What is meant by the Buddhist theory of "Duhka"?
What are the three marks of existence?
How can pleasure be suffering?
What are the causes of suffering?
How can one get out of suffering?
How do Buddhist methods of attaining freedom from suffering
differ from those of other religious traditions?
the ideals of the Arahat and the Bodhisattva.
How do they compare with the ideal of the Yogi?
What are the differences between
the Eight-Fold Path of the Arahat and
the Six Paramitas of the Bodhisattva?
Eastern Philosophy Donna Chapman
April 27, 2000
is meant by the Buddhist theory of "Duhka"? What are the three marks
existence? How can pleasure be suffering? What are the causes of suffering? How can one get out of suffering? How do Buddhist methods of attaining freedom from suffering differ from those of other religious traditions?
the ideals of the Arahat and the Bodhisattva. How do they compare with the
ideal of the Yogi? What are the differences between the Eight-Fold Path of the Arahat
and the Six Paramitas of the Bodhisattva?
chose to merge question 2 and question 12 because during my research for question
2 I found that in order to give a thorough explanation of it, a great deal of
background information would need to be covered. The nature and form of this background
information in turn would serve to answer question 12. So, here I go...
When asked for the answer to life, the universe and everything1 , the Buddha distilled all of the goods and ills of life into 4 Noble Truths. The first Noble Truth is "Duhka". Duhka is usually translated as "suffering" but that would be too easy. Duhka is a word which represents all of the imbalances, unfulfillments, discomforts, dissatisfactions, insecurities, hopes, fears, loves, and excitements of life. I think I like the word discomfort better than suffering, so for the rest of this paper, that is the word that I will use. Life is discomfort. It's like the fairy tale of the Princess and the Pea. There is always something not quite right, we are never truly happy. There is always some little underlying element, a subtle un-namable ache in the background of everything we do and everything we see and everything we feel that is uncomfortable. We are born, we get sick, we break down in old age, and we die. We are bound or obligated to people, places and things that we don't like. Who can honestly say that they like their boss? And, remember, the divorce rate is 50%. We are separated from our loved ones. We love with the excitement and wonder of a child, and we mourn the loss of love as we would mourn the loss of one of our parents in death.
Existence is discomfort. Existence is also an illusion. It is the construct that consciousness creates around and about the process that goes on day in and day out in every living creature beginning at birth and ending at death. Buddha broke this "process" down into 5 aggregates (skandas): body, sensation, perceptions, thoughts, and consciousness. Imbalance and discomfort (duhka) are attached to each. Body, Rupa, represents material existence. We are born, we die, this is the mechanism of the functioning of our body. Sensations, Vedana, represents internal and external sense experience in the form of feelings and sense data. For example, the warmth of the sun. Perceptions, Sanja, represents the recognition of external and internal objects for example: a lovely shade of blue, a beautifully framed piece of artwork. Thoughts, Samskaras, are mental states. Buddha called them "subjective differentiations". This aggregate also includes the will, attention, wisdom, compassion and all of the other varied types of mental activity. Consciousness, Vijnana, this is the shell between true awareness and the world.
There are three primary characteristics of existence. They are: Impermanence, No Ego-Self, and Discomfort. Impermanence, Anitya, concerns the nature of the process. Since everything is in process, then everything is in the process of becoming something else. Nothing is static. Everything is in a state of flux. No Ego-Self, Anatman, means that there is no soul, no individual identity, perhaps better stated in the logical form of "not I". Any sense of self is a construct by consciousness based on the input from the other skandas and from itself. How often have we been "our own worst enemy?" Discomfort, Duhka, all experience is tainted by discomfort, or imbalance or insecurity because it is rooted in the illusion of ego-self. As I mentioned earlier, nothing is ever "quite right" and we are never completely happy about anything. The second Noble Truth is "Tanha" , is often called "desire", but again that would be too easy, the word that the Buddha uses is craving. The want that drives and often supersedes logic and reason and sensibility. This is the concept that allows us to bury the "I" in all of our motives so deeply into our intentions that we actually convince ourselves that we are doing something unselfishly.
