The “Wheel of Dharma” in Buddhism means the teaching that the Buddha expounded to free all of life from the effects of suffering. In his first sermon, the Buddha taught the Middle Way and the four noble truths. He preached this sermon to the five ascetics, who were his former companions during his own ascetic phase of practice. These five became his first five disciples when they responded to his teaching by taking refuge in the three treasures. The Middle Way and the four noble truths are the foundations for all the Buddha’s teachings; all schools of Buddhism recognize their validity and importance. The three treasures are the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha – The Teacher, the Teaching, and the Community that upholds and follows the teaching. From the very beginning of Buddhism, taking refuge in the three treasures was the way to express one’s sincere commitment to follow the Buddha Dharma. The three treasures are fundamental to all schools of Buddhism. This chapter explains the meaning and importance of the Middle Way, the four noble truths, and the three treasures, both as the basic teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha and as they are understood and practiced within the context of the Lotus Sutra.
The Buddha began his first sermon by revealing the Middle Way between self-indulgence and self-denial. The ideal of the Middle Way is to live a life of harmony and equilibrium by escaping excessive self-involvement. To live in accord with the Middle Way, the Buddha taught that one must follow the “noble eightfold path.” This path is also the fourth of the four noble truths which the Buddha explains after discussing the Middle Way. The noble eightfold path refers to a way of life whereby every thought, word, and deed is authentic and in accord with the living moment. The Middle Way is a way of living and acting which is genuine and not forced. It takes into account all the dynamics of the present situation in order to act in a way that will bring maximum benefit for all concerned. The follower of the Middle Way avoids fanaticism, fundamentalism, or legalism and acts with genuine insight and compassion in every situation. In this way, every aspect of life becomes an expression of the freedom and selflessness which is the Middle Way.
After teaching the Middle Way, the Buddha proceeded to teach the four noble truths. These four are: the truth of suffering, the truth of the origin of suffering, the truth of the cessation of suffering, and the truth of the means of ending suffering, which is the eightfold path.
The truth of suffering is that life is incapable of providing us with permanent fulfillment or security. The noble truth of suffering may strike some as too obvious to mention and others as overly pessimistic depending on one’s temperament. However, the first noble truth is neither pessimistic nor all that obvious. The word translated as “suffering” could just as easily be translated as “anguish” or “dissatisfaction.” It indicates a whole spectrum of feeling, ranging from the subtle vulnerability and uneasiness of simply being alive to the outright suffering of mortality. This is not a wholesale condemnation of life, but simply a critical evaluation of life’s unsettling and unstable nature. It is a very rare person who can claim that life is totally blissful and free of trouble, pain, and disappointment. Thoreau’s description of the “life of quiet desperation” would probably apply to most people. The majority, however, very rarely admit that this is just the way things are. Many even seem to feel that they have been robbed or cheated out of the happiness and security that life was supposed to give them, never realizing that life provides no such guarantees. In order to help people overcome their naive assumptions, and to encourage those who have become bitter and disappointed, the truth of suffering teaches us to recognize the facts courageously with both eyes open. Once we have realized the truth, we can find true happiness, having broken free of the illusion that happiness is a guarantee.
Even the simple act of chanting Namu Myoho Renge Kyo expresses this truth. The word “Namu” means “I devote my life” or “I take refuge in” and it expresses the need to take refuge and devote ourselves wholeheartedly to the Wonderful Dharma of the Lotus Flower Teaching, Myoho Renge Kyo. If life were perfect, We probably would not feel the need to seek out and then dedicate ourselves to the highest truth, which is expressed by Namu Myoho Renge Kyo. The expression of such a need is an acknowledgment of the noble truth of suffering.
Next, the Buddha taught the causes and conditions which bring about suffering and dissatisfaction, which is the second noble truth. The truth of the origin of suffering teaches that suffering is caused by the craving for happiness itself. This craving is the result of the unrealistic expectation that life should be a source of unchangeable happiness, the illusion eliminated by the first noble truth. Craving is what transforms the sometimes painful life process into a life characterized by subtle agitation and anxiety even under the best circumstances. In the worst circumstances, it can make life an ongoing cycle of agony and unbearable suffering. Thus, while external circumstances can indeed bring about uncomfortable or tragic experiences, it is the internal craving which turns mere pain into suffering. Indeed, craving can even spoil pleasant circumstances with its incessant demands and impoverished outlook on life. All of this is not to deny or denigrate the experiences of those who experience affliction, exploitation, or tragedy. The point is that when one lets craving compound painful circumstances with emotional suffering, then one has truly given up one’s power. Then one is destined to be controlled by the forces of greed, anger, and ignorance which are naturally generated in reaction to suffering.
