When it came time for him to marry, he won the hand of Yashodhara, and they married when both were 16 years old.
Siddhartha was kept in one or another of their three
palaces, and was prevented from experiencing much of what ordinary folk
might consider quite commonplace. He was not permitted to see the
elderly, the sickly, the dead, or anyone who had dedicated themselves
spiritual practices. Siddhartha grew
increasing restless and curious about the world beyond the palace walls
and he finally demanded that he be permitted to see his people and his
The king carefully arranged that Siddhartha should not see the kind of suffering that he feared would lead him to a religious life. But, inevitably, he saw old people, sick people, and even death. He asked his friend and squire Chandaka the meaning of all these things, and Chandaka informed him of the simple truths that Siddhartha should have known all along: That all of us get old, sick, and eventually die.
Siddhartha also saw an ascetic, a monk who had renounced all the pleasures of the flesh. The peaceful look on the monks face would stay with Siddhartha for a long time to come. Later, he would say this about that time:
When ignorant people see someone who is old, they are disgusted and horrified, even though they too will be old some day. I thought to myself: I don’t want to be like the ignorant people. After that, I couldn’t feel the usual intoxication with youth anymore.At the age of 29, Siddhartha came to realize that he could not be happy living as he had been. He wanted more than anything to discover how one might overcome suffering. After kissing his sleeping wife and newborn son Rahula goodbye, he snuck out of the palace and into the forests of northern India.
When ignorant people see someone who is sick, they are disgusted and horrified, even though they too will be sick some day. I thought to myself: I don’t want to be like the ignorant people. After that, I couldn’t feel the usual intoxication with health anymore.
When ignorant people see someone who is dead, they are disgusted and horrified, even though they too will die some day. I thought to myself: I don’t want to be like the ignorant people. After that, I couldn’t feel the usual intoxication with life anymore.
Outside of the town of Bodh Gaya, Siddhartha decided that he would
a certain fig tree as long as it would take for the answers to the
of suffering to come. He sat there for many days, first in deep
to clear his mind of all distractions, then in mindfulness meditation,
opening himself up to the truth. On the full moon of May, with the
rising of the morning
star, Siddhartha finally understood the answer to the question of
and became the Buddha, which means “he who is awake.”
At the deer park in Sarnath near Benares, about one hundred miles from Bodh Gaya, he preached his first sermon, which is called “setting the wheel of the teaching in motion.” In it, he explained to the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. The king of Magadha, having heard Buddha’s words, granted him a monastery for use during the rainy season. This and other generous donations permitted the community of converts to continue their practice throughout the years, and gave many more people an opportunity to hear the teachings of the Buddha.
His aunt and wife asked to be permitted into the Sangha, or monastic community, which was originally composed only of men. The culture of the time ranked women far below men in importance, and at first it seemed that permitting women to enter the community would weaken it. But the Buddha relented, and his aunt and wife became the first Buddhist nuns.
The Buddha said that it didn’t matter what a person’s status in the
world was, or what their background or wealth or nationality might
All were capable of enlightenment, and all were welcome into the
The first ordained Buddhist monk, Upali, had been a barber, yet he was
ranked higher than monks who had been kings, only because he had taken
his vows earlier than they!
Buddha had achieved his enlightenment at the age of 35. He would teach the Dharma (the way) throughout northeast India for another 45 years. When the Buddha was 80 years old, he ate some spoiled food and became very ill. He went into a deep meditation under a grove of sala trees and died. His last words were...
Impermanent are all created things;Soon after Buddha's death, five hundred monks met at the first council at Rajagrha, under the leadership of Kashyapa. Upali recited the monastic code (Vinaya) as he remembered it. Ananda, Buddha's cousin, friend, and favorite disciple -- and a man of prodigious memory! -- recited Buddha's lessons (the Sutras). The monks debated details and voted on final versions. These were then committed to memory by other monks, to be translated into the many languages of the Indian plains. It should be noted that Buddhism remained an oral tradition for over 200 years.
Strive on with awareness.
