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Zen Koan #1: Parable of A Cup of Tea – Buddhist Teaching on Spiritual Bankruptcy

Zen Koan #1: Parable of A Cup of Tea - Buddhist Teaching on Spiritual Bankruptcy Together with Vedanta Hinduism, Zen is an early and continuing example of the globalization of religion from the East on several levels. The reward body also appears for the sake of sentient beings; for this reason, it is limited in location. The poem encourages us to practice without attachment. It merely reflects whatever you put in front of it, as it is, without hindrance.

Once you narrow yourself down to the mental environment, there are two things you are involved with—the method, and stray thoughts. What is the difference between Buddhahood and enlightenment? Buddhahood is attaining the ultimate, whereas enlightenment is seeing Buddha nature without encompassing it fully. In Japan, it was pellucid that in the lay Zen tradition you donated to the temple, you had your memorial accommodations, you had your family plot, and you fortified the priest.

Meditation decreases experienced stress load and leads to a faster decrease in heart rate after exposure to stressful film clips, but it is not clear whether improved access to unconscious processes is mediating processes. There are sundry levels of coalesced mind—the unity of self and macrocosm, the unity of body and mind, and beyond this, just one mind remaining.

Zen Koan: “A Cup of Tea” Parable

Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868–1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.

Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring.

The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”

“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

Buddhist Insight on Spiritual Bankruptcy

When water is agitated by waves, reflections that may arise are not grasped. A lot of our busyness is because we’re looking for something to fulfill us. This is the root cause of spiritual bankruptcy, according to Zen Buddhism. The charters are different but the practical path towards human liberation touches both. Can you learn the basic precept of transforming your unwanted sufferings into the path of practice? The British Zen Buddhist author and psychotherapist David Brazier writes in The Feeling Buddha,

We all carry hurt within us. It is not possible to have gone through life without getting buffeted. The hurt we carry is fuel. It is one of the essential conditions for a fire. When a person, or a whole community, is spiritually impoverished, this fuel is stored up. It then becomes tinder dry.The potential for fire to get out of control is then great. This is when wars start. I asked an acquaintance from Sarajevo why he thought the civil war there broke out. He said: ‘Boredom.’ He meant that people’s lives had ceased to be purposeful and war gave them a sense of direction. People sometimes fear that religion causes wars but, although religion, patriotism, self-interest, history and many other things may be invoked by war mongers, the real root of war is spiritual bankruptcy.

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Dharma: Does the Universe Have an Inherent Order?

Indian sculpture of the footprints of Buddha with soles of the feet are two Dharmachakras

Dharma is a central Hindu socioreligious precept that may be defined as order, the moral order, or duty, as well as both religious and customary law. Dharma literally means “what holds together” and thus is the basic Hindu concept for all order, whether individual, social, or cosmic, as established by the Veda. The Hindu concept derived from the Vedas of social obligation or duty and that is the basis of all Hindu social laws and ethics.

The concept of dharma dates back to the Vedas, the oldest scriptures of Hinduism, produced in India between c. 1500 and c. 500 BCE. It is expounded later Hindu texts, such as the epic work Ramayana (500-100 BCE) and the 700-verse Bhagavad Gita (c. 100CE), and is present in other Asian traditions such as Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism.

Dharma comes from the Sanskrit word for “uphold” or “support.” In Hinduism, dharma refers to the inherent order of things, both in terms of natural laws and social/ethical norms. Karma is a causal force that connects all things in the universe. As a result of this force, everything that a person does affects not only his own future, but also the futures of others.

As stated the word dharma is rendered in the new inscription by eusebeia. Scholars of Hellenistic Greece assure us that this Greek word in Hellenistic contexts refers not only to the veneration of gods, but also to a “generally reverential attitude toward the orders of life,” and that it is used “also for conduct toward relatives, between husband and wife, and even for the conduct of slaves toward their master.”

All human beings have a responsibility to maintain the natural order, which is manifested in the caste system of Hindu society. A person’s actions lead to karma, which determines their gunas (traits) and varna (caste), which in turn dictate the moral obligations that individual has to other people (dharma). For example, in the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna’s dharma as a kshatriya (warrior) obligates him to fight in a war even though he does not want to.

