Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Notes on Buddhism

Julie Mehretu, Black City, 2006.

... l'homme n'est pas ce qu'il est, il est ce qu'il n'est pas.-- Jean Paul Sartre

Buddhism is a spiritual movement founded by Siddharta Gautama in India in the 6th century BC and became the first multi cultural spiritual tradition in the higher civilization of the Eurasian world. Buddhism lasted in India for some 1500 years, until it disappeared from India as that country became progressively dominated by Islam. Buddhism moved then to Ceylon, China (first century AD), Korea (fourth century AD), and Japan (sixth century AD); eastward into Burma, Thailand (third century AD), Cambodia (fourth century AD), Indonesia (third century AD) and the other countries of southeastern Asia with the exception of the Philippines. It became the dominant spiritual movement in Tibet (eight century AD), and Mongolia (thirteen century AD).

The teaching of Buddha was handed down to succeeding generations in the form of a threefold refuge: the Buddha, the teaching and the community. These are three aspects of the Buddha reality. 1- The teaching itself is a form of Buddha presence. The teaching is supreme insofar as it is in virtue of the teaching that a person is guided to experience the saving illumination concerning the nature of sorrow and the way to release from sorrow. 2- The community has a certain priority since it carries and sustain the entire Buddhist tradition. 3- The doctrine would have had no inner development or preservation or propagation except through the community. Yet supreme over everything is the Buddha reality.

The Message
Buddha's teaching was transmitted orally to his disciples. It consists of the theory, the path and the sangha. The core of the theory is the concept of human suffering and the possibility of emancipation. Individuality implies limitation, desire causes suffering since what is desired is transitory, changing and perishing.

Reality is composed of dharmas (components) or a succession of microseconds of existence. Buddha departed from the teachings of must Hinduism by not having a precise eschatology (a theory of final things). Life is a stream, a river, of manifestations and extinctions. There's nothing permanent and thereby no fixed self.

Buddhists accept the notion of karma, however, this presented a problem with their notion of no-self. How could one prove that one can reincarnate with a no self, i.e. with no permanent subject? Some scholars have considered this to be unsolvable. The relations between existences has been compared to the analogy of fire, which maintains itself unchanged in appearance and yet is very different in every moment. A sort of ever changing identity.

The Four Noble Truths
There are four noble truths. 1-The truth of sorrow, 2-the truth that sorrow originates within us from the craving of pleasure, 3-the truth that this craving can be eliminated and 4-the truth that a methodical path must be followed to obtain this goal. Otherwise human beings would remain indefinitely in samsara.

The Eightfold Path
Hence Buddha formulated the law of dependent origination or paticca-samuppada) whereby one condition arises out of another, which in turn arises out of prior conditions. Given the awareness of this law, the question arises as to how one may escape the continually renewed cycle of births, suffering and death. There must be a purification that leads to overcoming this process. Such a liberating purification is effected by following the Noble Eightfold Path constituted by 1-the right views, 2-the right aspiration, 3-the right speech, 4-the right conduct, 5-the right livelihood, 6-the right effort, 7-the right mindfulness and 8-the right meditational attainment. This implies the rejection of the infallibility of accepted scripture: No teaching should be accepted unless they are borne out by our experience and are praised by the wise.
Anicca: All things that come to be have an end.
Dukkha: Nothing which comes to be is ultimately satisfying.
Anattā: Nothing in the realm of experience can really be said to be "I" or "mine". Nibbāna (Sanskrit: Nirvāna: It is possible for sentient beings to realize a dimension of awareness which is totally unconstructed and peaceful, and end all suffering due to the mind's interaction with the conditioned world.

The aim is to be rid of the delusion of the ego, freeing oneself from the fetters of this mundane world. One who succeeds has achieved enlightenment. The term is nirvana translated as dying out
But nirvana is not extinction. And Buddha repudiated this. Buddhists search for salvation, not annihilation. Although nirvana is often presented as negative, it can be seen as the ultimate goal for salvation in Buddhism.

Sangha refers to the assembly of believers. There are two meanings, the monastic Sangha of ordained Buddhist monks or nuns and the assembly of all beings possessing some degree of realization.