1.2  The Heart of Buddhism

The Great question is: Who or what is right now and what is really there? The great mystery? Can it be called God? Buddhism hesitates however to put any name to it. It is something which cannot be grasped by intellect or described in words.

Who is "I"? Does it amount to anything more than a collection of thoughts and memories which are just transitory and insubstantial, that come and go in the mind like clouds?

The mystery can only be seen and realised directly: but that seeing brings something truly miraculous: a total transformation. At the same time a deep compassion also crystallises: a pure, selfless kindliness and caring born of an understanding of the unity of all beings.

In essence, Buddhism is quite simple: but simple things are often difficult to realise, so people need all forms of aids and supports: a vast superstructure has grown around Buddha's teaching, mountains of philosophical speculation, a vast voluminous literature, monastic codes and ethical systems.

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Thikse-Gompa, Ladakh 
Photo: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

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The Buddha of the Future, Meitreya, Thikse-Gompa 
Photo: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

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Gompa Service, Thikse Gompa, Ladakh 
Photo: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

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Buddhist Monks during a Gompa Service, Tengpoche, Mani Rimdu 1984 
Photo: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

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The Rimpoche of the Hemis Gompa, Ladakh, during a Gompa Service at the Cham Performance, 1999 
Photo: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

 

1.3  The History of Buddhism: The Indian Background

Buddhism is a child of India: a uniquely spriritual country. Fundamental to the Indian religious outlook is a basic liberalism that comes from an understanding that there are many paths by which the great mystery of Ultimate Reality may be approached.

The Aryan invaders approx. 1500 BC superimposed older cultures (Indus Valley Culture) and transformed it: Vedic Age: 1500-500 BC with literacy compositions like Rig Veda, (1028 poetic hymns); the Yâjur Veda (sacrificial formulae); Sama Veda (liturgical) and Atharva Veda (book of spells). At the centre was the ritual of sacrifice, controlled by the Brahmin priesthood: Ashavameda (horse sacrifice) and the cast system into four casts: brâhmana, kshatriya (warriors and aristocrats), vaishya (professionals) and shűdra (cultivators) with a sub-caste: the Untouchables. Universal law is the law of Dharma (personal rebirth as function of dharma).

The spiritual health and richness of India owe rather less to Brahminism than to the old traditions of Pre-Aryan religions: ascetic traditions, carried over mainly by kshatriyas. They exercised forms of meditiation and other mystical disciplines, including yoga: ascetics were able to gain direct knowledge of exalted spiritual states (Skt. (Sanscrit): dhyânas), some came to know Brahman, the Ultimate Reality: One and all-pervading, but formless, a great mystery (Neti, neti: not this, not this!). Brahman is also known as Âtman. These ideas are cristallised between 800 and 400 BC in the +/- 200 Upanishads.

Brahmins begin to propound the Four Stages of Life: Student - Householder - Retired - Looses bonds to world and if he/she was able to discharge all dharmic debts he/she can find the religious truth and becomes a Sanyâssin.

Subsequently the Brahmin religion underwent a cycle of formalism, even corruption with a personalised Brahman face who also was called Âtman. It was part of Buddha's doctrine to point out these debasements from the once noble teachings of the Upanishads.

By the 4th Century BC five main religious streams existed in India:

  1. Âjîvakas (ascetics): root teacher: Makkali Gosala;
  2. Lokayatas (materialists): Ajita Keshakambalin: comtemporary of Buddha: death is end: look for maximum pleasure;
  3. Sceptics: Brahmin ideas are contradictory and the truth is unattainable;
  4. Jains: founded by Mahâvira: based on painful cycles of rebirths: Moksha (liberation) can only be achieved by withdrawing to a high, rarefied spiritual state: also based on Ahimsâ (harmlessnes): not to do harm to any living entity.
  5. The teachings by Siddhârtha Gautama, later called the Buddha.

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The Historic  Buddha "Gautama" in the Kumbum Tschörte in Gyantse, Tibet
Photo: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

 

1.4  The Historic Buddha: The Early Years

Siddhârha Gautama (clan name) was born 563 in Lumbini of kshatriya stock: Father: Suddhodana (king of the Shakyas: capital: Kapilavatthu), mother: Mahâmâyâ. Siddhârtha married Yasodharâ with one born child (son Râhula).

