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MAHA BODHI SOCIETY-Questionnaire No 7 and Answers of First Year Diploma Course conducted by Mahabodhi Academy for Pali and Buddhist Studies
1. What is the spiritual significance of the four sights, which Prince Siddhattha encountered? What message did he get from these sight, which are quite normal for ordinary people?
The Four Sights
The Prince’s Request
All this while, the prince had been living in his palaces was still unaware of the realities of life outside the gates. One day, however, he heard of a beautiful park and begged his father’s permission to go out of the palace to visit it. The king allowed him to do so but made extensive preparations to decorate the route along which the prince would travel. The way from the royal palace to the park was made fragrant with incense and strewn with flowers. Crowds of people were stationed along the route to welcome him. All the beggars, the very old and the sick were kept away. The prince was only presented with pleasant sights.
The First Sight: Old Age
Siddhattha watching an old-man
For this rare and important outing, Prince Siddhartha had a faithful charioteer, Chandaka, to accompany him. As he was riding through the city, he saw before him, in the middle of the road, a grey haired man with wrinkled skin, who was dressed in rags and was almost blind. He looked very weak as his legs could hardly support his body. Prince Siddhartha was stunned for he had never seen a very old man before. At once, he asked Chandaka for an explanation. “What has happened to this man? Why can’t he walk upright? Why is his hair grey? Why isn’t it black like ours? Why has he no teeth? Tell me, Chandaka,” said the prince.
“He is a man — an old man! Once he was young and strong, with black hair and strong white teeth. Now he is old. One day, we will be like him too!” answered Chandaka.
“Is there no way to stop old age?” asked the prince.
“No, everyone, even the beautiful, the strong and the courageous, will become old one day,” came Chandaka’s reply.
“So old age destroys memory, beauty and courage, and yet with such a sight before their eyes, people are not disturbed!” the prince exclaimed. Deeply moved by such a sight of suffering, he ordered that they return to the palace immediately, for he was full of sorrow after discovering the nature of old age.
The Second Sight: Sickness
On another occasion, Prince Siddhartha wanted to visit the park again. The king reluctantly agreed to let him go. How ever, this time there were no special decorations and no crowds to welcome him. The city was to be seen as it was, with the common people carrying out their daily routine. On this trip, the prince found the scene vastly different from that in the royal palace. Suddenly, the moan of a man lying on the ground attracted his attention. The prince just could not understand what was happening, and so he turned to Chandaka for an explanation, “What’s wrong with him, Chandaka? He is crying; he is panting; he can hardly talk!”
“This is a sick man. He is groaning in pain. He cannot even speak,” explained Chandaka.
“Why is he sick?” the prince asked.
“Sickness comes to any man at any time. We too can become sick. No one is continuously in good health. It is natural to be sick,” replied Chandaka.
“Is there no cure?”
“A cure is possible, but a man may become sick again, and again.”
“This is the suffering of sickness before their eyes and yet people are not disturbed. How ignorant are men who can enjoy themselves in the shadow of sickness!” the prince exclaimed in despair. He had never known before that man could get so seriously ill. He himself was strong and healthy, and so were those around him in the palace. This was the first time he saw what sickness was like. Deeply moved, he discontinued his journey to the park and returned to the palace in a confused and unhappy state of mind.
The Third and the Fourth Sights: Death and Renunciation
All this did not deter the prince from wanting to visit the park again. For the third time, he sought permission from the king to go out of the palace. The king agreed and arranged for some entertainment in the park. On the way, the prince saw a funeral procession in the city. The people were crying as they followed the men who were carrying the body of a man that lay stiff on a plank.
It was a sight that left the prince puzzled. Again he turned to Chandaka for an answer, “Those men, Chandaka, what are they doing? Why is that man lying on the plank so stiff and unmoving?”
“That man cannot move. He cannot speak, nor cry, nor breathe. He is dead.”
“Is this death? Can it also happen to everyone?” asked the very perplexed prince.
“Yes, my lord, everyone must die one day. We will die too!” replied Chandaka.
Prince Siddhartha was surprised, confused, and sad. He had never known that death could happen to everyone. “Can we stop death?” asked the prince.
“No,” was the reply from Chandaka.
“This is the end for all men, and yet people are not afraid and take no notice of death!” exclaimed the prince.
The prince filled with deep sorrow, ordered Chandaka to turn back as before. However, the charioteer continued the journey to the park because the king had already arranged for music and dance to be performed. At the park, the prince was unimpressed by the performance, for his mind was occupied with the problems of old age, sickness and death.
While absorbed in thought, he suddenly saw an ascetic in a yellow robe, who appeared very serene and happy. “Who are you?” the prince asked the man.
“I am an ascetic who has left home in search of the solution to the problems of old age, sickness and death. Now I have no permanent home. I take shelter under a tree, or in a deserted temple. I live on food given by the people,” the ascetic replied.
