PART 4 - THE PRACTICAL MYSTICISM OF BUDDHA
by Dennis Gaumond
This is part 4 in our continued exploration of the world's mystical traditions. Needless to say, these traditions are very complex and even a lifetime of study and devotion would not familiarize one with all of the nuances and subtleties of Buddhism or any other tradition. These writings are meant only as a brief introduction or overview.
Hinduism is a religion that embraces many different factions and bodies of knowledge. One of the world's most important mystical religions is Buddhism, which grew out of Hinduism. It is the philosophy left to us by Siddhartha Gautama, a great spiritual leader who was disinclined to worship the Hindu deities and was opposed to the caste system that still prevails in India today. The Buddha was living in India in the sixth century BC. It is interesting to note that many other great leaders were on the planet at the same time, including Confucius, Lao Tse, Zarathustra, Varhamana, Pythagorus and Heraclitus.
Another key figure in the history of this religion was King Asoka, who brought Buddhism to the wider world. While it spread to many other eastern countries, such as Ceylon, Burma, Thailand, Tibet, Nepal, China and Japan, in India Buddhism was assimilated into the all-encompassing embrace of Hinduism, where Gautama Buddha is thought of as an incarnation of Vishnu. Like many great spiritual leaders, including Jesus, who considered themselves to be messengers and not 'gods', Gautama eventually became deified by the popular religious movement that he spawned.
Buddhism is somewhat less concerned with metaphysics and is more of a practical 'how to' guide with a distinct psychological flavor. At the heart of Buddhism are the Four Noble Truths: 1) Suffering or frustration, called 'duhkha', is the main aspect of the human condition. 2) Suffering is the result of resisting the natural flow and clinging to illusion and ego, unable to see one's own divinity. Such clinging is called 'trishna'. The wrong view of life, called 'avidya', leads to a futile vicious circle of karma known as 'samsara'. 3) It is possible to break free from samsara and to move toward moksha and nirvana. 4) The best way to achieve nirvana was via the Eightfold Path of self-development. The first two paths involve 'right-seeing', paths three through six involve 'right-acting', paths seven and eight involve 'right-awareness', the direct experience of mystical reality.
The two pillars of Buddhism are 'prajna' - transcendental wisdom, and 'karuna' - love and compassion extended to all things. One Buddhist meditation involves sending love to the visualization of someone who is easy to love. Next, one would send love to someone a little harder to love until, eventually, love would be sent to the visualization of someone that one might find totally distasteful. Love is said to be the true nature of consciousness, leading to the loss of ego and the gaining of the awareness of unity, the knowledge that everything including self is a part of the whole. The Buddhist concept of 'Dharmakaya' is much the same as Brahman and 'Bodhi' is like Atman. One of the key Buddhist texts, the Avatamsaka Sutra, speaks of the unity and interrelationship of all things and events. Like other mystical traditions, Buddhism stresses that the ultimate understanding of reality is available not through rational thought and the perceptions of the five senses, but through direct mystical experience.
in next month's newsletter we'll take an introductory look at the Chinese mystical philosophies of Confusianism and Taoism.