“Why, Kelly, are you focusing so much on these technical parts of Buddhism rather than really getting into the fun stuff?” Well, dear reader, there is literally thousands of years and hundred of thousands of pages of text that all of this information is based upon. If I were to just jump into atom level shape shifting and manifestation, or dimension jumping, it wouldn’t really make sense how I arrived at that destination. Therefore, I am in the process of first summarizing the basics for you here, so that when I get to the “good stuff” in a few weeks, it will make so much more sense, at least I hope it will! I honestly think that many of these basics end up missed when people are doing their initial look into the religion and philosophy, for a couple of reasons. One being, as I mentioned, the sheer amount of material can seem overwhelming, so it is a good thing I like to read!. The other reason is that there are really 2 sides to the religion, the religious side, and the philosophical side. While both these points of view on Buddhism are incredibly important to the understanding of the overall school of thought, the philosophy is really what captures people’s attention. By disregarding the religious side of it, be it intentional or not, you can end up missing the “why” and even some of the “how” behind a lot of the philosophy and practices. This really ties back into the metaphysics idea here on this site, that really we need to dig deeper, and gain a fuller understanding of things in order to better shape our understanding of how our universe works.
If you recall from my last post on this subject, there are two major schools of Buddhism, Theravada, the more “traditional” version of it, and Mahayana, the “newer” version (remember that Tibetan, Zen, and a few other forms fall under and are different forms of Mahayana). While both agree that there are such things as Bodhisattvas, they disagree on who can become a Bodhisattva, as well as what a Bodhisattva’s goal is.Theravada relies on the idea of self-enlightenment, and that there can only be one individual capable of true enlightenment on the earth at a time, which would be the Buddha. In order to become a Buddha, and reach nirvana, the individual must be Bodhisattva first, then after achieving enlightenment, reaches the level of “Buddha”. More specifically, Theravada believe Gautama Buddha incarnated in his previous lives as Bodhisattva, then came into our realm (remember from my last post there are a number of realms), as Buddha. On the other hand, the Mahayana believe that there is no limit to the number of Bodhisattva at any given time, and in fact feel that anyone can achieve this. Thus, Bodhisattva play a very important role in the belief and functionality of Mahayana Buddhism.
So what exactly IS a Bodhisattva? Well, it is defined as an individual who has the ABILITY to achieve nirvana (which is freedom from suffering, the karmic cycle, etc.), but who chooses to refrain. They refrain due to the desire to help others who are suffering, and believe that once suffering has been eliminated, they can then ascend to nirvana. This is the key difference between Theravada and Mahayana, Theravada focuses entirely on the self and achieving perfection in oneself to act as an example for others to follow if they wish. While Mahayana focuses much more on compassion, and the alleviation of suffering for all beings. Mahayana chooses this point of view, solely because they feel that if you seek your own freedom over that of other individuals, one has not fully embraced the idea of selflessness. This is not to say one system surpasses the other, they both have their own benefits and drawbacks, it depends entirely on how you look at it. Theravada as a whole, follows the original teachings of Buddha literally, what he specifically shared with his followers as it was documented. While the Mahayana take what Buddha taught, and attempt to interpret it following the ideals, rather than the literal words
Since from the Mahayana point of view, there is an encouragement with regards to being a Bodhisattva, the overall approach to the cosmology looks more at the steps one needs to complete on your current realm and incarnation, and less on the levels of heaven/hell. Not to say that the hungry ghost realm and other higher and lower levels are totally ignored, but rather less emphasized in exchange for the developmental path for those interested in obtaining that direct enlightenment from our human realm.
Now, the course of a Bodhisattva is comprised of 3 pieces, the 4 noble truths, the 5 paths, and finally the 10 bhumis (or stages), which are actually subcategories of the 5 successive paths. Theoretically, if one were to complete/acknowledge all of these, you would be at the level to potentially become a Buddha, or achieve true enlightenment. For the remainder of this post, I‘m, going to focus on the 4 Truths, which are central to Theravada teachings, and the beginnings of the Mahayana teachings. In my next post, we’ll get into the Mahayana 5 paths and 10 bhumis INCLUDING the super abilities that you gain as you proceed down this course.
