Category Archives: Buddhism

Meditation Begins After the Mind is Silent

Meditation today has become a tool, a technique. People talk about meditation as a way of controlling their mind, or calming their mind. There are hundreds of techniques that masquerade as meditation techniques. And there are dozens of teachers teaching meditation and several hundred books on the subject.

Is the goal of meditation really to achieve a silent mind?

It is possible some people might experience a stillness in their mind during meditation as thoughts die down. This is what they assume to be the fruits of meditation. But can they carry that stillness through the day? It is difficult. The daily life once again creates disturbances in the mind, stokes the fires of thought and the mind is once more in chaos. So the person thinks he must deepen his meditation practice and meditate harder, put more effort in his meditation, resolve more strongly to silence the mind, and so on. Then there are those people who cannot achieve any form of stillness of mind during their meditation and they think meditation is useless or they are useless.

In all this merry go round, somewhere the essence of meditation has been lost.

For a moment, let’s keep the word meditation aside and look at life in a simple way. If your mind is agitated due to some reason, will you be able to sit quietly for some time? It would be difficult. Thoughts would come and go and suddenly you will find yourself acting on some thought or saying something or thinking even more. Your mind is not silent. This is the normal life. We go through our day from one thought to another, from one action to another, fueled by inner thoughts or external stimulus of what you see, what others say to you, what they want you to do, and so on.

Now supposing, it is early morning or late evening or a time where you are not disturbed and you are all alone. And you are not doing anything special. How long will you be able to sit like that without your mind wandering all over the universe? It is certain that suddenly you will find yourself doing something. Most people don’t like that aloneness with their own minds and want to keep their mind occupied – for instance watching television or watching movies or doing some hobby work.

Is your mind really silent during these activities? No, it is not. It is merely guided by the flow of images and sounds so it does not have to be on its own. The television soap or the movie is telling a story and your mind is following that. If you are working on your hobby, your mind is working on a goal and therefore is seemingly silent.

But as soon as that external support is over, the mind is active once more and starts to wander and feel agitated. This is the normal human state and nothing to worry about. But some people’s minds are too troubled by old memories or habitual emotions that their mind wants to do something about it – to put an end to their suffering.

This is where, the mind starts to believe that meditation will help silence their mind. But this is a big mistake.

Meditation just becomes one of the ways to keep the mind occupied, like TV or movies. The mind wants to struggle with itself and quieten itself. So it goes around like a dog trying to catch its own tail. So for some time, the mind becomes still but as soon as the meditation session is over, its back to the normal monkey mind once again. It’s like you had put a monkey in a suitcase for 20 min and now opened the suitcase. The monkey would go crazy as soon as it is out of the suitcase. Sometimes, the monkey falls asleep in the suitcase but wakes up after some time.

The point is, so long as you have a monkey, there is no meditation.

There is meditation only when there is no monkey mind. This is the meditation after the mind is silent. This is the real meditation. It is sitting quietly doing nothing.

Dogen, before he became enlightened, had a doubt as to why masters even after attaining enlightenment still practiced sitting meditation. He was totally confused and it because a big koan for him. If meditation is to attain enlightenment, then why meditate after you have attained it? And then he cracked the koan and became enlightened.

So if you can understand this point, you will have a completely different view of meditation. True meditation can happen only after you have a silent mind. It will be difficult to accept this view because the mind then has no recourse to silencing itself (keeping itself occupied in other words) but to face the monkey within.

All efforts to silence the mind, including so called meditation are simply the work of the monkey mind. So now how will you attain a silent mind? I will leave you with that question. Best wishes.

May you realize your enlightenment.

Zen Counseling Training

This is a famous zen poem and has been one of my favourites for the many years that I have been studying zen. I really thought I had penetrated to the core of this poem. But that was not true and I realized the true meaning of this poem in the Zen Counselling course I attended during 15 to 18 Aug at the Integral Space, Lower Parel, Mumbai.

The training was organized by Loving Foundation’s Dr Ronak Gandhi, a four times black belt in Zen Archery and who is on a mission to spread love. Zen is not so well known in India and apart from Osho’s followers, not many profess to follow it. There are no zen monasteries to talk about, no zen masters as such, although I remember having been to Bodhi Zendo, a zen monastery near Kodaikanal and met Zen Master Ama Samy, but that’s the exception.

So I was really intrigued with the Zen Counselling course that I came across on Google and instantly felt like I should go there. But I had my reservations. Because I knew I had a deep understanding of zen from my study and practice over 15 years and so had a doubt whether this was true zen. Seeing that the teacher was a Japanese person added to the mystique of the course. After speaking with Dr Ronak, I confirmed my participation.

