Blog Archives

The Four Noble Truths in Buddhism

Buddha Statue at Borobodur Temple in Indonesia

Siddhartha Gautama, the historical Buddha, taught that the Buddhist path to enlightenment lies in freedom from desire.

According to traditional biographies, Siddhartha Gautama (c. 563-483 BCE) was a prince from northern India who renounced his privileged life to seek spiritual awakening. At first he followed the ascetic tradition of Indian holy men, mortifying the flesh with extreme fasting and other hardships. After seven years of such striving, and now so emaciated as to be barely alive, he came to sit under the Bodhi Tree at Gaya. One evening, he accepted a little nourishing food, relaxed, and felt a profound change overtake him. After sitting through the night, at dawn he achieved a state of perfect understanding, becoming a Buddha (enlightened one).

Siddhartha’s insight into the nature of reality was later formulated as the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism.

  • 'Buddhism in Practice' by Donald S. Lopez Jr. (ISBN 0691129681) The first truth is that life, as usually lived, is suffering “Birth is suffering, aging is suffering, illness is suffering, death is suffering.” The Pali Canon of Buddhist scriptures (duhkha)-frustration of desire, losing what we want, having to live with what we do not want.
  • The second truth is that suffering results from clinging to the illusory things of the world with desire or hatred, striving for one or fleeing another.
  • The third truth spells out the solution: the achievement of nirvana, the state of enlightenment in which the world can be seen for the delusion that it is. Freedom from illusion will mean freedom from attachment to illusory desires.
  • The final truth sets out the practical path to enlightenment dharma—including right understanding, right speech, right action, and right concentration.

In the context of the traditional Indian belief in reincarnation, nirvana is seen as the escape from the endless cycle of death and rebirth. Freedom is found in the realization that even the self is an illusion.

Tagged
Posted in Faith and Religion

Buddhism: Philosophy or Theology?

Buddhism: Philosophy or Theology?

In glorious works of art and literature we behold this transformed Buddhism with its elaborately sensuous pantheon interposed between the believer and Nirvana. The question arises: What has all this to do with Buddha? And we answer: In the world of the gods, the innumerable rites and cults, the institutions and sects, and the free monastic communities, a vestige of the philosophical origin remains discernible; something of the spiritual light first embodied in Buddha is reflected even in the most primitive figures of later Buddhism.

Buddhism proposes an ultimate reality. Some forms of Buddhism may call this nirvana, others buddhahood, and so forth, but all schools and sects of Buddhism do have a notion of ultimacy. Religion, conversely, regularly provides us with answers to life’s big questions from the start. We learn what to think and believe, and our job is to live up to that, not to interrogate it. If we relate to the Buddha’s teachings as final answers that don’t need to be examined, then we’re observing Buddhism as a religion.

In all Buddhism there remains a trace of his wonderful self-abandonment, of the life that lets itself be wafted into eternity. There remains the Buddhist love which partakes in the suffering and joy of all living beings and refrains from violence. Despite all the terrible things that have happened in Asia as everywhere else, an aura of gentleness lies over the peoples that have been touched by Buddhism. Buddhism is the one world religion that has known no violence, no persecution of heretics, no inquisitions, no witch trials, no crusades.

For something to be a religion, there must be a personal transformation that results from the individual’s experience of ultimate reality. This is most usually showed by a positive change in morality and/or ethics, expressions of compassion, kindness, or similar forms of conduct. If we apply this description, it’s clear that Buddhism is a religion.

True to its origin, Buddhism has never known a cleavage between philosophy and theology, between free reason and religious authority. The question of such a distinction has not heen raised. Philosophy itself was a religious activity. And this fundamental principle has remained unchanged: knowledge itself is liberation and redemption.

Tagged
Posted in Faith and Religion

Zen: A Religious and Philosophical Tradition

Great Buddha of Kamakura, Zen Buddhism

Zen is the concept that enlightenment may be realized through quiet meditation.

Zen is a religious and philosophical tradition established by Myoan Eisai (1141-1215), who studied Chan Buddhism in China and founded Japan’s first Zen temple in 1191.

The Chan School traces its own origins to Bodhidharma, the legendary Indian monk who brought Mahayana Buddhism to China and founded the Xiaolin temple. Mahayana Buddhism began to incorporate elements of Daoism, which led to the simplified, experience-driven approach of first Chan, and then Zen.

