-Tilak B. Shrestha, Ph.D.
What is Buddha Dharma? Nothing! A person, looking out through a dirty glass window ‘mind’, will have a messy view. The Dharma is the discipline of cleaning the window ‘mind’ on your own. The person and the outside scene remains the same. The view becomes clear and correct when the mud in the window is cleaned to nothing.
Divine Buddha is the bright spiritual light to the world. Siddhartha Gautam Shakya ‘Buddha’ was born in Nepal. He is the universal phenomena. Thus, we Nepalese take great pride in him. The Baishakh Purnima (Full moon day) is the Buddha Jayanti. The day when Buddha was born (Lumbini), achieved enlightenment ‘Buddha’ (Kashi, 35) and Maha Nirwan (Kushi Nagar, 80). The day is celebrated all over the world. The Buddha Jayanti this year (May 21st, 2016) marks the 2560th birthday. It was celebrated with special zeal with many programs, including an international conference in Lumbini on Buddha’s teachings and their application in our life and the world, with many international dignitaries and scholars participating.
What is the way to Buddha mind? To be free of all the constraints. Once a terrible war lord, on the looting & murdering rampage, approached a village. Terrified villagers ran away, except a monk. The war lord shouted to the monk, “Do not you know I can kill you in a moment?” The monk replied, “Do not you know I am ready to die any moment?”
Siddhartha Gautam was born to King Sudhodhan and Queen Maya Devi. The royal astrologers prophesized that the boy is not an ordinary person, but will become either the greatest King or the greatest Ascetic, the world has ever seen. King thought bringing the prince in luxury would avoid being an ascetic. King made sure that the prince is kept totally isolated from any of the ugliness and the sadness of the life. Prince grew up to be a kind-hearted person. He married gorgeous Princess Yashodhara (both 16), and had a son Rahul. He had the best of the life anybody may imagine of.
However, the universe has other plan. The young prince, while strolling around, happens to see a sick person, an old person and a dead person. He was told that the ugliness is simply a reality, a part of life, and all of us must face them eventually. The young prince had the shock of his life. He decided to go out and find the cure of this worldly sadness ‘Dukkha.’ He left the luxury of palace (29) and went around to different spiritual teachers and schools. He practiced everything he was told to do, and then some more. Finally, he initiated into the ascetic order ‘Sanyash’ in the ‘Nirwani’ lineage under the ‘Shankhya’ school. The Shankhya yoga taught by Kapil Muni is an offshoot of Adwaita Darshan of ‘Shiva Dharma.’
He tried many different ways, but did not succeed. Once he sat under a tree (Pipal, Bodhi) and vowed not to move till he succeeds. There was a long trial and tribulation, but all of sudden he became Enlightened ‘Buddha.’ Thus arose Buddha.
Once he became enlightened, he would speak for himself and all his previous backgrounds become redundant. What is Buddhahood? We are not Buddha. Thus, we do not know and cannot explain. At the best we may speculate. An explanation is a human intellectual attempt and will be misleading to deal with the ‘beyond.’ Thus Buddha did not. He merely explained the ‘way’ worked for him. It is for the practitioners to plod the way and realize themselves. He did indicate however, “It is like awakening from a deep sleep. It is bliss.”
Buddha had thousands and thousands of disciples, whom he helped in the way. Many of the monks realized Buddhahood. The first known such monk was Mahakashyap. Before all the monks, Siddhartha and Mahakashyap merely smiled at each other.
Bodhidharma (South Indian prince and monk, Da Mo - Chinese, Daruma – Japanese, 5th / 6th AD) went to China. He was received by Emperor Wu. Wu asked, “I have helped lots of monks in study, coping scriptures, building monasteries. What merit do I get?” Bodhidharma replied, “Nothing. You deserve only good Karma.” Wu, “What is the meaning of the noble truth?” Bodhidharma, “There is no noble truth, only emptiness.” Wu, “Who is standing before me?” Bodhidharma, “I do not know.” He went to Shaolin monastery, but the monastery did not let him in. He sat in a nearby cave and gazed on a wall for nine years. He figured out how and why Karma works. Finally, he was admitted to the monastery. He found the monks to be physically weak. He taught them the famous martial arts – Shaolin Kung Fu.”
Dharma is the study of own nature and the discipline of self improvement. Dharma is not religion. The Dharmic discipline is about: a. the search for truth (Satya), and b. ways of spiritual growth (Yoga). Spiritual growth is transcending - a. first from own ego, and then b. to the universal reality. There are 4 basic groups of Yogas: Gnan ‘knowledge’, Raj ‘Meditation’, Bhakti ‘Love and Devotion’, and Karma ‘unattached duty.’