The prince remained quiet, but in his mind was the wish to be like this happy ascetic. Prince Siddhartha had seen the unavoidable sufferings of life, that is, old age, sickness and death. He had also seen a happy man with a calm mind, that is, an ascetic who led a free life without being confined in any place. These four sights had given him a new insight into the meaning of life. He thought, “The luxuries of the palace, this healthy body, this rejoicing youth! What do they mean to me? Someday, we may be sick; we shall become old; from death there is no escape. Pride of youth, pride of life, all thoughtful people should cast them aside.”
“A man searching for the true meaning of life should look for a solution. There are two ways of trying to solve the problems of life. One way is to see the problems of old age, sickness and death and to forget them by indulging in pleasures, which are not lasting. This is the wrong way. The right way is to recognize that old age, sickness and death are unavoidable and look for a means of overcoming them permanently. By living a life of pleasure in the palace, I seem to be following the wrong way.”
The luxuries of the palace did not attract him anymore. He knew that he would have to leave the palace in order to find the Truth.
Siddhattha on chariot, the Thai version
2. Why did he call his son ‘Rahula’, meaning a bond?
At sixteen the prince married Yasodhara. Yasodhara bore him a son whom he called Rahula (meaning “chain” or “fetter”), a name that indicated Gautama’s sense of dissatisfaction with his life of luxury. His apparent sense of dissatisfaction turned to disillusion when he saw three things from the window of his palace, each of which represented different forms human suffering: a decrepit old man, a diseased man, and a corpse.
Accordingly the child was named Rāhula, meaning “fetter”, recognizing that the child could be a tie that bound him to his wife Yashodhara and the comforts of the life of a householder.
In the Dhammapada, the pleasure and joy that a man receives in his wife and children is called a ’soft fetter‘ that ties individuals to life and suffering, not just through eventual loss and separation of loved ones but more deeply and subtly may act as ties to cyclic existence (samsara).
3. Seeing his sleeping wife and child, just before he left the palace at midnight, what was his last thought?
It was not easy for Siddhattha to leave his home and family. As his wife and child lay sleeping, he said his goodbyes, fearing that if his wife should wake he wouldn’t be able to leave. And then he was gone, to begin life as a wandering holy man in search of the ultimate…
So traumatised was Siddharta by his new found awareness of the transience of pleasure and the universality of suffering, that he decided to embark on a life dedicated to true knowledge. Inspired by the example of a mendicant monk, Siddharta abandoned his family and life as a prince, cut off his hair and adopted the lifestyle of a wanderer.
“I shall return to you when the solutions are found, so that you too may be released from the bonds of aging,disease and death”he resolved.
4. Narate clearly the historic event known as the great renunciation of Prince Siddhattha.
9. Great Renunciation
On the day Rahula, his son, was born, Prince Siddhattha decided to renounce the world. He took a last look at Yasodhara. And he happened to see his ladies in waiting who were sleeping, showing him their various kinds of ugly manners like cemetry.
“A unique Being, an extraordinary Man arises in this world for the benefit of the many, for the happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world, for the good, benefit, and happiness of gods and men. Who is this Unique Being? It is the Tathagata, the Exalted, Fully Awakened One.”
- Anguttara Nikaya PT. 1, XII P.22.
Prince Siddhattha took a sword and cut off his hair with one blow.
Prince Siddhattha reflected thus:
“Why do I, being subject to birth, decay, disease, death, sorrow and impurities, thus search after things of like nature. How, if I, who am subject to things of such nature, realize their disadvantages and seek after the unattained unsurpassed, perfect security which is Nibbana!” “Cramped and confined is household life, a den of dust, but the life of the homeless one is as the open air of heaven! Hard is it for him who bides at home to live out as it should be lived the Holy Life in all its perfection, in all its purity.”
One glorious day as he went out of the palace to the pleasure park to see the world outside, he came in direct contact with the stark realities of life. Within the narrow confines of the palace he saw only the rosy side of life, but the dark side, the common lot of mankind, was purposely veiled from him. What was previously conceived only mentally, he now saw in vivid reality for the first time. On his way to the park his observant eyes met the strange sights of a decrepit old man, a diseased person, a corpse and a dignified hermit. The first three sights convincingly proved to him, the inexorable nature of life, and the universal ailment of humanity. The fourth signified the means to overcome the ills of life and to attain calm and peace. These four unexpected sights served to increase the urge in him to loathe and renounce the world.
Realizing the worthlessness of sensual pleasures, so highly prized by the worldling, and appreciating the value of renunciation in which the wise seek delight, he decided to leave the world in search of Truth and Eternal Peace.