Four contact trips with outside world (driven by his groom, Channa) prompt Siddhârtha to find the ultimate truth. He leaves his former princely life the night his son is born. He finds the fact that life means suffering and that he has to find a solution to this. He meets the first Sadhu (fourth trip). He - not being a Brahmin but a follower of the alternative shramana tradition - awakes Siddhârtha's dormant spirituality.

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Lumbini, at the Border between Nepal and India, Place of Birth of the Historic Siddharta Gautama Buddha
Photo: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

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Buddhistic Temple in Lumbini at the Place of Birth of the Gautama
Photos: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

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Skardu, Access into the Karakoram, in present-day Islamic Pakistan
Photo: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

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The Historic Buddha, 7th Century AD, later Gupta Period, Skardu, Baltistan 
Photo: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

Siddhârtha gives up his luxury life and goes out to find his shramana teachers Alâra Kâlâma and Uddaka Râmaputta. He obtains through knowledge in the attainment of dhyânas. But his spiritual problem is still not solved. He goes now into extreme asceticism. He still didn't find the sought enlightenment.

As a compromise between extreme asceticism and luxury he now tries the Middle Path which succeeds finally at Bodh Gâya. Besides mediating Siddhârtha finds his protagonist Mâra - a kind of Buddhist satan - a tempter, whose role within the scheme is delusion, desire and all those wisdom- inhibiting factors which keep Samsâra, the world of illusion in endless cyclic motion. Siddhârtha went into samâdhi, a state of mediative concentration and further down the path into vipassanâ (insight meditation) and he gained important insight:

  1. He remembered many former existences;
  2. He gained knowledge of the role of karma (Destiny, based on one's own deeds; German: Tatenschicksal);
  3. He gained knowledge of the âsavas, the cancer to enlightenment: sensual desire, desire for existence and ignorance and later a fourth âsava: addiction to views - or even to holding any views at all.

Siddhârtha now finally saw through his "I" and saw it was an illusion, a creation of thought than anything with a more solid foundation. With "I" removed from the centre, there was no subject anymore to see the world in a dualistic (subject-object) manner: world becomes a unity. He could feel the presence of his source in totality. Thus it was the true nature of all things: never been born would mean no suffering and no death, it could be called the "deathless".

He abandoned identification with the illusion of "I" and Siddhârtha became Buddha, The Awakened One.

1.5  The Historic Buddha: The Teaching Career

At Isipatana (Sarnath, near Varanasi) Buddha preached to his first five disciples: the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Middle Way. Kondanna understood and became the first buddhist monk (bhikkhu). Buddha began to turn the Wheel of the Dharma and formed the first Buddhist Sangha. The Buddha was about 35 when he became enlightened and he died with about 80: his whole life as a Buddha was a teaching career. Yasa and Uruvelâ Kassapa as well as Moggallâna and Sâriputta were among his early followers.

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The "enlightened" Rimpoche of the Hemis Gompa, Ladakh, during a Gompa Service at the Occasion of the Cham Ritual, 1999 
Photo: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

Eventually Buddha introduced some monastic order (Pâtimokkha): Buddha-Dharma-Sangha. The first proper monastery was presented by Magadha King Bimbisâra in the capital Râjagaha. Another monastery was established in the capital Sâvatthi of the Kosala kingdom.

Many of Buddha's family like his son Râhula were ordained. His father Suddhodana complained bitterly and persuaded Buddha to ordain children only with the parent's consent. His half mother Mahâpajâpatî became the first Buddhist Bhikkhuni but which is always - on Buddha's orders - inferior to a Bikkhu. His former wife Yasodharâ followed later.

Buddhism and Hinduism are starting to influence each other. Buddha is regarded by Hindus as incarnation of Vishnu and Buddhist Tantra is strongly influenced by Hindu Tantra: Shiva-Shakti.

One of Buddha's most serious enemies was his cousin Devadatta who was, however, not successful.

Buddha's kindness and peacemaking abilities were extra-ordinary.

Buddha died with about 80 years and passed into meditation and reached finally Parinirvâna at Pâvâ and his last words were:

"Impermanent are all created things: Strive on mindfully."