Like Indian Mahayana Buddhism, Zen asserts that suffering in the world comes as a result of our ignorant attachment to false ideals, particularly the concept of a permanent self. The true nature of reality is engi, or interdependent arising, in which everything is part of a dynamic, interrelated web of being. All things are impermanent and nothing exists apart from the natural and social context in which it is embedded.

Through meditative practices, a person can experience the truth of engi and gain satori (enlightenment), which is characterized by mushin, a state of “no-mind” that perceives things as they truly are without abstraction.

Zen training involves the cultivation of two main virtues: chie (wisdom about the true nature of reality) and jihi (compassion for all sentient beings).

The two most dominant schools of Zen are

  1. Soto, which focuses upon seated meditation
  2. Rinzai, which emphasizes the contemplation of koans, or paradoxical riddles.

The cultivation of mushin results in a type of hyperpraxia in which a person’s performance of any task is greatly enhanced, and many artists since the samurai era have studied Zen to augment their abilities.

The Japanese-Buddhist author and lecturer D. T. Suzuki once said, “Zen … turns one’s humdrum life .. . into one of art, full of genuine inner creativity.”

Tagged
Posted in Faith and Religion

Thomas Huxley and Darwinism

Thomas Huxley and Darwinism

Thomas Huxley led a movement in support of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.

In the 1860s, naturalist Charles Darwin (1809-82) was busy developing his theory of evolution and searching out corroborative evidence for it. He had better things to do than

  1. defend his ideas from his opponents, and
  2. it was not his concern to pull his ideas together to form an overarching super-theory.

Both tasks were undertaken by English biologist Thomas Huxley (1825-95), who dubbed himself “Darwin’s bulldog” for his advocacy of Darwin’s ideas. Indeed, in the lectures he gave in London in the 1860s, Huxley may well have extended the scope of Darwin’s ideas further than the biologist himself intended. In Huxley’s hands, Darwin’s work became a movement with a life of its own: Darwinism.

Thomas Huxley wrote in a 1859 letter to Charles Darwin, “As for your doctrines, I am prepared to go to the Stake if requisite …”

Charles Darwin and Thomas Huxley The Darwinist view that the theory of evolution had destroyed the idea of a divine creator encouraged the public perception that agnosticism, and later atheism, was the logical conclusion to be drawn from Darwin’s work. Darwin himself had delayed publication of On the Origin of Species (1859) in fear of such controversy, and the dispute over the theory of evolution’s implications became more entrenched and bitter as a result of Huxley’s championing of Darwin’s work. Atheist scientists, such as the British biologist Richard Dawkins (b. 1941), have become well known in recent years for their intolerance of religion of all kinds, and their firm view that Darwinist ideas have made religious belief untenable. However, by no means all scientists agree. In the face of this debate, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences recommended in 1981 that religion and science should not be presented in the same context, to avoid misunderstanding.

Tagged
Posted in Faith and Religion

The Everyday Life of the Buddha and His Monks

The Everyday Life of the Buddha and His Monks

When the Buddha said “world” he was referring to the “miserable world” he lived in. What he said were simple Truths:

  1. Dukkha—sorrow permeates this world.
  2. The source of Dukkha is desire and attachment to sense objects (people, money, power, title, heaven, etc.)
  3. The objective in life should be cessation of Dukkha.
  4. This can be achieved by the Eightfold Path, which has to do with all the functions of the mind: (right understanding, right thoughts, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration.)

Having lived in the luxury of the palace and in the punitive extremes of asceticism he was able to say, from his own experience, that neither extreme leads to “waking up” from the dream of our confusion about who and what we are. His teaching became known as the “middle way.”

The Buddhist texts give us an intriguing picture of the life and activity of Buddha and his monks. The rainy season obliged them to spend three months in the house with its vast halls and storerooms, or by the lotus ponds in the adjoining park. The rest of the year was spent in wandering. On their wanderings the monks were lodged by the faithful or slept in the open. When groups of monks met, an immense hubbub arose. When Buddha was about to appear, someone hushed them, for he was a lover of peace and quiet. In carriages or on elephants came kings, merchants, and nobles to speak with Buddha and the monks. Each day Buddha himself took up his beggar’s bowl and passed from house to house. Throngs of disciples followed him everywhere, and lay companions accompanied the procession, some in wagons bearing provisions.

