In order to understand more fully Thich Nhat Hanh’s practice and teaching it is useful to place his approach within a wider Buddhist context, and particularly to consider how his methods and ideas relate to what we know of the Buddha’s practice and teaching. I hope the following brief notes will be helpful.
If you are interested in early Buddhist texts see bottom of page for useful links.
The legends that describe the early life of the Buddha suggest that as a young man he led an extremely privileged and sheltered existence. Prince Gautama (the Buddha’s family name) had seen nothing of poverty and violence, and his parents had even managed to keep illness and death out of his sight. It was only when he left his home that he came face to face with these disturbing aspects of life and he was no doubt perturbed and perplexed by what he confronted. Wherever he looked he noticed how transient everything is, how things arise and pass away; how the seasons come and go; how flowers bloom and wither; he watched clouds changing shape, dropping rain and snow as they reached high mountains; and he noticed how the mountains themselves are eroded by rain and ice.
The young prince realised that nothing is exempt from this process of growth and decay. Everywhere around him he encountered only change and impermanence. There is nothing that keeps its form or structure forever. From the smallest butterfly to the highest mountain, there is nothing that isn’t passing away even as it comes into being. Impermanence or transience (anicca) is the first mark of existence.
If everything changes in this way, he thought, then nothing can have a stable or enduring identity. The core of the tree is subject to change and decay as much as the outer leaves. Eventually even the heart of a mountain is eaten away by the remorseless action of water, ice and wind. Indeed, he could see that one thing becomes another: chicks become birds; caterpillars become moths; frog-spawn turns into tadpoles and then frogs; apple-blossom will one day become an apple. Nothing seems to be exempt from this process of recycling: one thing becoming another, over and over again. Great chains of connection and causality are woven through the universe, in such a way that nothing stands alone and separate. Everything is interwoven with everything else. The fact that nothing exists separate from anything else and therefore, that nothing has an enduring essence or self-existence (anatta) is the second mark of existence.
As the young prince journeyed further from home he began to notice something that surprised and puzzled him. He saw how people lived their lives talking, planning and acting as if things were separate and independent of each other, and he saw how people clung to a desire for permanence and unchanging stability – something his parents had been trying to do during his childhood. It was as if everyone hadn’t noticed the changing interdependence of everything that surrounded them – as if they were living in a dream world of stability and permanence, afraid to wake up to the ceaselessly changing nature of the actual universe.
On top of the natural sense of loss at the death of an aged parent he could see that many people also suffer because they believe, or rather hope and pray, that no-one should die or that no-one should become ill or old. It is as if they set themselves against the first two marks of existence, trying to deny or ignore the way things are. This attachment to a false understanding (avidyā) of how the world is, causes people to become dissatisfied and frustrated, only adding to their suffering. Dreaming and hoping for permanence, and clinging desperately to things, ideas and other people as they change and pass away, only makes us more unhappy, restless and uneasy. This state of dissatisfaction, unhappiness and unease (dukkha) is the third mark of existence.
While the first two marks or conditions can’t be changed, the third can: by changing the way in which we think about, relate to and experience the world. The young Prince vowed to devote himself to finding a way to transform his approach to life and to enable everyone to wake up to the first two marks of existence and to alleviate dissatisfaction and unnecessary suffering. His methods for doing this have been tried and tested over centuries and form the basis of contemporary Buddhist practice throughout the world.
Because of this emphasis on practice it can be argued that Buddhism isn’t primarily a belief system – it is rather a method of enquiry and realisation that gives rise to peace of mind, relief from suffering, compassion for all beings and understanding of the nature of existence. Buddhism is a way of living in harmony with the way things are.
Buddhism is unusual amongst world religions in that it is non-theistic – there is no requirement to believe in a transcendent being, deity, God or gods. The Buddha seems to have been agnostic – leaving open and undecided the question of whether there is a God or not. He was not a dogmatic atheist! It is no surprise that Buddhism is inclusive of all manner of beliefs, and of individuals who practice Buddhism while also belonging to other religious communities.
