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Everything in the entire Buddhist Scriptures is really an expansion of the Four Noble Truths:
1) suffering exists
2) the cause of suffering is craving, hatred and ignorance
3) there is a cure for suffering, and
4) there is a path to end suffering.
Also important are the teachings of the law of causality (causes and effects), impermanence (thingschange constantly...) and selflessness (nothing has a unique self). The law of kamma (in Pali, karma in Sanskrit) should not be understood merely as " doing good produces good; doing evil produces evil ", concepts found in most religions. Buddhism's primary teaching is that "kamma ceases with the ceasing of craving, hatred and ignorance" which means that all past, present and future kamma, desirable as well as undesirable kamma, cease when a being puts an end to craving, hatred and ignorance.
The most important Noble Truth is the fourth one which teaches that the extinction of suffering is achieved by following The Eightfold Path. The Eightfold Path consists of three major factors of practice: Morality (Right Speech, Action, Livelihood), Concentration (Right Effort, Mindfulness, Concentration) and Insight (Right Understanding, Thought).
To succeed in the practice of Buddhism, practitioners must keep the basic concept of non-grasping and non-clinging in mind at all times and reflect it in their every day actions. The teachings mentioned above can help us end suffering just as medicine can end illness. Although we don't usually know what a medecine consists of, by following the instructions, we can see it cures the illness. It doesn't matter if we know if a concept is true or false. Many westerners and orientals who consider themselves modern, expect concepts to be proven true or false scientifically. Buddhist teachings are not against science. Many scientific discoveries of the last half century were in fact taught by Buddha 2500 years ago.
For example, Buddha taught that we should not automatically believe the Tipitaka or the Buddhist canon, nor rely on the people, text books or the majority opinion, but should believe what we find out for ourselves. The key is to understand and understanding comes from experience. Wanting to understand the Buddha teachings without practicing them is like wanting to taste food without eating it but just hearing it described by someone or in books!
We all experience suffering and want to end it, however most of us want to see proof of the of the Concepts of Buddhism or to discuss them in stead of seriously practicing. Many people explain Buddha's teachings in a way it suits their conception of reality, rather than the other way around. Modernizing Buddhism try to make the reality of life around them suit their conceptions, rather the other way around. Modernizing Buddhism may be helpful for people today, however we should be extremely careful, not to depart from the essence of Buddhism. The loving kindness practice in Buddhism fosters helping others and public benefits, but ego can easily become involved in power struggles in the name of ideology!
Sometimes we don't know if we are able of overcoming the attraction of sensual or worldly pleasures. We have seen monks attemting to propagate their political ideas in the temple, on Sunday mornings, after the rituals, instead of giving Dhamma talks. These monks and their followers like to talk about politics, how to save the country from a certain regime or how to fight the other side ! Taking sides does not fit in to any Buddhist practice. Such speeches should not take place in the main hall of a Buddhist temple. Accoding to the proper character of a Buddhist monk, as described in the sutta "hat is a Bikkhu?", speeches may not promote hatred, contradicting the basic objective of all practitioners, that is to end craving, hatred and ignorance.
The Eightfold Path is also called the middle path or the moderation way since it lies in between the path of sensual indulgence and self-mortification. In general, Buddhism is also considered as the middle path because it is in between the two extremes of truth and falsehood. Buddha was not interested in true or false, real or unreal. He was interested in how and why things appear to be real. When we see how things arise, we believe that they are real. But when we see that they pass away, then we don't believe that they are real. The Buddhist psychology states that any arising is conditioned, that all phenomena experience dependent origination and dependent extinction. All phenomena are real only in the relative sense. However, in the absolute sense, nothing is real. When one has insight, one sees the world as it is, not the way it seems. Looking at a flower, one can see in the same time the sun that warms it, the cloud that feeds it, and the hands that pruned it. This would be in depth perception. However, to penetrate an object or a phenomena, to really see it, our insight needs to be developed through the mindfulness practice.
The Buddhist psychology is called ABHIDHAMMA which analyses the relationship between (rupa) and mind (nama), and explains all the mental formations, the development of the mind and its interaction with the body as well as the dependent origination of all phenomena. Abhidhamma helps people to liberate themselves from suffering and is considered as greater than the Sutta (Discourses ) and the Vinaya (Discipline ). Through the practice of The Noble Eightfold Path, people experience the relation between mind and matter and the law of causality to finally develop the Insight.
Efforts to develop Insight through theoretical explanations are useless. "Insight that can be spoken is not real insight". Insight cannot be practiced, it either arises or does not arise ", meaning that insight reveals itself when it is freed from ignorance. We should not have expectations from our practice; expectation of any kind is also greed and hinders our progress. Suffering, like any other illnesses of people, needs a way to end it and this way is usually communicated by words. However we must always remember that words are used to describe other words as "one thorn may be used to remove another thorn in the flesh", just as another means to accomplish something, we should not be attached or hung up on words.
We assume that our mind automatically grasps reality but don't know how artfully the mind works and, therefore, we live in delusion and suffering. The mind must be developed. The Buddhist teachings show how to liberate the mind from ignorance and obtain wisdom or insight. Wisdom implies a mind with equanimity, free of mental defilements, not influenced by worldly pleasures or suffering, a mind detached from the past and the future, a calm and collected mind that experiences that the reality of all phenomena is in its impermanence and selflessness.
To gain this Wisdom, we learn to understand Buddha teaching (Dhamma ) and more importantly, to practice the Eightfold Path. Concentration (meditation practice ) is very important. The Buddhist verses on the Four Foundations of Mindfulness (Satipatthana sutta) explain how to contemplate on the four meditation objects (mind, mind object, body and feeling), and show how to observe and note the phenomena as they arise without any attachment to them. The goal is to practice non grasping in our daily life. Through mindfulness we have to give up things we are attached to.
Meditation is bacically letting go. In meditation, we observe everything which comes to our six senses without reacting; we give up the sound coming to our ears, the itching sensation on our body, the bubble of anger, hatred or craving arising in our mind; just noting the arising, progressing and falling of the phenomenon without and clinging on to it. We then reach a state of concentration where the mind starts seeing the true nature of things, understanding the selflessness (anatta), and experiencing the five aggregates as impermanent and continually flowing and changing (anicca).
The practice of morality, concentration and insight outlined in the Noble Eightfold Path is referred as walking the ordinary path. The Buddha also taught a short cut: do not grasp at the urges of the six senses, but constantly watch all phenomena without attachment. When we finally see that there is no self, the entire eight factors of the Eightfold Path arise simultaneously. Buddha taught of the emptiness of essential nature (sunnata): nothing that exists has a self. Because of misconception of that we have a self, we cling to our desires, and by doing so, we create suffering for ourselves. The ultimate aim is to cling to no thing at all. Gradually we can see that less detachment reduces suffering. This theory seems simple, however practice requires patience and determination, it would go from gross to very fine form. We must give up what we have been attached to, such as material, objects, power, sensual pleasures, affection, love, our concepts, the things we value most...
Buddha teaching offers a raft which takes us across the river to real happiness. As a way of life, Buddhism is neither pessimistic nor optimistic, it teaches us to see clearly for ourselves, through practice, not just talking about practice. Once we reach the other side, we don't need to carry the raft along with us. The Dhamma, the process of meditation, the precepts would not be necessary at all if we could let go all attachments. Buddha taught the basic practice: " Nothing whatsoever should be grasped or clung to ". This practice leads to deliverance from suffering, the unique goal of a Buddhist.
Land of Ten Thousand Lakes,