When this final decision was taken after much deliberation, the news of the birth of a son was conveyed to him while he was about to leave the park. Contrary to expectations, he was not overjoyed, but regarded his first and only offspring as an impediment. An ordinary father would have welcomed the joyful tidings, but Prince Siddhattha, the extraordinary father as he was, exclaimed — “An impediment (rahu) has been born; a fetter has arisen”. The infant son was accordingly named Rahula by his grandfather.
The palace was no longer a congenial place to the contemplative Prince Siddhattha. Neither his charming young wife nor his lovable infant son could deter him from altering the decision he had taken to renounce the world. He was destined to play an infinitely more important and beneficial role than a dutiful husband and father, or even as a king of kings. The allurements of the palace were no more cherished objects of delight to him. Time was ripe to depart.
He ordered his favourite charioteer Channa to saddle the horse Kanthaka, and went to the suite of apartments occupied by the princess. Opening the door of the chamber, he stood on the threshold and cast his dispassionate glance on the wife and child who were fast asleep. Great was his compassion for the two dear ones at this parting moment. Greater was his compassion for suffering humanity. He was not worried about the future worldly happiness and comfort of the mother and child as they had everything in abundance and were well protected. It was not that he loved them the less, but that he loved humanity more.
Leaving all behind, he stole away with a light heart from the palace at midnight, and rode into the dark, attended only by his loyal charioteer. Alone and penniless he set out in search of Truth and Peace. Thus did he renounce the world. It was not the renunciation of an old man who has had his fill of worldly life. It was not the renunciation of a poor man who had nothing to leave behind. It was the renunciation of a prince in the full bloom of youth and in the plenitude of wealth and prosperity — a renunciation unparalleled in history.
It was in his twenty-ninth year that Prince Siddhattha made this historic journey.
He journeyed far and, crossing the river Anoma, rested on its banks. Here he shaved his hair and beard and handing over his garments and ornaments to Channa with instructions to return to the palace, assumed the simple yellow garb of an ascetic and led a life of voluntary poverty.
The ascetic Siddhattha, who once lived in the lap of luxury, now became a penniless wanderer, living on what little the charitably-minded gave of their own accord.
He had no permanent abode. A shady tree or a lonely cave sheltered him by day or night. Bare-footed and bare-headed, he walked in the scorching sun and in the piercing cold. With no possessions to call his own, but a bowl to collect his food and robes just sufficient to cover the body, he concentrated all his energies on the quest of Truth.
Describe the dialogue between King Bimbisara and ascetic Gotama the Pandava cavein Rajagaha.
6. What was Bimbisara’s request to the ascetic? What did ascetic say in reply?
SIDDHATTHA had cut his waving hair and had exchanged his royal robe for a mean dress of the color of the ground. Having sent home Channa, the charioteer, together with the noble steed Kanthaka, to King Suddhodana to bear him the message that the prince had left the world, the Bodhisattva walked along on the highroad with a beggar’s bowl in his hand.
Yet the majesty of his mind was ill-concealed under the poverty of his appearance. His erect gait betrayed his royal birth and his eyes beamed with a fervid zeal for truth. The beauty of his youth was transfigured by holiness and surrounded his head like a halo. All the people who saw this unusual sight gazed at him in wonder. Those who were in haste arrested their steps and looked back; and there was no one who did not pay him homage.
Having entered the city of Rajagaha, the prince went from house to house silently waiting till the people offered him food. Wherever the Blessed One came, the people gave him what they had; they bowed before him in humility and were filled with gratitude because he condescended to approach their homes. Old and young people were moved and said: “This is a noble muni! His approach is bliss. What a great joy for us!”
And King Bimbisara, noticing the commotion in the city, inquired the cause of it, and when he learned the news sent one of his attendants to observe the stranger. Having heard that the muni must be a Sakya and of noble family, and that he had retired to the bank of a flowing river in the woods to eat the food in his bowl, the king was moved in his heart; he donned his royal robe, placed his golden crown upon his head and went out in the company of aged and wise counselors to meet his mysterious guest.
The king found the muni of the Sakya race seated under a tree. Contemplating the composure of his face and the gentleness of his deportment, Bimbisara greeted him reverently and said: “O samana, thy hands are fit to grasp the reins of an empire and should not hold a beggar’s bowl. I am sorry to see thee wasting thy youth. Believing that thou art of royal descent, I invite thee to join me in the government of my country and share my royal power. Desire for power is becoming to the noble-minded, and wealth should not be despised. To grow rich and lose religion is not true gain. But he who possesses all three, power, wealth, and religion, enjoying them in discretion and with wisdom, him I call a great master.”
The great Sakyamuni lifted his eyes and replied: “Thou art known, O king, to be liberal and religious, and thy words are prudent. A kind man who makes good use of wealth is rightly said to possess a great treasure; but the miser who hoards up his riches will have no profit. Charity is rich in returns; charity is the greatest wealth, for though it scatters, it brings no repentance.
