Study of Buddhism

“Everything changes; everything is connected; pay attention.”

I found a great book from my library catalog called Buddhism 101. It’s got simple, straightforward language and provides a complete survey of Buddhism. While it’s not a deep study, it would be a great starting point for those that interested in studying or practicing Buddhism. You can read this fairly quickly, then take your study to deeper levels once you find something that interests you. I took thorough notes on the section about Buddhist doctrine below. I wanted to internalize it for myself since I am thinking about practicing Buddhism. I need to have a basic knowledge to start with, and I plan on spending a lot more time learning about it.

Things I find very appealing about Buddhism:

  • You are responsible for your own enlightenment.
  • No supernatural claims/no gods. The concept of rebirth may be the exception depending on which style of Buddhism you subscribe to, but on the whole, it’s very earth-bound.
  • Practical advice for leading a moral life without setting stringent (unreasonable) rules.
  • It’s easy to write down and remember the core of Buddhism which makes it easy to explain to others.
  • Mindfulness exercises allow you to get more richness out of life.
  • It’s an old tradition with a healthy body of practitioners so that you can get community support in your own practice.

Buddhist Vocabulary

  • Abhidhamma Pitaka – the “basket of special/higher doctrine” — a detailed psycho-philosophical analysis of the Dhamma
  • Agati – non-returning
  • Ahimsa – not harming
  • Anicca – impermanence
  • Asuras – warrior demons
  • Arahatta – final stage of awakening
  • Arhat – spiritually enlightened individual
  • Arupa – realm of no-form
  • Atman – soul
  • Avijja – ignorance
  • Bodhisattva (person already attained enlightenment, or ready to attain enlightenment but puts off their final enlightenment to reenter samsara and save other sentient beings.
  • Buddha (awake)
  • Dana – generosity
  • Dharma (two types : read/heard and experienced)
  • Dhyanas/jhanas (high state of meditation)
  • Dukkha (dissatisfaction/suffering)
  • Hinayana (“Lesser Vehicle” – disparaging term for Theravada)
  • Jhana – meditative states of right concentration
  • Karma
  • Karuna (compassion)
  • Kleshas (three fires)
  • Lama (enlightened teacher)
  • Mahayana (“Greater Vehicle” Reformed movement of Buddhism. Northern Buddhism)
  • Metta – goodwill, lovingkindness
  • Moksha – final release
  • Mudita (sympathetic joy)
  • nirodha
  • Nirvana (enlightenment/ cooling by blowing out)
  • Panna – discernment
  • Pali – language of the Theravada canonical texts
  • Pitakas – baskets
  • Prajna – wisdom and insight
  • Pretas (restless spirit)
  • Punya (merit)
  • Rupa (realm of form)
  • Sakadagati – once-returning
  • Samadhi – meditation
  • Samsara – cycle of birth/death/rebirth
  • Samskara (mental energy)
  • Samyojana – irreversible shedding or weakening of fetters keeping you from awakening
  • Sangha (buddhist community)
  • Sila – morality, practice of virtue
  • Sotapatti – first enlightenment experience, stream-entry
  • Suttas (popular discourses – digha nikaya (long discourses) maijhima nikaya (medium discourses) samyutta nikaya (connceted discourses) anguttara nikaya (numbered discourses) khuddaka nikaya (small texts), Jataka tales, Dhammapada)
  • Sutta Pitaka – the “basket of discourses”.
  • Tanha – thirst/craving
  • Theravada (terra-VAH-dah) – Doctrine of the Elders. School of Buddhism that draws its scriptural inspiration from the Tipitaka, or Pali canon. Southern Buddhism
  • Tipitaka – the “three baskets.”
  • Upaya – Flexibility in teaching, make the Dharma accessible to all
  • Upekkha (equanimity)
  • Vinaya Pitaka – “Basket of Discipline” monastic code of discipline
  • Vipassana – clear-seeing

  • The three most valuable things : Buddha, Dharma, Sangha
  • The middle way : path to enlightenment, pay attention, everything is connected

The Four Noble Truths – Heart of Buddhism

Remember, truth is personal and must be experienced firsthand.

1) Truth of the Dukkha

(Diagnosis for the human condition. Your task: to comprehend)

  • Three Marks: Dukkha — the description, Anicca “impermanence” Anatta “no self” (you are not a solid, permanent being)
  • Three Fires (Poisons) : Greed (craving, desire, thirst) — Fix with generosity (dana). Hatred (aversion, aggression) — Fix with loving friendliness (metta). Delusion (ignorance, confusion) — Fix with wisdom (prajna).
  • Five Aggregates : Matter (eye, ear, nose, throat, hand). Feelings (pleasant, unpleasant, neutral). Perception (sensing). Volitions/Mental formations (motivations). Consciousness (response).

