Tag Archives: Four Noble Truths

Spiritual materialism

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40 Oz of Bad Karma

The controversial Tibetan Buddhist teacher Chögyam Trungpa called this “spiritual materialism”. In his book, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism he stated that:

“Walking the spiritual path properly is a very subtle process; it is not something to jump into naively. There are numerous sidetracks which lead to a distorted, ego-centered version of spirituality; we can deceive ourselves into thinking we are developing spiritually when instead we are strengthening our egocentricity through spiritual techniques. This fundamental distortion may be referred to as spiritual materialism.”

Now, I have already talked a bit on the relationship between Buddhism and other faiths. It is also well known that the Buddha taught everyone, regardless of caste, race, gender, etc. The Dharma places a higher value on a person’s ethic and virtue rather than what family or caste one was born into. Buddha stated in the Vasala Sutta that, “not by birth is one an outcast; not…

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Buddhist Statues at Art Institute of Chicago

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I live in Chicago and love the Art Institute of Chicago. Today I took my girls and we spent hours just looking at the statues of Buddha. There were so many that we ran out of time to see much else. Below are some of the photo’s I took. If you plan on visiting the Art Institute you should check out their Art Access website first.

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Buddhist Home Shrine

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One day I had a friend over and they saw my statue of Buddha in my home shrine. They told me that they heard Buddhist’s worship “false idols.” I explained to them that unlike other religions Buddhists do not have images of Buddha as a figure of worship but as a mentor and teacher.

When a Buddhist stands before a shrine, the objects he sees on it help him to recall the qualities that are found in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. This inspires him to work towards cultivating these qualities in himself. A shrine makes it easier to develop a habit of contemplative practice as it gives the practitioner a defined place to practice. The shrine also, as in my case, gives visitors a chance to become acquainted with Buddhist practices and the serenity that a shrine can bring.

A simple Buddhist shrine, common to nearly all Buddhist traditions, has a Buddha statue or picture, and perhaps a candle, incense, and flowers. Ideally, Buddhist altars should be facing east as the Buddha was facing east where he saw the morning star, Venus, and experienced enlightenment. But is you do not have the room for an altar you can just put up a picture or even just a simple Buddhist saying on a piece of paper to help center your practice and mind. I suggest the following from section from morning prayers write it down and read it each day.

May the Buddha be at my head, the Dhamma in my heart and the Sangha at my side to protect and guide me always. May all living beings including my enemies find peace.

The following website has some great pictures that you could also print out for your shrine.  Buddhist Images

I wish you the best in your practice.

Update: A friend of mine, Lhamo Rinpoche, sent me a link that had a Dharma talk on “Are Buddhist’s Idol Worshipers?” Well worth the time listening to.

Sections of the Noble Eight Fold Path

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We have been looking at the “Four Noble Truths” and are now heading into the “Noble Eightfold Path.” But before head out the gate and start the steps of the Path I want to break them down into their sections and how they relate to each other. Please note that the word RIGHT can also be translated into many different interpretations including “correct”, “wholesome”, “Perfect” and I will discuss that in a later posting.

The first section is Wisdom. Wisdom in Sanskrit it is called prajñā, and in Pāli the word is paññā. In this section there are two of the eight steps and they are as follows:

  1. Right Understanding
  2. Right Intention

The second section is Ethical behavior. The word for this in Sanskrit is śīla and in Pāli it is sīla. There are three steps here and they are as follows:

  1. Right Speech
  2. Right Action
  3. Right Livelihood

The final section is Concentration or Mindset. The word samādhi is exactly the same in both Sanskrit and Pāli. This section too has three steps and they are as follows:

  1. Right Effort
  2. Right Mindfulness
  3. Right Concentration
Sections Eightfold Path Steps
Wisdom (Sanskrit: prajñā, Pāli: paññā) 1. Right understanding
2. Right intention
Ethical conduct (Sanskrit: śīla, Pāli: sīla) 3. Right speech
4. Right action
5. Right livelihood
Concentration (Sanskrit and Pāli: samādhi) 6. Right effort
7. Right mindfulness
8. Right concentration

In Buddhism one teaching builds upon another. Here we see that to reach a higher state of wisdom we need to work on our understanding and intention. To behave in a more ethical way we need to develop our speech, action and make our living in a ethically responsible manner. For us to concentrate properly we must put in effort, be mindful and develop our concentration. One all three of the have been developed you will reach Enlightenment. But every journey starts with the first step and now that we are on this journey together I look forward to traveling with you. In the next article I will talk about “Right Understanding” in detail.

Buddha’s Fourth Noble Truth – Magga, or the Eightfold Path

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Thus far we have looked at the first three Noble Truths. The Fourth Noble Truth is the Middle Path, a path leading to the cessation of Dukkha — and thus the path to enlightenment. You might have heard is called the Middle Way. The path is called the Middle Way because it is a center between two extremes.

The first extreme is to seek to extinguish suffering through the pursuit of  pleasures and the indulgence of desire. Before Buddha became enlightened he was Prince Siddhārtha Gautama he lived a life of luxury with all his desires fulfilled and yet he was not free from suffering. The second extreme is to seek to extinguish suffering through acesticism.  Buddha tried this path too, nearly killing himself by denying any pleasure, including eating. He realized that no matter how much he denied himself he still suffered.

