Category Archives: buddhism

This category is about everything Buddha and Buddhism, which teaches that:
1) everything is marked by impermanence, to believe in any permanence is to suffer, and the the ultimate cause of suffering is the rejection of the non-permanent self.
2) Enlightenment (contentment) can be found through the understanding of the true nature of existence (trilaksana) as stated here, and by living in accordance to such an understanding.

Life as a lay practitioner in a Zen Temple

In 1990, I entered Bukkokuji, a Zen temple in Obama City, Japan. This temple was in the heartland of Soto Zen Buddhism which had been introduced from China 1,200 years ago.

Like many temples it was at the foot of a mountain hidden among residential houses. It is then run by Harada Tangen Roshi (roshi: teacher), a Zen priest, and 20 training monks, half of which are Japanese and half foreigners.

Like most Zen temples it has a main gate, main hall, meditation hall and some support buildings.

Temples are quiet places, and in general supported by the local community. Traditionally, to enter a temple as a training monk one is to make enquiry at the gate and ask for acceptance. The routine is to reject the trainee. This usually lasts for three to four days. During the night he is given isolated lodging in an unused part of the temple, after which he continues to ask for acceptance the next day. Because Bukkokuji accepts foreigners and pay trainees no such hard routine is necessary. An introduction and phone call is all that was necessary.

People lodge together in large traditional tatami (grass mat) rooms. Each person has a space no larger perhaps than a single bed. All belongings are kept next to the bed.

From spring to autumn the daily routine starts at 5:20am. A monk runs around the temple ringing a loud bell. We wash and prepare for a short run and stretching. After stretching we meditate (zazen). Each meditation session is about 40 minutes long. After meditation we do morning recitations. And then breakfast is served. By breakfast it is after 7am.

During the serving of breakfast recitations continue. The typical breakfast (and other meals) consists of rice, soup, beans vegetables and pickled vegetables. Each person is given a personal set of three bowls, chopsticks and a cloth to wrap and store them, to use in the course of their stay at the temple. All meals are eaten in silence. Seconds are allowed.

After all members finish eating we wash our bowls. One-quarter of a cup of hot water is all we use. With a pickle we save from the meal as a sponge we wash all bowls and chopsticks. The hot water, now a kind of broth, can either be drunk or put into a bucket to be later given to vegetation outside.

Before we start work (samu) in the morning we have a short rest or do personal chores like brushing terry or washing clothes. Work in general is to maintain the temple. It could be anything from cleaning, working in the field, to clear out the septic tanks for use as fertiliser. We have a rest then before lunch. After lunch we do more work. And then we have tea where the Roshi-sama (as the master is called by his students) will join us give a talk to encourage us in our goal of enlightenment.

Once in a while Roshi-sama will hold give private guidance (dokusan) to the trainees.

And then before dinner we have evening recitations. After dinner we rest before three sessions of meditation. By the end of mediation it is 9pm. All light go out and all sleep.

This routine is for four days. On the fifth day bath is prepared and generally no work is done but meditation continues. On the 21st of each month a public lecture (teisho) is given by Roshi-sama. Intermittently, monks go out to beg for alms (takuhatsu). This is done as spiritual training as well.

In December, for eight days until the 8th (Buddha’s Enlightenment Day) a special session of meditation (sesshin) is done. Apart from some general cleaning most of the time is spent meditating. Sleep is limited to 3 to 4 hours. And private guidance is given regularly.

The Life of The Buddha

The founder of Buddhism was a historical figure from two-and-a-half millennia ago. Siddhartha Gautama, which is his birth name, was born a prince of the Sakya Clan. He was born in Lumbini, a forest, while his mother, Maya, was returning to her family. With no more reason to continue the journey she returned to Kapilavastu, the capital of the Sakya Kingdom.

All the soothsayers predicted that Siddhartha would either become a great king or a great leader of the world, except one. This lone soothsayer predicted that he would definitely become a great leader of the world. Worried, Siddhartha’s father, Suddhodana, wanted to make sure his son would succeed him as king by sheltering him from ugliness of the world. The king was able to shelter his son until he was 29. Siddhartha was about to marry and to have a son. Finally given some freedom he saw the outside world – reality – for the first time. What is saw was sickness, old age and death, the truth of existence his father had wanted to conceal from him. Siddhartha also saw an ascetic who was radiant with happiness and contentment. Siddhartha wondered how this could be.