Initially, the Buddha did not accept women in his community At the beginning of his career, the Buddha did not accept women in his community. But as the result of the repetitive remonstrance of his cousin and faithful disciple, Ananda, he agreed, against his own instincts, to welcome them, though he enforced on them absolute submission to their male colleagues. But he could not abstain from commenting, with a exhalation: “If, Ananda, women had not been authorized to leave their homes in order to adopt a life without protection under the aegis of the Doctrine and the discipline of the One who knows the truth, then, Ananda, the pure religion would have endured for a long time; the good Law would have lasted a thousand years.”

Whatsoever love, compassion, and compassionate joy we engender will tend to be one-sided and not completely pure. This is not to say that experiences of love, kindness, and sympathetic joy do not also help melt problematic distinctions between the self and the other, but rather that calmness, because of its focus on uprooting craving and aversion can specifically address problematic notions of the self and thus provide the basis for profounder expressions of love, compassion, and sympathetic joy.

Tagged
Posted in Faith and Religion

Samsara: The Cycle of Reincarnation

Samsara refers to the continuous cycle of reincarnation to which all human beings belong.

The concept of samsara was first developed in the Vedas, the oldest scriptures of Hinduism, produced in India between c. 1500 and c. 500 BCE. Though samsara is principally associated with Hinduism and Buddhism, the concept features in other religions such as Jainism and Sikhism, and is often referred to in popular culture. Samsara or transmigration as it is called in some schools of Buddhism is found in most Indian philosophical traditions.

Samsara means “to flow together” and refers to the cycle of rebirth in which an individual is reincarnated in a succession of lives based upon the karma (a sort of metaphysical record of a person’s moral worth) received for deeds committed during each life. This rebirth is more of a curse than a blessing, though it does offer the opportunity for spiritual cultivation that can bring about release. In Hinduism, this is closely tied to the varna (caste) system: living according to your dharma (duty) can eradicate karma and earn rebirth in a higher caste that is more capable of attaining moksha, the state in which you realize union with Brahman (ultimate reality) and exit the cycle of rebirth. Even in orthodox Hindu and heterodox Buddhist and Jain philosophical traditions, an ongoing cycle of birth, death and rebirth is considered as a fact of nature.

The sacred and the profane meet head-on in “Samsara,” which traces the fateful decision of a young Buddhist monk to forsake the order for the secular world. Geshe Sonam Rinchen said in Thirty-Seven Practices of Bodhisattvas (1997,) “Samsaric pleasures are like salt water, the more we indulge, the more we crave.”

It is believed that the law of Samsara, everything is said to be in a cycle of birth, death and rebirth. Buddhism teaches that there is no individual soul and that the existence of individual self or ego is an illusion. What transfers from one existence to another is only a collection of feelings, impressions and that the individual in the present life will not be the same in the next life but be an individual with similar characteristics.

In Buddhism, karma causes a person to be reincarnated as one of six types of beings: humans, gods, demigods, animals, hungry ghosts, and hell-bound beings. Only humans can realize nirvana, the state in which ignorance is vanquished and karma is eliminated so that you may exit the cycle of rebirth upon death. The desire to exit samsara is the driving force in many Eastern rel igions. Reincarnation is taken as a base metaphysical assumption throughout Indian religion and it is the primary justification for the varna system that has structured Indian society for millennia.

According to core belief of Buddhism, all living beings are born into one of the six states of existence. Etymologically, the word Samsara in Sanskrit means the cycle of life and death. Tibetan Buddhism calls it a wheel of life in which all beings are trapped. It is believed that all beings trapped within the six realms are subjected to death and rebirth in a recurring cycle of Samsara over incalculable ages until they reach enlightenment.

Tagged
Posted in Faith and Religion

Buddha is The Embodiment of a Humanity

Buddha is The Embodiment of a Humanity

The remoteness of Buddhism need not make us forget that we are all men, all facing the same questions of human existence. Buddhism addresses questions about the meaning and purpose of life, our ultimate origins and destiny, and our experiences of inner life.

In Buddha and Buddhism, a great solution was found and put into practice. Our task is to acquaint ourselves with it and as far as possible to understand it. The question is: To what extent can we understand what we ourselves are not and what we ourselves do not practice? I believe that such an understanding is possible if we avoid excessive haste and supposedly definitive interpretations. In understanding, we keep alive potentialities that are locked deep within ourselves, and by understanding we learn not to take our own objective historicity for the absolute, exclusive truth. To my mind, everything that is said in the Buddhist texts is addressed to a normal waking consciousness and must therefore be largely accessible to rational thought.

Buddhism, like science, presents itself as a body of systematic knowledge about the natural world. It posits a wide array of testable hypotheses and theories concerning the nature of the mind and its relation to the physical environment. In the earliest teachings of the Buddhist tradition, all that is granted is that consciousness defines an object. To be aware is to be aware of something.