The 4 Noble Truths
- The truth of suffering. I have always called this “Suffering Exists”; it’s really the first and simplest step to just acknowledge the whole concept of suffering. Did you know there are different types of suffering? Suffering of suffering refers to physical painful suffering, such as an injury of some sort. Just about all beings acknowledge this type of suffering. For example, you avoid touching a red hot piece of metal, because you don’t want to suffer the pain of the inevitable burn. In the same way, an animal would naturally avoid things that would cause it physical pain or discomfort. Suffering of change is a little more difficult to comprehend, but we as conscious humans experience this as well. This refers to the idea that you are comfortable and happy, and then you have a sudden realization and discomfort. Think about it this way, you attain something that you desperately want, such as buying your first house. You love the house and are so proud of yourself for achieving this goal…but then something changes. It could be something small such as the roof starts to leak, or something huge like a nicer housing tract is built a block away for $50,000 less than you paid for your house. In both situations, your initially happiness becomes detracted in some way, be it permanently or temporarily. This is suffering of change. Finally, there is All-pervasive suffering. According to the Buddha, this type of suffering is the root of ALL suffering. I think in Western Culture, the closest thing to compare this to would be the concept of Depression. It’s the idea that the 2 other types of suffering exist and there is nothing to be done, other than to clear the karma and move past the anger and attachment of humanity that you are carrying from past lives. Really, unless you are fully aware of this who concept and the 4 noble truths, I see this as pretty hard hurdle to get over. In fact, according to the Buddha, it’s what leads some people to suicide, because they cannot see a way out of suffering, be it physical pain, or the pain of the mind and knowledge that happiness and satisfaction are fleeting. Unfortunately, from the Buddhist point of view, you cannot escape suffering in this way, and will just be reincarnated into another body due to the karma your soul still has to clear, and the issues you naturally carry forth from your past lives. Well then, what is one to do? Well, in order to resolve this issue you need to find out what the core issue is.
- The truth of the cause of suffering. What makes you suffer? Here is there interesting thing. According to Buddhism…you came from source, but weren’t created by any external factors. Even a Buddha cannot create a new life. Therefore, it is actually your mind itself that causes suffering. It’s those negative feelings and emotions, and attachments that cause your suffering. Your mind created you and your birth, your mind causes you your suffering. However, you cannot end your mind. Until you reach enlightenment, your mind will continue to incarnate here in this realm into a physical body. It’s really, to put it simply, all caused by the our need for things to be true and inherently real. If this were the matrix, it would be the spoon. Until you realize there is no spoon, you will continue to be trapped here, suffering. In actuality, the “negative mind”, what we are really talking about here, jealousy, irritation, anger, attachment, leads people to lash out either verbally or in a physical way. This accumulates karma, which then throws us back into the the whole cycle of rebirth to clear the karma. I would like to throw in a quick note here, I actually have a theory that I received in a download with regards to karma. I will probably share it at some point, but we have to get through the “normal” stuff first! So, what can we do about this “negative mind”?
- The truth of the cessation of suffering. This truth seems incredibly simple yet incredibly difficult simultaneously. The way to move past the “negative mind” is acknowledging that our perception of reality does not exist. That guy that cut you off in traffic? Your mind created the anger and wish for retaliation. Look at it this way, yes, he cut you off, but technically nothing really says you have to become angry as a result. Your mind chose to become angry, and chose to curse and honk your horn in anger. Your mind also had the choice to let it go and not create and exist in that reality. Honestly, though, that is obviously easier said than done. It looks easy on a blog post on the internet, but in reality the ability to control or stop an automatic emotional response seems almost impossible. It takes enormous mental strength and hard work to really function at a level such as I am describing on a day-to-day basis. The world we live in normally is fraught with situations that perpetuate this suffering cycle, making this immensely difficult. However, no one said that the path to Bodhisattva is easy, obviously not everyone is ready to undertake the steps necessary to work towards the end of suffering for all.
- The truth of the path to the cessation of suffering. There are 3 Buddhist paths to end suffering. First is the path following Theravada Buddhism ideals, working towards the ability to stop those negative thoughts/actions and attaining individual liberation. The second is the Mahayana ideals, which is working towards the liberation of ALL sentient beings. For they feel that by achieving enlightenment, they are better prepared to help others. Finally, the Vajrayana, or Tibetan Buddhism ideal, of combining the two in a way. Focusing on spiritual merit (such as the Theravada do), while simultaneously focusing on awareness all as 1 action.
As I mentioned all forms of Buddhism acknowledge these 4 Noble Truths. They are in the case of Mahayana and Tibetan Buddhism, the first real steps to achieving enlightenment. Next week, I will talk about the the Bodhisattva levels from Mahayana Buddhism. This should prove to be quite interesting, since they are all completed here on earth, in this realm, while giving you different spiritual abilities to aid you in helping others!