The Buddha seems to have referred to himself as ‘tathāgata’ – rather than ‘me’ or ‘I’. There are many divergent interpretations of what the term means. One interpretation, which seems very useful, takes account of the word, tathatā, which denotes reality or existence as it actually IS – ‘suchness’ or ‘thusness’. Hence, tathāgata, means ‘one who has arrived at suchness’ or ‘one who knows and sees and lives in harmony with how reality actually IS’.
SKANDHAS (khandas, in Pali) – the Buddhist view of the Self
The five groups of existence
What the Buddha perceived, when he watched carefully his own mental and emotional states, was a stream of ever-changing processes, a stream of moods, wishes, emotions, thoughts and images. He could find no evidence for an unchanging nucleus, soul or ego – only the river of experiences. Thus the term skandhas refers to this shifting stream of processes (or ‘aggregates’ as they are often described).
Usually five kinds of skandha are described: rūpa – the physical world of form/matter; vedanā – the sensations and feelings we experience in response to physical stimuli – which may be pleasant, unpleasant or neutral; samjñā – the process of sorting, classifying and recognising, by which we perceive an apple as an apple or a table as a table or a person as a person; samskāra – the mental formations and forces (desires, impulses and will), and the habits of thought, behaviour and response built up over our lifetime, which drive our actions and mental responses; and, vijñāna – the process of being conscious and having awareness – including self-awareness.
It is where these currents of causality meet that our sense of self arises. We arise as the five skandhas interact – forming and reforming over time. From the Buddhist perspective there is no constant ‘self’ or fixed essence lying somewhere behind, inside, or independent from, the flow of skandhas. Our self is a process, not a ‘thing’. Maybe selfing is how we should describe the unfolding of our being.
If we closely examine our consciousness we notice that we can never pin down the ‘I’ that is having the experience. Whenever we think we have found the ‘I’ we find there is yet another ‘I’ who is doing the finding! It is as if there is no-one behind the counter, no-one standing at the back of the room of consciousness who owns all that happens in the room. Instead there is only a bewildering succession of ‘I’s, or rather a flickering stream of interconnected moments of consciousness, that, like frames in a reel of film give rise to a believable reality when they move at a particular speed and when light is projected through them.
The Buddha speaks to a group of monks:
“The body is not self. If it were, it would not get sick. You could tell your body: ‘be like this’ or ‘don’t be like that.’ But because the body is not self, it does get sick. You cannot tell it: ‘be like this’ or ‘don’t be like that.’
“Feelings are not self. If they were, they would not torment you. You could tell your feelings: ‘be like this’ or ‘don’t be like that.’ But because they are not self, they do torment you. You cannot tell them: ‘be like this’ or ‘don’t be like that.’
“Perceptions are not self. If they were, they would not trouble you. You could tell your perceptions: ‘be like this’ or ‘don’t be like that.’ But because they are not self, they do trouble you. You cannot tell them: ‘be like this’ or ‘don’t be like that.’…..
“What do you think, monks? Are your body, feelings, perceptions, inclinations and consciousness permanent or impermanent?”
“Does what is impermanent give rise to happiness or suffering?”
“Is it right to think of something impermanent and fickle, that gives rise to suffering as: ‘This is mine. I am this. This is my self’?”
(Extract from the Pali Canon – translated by Stephen Batchelor – available on his website)
Our sense of self arises from the interconnected and interwoven stream of moments of consciousness – the particular way in which the skandhas flow together. ‘Myself’, ‘me’ and ‘I’, are simply labels we apply to this particular combination of interdependent processes and causes – terms determined more by linguistic convention than by what actually exists. As such they are useful, and necessary for the purposes of discussion and analysis, but very misleading if we forget that there is no enduring essence or object behind the label. From a Buddhist perspective to be attached to a belief that there IS an independent self behind or underlying experience is to be deluded – to be in a state of ignorance (avidyā) as to how things actually are.
Buddha, speaking to his senior student, Ananda:
“It is by clinging, Ananda, that ‘I am’ occurs, not without clinging. It is by clinging to form, feelings, perceptions, inclinations and consciousness that ‘I am’ occurs, not without clinging.
