Let us start with this definition by Stephen Batchalor. Buddhism is “… a generic term that points not to any single view but to a diversity of strategies and tactics that different followers of the Buddha throughout history have adopted, some of which are religious or devotional or inspirational in nature, and others of which are more pragmatic or, one could almost say, relativist—down to earth.”
Any religion that survives over many centuries and becomes widespread with many adherents has inherent power and that power stems from a profound teaching. Buddhism was such a religion. The Sanskrit verbal root budh means “to fathom a depth, to penetrate to the bottom” as well as “to perceive, to have a profound insight, to know, to come to one’s senses, to wake up.” Joseph Campbell continues the definition of ‘Buddhahood.’ “The Buddha is one awakened to identity not with the body, but with the knower of the body, nor with thoughts but with the knower of thoughts, that is to say consciousness; knowing, furthermore, that his value derives from his power to radiate consciousness …” Radiating consciousness is simply choosing the expression of compassion which we can also call response.
The Buddha then was not concerned with psychological, spiritual, religious or philosophical questions. He was the ultimate pragmatist concerned with existential questions. In other words he answered the most fundamental question facing humanity as we endeavor to create a sustainable world-wide community, namely, what is the nature of reality?
The Buddha did not want his teaching to be used to start a religion because he realized the nature of religions were often to elevate the teacher to the status of a super-human and that would thereby negate his fundamental teaching which was that all people have the ability to achieve transcendence, or in other words, to shift to P-A. “Buddhism holds that our original nature is that of the enlightened Buddha and that we have just forgotten it.” It is our natural state to live in the Now. We can never be successful or comfortable in the fear-driven context of P-B.
Buddha was well aware of P-B and P-A. “Samsara [P-B] refers to a state of existence that is characterized by a predominance of suffering, and nirvana [P-A] refers to the state of liberation from suffering as well as to the cessation of its causes. We see that the four noble truths are causes and effects: the first two truths are the cause and effect of samsara; the second two truths are the cause and effect of nirvana, or enlightenment … When we perceive the momentary nature of all experience [impermanence], we see that we are rendered helpless in matters of choice. Do we have a choice to remain in this moment for another moment? No. We have no choice but to let go.”
Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche continues: “We cannot hang on to any living experience for more than a brief moment, whether that experience is a blissful or agonizing one … the root of all our suffering is our ego-clinging … all our experience, whether pleasurable or painful, have the same nature of suffering. Denial does not alleviate our suffering, nor does it help to free us from suffering and its causes. Obviously, if we do not recognize the presence of suffering, we will have no reason to seek liberation.”
Hence, the importance of the first noble truth, namely that life is suffering. That is where liberation must begin in the same way that liberation begins for an alcoholic in the twelve-step program: “I am an alcoholic.” Life in P-B is suffering no matter what the experience is.
Buddhists are taught that we live in a state of unconsciousness (P-B) in which we experience layers of illusion that seem real when we are within that particular illusion. “Our present experience of life can be viewed as a long dream arising from our lack of understanding about whom we truly are and the actual nature of our world. What we usually refer to as a “dream” is only a short-term fantasy that we wake up from every morning. The real dream we are having is our “waking life,” a delusion that continues on and on. When we are in this dream and do not recognize that we are dreaming, then everything we see appears as solid and real, and we do not see any possibilities for transforming our painful experiences. However, when we recognize that we are dreaming, then everything becomes spacious, transparent and free, and all of our confusions and suffering can be easily transformed.” Notice that there are Buddhist teachers, like Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, who agree with a major theme of Simple Reality, namely, that our reactive behavior can be “easily transformed.”
For those not yet awake the best hope is the Triple Gem—the Buddha (one’s own interior wisdom and “Buddha-nature”), the Dharma (Buddha’s teaching), and Sangha (the community of fellow-seekers of the present moment). Buddha exhorted his followers to “Seek refuge in the Triple Gem.”
Buddhism uses a different approach regarding “worldly pleasures” than do many other religions. Instead of teaching that these pleasures are sinful and are to be avoided with the penalty of punishment in this world or the next, the emphasis is on the ultimate illusion of these pleasures. They do not lead to happiness and indeed always lead to suffering. The irony here is that those who understand the nature of craving (seeking pleasure) and aversion (trying to avoid pain) find a deeper peace, freedom and happiness by avoiding “worldly pleasures” precisely because they do not deliver what they promise—but indeed exactly the opposite.