Around the time of his son’s birth he had decided to find the truth and happiness which does not rely on the things of the world. He left his palace and comfortable lifestyle to seek and follow the best teacher of the day. Siddhartha, now called Sakyamuni (The Sage of the Sakya Clan), mastered two of the leading ascetics’ teachings in a short time. And was offered successorship, both of which he declined. He left them behind and continued to seek enlightenment on his own. Following a routine of extreme asceticism he slowly wore his body down to the point of dying. Concluding that he may well find enlightenment at the point of death he also realised this would mean nothing if no one can know and find the truth. Siddhartha decided that both decadence and asceticism were unrealistic ways to the goal, and that the only way is one which is neither self-indulgent nor self-deprivating. This is The Middle Way of Buddhism.

At age 35, with his health restored and with full concentration of mind and body he became enlightened, and he, now called The Buddha (The Enlightened One), taught the way to enlightenment to others for the next forty-five years until his death at age 80.

Death

Death is both hideous and wonderful.

It is hideous in that those left behind grieve of their loss. Their love is what brings pain. And we can do nothing but love.

It is wonderful in that it unselfishly gives way to new life. The world is a finite space. We must all eventually stand up and give our seats to others more needy of it.

So death should be a brief moment of sadness and a lifetime of joy. It should not consume you, the one remaining. It should give you the will to continue to do your best, to not waste even a single beat of the precious drum commonly known as The Heart.

The Buddha was an atheist

Life is suffering. Suffering is caused by our desires (thirst). To over suffering is to cut your desires. This (these eight ways) is the how you can cut your desires. The eight ways are to have right understanding, thought, action, speech, livelihood, effort, mindfulness and concentration.

The above is what the Buddha taught soon after his enlightenment, his realisation of the nature of existence. Notice how there is no mention of a deity or deities, or worship of a deity or deities, but that everything depends on your practice and way of life, minus the gods. Buddhism explicitly rejected the gods of his time and place, those of the Vedic tradition, the belief systems and practices that were to become Hinduism later on.

What the Buddha taught was not entirely unique. Jainism also rejected the belief in a deity or deities. However, Jainism believed in a soul, something Buddha rejected. Here, Buddhism is unique, in rejecting both the existence of gods and the soul. One must be very careful in understanding that what the Buddha taught and Buddhism are different things. Buddhism takes on its own life and comes in many different “flavours”. Thus the study of the many traditions but looking at the underlying principles will reveal how the different strands of Buddhism have diverged from what he actually taught. Do the math and you will see whatever remains must be close to what the Buddha taught.

Sramana

To understand the conditions of The Buddha’s time is an important aspect of understanding his thinking. Key to this is the tradition of sramana, the wondering of ascetics which do not follow the “orthodox” Vedic or Brahmanic tradition. It is interesting that persecution of unorthodox traditions seem to be minimal in the culture at that time. Even when persecution occurred it seemed to be at the hands of non-Vedic non-local traditions like Islam, for example the destruction of Nalanda in the beginning of the 12th century.

What links Sramanic traditions is the rejection of the authority of the Vedas, and also the rejection of god or gods. There is a mix of acceptance and rejection of the soul among these unorthodox traditions.

Can you sell your soul to the Devil?

As a Buddhist I am taught to not believe in the existence of a soul. So if I sell my soul to the Devil I am in effect deceiving not only the Devil but myself as well. And not only am I deceiving myself about I having a soul but that there is even a devil to sell my soul to in the first place.

And I haven’t even come to the question of whether there is exist any meaningful value of things yet, let alone a price for my soul.

 

Reincarnation in Buddhism

Reincarnation or rebirth, contrary to popular Western belief, is a negative term in Buddhism. The goal of Buddhism is to end reincarnation, not perpetuate it. 

How this misconception arose is various. It could have been from a generalisation from another Eastern religion – Hinduism – in which it sees rebirth as a positive term, where being reborn means to improve to higher states of being until Oneness with God, or moksha. In contrast Buddhism does not aim for oneness but “release”. 

To be “reborn” in English also seems to suggest to return anew. This image can be seen in the term “Born-Again Christian”. Whereas no such concept exists at all in Buddhism.