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There are many beings in this world. We, human beings, are interested in studying: getting to know different types or fields of knowledge and their purposes. It serves its function to become successful in life. It helps our prosperity, our wealth and achieving a certain status in society. So this is why we usually tend to become educated and study different subjects. This has become widely spread in the world.
The other things that we can study and learn are the traditions and so-called religions. There are many types of religions. The common point in all of them is that they teach how to help others, do good things, cultivate virtues, be free from negativity, negative emotions and so on. So this is what is common about all the religions, what they preach, what is being practiced or experienced.
Buddhism is a religion in its definite, pure tradition, but it is slightly different. How is it different? It is different in a sense that it wants us to investigate, even the words of the Buddha, to examine all things, all the phenomena: starting from the phenomena of form to the phenomena of the Omniscience. Buddha wants us to discover what the truth really is.
According to the tradition, there are two types of truths. One is the conventional truth, and the other is the ultimate truth. Conventional truth refers to how things seem to be, how they appear. But this is not the only truth. The actual truth – or the ultimate truth, is which shows how the phenomena really are, its actual nature. So in Buddhism what distinguishes between two types of truths, or the sixteen aspects of four noble truths, is the studying of them, reflection, investigation of the words of the Buddha. After one can give the right to certainty and then, based on this knowledge, one develops strength, faith, and trust in the teachings.
Most religions and spiritual traditions believe in the existence of God, a spiritual main substance, or Creator God for instance and develop faith and trust in him/her. Then place all devotion and faith in an object that can protect them from suffering. In Buddhism, it’s quite different. One does not rely on faith. In fact, one relies on intelligence. Using one’s own intelligence, one investigates the nature of things or phenomena, examines the words of the Buddha and in this way discover certainty, trust, and faith. Buddha is not someone, who can protect us. He said that he can neither protect nor save us.
Another example. Buddha is like a doctor. We are like sick people. What kind of sick people? Sick with negative emotions. What do we have? We think we have everything: house, property, education, this and that. We save, we collect, we have. We feel proud, so at the same time, we feel sort of reluctant to ask for help and protection while we have everything. Whatever we think we have is only temporarily, it’s all borrowed. Everything is borrowed. Even this body is borrowed. What do we have? We have consciousness. But this consciousness itself is polluted. Polluted with negative emotions. Not only is it polluted, but also confused and unreliable. So what we really have is that.
Except for our own consciousness nothing is valuable. Why? Any time we can die, so what we own is only the consciousness itself, polluted and confused. Does that make sense? Do you agree? You’re very smart and lucky.
All of us want to be successful. What is real, genuine success? Whoever wants to have an unpolluted consciousness will reach genuine success. Yes or no? Whatever we think is a success: money or power is like one good dream. Just one long dream. Whatever good dream we have, after we wake up we realize it wasn’t true.
So we are mentally unhealthy because consciousness is full of anger, jealousy, pride, greed. So many types of negative emotions. The mind is confused, we think everything is real when it’s unreal. Everything is permanent when it’s impermanent. We think everything is solid when it’s not. That’s why we’re confused. How to not be confused? This type of education or teaching is described very clearly in Buddha’s Dharma.
The Buddha is liberated. He’s unconfused, unpolluted. We are confused, that’s why we say he’s enlightened.
In Buddhism, there’s Buddha, Dharma, Sangha. Buddha is the true example, who understood the true meaning. He’s a doctor and we are severely sick people. A doctor can not heal sick people. Buddha said he cannot protect, either save us. He can’t wash out our sins, heal our pain. Why did he say that? The meaning is that he doesn’t have the power to do that, but the teaching does. Similarly, we study Buddha and Dharma, we know the teaching in detail, but if we do not apply it, we won’t become enlightened. It’s like a pill which is good for one kind of sickness, but if we don’t take this medicine, the sickness won’t be cured. The same way we need to apply the teachings for it to work.
Buddha is born due to Dharma. Sangha is born through the Dharma as well. Buddha is a skillful talker. His words are medicine, good medicine. Sangha is like a nurse. Without them, doctors can’t do much. The Sangha kept the teachings of Buddha, so it’s alive now. So we might say that through his wisdom and teaching, he’s alive now. If it had gone, then Buddha wouldn’t be alive either.
The first syllable of the word Sangha – San – means to purify, to clear the way. What needs to be purified? Our ignorance, our obliviousness when it comes to the nature of things. We are obscured, ignorant about how things truly are. We are deluded. We believe in self, but there’s no self, we believe in an object. Perceiving in a dualistic way requires a lot of suffering, negative emotions. So this delusion, the dualistic fixation, and ignorance has to be purified. Buddha has fully cleansed it, eliminated it.
The second syllable of Sangha – gha, means to unfold, fully develop, to perfect. What needs to be perfected? The inherent qualities that all of us have already possessed: wisdom. There are two types of wisdom that Buddha has completely perfected: wisdom that knows all possible phenomena and wisdom that knows precisely the nature of things, exactly as they are. We all have it – this kind of potential, a seed of enlightenment. We all have the ability to become Buddha. We all possess qualities. From the beginning, they are within us and never have been separated from us. All human beings without any exception can become Buddha: human beings, animals, even the tiny little insects. Everybody that has consciousness has this extraordinary potential of awakening the Buddha nature.