Discomfort is irrevocably bound to each of the skandas. If I reexamine the skandas, with the added meaning of the characteristics of existence and the second Noble Truth, the true implication of the first Noble Truth is proved out. Body, we are born in pain, we usually die in pain, and sometimes we live in pain too. If my body wants food, it is in discomfort. I want to eat and can't think of much of anything else. Being hungry seems to be the most important thing in the universe. If I eat too much I am in discomfort, but I just had to have that second piece of cheese cake. (sigh) Sensations, I like the feeling of the sun on my back. Warm, relaxing, oh, and that suntan. If I could just get the perfect tan. Then, a few hours later I more closely resemble a lobster. Believe me, I am in discomfort! Perceptions, a lovely shade of blue, which is in the fabric of a dress that I can't afford to buy right now, a beautifully framed piece of artwork, painted by someone who is a much better artist than I. I wish I could paint like that. Thoughts, I think he likes me. BUT what if he doesn't? I'll just die if he doesn't like me. Consciousness creates the notion of "me". and then tells me I need something, tells me that I am my job, that if my job doesn't go well, then I am a worthless human being, a failure. What will people think of me if I don't have a boyfriend? I don't/won't fit in. No one will ever love me if I don't have that tan, or lose 10lbs.
"the Vijnana is originated by ignorance, deed and desire, and keeps up its
function by grasping objects by means of the sense-organs, such as the eye etc.,
and by clinging to them as real;.....the Vijnana..is like a monkey which is always
restless, like a fly which is ever in search of unclean things and defiled places,
like a fire which is never satisfied.2
So, existence is discomfort, every last bit of it. It is discomfort because of desire, and desire gets it's drive, intent and focus from "I" the ego-self. The very instant that "I want" becomes part of the equation, the race is on, and the mechanism of impermanence, with all the despair that it carries with it, begins to function. Even the simplest pleasures are discomfort because sooner or later...they end. You can have the most wonderful sexual experience, but it will never match the feelings of the first. People spend their whole lives chasing the "first" feeling. Many drug addicts report that the major drive of their addiction is that "first feeling". How about this: you're single. You meet someone at a bar, at a party, whatever. The sparks fly for you. Everything clicks. You decide to go home together. You have the most wonderful sexual experience, true physical harmony, "Zen sex" the big "O" happens, the guy goes to sleep, and the woman lays there thinking...."so now what?" or worse...."what was I thinking?" ....or even worse: "what have I done?" If that's not discomfort out of pleasure I don't know what is. But this is a simple and exaggerated example. The true nature of duhka in pleasure is often so subtle and buried under the ego-self that we aren't even aware of that it is happening.
The third Noble Truth, and fourth Noble Truth are best approached together. The third Noble Truth is: Nirvana, Discomfort can stop. The fourth Noble Truth is an instruction set from the Buddha: the 8-fold Path, Aryia-Astanga-Marga. The cessation of discomfort is accomplished by removing craving, and by disengaging from the process of becoming. In simpler terms, by truly stripping away the ego-self. The only way to remove craving/desire is to remove the ever present "I". When the "I" is removed, the race loses all import and the runner stops. In fact, there is no more runner at all, there just simply IS. The Buddhist methodology for attaining Nirvana is actually split into two possible paths. In order to better understand them, we need to briefly take a look at their origins and their concepts of enlightenment.
Buddhism features many forms of practice, but the two dominant ones are Theravada and Mahayana. Both of them adhere to the 4 Noble Truths, however their points of view and methodology for attaining Nirvana differ significantly.
