Buddhism, a Living Experience

How to find for oneself the fruits of the Buddha’s teaching but as a lived experience.

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Buddhism, a Living Experience

Buddhism, a Living Experience


It seems that no book is complete without a foreword, although that is usually the last part to be written by the author himself, or an introduction written by someone else who has not even seen the book. It certainly provides opportunity to air a few unrelated views, with the result that it is skipped by many readers (including myself) who prefer to get on with the job in hand. That is really a pity, for there may be several points of general interest, which could not be dealt with in the body of the work.

In this foreword I take the opportunity of offering an explanation of the title: Buddhism, a Living Experience. The book itself will present an opportunity for experiencing.

There used to be a time when the world of thought was divided between idealists and materialists, between searchers and researchers, between theoreticians and practitioners. But thought is not much thought of these days, notwithstanding our various ideologies. Ideas are no good unless they produce results, and ideals are just the stuff dreams are made of.

This is the age of technology, which is the knowledge of applied science, of the know-how, which is interested in the working of things. It is the age of the instrument, which maybe as sophisticated as an electronic computer, but which is for most people still restricted to the bottle-opener and a screwdriver, for opening and closing respectively.

It reflects a sad lack in education when people are not even interested in what is beyond physics, in what Aristotle used to call metaphysics. However, things which technology cannot reach are for that reason not less factual. It is sad indeed, when it is noticed (if it is noted at all), that the most important instrument at any conference or seminar is the bottle-opener. But what is really sad in this is the technological approach to the problems of life. A psychological problem is the bottled-up energy of a schizophrenic; and our only approach to a solution is to find a release of this energy, the technique of the bottle-opener. But there is no understanding of that energy, or of what we consider to be energy, of the reasons and motives which make that energy function at all.

It is true that we are always searching for a solution of some problem. But search is not a research; it is only an attempt at finding the correct key which fits the lock to open the door. But have we ever paused to realise that he who has made the lock has also made the key to open it? If I understand the lock, I have also the understanding to open and to close; in understanding then there; is no problem. There is only lack of understanding. This is not mysticism; it is not a revelation; it is just factual reality. It is not scientific technology; it is not religious idealism; it is just seeing things as they are.

Buddhism has been approached as a philosophy, as a religion, as a system of moral principles and tenets. It has been analysed, opened up, displayed as a system of psychology, of logic, of natural ethics, of deduction and inference. But as a way of life it is more than that. We have the noble eight-fold path of a learner, the tenfold path of the arahant; we have even the four stages of sainthood and their fourfold fruits. Yet, all that is far from the actual eating of that fruit. Hence it is suggested to focus attention not so much on the philosophic divisions and psychological classifications of a later Abhidhamma, but on the actual experiencing in oneself, step by step as we go along. Then one step may suffice to understand the whole of Buddhism; for it is not in learning, but in actual experiencing, that observation ceases to be knowledge and becomes alive. Then Buddhism will cease to be a method for attainment and be an experiencing of truth, here and now.

It was already during the lifetime of the Buddha (now over 2500 years ago) that one of his chief disciples, the great Kassapa, had the occasion to remark that many monks were renowned for their learning. Even though they failed in the practice thereof, with the result that ‘now there are more precepts and fewer Arahants’, ‘that they were devoid of the qualities necessary for the higher life’ (S. 276 ff. 287; M 11, 87).

Conditions have certainly not improved, when most precepts are ignored, and Arahants unknown. We have with us the teaching of the Buddha, in texts and commentaries, in the original suttas and developed doctrines. We do not lack in books, written with scholarly dissection on minute differences of opinion, regarding terms and technicalities. Schools have been founded on views, sects have separated over explanations, claims and counter-claims are established about methods and applications. But, where is the experience which is Buddhism? We may repeat with Ānanda: ‘Thus have I heard’; but who is there to say: ‘Thus have I experienced: thus I know?‘

It is in terms of experiencing that the following pages have been written, as a living experience of the truth which has come to us in the first discourses of the Buddha. It is true that even the first discourse, the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta did not succeed in making Arahants of that band of five ascetics. No teaching can make a saint! But there was an experiencing, a sharing of truth, an opening of mind, which was so profound and so shocking that the very foundations of ignorance were laid bare, when that field of knowledge was ploughed up, when the knowledge of conflict and its origin, its removal and the way thereto were shown.