In Buddhism, dharma refers to not only the natural or moral order, but also to the teachings of the Buddha. Dharma determines a person’s duties at various stages of life (ashrama):

  • in youth, a student’s obligation is to learn;
  • in middle age, a householder is expected to promote the good of society;
  • in advanced age, the forest dweller and renunciant are expected to focus on spiritual cultivation.

The domain of what is moral was never as clearly emphasized in Hinduism as it was in Buddhism. On the one hand, the realm of dharma stretches out well beyond what is moral; on the other hand, dharma, in most of its contents, is not common to all humankind.

Dharma is one of the central metaphysical justifications for the caste system in India. The symbolic representation of dharma, the Dharmachakra or “dharma wheel,” appears in the center of the flag of India, representing the idea that truth and virtue should be the guiding principles of the nation.

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Karma: What Goes Around Comes Around Meaning and Every Action Has Consequences

Karma: Every action has consequences

The idea of karma illustrates that every action has consequences that go beyond a mere human lifetime.

Karma is a law of causality that first appeared in the Upanishads, the sacred texts that expound the Vedas, the oldest scriptures of Hinduism, produced in India between c. 1500 and c. 500 BCE. Karma is also a key concept in Buddhism and Jainism.

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “It is God’s inviolable law that karma never fails to produce its effect.”

The term karma means “action” in Sanskrit, and refers to the idea that every action has a specific set of causes and effects. Ethically, karma is a metaphysical record of a person’s moral worth. When someone commits an evil act, they acquire karma; when someone does good, they acquire merit, which cancels out karma. Karma is linked to samsara (the cycle of reincarnation) because when people die, their karma determines the type of rebirth they will have in the next life.

In Hinduism, this is closely tied to the varna (caste) system: a virtuous life eradicates karma and guarantees rebirth in a higher caste that is more capable of attaining moksha, a state of unity between a person’s atman (true self) and Brahman (ultimate reality).

The Meaning of Karma

'The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying' by Sogyal Rinpoche (ISBN 0062508342) Max Weber wrote in The Religion of India (1916) that “Karma doctrine transformed the world into a strictly rational, ethically-determined cosmos; it represents the most consistent theodicy ever produced by history.” Schools of established Indian philosophy have established more or less sophisticated paradigms of the psychological processes that typify the relations between karma, rebirth, and spiritual fulfillment. Tibetan Dzogchen Lama Sogyal Rinpoche wrote in ‘The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying’,

In simple terms, what does karma mean? It means that whatever we do, with our body, speech, or mind, will have a corresponding result. Each action, even the smallest, is pregnant with its consequences. It is said by masters that even a little poison can cause death, and even a tiny seed can become a huge tree. And as Buddha said: “Do not overlook negative actions merely because they are small; however small a spark may be, it can burn down a haystack as big as a mountain.” Similarly he said: “Do not overlook tiny good actions, thinking they are of no benefit; even tiny drops of water in the end will fill a huge vessel.” Karma does not decay like external things, or ever become inoperative. It cannot be destroyed “by time, fire, or water.” Its power will never disappear, until it is ripened.

In Buddhism, life is characterized by suffering; the goal of spiritual cultivation is to eradicate karma and attain nirvana, a state in which all karma is nullified and a person can exit the cycle of rebirth. In Jainism, expunging all karma leads to moksha, a blissful state of liberation from samsara. In Hinduism and Buddhism, people receive karma only for intentional acts, whereas in Jainism, even unintentional acts can generate karma.

Karma in Hindu and Buddhist philosophy

Understanding Karma

Karma is a principal doctrine to Indian theology and has a similar meaning in both Hindu and Buddhist philosophy. It represents the proposal of universal justice, the conviction that in the end, good will be rewarded and wrong doing penalized. Karma is an objective force functioning to meet out outcomes of actions. The concept of karma is in contradiction of the understandings of the Western Abrahamic beliefs (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) where a personal God adjudicates individual souls at the end of time and dispenses rewards or castigations in proportion to one’s actions in life. Karma is involuntary and not a judgment of one’s conduct but merely a outcome occurring by way of action. 'What the Buddha Taught' by Walpola Rahula (ISBN 0802130313) The Sri Lankan Buddhist monk Walpola Rahula wrote in ‘What the Buddha Taught’

The theory of karma should not be confused with so-called “moral justice” or “reward and punishment.” The idea of moral justice, or reward and punishment, arises out of the conception of a supreme being, a God, who sits in judgment, who is a law giver and who decides what is right and wrong. The term “justice” is ambiguous and dangerous, and in its name more harm then good is done to humanity. The theory of karma is the theory of cause and effect, of action and reaction; it is a natural law, which has nothing to do with the idea of justice or reward and punishment.

