Wednesday, March 14, 2012

What practice is Ennobling in Buddhism?

Wisdom Quarterly Wikipedia edit for "noble" (arya)
Elegance does not make for Buddhist nobility (arhatship) as it might with models (Meadham-Kirchhoff). Below: Sujata offered the ascetic Siddhartha food and by so doing enabled him to reach enlightenment, after which he taught men, women, and devas the Middle Way avoiding extremes of indulgence and mortification (

What practice leads to nobility in this life?
The Buddha referred to the path he prescribed his students as Dhamma-Vinaya (Doctrine-Discipline), which means this path of discipline. (Vinaya is the name of the collection regarding monastic disciplinary rules and procedures).

“Thought manifests as word; word manifests as deed; deed develops into habit; and habit hardens into character. So watch thoughts and their ways with care, letting them spring from loving-kindness born out of concern for all living beings.”

- The Buddha

The path rediscovered and made known by supremely enlightened buddhas (of which Shakyamuni was one in a line stretching back into remote antiquity) is a path of self-discipline.

This "discipline" is self-imposed and refers to healthy restraint. It is characterized by the Five, Eight, Ten, and ultimately the Full Monastic Set of Precepts. Practice of the Eight Precepts and higher means refraining from sex altogether (brahmacarya), whereas practicing the Five Precepts simply involves refraining from sexual-misconduct (kamesu micchacara).

Abstaining is wonderfully helpful for meditators who are intensively practicing, for example, on retreat or who wish to make rapid progress in their mindfulness.

Like father, like son; like grandmother, like mother, like daughter, too.

Celibacy seems a bit much
Yes, refraining from all sexual activity is not recommended for householders, which refers to most Buddhists and Dharma practitioners.

Celibacy is the "path to rebirth in the Brahma worlds," which transcend sex. It is the brahmacharya, the teaching or vehicle that leads to Brahma, the supreme. It is often translated as the "holy life."

Brahmacharya is a pre-Buddhist term repurposed to mean the "path to the supreme," which is not a heaven with Brahma but liberation from rebirth altogether. (Ancient brahmins and modern Hindus believe that life there is eternal so that rebirth would come to an end for anyone making it onto that plane. But the Buddha and other enlightened beings saw that there were higher planes.

And nirvana is not a plane at all, not something reached by treading the round of samsara, but the end of all substrates and conditions upon which suffering (disappointment) depend. Nirvana is free of all further rebirth and suffering; heavenly rebirths are fraught with many subtle faults, not the least of which is that they ALL eventually fall away, some after many aeons. None are eternal, certainly not the most crowded Sense Sphere "heavens" (sagga).

Sex and Virtue?
Is it possible to have sex and be virtuous? Yes, yes, and yes. Buddhist monks and nuns, religieux in other traditions, and fanatics tell us otherwise. Meanwhile, many of them not infrequently fall short of the "purity" they espouse.

Enforced celibacy leads to masturbation, guilt, molestation of children and others who will not speak out, seduction, even force and rape; it is no way to live a "spiritual" life. Unless abstaining is done voluntarily with a realization of its benefits, it can often do more harm than good.

The Five Precepts do not say, "I undertake to abstain from sex." They encourage us to abstain from the terrible karma of sexual misconduct (kamesu micchacara) or sensual abuse. It can mean gluttony or harmful sensuality of any kind.

But the poster child for this precept is sex that violates norms and destroys relationships, which is karmically harmful.
Instead, a code of ethical behavior (sīla), and effort in the cultivation of present-moment mindfulness and liberating wisdom is a far better approach. Developing appropriate virtue -- monasticism for monastics, additional precepts for intensive meditators and retreatants, and householding with Five Precepts for the rest us -- serves as the basis for concentration, which serves as the foundation for insight-wisdom. Together the three are known as the Threefold Training.

"The Dharma" refers to the Buddha's teachings and the sacred ancient texts preserved by the Monastic Orders (three collections, Sutta, Vinaya, and Abhidhamma of the Pali Canon), and can more broadly include the later traditions of interpretation and exegesis that the various schools of Buddhism have developed to help explain and expand upon the Buddha's teachings.

In later Mahayana tradition, this was seen as "84,000 different teachings" (the Kangyur) that the Buddha gave to various types of people based on their needs.

The Practice
The Dharma can be treated as hopelessly complex or reduced to basic elements.

The Buddha spoke of the truth in both ways. Monastics took to generating lists so as not to leave any vital ingredient out. The Buddha's advice is simply this: Abandon all that is harmful; take up all that is good.

But if that were all he had said, there would be no Buddhism. He said much more. He defined all terms and gave explanations for everything. To Sariputra's delight, he pointed out the paths that lead to all destinations.

The practice is twofold, do good not bad, or fourfold: Wishing not to be disappointed, one discerns the cause of disappointment, and seeks guidance in the end of all disappointment, and learning the path, undertakes it. What is "the path"? Scholar-monks distilled 37 Requisites of Enlightenment (bodhipakkayadharma).

Normally we speak of them as folded into the eight ennobling limbs of The Path (atha-ariya-magga). It, too, is a simplification. Every word used is a technical term, not a common usage word in the translated language. It is very deep implying the 37 requisites that complete the Middle Way to enlightenment.

In this sense the Buddha's teachings are together called "the Dharma" that constitutes one of the Three Jewels (or Triple Gem) Buddhist practitioners seek out for GUIDANCE. Heeding such advice is for one's lasting happiness.

The Three Jewels of Buddhism are the Buddha (also interpreted as the mind's perfection in enlightenment), the Dharma (teachings and methods), and the Sangha (whether exclusively monastic or the community of committed practitioners in general who provide mutual support, encouragement, and spiritual friendship).

Amazing Science

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