After the final liberation (death) of the Buddha, his 500 living disciples convened the First Great Council of the Thera's. They were all Arahats - fully enlightened beings. The focus of Theravada Buddhism (here on to be known as TVB) is the enlightenment of the individual through the use of ascetic means such as self sacrifice, and the monastic way of life. The state of Arahat for the TVB is a purely private (selfish?) experience. Of yourself, for yourself, by yourself. Because of its ascetic nature, TVB is best suited to individuals who are in the luxurious position of being able to renounce the worldly life, for example, someone who is retired and whose children are grown. The ascetic nature of TVB is best manifest in the 8-Fold Path. The 8-Fold Path is the methodology used by TVB to cause the cessation of desire. It is an elaborate list shoulds and should nots, and of stuff you give up (abstentions). The 8-Fold Path appears on the surface to be benevolent, but this is true only in a benign sort of way. The locus of the Path is MY enlightenment. All directed actions in the Path are to this end.
The 8-fold Path (Aryia-Astanga-Marga)
Preliminary step: Right Association: If you wish to succeed, hang out with people who have the same goals that you do. We are heavily influenced and even taught by our
fellows. The more contact we have with people ahead of us on the path, the more likely
we are to succeed on our own path.
1. Right Views, Samyagdristi: The Buddha knew that until a person's rational mind was satisfied, a person could not proceed forward on the Path with any commitment and clarity. Here we are urged to examine what life's problem really is. This step assumes that: we already know the difference between good/evil, we accept that Nirvana is possible, we accept that the cause of suffering is desire, and we do not accept any other view about the world. In a nutshell this is the Buddhist Act of Faith: We believe in the 4 Noble Truths.
2. Right Intent, samyaksamkalpa: Here we are urged to commit our whole heart to what we really want. We resolve to have a mind: free from worldly attachments, free from ill-will to anyone, free from intent to cause harm to anyone. We resolve this because we understand that karma is produced by intentions, not by actions.
3. Right Speech, Samyagvak: We begin an examination of self, beginning with our choices of and usage of words, and what they reveal about us. We refrain from: lying, slanderous statements, unkind language, and gossip. And when we do catch ourselves slipping, we examine why we did it.
4. Right Conduct, Samyakkarmanta: We continue our self examination looking at our behavior. We do not kill, steal, engage in self indulgent sex, lie, or drink intoxicants. For the TVB monk, to "not engage in self indulgent sex" means a vow of celibacy.
5. Right Livelihood, Samyagajiva: With the understanding that The Way is not easy, it would be conducive to success if our chosen line of work at the very least does not conflict with our devotional path. If our chosen work could actually be in harmony with our path, what a bonus! We don't want a living that takes advantage of others, (pandering, slavery) or hurts others - even indirectly (arms dealer, poisonous chemical dealer, or even liquor store owner). We must have no ego involvement with our livelihood.
"It is life's means, not life's end".3
6. Right Effort, Samyagvyayama: For this to work we can't just "wanna", we must apply ourselves. We must curb the will with diligence and discipline. We will try with all our energy to: avoid harmful or destructive thoughts, avoid grasping and holding on to them when they do pop up, and we will develop and maintain good qualities of mind to take the place of the harmful ones. The focus is on slow steady progress rather than a quick finish.
7. Right Mindfulness, Samyaksmriti: Recollection. We must put effort into understanding the true nature of the 5 aggregates (skandas) of life, to see them for what they really are, (illusions in process) and detach from them. We sever the bond of ego identification with body, sensation, perceptions, thoughts, and consciousness. An easy exercise to this end is to refer to ourselves in the second person. Saying "she is hungry" rather than "I am hungry." Here we are urged to rise into awareness every action taken, and every content that appears in our consciousness. Ever mindful of our intent and motive.
"We should witness all things non-reactively, especially our moods and emotions,
neither condemning some nor holding on to others.....The Buddha saw ignorance,
not sin, as the offender....insofar as sin is our fault, it is prompted by a more
fundamental ignorance...the ignorance of our true nature."4
8. Right Concentration, Samyaksamadhi: This is the Buddhist equivalent of Raja yoga. We approach the moment of samadhi - singleness of mind. Here the chains of thought are broken, and the ego strips away from thought. This is the point of spontaneous change, the instantaneous viewing of the world in a completely new way. The mind IS. Which is the minds true and natural condition.