1.6  The Buddhist World View

In Buddhist cosmology, innumerable world-systems similar to our own are thought to float in an infinite empty space, each one founded on a two-layered basis of air and water. Our world system can be divided into three main layers:

  1. Kâmadhâtu - the Realm of Desire;
  2. Rűpadhâtu - the Realm of Form;
  3. Arűpadhâtu - the Realm of No-Form.

Within this three-tier system, there are broadly six "destinations", two "good" and four "bad", into which it is possible to be born:

  1. Gods (devas);
  2. Humans;
  3. Animals;
  4. Titans (asuras);
  5. Hungry ghosts (pretas);
  6. The denizens of the hell realms.

At the core of the world system is Mount Meru from which concentric ranges of golden mountains radiate outwards, separated by oceans. Between the last range and the outer boundary mountains (Chakravâla) there is a great ocean in which four great continents are situated. These are the abodes of humans and the southern continent, Jambudvipa, is India.

In the human sphere there are periods of progress and decay. Life expectancy can vary from 80000 years at the beginning of a new age (kalpa) to 10 years at the eve of nemesis. The most fortunate Kalpa is the Bhadra Kalpa with 1000 Buddhas appearing during this time (320 000 000 years). Every Buddha will rediscover the Dharma. We also live in a Bhadra Kalpa and Buddha Shakyamuni is the Buddha of our time. The Buddha of the previous age was Dipankra and the Buddha of the Future Maitreya.

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Sera Gompa, north of Lhasa in Tibet: The Buddha of the Future: Maitreya
Photo: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

The beings that inhabit this world system are trapped in, they cannot escape, for they are subject to continuous rebirth: on and on and on through beginningless and endless time. The level of being is determined by Karma. This is Samsâra, the endless wheel of life.

But, there is an exit! The exit was re-discovered by Buddha in Bodh Gâya. But, the exit is only possible for the participants in the world of humans. The idea, then is of bringing the whole painful round to a proper conclusion in a Nirvâna that represents the full flowing of the potentials of consciousness and ultimate unalloyed peace.

1.7  The Historic Buddha's Teachings and Practices

Buddhism is not a fundamentalist "religion". The basic aim is to help us to gain direct insight into the truth for ourselves. It is the difference between "I know" and "I believe: that means to take one other's word for something about which you know nothing".

Buddhism is not interested in "Who made the world, what is the meaning of life and what happens to us after death". Its root is that all existence is imperfect and suffering (Dukha). This is the principle of the Four Noble Truths along with the principle of the Middle-Way:

  1. Dukha exists (realistic but not pessimistic recognition of the fact of Dukha);
  2. Dukha has an identifiable cause (the cause is Tanhâ: thirst: lust for possessions, pleasure and lust and a gnawing ache of dissatisfaction: we are always on the move to achieve something: that oils the wheel of the Wheel of the Life);
  3. That cause may be terminated (by two forms of Nirvâna: that which a residual basis like Buddha had reached in Bodh Gâya and that which has no residual basis like Buddha at his death);
  4. The means by which that cause may be terminated (by the Noble Eightfold Path).

The Noble Eightfold Path

  1. Right Understanding: Sammâ ditthi
  2. Right Thought: Sammâ sânkappa
  3. Right Speech: Sammâ vâcâ
  4. Right Action: Sammâ kammanta
  5. Right Livelihood: Sammâ âjîva
  6. Right Effort: Sammâ vâyâma
  7. Right Mindfulness: Sammâ sati
  8. Right Concentration: Sâmma samâdhi.

The Path can be further subdivided into three main elements: Wisdom (Prajnâ), Morality (Sila) and Meditation (Samâdhi) which are interdependent.

Prajnâ features in Right Understanding (we have to study Buddha's teachings notably that of the Four NobleTruths and have actively penetrated their truth by testing them against experience and we must also have the right motivation) and Right Thought. There is in the final analysis no pay-off for "me" in practising Buddhism. The Buddha's Way is an ever-deepening learning process.

Buddhists are not codified in a rigid moral code, nor are they making judgements and arousing sin or guilt. We should rather live up to basic ethic principles like honesty and keen mindfulness, like Right Speech and Action. Right Action implies (Satipatthâna: German: Vergegenwärtigung durch Achtsamkeit):

  1. Refrain from taking life;
  2. Refrain from taking that which is not given;
  3. Refrain from telling lies;
  4. Refrain from self-intoxication with drink and drugs.

But, according to Buddha it also implies that Sangha should refrain from sexual intercourse. Right Livelihood implies the Indian virtue of Ahimsâ: harmlessness. Right Effort implies not to overdo things but to put in the "right" effort.

