See an index of my posts in this series here.
The first part of this post will be a summary of Buddhadasa's words in this chapter. The second part of the post, the "My Take" section, will be my opinion and commentary on the chapter.
NOTE on Chapter 2: This chapter is essentially a brief introduction to several Buddhist fundamental teachings, made even more brief in this summary. Most of these teachings are further discussed in later chapters. I encourage you to suspend judgement on these principles until they are more completely explained.
Summary - Chapter 2: The True Nature of Things
Dukkha, translated usually as "suffering", and less often as "unsatisfactoriness", is pain, sickness, greed, hate, anxiety, frustration, anger, loss, discontent, sorrow, loneliness, dissatisfaction, delusion, etc. It is anything you do not want to experience, but it also extends to positive feelings as well, given that they fail to yield lasting satisfaction. So it is far more broad than just "suffering". Instead, it is a status which results from the imperfection in everything.
Buddhism aims to eliminate dukkha through revealing what is, or the true nature of things, via a practical and systematic approach.
Do you really know the true nature of things? If you did, you would never act inappropriately, and inherently would not experience dukkha.
We all start life without understanding reality; that everything is impermanent, not fully satisfying, and not true entities in and of themselves. This misunderstanding causes us to grasp for and to cling to things, but Buddhism, through revealing what is, liberates us from the controlling influence of things.
The true nature of things is understood through the Four Noble Truths:
- Dukkha is inherent in everything.
- Desire causes dukkha.
- Complete liberation from dukkha (Nirvana) comes through the extinction of desire.
- The Noble Eightfold Path is a method for eliminating desire.
We need to understand that phenomenon arise from causes, and we can eliminate phenomenon by eliminating the causes.
Nothing is permanently itself, indeed nothing is really a "self" at all, because all things are the effects of causes and are subject to change, based on the perpetual influence of causes upon them. So we should not be fooled by appearances into liking or disliking anything, as that becomes a cause which affects us.
Before enlightenment, the Buddha chose to give up everything in search for the cause of dukkha and how to be liberated from it. Buddhism was the result of that search.
Fundamental to understanding dukkha is understanding the Three Universal Characteristics briefly mentioned above:
- All things are impermanent - they change or decay with time
- All things are unsatisfactory - they cause dukkha
- All things are without self - they are not true entities in and of themselves
The chief of all Buddhist teachings is this:
Avoid evil, do good, and purify the mind.Avoid evil by complying with the accepted moral standards and by considering things in light of the Three Universal Characteristics so that excessive desire and attachment is curtailed.
Do good according to how the wise understand "good".
Purify the mind by continuing to develop understanding of what is.
If you can't remain unmoved by things, then you are a slave to your likes and dislikes, and you have no real freedom. A purified mind is independent of all things.
At the lowest level, we avoid evil. At the intermediate level, we do our utmost to do good. However, those at the highest level operate above good and evil. Evil-doers experience dukkha appropriately, but good-doers also experience dukkha according to their good deeds. Yet those at the highest level transcend even the dukkha linked to goodness.
Buddhism is the teaching of the enlightened Buddha regarding the true nature of things; what is. When this knowledge is fully understood, desire ceases, and so dukkha ceases.
The practice of Buddhism is designed to bring about this knowledge so that anyone can attain this full understanding. The first step in achieving this enlightenment is to consider all things in terms of dukkha. We must take the time to study the things in our lives to understand how they cause dukkha. This is infinitely better than trying to become enlightened by studying the scriptures.
Studying the scriptures can be of value if done so in a way that provokes introspection to help people discover the truth for themselves. However, someone can become enlightened without having studied the scriptures by investigating the relation of dukkha to all things for themselves.
We live our lives and make decisions for ourselves without ever really knowing ourselves, and this guarantees that we will experience dukkha. We endlessly repeat the cycle of acting on desires and reaping the consequences. However, if we instead take the time to study ourselves, thereby studying the Buddhist principles, we will have the ability to learn the profound truth of the nature of things; the truth of what is. Then the cycle will end, and we will be free of dukkha, thereby achieving Nirvana.
Ironically, my Eastern-ish life philosophy was founded both by my Christian background and a later quasi-scientific understanding.
The type of Christianity I was raised with spoke of how this life was just a temporary, unsatisfying, inconvenience; that the real life, the perfect life, the eternal life awaited us, to be delivered upon God's gracious timing. If anyone really takes that message to heart, you realize that the things of this life are truly trivial.
Later, as my scientific understanding grew, as I better understood our place in this universe, I realized that nothing truly has any inherent significance beyond what we make for it. So I have a degree of detachment with things, realizing that all of the value I place on them is born from a willing self-deception. (This is spoken from the broad perspective of existence in general, not completely the view of my humanity or my life.)
Even with my perspective, I wasn't sure about this teaching. Is dukkha really inherent in everything? As I thought about it, I could kind of understand the "truth" of that statement of major life experiences:
- Like driving? You have to put up with traffic, maintenance, and the DMV.
- Love someone? You have to put up with differences of opinion, even arguments, as well as having to deal with the loss of that person should they move or perish.
- Love kids? Don't make me turn this car around! ;-)
- Have a favorite shirt? It will wear out through washes, and you have to worry about it being ripped, stretched, or stained when wearing it.
- Don't like the cold? You worry about what to wear, trouble yourself with whether or not to bring a jacket or sweater to restaurants or theaters, and cringe at the aspect of going outside on a chilly winter's day.
- Have a sweet tooth? You have to worry about/deal with cavities and potential weight gain, or suffer the longing of restricting your intake of those fresh, chocolaty, warm, chewy brownies with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and a little hot fudge sauce, and maybe some whip cream... what was I talking about? ;-)