Buddhism is an empirical philosophy. Buddha was very clear
should judge the truth of any philosophy by its consequences. In
Kalama Sutra, he makes this particularly clear:
Buddhism is also a philosophy that is detached from theological considerations. Buddha, in fact, refused to answer questions concerning eternity and the afterlife. In the Kalama Sutra again, he notes how his philosophy helps whatever your beliefs about the afterlife may be:
It is proper for you... to doubt, to be uncertain.... Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another's seeming ability; nor upon the consideration, 'The monk is our teacher....'
What do you think...? Does greed appear in a man for his benefit or harm? Does hate appear in a man for his benefit or harm? Does delusion appear in a man for his benefit or harm?... being given to greed, hate, and delusion, and being overwhelmed and vanquished mentally by greed, hate, and delusion, this man takes life, steals, commits adultery, and tells lies; he prompts another too, to do likewise. Will that be long for his harm and ill?" ......when you yourselves know: 'These things are bad; these things are blamable; these things are censured by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to harm and ill,' abandon them.
The disciple... who has a hate-free mind, a malice-free mind, an undefiled mind, and a purified mind, is one by whom four solaces are found here and now.
Suppose there is a hereafter and there is a fruit, result, of deeds done well or ill. Then it is possible that at the dissolution of the body after death, I shall arise in the heavenly world, which is possessed of the state of bliss. This is the first solace...
Suppose there is no hereafter and there is no fruit, no result, of deeds done well or ill. Yet in this world, here and now, free from hatred, free from malice, safe and sound, and happy, I keep myself. This is the second solace...
Suppose evil results befall an evil-doer. I, however, think of doing evil to no one. Then, how can ill results affect me who do no evil deed? This is the third solace...Suppose evil results do not befall an evil-doer. Then I see myself purified in any case. This is the fourth solace...
The structure of the mind
Buddhists describe the person as composed of five skandhas
1. The body (rupa), including the sense organs.
2. Sensations and feelings (vedana), coming out of contact between sense organs and objects.
3. Perceptions and ideas (samjña), especially
manifest in our ability to recognize things and ideas.
4. Mental acts (samskara), especially will power and attention.
5. Basic consciousness (vijñana).
The last four are called naman, name, meaning the psyche. Namarupa (name-form) is therefore the Buddhist term for the person, mental and physical, which is nevertheless anatman, without soul or essence.
Buddhism also differentiates among six "fields" (ayatana) for the five skandhas: sight, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, and mind, as well as the objects of these six senses.
Mahayana Buddhism adds alaya-vijñana, “storehouse”
consciousness, to the skandhas. This is similar to Jung’s idea of
the collective unconscious.
What is stored there are called bijas or seeds, which are
tendencies to perceive the world in a certain way and result from our
karmic history. They combine with manas
or ego to form the illusion that is ordinary existence. By
quieting this ego and becoming less self-centered, your mind realizes
the "emptiness" (sunyata) of all things.
Then you have peace.
The Four Noble Truths sound like the basics of any theory with therapeutic roots:
1. Life is suffering. Life is at very least full of suffering, and it can easily be argued that suffering is an inevitable aspect of life. If I have senses, I can feel pain; if I have feelings, I can feel distress; if I have a capacity for love, I will have the capacity for grief. Such is life.
Duhkha, the Sanskrit word for suffering, is also translated
stress, anguish, and imperfection. Buddha wanted us to understand
as a foundation for improvement.
One key to understanding suffering is understanding anitya, which means that all things, including living things, our loved ones, and ourselves, are impermanent. Our peculiar position of being mortal and being aware of it is a major source of anxiety, but is also what makes our lives, and the choices we make, meaningful. Time becomes important only when there is only so much of it. Doing the right thing and loving someone only have meaning when you don't have an eternity to work with.
Another key concept
is anatman, which means that all things -- even we -- have no
or eternal substance. With no substance, nothing stands alone, and no
has a separate existence. We are all interconnected, not just with our
human world, but with the universe.
We are not therefore to avoid all pleasure, happiness, and love. Nor are we to believe that all suffering comes only from ourselves. It's just not necessary, being shot once with an arrow, to shoot ourselves again, as the Buddha put it.