Sanatana: To wonder about ultimate truth and to strive for spiritual progress is universal phenomena inherent in humanity. It is not limited by geography, history or culture. Sanatana is such universal principles and ways of spiritual growth, studied and practiced around the world. Dharma is a subset of the ‘Sanatana’ practiced by an individual or a group of people.
Veda / Purana / Tripitak etc.: They are the depositories of knowledge, as known then. They are sources of information like a library. They are to be used for studies. But they are not scriptures to be believed and obeyed. Astik – arguments based on Veda. Nastik – arguments independent of Veda. Both arguments have to be valid on their own.
Buddha dharma: It is the empirical spiritual discipline. It uses methods only within human faculty, not ‘beliefs’ or ‘outside.’ It is not faith, ideology, religion, ethnicity or nationalism. Thus Buddha’s teachings and analyses are within rational self-examination of the world including own mind. Buddha Dharma emphasizes on Gnan yoga and Raj yoga.
Once, a scholar asked Buddha, “Does God exist?” Buddha remained silent. The scholar said, “May I say God exist?” Buddha asked, “What proof do you have?” The question was paraphrased, “Perhaps God does not exist?” Buddha remained silent. The scholar said, “May I say God does not exist?” Buddha asked same question, “What proof do you have?” Frustrated, the scholar left. Later Buddha explained, “No matter what I say I will be misunderstood, and will set the scholar in the wrong path. He wants to believe. He will believe whatever I say. But the path I am pointing at is the self-inquiry and self-experience, not to believe any.”
Dharmic background in Buddha’s time: There were many Dharmas, which can be broadly grouped into four.
1. Lokalaya Darshan / Rishi Charvak: Whatever you see is the only reality you can be concerned about. Any other claims, e.g. existence of God, must be proven by claimants. Science is the correct form of inquiry. The goal is the greatest happiness for all in this world.
2. Dwaita Darshan / Vaishnav Dharma: (Dwaita – two, Creator and created). We may approach divinity through Bhakti yoga or the ‘way of love & devotion.’ It emphasizes on Bhakti and Karma ‘way of unattached duty’ yogas. Divine Narayan / Vishnu holds Shankha / conch (declaration of existence of divinity), Chakra / discuss (I create), Gadda / mace (I protect), and Padma / lotus (you may approach through love). Even if you are an atheist but practice love, good enough.
3. Adwata Darshan / Shaiva Dharma: (A-Dwaita – not two) Whole universe in its all dimensions is not two, but one – Brahman (Universal reality). The world we see and experience around us is the ‘Samsar’ – created reality out of Brahman. We are also part of it and thus cannot realize the Brahman. However, we can understand its two orthogonal dimensions – Consciousness and Material / Energy. They are symbolized as Shiva and Parvati, and in abstract Lingam and Yoni. It emphasizes on Gnan yoga ‘way of knowledge’, and Raj yoga ‘way of meditation.’
4. Shankhya Darshan / Rishi Kapil: It tries to limit the belief or the unknowable Brahman. It postulates only two realities – Consciousness and Material / Energy. Divinity is not considered. The life forms including our self are the various combinations of consciousness and material / energy. It also emphasizes the same yogas – Gnan and Raj to realize salvation.
Buddha Dharma: Buddha arose and declared, “Tathagata – I have been there.” Any of us can also go there. There is no need of any beliefs or external help, not even of Buddha. Buddha found a way and willing to show if you are interested. But it is up to you to follow the path to Nirvana – “Appo Deepo Bhava – Be light onto yourself.” The Buddha’s break through is bringing the ‘way’ within the realm of human faculty, which was hitherto understood only in the realm of ‘belief’ and ‘revelation.’
This is important and let me stress it by citing an example from physics. The theory of Karma ‘Whatever you do will come back to you’ is known for long time. But it is a matter of popular saying and a folk belief. Isaac Newton proved it in the mechanical level. We may say Newton’s third law is a break through. It is not about inventing a new theory, rather confirming the existing theory within the rigor of the mechanics. It cuts down doubts and become useful to all.
We may notice that Shaiva Dharma, Shankhya Darshan, and Bauddha Dharma all prescribe and emphasize same paths - Gnan ‘knowledge’ and Raj ‘meditation’ yogas. The differences are: Shiva Dharma comes with the belief in ’Brahman’, in Shankhya the believe that the life form is the combination of matter / energy and consciousness. Buddha Dharma does not have any beliefs as a priori. Bodhi (Brahman – Pali) is to be realized personally at the end of the journey, if at all. That is the break through. It also makes Buddha Dharma most scientific. However, all of them keep their root – ‘OM.’ Buddhist mantra - “Om Mani Padme Hum – there is the jewel in the lotus.” There is the reality beyond what is visible.
