Wednesday, October 23, 2013

HfM:Ch5 The Threefold Training

This is part of the Handbook for Mankind series, a review of Buddhadasa's book by the same name.  Read the full text of Chapter 5: The Threefold Training here.
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.

Summary - Chapter 5: The Threefold Training

You can eliminate dukkha through the Threefold Training.  (Dukkha is an all-inclusive sense of suffering and unsatisfactoriness, defined in Chapter 2.)  The three steps are:
  1. Morality - Controlling your actions and speech to promote peace and harmony, and to avoid undesirable effects.
  2. Concentration - Constraining the mind such that it is fit to do its work.
  3. Wisdom -  Developing the complete understanding (insight) of the true nature of things.
The "understanding" should not be thought of in the sense of either rational cognition or a conceptualization relative to each individual's experience.  Instead, it is a status of penetrating and intuitive-level wisdom, such that all things are inherently considered for what they truly are without any sense of enchantment, attachment, or bias whatsoever.

An intellectual understanding only provides the means to evaluate each desire as it comes; reasoning through the Three Universal Characteristics to become disenchanted.  However, with genuine insight, disenchantment has replaced desire at the most fundamental level, such that desire never arises.

Training in morality provides a foundation for gaining insight, because a moral mindset provides stability and limits perturbations.

Training in concentration is similar to training in morality, but instead of controlling your speech and actions, the goal is to control the mind.  "Good behavior" for the mind is unwavering, undistracted, deep concentration.  When successfully trained, this level of mind control is accompanied by other special abilities and benefits which are far outside the realm of what comes with naturally occurring or normally developed concentration.  To achieve this level of concentration requires endurance of hardships and intense training.

Training on concentration is even more relevant today than back in the time of Buddha, given the pace of our modern lives and our many distractions.  Such concentration will make all of our efforts more effective.

With the mind concentrated, we are prepared to see things the way they really are.  Often, the answer to a problem exists within our subconscious, but as long as we actively try to solve the problem, the answer will not come because the mind is not fit for its work.  Once the mind is concentrated, that subconscious solution becomes readily available.  Or, if there was no subconscious answer present, concentrated introspection will put us in the right mode to examine the problem and arrive at the solution.  The Buddha was in such a concentrated state before becoming enlightened to the true nature of things.

Solutions come when the mind is calm, undisturbed, and well concentrated.  Insight and concentration build off of each other, such that with better concentration, you will have better insight, and with better insight (particularly in understanding the way the mind works) you will have better concentration.

Buddhist wisdom (insight) is the ability to clearly see the reality of everything around you, and with that insight naturally comes detachment.  Outwardly we would appear to behave somewhat normally with things, but inwardly we would be independent and free from the bondage of desiring things we like.

Things we dislike also cause enslavement if we can't remain unmoved by them.  The emotional response to either liking or disliking causes us to be slaves to those things, because we will act according to our desires.  However, through insight, we can be freed and purified from the influence of things.  Freed of that bondage, we will have blissful enlightenment.

Buddhist wisdom gives us the ability to break the shackles of the Four Kinds of Attachment.  Examine the truth of this for yourself.

Buddhism conflicts with no other religion, and yet it is superlative to all others in its ability to eliminate all forms of attachment, completely liberating individuals from the bondage of things and beings such that the individual becomes completely self-reliant.

Buddhism is the universal religion because it deals with the fundamental problem which every being experiences:  it demonstrates how to eliminate dukkha, which is caused by our desires.

My Take

In my opinion, moral behavior is really the foundation for becoming a better person.  No duh, right?!?!  Well, hold on a minute.

I don't mean better as in good or righteous, but better as in a more complete person.  If acting morally becomes intuitive to you, that frees your mind, body, and other resources up even more to do the positive things that you want to do; like study, teach, mentor, volunteer, explore, create, etc.  These are the types of enriching activities which truly make life worthwhile.

In contrast, struggling with moral choices or acting immoral on a regular basis constrains your resources, and, depending on the types of actions, possibly puts you at risk for seriously negative outcomes, such as prison, or even death.

So I can understand the morality-as-a-foundation teaching.

The concentration aspect in this chapter is particularly interesting, because, in most of the book, the difficulties in achieving the "right" level of concentration are somewhat glossed over.  Briefly Buddhadasa mentions having to undergo various hardships during concentration training.  This conjures up one of the classic images of Buddhist rites of passage (at least, classic in my eyes); that of the Monk attempting to meditate while being pummeled by a frigid, two-hundred foot tall waterfall.

I can see the benefit of that kind of training rigor; the if-you-can-focus-here-you-can-focus-anywhere endurance test.  The natural translation is that such training prepares you for any situation.

Yet that seems a little extreme, make that very extreme, for people like me who are trying to gleam the most practical teachings from Buddhism.  I don't think that level of training necessary for us, and, given that Buddhadasa mentions it almost in passing here and all but calls it unnecessary elsewhere in this book, I wonder if he would have felt the same way in general.  But then, I am pretty sure I know how Buddhadasa would feel about me just selectively picking teachings!

So I can certainly see how concentration is necessary for insight.  I just don't think that much concentration is necessary for some benefit.  In fact, in a couple chapters, we'll discuss that idea in greater detail.

On a final note, it was interesting to see Buddhadasa close out the chapter in a fundamentalist/apologist manner, claiming Buddhism to the be universal religion, and better than all others.  Within the confines of Buddhist thought, I can definitely see his point.  But in the grand marketplace of ideas, philosophies, and religions, I'm not so sure that holds up.  Each major religion, from the confines of their doctrinal thought, appears to be the best for the world.  ;-)

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