“Suppose, friend Ananda, a young woman – or a man – youthful and fond of ornaments, examines her own facial image in a mirror or in a bowl filled with pure, clean water. She looks at it with emotional attachment, she clings to what she sees and believes it to be herself. She cannot see the forms for what they are: a transient play of light on the surface of glass or water. So too, it is by clinging to form that ‘I am’ occurs, without clinging there is no ‘I’….” (JD variation of Batchelor trans.)
In the light of the above many Buddhists refer to the self which is denoted with the terms, ‘I’, ‘me’ or ‘ego’, as the empirical self or conventional self.
There is another extract from the Pali canon in which reference is made to the Buddha’s view of the self:
Vacchagotta, asked the Buddha: “How is it, Master Gotama, is there a self?”
The Buddha remained silent.
Vacchagotta: “Then how is it, Master Gotama, is there no self?”
The Buddha again remained silent.
Vacchagotta got up from his seat and went away.
The Buddha turned to his senior student Ananda and said: “If I had answered, ‘there is a self,’ this would have been siding with those who are eternalists … and if I had answered, ‘there is no self,’ that would have been siding with those who are nihilists….” (JD variation of Batchelor trans.)
This approach is typical of the Buddha’s ‘middle way’ between dogmatic extremes or fixed positions.
PRATĪTYASAMUTPĀDA – ‘conditioned arising’, ‘dependent origination’, ‘interbeing’
[Sariputta:] “Now this has been said by Him: ‘One who sees conditioned arising sees the Dhamma; and one who sees the Dhamma, sees conditioned arising.’”
“Let be the past, Udayin, let be the future. I shall teach you the Dhamma: when this exists, that comes to be; with the arising of this, that arises. When this does not exist, that does not come to be; with the cessation of this, that ceases.” (Extracts from the Pali Canon – translated by Stephen Batchelor – available on his website)
Pratītyasamutpāda is a term which has no obvious counterpart in English – hence the awkward translations: dependent-origination, interbeing, dependent co-arising, co-dependence, conditioned-arising, etc. The word, in Sanskrit, comes from: pratītya – ‘meeting, relying, depending’; and, samutpa – ‘arising’. It denotes the way in which everything in the universe is dependent upon everything else. All things exist in the way that they do because everything else exists in the way that it is. Things are as they are, because other things are as they are. Change one entity and all entities are changed – however minutely. Pratītyasamutpāda implies both causality, one thing leading to another, and interdependence or interconnection. A chair is its own history bound up in its present; it is the coming together of all the forces, actions ideas and materials that went into its making and into the making of its materials (wood, metal, fabric, etc). A chair is also a space in everything it is not! The surface of the chair, is also the surface of the air that surrounds it. The chair and the space (and time) around it are dependent on each other – they arise together.
So, there is also the sense that nothing is ever fixed because everything is always subject to change, growth, decay, impermanence; and nothing can be independent or separate from everything else. There are no fixed boundaries between one ‘thing’ and another, indeed, in reality there are no ‘things’ only events, processes, the transient arising and dissolving of forms. The universe is conditional and relational. It is a deeply ecological view of existence as a mutually dependent whole.
And these properties of interdependence, interaction and causality apply equally to the realm of human psychology and culture. We are what we are because everything else is what it is. Any action has an effect that ripples out in all directions. Likewise with any thought or feeling. We are the constantly changing manifestation of all the currents of history (causality) that flow within, through and around us. There is no part of us, or any other being, that isn’t interwoven with everything else. ‘We’ only make sense in relation to our own history and upbringing, and to all the chains of cause and effect that make up who we are – all the people we have interacted with (directly and indirectly), our cultural context, our physical make-up, and so on.
As Thich Nhat Hanh (and others) put it:
“This is, because that is. This is not, because that is not. This ceases to be, because that ceases to be.”