“I have severed all ties because I seek deliverance. How is it possible for me to return to the world? He who seeks religious truth, which is the highest treasure of all, must leave behind all that can concern him or draw away his attention, and must be bent upon that one goal alone. He must free his soul from covetousness and lust, and also from the desire for power.
“Indulge in lust but a little, and lust like a child will grow. Wield worldly power and you will be burdened with cares. Better than sovereignty over the earth, better than living in heaven, better than lordship over all the worlds, is the fruit of holiness. The Bodhisattva has recognized the illusory nature of wealth and will not take poison as food. Will a fish that has been baited still covet the hook, or an escaped bird love the net? Would a rabbit rescued from the serpent’s mouth go back to be devoured? Would a man who has burnt his hand with a torch take up the torch after he had dropped it to the earth? Would a blind man who has recovered his sight desire to spoil his eyes again?
“The sick man suffering from fever seeks for a cooling medicine. Shall we advise him to drink that which will increase the fever? Shall we quench a fire by heaping fuel upon it?
“I pray thee, pity me not. Rather pity those who are burdened with the cares of royalty and the worry of great riches. They enjoy them in fear and trembling, for they are constantly threatened with a loss of those boons on whose possession their hearts are set, and when they die they cannot take along either their gold or the kingly diadem.
“My heart hankers after no vulgar profit, so I have put away my royal inheritance and prefer to be free from the burdens of life. Therefore, try not to entangle me in new relationships and duties, nor hinder me from completing the work I have begun. I regret to leave thee. But I will go to the sages who can teach me religion and so find the path on which we can escape evil.
“May thy country enjoy peace and prosperity, and may wisdom be shed upon thy rule like the brightness of the noon-day sun. May thy royal power be strong and may righteousness be the scepter in thine hand.”
The king, clasping his hands with reverence, bowed down before Sakyamuni and said: “Mayest thou obtain that which thou seekest, and when thou hast obtained it, come back, I pray thee, and receive me as thy disciple.” The Bodhisattva parted from the king in friendship and goodwill, and purposed in his heart to grant his request.
7. Who are the sages under whom ascetic Gotama lived for short while? Narate the entire episode
… ascetic austerities. Siddhartha practiced meditation under two famous teachers, AlaraKalama and UddakaRamaputta. The state attained …
8. Describe the painful self-mortification the Bodhisatta practiced and to what end? What lesson did he get from torturing himself for six years?
The Buddha’s Life - A TRUE CONTEMPLATIVE
After leading the life of extreme self-mortification for six years without any beneficial results, the Bodhisatta began to reason thus:
“Whatever ascetics or brahmins in the past had felt painful, racking, piercing feelings through practising self-torture, it may equal this, my suffering, not exceed it.”
“Wherever ascetics or brahmins in the future will feel painful, racking, piercing feelings through the practice of self-torture, it may equal this, my suffering, not exceed it; whatever ascetics or brahmins in the present feel painful, racking, piercing feelings through the practice of self-torture, it may equal this, my suffering, not exceed it. But, by this gruelling asceticism I have not attained any distinction higher than the ordinary human achievement; I have not gained the Noble One’s knowledge and vision which could uproot defilements. Might there by another way to Enlightenment apart from this path of torture and mortification?”
Then the Bodhisatta thought of the time when, as an infant, he sat alone under the shade of a rose-apple tree, entered and absorbed in the first jhanic stage of meditation while his royal father, King Suddhodhana, was busily engaged in ceremonial ploughing of the fields nearby. He wondered whether this first jhanic method would be the right way to the Truth!
ABSORPTION IN FIRST JHANA WHILE AN INFANT
The Bodhisatta was born on the full moon of Kason (April). It appeared that the royal ploughing ceremony was held sometime in Nayon or Waso (May or June) a month or two later. The infant child was laid down on a couch of magnificent clothes under the shade of a rose-apple tree. An enclosure was then formed by setting up curtains round the temporary nursery with royal attendants respectfully watching over the royal infant. As the royal ploughing ceremony progressed in magnificent pomp and splendour, with the king himself partaking in the festivities, the royal attendants were drawn to the splendid scene of activities going on in the nearby fields. Thinking that the royal infant had fallen asleep, they left him lying secure in the enclosure and went away to enjoy themselves in the festivities. The infant Bodhisatta, on looking around and not seeing any attendant, rolled up from the couch and remained seated with his legs crossed. By virtue of habit-forming practices through many lives, he instinctively started contemplating on the incoming, outgoing breath. He was soon established in the first jhanic absorption characterised by five features, namely, thought conception, discursive thinking, rapture, joy and concentration.
The attendants had been gone for some time now. Lost in the festivities of the occasion, they were delayed in returning. When they returned, the shadows thrown by the trees had moved with the passage of time, but the shade of the rose-apple tree under which the infant was left lying was found to have remained steadfast on the same spot. The infant Bodhisatta was sitting motionless on the couch. King Suddhodana, when informed, was struck by the spectacle of the unmoving shadow of the rose-apple tree and the still, sitting posture of the child. In great awe, he made obeisance to his son.