Attachment is one translation of the word trishna, which can
also be translated as thirst, desire, lust, craving, or clinging. When
we fail to recognize that all things are imperfect, impermanent, and
we cling to them in the delusion that they are indeed perfect,
and substantial, and that by clinging to them, we, too, will be
permanent, and substantial.
Our lack of "essence" or preordained structure, our "nothingness," leads us to crave solidity. We are, you could say, whirlwinds who wish they were rocks. We cling to things in the hopes that they will provide us with a certain "weight." We try to turn our loved ones into things by demanding that they not change, or we try to change them into perfect partners, not realizing that a statue, though it may live forever, has no love to give us. We try to become immortal, whether by anxiety-driven belief in fairy-tales, or by making our children and grand-children into clones of ourselves, or by getting into the history books or onto the talk shows. We even cling to unhappy lives because change is too frightening.
Another aspect of attachment is dvesha, which means
or hatred. To Buddha, hatred was every bit as much an attachment as
Only by giving those things which cause us pain permanence and
do we give them the power to hurt us more. We wind up fearing, not that
which can harm us, but our fears themselves.
The most frightening things we've seen in this century are the mass movements -- the Nazis, the Red Guard, the Ku Klux Klan, terrorist groups, and on and on. The thought seems to be that, if I'm just a little puff of wind, maybe by joining others of my kind, I can be a part of a hurricane! Beyond these are all the petty movements -- political ones, revolutionary ones, religious ones, antireligious ones, ones involving nothing more than a style or fashion. And hatred is the glue that holds them together.
A third aspect of attachment is avidya, meaning ignorance.
one level, it refers to the ignorance of these Four Noble Truths -- not
understanding the truth of imperfection and so on. At a deeper level,
also means "not seeing," i.e. not directly experiencing reality, but
seeing our personal interpretation of it. More than that, we take our
of reality as more real than reality itself!
In some sutras, Buddha adds one more aspect of attachment: anxiety.
Fear, like hatred, ties us to the very things that
With decades of practice, some monks are able to transcend even simple, direct, physical pain. I don't think, however, that us ordinary folk in our ordinary lives have the option of devoting those decades to such an extreme of practice. For most of us, therapy is a matter of specifically diminishing mental anguish rather than eliminating all pain.
Nirvana is the traditional name for the state of being (or
if you prefer) wherein all clinging, and so all suffering, has been
It is often translated as "blowing out," with the idea that we
self like we blow out a candle. Another interpretation is that nirvana
is the blowing out a fire that threatens to overwhelm us,
or even taking away the oxygen that keeps the fires
By "blowing out" clinging, hate, and ignorance, we
"blow out" unnecessary suffering. Perhaps an even more useful
translation for nirvana is freedom!
The Eightfold Path is the equivalent of a therapy program, but one so general that it can apply to anyone. The first two segments of the path are refered to as prajña, meaning wisdom:
Right view -- understanding the Four Noble Truths, especially the nature of all things as imperfect, impermanent, and insubstantial and our self-inflicted suffering as founded in clinging, hate, and ignorance.
Right aspiration -- having the true desire, the dedication, to free oneself from attachment, hatefulness, and ignorance. The idea that improvement comes only when the sufferer takes the first step of aspiring to improvement is apparently 2500 years old.
Therapy is something neither the therapist
nor the client takes lying down -- if you will pardon the pun. The
must take an assertive role in helping the client become aware of the
of his or her suffering and its roots. Likewise, the client must take
assertive role in working towards improvement -- even though it means
the fears they've been working so hard to avoid, and especially facing
the fear that they will "lose" themselves in the process.
Right speech -- abstaining from lying, gossiping, and hurtful speech generally. Speech is often our ignorance made manifest, and is the most common way in which we harm others. Modern psychologists emphasize that one should above all stop lying to oneself. But Buddhism adds that by practicing being true to others, and one will find it increasingly difficult to be false to oneself.
Right action -- behaving oneself, abstaining from actions
hurt others such as killing, stealing,
irresponsible sex. Traditionally, Buddhists speak of the five
moral precepts, which are...
