Some Knowledge About Buddhism

By Upasaka C.T. Shen

Continued from issue #108

With the knowledge of samsara and karma, you may be interested to learn from Buddhism that you, as a human being, actually have the best chance to become a Buddha. It may be easier to understand this if I say that the hell dweller, the ghost, and the animal have less chance to cultivate themselves and become Buddhas. But why not the heaven dweller, who is supposedly at a higher level than a human being? The answer is that life in heaven is too rich with too many pleasures. A heaven dweller, so busy just enjoying life, has no inclination toward further cultivation. Only a human being, who has the brain capacity to receive the teachings, who has the time to practice teachings, who has suffered hardships and sorrows that serve as alarms to stimulate one to search for a way to be rid of those sufferings and, above all, who has the opportunity to hear Buddha's teachings, possesses the ability to liberate himself and become a Buddha.

It is, therefore, also interesting to note that Buddhism does not encourage rebirth in heaven, but encourages people to follow the example set by Buddha Sakyamuni, the great teacher, and work hard to cultivate themselves in this life to become Buddhas.

Your life may be very comfortable now. Most people living in this great country of America have a comfortable material life, but you should not forget the fact that there are many sufferings which human beings cannot avoid. Furthermore, many people in the world are actually living in a condition not much better than that of hell, as it is described in many religions.

As I said before, sufferings serve as alarms to one to search for liberation; so let us examine the different kinds of suf­ferings that a human being experiences.

There are eight basic sufferings as taught by the Buddha 2500 years ago. At that time in India, material comfort was much less than it is today and human sufferings were more noticeable. Strangely enough, however, the eight basic kinds of sufferings seem to have changed very little over the long years. These sufferings are:

Suffering because of birth

Suffering because of old age

Suffering because of sickness

Suffering because of death

Suffering because of separation from loved ones or things one likes

Suffering because of an undesirable confrontation with a person or thing

Suffering because of the denial of one's desires

Suffering because of the burning intensification of the five aggregates of an individual, or, in simpler terms, the burning intensification of human behavior, such as hatred, jealousy, etc.

It is regrettable that with all the progress in human civilization that has brought humankind to an age when travel to other planets is imminent, human beings are still unable to lessen or abolish the basic sufferings. You may agree with me that on certain occasions sufferings are even intensified by the quickening of life's pace and the increase of material temptation. This is particularly noticeable in the case of the last four sufferings.

This realization and recognition of human suffering is a significant step in Buddhism. It is usually referred to as the First Noble Truth of the Four Noble Truths. The remaining three Noble Truths are:

Desire and craving are the causes of human suffering;

Suffering can be stopped; and

The way to stop suffering.

      I have already given you too much to absorb and time does not permit going into the details of the Four Noble Truths. So, I will just give you a brief explanation of the way to stop suffering, the Fourth Noble Truth, since there are still a few important points I wish to introduce concerning the path to take in order to become a Buddha.

There are eight components, which make up the way to stop suffering.  They are usually called the Eight fold Right Ways, and they are the guiding principles to live by. The Eight fold Right Ways are:

Right views

Right resolve

Right speech

Right conduct

Right livelihood

Right effort

Right mindfulness

Right concentration

The key word is "right." In order to make it easier to understand its application to daily life, I define the word "right" as: (1) do not hurt others and, if possible, help others; (2) understand the law of cause and effect that is karma and observe it carefully; and (3) understand that your body is the vehicle on which you must rely to sail from this shore of suffering to the other shore (of liberation), and so you must take care of it.

If one can live according to these guiding principles, desire and craving will decrease and suffering will thereby diminish.

Please note that Buddha's teaching pays great attention to the community and demands a high degree of self discipline in his followers. He founded the Sangha an organized group of monks to conduct themselves in the right way of living. The Sangha set an example for the public as to how the causes of human suffering can be controlled, reduced and finally eliminated. Any activity or way of living which, even in the name of religion, or Buddhism, disturbs the community or creates trouble for other people should not be considered genuine Buddhism because such an activity is against Buddha's teaching.

When you study Buddhism, you will find that Buddha usually taught on two levels, depending upon the level of understanding of the audience. One level may be referred to as the enlightened level and the other as the mundane level.

Is there anyone here who has had the experience of enlightenment or who understands Buddha’s teaching on the enlightened level? I do not know. I have not. I haven’t had the actual experiences of enlightenment.

Let me tell you a little story:

One day a mother frog returned from the shore to the water and began to tell her little tadpoles, who had never been out of the water, about the warm sunshine and the gentle breeze and how wonderful they felt. The tadpoles couldn’t understand their mother and asked her to explain. The mother frog tried every possible way to describe her experience, but it was to no avail. Not until one day when the tadpoles had grown their legs and jumped out of the water onto the land did they discover: "Oh, that is what our mother meant!"

So, the little bit I’m telling you today to introduce you to the enlightened level should be treated as one tadpole to another repeating the mother frog’s story about the warm sunshine and the gentle breeze she experienced on the land.

Continued next issue