The Bodhisatta recalled the experience of absorption in the respiration jhana he had gained in childhood and he thought,
“Might that be the way to Truth?”
Following up on that memory, there came the recognition that respiration jhana practice was indeed the right way to Enlightenment.
The jhanic experiences were so pleasurable that the Bodhisatta thought to himself:
“Am I afraid of (trying for) the pleasures of jhana ?” Then he thought: “No, I am not afraid of (trying for) such pleasures.”
RESUMPTION OF MEALS
Then it occurred to the Bodhisatta:
“It is not possible to attain the jhanic absorption with a body so emaciated. What if I take some solid food I used to take? Thus nourished and strengthened in body, I’ll be able to work for the jhanic state.”
Seeing him partaking of solid food, the group of five ascetics misunderstood his action. They were formerly royal astrologers and counsellors who had predicted, at the time of his birth, that he would become an Enlightened Noble One, a Buddha.
There were eight royal astrologers at the court then. When asked to predict what the future held for the royal infant, three of them raised two fingers each and made double pronouncements that the infant would grow up to be a Universal Monarch or an Omniscient Buddha. The remaining five raised only one finger each to give a single interpretation that the child would most undoubtedly become a Buddha.
According to the Mula Pannasa Commentary (Vol.2, p.92), these five court astrologers forsook the world before they got enchained to the household life and took to the forest to lead a holy life, but the Buddhavamsa Commentary and some other texts stated that seven astrologers raised two fingers each giving double interpretations while the youngest Brahmin, who would in time become the Venerable Kondanna, raised only one finger and made the definite prediction that the child was a future Buddha.
This young Brahmin, together with the sons of four other Brahmins, had gone forth from the world and banded together to form ‘The Group of Five Ascetics’ , awaiting the Great Renunciation of the Bodhisatta. When news reached them later that the Bodhisatta was practising extreme austerities in the Uruvela Grove, they journeyed there and became his attendants, hoping ‘when he has achieved Supreme Knowledge, he will share it with us. We will be the first to hear the message.’
When the five ascetics saw the Bodhisatta partaking solid food, they misunderstood his action and become disappointed. They thought:
“If living on a handful of pea soup had not led him to higher knowledge, how could he expect to attain that by eating solid food again?”
They misjudged him; thinking that he had abandoned the struggle and reverted back to the luxurious way of life to gain riches and personal glory. Thus, they left him in disgust and went to stay in the deer sanctuary in the township of Benares.
9. Describe the episode of the mother goat feeding the unconscious Bodhisatta.
10. On regaining conciousness what did the Bodhisatta decide leading to the complete change of his mode of spiritual quest?
I.) THE FUTURE BUDDHA MADE GREAT STRUGGLE
AND HIS BODY BECAME EMACIATED
II.) THE FUTURE BUDDHA RECEIVING THE
MILK-PORRIDGE OFFERED BY SUJATA
From the day the Great Being had gone forth from the household life until the day depicted in this picture, six years had elapsed. Here he has resumed eating normal food and his body has returned to a normal state. This day was the fifteenth of the waxing moon of the sixth lunar month, 45 years before the Buddha’s passing away [parinibbana]. The lady offering things to the Great Being in the picture is Sujata. She was the daughter of a householder in a village in Uruvela Senanigama. She is offering a dish of Rice Gruel with Milk [madhupayasa], rice cooked with pure cow’s milk. It was a vegetarian food, containing no meat or fish, used especially as an offering to deities.
The Pathamasambodhi states that Sujata had made a prayer to the deity of a certain banyan tree for a husband of equal status and for a son by him. When she had obtained what she wished for, she cooked the milk rice as an offering in thanks. Before the day she was to cook the rice, Sujata had some of her servants lead the herd of 1,000 cows to a forest of licorice grass so that the cows could eat their fill. Then she divided them into two herds of 500 head each, and milked the 500 cows of one herd and fed that milk to the 500 cows of the other herd. She then continued to divide that herd and feed half on the milk of the other half until there were only eight cows left. She then took the milk from those eight cows to make her milk rice.
When the rice was cooked, Sujata sent a servant girl to clean up the area around the banyan tree. The servant girl came back to Sujata with a report that the deity [deva] who was to receive the offerings had materialized, and was already sitting at the foot of the banyan tree. Excited, Sujata lifted the tray of milk rice to her head and carried it to the banyan tree, together with her servant girl. Seeing that it was as her servant had told her, she came forward and proffered the tray of milk rice. The Great Being received it and looked at Sujata. She understood from his look that he had no bowl or any other dish with which to eat the food, and so she made an offering of both the rice and the dish.
Having offered the rice, she walked back to her house, full of happiness, believing that she had made offerings to a deva.
