Fundamental aspects of the buddhism

Walpola Rahula


- The year of 1956 both marks thousand five hundred years of the Parinirvāna of the Buddha and in agreement with one old tradition maintained by million of Buddhist it would lead to a period in which the Dhamma, the message of the Buddha, would extend through world, the governments little by little will incline towards justice, and would be an increase of La Paz and the happiness.

Perhaps the previous prophecy is not more than a milenarista hope. Nevertheless, the Buddhism has a very important message for the modern world. It is not a faith in an imaginary God or some deity before that all responsibility is given. It is faith in the human being. The Buddhism gives to complete responsibility and dignity to the human being, and his own teacher does.

The Buddhism is absolutely human. , Between all the great religious teachers, Buddha has been the unique one who does not declare to be another thing that a human being. He did not protest to be a divine messenger, and attributed to his accomplishment and profits to the effort and human intelligence.

Buddha exhorted to his disciples to be refuge for themselves, and not to look for aid or refuge in some other side. He taught, he stimulated and he encouraged so that each person was developed totally and worked his own emancipation, because through his own intelligence and effort, the human being owns the power to free itself to itself of all servitude. Buddha said: “You will have to deliver the attack by themselves, because the tathāgatas only indicate the way.”

He would be more appropriate in this important commemoration (jayanti) of Buddha, when two thousand five hundred years of the Parinirvāna of the Teacher are celebrated, to discuss some of his essential lessons, which unanimously are accepted by hundreds of million their followers in the world, instead of vague generalizations. We must remember, first of all, that the lessons of Buddha constitute a life form that must be practiced and be undergone in the daily life, in our social and political life, here and now. They are a vast and complete system of philosophical lessons ethical and psychological cradles in an analytical and highly scientific method, which goes to the deep aspects of the human life. They are a way that leads, gradually, to the human being through his own discipline and moral, intellectual and spiritual development, to the highest understanding of the absolute truth, the accomplishment of the Nirvāna.


Four Noble Truths

It is difficult to explain this enormous system in a few words. But we took the Four Noble Truths (cattāri ariyasaccāni), that is to say: dukkha; samudaya, the sprouting or origin of dukkha; nirodha, the cessation of dukkha; and magga, the way that leads to the cessation of dukkha, we can, then, briefly discuss all the fundamental lessons of the Buddhism.

The first truth dukkha-ariyasacca, is translated by almost all the students like the Noble Truth of the Suffering, and it is interpreted in the sense that the life, in agreement with the Buddhism, is only suffering and pain. Both, translation and interpretation, are unsatisfactory and erroneous. Due to this, much people have considered to the pessimistic Buddhism. The Buddhism is neither pessimistic nor optimistic, but it has a realistic vision of the life and the world, and sees the things objectively. She says with exactitude and objectivity (yatthābhūtam) what one is, which is the world, and shows the straight way towards the perfect freedom, peace, tranquility and happiness.

A doctor can exaggerate the gravity of a disease and in this way to eliminate also the hope. Another one, by ignorance, can declare that disease does not exist and that a treatment is not necessary, and this way to deceive the patient with a false consolation. One can consider to the first pessimist and the second optimist. Both are erroneous attitudes. But a third diagnostic doctor the symptoms correctly, understands the cause and the nature of the disease, sees with clarity that must be cured and with firmness it applies the treatment that saves the patient. The Buddha is like this doctor. He is the doctor, scientist and wise person who requires themselves to cure the disease of the world.

It is certain that the word pāli dukkha (sánscrito duhkha) means `commonly suffering', `pain' or `misery' in opposition to the word sukha that means `happiness', `well-being' or `tranquility'. Nevertheless, like First Noble Truth, the concept dukkha has a philosophical meaning and a much more ample sense. The concept dukkha in the First Noble Truth includes the ordinary meaning of `suffering', but also it includes deep ideas like `imperfection', `impermanencia', `emptiness', `insubstancialidad' and `conflict'. It is difficult, therefore, to find a word that includes all the idea of the concept dukkha of the First Noble Truth, so he is better to leave it without translating instead of to give to an erroneous idea when translating it like suffering and pain.

