“However little we may know about Buddhism we know that it is a Path or Way. It is a path or way leading to a state of Realization or Truth, or of Oneness with Reality, which we call Enlightenment, or the Realization of one’s own innate Buddhahood/Buddha Nature.” Sangharakshita
So What Do Buddhists Believe Anyways?
We’ve all seen the pretty statues and we all can recognize what the Buddha looks like from 100 feet away but do you know what this man and his teachings were about?
Many of us would say No. Even me. I’ve been a “practicing” Buddhist for about 6 months now. Six months of really applying, living and embracing my inherit Buddha Nature.
Even though I took my Kalachakra initiation with the Dalai Lama several years ago it was until just recently that I stopped seeking and came to rest upon the simple and profound beauty of Buddha and his teachings.
Below you’ll find some info about Buddhism. A Buddhism 101 class of sorts. It’s my hope that it can answer some questions you may have about this mystery of a man named Buddha and what he taught.
Karmapa Chenno, Ian
What is Buddhism?
The best explanation of the Buddha’s teachings comes from the Buddha himself. In Sanskrit the teachings are called the Dharma and in Tibetan Chö. Both mean «the way things are«. So Buddhism can be seen as a set of tools that enable us to see things as they really are here and now. Buddhism has no dogmas and allows question marks to be placed everywhere. Buddha’s teachings aim at the full development and freedom of body, speech and mind.
Who was Buddha?
Buddha was born in India about 2560 years ago into the royal family of a highly developed culture. The young prince enjoyed extremely privileged circumstances and up until the age of twenty-nine he had known only pleasure. Leaving his palace for the first time, his world was turned upside down. Over three consecutive days he saw a very sick person, somebody old and someone who had died. Upon his recognition of the inevitability of old age, sickness, death and the impermanence of everything, he became deeply troubled. The next morning, he passed a Yogi in deep meditation and their minds met. Inspired by this, the prince then left his home and family and wandered the country in search of teachings that could overcome death and suffering. He studied with various teachers, but none of them could lead him to his ultimate goal.
At the age of 35, after six years of deep meditation, he realized the true nature of mind and was enlightened. He became awakened to the essence of all things: the all-knowing space that makes everything possible, its radiant clarity that playfully expresses mind’s richness and its limitless love that obstructs nothing. For the next 45 years the Buddha taught the methods to reach the goal of enlightenment to thousands of gifted students.
Is Buddhism a philosophy, a psychology or a religion?
Buddhism can be regarded as a philosophy insofar as its teachings represent a complete and logical view, but it is not just a philosophy. Philosophy can explain things on the formal level of words and ideas, whereas the Buddha’s teachings work with one’s totality. While both philosophy and Buddhist practice lead to clarity of thought, only the latter can lead to permanent transformations because it gives the practical key to inner and outer events experienced everyday.
Because of the ability of its teachings to transform those who practice them, some people consider Buddhism to be a kind of psychology. The varying schools of psychology all try to help people neither to be a burden on society nor to have too many personal difficulties. While both psychology and Buddhism can change people, the latter is for the already healthy. It can be said that Buddhism starts where psychology stops. Diamond Way Buddhism becomes relevant from the point where people are already stable, where they experience space as blissful and not threatening. From this level the teachings develop the limitless courage, joy and love, which are mind’s inherent wealth.
Applying the teachings to one’s life will raise a deep confidence in their skilfulness giving all situations the taste of meaning and growth. Once the awareness of the conditioned nature of all things grows, fixed concepts will fall away and the perfect qualities of body, speech and mind will naturally appear. The end result of practice – full enlightenment or Buddhahood – surpasses the intellectual or therapeutic goals of both philosophy and psychology, it is a state of perfection beyond concepts.
Combining the logical view and the transformative power with methods to obtain lasting and beyond personal mental states, Buddhism is over all a 2500 year old religion of experience.
What are the basic points in Buddhism?
There are four basic thoughts that give a lasting meaning to our life. The first thing that we appreciate is our very rare and marvelous chance to be able to meet with enlightened teachings, and to be able to work with and learn from them. All beings want happiness and want to avoid suffering. Even an ant will crawl very far to avoid being killed, and human beings will go to all lengths in order to feel good. So, meeting with teachings that bring lasting happiness is very important.
After this, we understand we will not always have this chance. Whatever was born, will die, whatever came together will fall apart, and whatever appeared will disappear. Our time is limited. It is certain that our lives will end, but we do not know when. So recognizing that we have this chance now and actually wanting to use it is also something extremely valuable.
The third thing we understand is that the world is really a matrix of causes and effects and that our present actions, words and thoughts will become our future. Whether we realize it or not, everything we do, say or think leaves impressions both inside ourselves and outside in the world. These impressions will later return to us. Negative impressions especially will manifest as suffering or unpleasant situations in the future unless we use meditations that dissolve them.