Every volitional action produces its effects and results. If a good action produces good effects and a bad action bad effects, it is not justice, or reward, or punishment meted out by anybody or any power sitting in judgment on your action, but this is in virtue of its own nature, its own law. This is not difficult to understand. But what is difficult is that, according to the karma theory, the effects of a volitional action may continue to manifest themselves even in a life after death.’

Karma is Complex

'Karma: What It Is, What It Isn't, Why It Matters' by Traleg Kyabgon (ISBN 1590308883) Karma is frequently spoken of as the law of return, that whatsoever you spread toward others in behavior will return in due course. Contrasting the Western monotheism which postulates only one life for each person, in Eastern beliefs the individual has an entire series of lifespans in which to progress their spiritual and ethical development. The wheel of existence in both Hindu and Buddhist thought is a series of births, lives, and deaths over infinite eons. The individual soul or karmic core gets passed along through consecutive incarnations until spiritual development leads to final union with the divine ground of Being. In Hinduism this is viewed as Brahman, and in Buddhism, this is simply termed enlightenment, or the fully awakened state.

Karma has become a popular term in New Age spirituality; all actions can be good or bad karma, contingent on their ethical characteristics. The Lama Traleg Kyabgon Rinpoche wrote in ‘Karma: What It Is, What It Isn’t, Why It Matters’,

The Buddha, radically interpreted the individual as a compound of many different elements, physical and mental – a psychophysical complex. Therefore our feelings, thoughts, emotions, memories, dispositions; our perceptual capability, our cognitive capacities, and our physical conditions – all are constantly interacting and impacting each other.

And agents themselves are also continually interacting with other agents. Logically, then, we need not compelled to identify ourselves with a single thing, a core element to our psyche, as it is really a matter of being in a state of flux. In this sense, karma could be said to operate as streams of networking karmic processes, where all kinds of living, breathing individuals are involved. The really important principle to grasp about this approach is to look closely at things, for things in their nature are complex. Acknowledging this will bring us great reward in fact. Doing the opposite, looking at things in a very simple way, keeps us trapped in ignorance.

Due to the prevalence of Hinduism and Buddhism throughout Asia, karma has become a central moral paradigm. The doctrine of karma has influenced the spiritual beliefs of numerous traditions, including Sikhism, Falun Gong, and Theosophy.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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Om Mani Padme Hum: The Essential Mantra of Tibetan Buddhism

Om mani padme hum, the great mantra of Tibetan Vajrayana

A mantra is a powerful and significant set of syllables, repeated in worshipping incantations. The most famous is ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’ (Sanskrit, ‘Om, jewel of the lotus, hum’), an essential mantra of Tibetan Buddhism.

Om Mani Padme Hum: The Essential Mantra of Tibetan Buddhism The great Tibetan mantra, Om mani padme hum, engraved on metal and rock. It is also frequently printed on prayer flags and written on slips of paper and stuffed into the heart of a prayer wheel, so that with each flutter of each one of the flags and every turn of the prayer wheel, the vibrations of the mantra are sent out into the atmosphere. The purpose might be to create a positive force field around oneself and one’s community, and of course, to expand one’s merit.

The great mantra of Tibetan Vajrayana is Om mani padme hum. Inscribed on prayer wheels that are kept continuously turning and on multi-colored prayer flags that flutter benedictions in all directions, this mantra is central to the Tibetan way of life. Although the words mean “Hail the Jewel in the Lotus”, the mantra is believed to have consequence beyond the literal.

The great Tibetan mantra, Om mani padme hum, engraved on metal

At one level, the jewel and the lotus can be seen as the dharma and the Buddha. At the tantric level, the mantra represents the intercourse of the Buddha with his feminine sakti, or Avalokiteshvara with Tara. While mani and padme share a grammatical association, om and hum are syllables that cannot be straightforwardly translated.

