Friday, May 24, 2019

"Buddhism: A Method of Mind Training"

Golden Buddha atop Phra That Khao Noi Temple, Nan, Thailand (K. Phothiwijit/wiki)
This is a very basic beginner's outline of the Four Noble Truths.
Wat Tham Sua, Kanchanaburi, Thailand
When we hear anything about Buddhism in the daily news, we usually think of it as having a background of huge golden idols and saffron-robed monastics, with a thick atmosphere of incense smoke.

We never feel that there is anything in it for us -- except, maybe, an exotic spectacle.

Is that all there is to Buddhism? Does the news photograph the real Buddhism? Do glossy magazines show the fundamentals or only the externals?

Let's see, then, what Buddhism really is. Buddhism as originally expounded still exists underneath the external trappings and trimmings.

Though generally regarded as a religion, Buddhism is basically a method of cultivating the mind. It is true that, with its monastic tradition and its emphasis on ethics, it possesses many of the superficial characteristics Westerners associate with religion.

However, it is non-theistic. It affirms that the universe is governed by impersonal rules (regularities) and not by a creator-god. It has little use for petitionary prayer, for the Buddha was a great teacher of gods (devas) and humans.

It regards devotion not as a religious obligation but as a means of expressing gratitude and as a means of self-development. So it is not a religion at all from these usual points of view.
Faith or confidence?

Sutra to the Kalamas, Charter of Free Inquiry
Buddhism knows "faith" (saddha) only in the sense of confidence in the path pointed out by the Buddha. Buddhists are expected to avoid blind faith, questioning everything.

The Kalama Sutra shows that nothing is true or to be "taken on faith" merely
  • because someone -- even the Buddha -- says it,
  • or because it is written in ancient books,
  • or because it has been handed down by tradition,
  • or because others claim it,
  • or because it agrees with our biases,
  • or because of specious reasoning.
One may decide to take the Buddha-Dharma (the Buddha's eightfold path to enlightenment) as a testable hypothesis, having great confidence in it as one investigates to prove it, to directly see for oneself. One is not expected to accept anything unless it can be verified by direct experience in this very life.

That is not to say that everything can be demonstrated rationally and intellectually. Many things exist beyond the scope of intellect and can be cognized (directly known and seen) only by the development of higher faculties. So Buddhism may seem strictly mystical but, in fact, is experiential.

However one arrives at firm conviction from tentative confidence, the fact remains that there is no need for blind faith or acceptance of anything in Buddhism.

Buddhism is a way of life based on the training of the mind. Its ultimate aim is to show the way to complete liberation from suffering by the attainment of the unconditioned (nirvana), the deathless, a state beyond the range of the normal untrained mind.

Its immediate aim is to strike at the roots of suffering in everyday life. More
  • Things as They Are: Talks on Training the Mind (Ajahn Maha Boowa)
  • *Leonard A. Bullen (1909-1984) was one of the pioneers of the Buddhist movement in Australia. He was the first president of the Buddhist Society of Victoria when it was established in 1953 and one of the first office-bearers of the executive committee of the Buddhist Federation of Australia. He was also a co-editor of the Buddhist journal Metta (BPS).

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