Those of us who get caught up in the cycles of pursuing that which is pleasant and avoiding that which is unpleasant simply do not understand the true causes of this behavior. Instead, we find ourselves in a constant state of reaction. We are continually in a disturbed state of mind. Once we have the insight into the nature of this reality, we can begin to shift to a higher state of awareness and move toward a balanced state of mind—a mind that is equanimous—non-reactive.
|That shift begins with the Four Noble Truths as paraphrased by Peter Russell.|
|1.||We all experience suffering in one way or another—mental, physical, emotional, spiritual.|
|2.||We create our own suffering. It is a consequence of our desiring things to be other than they are.|
|3.||It need not be this way. We have a choice as to how we perceive the world and live our lives.|
|4.||There are systematic ways to go about changing how we think and perceive.|
|We can also describe the Four Noble Truths in this way:|
|One:||Human behavior in the global village is unsustainable both collectively and individually. We are self-destructing on this planet while trying to escape our fear and suffering.|
|Two:||The cause of this unsustainable suffering or the source of this self-destructive behavior is our worldview (the story, narrative, paradigm or context) in which humanity operates. We must change our beliefs, attitudes, and values that provide the foundation for that worldview.|
|Three:||The way out of this self-made hell is to shift to a paradigm wherein our identity is derived from the context of the present moment.|
|Four:||The way to measure if we are doing this is to experience the distinctions between feeling and emotion; intuition and intellect; and response (equanimity) and reaction. Are we experiencing compassion, peace of mind, joy, happiness and freedom? As the ratio of our responses to our reactions increases we will, in religious terms, find ourselves in the “heaven” which exists only in the Now. In the present moment we become the observer of the illusion of P-B watching the ego, the “I,” suffering, Hell, Original Sin, the Shadow, neurosis, and fear pass by without reacting.|
Even Freud had his take on the first noble truth as addressed by talk therapy. The goals of traditional psychotherapy have been to solve the special problems of the individual and, in Freud’s words, “return him to that unhappiness general to mankind.”
Suffering alone exists, none who suffers;
The deed there is, but no doer thereof;
Nirvana is, but no one seeking it;
The Path there is, but none who travel it.
The foundational principles of Buddhism that we have learned so far include the universality of human suffering, that the cause of that suffering is craving and aversion, and that suffering can be transcended. The means of transcending suffering is called the Eightfold Path described below by Huston Smith.
|Right knowledge- What is the problem?||“… life needs some blueprint, some map the mind can trust if it is to move ahead.” [Simple Reality is such a plan.]|
|Right aspiration- What do we really want?||“… consistency of intent is indispensable; our determination to transcend our separateness and identify ourselves with the welfare of all must be sure and intense.”|
|Right speech-What do we really say?||Much of our speech is designed to protect the ego rather than to express the truth. “False witness, idle chatter, abuse, and slander are to be avoided …”|
|Right behavior- What is our true motive?||Our behavior should be motivated by charity and selflessness, by compassion and loving-kindness. “When man’s ‘awareness of experience … is fully operating,’ writes Carl Rogers, ‘his behavior is to be trusted.’ For in these moments the human organism becomes ‘aware of its delicate and sensitive tenderness towards others.’”|
|Right livelihood- What are the consequences of my work?||Simply engage in occupations that cause no harm to life.|
|Right effort- What effort will best assure that I reach my goal?||Here the story of the tortoise and the hare illustrates the Buddha’s meaning or the will of the “long-distance runner.”|
|Right mindfulness- What is the role of my mind?||The Buddha said, “All we are is the result of what we have thought.”|
|Right absorption—What will be my experience of liberation?||“… a new mode of experience; a transmutation into a different kind of creature with another indescribably wonderful world to live in.” Needless to say, that indescribably wonderful world is P-A.|
In Simple Reality we refer to P-B as an illusion and that is hard to grasp for most of us. The world “out there” appears solid enough and most of our conditioning and our behavior is grounded in the perception of our senses and the logic upon which our intellectual constructs rest. To shift from reliance on the intellect to reliance on our intuition is challenging but essential. Buddha’s teaching offers profound support in our process of changing our story, identity and behavior.
“All the teachings of the Buddha are taught for the purpose of developing the penetrating knowledge that sees through this illusion and wakes us up. It is important to realize that these teachings do not constitute a religion in the conventional sense. Rather they represent a genuine science of mind, a science of insight that uncovers the pure nature of the mind and world that we experience. They also portray a philosophy of life—an approach to life that deals with its meaning and helps us understand how we can overcome the suffering of the world.”
“The body exists in the form of a collection of countless atoms or subtle particles. However, from the point of view of Mahayana analysis, when we examine form, deeply looking for these particles, no matter how precise or refined our analysis, we will not be able to find the subtle particles that theoretically compose the courser elements. This is so similar to the analysis of modern science, which likewise finds no solidly existing particles. However, scientists still refer to energy fields, quarks and strings, which is a more comfortable way of describing nothingness.”
We conclude this article with an interview of Ken Wilber by Robin Kornman, Buddhist Scholar and the Bradley assistant professor of world literature at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee. The interview appeared in the September, 1996 issue of the Shambhala Sun.