The Buddhism does not reject the happiness in the life. On the contrary, it admits different forms from happiness, spiritual materials and, as much for lay as for monks. But, all of them are including in dukkha. They are including in dukkha even purer the spiritual states of dhyāna (recueillement or absorption) that is obtained actually higher from meditation and they are free of any shade of suffering, in the common sense of the word, reason why they can be described like mere happiness; as well as the state of dhyāna that is free of sensations, pleasant (sukha) as as much disagreeable (dukkha), and that are pure impartiality and bring back to consciousness, - these high spiritual states even estan including in dukkha. Because they are not suffering or pain, but because they also are conditional (saṅkhāra), impermanentes and in return, insubstanciales subjects.

The idea of dukkha can be seen from three aspects: dukkha like ordinary or common suffering (dukkha-dukkha); dukkha like change (viparināma-dukkha); and dukkha like states conditional (saṅkhara-dukkha) (Visuddhimagga (PTS), P. 499; Abhidarma-samuccaya, pp.36, 38 (ed. Pradhan, Santiniketan, 1950).

They are including in dukkha like ordinary suffering (dukkha-dukkha) all type of suffering in the life like being born, aging, to become ill, to die, to be associated to disagreeable conditions, to separate of our dear beings and pleasant situations, not to obtain what it is desired, pain, moan, disquiet and all type of physical and mental suffering universally accepted like suffering or pain.

A feeling of happiness or a happy condition in our life is neither permanent nor eternal. Sooner or later it will change, and when this happens, one takes place a feeling and condition of infelicidad. This vicissitude is included in dukkha like change (viparināma-dukkha)


Five Aggregates

The more important philosophical aspect of the First Noble Truth is in the third form of dukkha like conditional state (saṅkhāra-dukkha). This one requires an analytical explanation than he is `to be', `individual', or `I'. According to the Buddhist philosophy `to be', `individual', or `I' are only one combination of physical and mental energies in constant change which can be divided in five aggregates (pañcakkhandha). Buddha affirms: “In summary, these five aggregates of the attachment or adhesion are dukkha (saṅkhittena pañcupādānakkhandhā dukkhā). It is important to clarify that dukkha and the five aggregates are not two different things; the five aggregates in themselves are dukkha. This is included/understood better if we have one more a clearer idea about five aggregates.

The first aggregate is the one of the matter (rūpakkhanddha). In this concept the four traditional great elements (cattāri mahābhūtāni), that is to say the elements of solidity are included, fluidity, heat and mobility, as well as its derivatives (upādāya-rūpa). In the concept of `derived from the four elements' the five material sensorial organs, that is to say, the faculties of the eye are included, corresponding ear, nose, language and body and its objects in the external world as the visible form, sound, scent, tact and even some thoughts or ideas, that they are objects of the mind. So all the aspects of the matter, internal and external, are including in the aggregate of the matter.

The added second is the one of the sensations (vedanākkhandha). In this group all the pleasant and disagreeable sensations, or those are included that are neither pleasant nor disagreeable, and that are experienced through contact of the sensorial organs with the external world. These are the sensations undergone through contact of the eye with the visible object, the ear with the sounds, the nose with the scents, the language with the taste, the body with the tangible objects and the mind (that it is the sixth faculty in the Buddhist philosophy) with the mental objects, thoughts or ideas. All the physical and mental sensations are included in this group.

The third aggregate is the one of the perception (saññākkhandha). The perceptions, like the sensations, also take place through contact of the faculties with the external world.

The fourth mental aggregate is the one of the formation (saṅkhārakkhandha). In this group all the volitive activities are included mental, good as as much bad, that they produce kámmicos effects, such as attention (manasikāra), will (chanda), determination (adhimokkha), confidence (saddhā), concentration (samādhi), intelligence or wisdom (paññā), energy (viriya), desire (rāga), loathing or hatred (patigha), ignorance (avijjā), vanity (māna), idea of I (sakkāya-diṭṭhi), etc. Exist fifty and two of such mental activities that they constitute the mental aggregate of formation.