The fact that Buddha’s life was possible and that Buddhist life has been a reality in various parts of Asia down to our own day—this is a great and important fact. It points to the questionable essence of man. A man is not what he just happens to be; he is open. For him there is no one correct solution.

Buddha is the embodiment of a humanity which recognizes no obligations toward the world, but which in the world departs from the world. It does not struggle or resist. Looking upon itself as an existence that has come into being through ignorance, it desires only extinction, but this so radically that it does not even yearn for death, because it has found an abode of eternity beyond life and death.

The serenity of Jesus, with his mystical freedom from the world and nonresistance to evil, seems to present a parallel. But in the West all this remained a beginning, a contributory factor; in Asia it became a whole and hence wholly different.

Tagged
Posted in Faith and Religion

Agnosticism

Agnosticism is the belief that it is impossible to know if the supernatural, including God, exists.

Agnosticism holds that the nature of God, gods, or supernatural phenomena is such that humanity can never know if they exist or not. It is a statement about what kind of knowledge a person can possess and about what kind of belief is proper or moral to hold. According to the term’s originator, British biologist Thomas Huxley (1825-95), the term describes a method of how people can use their intellect to come to hold, or refuse to hold, any particular belief.

Even though the term “agnosticism” did not come into popular use until Huxley coined it in 1869, the idea has existed for approaching 3,000 years. The earliest known expression of the idea comes from the Hindu Vedas, produced between c. 1500 and 500 BCE, which expressed skepticism at the ability to answer fundamental questions about existence. The Rigveda states, “Who knows for certain? … None knoweth whence creation has arisen …”

Ancient Greek philosophers voiced similar opinions about the nature of certainty and knowledge. When Huxley introduced the term, he created it from the Greek roots: a, for “without,” and gnosis, for “knowledge.” His belief was that the knowledge of God is unattainable, and a rational person can hold no belief about it.

In modern times, people often use “agnostic” to denote those who describe themselves as being unsure about whether a God exists. Yet the existence of the divine is not something agnosticism purports to answer. It expresses skepticism, especially regarding the extent of human comprehension. It is also a statement about the morality of hubris, holding that it is immoral to believe in something that has no basis or to assert an answer to an unanswerable question.

Tagged
Posted in Faith and Religion

30 Verses and Thoughts from the Bible for Victorious Living, chosen by Joel Osteen

Joel Scott Osteen, an American preacher, televangelist, author

I’m clearly a big advocate of positive thinking as the best way to achieve your goals, but it transpires that it can lead to happiness too. Know that the future is taken care of in a positive way, as you allow yourself to enjoy the present moment. Cheerfulness and self-esteem are some of the best indicators of people who lead contented lives. Happy people feel empowered, in control of their lives, and have a positive outlook on life. Feel good about who you are, and know that your victory benefits others.

You can have victory in every area of your life. You deserve this time of victory. Your steadfast focus and dedication have resulted in blissful manifestation. Pastor, televangelist, and author Joel Osteen has put together a simple and effective tool to help you set your thoughts on victory. Peace and pleasant feelings are yours right now. Let your focus be on this present moment, and savor each feeling and experience fully. You will feel encouraged and ready to face any difficulty you are dealing with. When your thoughts are filled with victory, your actions and experiences will be filled with victory—to the Glory of God!

