Basic buddhism

Buddhism as philosophy, science of the mind ...

Nacimiento de Buda. Stupa Shanti en Leh (India)
Representation of birth of Sakyamuni Buddha in the Shanti Stupa in Leh (India)

Depending on which aspects are emphasized,  Buddhism can be considered a philosophy of life, a spiritual tradition or a religion. When stripped of its cultural and mythological elements in any of its variants, a practical philosophy useful for people and  society remains.  Some consider Buddhism a science of the mind.

Nowadays many self-help methods and therapies use practices and ideas taken from Buddhism.  Many people find that Buddhist thought and practices improve their life without having to join any creed or institution.  It is an open philosophy and offers what is most suitable for everyone.

Faith is not necessary, the path is travelled with personal effort.  It is about cultivating the mind.  Everyone has the possibility of achieving their full potential, a fully serene and woken mind.  Through Buddhist thought it is possible to recognize this possibility and develop it.

The Four Noble Truths

The Four Noble Truths explain the diagnosis of the existential problem of  human beings together with the solution proposed by Buddha.

After leaving the fantastic life of the palace and realizing the dissatisfaction of ordinary existence,  Sakyamuni Buddha spent a few years as a wandering ascetic.  After deep reflection he came to the conclusion that true peace (nirvana) is achieved through the middle way, and then enacted the Four Noble Truths.  Like a good doctor, he made the diagnosis and formulated the cure.  Its simple principles suit anyone.  The Buddha said: “Just as the footprints of all animals fit within the footprint of an elephant, all improvement teachings fit within the four noble truths.”

  • The truth of the existence of dissatisfaction.  Deep down, no matter how much we try to avoid it, we always find we are somehow suffering or dissatisfied, or that something is always missing.
  • The truth of the cause of dissatisfaction.  The origin of dissatisfaction is the instinctive inclination to want for and the attachment to things we like, and the aversion to and escape from that which threatens us.  The ultimate cause is not understanding reality or the workings of the mind, that is, ignorance.
  • The truth of the cessation of dissatisfaction.  Suffering ceases when the cause ceases, that is, through the  elimination of ignorance, changing the way we think and recognizing that the solution is not simply external to us but also within ourselves.
  • The truth of the path of liberation.  The way to overcome dissatisfaction and suffering is the Noble Eightfold Path.

 The Noble Path follows the natural law of cause-effect: the cause produces suffering, and the path, which now becomes cause, produces cessation.

The Noble Eightfold Path

All the Buddha’s teaching, which he spread and practiced for 45 years, includes in one way or another elements of this path, which he practiced and explained differently to different people, according to their needs and abilities.  Although it makes sense to follow it in the traditional order, in practice its components are practiced simultaneously, since they are interrelated and the cultivation of one helps that of the other.

 The journey requires internal emotional and intellectual work.  And this is achieved by transforming the mind (the three systems of the now classic triune brain: primitive or instinctive, limbic or emotional and superior or rational), changing the conventional and conditioned way of thinking, recognizing that with this internal transformation we impact the  external transformation towards a more just and harmonious society.

Mahabodhi Temple in Bodhgaya (India), place of Buddha´s Awakening

 Its eight components are traditionally grouped into three parts:

  • Ethical behavior.  The basis for a fruitful life free of mental disturbances is to  not  harm others, or ourselves.  What’s more, it focuses on benefiting other beings.  The foundation is universal love and compassion for all beings.  It includes: correct speech, correct action and a correct way of life.

  • Calm and serenity.  It is mental discipline to curb instinctive and conditioned reactivity and to be able to see things clearly.  To achieve this, it is necessary to cultivate the capacity for concentration or meditative absorption.  It includes correct effort, correct mindfulness and correct concentration.

  • Wisdom.  It is awakening, the antidote to ignorance, which is the root cause of suffering.  It is about understanding what is reality, and what is the mind and its mode of operation.  By changing our thoughts, we change our behavior and influence society.  The maxim of universal wisdom is: Man is what he thinks. He builds his own reality.  Suffering and joy are ,deep down, mental states which we project.  It includes: correct thought and correct understanding.