The fifth aggregate of brings back to consciousness (viññāṇakkhandha) is a reaction or answer that he has as he bases a one of the six faculties (eye, ear, nose, language, body and mind) and like object external phenomenon. It brings back to consciousness visual, for example, it has to the eye as his base and a visible form like his object. In the same way it occurs with brings back to consciousness connected with other faculties.

We have seen, in summarized form, the five aggregates. What we denominated `to be', `individual' or `I' is only a name or a label that occurs to that combination of five groups. All of them are impermanentes and constitute a momentary flow that arises and stops. A phenomenon disappears and conditions the appearance of following in an interminable series of cause and the effect. There is substancialidad nor nothing behind which a being can consider itself (ātma) permanent, individuality or no some being that can be called `I'. All agree in which nor the matter, sensation, perception, some mental activity, and I bring back to consciousness really can be considered like `'. But we obtain the idea that I exist `' when these five physical aggregates and mental, who are interdependent, they work together and in combination like a psychophysiological mechanism. But this is only one false mental idea, that she is not but one of the fifty and two mental functions of the fourth aggregate that I exposed previously. This is what constitutes the idea of being (sakkāya-diṭṭhi).

The set of these five aggregates, who commonly we called a being, is in themselves dukkha (saṅkhāradukkha). Any being or `does not exist I' behind these five aggregates whom dukkha experiences. There is no an immovable author behind the movement. The movement only exists. In other words, it does not exist thinking behind the thought. The thought in himself is the thinker. If the thought takes off there is no thinker. We cannot avoid to observe how the Buddhist point of view diametrically is opposed to the idea of cogito cartesian.

The previous thing constitutes the Noble Truth of dukkha. This one does not do, absolutely, the Buddhist a melancholic one and undergone life of as some people imagine erroneously. On the contrary, true the Buddhist is happy and she does not suffer of fear or she distresses. He is always calm and one does not disturb or it discourages by changes and misfortunes, because it accepts the things as they are. Buddha never was melancholic or shady, and their contemporaries always described like a always smiling man `to it' (mihitapubbaṅgama). Buddha always is represented, in paintings and sculptures, with a happy and calm face, without no characteristic of agony or suffering.

The Theragāthā yTherīgāthā, two old Buddhist texts, is full of happy and glad expressions of the disciples of Buddha, men and women, who found peace and happiness in their lessons. The king of Kosala commented Buddha, in certain occasion, that unlike many disciples of other religions, whose appearance was generally haggard, coarse, pale, emaciada and little attractive, the disciples of joyful Buddha shone `', `cheered' (haṭṭhapahaṭṭha), jubilant (udaggudagga), enjoyed the religious life (abhiratarūpa), satisfied (pīṇitindriya), free with anxiety (appossukka), night watchmen (pannaloma), pacific (paradavutta) and lived with mind on gacelas (migabhūtena cetasā), that is to say, without conflicts nor preoccupations. The king added that he considered that this healthy disposition had to the fact that “these venerable ones, certainly, they had included/understood the complete sense and the magnificent thing of the lessons of the Lucky person, etc.” (Majjhima-Nikāya II (PTS), P. 121) the Buddhism is, truly, opposed melancholic, sad and shady attitudes mental which are considered obstacles for the understanding of the Truth. On the other hand, he is interesting to remember that the joy (pīti) is one of the seven essential qualities (bojjhaṅgas) that must be cultivated for the accomplishment of Nibbāna.

The Second Noble Truth is the origin and sprouting of dukkha (dukkha-samudaya-ariyasacca). It is attachment, avidity and thirst of sensorial desires (kāmataṇhā), existence and continuity (bhavataṇhā), and even of destruction (vibhavataṇhā). This avidity, this thirst, which has the false idea of `I' I eat its center, is an enormous force that drives the totality of the existence. All would agree that this egoistic avidity creates all the evils of the world, from the insignificant personal problems to the world wars. But it is not easy to include/understand that this desire, based on the false belief in `I', is the cause of all the existence and the continuity of the being.

