondly, while we do need the casing such as the different means, traditions, the Mahayana or the Theravada schools, this Guru or that teacher to give us a sense of support and foundation, we must strongly be aware of our ego, preference and prejudice because the ultimate aspiration of our chosen practice is to finally let it go and be free of its limitations so that we can immerse completely in the Dharma. Lastly, one needs to trust that the path will be challenging, tricky and doubts will arise and trust that it is permissible to be critical, to question what may seem logical and to apply what is illogical and at times one may be tempted to give-up. But one must also trust that the journey in itself is the truth that will set us free from our own mental prisons.
And so if we can persevere and go beyond feeling uncomfortable, we are then transforming the mind that had mistaken the shadow of a flower to be the flower itself. The fundamental aim of a Buddhist practice regardless of its label, name and tradition is to transform the mind. Perhaps in a more modern context, we can explain it to mean that we are reprogramming the way our mind perceives, computes, understands and projects on reality.
Although the questions remain as to how do we reprogram the mind and what on earth is the new program that replaces the old one.
From the Buddhist point of view, the method employed to change one’s mindset lies in the practice of the Dharma. But while many are inclined towards romancing the idea of practising the Dharma, very few are committed to truly implementing the changes it brings. As a so-called Buddhist, can we really and wholeheartedly incorporate these four seals into our lives unconditionally?
Emotions, no matter how positive they appear to be will always disappoint us because we are simply reacting blindly to external circumstances. Emotions are a leash that drags us to dangerous places. When we assume all things and ourselves to be permanent, emotions to be our saviour, we will automatically take ourselves too seriously as if all phenomena are real – but in reality, all of these assumptions are of the exact opposite.
Our attachment to a fixed, unchanging and inherently material self and environment in addition to emotionally satisfying situations are taking us down an un-enlightened path away from Dharma – this attachment shall consistently cause us to suffer. Therefore, enlightenment is to free ourselves from this attachment that is beyond the grasp of duality; a dimension that we must breakthrough in order to taste the nectar of ultimate liberation.
But in this modern age, have the rich and empowering Buddhist traditions been depleted to a beautifully packaged and yet unsubstantial feel-good workshop? Suffice to say that the awakening of the mind is more than a guided-meditation-cd and massage therapy. A true practitioner must recognize that an effective Buddhist training ought to eliminate our egocentricity and surely not to enhance it.
Background Photo Credit: Untitled via Pixabay