At a solely syllabic level, the six syllables of the mantra have been interpreted as corresponding with the six paramita (perfections) of the bodhisattva. These are generosity, patience, meditation, morality, energy and wisdom. One way or another, the mantra has also got absorbed with the idea of accumulating merit in the form of good karma, and part of the spirited turning of prayer wheels and the constant chanting with prayer beads is geared towards the end of notching up as many Om mani padme hums as possible. This reverberation is an important part of the Tibetan laity’s life of dharma. Centuries of being regulated to suit diverse human breathing and speaking patterns has rounded the edges of the mantra, so that it no longer has the clear-cut edges of the original Sanskrit, and has settled more or less in the comfortable groove of being Om Mani Peme Hung.

The great mantra of Tibetan Vajrayana Om mani padme hum inscribed on prayer wheels

Dr. Filchner offers us here a general talk about a remarkable expedition that he carried through, notwithstanding immense difficulties, in Tibet for the purpose of cartographical surveys. He gives us a diary exemplified by fine photographs and interesting little sketches, and in this way offers us a most valuable supplement to Sir Charles Bell’s account. The expedition discussed is between Lanzhou and Ladakh along the north side of the Hedin Mountains or Trans-Himalaya. It is only within fairly recent times that the Trans-Himalaya has been evidently documented as a range, thanks largely to the investigations of Dr. Sven Hedin. It is therefore particularly interesting to have an account of a journey along this northern flank, and we look forward with interest to the publication of the scientific results.

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The Expressed Doctrine of Buddhism & The Four Noble Truths

The Expressed Doctrine of Buddhism & The Four Noble Truths

Buddhism is a family of religious and metaphysical positions that are in some way originated from the instructions of Siddhartha Gautama, the historical Buddha. There is always a vulnerability of over-generalizing the homogeneousness of Buddhist views, but I attempt neither a comprehensive nor a comprehensive examination of Buddhist thought; I merely need to specify something of the Buddhist approach to the self. Prominently, I say little about the Four Noble Truths, even though Buddhism is chiefly a hands-on philosophy, not because they are inconsequential, but because my interest is predominantly with whether autonomy as an educational aim is consistent with a Buddhist notion of the self.

Eight eminent Brahmins who examined the birth of the prince declared that he would be a universal ruler or would retire from the worldly matters and become a Buddha. At the age of sixteen Prince Siddhartha married Princess Yasodhara and lived a content married life for thirteen years in deluxe conditions created by his father to shield him from the realities of life. However while being driven in his horse carriage outside the palace, on four subsequent days he saw an old man, a sickly man, a corpse, and an ascetic, four signs, which changed his worldly views, and he renounced the world in search of the Truth.

In the texts Buddha’s dogma is represented as a body of knowledge, expressed in schemes and rational sequences of ideas accessible to normal consciousness. To be sure, this familiarity has its source in an enhanced state of consciousness, in meditation. Though its inevitability springs from an extramundane vision of total self-extinction, the content of this certainty seems to be accessible to the normal understanding. Buddhist institution challenges and enriches the limited sense of realism that takes superiority in the dialogue between Buddhism and science. This challenge needs to be appreciated in order to portray Buddhism an equal partner in the dialogue rather than the measly object of scientific critique.

Buddha’s lessons communicate not suprasensory involvement but a body of rational thought. They divulge a love of concepts, abstractions, enumerations, and combinations, fully consonant with the Indian philosophical institutions on which it draws. But though Buddha’s doctrine is accessible to normal consciousness, it cannot be operative without suprasensory experience. The rational thinking of our finite mind is not an adequate vessel for it. The core of the doctrine is observed only by meditation, and rational formulation can give no more than a pale silhouette or intimation of it. The source and context of this doctrine must not be forgotten as we now turn to its simple rational expression.

The Four Noble Truths

Buddha’s vision of existence is expressed in the truth of pain:

  1. “This is the truth of pain: birth is painful, old age is painful, sickness is painful. Contact with unpleasant things is painful, not getting what one wishes is painful.
  2. “This is the truth of the cause of pain: that craving which leads to rebirth, combined with pleasure and lust, namely the craving for sensual pleasure, the craving for existence, the craving for nonexistence.
  3. “This is the truth of the cessation of pain: the cessation without a remainder of that craving, abandonment, forsaking, release, non-attainment.
  4. “This is the truth of the way that leads to the cessation of pain: it is the Noble Eightfold Path.”

This insight springs, not from observation of the particulars of existence, but from a vision of the whole. It imitates not a doubtful mood, but a serene insight—for in knowledge lies redemption. Placidly Buddha describes the state of presence in ever-new variations.