Samâdhi implies Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration. In the Buddhist way of meditation, with the right body position, all personal problems and preoccupations have to be laid aside, then specialised techniques are brougth into place. Assistance to Samâdhi are Mandalas by internal visualisation and then disolving again as well as Mahâmudrâ and Dzogchen. Sometimes Rddhis (paranormal powers) can be developed but should not be mistaken forTrue Wisdom or Enlightenment.

 Two elements are identified:

  1. Samatha - tranquility;
  2. Vipassanâ - insight.

In Samatha, concentration is brought to concentrate on a single object: the mind becomes increasingly tranquil. There are said to be eight Dhyânas or absorptions through which the Samatha practioner may progress. Samatha is the first step to prepare for Vipassanâ. Later, as the mind quitens down, attention may be directed in a more systematic way with four foundations:

  1. Bodily activity;
  2. Feelings;
  3. States of mind;
  4. Mental contents.

The three marks of existance are:

  1. Dukkha - unsatisfactoriness;
  2. Anicca - impermanence;
  3. Anattâ - not self.

The third marks of existence - Anattâ - points to the most profound discovery that we can never point to anything in ourselves that is the "Self". Nothing can be "self" because everything is dukkha (Pali) and anicca. For us the "I" is the reference point of the world around us ("Not-I"), a selfish standpoint which leads to a lot of evils. Buddha shows a path beyond "I" to wider horizons. It unlocks the door of individuality and gives freedom - Nirvâna.

The Buddhist Theory of Man amounts to the Five Aggregates (Skt Skandha):

  1. The aggregate of matter: body: consists of four elements: solidicity, fluidity, heat and motion;
  2. The aggregate of feeling or sensation: plesant, unpleasant or neutral;
  3. The aggregate of perception: actually recognises an object;
  4. The aggregate of mental formations;
  5. The aggregate of consciousness.

If all five aggregates come together they form the notion of an "I". When the aggregates break up at death, however, where will "I" be then?

The Sanskrit word Karma means action. Whatever actions have consequences. Karmic actions can cease through recognition. But, these are problems in the Buddhist view: Visuddhimagga asserts: "No doer of the deeds is found/ No-one ever reaps their fruit/ Empty phenomena roll on/ This view alone is right and true ... ".

Closely linked to the notion of Karma is that of rebirth. This should "not" be confused with reincarnation, which is the view that there is a soul or subtle essence imprinted with an enduring personal stamp that transmigrates from one body to another body down through the aeons. Buddhism rejects that view. But, there is a "causal connection" between one life and another. Thus the karmic accumulation will condition a new birth.

As far as death is concerned a person's state of mind in their final moments is important. According to Tibetan Buddhism when a person dies the consciousness-continuum leaves the body and moves to an intermediate "Bardo" state: Tibetan Book of the Dead (Bardo Thödröl).

According to Buddhism all phenomena arise as the result of preceding causes, all phenomena are strictly dependent, conditioned and relative. The doctrine of Paticcasamuppâda (Pali): Dependent Origination generates one complete life cycle (Samsâra):

  1. Ignorance gives rise to
  2. Volitional action which in turn gives rise to
  3. Conditioned consciousness which gives rise to
  4. Name and form which gives rise to
  5. The Six Bases (the five senses and mind) which gives rise to
  6. Sense-impressions which give rise to
  7. Feelings which give rise to
  8. Desire (tanha) which gives rise to
  9. Attachment which gives rise to
  10. . Becoming (the life- or rebirth process)
      which gives rise to
  11. . Birth (or rebirth) which gives rise to
  12. . Old age, death.

This is depicted in the "Wheel of Life" (Bhâvachakra): The Dependent Origination is pictured in twelve segments:

  1. A blind man (Ignorance);
  2. A potter (Action);
  3. A monkey (Conditioned Consciousness);
  4. Three men in a boat (our karmic inheritance carries us through the world);
  5. House with doors and windows (sense doors: sense-data pass through);
  6. Lovers (sense impression);
  7. A man whose eye is pierced by an arrow (we cannot see the truth and continue to stumble on);
  8. A man drinking (desire: insatiable thirst);
  9. A monkey clinging to a fruit tree (attachment);
  10. . A pregnant woman;
  11. . A woman giving birth;
  12. . An old man.

