Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Buddhism for Humans

It took several years for me to fully embrace Buddhism. Although I found “Buddhist” concepts to be interesting and admirable, I initially felt it was an exotic religion in which the symbols, superstitions, and rituals were far removed from my own experiences. It was not until I was exposed to the teachings of Buddhadasa Bhikkhu that I was able to fully embrace Buddhism. These teachings then led me to Zen, which is a path unto itself.

I thought I’d share a summary/book report of my first exposure to the teachings of Buddhadasa Bhikku. The book/transcript, “Handbook for Mankind” served as a slap in the face for me; it caused me to question everything I had previously I thought I “knew” about Buddhism.

I hope you all find it interesting…

The teachings of Buddhadasa Bhikkhu

What is Buddhism? Is it a religion? If we are to refer to Buddhism as a religion, we must recognize that it is a religion based on intelligence, science and knowledge, rather than superstition and faith. As such, Buddhism is not concerned with invisible beings, ritual magic, and the afterlife.

Buddhism is a practical system of thinking and living. Through the study and practice of Buddhism, we strive to gain a clear understanding of the true nature of things, or "what is what," and live our lives accordingly. The objective of Buddhism is enlightened awareness and the corresponding elimination of suffering and the source of suffering.

Examine your own life and thoughts and ask if you truly understand what is what. Even if you know what you are, what life is, what work, duty, livelihood, money, possessions, honor and fame are, would you dare to claim that you know everything?

If we truly understood what is what, we would never act inappropriately; through this combination of clear understanding and appropriate actions, we would free ourselves of the causes of suffering. As it is, we are ignorant of the true nature of things, so we behave more or less inappropriately and, as a result, we suffer the consequences of our thoughts and actions.

Buddhist practice is designed to teach us how things really are. To know this in all clarity is to attain the Fruit of the Path, and live a more balanced, fulfilled life. Through continued practice, we seek to obtain even perhaps the final Fruit, Nirvana, enlightenment, or the complete quenching of craving and suffering, and a perfect awareness of the way things are.

A Buddha is an enlightened individual, one who knows the truth about all things, one who knows just what is what, and so is capable of behaving appropriately in all situations, with respect to all things.

Clear awareness through the practice of Buddhism brings an end to the source of suffering, anxiety and depression. When we come to know what is what, or the true nature of things, disenchantment with things takes the place of fascination, and deliverance from suffering comes about automatically.

At the moment, we are practicing at a stage where we still do not know what things are really like. Specifically, we are at the stage of not yet realizing that all things are impermanent and not "selves." We don't as yet realize that life and all the things we desire, rejoice over and become infatuated with are impermanent, unsatisfactory and not "self." It is for this reason that we become infatuated with those things, liking them, desiring them, rejoicing over them, grasping at them and clinging to them.

When, by following the Buddhist method, we come to see things clearly, we recognize that they are all impermanent, unsatisfactory and not "selves." There is really nothing about anything that might make it worth grasping at or clinging to. Once we realize this, there will immediately come about a slipping free from the controlling power of those things.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS:

Parts of this discussion were copied directly from
"Handbook for Mankind," the teachings of Buddhadasa Bhikkhu. All of the material was inspired by the same teachings, with segments rewritten for the sake of communication with people unfamiliar with basic Buddhism and Sanscrit and Thai terminology.

For more information, visit http://www.buddhanet.net/budasa.htm

17 Comments:

At February 21, 2006, Blogger me said...

If we truly understood what is what, we would never act inappropriately.

A Buddha is an enlightened individual, one who knows the truth about all things, one who knows just what is what, and so is capable of behaving appropriately in all situations, with respect to all things.


This clarity seems hard to believe - it sounds too good to be true. No one can predict the "future" perfectly, although I expect Buddha's wisdom certainly could help.

I know Brad Warner was rather down on Ken Wilbur (and for good reason) but this quote from Wilbur I think stands in contrast to the 'clarity' implied above:

"Books, really, who needs them? People think that being awakened means you understand everything, but it really means the opposite. It means you don't understand anything. It is, all of it, a total Mystery, a baffling babbling of unending nonsense.

Enlightenment is not "omniscience" but "ascience" - not all-knowing but not-knowing -- the utter release from the cramp of knowledge, which is always of the world of form, when all you are in truth is formless. Not the cloud of knowing, but divine ignorance. The Seer cannot be seen; the Knower cannot be known; the Witness cannot be witnessed. What you are therefore is just a free fall in divine ignorance, a vast Freedom from all things known and seen and heard and felt, an infinity of Freedom on the other side of knowledge, an eternity of Release on the other side of time.