Finally, we recognise the fact that there is no alternative to using the teachings. Enlightenment is highest joy. There is nothing more fulfilling and total than this state of oneness with all things, all times, all beings, and all directions. Also, how will we benefit others if confused and suffering ourselves?
So considering these four factors gives the basis for Buddhist practice and meditation. In contrast, however, if we cling to our ordinary values we cannot avoid suffering. If we keep thinking »I am my body« and »These things are mine«, old age, sickness, death and loss will be exceedingly unpleasant. Nobody can avoid pain by saying: »This stuff with enlightenment is too difficult for me«, because if we were born, we’ll surely die. There is no greater purpose in life than to find values which permanently overcome suffering and death. The benefits of enlightenment are therefore immeasurable for both oneself and all other beings.
Are there different types of Buddhism?
Buddha gave instructions to three main types of people. Those who wanted to avoid suffering received information about cause and effect. Those who wanted to do more for others were given instructions on compassion and wisdom. Where people had a strong trust in their own and other’s Buddha-nature, he shared the direct view of mind called the Great Seal (tib. Chagchen, Skt. Mahamudra). The first one of these levels is called the »Small Way« or »Theravada«, the second one the »Great Way« or »Mahayana« and the third the »Diamond Way« or »Vajrayana«.
What is the Vajrayana or Diamond Way?
The Diamond Way (tib. Dorje Thekpa) is often described as the crown Jewel of Buddha’s teaching. Its goal is obtaining the beyond-dualistic state of the Great Seal, where every event is authentic because it expresses mind’s unlimited potential. Working from the level of consequence and inspired insight to transform all experience into self-liberating and natural purity, it employs methods of total identification with enlightenment for the quickest results. When students saw the Buddha not as a god, person, or an outer force, but trusted him as a mirror of their own mind, Buddha could then impart the Diamond Way. Awakening being’s qualities through his power and insight, he employed countless skilful means to fully develop them. In essence, this ultimate or `third’ level consists of three approaches: They are called »Way of methods«, »Way of Insight« and »Guru Yoga«. Using these, mind may recognise itself either through its energy, its awareness or its power of identification.
Guru Yoga, the most practised method in the West today, contains the broadest approach to enlightenment, if one’s teacher is reliable. This also may happen through the ways of method and insight. Although not everybody finds this way suitable, mind is best recognised in daily life through identification with a compassionate Lama who is beyond fear. If one can rest in such a teacher’s mind-space until one develops all one’s inherent qualities, there will be an amazing growth.
What is enlightenment?
If we look at what the Buddha discovered about mind 2550 years ago, we find that he realized that mind is clear light. The mind hasn’t been born, and it cannot die. Even though bodies, thoughts and feelings appear, change and disappear again, mind itself, being open clear limitless space, can in no way be hurt or harmed. So when the Buddha obtained liberation, he found that he was not the target anymore. He wasn’t that body which could be in trouble, nor was he those thoughts and feelings which could change and disappear – instead he was radiant awareness. This led to enlightenment, the realization that there is no separation between space and energy at any time or place. He knew and was aware of all things. He felt the great joy and expressed the great love which is the meaning of all things; which makes every atom stick together and vibrate and which makes all things happen in the world.
What is the meaning of the teacher ?
The popular Western concept of going to enlightenment`alone’ rates poorly against the quick success of a full practice with a teacher or group. Though it sounds so attractive to a modern person who feels in control of his or her life to become enlightened by oneself, there are just too many pitfalls. Learning about mind is much more intricate than studying outer phenomena, and there are always the lurking enemies of pride and dislike that may derail one’s growth.
The highest level of teaching cannot be properly understood or maintained without a teacher. If the communication is missing which neutralises pride, sentimentality and superficiality, one may become lonely or useless in daily life. The lama employs methods for developing his or her students” potential, allowing them to push through layers of habitual behaviour. It is the Lama’s job to make students independent, compassionate and strong. On the highest level, the lama lets the students enter the fearless mirror cabinet of his or her mind. When they discover that they are of that same nature, nothing more remains to be found.
How does rebirth work?
To understand this it is important to know that mind is not produced by the impermanent brain, but is transformed by it. Its stream of information is hold together by the illusion of a »self« and moves from one conditioned existence to the next, picking up the experiences which mature as one’s next life. The space-like nature of mind cannot die or be born. What is actually reborn is this constantly changing flow like a river. Being in a permanent self is a basic misconception, which carries on after death and will result in our next conditioned rebirth.
One’s body and mind experiences a series of constantly changing sensory and subconscious impressions, one superseded by the next, where nothing permanent in our body, feelings or thoughts can be found. At death, this stream is cut off from the sensory experiences of the body. Mind’s strongest tendencies will then mature and connect one with one’s next body, physical or mental.