The Third Noble Truth is that there is a cessation of dukkha (dukkhaniroddha-ariyasacca), which, generally, is known like Nibbāna (sánscrito Nirvāna). In order to eliminate dukkha completely, it must eliminate the root of dukkha, that is the avidity. Therefore, Nibbāna also is known with the term `Extinction desire' (Taṇhakkhaya). Some Nibbāna times the Last Truth or Last Reality is called. Buddha said: “Oh bhikkhus, Nibbāna that is the reality, is the Noble Last Truth” (Ibid., III, P. 245). In another place he says: “Oh bhikkhus, I will teach to the Truth and the way to them that leads to the Truth” (Samyuttanikāya IV (PTS), P. 369). Here Truth means Nibbāna.



What is, then, Nibbāna? The unique logical answer, to this very natural question, is that suitable and satisfactory words do not exist to respond, because the poverty of the human language does not allow to accurately explain the real nature of the absolute truth or last reality that is Nibbāna. A human group creates a language to express facts and ideas undergone by its senses and mind. A supraworldly experience like the one of the Absolute Truth does not belong to this category. Therefore, words cannot exist to express this experience. The words are symbols that represent things and ideas and these symbols not even can transmit the true nature of the most common things. The language is considered deceptive and erroneous in the subjects that concern the understanding of the Truth. It is for that reason that the Laṅkāvatāra-sūtra indicates that ignorant people clog in the words like an elephant in the mud (Laṅkāvatāra- sūtra (of. Nanjio, Kyoto 1923), p.113). This is the reason for which in certain Buddhist sects, as they zen, we found the use of paradoxical and even outlandish affirmations whose intention is to move away to the person of the attachment to the words.

However, we cannot do without the use of the language. But we explained and we expressed to Nibbāna in positive terms we can apprehend immediately an idea associated with these concepts, that, certainly, can mean the opposite thing. It is for that reason that, generally, is explained or it express in negative terms. This can be less dangerous. Therefore, negative terms are used as taṇhākkhaya `extinction of the avidity or desire', Virāgā `desire absence', Nirodha `cessation', Nibbāna `to go out' or `to be extinguished'. `Is even expressed as extinction of desire, hatred and the ignorance' (Samyutta-nikāya IV (PTS), p.359).

Talking about to this state Buddha it says:

“Oh bhikkhus, is a not-born, not-produced, incondicionado state of and not-adding. Then if the not-been born thing did not exist, not-produced, incondicionado and not-adding, would not be escape for the been born thing, producing, conditional and aggregate. But since the not-been born thing exists, not-produced, incondicionado and not-added there is liberation for the been born thing, producing, conditional and aggregate”
(Udāna, P. 129, Colombo 1929).

“Here the four elements of solidity, fluidity, heat and mobility do not take place; the slight knowledge of length and subtle and crude, good and bad width, name are completely destruídas and forms; they are this world either neither the other, nor to come, to go or to stop themselves, nor to die or to be born, or sensorial objects”
(Digha-n I, P. 172, Colombo 1929; Udāna, P. 129, Colombo 1929).

Due to this negative form to express Nibbāna many have concluded erroneously that a negative annihilation means, a reduction to the anything. A negative concept not necessarily indicates a negative state. Some times negative concepts represent the highest conceptions and positive values. For example, the word immortality (Amata), that also is a synonymous one of Nibbāna, is negative but it represents a positive state. The word pāli or sánscrita for health ārogya is a negative concept that literally means `disease absence'. But, certainly, ārogya `health' does not denote a negative state. The negation of negative values does not indicate a negative state. On the contrary, it can indicate pure a positive state that it cannot be expressed in form adapted in positive terms, as is the case of the concepts of `immortality' and `ārogya'.

