Wednesday, 11 June 2014 00:00
By Vipula Wanigasekera
Self-inquiry and self-realisation are fundamental to the Dhamma – the philosophy of Buddha, and this is the very teaching that seems to be eclipsed by some of the practices, rituals, and beliefs that are predominantly witnessed today, leaving genuine freedom seekers in a state of confusion.
Knowledge vs. wisdom
One obvious paradox is the correlation that has been made between knowledge of Dhamma in theoretical sense and the truth which needs to be realised. Can the accumulation of knowledge be an instrument to realisation of the truth?
If not, the answer lies in the Kalama Sutta – a discourse of the Buddha which advocates self-realisation as against collecting and gathering knowledge with beliefs widely displayed by present-day scholars, impressing the audiences. The damage is immeasurable to those who are blindly accepting such versions.
This Sutta describes ‘Buddha’s Charter of Free Inquiry,’ portrays the Buddha as a pragmatist who offers ‘pointers’ for the followers to wear the freethinker’s kit towards finding the truth.
The Buddha said: ‘Do not go upon what has been acquired through hearing, traditions, scriptures, and above all, the consideration that the Guru is our teacher.’ In other words, Lord Buddha said: ‘Don’t even believe me.’ That is the most profound statement coming from the Buddha himself which compels the seekers to go on the search all by themselves with ‘pointers’ as guidance.
The truth of suffering
So where should the followers of the Dhamma begin? Perhaps the first noble truth of Dukka. If one realises that there is Dukka or suffering whatever the way you live in this world, that would be an effective start because what is envisaged through Dhamma is end of suffering. There is no purpose of understanding the Dhamma otherwise.
Dukka arises from inevitable happenings in life such as old age, sicknesses and finally death. No human can escape this in spite of power, wealth, and education they possess. Then comes the other types of suffering viz. stress, anxiety, worries, anger and hatred with which people enormously suffer and some while inflicting suffering on others. In fact those who have wealth and power suffer more psychologically than the ones who are aspiring to have them.
What is Nirvana?
The commentary by Buddhaghosa in Visuddhimagga – the Path of Purification based on the Ratha-Vinita Sutta – explains the course to Nibbana. Buddhaghosa’s work has been subsequently questioned but that will not preclude anyone from analysing as to whether the descriptions are correct to one’s own understanding.
“Suffering exists, but no sufferer can be found. Actions exist, but no doer of actions is there. Nirvana exists, but no one who enters it. The Path exists, but no traveller can be seen.” (Visuddimagga, 513)
This is one description of Nirvana. It says there is no person as a permanent self. Thinker behind the thought. Experiencer behind the experience. Logically, this could be the closest pointer to understanding Nirvana if one starts analysing Dukka and the vicissitudes of life of which the Buddha said, there is no way out. But if there is no self going through Dukka or vicissitudes, shouldn’t that be a ‘point’ to ponder to know the subtlety of Dhamma which is misinterpreted to be ‘deep’?
Sermons to attract the audiences
Most sermons today revolve around collecting kusal or merit towards material gains in this life or lives after. Some discourses spell out how to live a good family life where specially the gurus in isolated towers with comforts have absolutely no idea of the agonies that families go through in stiff competition , be it education or employment.
In one discourse that the writer attended (because of unprecedented popularity where thousands gather), the entire sermon is a description of various types of hells, causing a fear psychosis among the audience and the different heavens creating desires and both these are the barriers which Buddha explained under Kama thanha (seeking pleasures), Bava thanha (securing existence) and Vibhava thanha (avoiding pains).
Mind is the forerunner
‘Mind causes everything,’ the Buddha said. What is mind? A stream of thoughts leading to perceptions and emotions. Most people do not accept that they are living a mind-driven life with all the troubles, stress, doubting, wondering, and confusion. Suppose there are thoughts to which no attention is given – not for thoughts in day-to-day movements but the thoughts that are of no use whatsoever except that they keep instituting one’s life story with past and future that does not exist.
The mind creates an illusory self, the life story and describes the world with which the self has to negotiate. At the same time, if the self is illusory, it has never been there to begin with. The seekers enjoy the freedom with the realisation that there is no seeker! That is the subtlety that needs to be discovered with wisdom and not knowledge or practices that most Buddhists are indulged in present Buddhist society.
The irrational framework
Should the Maithri Buddha appear tomorrow wearing a worn-out robe, walking along streets , sweating under the hot sun, preaching Dhamma with metaphors and similes, to individuals and groups at odd times on pavements and under trees, will he be accepted by the present framework of Buddhist society?
Of course the readers know the answer. That explains the level to which the beliefs have veiled the Dhamma, which is simple and too simple for complicated people to comprehend.
(The writer is a former Senior Diplomatic Officer, currently attached to Sri Lanka Tourism, a teacher offering discourses/meditative sessions to tourist groups seeking inner peace and tranquility, and the Author of ‘ Pointers to Enlightenment’. He can be reached via email@example.com.)