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Zen Koan #5: Parable of If You Love, Love Openly – Buddhist Teaching on New Beginnings

Zen Koan #5: Parable of If You Love, Love Openly - Buddhist Teaching on New Beginnings Nirvana is not a place, where one can expect facilities. We are deeply enmeshed in a world where materialistic postulations dominate, and it is not so facile to contravene the momentum of that paradigm. There is a way of checking through the answers of the old Zen Masters. You come to a recede with the desire to transform yourself.

In respect to its social and moral code, the German philosopher, Prof. Max Muller has said, “The Zen Buddhist moral code taken by it is one of the most perfect which the world has ever known.” This is why you should not look for something here you can take home with you. In fact, as you get into ever-deeper levels, you may be aware of the movement of your mind in the previous level, even if you are not aware of the movement at the present level. These are the highest states that can be attained from the practice of worldly dharma. It is not natural to tighten your stomach muscles or to straighten your back by protruding your chest. It is doubtful whether anyone really achieves health that does not responsibly choose to be healthy.

A person who has experienced oneness is different from a mundane person. Just do not have any doubts about the method or whether you have the “right stuff” to practice.

Zen Koan: “If You Love, Love Openly” Parable

Twenty monks and one nun, who was named Eshun, were practicing meditation with a certain Zen master.

Eshun was very pretty even though her head was shaved and her dress plain. Several monks secretly fell in love with her. One of them wrote her a love letter, insisting upon a private meeting.

Eshun did not reply. The following day the master gave a lecture to the group, and when it was over, Eshun arose. Addressing the one who had written to her, she said: “If you really love me so much, come and embrace me now.”

Buddhist Insight on New Beginnings

All men have their fragilities and new beginnings. And when you look at how authoritative our habits are, and how much we go to sleep, and how much the world really needs somebody to have the audacity to say “no” or “stop” or “wake up” or “live differently,” it becomes very compelling. The phenomenal world is the supported destructible inhabitants, sentient beings, within the destructible environment. The British meditation teacher Christina Feldman writes in The Buddhist Path to Simplicity,

Cultivating the beginner’s mind involves a leap of faith, a willingness to dive deeply into “not knowing.” The alternative is to be chained to a past we know too well and to perpetuate history in each moment of our lives. In each new beginning we learn the art of letting things be. The concepts, images, assumptions, conclusions, and judgments; we let them be. They are received, listened to, and embraced in a vastness of heart that invests no absolute truth in them. It is a great challenge, undertaken only one moment at a time. Who is more free, the person who travels through their life carrying their raft upon their head, or the person who can lay it down and walk on unencumbered? The lessons of joy and sorrow, contraction and vastness, imprisonment and freedom are learned in each moment we are willing to begin anew and be changed by those lessons. They are simple and profound. To begin anew, to see anew, is to discover joy and freedom.

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Zen Koan #4: Parable of Obedience – Buddhist Teaching on the Art of Living

Zen Koan #4: Parable of Obedience - Buddhist Teaching on the Art of Living Zen is an interesting method of communicating enlightenment; however, enlightenment does not differ between the many varieties of faiths or religions. Anyhow, yes, there are enlightened people who use Zen nowadays, but none who are enlightened in Zen. For instance, this incense board is just a piece of wood. A sick person may absorb this energy and this may avail them to practice preponderant. Practicing this goodness will avail the process of their rejuvenating. However, because of incognizance and delusion, we keep following this cycle. We carry out many activities, and develop many affixments to this life.

We endeavor many incipient things in order to gratify ourselves. We chase after pleasure and we endeavor to evade or discard those things we do not relish. From this concentrated state, we can enter the mind of unity. Tibetan Zen Buddhism as we know it today was shaped in part by arguments over how best to present Zen Buddhist teachings. Great space does not refer to nothingness, but rather to a totality. No ghosts or deities would be able to find you. Some people become so overwhelmed by troubles in their practice, they end up without any discrimination, letting go of their hopes as well as their despair.

Zen Koan: “Obedience” Parable

The master Bankei’s talks were attended not only by Zen students but by persons of all ranks and sects. He never quoted sutras not indulged in scholastic dissertations. Instead, his words were spoken directly from his heart to the hearts of his listeners.

His large audience angered a priest of the Nichiren sect because the adherents had left to hear about Zen. The self-centered Nichiren priest came to the temple, determined to have a debate with Bankei.

“Hey, Zen teacher!” he called out. “Wait a minute. Whoever respects you will obey what you say, but a man like myself does not respect you. Can you make me obey you?”

“Come up beside me and I will show you,” said Bankei.

Proudly the priest pushed his way through the crowd to the teacher.

Bankei smiled. “Come over to my left side.”

The priest obeyed.

“No,” said Bankei, “we may talk better if you are on the right side. Step over here.”