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"Wheel of Life Mandala (Bhâvachakra)" in the Tashi Lumpo Gompa in Shigatse, Tibet 
Photo: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

But, there are wheels within the wheels. Inside the outer frieze and comprising the main body of the Wheel, there are five (sometimes six) sections which show the realms in which rebirth is possible.

Below there are the "lower" realms for hungry ghosts (pretas), the animals and the hell. Above are the realms of gods (devas) , humans and Titans (asuras).

At the centre of the Wheel are the "three poisons", the causes for the spinning of Samsâra:

  1. Pig: representing ignorance;
  2. Snake: representing hatred;
  3. Cock: representing greed.

The way out of the eternally spinning Wheel of Life is Buddha Shakyamuni in the right top corner and shows that the power of ignorance, hatred and greed can be broken by awareness: by seeing what is really going on, rather than being compulsively caught up in the endless continuing shadow-play of it all.

Ther five hindrances to progress on Buddha's Path are:

  1. Sensual desire: kâmacchanda;
  2. Ill will: vyâpâda;
  3. Sloth/Torpor (German: Trägheit): thîna-middh;
  4. Restlessness and worry: uddhacca-kukkacca;
  5. Doubt: vickicchâ.

A further teaching circle around the ten fetter (German: Fußfesseln) that bind people to samsâric existence:

  1. Belief in personality: sakkâya-ditthi;
  2. Doubt: vicikicchâ;
  3. Attachment to rules and rituals: sîlabbata-parâmâsa;
  4. Sensuous craving: kâma-râga;
  5. Ill-will: vyâpâda;
  6. Craving for fine material existence: rűpa-râga;
  7. Craving for formless existence: arűpa-râga;
  8. Conceit: mâna;
  9. Restlessness: uddhacca;
  10. . Ignorance: avijjâ.

If all these obstacles are overcome, one will get a first glimpse of Nirvâna (now called: Sotâpanna). Now there are mostly only seven rebirths before complete Enlightment. At the final stages of the Path undergone one becomes a "once-returner" (sakadâgâmi), then a "never-returner" (anâgâmi) and finally a "worthy-one" (Arahat). Above Arahat there is a fully-fledged Buddha (Sammâ Sambodhi), like Buddha Shakyamuni. A Buddha-in making is a Bodhisattva who remains in the world to help people to free themselves from Samsâra. Later, with the coming of Mahâyâna, the Bodhisattva Ideal becomes generalised.

The ten perfections (paramita) are:

  1. Generosity: dâna;
  2. Morality: sîla;
  3. Renunciation: nekkhamma;
  4. Wisdom: panna (Skt. prajnâ);
  5. Energy: viriya;
  6. Patience: khânti;
  7. Truthfulness: sacca;
  8. Determination: adhittâna;
  9. Loving kindness: mettâ;
  10. Equanimity: upekkhâ.

The Bodhisattva follows, in order to achieve the ideal of Buddhahood, the Brahma Vihâras: the four "sublime states":

  1. Loving kindness: mettâ;
  2. Compassion: karunâ;
  3. Sympathetic joy: muditâ;
  4. Equanimity: upekkhâ.

Lay people (upasaka) prepare themselves through the following of the basic norms (anchaskila) to achieve a higher spiritual stage.

Buddhism teaches us: the world's perils reveil from the fact, that our perceptions of the world are distorted. We seek permanence and security where they are not available; and rather than remain open and unattached, we postulate a fictitiuos reference-point, an "I", and contract around it, where upon heaven and earth are set as under and all manner of disjunctions set in motion. The cure is to watch and understand how these problems arise and then to proceed to try and cure them by means of morality, meditation and wisdom. If successful, we will get to the final truth.

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The Heartland of Buddhism in the high Himalayas: Khumjung in the Khumbu, Nepal 
Photos: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

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Buddhist Monks call for the Morning Prayer: Thame Gompa in the Khumbu: Sherpaland
Photo: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

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Darjeeling in West Bengal in the Year 2000
Photo: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

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Dorjeling Gompa in Darjeeling (Observatory Hill)
Photos: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

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Ghoom or Yogachoeling Gompa south of Darjeeling
Photo: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

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Meitreya or the Buddha of the Future in the Ghoom Gompa
Photo: Copyright: Klaus Dierks

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