We are at the beginning of a new semester, a new term, and so I would like to take the time and perhaps make a slightly longer podcast to set out the basics of the Buddhis message.
The Buddha taught Four Truths:
I - Dukkha
The first of these was the Truth of affliction, that there are certain existential afflictions, certain afflictions that, in this life, we cannot avoid, we must all endure. The first four of these:
These are all indubitably unavoidable whether you are a sage or an ignorant person, whether you are rich or poor, they are unavoidable; and all of them involve some pain and struggle and suffering.
Then there are two more, which are again impossible to avoid while we are going through this travail of birth, aging, disease and death, there are times when we are
associated with things and people that we hate (and this is painful, this is difficult)
And there are times when we are
separated from, when we lose things and people that we love (this is also very painful, we suffer great grief).
So, these are two more, and finally there are a further two. The seventh affliction is that whatever we construct in this life, whether we build something solid like a house, or we have a project or a scheme, maybe a relationship or some good work that we do in the world, whatever it is, it will come to an end, it will fail eventually, it will fall down:
All compounded things are impermanent.
This is the seventh affliction; and then, finally, and in a sense by way of summarising all of the previous, this very psychological process, which is like a wheel ever turning which we call the skandhas, this process a apprehension of things in the world, things that have power over us (rūpas) we apprehend, respond: react to what we apprehend, and then we are entranced in one way or another, and then we elaborate these entrancements; and thus we form a mentality, a vijñana, which intentionally goes out and apprehends more rūpas; and so we go round and round; and this circulating process is the final affliction which, in a way, encompasses all of the others.
So, there are these eight afflictions.
II - Samudaya
These afflictions give rise to passion. When we are in a state of affliction, as we are in smaller or greater degree most of the time, passion arises: sometimes small passions, sometimes great passions. This wouldn’t be so bad, expect that on the basis of these passions we tend towards actions of body, speech and mind that lead to an intensification, an amplification of the original eight afflictions. Going around in circles in this way is called samsara.
So, this is the normal lot, this is the existential situation of the human being: to be on the wheel of samsara:
Dukkha leading to samudaya, and samudaya leading to more dukkha or making the dukkha worse.
Either we get into a fight, we struggle against what is afflicting us, or we seek distraction from it, in some kind of entertainment perhaps,
Or we seek to build ourselves up in some way so that we can ward off the affliction. This is the inflation of the ego.
If this does not work, if fighting and distraction doesn’t work, if building up our ego doesn’t work,then we seek oblivion one way or another.
So, samudaya has these three levels.
So far, the story is a bit grim. This is the existential tragedy of samsara.
What, then, is the message of Buddhism? The message of Buddhism is that even in this situation, and, in fact, only in this situation, it is possible to live a noble life. Here in this very existence, it is possible to live a noble life.
So, what is it, that makes the turn of going away from round and round the wheel onto living a noble life? This equals Nirodha.
Nirodha is faith and practice.
By faith and practice we are able to master the flames of passion. The original eight afflictions will still occur, passion will arise, but instead of it becoming like a wild fire that burns down the forest, it can be like the fire that cooks our food and is useful and nourishes us. The very same passions that are destructive and that cause trouble, can be the energy that powers a noble life. This is the gist of the Buddhist message. This is Nirodha, which is faith and practice.
If we have a good faith and we practise it, then we find ourselves following in the footsteps of all the Buddhas. This is the Noble Path, the noble track. When you are following an animal… When I go out in the forest and there have been deer or wild pigs and they leave tracks, by looking at the track, if you are skilful, you can tell what sort of animal left the track and you can follow the track. So, how do we know, if we are in the track that is the track of the Buddha?
What are the characteristic marks of the track of the Buddha? Well, there are eight. So, they are, if you like, the obverse of having eight afflictions. These eight marks of the track of the Buddha are:
Right Manner of Life
Right Patience or Endurance
Right Samadhi / Right Unification (of life in a noble manner)
So, we have this eightfold track and this is the outcome of Nirodha. This is the natural consequence of living a life of faith and practice.
This is the whole message of Buddhism in a nutshell. Dukkha gives rise to samudaya (passion), but this passion can be used in a positive, constructive, creative manner; and the way to achieve that alchemy, that transformation, is faith and practice. Each school of Buddhism has its own style of faith and practice, but they all come down to the same basic thing in the end. We are aiming to be in the track of the Buddha. So, we have faith in the Buddha eternally with us. In the Pureland approach we operationalise this as the invocation of Buddha, of the Buddha of Infinite Life and Infinite Light: Amitabha. We say: “Namo Amida Bu”. We can say “Namo Amida Bu” in any possible arising circumstance. No matter which of the eight afflictions we are in the midst of: “Namo Amida Bu”. And, of course, all around there are beauties and there are joys, and these also can be celebrated: “Namo Amida Bu, Namo Amida Bu”. This is the path.
Thank you very much