Of this type or class they are the negative terms that are used to indicate the state of last reality that is Nibbāna. One of the most known synonymous to express Nibbāna is `Freedom' (mutti, sánscrito mukti). Nobody would dare to say that the freedom is something negative. But the freedom even has a negative side, because this one always means to free itself of which it obstructs, that is bad and negative. Nevertheless, the freedom is not negative. Thus also it is Nibbāna, absolute liberation (vimutti), freedom of all evil, avidity, hatred and ignorance; freedom of all the conditions of relativity, time and space.

Nibbāna is beyond the logic and the reasoning (atakkāvacara). No matter how much, in useless intellectual pastime, we highly are involved in speculative discussions on Nibbāna or the Truth or Ültima Reality, we will never include/understand it this way. A boy in his first years of school would not have to battle discussing about the theory of relativity. But he continues studying patient and diligently, he will include/understand it to a day. The Nibbāna is `to be included/understood by the wise people within they themselves' (paccattam veditabbo viññūhi). We will include/understand someday it, without requiring mysterious words, pompous or huge, if we followed the footpath diligently, training to us and purifying to us with estusiasmo, and reaching necessary the spiritual development.


Óctuple nobleman Footpath

The Fourth Noble Truth is the footpath that leads to the cessation of dukkha (dukkhanirodhagāminīpaṭipadā-ariyasacca). This also knows like `average Way' (patipada Majjhimā), because it avoids both extreme: one is the search of the happiness through affection and attachment to the pleasures of the senses which are low, common, without benefit and it is the way of ordinary people; the other is the dedication to the automortificación in its different forms from asceticism, which is painful, without value and benefit. Avoiding these two ends Buddha it discovered the average Way, `who gives vision, knowledge and leads to the tranquility, penetrating vision, illumination, Nibbāna'. This average Way, generally, considers like the Óctuple Nobleman Footpath (Ariya-Atthaṇgikamagga), so that it is made up of eight elements, that is to say: Straight Understanding (sammādiṭṭhi); Straight Thought, (sammāsaṅkappa); Straight Language (sammāvācā); Straight Action (sammākammanta); Rectum Average of Life (sammāājīva); Straight Effort (sammāvāyāma); Straight Attention (sammāsati); Straight Concentration (sammāsamādhi).

Instead of to define these eight elements one after another one, he will be much more useful for a correct understanding of this way, if the three ideas of the training and Buddhist discipline are explained in agreement with (tisikkhā): ethical conduct (sīla); mental discipline (samādhi); and wisdom (paññā).

The ample conception of love and compassion by all the living beings underlies to the ethical conduct, whom education serves basic as Buddha. He is a lamentable one and it burdens error that many students forget this great ideal the education of Buddha, and only discuss to barren philosophy and metaphysics when they write and they speak on Buddhism. Buddha offered his education “starting off of his compassion by the world, for the well-being and happiness of the majority” (bahujanahitāya bahujanasukhāya lokānukampāya).

So that a human being is perfect, according to the Buddhism, he must also develop two qualities: compassion (karuṇā) and wisdom (paññā). Here compassion means love, amiability, tolerance, that is to say, noble qualities of the affective area and the heart, whereas the wisdom represents the intellectual aspect or qualities of the brain. If it develops the emotional aspect without taking care of the intellectual can get to be a well-meaning idiot, whereas if develops only the intellectual aspect without taking care of the emotional one, it can get to be an intellectual of hard heart, without feelings towards the others. Therefore to be perfect it must develop both aspects also well. This is the goal of the form of Buddhist life. In fact, the compassion and the wisdom are intimately ligatures to the Buddhist form of life.

So in the idea of ethical conduct (sīla) based on the love and the compassion, as we finished explaining, three factors of the Óctuple Nobleman are included Footpath, that is to say: Straight Language, Straight line Average Action and Rectum of Life.

Straight Language means to speak only the truth and not to lie, to say only words that promote love, friendship, unit and harmony between the individuals and the groups of people and not to say things who promote hatred, enemistad, lack of unity and discord between the people. It must use pleasant words and amiable and never words rudas, you decorticate and offensive that can cause pain. It only must use words useful, beneficial and significant and not to spend the time in vain and frivolous wordiness.