Results: Nirvana through detachment
"The ideal of the arahat is a perfected disciple, who, wandering like the
lone rhinoceros strides out alone for Nirvana, and with prodigious
concentration proceeds unswervingly toward that goal."5
The ideal of the Arahats life is one of autonomy from the world through the practice of the 8-Fold Path. She walks within it, does not violate it, but is independent of it. Her autonomy will be complete at her final liberation. (death)
In spite of enlightenment, (and in the fashion of true human nature,) about 100 years after Buddha, differences of opinion begin to surface regarding the interpretation of the Buddha's words, and the application of them to daily life. Out of this dissension sprung the Mahasanghikas, the fore-runners of second dominant form of Buddhist practice: Mahayana Buddhism (here on to be known as MB). A major point of difference between TVB and MB is that MB believes that everyone has the Buddha Nature (Buddha Mind) within, and that anyone and everyone can attain enlightenment by accessing it in this lifetime, instantaneously. We don't even need to be Buddhist! Jesus Christ had attained enlightenment. Another distinguishing characteristic of MB is the "Bodhisattva", the enlightened being. The Bodhisattva combines compassion with wisdom and the state of enlightenment occurs through the practice of the 6-Perfections. (Paramitas) Instead of being a list of shoulds/should nots and abstentions the 6-Perfections are positive affirmations for a life of true benevolence and compassion. In the 6-Perfections, we see committed activity for the wellbeing and betterment of others, with a true separation from ego-identity. In the 6-Perfections we are entoned to perform truly self-less acts, and ideals are given for dealing with worldly life, the worldly mind and the worldly journey.
The 6-Perfections (6-Paramitas) there is an external and an internal practice for each Perfection
1. Charity, Dana: Love and Compassion. Here we are enjoined to help others. This is the perfection which originates the Bodhisattva self yielding hope of Nirvana. The highest point: to devote ourselves to helping others achieve nirvana with no thought of our own. For the person in beginning practice, the external application of this perfection is this: If we have any insight at all into the discomfort of the world, we will naturally want to help others who are in discomfort. We will naturally engage in selfless giving, and give anonymous gifts with a pure motive. The internal application of this perfection is this: we practice endless mental tolerance of others, patience, sympathy and understanding.
2. Good Behavior, Sila: Live a moral life. Externally this is: be humble, behave ourselves, we give of ourselves, we use restraint. Internally: We are capable of spontaneous effortless action because there is no good or evil, there is just the right thing to do. Our nature already knows this and needs no label for it. And besides, there is no us anyway, so there is no ego attachment.
3. Energy, Virya: Zeal, earnestness. Externally: we exercise self-control in every area of our lives. Internally: We are 100% present in every aspect of our lives. Fully involved. Fully committed.
4. Patience, Ksanti: Patience and tolerance. Externally: patience with the impermanence of one's circumstances. Knowing the bad and the good are transitory. Being patient and focused to walk through all of it. Internally: Patience with yourself. Rome wasn't build in a day, so we take it easy and are merciful with ourselves.
5. Thoughtfulness, Dhyana: Meditation. Externally: be aware of what we do. Everything is intentional. Internal: Contemplate until logic fades away, and the intuitive spiritual mind becomes aware and active unto Samadhi: transcendental perfection.
6. Wisdom, Prajna: Insight. External: we express ourselves, we philosophize, we get educated, then we use it in our daily life. Internal: we become united with the all inclusive truth: compassion. Move into a state of complete freedom and spiritual strength.
The ideal of the Boddhisattva is that she tastes the joy of true Nirvana, but vows to stay fully involved in the world until everyone has become enlightened. MB is a system of action and interaction with others. MB has become known as Buddhism for the common man. It is for the person who has worldly responsibilities to family, employer, and friends. In this way there is a path to enlightenment for everyone.