The second noble truth introduces the idea of “dependent origination” which teaches that “because of this, there is that.” Nothing, including suffering, stands on its own without causes and conditions. If suffering has causes and conditions, then there is the possibility of transforming the situation by changing those causes and conditions. The Buddha also stated that dependent origination is the Dharma itself. In Mahayana Buddhism, dependent origination is taught as “emptiness,” because there are no independent, substantial, unchanging phenomena anywhere to be found. This is not a nihilistic or bleak emptiness however; rather, it is a boundless, wonderful, and mysterious emptiness which allows things to be just what they are without any hindrance. Unfortunately, this dependently arising universe also allows for interactions and unfoldings that are perceived as less than wonderful because sometimes sentient beings can not trust in the subtle workings of the True Reality. Instead, they try to cling to what cannot be grasped and create unpleasant results.
In the Odaimoku, “Myoho” means “Wonderful Dharma.” This Wonderful Dharma is itself the dependently arising nature or emptiness of the universe of which we are a part. Chanting Odaimoku is recalling the subtle workings of this Wonderful Dharma and entrusting oneself to it. This entrusting acknowledges the second noble truth — it is an affirmation that suffering has no ultimate power over us when we recognize its causes and work to change them.
In a passage from “A Conversation Between a Sage and an Unenlightened Man,” a sacred writing of the Nichiren tradition, we find a very eloquent presentation of the first two noble truths. In this passage, the suffering of the six worlds and the workings of the three poisons which keep us trapped there are described from the point of view of a man who has begun to seek the Buddha Dharma in order to free himself from suffering.
In the third noble truth, the Buddha teaches the possibility of liberation from suffering and incessant craving. This is the noble truth of cessation. If suffering is conditional, then it is not necessary and can be dispensed with. The possibility of liberation from the vicious cycle of suffering is the real meaning of the term nirvana. Nirvana does not refer to some metaphysical realm of bliss. It actually means “to extinguish.” It refers to the extinguishing of the flames of craving which keep us entangled in a self-oriented viewpoint that inevitably leads to the cycle of birth and death. When this self-oriented viewpoint is transcended, then one realizes that liberation can not be a private affair; it is, rather, a shared reality in which all sentient beings take part with no need to distinguish self and other. Finally, there is the realization that even the duality between passions and enlightenment or between the world of birth and death and the world of nirvana are themselves false dichotomies which are transcended in the Buddha’s awakening.
“Renge,” the lotus flower, is the symbol of this process of unfolding enlightenment in the midst of worldly life. The lotus flower derives its nourishment from muddy water and then floats above that same water without stain or blemish. In the same way, buddhahood reveals itself in our ordinary lives and transmutes our passions and ignorance into the purity and clarity of awakening. After all, it is our craving and consequent suffering which bring us to the point where we look for something finer, and it is the phenomenal world itself which is the Pure Land of Tranquil Light once one views it with the eyes of a buddha. In addition, just as the lotus flower blossoms and seeds at the same time, buddhahood itself is both the seed and the fruit of our Buddhist practice. If there were no intrinsic buddha-nature as the ever-present possibility of buddhahood, would anyone try to seek it? Isn’t buddhahood simply awakening to what has always been present? Whereas Myoho, the Wonderful Dharma, is the basis for properly understanding the cause of anguish, Renge, the lotus flower, is a symbol for this law’s positive implications — the cessation of suffering and the realization of buddhahood. The lotus flower reveals the deepest and richest meaning of the third noble truth; this, in turn, motivates our practice of Odaimoku.
So how does one live the Middle Way in order to put an end to craving? The Buddha once again returns to the eightfold path, which is the fourth noble truth. As already stated, following the eightfold path is to live in accordance with the Middle Way. The eightfold path consists of “right view,” “right thought,” “right speech,” “right action,” “right livelihood,” “right effort,” “right mindfulness,” and “right concentration.” Furthermore, the word usually translated as “right,” could also be translated as “perfect,” “whole,” or “complete.” Each part of this eightfold path, then, is an aspect of one’s life that should be made whole or complete, and not just “right” according to some moralistic or arbitrary religious scheme. Anyone can see that a tradition which enables one to have a whole or complete life is the right one to follow. This is a very pragmatic and universal criteria for judging the validity of a religion or practice, and it avoids dogmatism and unfounded speculation. The specific meaning of each path is as follows:
Right View: Fully understanding life as revealed by the four noble truths.
Right Thought: Thinking clearly without the distortion of greed, anger or ignorance. It also means that one should be sincere and not harbor ulterior motives.
Right Speech: The avoidance of deception, gossip, slander and other forms of verbal abuse or dishonesty. Instead, one speaks only to benefit others and to reveal the truth.