Nevertheless, even though we possess this priceless power, we are not aware of it, we are ignorant when it comes to realizing it. We don’t understand nor see those qualities of enlightenment, that are already within ourselves, as a wonder. The reason why we are unaware of it is that we are temporarily obscured. There’s a good example to illustrate it: imagine a beggar, who starves from hunger and thirst, but in his shelter, he has a treasure. He’s not aware of it, but when somebody comes and points it out, then all his pain, thirst will be dispelled. So the same works for us. We need somebody to point out the wealth that we have within us, the knowledge of those qualities, the perfect nature. And the one who pointed that out was the Buddha. With his words and teaching – Dharma, he showed the path to enlightenment by pointing out the nature and how to clear out the way of those obscurations. Obscurations are the negative emotions: anger, aversion, desire that we crave so much, attachment to mundane goals. We have lost contact with that nature. So the Buddha shows us the path, but he can’t do the job for us or clear the way for us to make us enlightened. The responsibility lies in our own hands. Nirvana has to be achieved by ourselves. The way to do it is by listening to the teaching, reflecting on the words of Buddha, examining the teaching and then applying it. This way our negativity, obscurations will be cleared and we discover what has always been within ourselves – the perfect Buddha nature.
All the religions agree that any harm, physically or mentally or conflict in a negative way is something that we have to abandon. Every tradition says that hurting verbally or physically is not something that is regarded as good or beneficial. Buddhism agrees with that too. Buddhism also says that we need to abandon ten negativities, we shouldn’t inflict harm upon others with our body, speech, and mind. We need to avoid all negative vocal actions and evasive talks, lying and so forth. We should give up negative, non-virtuous mental states, ignorance etc. In addition to that, we need to get established in positivity and generosity. Train in discipline, diligence, patience, meditation and so on. Buddhism tells us to practice all these virtues and deeds. Training in these is extremely beneficial in decreasing the negativity and obscurations when it comes to body, speech, and mind.
Moreover, just doing prostrations by ourselves, making offerings, confessing our negativity, acknowledging and regretting it are extremely good methods that decrease the number of obscurations. There’s so much of negative karma and imprints we accumulate with time that needs to be eliminated. And this aspect of training in what is beneficial and good is called in Buddhism, a skillful method. This is very important. We need to get better at this.
However, the real goal and purpose is to achieve something, which is fully beyond this world – wisdom. The wisdom that transcends this world, supreme mundane, that can serve between two types of intelligence: mundane and supermundane intelligence. Buddhists need to attain these two types of wisdom: one that knows all types of possible phenomena in its diversity, and the other, the wisdom that knows the nature of all phenomena as it is. The aim is to achieve it completely: wisdom that is fully beyond this world, that is not involved in mundane, dualistic, emotional fixation.
Buddha looked upon us with compassion, care. Nurtured us with it. Let’s take the example of Milarepa. He didn’t have anything to eat, he looked really pitiful. When people came to see him, they felt compassionate, because he looked so weak and miserable. However, in Milarepa’s eyes, they were the ones who looked pitiful. Because he knew people are too attached to things that don’t matter. We crave wealth, attention, respect, something that is fleeting and has no true meaning. We are completely wrapped up in it. This is what we think matters. Why are we so pitiful? We can’t hold onto things that matter so much, instead, we hold on to confusion and delusion, our dualistic fixation and negative emotions. We are constantly overwhelmed and guided by them. We come into this world with a human body. We may study a little bit, have a few good qualities, and already feel so arrogant, thinking we got something quite special. But in fact, we did not. We are so deluded. All that we have is confusion and negative karma. So this is why we, human beings, are so miserable, that’s why we ask Bodhisattvas to look after us. Now our responsibility is to deal with our ignorance. We have to work with our minds. That is the crucial factor. And we need to decrease our negative way of thinking, attitudes, and thoughts. But this is not the main practice. The main focus is to understand the true nature of the mind, understand why we so firmly believe there’s a self, a true person inside. This is called wisdom. The wisdom that realizes the nature of things. But it has to be combined with compassion. Great compassion and wisdom are what decreases our negativity, obscurations, and delusions. All good methods that we mentioned before, are good ways to decrease it, but they can’t fully deal with it. It can only counteract. The unity of great compassion and wisdom is very important. It needs to be unified when we practice the words of the Buddha. With such a combination we will quickly attain peace. The purpose of all the practices is to make our mind more peaceful. It’s the basics. To go to the cause of suffering we need wisdom: to see the nature of things and see that there’s no self.
In Buddhism, we talk about the authentic view. We can’t possess it if there’s any fixation present. If you cling to anything, there’s a conceptual thought. And the conceptual thought is the cause of samsara. When we talk about wisdom that is beyond this world, the supermundane wisdom, we refer to the wisdom that is fully free from fixation, mental constructs, and conceptual activities.
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