Kenichi Ishimaru is the founder of Zen Counselling and there are only a few videos with him speaking on You Tube. The thing that caught my attention was the premise of Zen Counselling that every client is a Buddha. And this is a high class understanding, in fact the highest understanding in Zen. So I went for it.

With Dr Ronak Gandhi and Kenichi San and Kyoko

And what a time it was! Those four days with Kenichi San and the 22 fellow students. I solved all my problems, hesitations, mental blocks, diffidence, attitudes towards women and discovered my true way. I learnt more from the live experience of listening to the master, watching his demonstrations and his answers to our questions than in all my readings of zen of the last decade. Kenichi san lives zen and teaches zen. And he does not teach theory because zen is a matter of experience so all the teaching was actually learning through personal experience. 

Standing from left: Rinkal, Kyoko, Aabhas, Alpana, Meghna, Ridhima, Sanjeev, Ashish, Mona, Shruti, Pankti, Reyes, Dixit, Subodh. Sitting from left: Zia, Geet, Gauri, Antara, Kamalika, Reet, Namrita, Aditi

Zen Counselling is the most powerful technique (if one can call it a technique) to solve any problem of any individual. When an individual has a problem, he suffers. When the problem is solved, he is happy and free. But in contrast to other forms of counselling, in Zen Counselling, the counsellor does not give any kind of advice. The premise is very clear and it is non-negotiable – the client’s problem can be solved only by the client. The counsellor can only support with a few intelligent techniques based on listening, being relaxed and asking questions to clarify the problem. In the process of Zen Counselling, the client solves the problem for himself by clarifying it in his own mind with the support of the counsellor. And I have experienced this magic of solving problems without doing anything, in all my practice sessions.

This experience of Zen Counselling has given me the power and confidence to go out and help others. I had reached a conclusion long time back that people are not listening. And therefore, I always hesitated to speak to anyone about zen and my work on Big Picture Zen. But now with all my problems solved, I am free to talk and free to listen.

I have always been a good listener but that was not enough. But the listening approach that I learnt in Zen Counselling was nothing short of magic. And I realized that the way to another person’s heart is through our ears – through listening. There is no value I can place on this skill and technique. This is priceless. This skill is what makes a real loving human being.

To me, this clarified to me many zen stories and also the way Buddha would have helped people, and not just theoretically but now I can also do it. All the disconnected pieces in my mind have now connected into a whole. Now I can truly see with my ears and listen with my eyes.

Ever since I had my awakening experience around 2003, I have been very keen to share it with others and get others to become curious about it and strive for it. But nobody listened. And I had almost given up. I was also thinking upside down about helping others. The reason I was reading all kinds of books on human psychology was to be able to learn how to help others. But that’s not the real way.

My zen mind was always against learning things to teach others because the end goal was to drop all knowledge. So how can I help someone drop all knowledge by giving him knowledge of any kind – zen or otherwise? I was caught in this koan for many years.

Zen Counselling opened me up to direct experience and then at last, I reached the point where I had nothing to say anymore. This was like a second satori to me. It became a clear fact not a statement of belief that every person is a Buddha. Now knowledge or no knowledge is no hindrance. Everything is perfect as is.

Sitting quietly doing nothing, the Zen Counselor listens relaxed, the client shares his problem and the solution appears by itself

The Five Questions of a Sincere Seeker

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A sincere seeker of truth is someone who is actively seeking for the truth. A sincere seeker is someone for whom discovering the truth is a very important and central goal of his life. So a sincere seeker will search for the truth in books, in gurus, in meditation and in conversation with others. A sincere seeker is serious about his search because he knows that the truth will give him the meaning of his life. This is not to say that a sincere seeker’s life has problems and therefore he is seeking the truth. That may be the case. But what I am saying is that a sincere seeker realizes that life must have something more to offer than the routine struggle for survival and he is seeking for that something beyond the ordinary.

Many people have written about this subject and a sincere seeker would do well to read all such literature. However, reading must be done with an open mind and not with a biased mind. This is an important point because any sort of bias – religious or personal – distorts the truth.

Many gurus speak on the subject of truth and today an unlimited amount of videos and audios are available on the Internet that the sincere seeker can access. But the very fact that so much material is available makes the task even more difficult because now the seeker has to literally search for the proverbial needle in the haystack. This cannot be a practical approach since it would take many lifetimes to read, hear and watch all the material on the Internet.

The benefits of reading and hearing from others cannot be discounted in any way. However, a sincere seeker must realize that the real work is inner work. In ancient times when there was not so much reading to be done, the seekers would only approach the task through the means of direct practice. And direct practice is even now the only way to self-realization. Mere reading and listening to Gyan will not help in any way.