One of the practices in Zen (Dhyan – Sanskrit, Chan – Chinese, Zen – Japanese) Buddhism is to struggle through Koan. For example, “How is the sound of one handed clap?” In lighter side, it could be a slap in the face. But it is a serious practice. The Zen disciples have to stretch their thinking and logic to see how far it will go. Natural responses are: Solution- Elation, No solution - Frustration. The practice here is to raise above all these natural human responses.
The four noble truths:
1. Suffering exist, this is how our mind works
2. Suffering arises from attachment to desires
3. Suffering ceases when attachment to desire ceases
4. Freedom from suffering is possible by practicing the Eightfold Path
2. Suffering arises from attachment to desires
3. Suffering ceases when attachment to desire ceases
4. Freedom from suffering is possible by practicing the Eightfold Path
It is the applied Buddha Dharma. Buddha did not have to but because his journey was for the solution of the suffering / unhappiness/ Dukkha, he gives the analysis. We all are trying to be happy. Happiness comes from within, not from outside. Thus, by nature we are happy. Then why are we still unhappy? Rain falls straight down; grass grows straight up. Only wind bends them. Thus, instead of telling how to be happy from outside, Buddha analyzed the cause of our unhappiness ‘Dukkha.’ If we are able to remove the blocks making us unhappy, then we will, by nature, be happy. As the wind is natural and affects rain and grass, we are also affected by external factors leading to Dukkha. Suppose a person was having a morning stroll happily singing a song. He sees a person riding a red bicycle. All of sudden the desire to have a red bicycle comes in his mind. He equates his happiness to possessing the red bicycle. He will try to get one. If he is not able to he is unhappy. If he is able to then, for some time he is happy, rather he thinks he is happy. But the charm of the red bicycle will eventually fade away. Nothing is permanent. Then he sees a person riding a blue bicycle. Rise of desire in our mind is endless. It is at every nook and corner. We may be able to satisfy a few, but eventually it will overwhelm you. Thus the care is not running after the blue bicycle, but to control the desire in the first place.
If you practice Dharma then as soon as you see the red bicycle, you will expect the desire rising up in the mind. You may step back and may watch how mind works. You will maintain the same state of mind before you saw the red bicycle. You will notice the external stimuli, take the appropriate steps, but will not let it control you. Freedom is possible if we discipline our life in controlling desires by following the eight-fold path.
The eight-fold path: Buddha also gives an outline of a right (Samyak - virtuous and balanced) life designed to minimize desires. It is not a commandment to believe and obey, but to think through, realize its core of wisdom, and apply in your life. Buddha emphasizes on the ‘Middle path.’ It should be like strings in the Sitar, neither too tight, nor too loose. Here is the eight-fold path grouped into three.
A. Wisdom (panna): 1. Right View, 2. Right Thought
B. Morality (sila): 3. Right Speech, 4. Right Action, 5. Right Livelihood
C. Meditation (samadhi): 6. Right Effort, 7. Right Mindfulness, 8. Right Contemplation
Once there was a snake in the room. People went berserk - cried, ran away, prayed, hid etc. Buddha was informed. He said, “Our response should base on facts and compassion. Fact is the snake can be poisonous and dangerous, but we also must be compassionate. Can we let snake ran away, chase it off, trap it? If there are children at risk, we may even have to kill it. But our response should concern only with facts, and compassion to all, including the snake.”
If you keep every issues and practices within human empirical understanding, then issues not within must not be entertained. We must deal within this world ‘Sansar.’ The very breakthrough of Buddha is to bring the ‘Way’ within human faculty. Thus, the conclusion within this context ‘Anahata – there is no soul.’ What is beyond? Nirvana. What is Nirvana? Like a lighted candle going off. These conclusions are within the frame work of the Sansar. Nirvana transcends the frame work from created reality ‘Sansar’ to the universal reality (Bodhi – Pali, Brahman – Sanskrit)). But it is not a matter of belief or a priori, but to realize with individual effort on your own.
How do you approach death? As if you are entering an unknown room. Since you have no information, you cannot form any attitude. Your feelings, if any, like apprehension or elation, does not reflect the room but your past experience.
Buddha Dharma explains nothingness ‘Sunyabad.’ Suppose there is a big tangled ‘knot’ tied out of many colored strings. Suppose you slowly untangle the knot one string at a time. At the end what will remain out of the ‘knot?’ Nothing. If everything and effect have causes, then if you slowly remove all the causes, what will be left out – nothing. It is to know nothing is permanent and does not have its own existence, but the result of other causes. Thus as soon as the causes disappear, the result also will. The dis-tangling is the practice, which leads to the emptiness / nothingness / Sunyabad. Why even bother to do that. Because, you need to be free from precisely similar questions.