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@ 9:23 am
Sarvajan Hitay Sarvajan Sukhay-For The Gain of The Many and For The Welfare of The Many
|Maya favours quotas for poor among upper classes
|Ludhiana (Punjab), Nov 17: Uttar Chief Minister and BSP supremo Mayawati on Saturday said her party would provide reservation to the poor among upper classes if it was voted to power at the centre.
She had met the Prime Minister twice in connection with giving reservation to the poor among upper classes in the private sector, Mayawati told a party rally here.
The BSP supremo recalled that her government in Uttar Pradesh had provided 10 percent reservation to the poor among upper classes in the private sector.
Mayawati alleged the BJP and the Congress were creating confusion among upper classes about her party’s attitude towards them.
In an hour-long speech, the chief minister focused on achievements of her government in Uttar Pradesh.
During its six-month rule, her government had initiated a number of developmental programmes and welfare schemes, she said.
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@ 9:14 am
The Noble Eightfold Path describes the way to the end of suffering, as it was laid out by Siddhartha Gautama. It is a practical guideline to ethical and mental development with the goal of freeing the individual from attachments and delusions; and it finally leads to understanding the truth about all things. Together with the Four Noble Truths it constitutes the gist of Buddhism. Great emphasis is put on the practical aspect, because it is only through practice that one can attain a higher level of existence and finally reach Nirvana. The eight aspects of the path are not to be understood as a sequence of single steps, instead they are highly interdependent principles that have to be seen in relationship with each other.
Right view is the beginning and the end of the path, it simply means to see and to understand things as they really are and to realise the Four Noble Truth. As such, right view is the cognitive aspect of wisdom. It means to see things through, to grasp the impermanent and imperfect nature of worldly objects and ideas, and to understand the law of karma and karmic conditioning. Right view is not necessarily an intellectual capacity, just as wisdom is not just a matter of intelligence. Instead, right view is attained, sustained, and enhanced through all capacities of mind. It begins with the intuitive insight that all beings are subject to suffering and it ends with complete understanding of the true nature of all things. Since our view of the world forms our thoughts and our actions, right view yields right thoughts and right actions.
While right view refers to the cognitive aspect of wisdom, right intention refers to the volitional aspect, i.e. the kind of mental energy that controls our actions. Right intention can be described best as commitment to ethical and mental self-improvement. Buddha distinguishes three types of right intentions: 1. the intention of renunciation, which means resistance to the pull of desire, 2. the intention of good will, meaning resistance to feelings of anger and aversion, and 3. the intention of harmlessness, meaning not to think or act cruelly, violently, or aggressively, and to develop compassion.
Right speech is the first principle of ethical conduct in the eightfold path. Ethical conduct is viewed as a guideline to moral discipline, which supports the other principles of the path. This aspect is not self-sufficient, however, essential, because mental purification can only be achieved through the cultivation of ethical conduct. The importance of speech in the context of Buddhist ethics is obvious: words can break or save lives, make enemies or friends, start war or create peace. Buddha explained right speech as follows: 1. to abstain from false speech, especially not to tell deliberate lies and not to speak deceitfully, 2. to abstain from slanderous speech and not to use words maliciously against others, 3. to abstain from harsh words that offend or hurt others, and 4. to abstain from idle chatter that lacks purpose or depth. Positively phrased, this means to tell the truth, to speak friendly, warm, and gently and to talk only when necessary.
The second ethical principle, right action, involves the body as natural means of expression, as it refers to deeds that involve bodily actions. Unwholesome actions lead to unsound states of mind, while wholesome actions lead to sound states of mind. Again, the principle is explained in terms of abstinence: right action means 1. to abstain from harming sentient beings, especially to abstain from taking life (including suicide) and doing harm intentionally or delinquently, 2. to abstain from taking what is not given, which includes stealing, robbery, fraud, deceitfulness, and dishonesty, and 3. to abstain from sexual misconduct. Positively formulated, right action means to act kindly and compassionately, to be honest, to respect the belongings of others, and to keep sexual relationships harmless to others. Further details regarding the concrete meaning of right action can be found in the Precepts.
Right livelihood means that one should earn one’s living in a righteous way and that wealth should be gained legally and peacefully. The Buddha mentions four specific activities that harm other beings and that one should avoid for this reason: 1. dealing in weapons, 2. dealing in living beings (including raising animals for slaughter as well as slave trade and prostitution), 3. working in meat production and butchery, and 4. selling intoxicants and poisons, such as alcohol and drugs. Furthermore any other occupation that would violate the principles of right speech and right action should be avoided.