The four characteristics or seals of existence

 It is what characterizes the world we live in:

  •  Impermanence or transience: everything is conditioned and changes over time
  •  Suffering or dissatisfaction: everything in the conventional world produces suffering deep down
  •  Insubstantiality or emptiness: all things, including the self, lack or are empty of intrinsic independent nature – they are interdependent
  •  Possibility of authentic happiness or liberation from dissatisfaction: it is possible to achieve true peace

The four sublime states

Sarnath (India), place of Buddha´s first teachings

In the different branches of Buddhism, as in other spiritual traditions, universal love is emphasized, as well as dignity and the equality of people.  The so-called four sublime states of mind are cultivated:

  •  Loving kindness (metta).  It is unconditional love to all beings.
  •  Compassion for the suffering of others (karuna).  It is feeling with the other.  It should not be confused with pity.
  •  Sympathetic joy (mudita).  It is the authentic positive feeling, without hypocrisy, healthy envy.
  •  Equanimity (upekkha).  It is to contemplate things without attachment and with perspective in order to act from wisdom and compassion. It is also impartiality in loving kindness, compassion and sympathetic joy.

The three jewels or shelters

A person takes shelter to protect himself.  One can say that he is a Buddhist the moment he feels like one, as there are no initiation rites, but traditionally a Buddhist can take refuge in the three jewels:

  •  Buddha.  It can be Sakyamuni Buddha, a model for the path of awakening, but also all those who have achieved liberation, and the Buddha that we carry within, the buddha nature.
  •  Dharma.  They are the teachings of Buddha that guide our way, embodied in the different canons of the different traditions.  And in the broadest sense it can be said that any teaching that makes us better is dharma, as Sakyamuni Buddha stated when he was questioned by his disciples before he died.
  •  Shanga.  It can be interpreted starting from the community of monks, the purest practitioners, to the community of walkers or supporters of Buddhism, as the group of spiritual seekers who seek to improve, help and be helped.  Deep down, all people want to improve.

Compassion and wisdom

Inherently on the Buddhist path a person develops two great qualities: compassion and wisdom.  Compassion represents love, benevolence, kindness, tolerance, solidarity and altruism, that is, the qualities of the heart or the emotions.  It is the basis of all religions and humanism in general.

Wisdom represents discernment, deep understanding, reasoning, self-examination, diligence and self-control, that is, the qualities of the mind or of an intellectual nature.  It is the basis of all traditions of practical philosophy of life both in the East and in the West.

 Experience shows that the optimum is a balanced development of compassion and wisdom, since too much compassion and too little wisdom leads to idiotic goodness and dependency.  And too much wisdom and too little compassion leads to coldness and alienation.  Buddhism provides powerful tools for deeply developing both compassion and wisdom.

Shanti Stupa in Leh (India)

The three attributes of Buddha as ideals of life

The three great attributes of Buddha are: wisdom, compassion and energy.  Each of these universal values ​​are represented in this tradition by an archetype or boddhisattva.

  • Wisdom, which is represented in the iconography as Manjushri, who is holding a book and a sword to cut out ignorance and attachment.

  • Compassion, which is represented by Avalokiteshvara (Chenrezig, Tara), who is sometimes  shown as having many heads, to see, and many arms, to help.

  •  Energy, represented by Vajrapani, holding a sceptre or lightning bolt and with a face showing decision and firmness.

 Compassion.  It is feeling and sharing the suffering of other beings as if it were your own, and mobilizing yourself to reduce it.  It includes non-violence, kindness, attention, help … It can be a mere aspiration, or include a commitment to action, embracing those who are different and far away, or something profound inherent to your existence (absolute bodhicitta), when there is no feeling of separation between “I” and the “other”, and the habitual blind attachment is meaningless.  More…

 Wisdom.  It is understanding reality as it is, with its essential characteristics of impermanence, insubstantiality, generator of suffering and with the possibility of supreme peace.  It is waking up from the dream or coming out of ignorance, the apparent world of separation.  It also includes understanding ourselves as part of that reality, knowing what our mind is and how it operates.  It is not believing in what we are told, but understanding for our own means, and submitting the facts and information that are given to us for investigation and analysis. More…

Paramitas or perfections are ideals of character or personal traits that serve as a guide for personal cultivation and development on the path of liberation, implicitly including compassion and wisdom.  They are: generosity, ethical behavior, patience, diligence or enthusiasm, concentration and wisdom.  More…