Straight Action means, simultaneously, that one abstains to destroy alive beings, to rob and incorrect sexual relations, and that must help others to take a straight and happy life.

Straight Half of Life it means that one must abstain from the exercise of offices and professions that produce damage to others, such as the commerce of arms, drinks intoxicants, poisons, to kill animal, frauds, etc., and must live on professions or offices that do not produce damage. It is very clear that the Buddhism is against the war, because rejects the commerce of arms like means of evil and unjust life.

These three elements (Straight Language, Straight line Average Action and Rectum of Life) of the Óctuple Nobleman Footpath constitute the ethical conduct without which it is not possible to develop to a spiritual life superior. We must include/understand that the Buddhist moral conduct is a happy and harmonious life, as much individual as socially.

Soon it follows the discipline mental in which the three other factors of the Óctuple Footpath are included: Straight Effort, Straight line Attention and Straight line Concentration. The Straight Effort is the energetic will to avoid the insane evil and not yet present characteristics; in order to free of the evil and present insane characteristics; in order to produce that healthy characteristics arise not yet present; and to develop, to increase, and to perfect healthy characteristics, which are present.

The Straight Attention (or it brings back to consciousness) is to be conscientious and kind to the body (kāya), sensations (vedāna), mind (citta), mental ideas or objects (dhamma). One of the exercises very known for the mental development, connected to the body, is the practice of the attention in the breathing (ānāpānasati). Other forms for the development of the attention exist related to the body. As far as the sensations one is due to be very conscientious of all the forms of sansaciones that arise and stop. As far as the mind one is due to be conscientious if there is or nonlust, is full or not of hatred, confused or no, distracted or concentrated, etc. This is the way to be conscientious of the movements of the mind, his to arise and to stop. As far as the mental ideas and objects its nature is due to know, how they arise and they stop, develops, represses and destroys, etc. In the Satipaṭṭihāna-sutta these four forms of meditation are taken care of in detail.

The Straight four Concentration that leads to dhyānas (absorption, recueillements) is the third and last factor of the mental discipline. In the first state of dhyāna, the impure passions and thoughts discard, conserving sensations of joy and fdelicidad jointly with certain mental activities. In second dhyāna all the intellectual activities are suppressed, is developed to tranquility and a concentrated mind, staying the sensations of joy and happiness. In the third state, the joy sensations also disappear whereas the happiness still is conserved, besides even-tempered attention. In fourth dhyāna, to all the sensations of happiness and infelicidad, joy and pain are suppressed, being only pure impartiality and complete attention.

So the mind is trained and disciplined by means of Straight Effort, Straight line Attention and Straight line Concentration. They constitute wisdom both (paññā) remaining factors: Straight Thought and Rectum Understanding.

The Straight Thought (sammāsaṅkappa) talks about to thoughts of disinterested renunciation or indifference, love by all the beings and non-violence. We observe that the thoughts of disinterested indifference, love and non-violence are grouped in the wisdom heading, which demonstrates that the true Buddhist wisdom is equipped with these characteristic noble, and that all thought of egoistic attachment, bad will, hatred, and cruelty is product of the absence of wisdom in all the spheres of the life, or individual, social or political.

The Straight Understanding is to include the things as they are, and the Four Noble Truths explain the things as they really are. I toll by it, the Straight Understanding is reduced, in last instance, to include/understand the Four Noble Truths. This understanding is the wisdom superior that sees the Last Reality. According to the Buddhism two classes of understanding exist. To that we called generally understanding is the knowledge, memory, or intellectual understanding according to certain given information. This is called `to know conditional or to know in the corresponding form' (anubodha). This it is not a very deep knowledge. Entendimeinto truly deep is known like `penetrating' (pativedha). This penetration possible when the mind is free of all the impurities and completmente is only developed by means of the meditation.

That is to say, in brief form, essential of the foundations of the philosophy and the form of Buddhist life, the base of a great universal culture.


On Walpola Rahula

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