I am recommending the following five questions that a sincere seeker of truth must ask of himself during his search.

WHO AM I?

This is a central question that appears again and again in most spiritual advices given by teachers across time and space. And no doubt it is the most important question to answer. However, note that the answer is not going to be in words because the answer is an experience or a direct realization of who you are. Later you might put it into words to convey it to another but those words will not transfer the realization to another. This has been the chief hurdle in the relationship between teacher and student.

So how do you ask this question? Who am I? What answer do you get? Probably you will say you are your name. And that is a good place to begin to discover who you are not. You could have any name but your parents gave you that specific name and now you think you are that. Then you might say you are your body and your mind. But please realize that the body is made of what you eat and the mind is made of what you sense (see, hear, smell, feel) and remember. Both body and mind will return to dust when you die. So is that it? If death really ended everything then there is no requirement for the spiritual search and no point in asking the question who am I. But if you simply think you are the immortal soul that keeps changing clothes in every birth, then you are no closer to answering the question than saying I am my name. Saying something and experiencing something are two different things. Saying something does not change your life. Anybody can say – I am the soul. But does it change his life? No. So remember that the experience of who you really are is important because that has the ability to change your life, your viewpoint and your experience. Remember also that going in search of the soul is another futile effort because you do not know what it is. How can you search for something you know nothing about. So there are very many complications in this question and a sincere seeker must be aware of them and not fall into their trap.

So a good way to answer this question is not to answer it but keep the question in mind as you go about your daily life. Do not answer but strengthen the question. Translate the question into the activities you are doing. Who am I? Who is walking? Who is speaking? Who is reading? Who is thinking? If you do like this for a long time, the answer might dawn on you suddenly. You will know for yourself.

Who am I is a very powerful and effective question. Teachers such as Ramana Maharshi and Nisargadatta Maharaj have taught their students using only this question as the instrument.

Who am I is the key question but it can also be approached in a gentle manner by asking four other questions – where am I, what do I really want, why do I want it and how do I get it.

WHERE AM I?

This question is a good starting point for all those sincere seekers who find the who am I question a little daunting. Where am I does not literally ask which city or which house you are in, but refers to the context in which you find yourself. Where am I is about observing the world around you, observing what people around you are doing and what they are busy in. Where am I is a question about what age and time you are living in – what is the economic, political, social and religious environment, what is the prevalent psychology of people in the world.

If you are here, it means you are a part of that environment. You have been brought up in that environment with those beliefs and thoughts. Where am I in a sense is the reflection of the question who am I in the outer world. The whole world is reflected in you and you reflect the whole world. You may not be able to understand this at the moment but by understanding the world, you can get some understanding of yourself. Know as much as possible about the world – the way people live, the way people relate, the way people fight with each other, the way people express love, and the way people try to search for truth. Learn everything you can. Knowing where you are gives you a big picture perspective on everything and also your search for the truth.

J Krishnamurti in his talks usually pointed out to the things happening in the world. He was trying to tell his audience where they were and how the world reflected their inner mental turbulence. 

WHAT DO I REALLY WANT?

The next question is what do you want. And I want to break it into two questions – what do you want and what do you REALLY want? There is a big difference between the two questions. For the first question you could answer that you want money, a good job, a good spouse, a good life in general. Most people do not go deeper into this question because in order to get what they want, they have to spend all their energy. But as a sincere seeker of truth you must ask the question what do I REALLY want. Behind all the wants and needs and desires, what is it that I want ultimately? Is it happiness? Is it peace of mind? Is it supreme bliss? Is it self-realization? Is it truth?

Whatever it is that you really want, you must be able to explore that and make sure that it is something you truly want. When this is reasonably clear in your mind, then your actions will start reflecting your choice. You will start moving away from what you want superficially to what you want deep down. Allow this process to happen.

The Buddha talked about how our desire – what we want – is the root cause of our suffering. 

WHY DO I WANT IT?

This question is to be used in conjunction with the question what do I really want. The why do I want question helps to sort out the genuine want from the superficial want. For every answer you give to the question what do I want, you must ask why do you want it. This will take you to deeper levels of your psyche. However, beware of fooling yourself. If you are not honest with the answers to why you want it, you will not be able to go deeper. The why question is like a pickaxe which helps you to dig into the what question. The why question can hurt if you have created layers and layers of pretense about who you are and where you are and what you want. Do not underestimate the why question. It is a very powerful tool and you must develop your skill in using it.

The 5 Why technique was popularized by Toyota Motor Corporation as a means of getting at the root cause of any problem.