On another level pratītyasamutpāda means something that is, perhaps, more difficult to accept: if we awaken to the present moment, if we accept that reality is as it is NOW – that there is no past or future – then we and the whole universe arise together at every moment. At every moment of consciousness we and the universe are freshly minted!
Zhuang Zhou (or Chuang-tzu – a Daoist teacher): “Heaven and earth were born together with me, the myriad things and I arise as one.”
form is emptiness – emptiness is form
TANHĀ – attachment, clinging, craving
“What, now, is the noble truth of the origin of suffering? It is craving…”
“Sensual craving (kāma-tanhā) is the desire for the enjoyment of the five sense objects.
Craving for existence (bhava-tanhā) is the desire for continued or eternal life, referring in particular to life in those higher worlds called fine-material and immaterial existences. It is also closely connected with the so-called eternity-belief …. i.e., the belief in an absolute, eternal self, persisting independently of our body….” (Extract from: The Word of the Buddha: an outline of the teaching of the Buddha in the words of the Pali canon. Compiled, translated and explained by Nyanatiloka.)
While ‘sensual craving’ is easily understood, ‘craving for existence’ may not be quite so obvious. Bhava-tanhā, the desire that things should persist or endure, also includes ourselves, our status, our beliefs and ideas, and all those things and beings we hold dear. By letting-go of craving we let go of dissatisfaction, disturbance and unnecessary suffering. We are no longer dragged about by compulsive desires and by attachments to past or future. We are mindful – no longer adding commentary or judgments to our experience, and no longer trying to stop the flow of experience or grasping forlornly for what has gone or for what may be coming. Instead, we experience the peace of being HERE, breathing in the present.
Buddha: “Life is but a breath.”
Karma is a term often used in Buddhist circles to denote ideas closely related to pratītyasamutpāda. In this context karma refers to the cycle of birth-death-rebirth, or cause-and-effect, that arise from, and are maintained by, craving or attachment. Liberation (moksha) from the constricting effects of karma is only possible by not adding to the chains of cause and effect. Through mindful meditation and other methods we practice a kind of non-reactive awareness – attending to our experience without clinging, commentary or judgment – and in this way we don’t add fuel to the fires of karma! As Jon Kabat-Zinn argues, when you sit in mindfulness your impulses aren’t translated into action: “looking at them, you quickly see that all impulses in the mind arise and pass away, that they … are not you but just thinking, and that you do not have to be ruled by them. By not feeding or reacting to impulses, you come to understand their nature as thoughts.”
In other words, instead of practicing ‘discriminating awareness’ (vijñāna), fuelled by attachment and reaction, we use our ‘Buddha mind’ to practice ‘non-discriminating awareness’ (prajñā).
DHARMA (dhamma, in Pali)
“Therefore, Ananda, you should live [with one’s] self [as] an island, [one’s] self [as] a refuge, [with] no other refuge, [with] the Dhamma [as] an island, the Dhamma [as] a refuge, [with] no other refuge.* And how does a monk live like this? Here, Ananda, a monk abides contemplating the body as body, earnestly, clearly aware, mindful and having put aside all hankering and fretting for the world, and likewise with regard to feelings, mind and dhamma. And those who now in my time or afterwards live thus, they will become the highest, if they are desirous of learning.” [D. 16. ii 101, p. 245.] (Extract from the Pali Canon – translated by Stephen Batchelor – available on his website)
Dharma, has two primary meanings: firstly, ‘the way things actually are’, the nature of reality as it actually is – the true nature of things. If we don’t understand the true nature of things, we will no doubt live out of step with how things are, and therefore suffer from dissatisfaction, disharmony and conflict (dukkha – suffering); and secondly, ‘dharma’ denotes the methods developed and taught by the Buddha – methods aimed at enabling everyone to live in harmony and accordance with how things actually are. The purpose of the Buddha’s teaching was to correct misunderstanding about the nature of reality and to cure or reduce the suffering caused by such misunderstanding (avidyā). So Dharma is both a description of how the world IS, and a prescription for how to act in harmony with how the world is.