  • Think The Way God Thinks—“No man has ever seen, heard or even imagined the wonderful things God has in store for those who love the Lord.” From I Corinthians 2:9
  • Develop a Vision of Victory—“Behold I am doing a new thing. Can you not perceive it?” From Isaiah 43:19
  • Make a Plan—“Commit to the Lord whatever you do and your plans will succeed.” From Proverbs 16:3
  • 'You Can, You Will: 8 Undeniable Qualities of a Winner' by Joel Osteen (ISBN 1455575712) Speak What You Seek—“Declare what is to be …” From Isaiah 45:21
  • Standing Strong During Adversity—“Put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground.” From Ephesians 6:13
  • Be Joyful Always—“For the joy of the Lord is your strength.” From Nehemiah 8:10
  • You are Approved—“Before you were ever formed in your mother’s womb, I saw you and approved you.” From Jeremiah 1:5
  • Pursue Your Victory—“This one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind, I press on towards the mark …” From Philippians 3:13-14
  • Have an Attitude of Gratitude—“Let no foul or polluting language come out of your mouth.” From Ephesians 4:29
  • Overcome Opposition—“A wide door has been open to me and with it are many adversaries.” From I Corinthians 16:9
  • Declare Blessings—“Say to them, may the Lord bless you protect you.
    May the Lord smile upon you and be gracious to you.
    May the Lord show you His favor and give you His peace.” From Numbers 6:23-26
  • 'Become a Better You: 7 Keys to Improving Your Life Every Day' by Joel Osteen (ISBN 0743296923) Develop a Restoration Mentality—“I will restore the years that the locust has eaten and I will bring you out with plenty and you shall be satisfied.” From Joel 2:25-26
  • Focus on The Future—“Do not cast away your confidence for it will be richly rewarded.” From Hebrews 10:35
  • Feed You Faith—“.. For everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.” From I John 5:4
  • Live to Give—“Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over …” From Luke 6:38
  • Live By The Spirit—“If you live by the Spirit, you’ll not fulfilled the lusts of the flesh” From Galatians 5:16
  • Release The Past—“… but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” From Philippians 3:13-14
  • 'Break Out!: 5 Keys to Go Beyond Your Barriers and Live an Extraordinary Life' by Joel Osteen (ISBN 1414585890) Filter Your Thoughts—“I will set no evil before my eyes.” From Psalm 101:3
  • Stand Firm—“Fear not; stand firm and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will work for you today.” From Exodus 14:13
  • Live a Balanced Life—“They have made me a keeper of vineyards, of my own vineyard I have not kept.” From Song of Solomon 1:6
  • Expect Favor—“… the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does He withhold from those who walk is blameless .” From Psalm 84:11
  • Forgive Past Hurts—“But let all bitterness, indignation, wrath, resentment, quarreling and slander (evil-speaking, abusive or blasphemous language) be banished from you.” From Ephesians 4:31
  • 'Your Best Life Begins Each Morning: Devotions to Start Every Day of the Year' by Joel Osteen (ISBN 0446545090) Raise Your Self Image—“As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” From Proverbs 23:7
  • Avoid Strife—” For where there is jealousy and selfishness, there is strife and every evil work.” From James 3:16
  • Wait and Rest—“The vision is for an appointed time. Though it tarry, wait earnestly for it, for it will surely come.” From Habakkak 2:3
  • Expect God’s Best—“Those who wait for the Lord, who expect, look for, and hope in Him, shall renew their strength.” From Isaiah 40:31
  • Be Who You are—“For you are God’s own handiwork, recreated in Christ that you may do the good works that God predestined.” From Ephesians 2:10
  • Let God Defend You—“God is just a God and He will repay the exact compensation owed you. He will settle and solve the cases of His people.” From Hebrews 10:30
  • Guard Your Heart—“Keep and guard your heart with all vigilance and above all that you guard, for out of it flows the springs of life.” From Proverbs 4:23
  • Praise Him For The Victory—“But You will give us victory over our enemies… And we will praise Your Name forever.” From Psalm 44:7-8

Recommended Books

Tagged
Posted in Faith and Religion

Daily Bread for Spiritual Nourishment

Daily Bread for Spiritual Nourishment

Matthew 4:4 teaches “People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God”

The sources of the energy and strength that sustains our lives must be replenished every so often. They do not come as a perpetual treasure that can be possessed to close, and then be inexhaustibly drawn upon, when and as needed. This is why we need daily bread. The living body quickly uses up its ingestion, and if life is to go on, the sustenance must be frequently replenished.

The life of the spirit, as well, needs continual nourishment. The bread of vision and faith that sustains it suffices only for a limited time. It is used up in the course of living, and there must be restitution if we are not to experience spiritual anemia.

Many people are affected with a malignant spiritual anemia without being conscious of it. Their bodies are well upholstered, but the spirit that animates the body with will and resolution, is often delicate and inept. Lethargic, indifferent, unsympathetic— they are like uncharged batteries. They find life a fatigued business, because they are without the vivacious energy with which the spirit generates the momentum and direction for living.

We renew the spirit’s sustenance in moments of prayer, when we institute contact with God who is the source of the will and purpose which permeates the life of the universe. We nourish the spirit when we enjoy fellowship with other men and women, whose spirits are well charged with the vivacious energies of life. Every experience of beauty and goodness yields a store of energy to reinforce us. The books we read, the people we associate with, the entertainment we enjoy—these are foodstuffs of the spirit, and they must be taken regularly as part of the incessant rhythm of living.

Tagged
Posted in Faith and Religion