Knowledge is mandatory in the conventional, relative world, ...

But all of it, truly, is just a series of ornaments on primordial awareness, a pattern of reflections in the empty mirror. Ken Wilbur is just a scab on my Original Face, and this morning I flick it off like a tiny insect, and disappear back into the infinite space that is my true abode.

But all that infinite space is impulsive. It sings its songs of manifestation, it dances the dance of creation. Out of sheerest purest gossamer nothingness, now and now and forever now, this majestic world arises, a wink and a nod from the radiant Abyss. So I finish unpacking the books, and go about the morning's business."

 
At February 21, 2006, Blogger Anatman said...

"No one can predict the "future" perfectly, although I expect Buddha's wisdom certainly could help."

Perhaps knowing what is what would make even the idea of predicting the future laughable. Sort of like arguing who is stronger, Mighty Mouse or Superman...

My take on the meaning of "what is what" is that the phrase refers to qualitative knowledge, rather than quantitative. To see a Ferrari, and not know the make and model, but rather know the true nature of the phenomenon of seeing the Ferrari... as opposed to seeing it and being filled with desire for the object and all of the erroneous associations that we have built up around it.

 
At February 21, 2006, Blogger me said...

But to "behave appropriately in all situations" suggests that either the future can be seen so that no choice is ever regretted, or... regret is dismissed, ignored, not acknowledged, 'does not manifest' - but poor choices are still possible...

PS - that quote is from Wilbur's book "One Taste"

 
At February 21, 2006, Blogger Anatman said...

Maybe guilt and regret can be prevented without seeing the future.

Could it be that regret and guilt are the result of actions and decisions that were motivated by emotions such as pride, envy, anger, jealousy, etc.?

Buddhadasa would argue that these emotions are cause by misunderstanding the nature of things around us, and that if we understood the nature of things, such emotions and confusion would not arise. When these emotions and confusions do not arise, we behave appropriately, and do not experience guilt or regret for our inappropriate actions.

Another key to his teaching is that a basic misunderstanding of "what is what" is mistakenly thinging in terms of "me" and "mine". This gives rise to jealousy, anger, depression, anxiety, etc.

 
At February 21, 2006, Blogger endofthedream said...

Anatman wrote, Could it be that regret and guilt are the result of actions and decisions that were motivated by emotions such as pride, envy, anger, jealousy, etc.?
Buddhadasa would argue that these emotions are cause by misunderstanding the nature of things around us, and that if we understood the nature of things, such emotions and confusion would not arise.


*****Regret and guilt arise from the (mistaken) notion that one could have done otherwise, that one had a CHOICE.

There are no choices...shall I say that again?...there are NO choices. When this is Seen, clearly, guilt and regret (and pride) no longer persist. The rest of the emotional baggage (grief, anger, jealousy, joy, sadness, love, even confusion) is present for life. And would you really want it any other way? (Do you think those who are Awake don't ever get angry? Feel sorrow? Experience grief? ... c'mon now...being Awake means being open to the ten thousand things, not being afraid of one's emotions, and recognizing that nothing...persists.)

The trick is to be able to ride the emotional waves without getting submerged, drowned, overwhelmed (at least by the painful emotions). When this happens it is as the zen aphorism goes: a wise man can be happy in hell.

cheers!

 
At February 21, 2006, Blogger me said...

endo said Regret and guilt arise from the (mistaken) notion that one could have done otherwise, that one had a CHOICE.

A hypothetical story about an awakened (?) zen master - is this plausible? And if not, why?

This zen master is walking at night and steps on what at first appears to be a dangerous snake. But in the weak moonlight he sees it's a rope. He continues walking, reassuring himself it must have been a rope (but he has doubts) and he tells no one. The next day he learns that another monk walking that same path earlier that morning was bitten by a snake and subsequently died.


No regret? No self? No choices were possible?

 
At February 21, 2006, Blogger rot-13 said...

Me said,

"No regret? No self? No choices were possible?"

Me, forgive me, but you can't have it both ways. You want everything in a human to be genetically controlled, and yet you want choices to be real.

To assert the reality of choice is to assert the autonomy of the will, which is to deny that genetics controls everything.

This is the same issue raised in your first post on evolution.

Endo's stance on this is consistent (though I don't buy it). Yours just isn't.

Or do I misunderstand your position on biological determinism? (I'm on my way back to the evolution thread to reread your last couple of msgs to me....)

 
At February 22, 2006, Blogger MikeDoe said...

We may see clearly, but we may not be able to see that which is obscured.