Buddha's vision of existence is expressed in the truth of pain (The Four Noble Truths)

Since the beginning of the twentieth century mindfulness has been positioned at the core of modern Buddhism and viewed by many contemporary interpreters as an essential component of Buddhist doctrine and practices. More recently, the practice of mindfulness has become speedily popularized, radically secularized and removed from its Buddhist context, employed mainly as a remedial tool or applied for the improvement of well-being.

The first half of the eighteenth century saw the discovery and circulation of sacred texts (in the three major languages of Buddhism—Pali, Sanskrit, and Tibetan) that ignited the European imagination and thereby inaugurated the linguistic undertaking to appreciate these languages. These discoveries themselves occurred in the background of economic colonial expansion (in contradistinction to earlier phases of interaction governed by theological colonialism) followed by European nations in every region of the world, but the push was particularly deepened across the vast Pacific and onto the Indian subcontinent.

This paper examines the thought of mindfulness using an historical lens, aiming to identify some of the main parameters and consequent implications involved in the changes and developments of this Buddhist contemplative method—from its early beginnings over 2,500 years ago to the present day. Distinct attention is given to the historical progresses in the colonial period, when various Buddhist traditions encountered the main European discourses of the time, resulting in the birth of modern Buddhism.

Transcend Ignorance by Knowledge

The Buddha taught that he heart of the matter is that men, like all living creatures, are blind, ignorant, misled by the things to which they cling, by what never is, but is forever caught up in absolute transience, in coming and going, in never-ending becoming.

A ‘bodhisattva’ is one who has attained the highest level of Buddhist accomplishment prior to nirvana. The bodhisattva is a teacher who foregoes final liberation in order to help the rest of us to accomplish liberation. This concept is part of the Mahayana or ‘greater vehicle’ tradition of Buddhism. The idea is contemplated less selfish than the ideal of the arhat, who pursues liberation individually.

The aim of Buddhist practice is to be rid of the delusion of ego and thus free oneself from the fetters of this commonplace world. One who is successful in doing so is said to have surmount the round of rebirths and to have achieved enlightenment. This is the final goal in most Buddhist traditions, though in some cases (particularly though not exclusively in some Pure Land schools in China and Japan) the attainment of an definitive paradise or a heavenly abode is not clearly distinguished from the attainment of release.

Thus there is only one means of liberation: to surpass ignorance by knowledge. But nothing can be changed by insight into particulars here and there. It is only the essential state of vision in which we see the whole that transforms and saves. Salvation lies in liberation from attachment to things, in release from all vain craving-these deliberate insight into the condition and origin of this whole existence and the means of withdrawing it. Ignorance itself, blindness, attachment to the finite, are the source of this existence; perfect knowledge is its annulment.

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Mantra for Spiritual Transformation

A Mani stone enscribed with the six-syllabled Buddhist mantra of Avalokiteshvara

Mantras are sounds, syllables, and words as the source of spiritual transformation.

One of the primary goals for those who practice Hinduism and Buddhism is to experience a transformation of consciousness through particular acts of the mind and body. A mantra is a vocalized or written repetition of syllables, words, or phrases that helps to focus the mind and body in order to achieve this transformation. In some mantras, the words themselves become an action that can bring about the transformation. The sound or words of a mantra are representative of an ultimate reality that is meaningful beyond the understanding of the person who is pronouncing them. By performing a mantra, a person is able to place their mind and will in line with the ultimate reality.

The most recognizable mantra is the sound or syllable “Om.” According to the the Upanishads part of the Hindu Vedas, written between c. 1500 and c. 500 BCE-the syllable “Om” represents all of creation. Meditating while uttering this syllable brings the subject closer to realizing the connectedness of all things in the universe. Mantras are also meaningful in the Buddhist tradition, in which they have been expanded beyond vocalized sounds to include written language and characters. As Buddhism spread to China, the writing of mantras became more important as a form of meditation. In either form, vocalized or written, repetition of mantras is a common form of meditating on their fundamental truth.

The idea of a mantra is important for understanding the way that a person’s mind can be intentionally and completely focused on a certain task. Mantras are particularly useful in religious practices that strive to push the self beyond its own consciousness. Outside of religious traditions, the term “mantra” has come to refer to any phrase that is commonly repeated, typically one that contains an essential truth or guiding principle.

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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.

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