2) Truth of the Cause of Dukkha 

(Cause of the condition. Your task: to abandon)

Simply summarized : Desire, Attachment, Aversion

Dependent Origination: Process that perpetuates the suffering and pervasive dissatisfaction of dukkha. 

    1. Ignorance leads to…
    2. Mental formations that lead to…
    3. Consciousness that requires…
    4. Material form (something to be conscious of) that has…
    5. Six sense (basic five plus sense of mind) that create stimuli that generate…
    6. Contact that gives rise to sense impressions that generate…
    7. Feelings (either unpleasant, pleasant or neutral) that generate…
    8. Craving (seeks to either keep or push away the feeling) that leads to…
    9. Grasping (or pushing) that produces…
    10. Becoming (identify with that experience and take it personally) that leads to…
    11. Birth (taking form around the grasping) that leads to…
    12. Suffering/pervasive dissatisfaction.

3) Truth of the Cessation of Dukkha 

(Prognosis of the condition. Your task: to realize)

  • Renounce and reject your desires. Detach yourself. Blow out the fires. Don’t allow yourself to be fooled by desires.
  • Seven Factors of Awakening : Mindfulness, Persistence, Rapture, Serenity, Concentration, Equanimity.

4) Truth of the Path That Leads to the Cessation of Dukkha 

(Prescription for the condition. Your task: to develop)

Noble Eightfold Path : Buddhists use these paths to cease their dukkha. It is divided into three sections: pranja, sila, and samadhi.

Wisdom and insight (pranja) : This one is the hardest to attain.

  • 1 – Right View : comprehension of the four noble truths, ability to experience reality as it is, understanding dukkha – its causes – how to stop it – how to engage in a lifestyle that will address it. Eight hooks to avoid – gain/loss, status/disrepute, blame/praise, pleasure/pain. Recognize the hooks and learn to disentangle yourself from its grasp.
  • 2 – Right Resolve : detachment from hatred and cruelty. Spirit in which you approach everything. Motivations are not ego driven but selfless.
  • The Four Immeasurables : 
    1. Lovingkindness (metta) : Seek to generate feelings of safety, peace, well-being, and freedom for yourself, loved ones, strangers and enemies. Near enemy: affection motivated by selfishness. Far enemy: enmity.
    2. Compassion (karuna) : The ability to bear witness to suffering without fear. Nonjudgmental care of yourself and others. Near enemy: pity/sympathy. Far enemy: cruelty.
    3. Sympathetic Joy (mudita) : relinquish judgment and comparison—rejoice in the success and happiness of others. Nonselfish, nonattached optimism. Near enemy: exuberance. Far enemy: jealousy, envy, craving.
    4. Equanimity (uppekha) : Calm and tranquil mind in the face of any circumstance, even the most challenging ones. Paying more attention to a difficult situation rather your own painful story about it. Near enemy: indifference. Far enemy: being attached through craving and clinging.

Morality (sila)

