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Understanding Buddhism

Buddhism is a philosophy of life expounded by Gautama Buddha ("Buddha" means "enlightened one"), who lived and taught in northern Inda in the 6th Century B.C. The Buddha was not a god and the philosophy of Buddhism does not entail any theistic world-view. The teachings of the Buddha are aimed solely to liberate sentient beings from suffering.

Gautama Buddha taught the four noble truths: that there is suffering, that suffering has a cause, that suffering has an end and that there is a path that leads to the end of suffering (The Noble 8 Fold Path).

He saw that all phenomena in life are impermanent and that our attachment to the idea of substantial and enduring self is an illusion which is the principle cause of suffering.

Anatta is the view that there is no enduring self. All phenomena are conditioned -- have a begining and an end -- so there is nothing to which they can attach. Suffering arises from the illusion that impermanent conditioned states are permanent and can be posessed by a 'self'.

Moreover, there is no self or soul which carries on after death. Instead we are merely a collection of groups of grasping (or khandha) which are in a continual state of flux. Rebirth is possible only because we are driven by our desires and volitions.

Freedom from self liberates the heart from greed hatred and delusion and opens the mind to wisdom and the heart to kindness and compassion.

Wisdom comes from understanding the three characteristics of existence

  • all conditioned phenomena are impermanent
  • all conditioned phenomena are not personal,
  • attachment to desire for impermanent phenomena leads to suffering

"Right Understanding" of the impermanent, non-self nature of phenonmena and that attachment to them leads to suffering brings about "Right Thought", i.e. the aspiration or intention to be liberated from suffering and to understand the truth.

The deepening of wisdom is enhanced when the lifestyle and mind are calmed through the practices of Morality (Sila) and Concentration (Samadhi).

The Four Sublime States (Brahma-vihara) "abidings" for the mind and heart are:

  • Kindness towards all beings--(metta)
  • Compassion towards those who are suffering-- (karuna)
  • Sympathetic Joy towards others--(mudita)
  • Equanimity toward friend and foe--(upekkha)