As Sangh grew, the rules of the Sangh also grew. Monks will come with actual or hypothetical cases for Buddha to make ruling. The rules also grew to a whole thousand. Monks came and complained that they cannot remember all the rules. Then, Buddha said, “There is only one rule they should concerned about. What is the best for all the concerned that is the rule.”
As the Sangh grew there was an issue of ordinary house holders with regular livelihood who are interested but cannot be a full time monk, Thus, Buddha Dharma was grouped into two – Theravad (way of elders, as the monks practiced earlier), and Mahayan (Bigger vehicle, for more people in different stages of practice). Theravad is similar to Adwait and Shankhya, minus beliefs.
In Mahayan, Buddha is divine being ‘Karunamay.’ We may approach Buddha through love and devotion (Bhakti yoga). We pray to Buddha, seek his help and blessings. Thus, Buddha also becomes the Avatar of divine Vishnu. Buddha Dharma, especially Mahayan, does not replace the existing Dharmas, rather adds a new dimension to it. Thus, Mahayan comes with many characters, symbolisms, rituals, prayers, and other cultures along.
What is Karunamaya? Buddha is free to go, but held on to the world only through the attachment of ‘Compassion – Karuna.’ There was a silent monk. Nobody knew if he is silent or mute. He used to carry a bag of goodies for the children. Once people asked, “Who and what are you?” He dropped his bag, walked away, and came back to pick the bag again.
The fourth great council of Buddhist monks was held under the patronage of the Kushana emperor Kaniska in around 100 CE. in Kashmir. The monks compiled a new canon, which became the basis of Mahayana. The Vedic Devis / Devatas are part of the Mahayan, with the twist that they are disciples of Buddha / Karunmaya. The anthology Subhashitaratnakora of Vidyakara (c.1100), a Buddhist abbot at the monastery of Jagaddala in present-day Bangladesh, has 20 verses to the Buddha but 73 to Shiva, and 40 to Vishnu. Thus, you will see all the Vedic Devis and Devatas in Mahayan monasteries as far away as China / Japan.
The perfect harmony between the three principal sects of Hinduism in Nepal namely Baudha (Buddha), Shaiva (Nilkantha) and Vaishnav (Narayan) can be seen in the temple in Kathmandu, which we lovingly call 'Budha Nilkantha Narayan.’
Buddha Dharma always stresses on ‘Now / Present.’ Past is memory, future is expectation. You have no control over them. You can do something only in present. The guidelines being facts and compassion for all, as best as we can.
Buddha is for being relevant and to concentrate on the problem at hand, and not to be pushed around by theories, doctrines and speculations. If you are stuck by an arrow, what will you do? First, pull the arrow out and put medicine on it. Idle speculations should not preclude it. It will be foolish to insist to know ‘what kind of arrow it is’ or ‘what kind of bow it was shot from’, before pulling the arrow.
Once, a person stuck a pole in his yard with a bouquet of flower on top. He announced, “I do not know much but it is my test of divinity. If you can climb the pole and bring the bouquet you are my god. Many tried unsuccessfully, but one did. Everybody was happy. They carried the new found god in a chair playing drums. The god thought of meeting Buddha, and he was carried. Buddha was amused with the spectacle, even more when he learned the whole story. Buddha said, “Actually, you got the wrong test. The real test is to lay an egg. If you can lay an egg, you are truly a god.” The god complained. Buddha said, “If a hen can do, it should easy for a god.” Then Buddha preached, “Miracles and magic are interesting to watch, but does not add knowledge. Even a small knowledge, which adds, is better than biggest miracles.”
Buddha Dharma did show new paths to many others. We have the ‘Tantra’ Darshan with seven centers of being. And we have Bajrayan Darshan ‘Thunderbolt doctrine’, which is a combination of Adwaita, Baudhha and Tantra Darshans.
Buddha was getting old and came the time for Maha-Nirvan. He was served food with mushroom (called pig’s foot mushroom, because pigs find it by scratching the ground with foot). Unfortunately, the mushroom happened to be poisonous. Monks started crying. Buddha told them, “Please do not cry. The Dharma is about how to be non-attached and keep Dukkha away. If you have any questions, this is the time to ask. He opened his palm indicating he did not hide anything. He touched the ground symbolizing, the existence is the witness. After answering all the inquiries, Buddha asked three times if there are any questions. No more. Then he moved ‘Gata’ from physical body to mind. Then he moved ‘Gata’ from mind to consciousness. When he was about to Gata from consciousness to Nirvan, one person came running and said, “I have a question.” The person always thought of meeting Buddha but he was always busy and never had time. It was his first and last attempt. Karunamaya came back from consciousness to mind, and to body. He answered all the questions. Once more he asked if anybody has any question. No more. Karunamaya – Gata, Gata, and then Gata.
Buddham Sharanam Gachhami! May Buddha bless us all!