Right effort can be seen as a prerequisite for the other principles of the path. Without effort, which is in itself an act of will, nothing can be achieved, whereas misguided effort distracts the mind from its task, and confusion will be the consequence. Mental energy is the force behind right effort; it can occur in either wholesome or unwholesome states. The same type of energy that fuels desire, envy, aggression, and violence can on the other side fuel self-discipline, honesty, benevolence, and kindness. Right effort is detailed in four types of endeavours that rank in ascending order of perfection: 1. to prevent the arising of unarisen unwholesome states, 2. to abandon unwholesome states that have already arisen, 3. to arouse wholesome states that have not yet arisen, and 4. to maintain and perfect wholesome states already arisen.
Right mindfulness is the controlled and perfected faculty of cognition. It is the mental ability to see things as they are, with clear consciousness. Usually, the cognitive process begins with an impression induced by perception, or by a thought, but then it does not stay with the mere impression. Instead, we almost always conceptualise sense impressions and thoughts immediately. We interpret them and set them in relation to other thoughts and experiences, which naturally go beyond the facticity of the original impression. The mind then posits concepts, joins concepts into constructs, and weaves those constructs into complex interpretative schemes. All this happens only half consciously, and as a result we often see things obscured. Right mindfulness is anchored in clear perception and it penetrates impressions without getting carried away. Right mindfulness enables us to be aware of the process of conceptualisation in a way that we actively observe and control the way our thoughts go. Buddha accounted for this as the four foundations of mindfulness: 1. contemplation of the body, 2. contemplation of feeling (repulsive, attractive, or neutral), 3. contemplation of the state of mind, and 4. contemplation of the phenomena.
The eighth principle of the path, right concentration, refers to the development of a mental force that occurs in natural consciousness, although at a relatively low level of intensity, namely concentration. Concentration in this context is described as one-pointedness of mind, meaning a state where all mental faculties are unified and directed onto one particular object. Right concentration for the purpose of the eightfold path means wholesome concentration, i.e. concentration on wholesome thoughts and actions. The Buddhist method of choice to develop right concentration is through the practice of meditation. The meditating mind focuses on a selected object. It first directs itself onto it, then sustains concentration, and finally intensifies concentration step by step. Through this practice it becomes natural to apply elevated levels concentration also in everyday situations.
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The Blessed One said, ‘In any doctrine and discipline where the noble eightfold path is not found, no contemplative of the first… second… third… fourth order [stream-winner, once-returner, non-returner, arahant ] is found. But in any doctrine and discipline where the noble eightfold path is found, contemplatives of the first… second… third… fourth order are found. The noble eightfold path is found in this doctrine and discipline, and right here there are contemplatives of the first… second… third… fourth order. Other teachings are empty of knowledgeable contemplatives. And if the monks dwell rightly, this world will not be empty of arahants.
At age twenty-nine I went forth,
seeking what might be skillful,
and since my going forth
more than fifty years have past.
Outside of the realm
of methodical Dhamma,
there is no contemplative.
And no contemplative of the second… third… fourth order. Other teachings are empty of knowledgeable contemplatives. And if the monks dwell rightly, this world will not be empty of arahants.’
Then Subhadda the Wanderer said, ‘Magnificent, lord, magnificent! In many ways has the Blessed One made the Dhamma clear — just as if one were to place upright what has been overturned, to reveal what has been hidden, to point out the way to one who is lost, or to set out a lamp in the darkness so that those with eyes might see forms. I go to the Blessed One for refuge, and to the Dhamma and to the community of monks. Let me obtain the going forth in the Blessed One’s presence, let me obtain admission.’
‘Anyone, Subhadda, who has previously belonged to another sect and who desires the going forth and admission in this doctrine and discipline must first undergo probation for four months. If, at the end of four months, the monks feel so moved, they give him the going forth and admit him to the monk’s state. But I know distinctions among individuals in this matter.’
‘Lord, if that is so, I am willing to undergo probation for four years. If, at the end of four years, the monks feel so moved, let them give me the going forth and admit me to the monk’s state.’
Then the Blessed One said to Ven. Ananda, ‘Very well then, Ananda, give Subhadda the going forth.’
‘Yes, lord,’ Ananda answered.
Then Subhadda said to Ven. Ananda, ‘It is a gain for you, Ananda, a great gain, that you have been anointed here in the Teacher’s presence with the pupil’s anointing.’
Then Subhadda the Wanderer received the going forth and the admission in the Blessed One’s presence. And not long after his admission — dwelling alone, secluded, heedful, ardent, and resolute — he in no long time reached and remained in the supreme goal of the holy life, for which clansmen rightly go forth from home into homelessness, knowing and realizing it for himself in the here and now. He knew: ‘Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for the sake of this world.’ And thus Ven. Subhadda became another one of the arahants, the last of the Blessed One’s face-to-face disciples…
Then the Blessed One addressed the monks, ‘I exhort you, monks: All processes are subject to decay. Bring about completion by being heedful.’ Those were the Tathagata’s last words.