"The goal of Mahayana Buddhism enlightenment is to awaken the Buddha within
for the benefit of all mankind."6
In the past two sections I have mentioned the ideal of the Arahat and the ideal of the Bodhisattva. It would do well to mention the ideal of the Yogi here. Hindus use yoga practice as the path to enlightenment. There is much diversity in the form the yoga takes so that based on lifestyle or personality, everyone can find a path to enlightenment. Yogis are people who have attained enlightenment through the use of one or more yogas, and they teach others. There are many different types of Yogi teaching many different types of yoga. In TVB and MB there is not much room for diversity in the following of the 8-fold Path, or the 6-Paramitas. The Buddha had an analytical mind, and certainly in the case of the 8-Fold Path, he has spelled out the steps thoroughly and completely. But in the practice of both the 8-Fold Path and the 6-Perfections, our nature inherently knows the proper thing to do, so there is only one Way. The ego-self must be disconnected from the world.
When I approached this paper, I was confident that I would find threads of the 8-Fold Path and the 6-Perfections in western religion. I was sure that there would be clear cut applications. Either one or the other. However I was wrong! There are varied and diverse applications from the 8-Fold Path and the 6-Perfections. I was thinking about my personal experience during worship at the church that I choose to attend. I had a moment of Satori (I know, wrong paper) wherein I realized that what I truly experience during these times are brief moments of Samadhi.
It is not that I am in the presence of God, or that God is inside me. It is that there is no me, but only the abundant, overwhelming, profound awareness of God. Not in me, but in me. Not external to me, but external to me. I share this as a moment of catharsis. I was really surprised, and I dare not tell the pastor of my church this, he'd probably either eject me, or have me exorcised! (just kidding on that stuff, but he would most certainly disapprove.)
I was raised Roman Catholic, so I will use this perspective for one point of analysis. I also have intimate knowledge of the 12 Step Program of Alcoholics Anonymous, and will use this as another point of analysis. I think these represent a pretty broad sampling of Western religion.
The Catholic Church has always had a tradition of asceticism and self sacrifice, although in the last 25 years or so this has become a less dominant view. The church agrees that life is discomfort, but they like the word suffering so I'll use that word here. According to the church we suffer through life because of guilt. This guilt is because of our individual sins as well as the corporate sin of all of mankind. This is an attempt to keep people in a mode of humility and repentance. Self discipline and self denial have long been a strong suit of the church. Long ago ego identification with "fleshly" desires associated with body, perception, thought, and consciousness were broken through the process of self flagellation. Modern Catholics rely on the process of Confession and Absolution from a priest for emotional reassurance and reinforcement of the ideal.
The ideal is: believe in the church, do good works, go to heaven when you die. Oh, and life is hard and you deserve it. The ritual of Confession is pretty much exclusive to the Catholic Church. The origin of "Confession" is a scripture which says:
"And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him
so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins."7
Other translations offer this verse in words more like...if there is anything between you and your brother, go to him, settle it, then come back to Me and I can forgive you. What it means is: burn your karma NOW. Don't wait, and certainly don't die with it on your heart. It also entones compassion and mercy, for to forgive a wrong done to us requires mercy. The actual practice of this verse has been evolved into the ritual of speaking to the priest, saying all of your wrongs, and then the priest "gives absolution" that means he forgives you all your sins on behalf of Christ. I don't think that this is what Christ intended. I think Christ intended for us to go to each other and be honest, however there is still a good side of the adulteration of biblical intent....the act of going to priest and confessing your sins is a very humbling experience. In the old days you went into a dark little room, and the priest couldn't see your face, modern Catholics sit in a pew in the church with the priest and the whole ritual is more like a conversation. Living a life of humility is a strong thread in both the 8-Fold Path and the 6-Perfections.
True recovery from alcohol or drug addiction is possible through the practice of the 12 Steps of the program of Alcoholics Anonymous. It has been very trendy of late to be in "the program". But few actually practice it. And most uninvolved people don't have a clue about how it works. Alcoholics suffer from ego-identification,
"the idea that someday he will control and enjoy his drinking is the obsession of every
Self knowledge is not enough, a moment of Samadhi is required...
"but the actual or potential alcoholic with hardly an exception will be absolutely unable
to stop drinking on the basis of self knowledge."
