Sunday, September 23, 2012

Exploring Buddhism - Pt 1


I was sitting around in my apartment today thinking about how I haven't updated my blog in about 2 months and felt guilty about it, especially since one of my coworkers called me out on it on Friday. He was right too, I've been super lazy regarding this blog.  So, inspired the 6 (7?) fat and happy little buddhas that I've used to decorate my bathroom, I've decided today to look up some information regarding something that's always interested me a little bit: Buddhism.

Buddhism is interesting in many ways, one of which regards its nature as a philosophy as opposed to the religion that people tend to think that it is.  This philosophy stems from the alleged teachings and life of Siddhartha Gautama.  This installment will delve into a bit of the history of Gautama, courtesy of our good friends Wikipedia and Google.  Mind you, I'm trying to keep this history portion relatively short:

Siddhartha Gautama was born into ancient Indian royalty and lived the life of a prince in his early years.  When he was born, it was predicted that he would become a great king or a great sage.  His father, King Shuddodana, hoping for his son to become a great king, shielded Siddhartha from anything that might result in him taking up the religious life.  Thus, Siddhartha was isolated in various palaces during his early life [I take it they were quite wealthy], sheltered from experiencing those of old age, disease, death, or the religious (then Hindu) path.  As he grew older, he became increasingly curious of life outside of the palace walls. Eventually, he demanded that he be permitted to venture beyond them.

Still hoping to keep his son from realizing the truth of suffering and decay, the king arranged it so that Siddhartha would be introduced to the world via a parade, demanding that only the young and healthy appear.  However, two old men happened to wander into view on his parade route.  Amazed and confused at their appearance, he followed them to find out what their deal was.  In doing so, he came across people riddled with illness.  Finally he came across a funeral and for the first time in his life saw death.  Asking one of his staff for assistance in understanding these things, he learned that many people get sick, and all grow old and die.  Apparently he was REALLY sheltered.

At the age of 29 he denounced wealth and luxury as the path to happiness, and sought to explore other methods for attaining it.  He left his palace, gave away his personal possessions, cut his hair, abandoned his wife and child, and set on his way.  He began to practice the austerities and self-mortifications practiced by a group of Hindu ascetics.  They tried to find Enlightenment through the self-deprivation of worldly goods, including food beyond what was absolutely necessary (some say a single grain of rice per day).  He eventually took it so far that he brought himself near a state of death, without feeling any closer to Enlightenment.

Realizing that these extreme practices would not get him toward Enlightenment and the understanding, and ending, of suffering, he accepted food from a peasant girl that happened to be passing by.  He then decided to devote himself to the Middle Way: a path of moderation between the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification.

Following this redirection, Gautama sat under a Bodhi tree, where he vowed to never arise until he had achieved enlightenment [ed– How is this a middle ground between indulgence and self-mortification exactly?].  He sat there for many days, first in deep concentration to free himself of distraction, then in mindful meditation, opening himself up to the truth of [apparently] the Universe.  It was during this period that he attained Enlightenment.

The accounts of this flash of personal insight are a bit...scattered and conflicting.  Some accounts claim that he sat there for a mere night and in the morning attained enlightenment.  Others claim that the timescale for meditation was 49 days and 49 nights.  Others still claim that it was some non-specific amount of time [if I ever used "many days" in a paper it'd never be published].  Then of course there's the claims of encounters with some "evil one" named Mara, who tried to tempt Siddhartha to quit with the pleasures of the world, and then the fears of the world, and finally fears of the supernatural.

Regardless, he arose from the tree as the historical Buddha, with knowledge of the truth of the suffering of the world, as well as the way in which one can escape the endless cycle of birth, life (suffering), death, and rebirth known as samsara.  He realized the Four Noble Truths, the Noble Eightfold Path, The Four Immeasurables, and the Middle Way, amongst others.  He spent the rest of his life spreading his teachings to wherever he journeyed.  Here's an introduction to those bits that I just mentioned (to be explored later if I don't drop off the face of the Earth again).  Forgive me for omitting accent marks.  I don't feel like putting them in:

The Four Noble Truths

  • The truth of dukkha (birth, suffering, illness, aging, death)
  • The truth of the origin of dukkha: craving of worldly desires
  • The truth of the cessation of dukkha: giving up craving these desires (simple right?)
  • The truth of the Eightfold Path as the way to the cessation of dukkha

The Noble Eightfold Path
Prajna - The wisdom that purifies the mind, allowing it to attain spiritual insight into the nature of all things

  • The right view (ditthi): viewing reality as it is, not just as it appears to be.
  • The right intention (sankappa): intention of renunciation, freedom, and harmlessness.

Sila - The ethics or morality, or abstention from unwholesome deeds

  • The right speech (vaca): speaking in a truthful and non-hurtful way
  • The right action (kammanta): acting in a non-harmful way
  • The right livelihood (ajiva): a non-harmful livelihood

Samadhi - The mental discipline required to develop mastery over one's own mind.  This is done through the practice of various contemplative and meditative practices

  • The right effort (vayama): making an effort to improve
  • The right mindfulness (sati): awareness to see things for what they are with clear consciousness (how is this different from #1?)
  • The right concentration (samadhi): correct meditation or concentration
The Four Immeasurables
In short: love, compassion, joy, and equanimity.  In longer, prayer form:

  • May all sentient beings have happiness and its causes [love]
  • May all sentient beings be free of suffering and its causes [compassion?]
  • May all sentient beings never be separated from bliss without suffering [joy]
  • May all sentient beings be in equanimity, free of bias, attachment, and anger [it's right there]

The Middle Way
As previously mentioned, the path between the extremes self-indulgence and austerity, though if you ask me, it seems to be skewed more toward the austere.

More on this topic later (hence the Pt 1 up top).

Some refs outside Wikipedia:
http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/siddhartha.html
http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/5minbud.htm
http://online.sfsu.edu/rone/Buddhism/footsteps.htm
http://www.ascensiongateway.com/quotes/buddha/biography.htm
http://www.letusreason.org/buddh2.htm



I should of course mention as always that this is not a definitive source of information.  Whatever you see above here does not reflect on Buddhism.  This is the hurried compilation of bits of information found scattered about the first few pages of Google searches such as "Buddhism", "Siddhartha Gautama Biography", and such.  Seriously, I am no philosophical scholar.  Don't take anything that I say as any sort of golden truth.  My view of right and wrong flickers like a flame in the wind.

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