A snake and a rope

We act on what we see. If we cannot see clearly enough for whatever reason before acting then it may well be that guit and regret may arise. [Endo, I agree with you almost fully but am not 100% certain here]

If you saw a man drowning and could not yourself swim what would you feel? You can see clearly but previous choices have left you unable to act in the most appropriate way.

Contemplating on our emotions and from where they arise is powerful practice.

I am not the least bit certain that the simplistict logical approach of "I am angry THEREFORE I must...." is the way to deal with it.

In a world of ambiguity seeing clearly also sees the ambiguity. In a world where a snake may be a rope and a rope may be a snake, then in the shifting shadows sometimes you will think you see one when the other is there. To accept that and its consequences is I think a tough lesson.

 
At February 22, 2006, Blogger endofthedream said...

Hi Mikedoe ~

You wrote, "If you saw a man drowning and could not yourself swim what would you feel?"

The only HONEST answer to that is: "I'll tell you when it happens."

Anything else is fantasy, imagination. Not reality.

I'm not saying that speculation isn't fun, and that we all do it from time to time. We postulate "what ifs" because we believe they will help determine the "right" course of action. It's the way the brain is wired and we all engage in it - some more than others. Some people almost live in that realm! Sometimes "what ifs" are very useful ("What if I take this next 'adult' beverage? Will I be able to safely drive home from the bar?"). And many, many times, the motivation is simply fantasy spinning, a habit (actually it's an addiction) learned at a very early age.

I don't see any harm in it but there is a cost: losing touch with what's going on right now, getting "lost" in thought. Is it more satisfying to pay ATTENTION to doing the dishes, swipe by swipe or does one prefer to fantasize about the 'fun' one will have once the 'chore' is completed?

For me, it varies from instance to instance. On the whole, though, I do find that there is a feeling (vague but noticeable) of being more "alive" when I'm paying attention (and not lost in thought). There is some immediate sense of Yes! when I pull out of the fantasy world of thought and pay attention to what I'm doing at the moment. But it's not something I can control. It happens when some...thing...reminds me to do so. And that 'thing' (Consciousness, Source, Totality) I have no control over. The reminding either occurs or it doesn't. It can't be forced.

 
At February 22, 2006, Blogger Anatman said...

Endo wrote, “There are no choices...shall I say that again?...there are NO choices. When this is Seen, clearly, guilt and regret (and pride) no longer persist. The rest of the emotional baggage (grief, anger, jealousy, joy, sadness, love, even confusion) is present for life.”

Endo, while I agree with you intellectually and philosophically, my experience begs to differ. I believe you are correct; there are no choices. I understand this, and I “see” this. However, my experience is quite clear as well: I make choices from moment to moment. I am asked to choose between various options regularly both in my professional and personal life. I make decisions. Looking back, I can say, “I had no choice, because I am who I am, and I do what I do.” But the looking back is a fantasy, as I’m sure you’ll agree. In the moment, when faced with a dilemma, I choose.

Also, it seems to follow, as you say, that guilt and regret are the result of wrong thinking. I fully agree. But to say that anger and jealousy are present for life, whereas pride is the avoidable result of wrong thinking does not jive. I think anger and jealousy are closely related to pride.

Anger: “How dare YOU say that to ME!” I am hard-pressed to think of an angry reaction that is not somehow related to pride, or a strong sense of self.

Jealousy and envy are also related to wanting things for ONESELF, and having negative feelings toward another for having those things. This also seems related to strong sense of self, and valuing that sense of self (pride).

 
At February 22, 2006, Blogger Dan said...

well i know that it's just wheels spinning but i do still love philosophy for what it is:

to call X (like our conception of free will) an illusion is to assume that there is a Y that is not an illusion which X can then be compared to. ie. a stick looking bent when underwater can only be called an illusion because we recognise that the way it looks in air is real or normal. however because of this fact the statement 'freewill is an illusion' is meaningless because there is no Y that can be commonly agreed upon as being what is the real or normal case when we are discussing the nature of free will.

There is no way in which free will can be called illusory if there is no tangible ‘real’ state to compare it to. In order to do this we would need a frame of reference that could be called real from which we could stand and objectively view our experience of free will and point to it and say, ‘ that is an illusion and I know this because this is real'. this is impossible to do since this would require a God’s eye view of how the world really is.


i like this:

a deer lives in a park that has a fence around it that is so far away from the deer that he will never encounter the fence because even if he walked towards it for his entire life he would die before reaching the fence.

is this deer free to roam where he wishes or is he imprisoned by the fence?

this fence is like the idea that we are not free. we will never encounter the fence. we can never prove that the fence exists and we can never prove that it doesnt. if we have no proof either way but accept that the question of the fence's existence can have no bearing on the choices we make, does it then make sense to argue about whether the fence exists or not?

