by Robert Wilkinson
Being the Wesak Festival, aka a Happy Buddha Birthday, I thought it would be good to offer you the core of what this timeless teacher realized were fundamental truths of life on Earth and how to end suffering. "The Light of Asia" made it fairly straightforward as to how to do this.
A brief bit of background. The son of a royal family, his parents hid him from the ugliness of the world until as a young man, he slipped out the palace walls and encountered old age, sickness, and death. This set him on a quest for understanding the supreme realization of what life is about. He wandered through many phases and stages, accepting then rejecting all traditional forms of the then-accepted wisdom of various Brahmans, Gurus, Saddhus, and other holy beings.
Eventually, after rejecting all teachings of tradition as illusions, while in deep meditation under the banyan tree he attained the "supreme realization" whereupon the 12 animals of Chinese astrology then presented themselves to him honoring his At-One-Ment. Then Gautama Siddhartha, the Buddha, upon attaining supreme realization began to teach the Doctrine of the 4 Noble Truths and the 8-fold path of the Way to end suffering. The movie "LIttle Buddha" is an excellent telling of the story of this remarkable being.
While he never wrote anything down, his Disciples did. Though there are many forms of Buddhism, some tinged with a lot of ritual and forms of religious worship, what most forms of Buddhist thought explore are philosophical realities about life on Earth and practices that in fact can help us to completely end suffering.
This article is not about an extensive exploration of Buddhist concepts such as impermanence, Nirvana, emptiness, and the importance of generating Bodhichitta. There have been thousands of pages written and thousands of hours of debate about these things and more. However, today we'll get back to basics. For those not familiar with the 4 Noble Truths and the 8 fold path, today's offering will cover these in the forms as I learned them. There are several versions, but they all basically boil down to some core principles, which follow.
The Four Noble Truths
1. Suffering (orig. dukkha) is the nature of human existence.
2. Suffering is caused by ignorance. (Some versions say attachment.)
3. Any being may end the suffering arising from ignorance without needing priests or scriptures (external means.)
4. The Way to end suffering is the 8-fold path.
In another version we find:
1. There is misery (dukkha) on Earth.
2. This misery arises from the hunger and thirst for life (ignorance).
3. All human misery may be ended without priest or scripture by ending the desire which causes misery.
4. The fourth truth is the 8-fold path which ends misery.
We also must note that "truths" may be a mistranslation, with the original term more along the line of "realities." Dukkha is actually "disquieted," "unsteady," "uneasy," and its meaning expands to include stress, misery, frustration, affliction, sorrow, and suffering. In any case the First Truth deals with the nature of suffering, the Second addresses the origins of suffering, the Third addresses the cessation of suffering, and the Fourth offers us the Way leading to the cessation of suffering.
The Eight Fold Path
1. Right Attitude (Freedom from prejudice, illusion, superstition, doubts, fears, and animosities.)
2. Right Conduct (Living one's highest standard of conduct and the highest truth we know.)
3. Right Speech (It must be kept true, simple, gentle, and honest.)
4. Right Relationships (They must be honest, just, and enlightened.)
5. Harmlessness (To live without hurting by killing or injuring or causing sorrow.)
6. Right Action (The overcoming of illusion.)
7. Right Thought (Control of the mind keeping it focused on understanding wisdom.)
8. Right Meditation (Practicing to attain inner and outer equipoise.)
Two other ways I've seen these expressed are:
Right Belief, Right Thought, Right Means of Livelihood, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Energy, Right Contemplation, Right Realization.
Right View, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Behavior, Right Effort, Right Livelihood, Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration.
Enjoy exploring how you can live these precepts in large and small ways, since doing any of them leads to practicing all of them at some point or another, which eventually will lessen the causes of suffering in your life.
© Copyright 2008 Robert Wilkinson