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The Fundamentals of Buddhism in List Form
In an essentially pre-literate society such as the one in which the Buddha taught, lists were not only a skillful means and a pedagogical tool, they were also a very useful mnemonic device. For those with a penchant for lists, there are 208 in the Numerical Discourses of the Buddha, An Anthology of Suttas from the Anguttara Nikaya, (currently out-of-print, but a new edition is scheduled for release in mid-February, 2010). For those with a real penchant for lists, there is the unabridged version of the Anguttara Nikaya, the eleven volumes of numbered sutras, published by the Pali Text Society under the title The Book of Gradual Sayings, which contains 2344 sutras, each of which contains a list.
Lists are a good starting point for beginner-Buddhists, novices, the curious as well as experienced practitioners. Here are fifteen lists delineating the fundamentals of Buddhism.
The Three Jewels (The Triple Gem)
Buddhists take refuge in the three gems: In the Buddha as the symbol of the potential of the teachings, in the dharma as the actual teachings, and in the sangha, the community of monastics who teach, practice, preserve and protect the dharma. [See The Three Refuges] Taking the refuges is a formal commitment to follow the Buddhist path.
1. Taking refuge in the Buddha, we learn to transform anger into compassion;
2. Taking refuge in the Dharma, we learn to transform delusion into wisdom;
3. Taking refuge in the Sangha, we learn to transform desire into generosity.
The Three Poisons
Ignorance leads to wrong views, which, in turn, cause “The three poisons”, three powerful, negative mind-states, to arise.
3. Delusion (ignorance)
The Three Pillars
These are the three divisions of The Noble Eightfold Path which is the way we go from samsara to nirvana, from dukkha to the end of dukkha.
1. Wisdom (Right View, and Intention)
2. Morality (Right Speech, Action and Livelihood)
3. Meditation (Right Effort, Mindfulness, and Concentration)
The Four Bodhisattva Vows
The Bodhisattva vows list the ideal, the intention and the commitment of a bodhisattva. Buddhists practicing in Mahayana institutions around the world recite these vows every day.
1. Beings are numberless, I vow to march with them.
2. Delusions are inexhaustible, I vow to extinguish them.
3. Dharma-gates are numberless, I vow to enter them.
4. Buddha’s way is unsurpassable, I vow to master it.
The Four Heavenly Abodes
The mind of the bodhisattva can be described in these four ways:
3. Sympathetic joy
The Four Marks of Existence (The Four Dharma Seals)
All phenomena are marked by four characteristics. [In some traditions, only the first three of these are mentioned.]
3. Non-self or No-self
The Four Noble Truths
The Four Noble Truths describe true nature of the conditioned world in which we live, and point the way to the unconditioned.
1. There is dukkha (suffering). Suffering is embedded in the Five Skandhas (below). It is to be understood.
2. Dukkha arises from our attachments. The process, Dependent Arising, is to be understood.
3. There is a way to end dukkha. Nirvana is the end of suffering. It is to be realized.
4. The way to end suffering has eight aspects (See The Noble Eightfold Path.) The path is to be cultivated.
The Four Right Efforts (Right Effort)
Right effort, the sixth aspect of The Noble Eightfold Path, propels us forward on the path all the way to our moment of transformation, which is the culmination of the path.
1. Abandon unwholesome mind-states, and
2. Refrain from allowing unwholesome mind-states to arise.
3. Develop wholesome mind-states, and
4. Maintain wholesome mind-states which have arisen.
The Five Hindrances
Hindrances are negative mind-states which block progress along the path.
1. Sensual desire
3. Sloth & torpor (laziness & lack of energy)
4. Restlessness & worry
The Five Precepts
These are the five fundamental, moral guidelines of our practice.
1. No killing
2. No stealing
3. No sexual misconduct
4. No lying
5. No intoxicants
The Five Skandhas (Aggregates)
This is how the self is formulated.
1. Form, which is shorthand for all sensory contact between eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind and their associated sense objects: forms, sounds, tangibles…thoughts.
2. Feeling, the pleasant, the unpleasant or the neither pleasant nor unpleasant sensations arising from contact between a sense organ and a sense objects.
3. Perception, is the labeling or naming that arises from a sense contact and its feeling.
4.Volitonal formations, the stories we tell ourselves about the contact; these are our seeds; this is our karma.
5. Consciousness, which is the appropriation and identification with the sense contact: “I hear music,” “I smell the bread,” etc.
The Six Paramitas
The moment by moment perfection of the Paramitas is the bodhisattva path.
1. Generosity , the principle of enlightened living
2. Morality , leading a virtuous life
3. Patience , the antidote for anger in its various forms, ranging from irritation to hatred
4. Diligent Effort, the attitude necessary for bodhisattva practice
5. Meditation, from which peace and clarity arise
6. Wisdom, the foundation of all our actions
The Noble Eightfold Path
The Fourth Noble Truth affirms the path to liberation. Traditionally, it is divided into three categories.
1. Right view
2. Right intention
3. Right speech
4. Right action
5. Right livelihood
6. Right effort
7. Right mindfulness
8. Right concentration
The Twelve Links of Dependent Arising
This 12-part delineation of the interconnectedness of all phenomena is the dharma. Because of its complexity and profundity, because it is difficult to understand and requires a long and deep commitment to study and practice, I have put it last on the list.
When there is this, that comes to be;
With the arising of this, that arises.
When this is absent, that does not come to be;
With the cessation of this, that ceases.
--Majjhima Nikaya 79
Dependent Arising, which is generally taught in connection with the second noble truth, is the most profound teaching of Buddhism. Dependent Arising demonstrates that the source of all suffering is our misapprehension of the conditional nature of all beings and phenomenon. Dependent arising is the dharma, as the scriptures tell us.
Here is the sequence, put in simple terms: Because of our ignorance of the true nature of reality, we generate volitional formations (karma), which causes our consciousness to manifest as name & form. Because of name and form, the six sense bases make contact with form (where the five skandhas are imbedded), which causes the I-like-I want-more-of, or, I-don’t-like-I-must-get-rid-of feeling to arise, which, in turn, leads to craving and to clinging, which results in becoming, leading to birth, then aging, and finally dying in an ignorant state. This cycle repeats itself, over and over again, moment after moment, life after life, event after event, phenomenon after phenomenon, planet after planet, universe after universe.