So, neither path is effective because they both acknowledge the existence of an inherent self, the first by wallowing in the desires of the perceived self and the second by denying said pleasures and causing harm to the physical self hoping to move beyond or tame the desires. Both of these fail because the most effective way to extinguish suffering is to destroy the concept of the self.  If one has annihilated the concept of a self, one cannot thirst for, or desire anything.  To cease suffering, then, one must destroy the concept of an abiding, true self.  The Eightfold Path, or Middle Way, is a guideline for overcoming the concept of a self. Once Siddhārtha Gautama realized discovered this he achieved Enlightenment and was free from suffering.

For others to achieve Nirvana, or the end of suffering, they must follow the Noble Eightfold Path as set forth by Buddha over 2,500 years ago. The eight steps of the path form the fourth truth of the Four Noble Truths, which are among the most fundamental of Buddhist teachings.

The Eightfold Path is often depicted as a Dharma wheel, closely resembling a wagon wheel. The eight steps that make the path or wheel result in a practical guide to ethics, mental development, and modifying the way your work, live and even breathe. By achieving these eight steps, a Buddhist follower will eliminate all suffering and reach the desired state of Nirvana. The follower does not have to complete the steps sequentially, but rather, he may obtain them simultaneously.

To live according to the Eightfold Path, one must engage in the following practices.

  1. Right Understanding
  2. Right Thought
  3. Right Speech
  4. Right Action
  5. Right Livelihood
  6. Right Effort
  7. Right Mindfulness
  8. Right Concentration

The next article talks about the Sections of the Eightfold Path from there we will go into each step in detail.

If you missed any of the other Noble Truths click on the one you want to review.

Buddha’s Third Noble Truth – Nirodha

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In the past few articles we discussed and identified the causes of suffering, thus we are now ready to discuss how to put an end to suffering. Just as when one has identified the pain in your lower, left side, abdomen and you are then in a position to remove the cause of the pain. We can now start to put an end to suffering by elimination craving, ill-will and ignorance. Buddha’s Third Noble Truth states that there is freedom from suffering, or Dukkha. The successful cessation of suffering is known as Nirvana — the absence or extinction of desire.  This “state of being” is popularly known as “enlightenment.”

To understand the truth of the end of suffering, one of the obstacles that we have to overcome is the doubt that an end of suffering is even possible. It is in this context that confidence or faith plays an important role in Buddhism. When we say confidence or faith we  do not speak of faith in the sense of blind acceptance but in the sense of recognizing or accepting the possibility of achieving the goal of ending suffering. If you do not have faith that a doctor can cure you of your abdominal pain you will not seek out a doctor, you will never take the medicine or have an operation to help you. Thus, you will die as a result of an illness that could have been cured it you had faith that going to a doctor would help you. So, confidence, belief in the possibility of being cured is an indispensable prerequisite to stopping suffering.

Here too people might ask “How can I believe in the possibility of Nirvana? How can I believe that there can be an end to suffering?”  In response to these questions I say that if it were not for the development of radio receivers which translates the unseen radio waves into sound we would not be able to enjoy radio. Until Antony van Leeuwenhoek opened up a whole new world with his studies of the microscopic world most people did not believe in microscopic animals and plants. I would hazard to say that few who read this, unless you are a particle physicist, have actually observed an electron and yet we accept them because there are people who have special training and instruments who have seen them and with enough studying and hard work we too could see them. The same applies in regards to the possibility of the end of suffering and of attaining Nirvana; we ought not to reject the possibility of attain Nirvana outright simply because we have not experienced it ourselves.

If you are familiar with Plato’s Allegory of “The Cave” (see video at end) I present an Eastern variation on that theme.

One day a turtle crawled up out of the water and sat on the bank looking at the sun, clouds, trees, birds and other wonderful sights. When he returned to the water and told his fish friends about his experiences out of the water they did not believe him. The fish could not believe that there existed a place that was completely dry and totally unlike what the fish knew and were familiar with. The fish would not believe that there was such a place where creatures walked and flew rather than swam, where they breathed air instead of water, and that the sun was round like a ball instead of just a glow.

There are many historical examples of the tendency to reject information that goes against what is “commonly” accepted. When Marco Polo returned to Italy after traveling to the Far East, he was put in prison because what he said about how large the Far East was and other various things that challenged what was then believed about the nature of the Universe. When Copernicus advanced the theory that the Earth circled the Sun instead of the opposite being true. Copernicus waited until the end of his life to publish his work “On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres” and  challenge the GeoCentric accepted theory with his HelioCentric one to avoid being put into jail. In history there are many cases such as these two.

We have to be on guard against dismissing the possibility of the complete end of suffering or the possibility of attaining Nirvana simply because we have not experienced it ourselves. If we can accept that the end of suffering is possible, that we can be cured of an illness, then we can proceed with the steps, that have been taken before, that are necessary in order to achieve that cure. Unless and until we believe that a cure is possible there is no question of successfully completing the treatment. In order therefore to attain progress on the path, to realize, eventually, the end of suffering one has to have at least confidence in the possibility of achieving the goal, the goal of attaining Nirvana.

Now that we know that life is suffering, ignorance and desire cause suffering and that we must have confidence in the path to attain Enlightenment. What are the steps along the path we must take. This is addressed in the upcoming article on the Fourth Noble Truth.

If you missed any of the other Noble Truths click on the one you want to review.