(Second part of a three-part essay)
When tracing the root holdings of Buddhism, remember that much of what is available comes to us through quite ancient oral trans-missions, much like Christianity, Judaism and, to a lesser degree, Islam. In contrast with the divine revelation of the monotheists, Buddhist teachings are explicitly acknowledged as creations of humankind. The inspiration is of us, that is, it flows from us and through us. The inspiration is available to anyone who will make the effort to realize a truth of themselves as a guide for living as a human being on and of this planet.
Siddhartha Gautama, first and foremost a man and then a man of historical and spiritual significance, realized himself as a result of his experiences over his lifetime, approximately 2,500 earth sun cycles ago. As Gautama Buddha or Shakyamuni Buddha; Shakya-muni meaning the greatest of the Shakyas, his clan, he is the fourth Buddha of this kalpa or aeon, a time measurement which could be named as hundreds of thousands of earth sun cycles and is essentially irrelevant to our experiencing of Buddhism as presently understood. Many people of the Indian subcontinent count this same time also as the fourth and last yuga, kaliyuga, another time counting system in which hundreds of thousands of earth sun cycles are involved. Kaliyuga is the least propitious of the yugas and will give way, in due time, to another succession of yugas, cycling still again from the best to the worst of times. The difficulty of living in these times may thus be ascribed to the successions of time in which we now appear. The next and last Buddha of this kalpa will be Maitreya who is presently biding his time in another state of being in another time and space dimension. For all we know, Maitreya may be playing chess or go with the next Christ or soon-to-return Iman of the Muslims.
Appearing as son of a potentate in what is now Nepal, Siddhartha was sheltered by his father so that he would never come to know the suffering of a human lifetime. When he nevertheless discovered suffering, he quit the palace to become a forest-dwelling ascetic. He left his young wife and son, never to return. Later, having passed through this ascetic phase, he took his hard-won learning into a famous forty day meditation under a Boddhi tree of a type now called ficus religiosa in Latin. At the end of these forty days he understood the nature of being and began to teach. His five companions from his ascetic phase were his first students.
Gautama Buddha’s lifetime came in the later stages of major upheaval throughout the Indian subcontinent. The Indus civilization had been destroyed or collapsed. Along with that disaster, their goddess-based, perhaps animist, religious practices and rituals disappeared, too. However, influences from the Indus civilization survived in various aspects of both Hinduism and Buddhism. The Aryan or Indo-European invaders came from the north and west bringing ideas such as sky gods, priests and pharmacological aids to divine and magical powers. Their ideas emerged in the Vedas, Brahmanas and Upanishads as we know then today. The Vedantas, last of the Vedas, led to a Hindu non-dualistic practice with apparent influences on emerging Buddhism.
Early Buddhism is both a product of, reaction to and extension of themes advanced during those times. According to Stephen V. Beyer, "The quest for freedom as a state of being within the phenomenal world and the contemplative techniques used in the search where inherited from the Vedic tradition." In parallel, the subcontinent was experiencing great technological revolutions--the Aryans brought the military innovation of horse and chariot, iron technology was perfected as was the organizing processes of the imperial states and conquering armies. All these forces contributed, as technological change does today, to vast destruction of previously prevailing ways, communities and lifestyles. Emergence, then, of a fourth Buddha in this kalpa will be against a similar background of turmoil and need for new guidelines for life as a human being. Today’s situation is not without precedents or parallels.
From those early teachings emerged several key elements of Buddhist doctrine. These key elements are shared in substance if not interpretation by today’s three major schools of Buddhism: Hinayana (sometimes called Theravada); Mahayana and Vajrayana. Among these teachings are: The Four Noble Truths (arya satyas), The Three Marks of Existence (lakshanas); The Five Aggregates (skhandas), Dependent Origination (pratitya-samutpada) and The Stages of Sanctification. While Hinayana Buddhism stays with the earlier language of Buddhism, Pali, Mahayana uses the later Sanskrit. Vajrayana uses Sanskrit, Tibetan and Mongolian languages. Unless noted, this essay uses Sanskrit.