Right Action: The cultivation of ethical conduct. One acts to benefit others and refrains from killing, stealing, sexual deception or exploitation, and other forms of harmful activity.
Right Livelihood: One should be able to make a living without harming or exploiting others. Right livelihood precludes such activities as dealing in armaments, drug dealing, fraud, insider trading, and any other means of earning money which involves the exploitation or harming of others.
Right Effort: The cultivation of good habits on the one hand, and the curbing of bad habits on the other.
Right Mindfulness: The full awareness of all of forms, feelings, mental states, and phenomena in all places and at all times.
Right Concentration: The practice of concentration techniques in order to acquire tranquility, insight into the true nature of life, and liberation from false views.
The four noble truths and the noble eightfold path are mutually reinforcing. The possibility of liberation has been spelled out in the four noble truths and the actual living of that truth is the noble eightfold path. Right view accords with the four noble truths. A life committed to these insights is a way of life based upon a value system that is very different from the unexamined presuppositions of ordinary life. The other seven parts of the noble eightfold path are, in a sense, the corollaries of right view. Once one has accepted the four noble truths, it no longer makes sense to live in a way that violates the noble eightfold path. All the sutras and commentaries, in fact, are expositions on the noble eightfold path, because they all aim to induce right view and to show how to live and practice in accordance with the right view of the four noble truths.
The noble eightfold path is also taught in terms of the “threefold training,” consisting of precepts, meditation, and wisdom. Precepts refers to the ethical demands of right speech, right action, and right livelihood. Specifically, there are five precepts which are at the heart of Buddhist morality. The “five precepts” are as follows: not to kill, not to steal, not to get involved in sexual misconduct, not to speak falsely, and not to use intoxicants which cloud the mind. Meditation refers to the cultivation of the mind, covering right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. Wisdom refers to the acquisition of right view and right thought. The Buddha taught that one is able to shake loose the bonds of craving and ignorance and attain the liberation of nirvana when precepts, meditation, and wisdom are cultivated together.
The practice of the eightfold path can be very demanding. After all, it is essentially a description of enlightened behavior. Since very few of us are enlightened, it is very difficult to live up to. One could even say that to become enlightened, you have to be enlightened. The Lotus Sutra, however, assures all people that it is possible not only to fulfill the eightfold path but also to realize buddhahood. We must maintain our faith in the Buddha’s teaching of the One Vehicle which leads all beings to buddhahood. Instead of trying to meticulously scrutinize our every thought, word, and deed to see if it measures up to the criteria of the eightfold path, we should simply put aside our self-doubts and recriminations and chant Namu Myoho Renge Kyo with confidence and joy. Through Odaimoku, we connect with the true spirit of the eightfold path, the unfolding of the Buddha’s life in our own lives. In the growing virtue, peace, and insight that we allow to emerge from within our lives as we chant, we gradually and naturally fulfill and abide by the eightfold path. “Kyo,” or sutra, therefore represents not only the Lotus Sutra but all of the sutras of the Buddha, whose right views and right practices are contained in Namu Myoho Renge Kyo. When we chant, we should realize that Namu Myoho Renge Kyo is the seed and the fruit of all the other teachings. It expresses the true spirit from which all the other teachings and practices emerge and towards which they are leading.
In a sacred writing of the Nichiren tradition entitled “The Izu Exile,” the solution to the problem of suffering and the way to that solution is revealed from the perspective of the Buddha’s highest teaching, the Lotus Sutra. This writing teaches that the Buddha’s enlightenment is within our reach as practitioners of the Lotus Sutra.
The following excerpts illustrate this teaching:
Once the Buddha finished teaching the four noble truths to his five former companions in asceticism, the eldest ascetic arose and declared that the Buddha had indeed discovered the Dharma (Truth or Law). The other ascetics also affirmed that the Buddha had discovered and taught the Truth which leads to freedom. They then became the first bhikshus (monks) of the Sangha (the Buddhist community) by taking refuge in the three treasures, consisting of the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. At that moment, the Buddha Dharma was no longer just a private insight, but a living tradition that would enable all people to realize their own capacity for buddhahood.
The whole idea of taking refuge is a recognition that our life as it is ordinarily lived is full of anxiety, dissatisfaction, and even outright suffering. We seek to find out if life holds any answers to our search for happiness and ease. We may come to wonder if life is meaningful at all. It may even be tempting to give up and sink into the conviction that life is just an accident of thoughtless waves and particles and heartless interactions in the void. It is at this point that we may begin a sincere inquiry into the meaning of things. Who am I? Why am I here? What is this all about anyway? Some of us, if we are fortunate, may stumble upon the three treasures: the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.