The priest proudly stepped over to the right.

“You see,” observed Bankei, “you are obeying me and I think you are a very gentle person. Now sit down and listen.”

Buddhist Insight on An Art of Living

The art of Zen living requires, if you come to something that’s in the middle of the road, even if it’s not your lane, it’s a nice thing to pick it up, move it aside, because you care for the earth; not because you’re intended to, but because it brings joy. At first, it’s difficult, but if you work with it for a while, it actually starts to become interesting. The Burmese-Indian teacher of Vipassana meditation S. N. Goenka writes in The Art of Living,

By learning to remain balanced in the face of everything experienced inside, one develops detachment towards all that one encounters in external situations as well. However, this detachment is not escapism or indifference to the problems of the world. Those who regularly practice Vipassana become more sensitive to the sufferings of others and do their utmost to relieve suffering in whatever way they can – not with any agitation, but with a mind full of love, compassion and equanimity. They learn holy indifference – how to be fully committed, fully involved in helping others, while at the same time maintaining balance of mind. In this way they remain peaceful and happy while working for the peace and happiness of others.

This is what the Buddha taught: an art of living. He never established or taught any religion, any “ism.” He never instructed those who came to him to practice any rites or rituals, any empty formalities. Instead, he taught them just to observe nature as it is by observing the reality inside. Out of ignorance, we keep reacting in ways which harm ourselves and others. But when wisdom arises – the wisdom of observing reality as it is – this habit of reacting falls away. When we cease to react blindly, then we are capable of real action – action proceeding from a balanced mind, a mind which sees and understands the truth. Such action can only be positive, creative, helpful to ourselves and others.

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Zen Koan #3: Parable of Is That So? – Buddhist Teaching on Achievement

Zen Koan #3: Parable of Is That So? - Buddhist Teaching on Achievement Zen Meditation is arduous. Cogitation sanctions you to optically discern something fresh that you’ve never optically discerned afore or to understand something incipient that you’ve never understood afore. As in actual dreams, these wandering thoughts either are connected with the past, or anticipate the future. At that point, there are no more vexations.

This is not the case for mundane people. In most religions, if you reach a stage where you identify planarity with the macrocosm, it would be considered the ultimate or great harmony. Others honor the rule and refrain from speaking, but that does not mean that they are not talking to themselves. The basic thing is that they find out what their strengths are in body and mind, and how they can follow the precepts. Nor should you be concerned with anything going on inside yourself.

After practicing diligently, you will gradually resolve the problem of doubt. When practice sets in, rather the way weather does, there can be a lot of boredom and feeling clueless, so that cluelessness or plainness is something that always needs to be taken into account. This is for the reason that your mind is divided into two, or even three: a sense of yourself, of your body, and of the pleasure.

Zen Koan: “Is That So?” Parable

The Zen master Hakuin was praised by his neighbours as one living a pure life.

A beautiful Japanese girl whose parents owned a food store lived near him. Suddenly, without any warning, her parents discovered she was with child.

This made her parents angry. She would not confess who the man was, but after much harassment at last named Hakuin.

In great anger the parent went to the master. “Is that so?” was all he would say.

After the child was born it was brought to Hakuin. By this time he had lost his reputation, which did not trouble him, but he took very good care of the child. He obtained milk from his neighbours and everything else he needed.

A year later the girl-mother could stand it no longer. She told her parents the truth – the real father of the child was a young man who worked in the fishmarket.

The mother and father of the girl at once went to Hakuin to ask forgiveness, to apologize at length, and to get the child back.

Hakuin was willing. In yielding the child, all he said was: “Is that so?”

Buddhist Insight on No Thought of Achievement

If you foster generosity, Zen kindness, awareness, and giving, you will be happy because you’ll learn that it’s pleasant, and the way that karma works is that your world will become more of a steering rather than fear and holding. Within the conventional, relative truth, individual appearances, which accord and do not, are distinguished. Therefore, there isn’t any thought of achievement. Shunryu Suzuki, the Japanese-American Zen monk who helped popularize Zen Buddhism in the United States, writes in Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind,

In the beginner’s mind there is no thought, “I have attained something.” All self-centered thoughts limit our vast mind. When we have no thought of achievement, no thought of self, we are true beginners. Then we can really learn something. The beginner’s mind is the mind of compassion. When our mind is compassionate, it is boundless. Dogen-zenji, the founder of our school, always emphasised how important it is to resume our boundless original mind. Then we are always true to ourselves, in sympathy with all beings, and can actually practice.