Then the Blessed One entered the first jhana. Emerging from that he entered the second. Emerging from that, he entered the third… the fourth… the dimension of the infinitude of space… the dimension of the infinitude of consciousness… the dimension of nothingness… the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception… the cessation of perception and feeling.
Then Ven. Ananda said to Ven. Anuruddha, “The Blessed One, sir, has entered total Unbinding.”
“No, friend, the Blessed One has not entered total Unbinding. He has attained the cessation of perception and feeling.”
Then emerging from the cessation of perception and feeling, the Blessed One entered the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception… the dimension of nothingness… the dimension of the infinitude of consciousness… the dimension of the infinitude of space… the fourth jhana… the third… the second… the first jhana. Emerging from the first jhana he entered the second… the third… the fourth jhana. Emerging from the fourth jhana, he entered total Unbinding in the interim…
When the Blessed One had attained total Unbinding, Sakka, ruler of the gods, uttered this stanza:
How inconstant are compounded things!
Their nature: to arise and pass away.
They disband as they are arising.
Their total stilling
Four stages of awakenment
The four stages of awakenment in Buddhism are the four degrees of approach to full awakenment as an Arahant which a person can attain in this life. The four stages are Sotapanna, Sakadagami, Anagami and Arahant.
The teaching of the four stages of awakenment is a central element of the early Buddhist schools, including the surviving Theravada school of Buddhism (current in Sri Lanka, Thailand and Myanmar).
The first stage is that of Sotāpanna (Pali; Sanskrit: Srotaāpanna), literally meaning “one who enters (āpadyate) the stream (sotas),” with the stream being the Noble Eightfold Path regarded as the highest Dharma. The stream-enterer is also said to have “opened the eye of the Dharma” (dhammacakkhu, Sanskrit: dharmacakṣus).
A stream-enterer is guaranteed enlightenment after no more than seven successive rebirths, and possibly in fewer. The stream-enterer can also be sure that he or she will not be reborn in any of the unhappy states or rebirths (that is, as an animal, a preta, or a being in hell). He can only be reborn as a human being, or in a heaven.
The stream-enterer has attained an intuitive grasp of Buddhist doctrine (samyagdṛṣṭi or sammādiṭṭhi, “right view”), has complete confidence or Saddha in the Three Jewels of Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha, and has good moral behaviour (Sila).
The second stage is that of the Sakadāgāmī (Sanskrit: Sakṛdāgāmin), literally meaning “one who once (sakṛt) comes (āgacchati)”. The once-returner will only be born one more time in the human world, where he will attain enlightenment as an Arahant.
The third stage is that of the Anāgāmī. literally meaning “one who does not (an-) come (āgacchati)”. The non-returner does not come back into human existence, or any lower world, after death. Instead, he is reborn in one of the worlds of the Rūpadhātu called the Śuddhāvāsa worlds, or “Pure Abodes”, where he will attain Nirvāṇa; some of them are reborn a second time in a higher world of the Pure Abodes, but in no case are born into a lower state.
An Anāgāmī has abandoned the five lower fetters that bind the mind to the cycle of rebirth. An Anāgāmī is thus partially enlightened, and on the way to perfect and complete Awakenment.
Experience of an Arahant
While living in the state of liberation an Arahant still continues to perform the necessary functions of life. He sleeps, wakes up in the morning, eats, talks, performs various duties etc. Though he has to go through his daily life he has completely uprooted defilements; greed, hatred and ignorance. In his psycho-physical organism there is no more craving, which sustains the process of becoming leading to future existences. From the effective side of human experience, the state of Nibbana is a state of complete happiness, freedom from sorrow, worry and fear. The Arahant feels bodily pains, but it does not disturb his mind. It does not cause him annoyance or sorrow. Arahant is also in a state of complete fearlessness. All fear comes from the notion of self or ego. When we are frightened, what we are afraid of is a threat to the security of the self, to “my self” or those things I believe belong to me. But for an Arahant who had completely uprooted the notion of self, there comes liberation from all fear.
With the abandoning of all forms of attachments the Arahant is free of agitation, restlessness and worry. Again an Arahant is in a state of complete equanimity, with perfect balance of mind. He is not shaken by the eight worldly winds: gain and loss, fame and dishonour, praise and blame, pleasure and pain. Arahant’s state of equanimity is not a state of indifference. The Arahant’s mind is pervaded with immeasurable loving kindness and boundless compassion. This is the state of Nibbana in terms of feeling and emotion.
Further, having completely eliminated ignorance, an Arahant acquires no kamma . His willed actions do not have the potency of producing future rebirth. He still performs volitional actions but they are mere activities. They do not leave a trace on the mind, just as the flight of birds flying across the sky leaves no footprints. The Arahant still reaps the results of the kammas performed by him before enlightenment, but these do not disturb his mind.
He has complete knowledge and understanding. He is fully awakened. He sees things as they truly are. He is no longer misled by the distortions, projections, perversions born of ignorance.