Basics of Buddhism



Meditation can be learned through many different mediums, but it is better learned under a spiritual teacher who attained the highest level of mind through meditation. The west has already started appreciating diversity and inclusiveness of different religions and cultures, and this has led to mass improvements in health care, business, and other occupational fields. When people of different backgrounds come together, they bring their finest ideas that contribute to each other's benefit. One culture may bring knowledge about one thing, while another culture may bring knowledge about something else, but when they all come together something interesting happens. Regardless of the differences within the population, they embrace each other and learn from each other. Thus, it is in everyone's interest to have an open mind towards various cultures and religion regardless of your personal beliefs or perspectives. 

The Buddha

Buddhism is just one of those cultures, rather a philosophy that is aimed to eliminate human suffering. Our medical community's main goal is to improve health and lifestyle, which is quite similar to what Buddhism aims to do. However, the medical industry promotes short term benefits and ailments while the Buddha promotes long term happiness and bliss. Many people become skeptical towards the concept of eternal bliss or enlightenment because they believe that all things are temporary. But through insight in meditation, one can reach the highest level of mind which gives eternal bliss. 

A profound saint was born in India 2500 years ago named Siddhartha Gautama. Siddhartha was the son of a king, and had all the luxuries in the world. His father provided everything Siddhartha could think of. Siddhartha had the wealth, the power, the ownership of kingdom in future, the women, the palace, the jewels, and everything a person could think of during those times. Yet, Siddhartha was still dissatisfied with his life and henceforth set out on the path of liberation. This story of Siddhartha is highly motivational because it reminds us that regardless of how much wealth, power and status one may have, they are still prone to sadness, suffering and despair. The four sights that Siddhartha saw in his kingdom were the keystones to his discovery of human suffering and its cause. 

Four Sights

The Buddha had everything one could dream of yet Siddhartha's mind was not at peace. Lust and wealth only perpetuated the cycle of wanting more. Wanting more meant his mind was on the constant lookout for something better, something more exciting, and this quench for something better always produced despair in Siddhartha. Thus, here starts the journey of a prince who sought for a higher mind and a higher purpose. 

One night, the Buddha asked his charioteer, Chana, to drive him to the outskirts of the kingdom. Though hesitant, Chana agreed to Buddha's request and took him outside the palace for a ride. As they were passing through people, Siddhartha noticed an old man, with a bent back, wrinkled face and sorrowful brow. He asked Chana who this man was and why he looked like this. Until now, Siddhartha had only been exposed to the riches and pleasures of life thus he was unaware of all the suffering there was in the world. Chana replied that this was an old man, who was once a child, then a youth, then an adult and finally an old man. Then Siddhartha asked him whether he too is subject to old age and Chana nodded his head. Shocked by Chana's response, Siddhartha started to look for different types of people to see if there was anything worse in the world. Then he saw a sick man, grasping for breath, spitting blood and groaning with pain. When Siddhartha asked about this man, Chana replied this is a sick man who has lost his ability to defend his body from disease and illness. He then stated, all beings are subject to sickness and illness like the man they just saw. The rich, the poor, the wise the foolish, the happy and the sad, all beings are subject to sickness in their old age. Siddhartha had started developing renunciation as he saw no meaning in the pleasures of his life if at once he was going to have to become sick and suffer like the man in front of him. Then he saw a group of people carrying a cart with a corpse and asked Chana why these people were holding this man in this manner. Chana, sadly, stated that this man was dead and the people were taking the man's body to cremate it outside. He then stated, all beings, be they humans or animals, are subject to death. Regardless of their status or achievement, at last everyone leaves their belongings behind in the world. Hearing this, Siddhartha claimed what good are these pleasures if at last they are meant to be taken away. He said: "O worldly men, how fatal is your delusion. Inevitably your body will crumble to dust, yet you carelessly live in pursuit of pleasure." At this point, Siddhartha had realized the impermanence of life and the world around him. Thus, he had taken the resolution to renunciate all pleasures of life and seek for the Deathless realm. 

While coming back from his trip to the outskirts, he saw a calm monk sitting under a tree with his eyes closed and legs crossed. Siddhartha asked the monk what he was doing under a tree, and the monk replied: "I am a hermit. Troubled at the thought of old age, disease and death I have left my home to seek the path of salvation. All things are impermanent thus I am in search for the treasure that never perishes, the Deathless realm where there is no suffering." Amazed by the monk's calm demeanor and his conviction in the pursuit of truth, Siddhartha asked whether there is such a realm where there is no suffering and no death. To this the monk replied if there is suffering, there must be happiness, and that if there is birth and death, there must a realm where there is no birth and death. Thus, Siddhartha had seen the four sights of different men and come to the conclusion of becoming a monk and finding the Deathless realm and a tranquil mind that will aim to overcome all the suffering there is in this world. 