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Zen Koan #2: Parable of Finding a Diamond on a Muddy Road – Buddhist Teaching on Creativity

Zen Koan #2: Parable of Finding a Diamond on a Muddy Road - Buddhist Teaching on Creativity Zen is not unique. All forms of Zen Buddhism point to this same authenticity. Zen just uses fewer words in this process. Still, the unfamiliar will take the moon in the dehydrogenate monoxide for the authentic moon and point their finger towards it in vain where others misunderstand the finger for the authentic thing. Sometimes it’s better to verbalize. You have an excess of what you want to be rid of, and a lack of what you want to acquire. Pretending sundry relishes and misprices severs you from the Way.

Consider the story about an inexperienced farmer who planted a field of rice. The more you drive yourself the tenser you will feel. The role of the monitor is that if they see a person sitting in the cave of the devil, in that wonderful space, that peaceful space, they knock them out of it. Thus to say that this principle is not eternal would also be incorrect. When we see the discrepancy between our good intentions and our actions, it motivates us to work with our minds, to work with our habitual reactions and our impatience.

Zen is so strict and austere, yet at the heart of its teaching is spontaneity. In Taoism, there is the verbalization that the one gives elevate to the two, and the two give elevate to the multiplicity of things.

Zen Koan: “Finding a Diamond on a Muddy Road” Parable

Gudo was the emperor’s teacher of his time. Nevertheless, he used to travel alone as a wandering mendicant. Once when he was on his way to Edo, the cultural and political center of the shogunate, he approached a little village named Takenaka. It was evening and a heavy rain was falling. Gudo was thoroughly wet. His straw sandals were in pieces. At a farmhouse near the village he noticed four or five pairs of sandals in the window and decided to buy some dry ones.

The woman who offered him the sandals, seeing how wet he was, invited him in to remain for the night in her home. Gudo accepted, thanking her. He entered and recited a sutra before the family shrine. He was then introduced to the women’s mother, and to her children. Observing that the entire family was depressed, Gudo asked what was wrong.

“My husband is a gambler and a drunkard,” the housewife told him. “When he happens to win he drinks and becomes abusive. When he loses he borrows money from others. Sometimes when he becomes thoroughly drunk he does not come home at all. What can I do?”

“I will help him,” said Gudo. “Here is some money. Get me a gallon of fine wine and something good to eat. Then you may retire. I will meditate before the shrine.”

When the man of the house returned about midnight, quite drunk, he bellowed: “Hey, wife, I am home. Have you something for me to eat?”

“I have something for you,” said Gudo. “I happened to be caught in the rain and your wife kindly asked me to remain here for the night. In return I have bought some wine and fish, so you might as well have them.”

The man was delighted. He drank the wine at once and laid himself down on the floor. Gudo sat in meditation beside him.

In the morning when the husband awoke he had forgotten about the previous night. “Who are you? Where do you come from?” he asked Gudo, who was still meditating.

“I am Gudo of Kyoto and I am going on to Edo,” replied the Zen master.

The man was utterly ashamed. He apologized profusely to the teacher of his emperor.

Gudo smiled. “Everything in this life is impermanent,” he explained. “Life is very brief. If you keep on gambling and drinking, you will have no time left to accomplish anything else, and you will cause your family to suffer too.”

The perception of the husband awoke as if from a dream. “You are right,” he declared. “How can I ever repay you for this wonderful teaching! Let me see you off and carry your things a little way.”

“If you wish,” assented Gudo.

The two started out. After they had gone three miles Gudo told him to return. “Just another five miles,” he begged Gudo. They continued on.

“You may return now,” suggested Gudo.

“After another ten miles,” the man replied.

“Return now,” said Gudo, when the ten miles had been passed.

“I am going to follow you all the rest of my life,” declared the man.

Modern Zen teachings in Japan spring from the lineage of a famous master who was the successor of Gudo. His name was Mu-nan, the man who never turned back.

Buddhist Insight on Creativity: Being and Doing

By the profound interdependence of being and doing, all anger is prompted and polluted by improper conceptuality. It’s that Zen spirit of heartfulness and creativity, of mindfulness that it comes to. However, there are other kinds of happiness that are very unpretentious and really nurturing of spiritual life, that touching them actually gives us the strength to deal with difficulties. The American clinical psychologist John Welwood, who frequently writes about the integration of psychological and spiritual concepts, writes in Ordinary Magic, Everyday Life as Spiritual Path,

The key to everyday life as spiritual practice lies in bringing a full, rich, quality of being and presence into whatever we do. Yet “being” and “doing” often seem mutually exclusive. The cultures of the East have cultivated being for thousands of years, while rarely, until recently, placing as much emphasis on doing. The cultures of the West have been busy doing for thousands of years – building, inventing, conquering the world – while often failing to appreciate that a healthy, fulfilling human life, depends on the quality of one’s being and presence. To find the spiritual path in our daily life, we need to bring being and doing together. This is precisely what happens in creativity, where the beauty that we love can become what we do.

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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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