The Cause of our Problem
The Buddha said that the problem lay in our not seeing things as they really are. Our vision or understanding is deluded. We identify with the wrong things - our desires. We create all sorts of wishes to be and become someone. We define ourselves by our jobs, our relationships, our interests, our wealth, our physique and so on, making the wonder our lives can be ruined on losing a partner, our health, our wealth or work! Such self-definitions cannot be trusted to last.
These wishes and desires then, and their expansion into grasping, clinging and obsession, are the cause of our discontent. They lead us to seek our heart's deepest desires - happiness and peace - in objects which by their very nature of transiency, cannot possibly last. Pleasure, prosperity, success and fame are short term gains. This is what the Buddha taught as the Second Noble Truth of the Cause of Suffering - Desire (Tanha). Well, this all sounds really gloomy. Does nothing have any permanent meaning? Is there just obliteration? Just annihilation? Is that it - life's hard and then we die?
No, indeed! The Buddha said we could be liberated from this discontent. In fact, from all suffering. And we could actually experience this release from such suffering here and now. He called it Nirvana.
This realization, which is the personal experience of Nirvana, is the Third Noble Truth of the end of Suffering. But this experience is impossible to describe since it dos not belong to this order of nature; words, pictures, the cleverest concepts or arts cannot describe it. The Buddha himself resorted to negative definitions. He said it was not what nature was as we commonly experience it. Nirvana is beyond all worldly or sensual experience. Yet it can be experience because we have in all of us the potential qualities to achieve this experience of enlightenment.
The Eightfold Noble Path
So now we have covered the Buddha's understanding of the human predicament. We can see it is one of hope, based on a realistic appraisal of our life situation. All we need to know now is what course of meditation we have to take to put an end to the disease and so achieve the Nirvana peace. The Buddha laid down the rules of self-healing and called it - the Fourth Noble Truth of the Path.
The first step on the Noble Path is Right Understanding (Samma Ditthi). This means that to have understood the first two Noble Truths of Suffering and the Cause of the Suffering. The Buddha did not want blind adherence to His words. He wanted people to investigate and see whether there were any inconsistencies or contradictions in His teaching.
Indeed, it is only on a firm understanding that the conviction comes to practice the second step which is Right Intention or Thought (Samma Sankappa) and so change the whole disposition of our hearts and minds. This Right Intention necessarily moves into Right Action, Right Speech and Right Livelihood. And these are the next three steps. They are concerned with morality. But not the morality imposed by a Superior Being who punishes or rewards. This is a morality, a code of behavior by which we can begin to clean our hearts and minds of negative attitudes and begin to do good for ourselves and others. This touches upon the teaching of Kamma.
Now just as Right Understanding determines the intentions we have, so Right Intention determines our actions and behavior. This is the teaching of Kamma. It is simply the law of cause and effect we so readily accept in science. It you put various substances together and do this and that in a certain way, you have an atomic explosion. There is a reason or cause for everything that happens. So it is in the moral sphere of good and evil. Everything I do affects not only the world out there, but also the world of my mind within. When I do something I set up a chain of events that finally comes back to me since I am not a being in isolation, but a being in relationship with everyone else. Just as a pebble dropped in a pool causes ripples to the farthest bank, so do our actions affect the world. Just as the ripples then return to the source, so the result of our actions come back to us. If we do good, good will come back to us. If you do harm, harm will come to us. There is no concept of punishment in Buddhism, only consequences of our actions; repetition of the same actions produces a habit; a collection of habits is a personality; and this personality will produce its own destiny. Morality in Buddhism then is understanding what will bring good. What we do, therefore, can be wholesome or unwholesome, skilful or unskillful. We do indeed reap as we sow!
The Solution - Right Moral Code
So what are the rules whereby we can produce a good future for ourselves and which will lay the ground upon which the process of enlightenment can take place? The first is Right Speech (Samma Vaca). This means not only not to lie, but also not to backbite, use coarse language or indulge in useless gossip.
Then there is Right Action (Samma Kammanta). This means to stop harming any living creature; not to take anything which is not freely given; and not to misuse the senses by indulging in food, drug and sex to the detriment of ourselves and others. Then there is the way we spend the greater part of our lives --- our livelihood. Certain jobs and professions are immoral and harmful in themselves --- anything to do with killing or harming, with prostitution, with the traffic of arms, drugs and drinks, for example. It is not always possible to find work which mirrors our ideals of great compassion, but if the work is not harmful to ourselves or others and is helpful, then it is Right Livehood (Samma Ajiva). Of course, if one observes right speech and right action, right livelihood follows automatically.
This is all the negative aspect of morality --- following the Buddha's advice --- not to do evil. But he also advise us - to do good. Positive morality is about developing the Perfections - Paramitas. And by developing a wholesome life, we begin to develop the Solution - the Destruction of Ignorance - Wisdom.
The last three steps of the Eightfold Noble Path - Right Effort (Samma Vayama), Right Mindfulness (Samma Sati) and Right Concentration (Samma Samadhi) - are concerned with the meditation practice and the development of awareness. In our meditation practice, sitting meditation, the purpose is to become more and more aware of the changing (anicca) and insubstantial (anatta) nature of the self. This leads to perceiving who and what we really are and to realizing the Third Noble truth of Nirvana. The further practice of meditation is explained in the next section. However, these three steps - Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration - are also important in our daily lives. This aspect of Buddhism, the development of awareness throughout the day, is also explained in a further section.
So we have now covered some of the basic understandings and tenets of Buddhism.
The Four Noble Truths,
The Eightfold Noble Path,
Kamma and Moral Causation
and the Three Characteristics of Nature -
transitoriness (Anicca), dissatisfaction (Dukkha) and insubstantiality (Anatta).
highest states of mind - loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity.
As we develop these qualities in ourselves, so we lay the foundation of a calm and untroubled heart and mind upon which we can now develop wisdom and insight and so gain a glimpse of that supreme end and goal of all this endeavor.
1.The First Noble Truth of Suffering:
The Three Characteristics of existence; Life is:- ever-changing, unsatisfactory, insubstantial.
2.The Second Noble Truth of the Cause of Suffering:
Desire and attachment; Craving of :- sense objects becoming annihilation.
3.The Third Noble Truth of the End of Suffering:
Nirvana; there is a state beyond body and mind, a Peace beyond peace.
4.The Fourth Noble Truth of the Path Leading to the End of Suffering.
Moral Conduct (Sila): Right Speech; Right Action; Right Livelihood
Meditation (Samadhi): Right Effort; Right Awareness; Right Concentration
Wisdom (Panna): Right Understanding; Right Intention/Thought