In the above extract from the Pali Canon the Buddha gives a last reminder to his students as to the main elements of his teaching, namely: that our primary source of knowledge and wisdom is our own experience – our primary teacher and resource is this embodied mind we call our ‘self’; through our own experience we have to determine if what we are taught, and what we learn, enables us to live in harmony with how things are in the world; and, that mindful meditation is the key method by which we can observe and realise the nature of existence.
THE FOUR FOUNDATIONS OF MINDFULNESS (Satipatthāna)
The Buddha gives this advice:
“The only way that leads to the attainment of purity, to the overcoming of sorrow and lamentation, to the ending of pain and grief, to the entering upon the right path and the realization of Nirvana, is by the ‘Four Foundations of Mindfulness’.
And which are these Four Foundations?
Herein the disciple dwells in contemplation of the Body, in contemplation of Feeling, in contemplation of the Mind, in contemplation of the Mind-Objects; ardent, clearly comprehending them and mindful, after putting away worldly greed and grief”.
(Extract from: The Word of the Buddha: an outline of the teaching of the Buddha in the words of the Pali canon. Compiled, translated and explained by Nyanatiloka. Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy, Shri Lanka – 14th Edition 1967.)
The Buddha advises his students that the way to minimise suffering is to observe/contemplate how the world IS without commentary, judgment or clinging – realising in oneself the transient nature of existence and through this realisation experiencing peace of mind and deep compassion for oneself and for all beings. This is, according to the Buddha, “the right path”, the Middle Way.
The Buddha emphasises the importance of mindful meditation as a method of enquiry and realisation – a way of observing impermanence in process:
“A monk abides contemplating the body as a body, ardent, fully aware, and mindful, having put away covetousness and grief for the world. He abides contemplating feelings as feelings,… mind as mind,… dharma as dharma.
“And how, monks, does a monk abide contemplating the body as body? Here, a monk, gone to the forest or to the root of a tree or to an empty hut, sits down; having folded his legs crosswise, set his body erect, and established mindfulness in front of him, ever mindful he breathes in, mindful he breathes out. Breathing in long, he understands: ‘I breathe in long’; or breathing out long, he understands: ‘I breathe out long.’
[A student of mine is one] “who acts in full awareness when wearing his robes and carrying his bowl; who acts in full awareness when eating, drinking, consuming and tasting; who acts in full awareness when defecating and urinating; who acts in full awareness when walking, standing, sitting, falling asleep, waking up, talking, and keeping silent….”
“My students, if wanderers of other sects ask you: ‘In what dwelling did the Buddha generally dwell during the [three month] rains?’ – you should answer those wanderers: ‘During the rains residence, friends, the Buddha generally dwelt in mindfulness of breathing.… it is a noble dwelling (ariyavihara)’.” (JD variation of Batchelor trans.)
ŚŪNYATĀ (sometimes, shunyata)
This is a complex term, denoting at least two strands of meaning. Firstly, the idea (and experience) that all phenomena are empty (śūnya) of independent existence, self-existence or enduring substance. Hence, śūnyatā is often translated as ‘emptiness’, which may be misleading. It is closely connected to anatta (see above). Secondly, śūnyatā, is used in the more general spatial sense of an empty space or void within which, or against which, phenomena are perceived. Hence, the importance of ‘empty’ space in classical Chinese and Japanese landscape painting. The first strand of meaning is a key tenet of Buddhism.
BUDDHA NATURE, ORIGINAL NATURE, THE UNCONDITIONED, THE UNBORN
“At Savatthi. ‘Monks, I will teach you the unconditioned and the path leading to the unconditioned.…”
“And what, monks, is the unconditioned? The ending of desire, the ending of hatred, the ending of delusion: this is called the unconditioned.
“And what, monks, is the path leading to the unconditioned? Mindfulness directed to the body: this is called the path leading to the unconditioned…”
“When greed, hatred and delusion have been abandoned [a person] does not experience in his mind suffering and grief. In this way … nirvana is directly visible, immediate, inviting one to come and see … to be personally experienced by the wise.” (Extracts from the Pali Canon – translated by Stephen Batchelor – available on his website)
The term ‘unconditioned’ refers to a state in which there is freedom from suffering and disturbance caused by attachment to an incorrect understanding of the actual nature of existence. In other words, when we live in clear awareness and harmony with the transience and impermanence of all things, we become free of disturbance and suffering, and thus experience peace and tranquillity.