    • 3 – Right Speech : Speak the truth and avoid unnecessary communications (i.e. gossip). Five courses of speech: timely/untimely, true/untrue, gentle/harsh, connected with good/harm, spoken in kindness/hate.
    • 4 – Right Action : “Do no harm”. 
    • 5 – Right Livelihood : Avoid harm through your work in the world. Monks renounce material possessions, but wealth is not bad—it can be used to help others. Examples : bartender? Drilling for oil? Nuclear weapon design?
    • The Five Precepts : 
      • Do not destroy life. Invitation to revere and respect life. Focus on “do no harm”. Intent is important – deliberate harm is different from unintentional harm. Everything is contextual – there are no hard and fast rules, and you must use wisdom and self-knowledge to discern appropriate action. To be attached to rules keeps you from awakening.
      • Do not steal. Applies to both physical (people’s property) and intangible objects (ideas, time).
      • Do not commit sexual misconduct. Consider the power of sexuality and use it mindfully with respect and responsibility for yourself and others. Sex = desire. If you seek lasting fulfillment from a transitory phenomenon like sex, you will experience frustration. This is a challenging area to be “awake” in because of deeply rooted biological drives and media-based cultural conditionings. Foster selfless loving in your intimate relationships. 
      • Do not lie. Four unwholesome actions: lying, speaking harshly, gossiping, being frivolous (make speech meaningful). Make a silent space for listening to other’s (hopefully) right speech.
      • Do not become intoxicated. Be mindful of what you put into your body. Be mindful of all forms of consumption – media, food, entertainment. Do they contribute to suffering? Do they only provide temporary release?
    • Karma 
      1. Karma is taking responsibility and understanding how one thing affects another. Some karmic effects you feel right away, but others will bear fruit at some future point in time. Karmic actions can be behaviors as well as thoughts and emotions. 
      2. Local Karma: actions in the present that have an impact on future experiences. Buddha put more emphasis on local karma. 
      3. Remote Karma: actions performed in this lifetime that impact future rebirths.
      4. Karma is not a retaliation from an outside force. “Suffering is the consequence of one’s own action, not a retribution inflicted by an external power. We are the authors of our own destiny, we being authors we are ultimately free.”
      5. Karma only involves intentional actions. (e.g. accidentally killing a spider does not invoke karma. Killing it with malice sets off a chain of karmic ramifications – clouded thought, fear, aversion, aggression, etc). Acting from the three fires of greed, hatred, and delusion is unskillful; while acting from their opposites—generosity, kindness, and wisdom—is skillful.
      6. Not all suffering is the result of karma. Local conditions like severe weather or viral infections have nothing to do with karma.
      7. Take care of your life today. Live in the moment and change the present. Thereby you can change the future as well.
      8. Karma and Rebirth: Some strains of Buddhism (Tibetan) take rebirth literally. Others take it metaphorically; cycles of experience that occur here and now. (e.g. violent action = reborn into a life of hell. Each breath is a cycle = in and out.) The goal of Buddhist practice is to break free of the cycles (nirvana).

Meditation (samadhi)

    • 6 – Right Effort : Effort must strike a balance between laziness and overdoing it.Get rid of improper attitudes and thoughts.
    • 7 – Right Mindfulness : Paying attention to arising and fading away of sensations in the body – have a direct experience of impermanence. Be mindful in each moment – while eating, driving, doing dishes, etc. When thoughts are lost in the future or past, retrieve them and bring it back to the now. Do not judge the mental experience as good/bad, wanted/unwanted, right/wrong.
    • 8 – Right Concentration : If attention is pulled away from simply breathing, concentration brings you back to your single point. One-pointed meditation (breath).
    • The Five Hindrances : Right effort is needed to counteract them – don’t take them personally. See if you can observe them arise and pass away.
      1. Doubt : Is this worth it?
      2. Desire : Fantasizing
      3. Ill Will : Dwelling on people and situations
      4. Restlessness and Anxiety : I want to get off this cushion
      5. Sloth and Torpor : Sleepy… I want to watch TV instead of examining my mind.
    • The Three Realms : Buddhist Cosmos. Eight Jhanas (meditative states) corresponding to three realms.
      1. The Realm of Desire : You cannot reach the first jhana while in this realm. In the shape of a wheel, there are six categories (realms) one can be born into. In the center of the wheel are three animals representing the three fires (kleshas). Rooster – greed/desire, Snake – hatred/anger, Pig – delusion/ignorance.
        1. God realm: This is a state that feels good but is temporary. People tend to become self-absorbed and complacent, no motivation to achieve transcendence.
        2. Realm of jealous gods (titans): represents the energy needed to overcome a frustration or change a situation, or make contact with a new experience. Realm or ego, mastery, and striving. The problem is, striving can beget striving.
        3. Animal realm: You are caught up in desire and instinct. A realm without awareness, like an animal trapped in ignorance.
        4. Realm of hungry ghosts: These ghosts have pinhole mouths, narrow necks and huge stomachs and is therefore never satisfied.
        5. Hell realm: Denizens of hell symbolize hatred, and the pervasive self-inflicted anxiety of dukkha.
        6. Human realm: Here is where your karma gets played out. This realm is your only change for enlightenment and escape from samsara.
      2. The Realm of Form (rupa) : 
        1. Rapture and pleasure born of seclusion – accompanied by directed thought and evaluation.
        2. Rapture and pleasure born of concentration – Unification of awareness free from directed thought.
        3. Equanimity and mindfulness with pleasant abiding
        4. Equanimity and mindfulness, neither pleasure nor pain. “He sits permeating the body with a pure, bright awareness”
      3. The Realm of No-Form (arupa) : 
        1. 5 – Infinite space
        2. 6 – Infinite consciousness
        3. 7 – Dimension of nothingness
        4. 8 – Dimension of neither perception or non-perception.

Further Reading





Featured Image: Pixabay

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