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soc.culture.thai Culture FAQ
Section - C.3) Buddhism and Thai culture

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                  Orthodox Buddhism According to Me

Canonical Buddhism has often been explained in terms of the 4 Noble
Truths and the 8-fold Noble Path. It can also be explained in terms of
The Dependent Origination Theory or the Three Characteristics or other
unorthodox ways. I will now summarize basic Buddhism as I know it,
using the Three Characteristic approach.

Central to buddhism is the concept of Three Characteristics
(Trilaxana) which proposes that all composite things (matter or mind,
i.e. everything excluding Nirvana) are:

1. Impermanent (anicca)

2. Of suffering/unsatisfactory nature (Dukkha)

3. Without Self entity/Empty (Anatta/Sunyata)

(1) is by now almost universal in the scientific world. But sciences
only address the materialistic part of things whereas Buddhism claims
anicca in the mental world as well. Implicit in this is also that
there is no (permanent) soul in Buddhism.

(2) is a corollary of (1). If things are changing every moment then
they are not as they appear to be (permanent) , thus they are
unsatisfactory by nature. Both material and mental entities change
continually according to causes and conditions. This is buddhist's
objective way of looking at things as they are; it's not pessimistic
nor optimistic. If one doesn't see 'sufferings' in all these changing
conditions of things then one is not mentally suit to be a buddhist.
To see 'sufferings', however, does not mean that one has to feel
suffered for that. A true buddhist will enjoy life in a much more
objective way than others because s-he realizes that happiness itself
is the result of interplays of causes and conditions which are bound
to change over time. Suffering will definitely ensue if one does not
understand the ever changing nature of causes and conditions of

(3) is unique to Buddhism and is very difficult to understand. There
are two types of Emptiness: Ontological and Psychological. Buddhism
claims that a thing cannot exist INHERENTLY by its own self. Its
existence depends on the existences of other things, ad infinitum. In
other words, there is no permanent, pure element as a basis for the
existence of anything. Things exist because of the inter-dependency on
one another. This is the basic argument behind 'ontological
Emptiness'. It should be clear now that Emptiness in Buddhism is not
'nothingness.' In fact, Emptiness means All and Everything being
co-dependent, co-arising. On the coarsest level, one can argue that
material thing exists only if mind exists first. Material is thus
dependent on mind. Mind is also dependent on its own self. Some
buddhists refer to the primordial Truth as 'the original mind.' This
is simply a mind devoid of all attachments, which is often regarded as
the 'core' of a living entity or 'Buddha nature'; but this is just a
way of language and should not be confused with Self or Atman in
Hinduism for even the Buddha nature is also Empty.

It should not be too hard to imagine that this core is interacting
with the outside world through the brain, and that it is partially
conditioned by the brain itself. To discover the state of the original
mind then (certain functions of) the brain must be bypassed initially
so that it will be able to correct itself (of wrong views) in the end.
Only when certain portions of the brain is bypassed can the mind
perform its task OBJECTIVELY to realize the Three Characteristics.
[Note: This paragraph is purely author's own speculation.]

The second type of Emptiness is psychological; this one is more
important than ontological Emptiness and is more relevant to Buddhism.
Psychological Emptiness is the state of the mind Empty of all
attachments to all dualistic thinkings. In fact, Buddhism asserts that
all human's sufferings are due to attachments to dualistic thinking.
After all, it is the discriminating mind that tell us that things are
impermanent and of suffering nature. An enlightened buddhist is said
to not attach even to the Ultimate Truth which s-he attained. To be
permanently Empty is to attain buddhist enlightenment (Nibbana,
Nirvana). Buddhist values wisdom so much that the pure form of which
is said to be the one that drives an enlightened buddhist. The wisdom
uses all the dualistic thinking to its advantage without being
attached to them in the same manner as the lotus plant deriving its
existence from the water in which it embeds , without being wetted by
it. To work with an Empty mind should be the most productive and
creative way to work.

It is the mind who attains Nirvana. Both the mind and Nirvana are
Empty. It cannot be said whether a enlightened person exist or
not-exist after the physical death, because that state transcends all
dualities. For the sake of discussion, Nirvana can be termed
'Cessation Element' (Nirodha Dhatu). Buddhadasa had explained the
state of Cessation Element and the rest very succinctly in terms of
controllability. He said that all things are uncontrollable because
they lack any 'Self' entity to be controlled. The mundane elements are
uncontrollable because they change along according to their causes and
conditions which also are uncontroll- able. The supreme element (i.e.
Cessation Element) is also uncontrollable because it is BEYOND causes
and conditions.

Some evolved schools of Hinduism (e.g. Vedanta) is now very similar to
Buddhism in both the practice and the philosophy; the only major
difference seems to lie on this final state. Hinduism claims that the
state of purified mind is the enlightenment and that the mind enjoy
eternal bliss by becoming one with the Ultimate Reality known by
various names such as Param-Atman and Brahman. Buddhism claims no
attachment even to this state of bliss. Buddhist does not claim to be
attached to the non-attachment state either. As Buddhadasa once said:
All the 84,000 discourses of the Buddha can be summarized into one
sentence: Do not attach in ANYTHING.

There has been a lot of confusions about Kamma (action) and rebirth in
Buddhism. Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, a noted Thai buddhist monk whom many
including myself believe to be a buddha, mentioned that Buddha Gotama
(the historical Buddha) never taught about physical rebirth. Rebirth
in Buddhism means instant mental rebirth due to craving and
attachment. The fruit of Kamma (Vibahk or reaction) in Buddhism is
also instantaneous , at the same moment as when the Kamma (action) is
done. Buddhist should do kammas that will end all kammas so that there
will be no 'rebirth' which is the basis for sufferings. We should not
be too obsessive with the long-range kammas (especially the
after-death ones) for they are at best uncertain and depend on other
interfering factors. Instantaneous kammas is exactly action = reaction
and is completely relevant to the Buddhist's Art of Living at the
present moment.

The buddhist way of attaining Nirvana is to 'observe mental
phenomena.' We should try to be objective with our own mind and
observe how do our mind interacts with the external world and with
itself internally to come up with attachment to dualistic thinkings.
Bit by bit we will learn to let go of attachments. This process can
often be enhanced by right-meditation techniques. Buddhist meditation
is nothing but the process of objective observation of the nature of
the mind. This process would be efficient only when the mind is calm
enough, but not too calm. A naturally calm person thus has no need to
go through all the formal technique of meditation. Meditative
observation should ideally be done at every opportunity, even when
answering the calls of nature. Logical reasoning alone is not good
enough but it is the initial kamma needed to develop trust so that
more insights can be gained through the practice.

Buddhism does not concern itself with metaphysics and cosmology. All
Buddhism cares about is how to live a life at the present moment as
free from sufferings as much as possible. As such, Buddhism can be
regarded as 'The Art of Living.'

Buddhism can also be viewed from a short statement by the Buddha: "To
avoid evil deeds, To perform good deeds, To purify the mind." To do
good deeds alone is not good enough. The mind should also be purified
so that it does not attach even to good deeds or whatever. In
practice, however, Buddhism is not as pure as it should be. People
often 'accumulate' meritorious deeds in a spiritualistically
materialistic fashion. This practice is implicitly tolerated so that
less spiritually advanced people will not go astray.

Hatred is possible only if there is love, and vice versa.

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