|RK||“What if I am say, a hardcore, born again Buddhist, who doesn’t use other systems of self-development or self-transformation. I get the idea from Brief History that I must be leaving something out of my self-culture. When I gain enlightenment, won’t it be incomplete according to you?”|
|KW||“My books deal more with all these relative details, some of which are not covered by Buddhism, or any of the world’s wisdom traditions for that matter. But for the direct recognition of radical Emptiness and spontaneous luminosity [insight shift to P-A], Buddhism is right on the money.”|
|RK||“Then why do I need your history of consciousness when I’ve got all the Buddhist teachings to play with?”|
|KW||“You don’t. Unless you happen to find it interesting, or fun or engaging. Then you’ll do it just to do it. The Buddhist teachings don’t specifically cover Mexican cooking either, but you still might like to take that up.”|
|RK||“We could also put it this way: What do you know that the Buddha doesn’t?”|
|KW||“How to drive a jeep.”|
|RK||“One of the most confusing things about being a practitioner of Asian mystical traditions is the fact that before the Enlightenment the West had a thousand year tradition of civilization based on a highly mystical religion, Christianity. And yet in Sex, Ecology, Spirituality you characterize this thousand year period as one that promised but did not deliver genuine transcendence. How could a whole civilization miss the point for so long when it had expression of the idea in Plato, the Corpus Hermeticum [occult sciences, e.g. alchemy which Newton dabbled in], Neoplatonism, mystical Christianity, etc.?”|
|KW||“Imagine if, the very day Buddha attained his enlightenment, he was taken out and hanged precisely because of his realization, and if any of his followers claimed to have the same realization, they were also hanged. Speaking for myself, I would find this something of a disincentive to practice.”|
|RK||“But that’s exactly what happened to Jesus of Nazareth. “Why do you stone me?” he asks at one point. “Is it for good deeds?” And the crowd responds, “No, it is because you, being a man, make yourself out to be God.” The individual Atman is not allowed to realize that it is one with Brahman. “I and my Father are One”—among other complicated factors that realization got this gentle man crucified.”|
|KW||“The reasons for this are involved, but the fact remains: as soon as any spiritual practitioner began to get too close to the realization that Atman and Brahman are one—that one’s own mind is intrinsically one with the primordial Spirit—then frighteningly severe repercussions usually followed.”|
|RK||“St. John of the Cross and his friend St. Teresa of Avila stepped over the line, but couched their journeys in such careful and pious language they pulled it off, barely [not without spending some time in the slammer]. Meister Eckhart stepped over the line, a little too boldly, and had his teachings officially condemned … Giordano Bruno stepped way over the line, and was burned at the stake. This is a typical pattern.”|
|RK||“You say the reasons are complicated … but could you mention a few?”|
|KW||“The early history of the Church was dominated by traveling “pneumatics,” those in whom “spirit was alive.” Their spirituality was based largely on direct experience, a type of Christ consciousness … But over a several hundred year span, with the codification of the Canon and the Apostle’s Creed, a series of necessary [rituals] replaced actual experience … [and control shifted] to the local bishop, who possessed “right dogma,” and not the pneumatic or prophet who might possess spirit but couldn’t be “controlled.” Likewise, you could become “saved” not by waking up yourself but merely by taking the legal sacraments. Well that puts a damper on it. Salvation now belongs to the lawyers. And the lawyers said, basically, we will allow that one megadude became fully one with God, but that’s it! No more of the pure Oneness crap.”|
|KW||“This part of it was simple, raw, political power. Because, you see the unsettling thing about direct mystical experience is that it has a nasty habit of going straight from Spirit to you, thus bypassing the middleman, namely, the bishop, not to mention the middleman’s collection plate. This is the same reason the oil companies do not like solar power, if you get my drift.”|
|RK||“And so, anybody who had a direct pipeline to God was pronounced guilty not only of religious heresy, or the violation of the legal codes of the Church, for which you could have your soul eternally damned, but also of political treason, for which you could have your earthly body separated into several sections.”|
|RK||“What is the relationship between Plato’s “remembering” and enlightenment?”|
|KW||“We can’t attain Buddha-nature more than we can attain our feet. We can simply look down and notice that we have feet; we can remember that we have them. It sometimes helps, if we think that we do not have feet, to have somebody come along and point to them. A Zen master will be glad to help. When you earnestly say, “I don’t have any feet,” the master, wearing these big Doc Martens boots, will bring them stomping down on your feet and see who yells out loud, “No feet eh?”|
|KW||“These “pointing out instructions” do not point to something that we do not have and need to acquire; they point to something that is fully, totally, completely present right now, but we have perhaps forgotten.”|
|RK||“What are you saying about manifestation and relative truth?”|
|KW||“‘One taste’ is a simple, direct, clear recognition in which it becomes perfectly obvious that you do not see the sky, you are the sky. You do not touch the earth, you are the earth. The wind does not blow on you, it blows within you. In this simple one taste, you can drink the Pacific Ocean in a single gulp, and swallow the universe whole. Supernovas are born and die all within your heart, and galaxies swirling endlessly where you thought your head was, and it is all as simple as the sound of a robin singing on a crystal clear dawn.”|
The teachings that form the foundation of Buddhism are indeed simple but challenging. They are action-based, not philosophical or abstract. They place the responsibility for self-transformation squarely on the shoulders of the individual. Anyone choosing to become self-reliant can achieve freedom from suffering. If we have forgotten that we have feet then Simple Reality can restore the feeling that will enable us to stand on them, our own two feet, that is.
References and notes are available for this essay.
Find a much more in-depth discussion in books by Roy Charles Henry:
Who Am I? The Second Great Question Concerning the Nature of Reality
Where Am I? The First Great Question Concerning the Nature of Reality
Simple Reality: The Key to Serenity and Survival