When we fully realise the interdependence of all things we are paradoxically no longer dependent on anything! When we fully realise that all things, including ourselves, have no independent existence, we paradoxically experience a state of peace or enlightenment – we feel less burdened by the weight of our ‘selves’, things, beliefs, past and future. Instead we feel a lightness of being and a deep connectedness with other beings and with all things (accompanied by tranquillity this is nirvana). In this sense we are no longer ‘conditioned’ by our surroundings, because our surroundings are no longer felt to be separate and external. We are inseparable from the flow of all that exists.
The terms Buddha Nature, Buddha Mind, Original Nature and the Unborn are often used in a similar way to the Unconditioned – to denote our impermanent, interdependent, ‘empty’ nature or mind – often contrasted with the ‘ego-self’, the ‘dualistic mind’, the grasping or clinging mind/self, the deluded mind/self.
This is not a pipe – Rene Magritte
“All this was then undifferentiated. It got differentiated by name and form, so that one could say: ‘He is so and so, and has such and such a form.’ Therefore, at present also all beings are differentiated by name and form, so that one can say: ‘He is so and so, and has such and such a form….[But] as the flowing rivers disappear into the sea, losing their name and form, thus a wise man, [is] freed from name and form…’” (Stephen Batchelor, quoting from the Upanishads, some of the earliest Indian writings – available on his website)
All phenomena exist in process, interdependent, impermanent and empty of self-existence. But, in order to talk about, think about and analyse the world we develop a set of conventions in the form of words, numbers and symbols. But these linguistic conventions, by their very nature, are divisive and dualistic – breaking up the world into separate things or objects that are named and categorised in ways that vary from language to language and from one culture to another. In order for languages to work, it seems, the world has to be considered as a collection of separate entities, each with its own fixed nameable essence. We then begin to believe in these conventions, names, words and numbers, as if this is the way reality is. We lose touch with the transient, interwoven and interdependent actual world, in favour of the world of words and numbers. A gap opens up between how the world IS and how we talk and think about it. We experience dissatisfaction, disharmony and suffering (dukkha), because we are out of step with the way the world IS and the way we ARE.
In Indian philosophy there is a term, maya, that is useful in thinking about these matters. Maya, is often translated as ‘illusion’, but the word is derived from the Sanskrit root, matr, ‘to measure, form, build, or lay out a plan’ – from which we get the words metre, matrix, material and matter. So maya denotes the realm of classification, categorisation, division – the realm of language and number. Maya, consists of the naming (nama) of forms (rupa).
KARUNĀ (compassion), METTĀ (loving- kindness), AHIMSA (non-violence)
The three words karunā, mettā and ahimsa have great importance in Buddhism, and can be seen as the basic principles of social life.
Given that the universe is interwoven with networks of cause-and-effect, all beings are interconnected and what is done to one affects all the others. In this way we are all related. There is kinship and fellowship between all beings, from a fly on the wall to a Queen in her palace.
Mettā is a Pali word, derived from, mitta, ‘friend’ – it is most often translated as ‘loving-kindness’, but a more accurate rendition might be ‘true friendliness’. The Buddha says that friendliness (metta) “is the emancipation of mind … friendliness radiates, shines and illumines.” With friendliness we are warmed and we give warmth; we are lit and we light others. In the light of non-clinging friendliness we see others as relatives, treating them with respect, tolerance and warmth.