Shakyamuni Buddha’s first teaching to his five students is called "Discourse on the Turning of the Wheel of the Law" or Dharma-chakra-pravartana-sutra. Arya satyas, typically translated to English as Four Noble Truths, carries connotations in English which may not adequately represent Shakyamuni’s entire message.
The four elements which condition the human experience are called duhkha, usually translated as "suffering" although "not knowing" or "ignorance" may be closer. What we are not knowing or ignorant of is our essential nature as realized beings. Through not knowing we suffer birth, we suffer old age, we suffer diseases, we suffer dying. We suffer from our associations, we suffer unpleasantness, we suffer desires.
Pleasure and pain are all transient experiences. The core of our actuality is change. Change is the normal condition of being. Our not knowing, ignorance or suffering has three general types, characteristics or marks, The Three Laksanas. The first laksana is Duhkha-duhkhata, the ordinary condition of mental and physical distresses occasioned by our not knowing or ignorance. Viparinjama-duhkhata, the second, comes from the experience of change, pleasure changes to something else which we judge unpleasant. Our not knowing or ignorance in this case comes from assuming that our good times are not qualities of our less than good times and vice- versa rather than our interpretations or imaginings about them. The third, samskara-duhkata, is the result of our conditioned states, the matrices of unexamined behavior and assumptions which make up our personal, interpersonal and group belief- systems. Typically, we are minimally aware, if at all, of what it is that drives us to action, karma.
The second arya satya deals with samudaya usually given as "cause" although perhaps better understood as "appearance" or "manifestation" or "form taken as we view it". The appearance or manifestation of not knowing or ignorance of our unchanging nature as realized beings is the sets of craving which drive us to repeat our personal cycles: the craving, trashna, linked to rebirth, linked to pleasure and carnal desires, linked to the supposed delights of human pleasure, sensual experience, kamatrashna, linked to appearance and manifestation, bhavatrashna, linked to not being in appearance or manifestation, vibhavatrahna.
1) Right Understanding, samyak drshti, by correctly or adequately
understanding or integrating the teaching, making the teaching one with us,
we become the teaching, the teaching becomes us.
2) Right Thought, samyak samkalpa, by cleansing our minds of not knowing and ignorance appearing as desire, lust, duhkha, etc., our mind or mental processing becomes uncluttered and focused on our unfolding actuality.
3) Right Speech, samyak vaca, by forgoing judgments, imaginings, ungrounded assumptions and such, we are cleansed of falsehoods, gossip, calumny, accusations and such against others.
4) Right Action, samyak karmanta, by taking actions fully in accord with universal principles of ethical and moral behavior such as the Ten Commandments of Judaism and Christianity, totally foreswearing killing, stealing, licentious behavior and such, we embrace ahimsa, harmlessness. Ahimsa is Mahatma Gandhi’s core teaching, too.
5) Right Livelihood, samyak ajiva, by choosing in today’s terms to affirm valuing, moral and ethical behavior in the practices we adopt for earning a living, we act to enhance whatever it may be which sustains us, our communities and our planet.
6) Right Effort, samyak vyayama, by examining how we think, how we act, how we are, etc. so that we dwell in positive, valuing thought forms leads away from not knowing and ignorance, we become congruent in thought and action. We walk our talk.
7) Right Mindfulness, samyak smrti, by staying within the framework established by the eightfold pathway, we stay aware, conscious of all that we are and all in which we live, all with whom we live. We maintain ourselves clearly on all planes of existence.
8) Right Concentration, samyak samahdi, by establishing and maintaining our focus of appearance, manifestation and being through appropriate concentration, usually named as meditation, dhyana, we are grounded in our unfolding actuality.
(Please, read the end of Milo's essay tomorrow)