A serious Buddhist may add five more:
Monks and nuns living in monastic communities add over 100 more rules!
Right livelihood -- making one's living in an honest, non-hurtful way. Here's one we don't talk about much in our society today. One can only wonder how much suffering comes out of the greedy, cut-throat, dishonest careers we often participate in. This by no means means we must all be monks: Imagine the good one can do as an honest, compassionate, hard-working business person, lawyer, or politician!
This is a good place to introduce another term associated with
karma. Basically, karma refers to good and bad deeds and the
they bring. In some branches of Buddhism, karma has to do with what
of reincarnation to expect. But other branches see it more simply as
negative (or positive) effects one's actions have on one's integrity.
the effects of your selfish acts have on others, for example, each
act "darkens your soul," and makes happiness that much harder to find.
On the other hand, each act of kindness as the Romani say, "comes
to you three times over." To put it simply, virtue is its own reward,
vice its own hell.
Right effort -- taking control of your mind and the contents thereof. Simple, direct practice is what it takes, the developing of good mental habits: When bad thoughts and impulses arise, they should be abandoned. This is done by watching the thought without attachment, recognizing it for what it is (no denial or repression!), and letting it dissipate. Good thoughts and impulses, on the other hand, should be nurtured and enacted. Make virtue a habit, as the stoics used to say.
Right mindfulness -- mindfulness refers to a kind of meditation involving an acceptance of thoughts and perceptions, a "bare attention" to these events without attachment. This mindfulness is also extended to daily life. It becomes a way of developing a fuller, richer awareness of life, and a deterent to our tendency to sleepwalk our way through life.
One of the most important moral precepts in Buddhism is the avoidance of consciousness-diminishing or altering substances -- i.e. alcohol or drugs. This is because anything that makes you less than fully aware sends you in the opposite direction of improvement into deeper ignorance.
But there are other things besides drugs that diminish
Some people try to avoid life by disappearing into food or sexuality.
disappear into work, mindless routine, or rigid, self-created
rituals. Others still drown themselves in television and other
We can also drown awareness in material things -- fast cars, extravagant clothes, and so on. Shopping has itself become a way of avoiding life. Worst of all is the blending of materiality with entertainment. While monks and nuns avoid frivolous diversions and luxurious possessions, we surround ourselves with commercials, infomercials, and entire shopping networks, as if they were effective forms of "pain control!"
Right concentration -- meditating in such a way as to empty our natures of attachments, avoidances, and ignorance, so that we may accept the imperfection, impermanence, and insubstantiality of life. This is usually thought of as the highest form of Buddhist meditation, and full practice of it is pretty much restricted to monks and nuns who have progressed considerably along the path.
But just like the earlier paths provide a foundation for later paths, later ones often support earlier ones. For example, a degree of "calm abiding" (shamatha), a version of concentration, is essential for developing mindfulness, and is taught to all beginning meditators. This is the counting of breaths or chanting of mantras most people have heard of. This quieting of the mind is, in fact, important to mindfulness, effort, all moral practice, and even the maintaining of view and aspiration. I believe that this simple form of meditation is the best place for those who are suffering to begin -- though once again, the rest of the eightfold path is essential for long-term improvement.Most therapists know: Anxiety is the most common manifestation of psychological suffering. And when it's not anxiety, it's unresolved anger. And when it's not anger, it's pervasive sadness. All three of these can be toned done to a manageable level by simple meditation. Meditation will not eliminate these things -- that requires wisdom and morality and the entire program -- but it will give the sufferer a chance to acquire the wisdom, morality, etc!
Loving kindness to all creatures;In northern Buddhism, the Bodhisattva has achieved "emptiness," sunyata. What this means is that they have gone beyond the usual dualistic mind. You and I think in terms of "this and that," "you versus me," "us and them," "either-or" and so on. The enlightened person sees that all things blend into each other, we are all human, everything is one. We are "empty."
Compassion for all who suffer;
Sympathetic joy for all who are happy;
And equanimity, a pervading calm.