In the Buddha, we discover that it is possible for people to awaken to the Truth about life. The life of Shakyamuni Buddha shows that it is possible to resolve those perennial doubts in a way that does not require blind faith or blind submission to the rites, ceremonies, dogmas, and rules of an institution that may simply be another part of the problem. Shakyamuni Buddha provided us with a primordial archetype of human wisdom and compassion. When we take refuge in him, we take refuge in the possibility of our own awakening. For those of us who put faith in Namu Myoho Renge Kyo, we are reminded that the Eternal Shakyamuni Buddha is not an otherworldly reality, abstract ideal, or long dead teacher; he is, rather, the spirit of awakening which is constantly leading us to buddhahood.
In the Dharma, we find a teaching that enables us to cut through the illusions and karmic hindrances that prevent us from awakening. The Dharma is a placeless and timeless intuition of the True Reality of All Existence. These insights are beyond words and phrases, but have no reality apart from them. Through the words and phrases of the sutras, we engage that True Reality in a way that causes us to reflect on the true nature of our lives. It allows us to see the timeless, placeless teaching that makes us rejoice in the Dharma all the more. Those of us who chant Namu Myoho Renge Kyo take delight in all the sutras as well as in the unfathomable True Dharma. We do so because we are able to rejoice in the true intent of all the sutras and directly engage the ineffable Dharma through Odaimoku.
In the Sangha, we join a community that supports and encourages a life that is devoted to the Way. The local Sangha also provides us with a base community that enables us to reach out to the larger Sangha of all beings. Without the Sangha, we we are like a plant lacking firm roots which quickly dies. We are just as vulnerable without a supportive community of fellow practitioners. In a more positive light, the way of the truly compassionate person is the way of engagement with one’s fellow beings. Certainly, there are no perfect Sanghas, and certainly there are times for solitude and reflection, but always there is the need to maintain a connection with others in practice and in caring.
The Buddhist Sangha is not just the monks and nuns, though many have mistakenly come to that conclusion. According to Shakyamuni Buddha, the Sangha consists of those who have sincerely begun to practice the Buddha Dharma, whether monastic or lay. The monastic community is the institutional framework that maintains the tradition and provides an environment and community where the Buddha Dharma can be practiced without the distractions of family and work. The lay community upholds the Buddha Dharma by applying it to their daily lives and by supporting the monastic community. In Mahayana Buddhism, the Sangha consists of those who are striving for buddhahood themselves in order to benefit all beings. These are the bodhisattvas and can be either monastics or lay people.
In the Lotus Sutra, innumerable bodhisattvas emerge from beneath the earth and declare that they are the original disciples of Shakyamuni Buddha from the beginningless past. These bodhisattvas from underground are really the people who practice the Lotus Sutra today. We are the Buddha’s primordial disciples because our connection with buddhahood has no beginning or end. Our transformation of daily life, rooted in the Wonderful Dharma, is the emergence from beneath the earth. Our membership in the ranks of the bodhisattvas from underground is assured whenever we take up the practice of the Lotus Sutra by chanting Namu Myoho Renge Kyo. The Odaimoku is like a password that provides us entrance into the ultimate Sangha of the original disciples of the Eternal Shakyamuni Buddha.
Nichiren often stressed the importance of gratitude to all those who have made life possible for us – parents, other beings, and the ruler of the country (who represented the harmony of the natural world as well as the rule of law and order in Nichiren’s day). Above all, Nichiren was grateful to the three treasures. They alone made it possible to pay back the debt owed to all other beings for the gift of life by allowing one to work for their enlightenment. Nichiren felt that gratitude to these four groups was so important that he often cited them in his letters and treatises.
In a sacred writing of the Nichiren tradition called “The Four Debts of Gratitude,” the following is written about the importance of the three treasures:
This passage clearly show the depth of faith and gratitude that Nichiren felt for the three treasures.
The Buddha is the ever present spirit of awakening at work in our lives, the Dharma is the reflection of our own capacity to realize and practice the Truth, and the Sangha is the reflection of our own ability to share the Dharma and to create a peaceful and loving community. By taking refuge in the three treasures we are inspired to fulfill the threefold training of precepts, meditation, and wisdom. In doing so, are able to realize the four noble truths for ourselves. Nichiren taught that we must chant Namu Myoho Renge Kyo to center our minds and hearts upon the Wonderful Dharma. The Odaimoku is the Wonderful Dharma, and as such is the true nature of the four noble truths, the true spirit of the eightfold path, and the true source of the three treasures.END=NAM MO SHAKYAMUNI BUDDHA.( 3 TIMES ).
Wednesday, 21 September 2011
III. The Wheel of Dharma
Posted by BACH LIEN HOA at 23:18