Thus it was possible to receive and to view with dispassion that most essential doctrine of no-self, of non-identity, of non-entity, which not only revolutionised the mind into sainthood, but truly turned the wheel of truth from a self-seeking salvation into an emancipation from all previous knowledge and tradition. That was not learning, but experiencing. That is living Buddhism.

There is a saying of the Buddha, recorded in the Majjhima Nikāya, the collection of middle length sayings, which sums up his entire teaching in two lines:

One thing only do I teach
Woe and show its end to reach.

That is exactly what he did in his first discourse entitled the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, the discourse in which he set rolling the Wheel of righteousness. This discourse on the four noble truths (cattāri ariya saccani) is not only the foundation of the doctrine, but it is so comprehensive, that it was sufficient to convert his erstwhile followers in asceticism to become followers of the middle path. Thus, it would appear possible to bring all aspects of Buddhism under one or other of these noble truths. And that has become the general layout of this book.

Moreover, the foundations were laid for the second course, the anatta-lakkhaṇa Sutta, the discourse on the mark of non-entity, the distinguishing mark which is not to be found outside the teaching of the Buddha. The good work begun by the first discourse in the conversion of the five ascetics was completed by this second one, when all five disciples attained arahantship in full realisation of the truth and emancipation of mind.

Making these four noble truths then the basic structure of the doctrine of the Buddha, we have arrived at the following schedule:


1. The truth of conflict (dukkha-sacca) reveals the act that everything is in chaos, that every complex is a conflict. Thus this first truth reveals the nature of existence. To arrive at the understanding of this truth, there is the analysis of individual existence in the five aggregates of body and mind (pañcakkhandha), as matter, sensation, perception, ideation and consciousness; there is the further analysis of matter in its chief elements of extension and cohesion, of caloricity and oscillation, of its derived qualities of colour, shape, taste and its existence in space and time; its integration, continuance and change; the analysis of the mental formations and states of consciousness; all leading up to the one conclusion that the entire process of development of thought is essentially a process of conflict (saṅkhāra dukkha).

2. The truth of the origin of conflict (dukkha-samudaya-sacca) leads one to the discovery that conflict is born from a misapprehension of impermanence (anicca-dukkha saññā). This perception is elaborated in the doctrine of dependent origination (paṭicca-samuppāda), on which are based the two doctrines of kamma and rebirth. This naturally brings one to the problem of what is reborn and its solution in the characteristic teaching of soullessness (anatta).

3. The truth of cessation of conflict (dukkha-nirodha-sacca) involves an understanding that there can be no conflict, when there is no self. But, this process of ceasing cannot be the outcome of a desire for cessation, as any desire can create only more problems and further conflicts. Hence, a re-examination of striving and escaping, of being and becoming, of action and reaction, of the real nature of ignorance and experience, of seeing things as they are, may bring about a cessation of the thought that makes the ‘I’. And that would be the cessation of conflict.

4. The truth of the method which can bring about this cessation of conflict (dukkha-nirodha-gāminī-paṭipadā-sacca) is also called the noble path (ariya magga), an eightfold path for learners, a tenfold path for adepts (asekha); a timeless path of conduct (sīla) in speech, action and living; a path of mind-culture (samādhi) in effort, mindfulness and concentration, a path of insight, (paññā) in understanding perspective, with wisdom leading to deliverance. It is a timeless path, because it is in the ultimate sense not a path of progress, because there is no walker on that path. And yet, the path is there with its hindrances and obstacles, fetters and intoxicants; for, delights can obstruct as much as absorptions can delay.

And at the end there is the ending, which is not a goal of striving, of attainment, of achievement, because there is no self (anatta) to reap the fruits of action. But there is the deliverance from craving, enlightenment from ignorance, the cessation of striving, the ending of becoming, which is Nibbāna.

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