One of the first things that newly recovered people usually need to do is sever ties with "lesser fellows" and establish ties with others on the same path. (Right Association) Sometimes pre-recovery relationships survive, but most long term recovery is attained by hanging out with other alcoholics. We share our experience, strength and hope with each other. We hold each other up when the seas of life are stormy and we think we might drown. (drink again) Those of us who are blessed with years of recovery serve the new ones as lamps on the path ahead.
The binding of the ego-self to the world must be broken: (Right Mindfulness)
"Any life run on self will can hardly be a success"9
"Is he not really a self seeker even when trying to be kind?...
Is he not even in his best moments a producer of confusion rather than harmony?"10
We are often our own worst enemy, (characteristics of existence)
"Our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making."11
Recovery is Samadhi (Right Concentration)
"They appear to be in the nature of huge emotional displacements and
rearrangements. Ideas, emotions, and attitudes which were once the guiding
forces in the lives of these people are suddenly cast to one side and a completely
new set of conceptions and motives begin to dominate them."12
We facilitate this Samadhi by engaging in a thorough self examination. (Right Speech, Right Mindfulness, Right Intent) We are painstaking in our approach to analyze our actions, speech, thoughts and motives. After this thorough examination we begin the process of making amends, humbling ourselves to those we have harmed. (But only if this action does not cause more pain, we have caused enough of that in our friends and families lives.) We burn our karma in this lifetime. Once again...living a life of humility is a strong thread in both the 8-Fold Path and the 6-Perfections.
We come to rely on our intuition. (Thoughtfulness, 5th Perfection)
"What used to be the hunch or the occasional inspiration gradually becomes a
working part of the mind."13
"We have entered the world of the spirit, Our next function is to grow in
understanding and effectiveness."14
We are easy on ourselves (Patience, 4th Perfection)
"We relax and take it easy, we don't struggle."15
"We claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection."16
We tolerate others (Charity, 1st Perfection)
"Love and tolerance is our code, we have ceased fighting anyone or anything"17
Truly recovered alcoholics are similar in intent to the Bodhisattva. They live to pass on what they have. They have come from hell back to life, and they live to help other sick, wounded people to achieve the same joi de vive that they have. (Charity, 1st Perfection)
"to be vital, faith must be accompanied by self sacrifice and unselfish
I was surprised to see so much Buddhism in AA. I am surprised to see so much Buddhism in Judeo Christian tradition. I am sorry to see that so much of the value and wonder of Eastern religious elements in Judeo Christian tradition has been so adulterated, truncated and buried. At the end of this paper I am still convinced that the answer, to Life the Universe and Everything lies in assembling the whole puzzle of the ages. Assembling the puzzle pieces from the ancient religions and the ancient philosophies. I think the resulting picture would be a marvelous landscape of Spirit. But I wonder...
The Buddha advocated a "return to simplicity" but there never seems to be any recorded time when man lived simply, where there was a time of peace and harmony. (except of course, the Garden of Eden in the Bible) I wonder if this has always been man's Ideal...to be something we have never been. Truly good and loving, and truly compassionate and kind, and truly self-less.
The Spiritual Seekers Guide, .................................................................Steven S. Sadlier
Introduction to World Philosophies, ........................................................Eliot Deutsch
The World's Religions, .............................................................................Houston Smith
Philosophy 30, Asian Philosophy, Lecture Notes, ....................................Li Schroeder
Alcoholics Anonymous, 3rd Edition, 1976, .............................AA World Services, Inc.
The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy................................................Douglas Adams
Bible, New International Version ............................Zondervan Bible Publishers
1 The HitchHiker's Guide to the Galaxy
2 The Wisdom of Buddhism, p128
3 The World's Religions, 108
4 The World's Religions, 110
5 The World's Religions, p124
6 The Spiritual Seekers Guide, p28
7 The Bible, NIV Mark 11:25
8 The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous p30
9 The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous p60
10 The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous p61
11 The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, p62
12 The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, p27
13 The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, p86
14 The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, p84
15 The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, p86
16 The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, p60
17 The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, p84
18 The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, p93