Karunā, is usually translated as compassion, and our word, ‘compassion’ comes from a Latin root, compati (com- “together” + pati “to suffer”). In other words, we have combined here a sense of ‘fellow-feeling’, of shared suffering, of empathy, and the feeling of care and kindness to those who suffer as we do. Karunā, compassion, grows out of a deep feeling of connectedness, interdependence and shared state of being. Compassion, like friendliness (metta) is grounded in non-attachment, which arises from wisdom (prajna), an understanding of how the world is. Jack Kornfield, a well-known Buddhist teacher and social activist, makes a distinction between a feeling grounded in attachment (“I love this person or this thing. I want to hold it…to keep it”) which grasps and holds and aims to possess for oneself, and feelings grounded in non-attachment which are open, appreciative and unconditional.
Ahimsa is a Sanskrit word meaning, ‘not to cause injury through actions, words or thoughts’; also ‘non-violence’. If all beings (indeed all things) are interdependent and inter-acting, and in constant process, any action, however small, affects all things. Not only are all things interconnected and therefore inseparable in any absolute sense, then there can be no easy distinction between oneself and the universe. We are what we are not; we are the universe; the universe is us. Thus to injure or harm any part of the universe is to harm ourselves.
TRANSIENCE, CLINGING, NON-ATTACHMENT
Back in 2001 Joseph Goldstein wrote an article, entitled, One Dharma, for Tricycle, the Buddhist magazine. Goldstein argued that the Buddha’s teaching could be summed up in these words: “Nothing whatsoever is to be clung to as ‘I’ or ‘mine’.” Why does the Buddha say this? What is so important about not-clinging or letting-go?
It is useful to begin, as so often, with impermanence. Everything in the universe is subject to change, decay, birth and death – therefore to cling to something is to cling in vain, for it will change and dissolve and slip through our fingers. In a sense to grasp and cling in this way is to believe that some things are unchanging. But to cling to an illusion of permanence is to invite dissatisfaction, loss, regret and to perpetuate a cycle of more clinging and desire, and more dissatisfaction. And so we get caught on a treadmill that goes nowhere, a wheel of desire and frustration that only generates more of the same.
Bhavachakra. Wheel of Life. Tibetan Tanka painting
REINCARNATION – and more on KARMA
We have seen how the process of cause and effect (karma) is central to the Buddha’s teaching about the way things are in the world. Whatever we think, feel or do has an effect – rippling out in all directions – interpenetrating with all the other streams of cause and effect that constitute the universe. Karma is not synonymous with ‘fate’. Fate implies some kind of predetermination or predestination – a sequence of events over which we have no control and for which we are, presumably, not responsible. Karma suggests that all actions have consequences, including what we do now. In this way we have the ability to change a sequence of actions or events – we are authors of our own lives, within a context of interflowing causal networks.
MIND – some Buddhist views
Where is the mind? I can’t find it! It is not that there are no thoughts or feelings or perceptions, but I can find no container for these experiences, no vessel into which, or out of which, they pour; or no pipe through which they flow. There is no fixed entity which somehow holds all these phenomena. There is only the fluid process of minding without limits or boundaries. Likewise, with the ‘self’ – we can see that if we try to find the self we see that it has no fixed substance or form – it is as fluid and indefinable as mind.
“[According to the Dalai Lama] The mind is described as constantly changing, like a monkey jumping up and down or a waterfall gushing down the cliff with no single drop of water remaining in the same position for more than a moment. It is also because of this impermanent nature of the mind that there is the very possibility of positive mental transformation…” [from: Mind in the Views of Buddhism and Cognitive Sciences, by Ming Lee – online at: http://journal.uwest.edu/index.php/hljhb/issue/view/8]
Early Buddhist texts – links:
The Pali Canon – Source Texts for Secular Buddhism, compiled by Stephen Batchelor: http://www.stephenbatchelor.org/media/Stephen/PDF/Stephen_Batchelor-Pali_Canon-Website-02-2012.pdf
The Word of the Buddha – extracts from the Pali Canon – a very well respected translation by Nyanatiloka Mahathera (also available as a small book – published by the Buddhist Publication Society: http://www.urbandharma.org/pdf/wordofbuddha.pdf
The Authenticity of the Early Buddhist Texts by Bhikkhu Sujato & Bhikkhu Brahmali, Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies: http://ocbs.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/authenticity.pdf