Why are Buddhists working with their mind?
Because mind experiences everything and remains very subjective up until liberation. It is possible to become able to benefit beings and experience timeless happiness. People decide through their actions whether they will be seeing the world through rosy or black glasses. This explains why there are so many different stories when witnesses describe incidences. Buddhist students free themselves so they can pick their mood. Just like a man with many ties who decides in the morning which tie will enspire others.
Ultimately, it becomes clear that the fact that mind can be aware is more important than what it is aware of. One realises that the pictures in the mirror are less important than the mirror’s radiance.
What is Karma?
From a Buddhist point of view Karma does not mean »fate« or »destiny«, but may be translated as »action« or »cause and effect«. Roughly speaking, Karma works like this: Every activity – positive or negative – leaves imprints on mind. As mind’s content determines how the world is experienced, negative impressions will inevitably lead to future pain. This means that our thoughts, speech and actions sow the seeds for our future experience. It is thus in our hands to change our lives by understanding this.
Used in the right way the understanding of Karma therefore means freedom. In every situation it gives beings the freedom to decide their future. The Diamond Way offers especially effective methods for removing the impressions of negative, harmful actions from mind. By this we can get rid of what would ripen as difficult states and situations in the future. Through Buddhist meditation, we can overcome the whole process of cause and effect. However, if we don’t choose to work with our mind, we will have no control at all and simply be the victim of our own actions.
What is the symbolic meaning of male and female principle in Diamond Way Buddhism?
On the level of concepts, women are associated with wisdom. Men are associated with compassion, and if wisdom and compassion come together, inner growth arises. The female aspect expresses the five kinds of wisdom of a Buddha to different degrees, namely the mirror-like wisdom, the wisdom of equality, the discriminating wisdom, the all-accomplishing wisdom and the Dharmadhatu wisdom. The male side , on the other hand, expresses varying combination’s of the four Buddha-activities: pacifying, increasing, fascinating and the powerfully protecting activity.
In the Tantras of immediate experience, women and men are essentially space and joy. Space and joy are regarded as inseparable. This is why the highest levels of buddhist tantra are represented by unified Buddha forms. Our goal is the perfection of all inner and secret possibilities of the mind. Therefore, women and men should use their relationship to learn from each other. Then, women will soon accomplish also the male qualities like joy and energy, and among men, intuitive wisdom and much space will develop.
What is Meditation?
Meditation turns accepted information into experience. On the first level, its purpose is to calm mind and keep it in one place. It creates space between the experiencer and his experiences, permitting the wise to choose roles in the comedies of life and avoid its tragedies. This protective distance is most frequently achieved through awareness of one’s breath or the concentration onto a Buddha form, a meditation called ‘Shamatha’ in Sanskrit and ‘Shine’ in Tibetan. Whoever can hold this state of mind in the lab situation of one’s meditation, will gradually accomplish the same in daily life. This is a first step in one’s development and a necessary foundation for both penetrating insight and more elaborate practices.
The second level of meditation is called ‘Vipassana’ in Sanskrit and ‘Lhaktong’ in Tibetan.
Here, the meditation is formless and aims at the nature of the mind itself. By being aware without an object to be aware of, insight and understanding arise spontaneously.
So meditation is the concentrating of the mind onto something and the clarity which arises from this.
Is meditation good for everybody?
Diamond Way meditations are for people who aim at enlightenment. If someone only wants to relax, other means are better suited for this purpose.
Generally, meditation is for people who have enough positive impressions in their store consciousness, enough insight and joy, so that they can stand to meet with their own subconsciousness. For psychotic people e.g. it can be dangerous to meditate, since they tend to take their feelings and inner conditions for too real and may experience many inconvenient projections. In this case, saying Mantras and trying to act in a positive way is better than to start with concentrative meditation too early. Only when one feels good without taking pills and is able to work, live on one’s own and maintain relationships, it is time to start meditating.
Then, there are meditations which shouldn’t be practiced without the so called Buddhist Refuge. It gives protection and creates a connection to the own Buddha nature, a connection to the teachings, to friends which are on the same way and to the Lama who gives the Refuge.
Moreover, meditation can only bring positive results to people who have the right foundations for the kind of meditation they practice. If difficult meditations are tried too early and outside of the well-tested gradual system, it may result in a so called »white wall« state: One feels calm but rather sleepy. This state can reduce intelligence and energy.
What we strive for is an awareness as sharp and clear as a diamond.
How to calm a busy mind during meditation?
Treat impractical or disturbing thoughts like a thief in an empty house. Give him nothing, let him look here and there, but not find anything. If you have a busy mind and do not attach to the thoughts which come up, there can be no harm. Don’t give your thoughts any energy and you will not be bothered by them.