Four Noble Truths

After years of meditating and wandering around in pursuit of wisdom, Siddhartha attained the highest mind and solved the inner turmoil of the mind's suffering. He no longer remained Siddhartha, he was the Buddha. Buddha means He who is above intellect. His mind was no longer disturbed my inner or outer changes, it was neither influenced by pleasure nor by pain, neither by thought nor feeling. His mind was steady and concentrated on a single point, the origination of the universe and self. He attained enlightenment. And then he taught the four noble truths, which served as the foundation for all his teachers. His teachings were not focused on a divine being, but on uprooting the mind from shackles of suffering. Below are the four noble truths he uttered: 

1. All that exists in the world is subject to change, impermanence and suffering. Birth is suffering, old age is suffering, sickness is suffering, and death is suffering. The 5 sense organs are suffering, the 5 aggregates (form, feeling, perception, mental formations, and consciousness) are suffering, and ignorance of the ultimate truth is suffering. 

2. This suffering is caused by clinging to things that are impermanent. We seek permanent happiness from that which is impermanent thus we suffer. Our cravings for pleasure and aversion towards pain result in conditionality and lead to habitual tendencies that are bound to be at conflict. The three poisons of the mind that lead to suffering are: greed (desire), hatred (aversion), and delusion. When we cling to this or that, we are prone to suffer when it changes or alters in form or feeling. 

3. It is possible to overcome this suffering and live in peace and happiness. To overcome this suffering of birth and death, we must overcome the three poisons of the mind: greed, hatred, and delusion. Overcoming these poisons will lead to a peace of mind not only in this life but the following lives after. 

4.  Due to our previous conditioning and habitual tendencies of the mind, it is hard to uproot from greed, hatred, and delusion. But there is a Noble Eightfold Path that, if followed with sincerity and conviction, will lead to the cessation of all suffering. It this this Noble Eightfold path itself that will transform your low mind into a higher mind that is directly able to experience joy and peace at all times. 

Eightfold Path

This is simply a brief overview of the eightfold path, and more details on the specific sections will be provided later on. 

The eightfold path is divided into three sections: Ethical conduct (sila), Meditation (samadhi), and Wisdom/ Insight (prajna). Notice that the path is secular in nature and does not require any particular belief system. Ethical conduct includes: Right action, Right speech and Right Livelihood. Meditation includes Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration. Insight/ Wisdom includes Right View and Right Intention. Developing ethical conduct improves meditation, and developing meditation produces wisdom within the mind. The wisdom and clarity produced through meditation reinforces ethical conduct.  At the core of it, this path simply asks us to do good deeds, to reflect and meditate, and to develop proper insight into the reality of the ourselves and the world around us. 

Here is the Noble Eightfold Path

Right View: The pure understanding of karma, rebirth and samsara. Understanding that good deeds lead to good consequences while bad deeds lead to the cycle of suffering. Understanding the cycle of samsara and the fact that bad deeds lead to birth and death. Understanding the 4 noble truths and being able to penetrate through them. 

Right Intention: Intention to overcome the three poisons of the mind: greed, hatred, and delusion. When one of the poisons arises, counter it with its antidote. When desire arises, intend to develop renunciation, and when hatred arises, intend to develop compassion. Intention builds on the right view of samsara and suffering in craving. 

Right Effort: Taking the proper measures to discipline the mind through right intention. Right intention leads to right effort in overcoming laziness and restlessness. Take effort to develop more wholesome deeds and reduce unwholesome deeds through body, mind and speech. Reflect, distract, scrutinize and suppress unwholesome thoughts to develop a clear mind. 

Right Action: Abstinence from hurting others, taking what is not given, sexual misconduct, and using intoxicants. Taking each opportunity in life to develop a wholesome mind, devoid of the three poisons. Right effort leads to right action via body, mind and speech. 

Right Speech: Abstinence from lies, slander, harsh words, and unnecessary talking. Using speech only when it is required and restraining from meaningless talking. Avoiding using harsh words or slander regardless of how others treat you. Always speaking the truth, and nothing but the truth. 

Right Livelihood: Living in a righteous manner and developing compassion and kindness for everyone around you. Earning money without deceit or fraudulence, and living a life with an intention to improve the wellbeing of everyone around you. 

Right Mindfulness: Being aware of all the contents that arise in the field of consciousness at all times. Developing mindfulness reduces the brain's tendency to go on autopilot mode and live in ignorance. Instead, awareness gives us a clear view of what is going on the mind without being judgmental about it. We are asked to be mindful and remain steady when faced with the 8 vicissitudes of life. These vicissitudes include pain and pleasure, gain and loss, fame and disrepute, and praise and blame. 

Right Concentration: The ultimate goal of the Noble Eightfold path is Samadhi, or right concentration. This is only possible when we have all the other components of the path mastered. Concentration on a neutral object such as the breath leads to the development of 4 jhanas. The direct experience of jhanas in Samadhi lead to immense amount of joy and relinquishment of all desires. Deliverance is complete when the practitioner completely dissolves their identity of self and becomes fully engrossed in the present moment. 

 Further Resources

Detailed explanation of the Noble Eightfold Path

Audio recordings of Basic Buddhist teachings

Life of Buddha