 
At February 22, 2006, Blogger me said...

Three pounds of flax

 
At February 23, 2006, Blogger Justin said...

I think the metaphysical problem of whether we do or don't have freewill is dependent on the notion of a real separate, continuous self. We imagine a part of reality - a separate zone or point, which is 'self' - that is 'determined' (or not) by the rest of reality around it, including the part of 'not self' that we regard as the physical basis of mind and self - the neurophysiology of the brain.

But the mind/self determines as well as is determined. Its just a 'fenced off' part of reality and causes and effects go in both directions. Does 'an ocean' have freewill? Of course not. Is it determined by the rest of reality? Yes but it also determines the rest of reality. Even a raindrop affects the rest of reality. Is it determined by itself? It is itself, there is no extra something that is affected by the ocean's state.

When the notion of a separate self is seen as a conventional and utilitarian concept then such questions of freewill are similarly seen as questions of convention - politics and psychology - rather than metaphysics. There is no real answer to whether we have freewill or nor since 'we' are not ultimately real.

 
At February 23, 2006, Blogger endofthedream said...

Anatman ~

You wrote, "But to say that anger and jealousy are present for life, whereas pride is the avoidable result of wrong thinking does not jive. I think anger and jealousy are closely related to pride."

I singled out pride because that presupposes a belief (erroneous at the extreme!) that one is the author of one's situation, one's thoughts, one's actions. Taking pride in one's achievements, or feeling guilt at one's failures, presupposes that one had a say, a CHOICE, in how one acted.

Noting that such is not the case, pride and guilt cease. No bodymind mechanism is "at fault" for the thoughts that visit it, for the actions that arise through it. So pride and guilt are misplaced.

All the other emotions can arise at any time due to circumstances and don't necessarily presuppose that the specific bodymind mechanism in which the emotion arose was the author of the emotion. Seeing someone kicking its pet dog on the street, anger can happen. Seeing someone entrance the woman to whom I'm married, jealousy may arise. Seeing the new Lexus my neighbor purchased, envy may arise ("I wish I had that car"). And yet, it is possible to realize even with these states, that one isn't the author of the emotions, that the emotions arise from a complex constellation of genetic, biological, environmental, and historic influences which, in their sum, actual ARE the constituent parts of the that particular bodymind mechanism. They are what I refer to as the innate conditioning-in-the-moment. And they are what each bodymind mechanism is.

Pride and Guilt, however, are different. The foundation of these emotions is the belief that "I am the author of my life" and so "I am a good author" (pride) or "I am a lousy author" (guilt). Realization that "you" didn't have any control whatsoever as to where you are, who you are, what you are, diffuses these two emotions, pointing to the fact that you couldn't be other than what you are at any moment and that such a state is not due to any great talent you developed nor to any weakness you indulge in. You are the recepients of both talents and weaknesses, and they operate and function THROUGH you. But you are not the Author of them. So why feel prideful or guilty?

You wrote, "Anger: “How dare YOU say that to ME!” I am hard-pressed to think of an angry reaction that is not somehow related to pride, or a strong sense of self. Jealousy and envy are also related to wanting things for ONESELF, and having negative feelings toward another for having those things. This also seems related to strong sense of self, and valuing that sense of self (pride).


A sense of self is a natural, normal, and necessary component that allows a bodymind mechanism to function in phenomenality. One needs to be able to distinguish self from other, else one will end feeding one's neighbor and wonder why one is always hungry. An ability to differentiate self from other objects is also critical, otherwise one may end up at the end of the day driving to the local gas station thinking it is one's home. An awareness of self has a downside too: it produces neurosis. The only cure for that is to See and Understand the nature of this sense of self. Seeing through the illusions that are constructed about it, one is not chained to it. As Wei Wu Wei has written, "All else is bondage."

 
At February 23, 2006, Blogger Anatman said...

"One needs to be able to distinguish self from other, else one will end feeding one's neighbor and wonder why one is always hungry. An ability to differentiate self from other objects is also critical, otherwise one may end up at the end of the day driving to the local gas station thinking it is one's home."

 
At February 23, 2006, Blogger Anatman said...

I love the images. Thanks for the laugh!!

 
At February 23, 2006, Blogger Rick said...

Anatman...

Got your messages... Of course I remember who you are... your Yahoo ID was pretty memorable. It's been a while since we last spoke... a few years ago... I left the Yahoo realm and hang out over at eSangha.

First time I heard Johnny sing his version I knew I had to put it on my blog.

Anyway, I really glad to see that you've embraced Buddhism.

 

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