HOW DO I GET IT?

When you get the answer to the question of what do I want and why I want it then you can decide on how you can get it. The how is a conscious effort not dependent on vague expectations from the others in your life and God or destiny. A sincere seeker must realize that if one wants something, then one must consciously work on it without any complaints and blame. He should not expect anyone else in the world to support him in his task. He is truly alone in his search. Whatever path he chooses, he must take complete responsibility for choosing it and have no regrets on choosing that. He must accept whatever is the outcome of the path he has chosen without trying to manipulate the results.

From an awakened perspective, the how really does not make sense because the journey is really from the here to the here. How does one get from here to here or from the present to the present? There really is no way because you are already here. The problem is you do not know it and the journey is from ignorance to enlightenment. And it happens in an instant after a long period of effort. Sounds a little contradictory but that’s the way it is.

So the above five questions are powerful instruments in the toolkit of a sincere seeker of truth.

May you realize your true self.

 

 

 

 

Being Dharma

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Being Dharma – The Essence of the Buddha’s Teaching by Ajahn Chah

Buddhism as we know branched out into 3 main followings, depending upon the inclination of the followers. The Theravada or the path of the elders is considered to be the original teachings of the Buddha, probably because the monks who follow it stick to the same rules as set during the time of the Buddha. They live in the forest, go to the town to beg for food and spend the day and night in solitary meditation. Other major branches include the Tibetan Buddhism, which takes Buddhism even beyond the teachings of the Buddha and Zen Buddhism, which makes no bones about its intention of pointing to the reality directly and nothing else.

Ajahn Chah was a renowned teacher of the Theravada school. He lived in the forests of Thailand and is the teacher of many western Buddhist monks. The hallmark of a good teacher is his ability to make complex theory into simple ideas and Ajahn Chah is one of the best teachers in this.

The book Being Dharma is a succinct exposition of the whole teaching of the Buddha. It covers just enough for any sincere seeker to grasp the insights. Ajahn Chah does not spend time in metaphysical discussions but directly addresses the heart of the matter. In this regard, he resembles a zen master.

The book is organized in the following chapters – hearing dharma, understanding dharma, practicing dharma, seeing dharma and being dharma. The contents are also as easy as the chapter titles.

Just like in the meditation practice, you are told to return to the breath whenever the mind is distracted, this is one book, I return to whenever I get lost in multiple other books. It always helps me to regain my center.

Quotes from Being Dharma

First one learns Dharma, but does not yet understand it; then one understands it, but has not yet practiced. One practices, but has not seen the truth of Dharma; then one sees Dharma, but one’s being has not yet become Dharma.


When there is no person, there are no problems. There is no need for solutions, because there are no problems to solve anymore and no one to solve them.


No matter where you are, no matter what your situation, it is possible for you to be practicing Dharma well


We are called Joe or Alice or perhaps Prince so-and-so, but if we realize the Dharma then we too are Buddha, no different from him.


That which we are talking about does not arise and does not cease. It abides as it is. Or to put it simply, it is not born and does not die.


People are born with physical form and mind. In the beginning these things are born, in the middle they change, and in the end they are extinguished. This is their nature. We can’t do much to alter these facts.

 

Renunciation – The Last Step

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The most debated topic when it comes to spirituality is renunciation. No wonder, there are many misconceptions about it.

Renunciation, the way it is understood by most people, is the act of leaving home and family life in order to pursue the spiritual life – to live the life of a wandering hermit in search of the ultimate truth. The central question is whether it is necessary to renounce worldly life in order to achieve enlightenment.

Before we enter the debate on the pros and cons of renunciation, we must understand some basics about enlightenment. Enlightenment is the same for all human beings. In fact self-realization is about discovering your true self, beyond the illusory person that you think you are. So the question is about the approach – whether leaving family is going to help you to achieve that.

Let’s pause for a moment and reflect on the situation. We know that we have to be born in a family setting. No human being is born without a mother and a father and if he has grown up to get enlightened, then we can be sure, he or she has spent significant time in the care of the family and society. If there was no family, no society, then there would be no enlightened individuals also.

Society at times or rather at all times is a place full of chaos, where every individual is seeking his self-centered happiness and does not hesitate to harm others and cheat others to get what he wants.  Children are prepared through education to get ready to enter the society and sustain its existence. Customs of marriage and rituals of coming of age are all significant for the sustenance of the society.

One cannot force anyone to exit the society, except as an outcast for breaking some of the agreements of the society. So by default, everyone is condemned to live in the society despite its cruelties. All one can do is to further one’s own goals, hoping one gets through life without serious incidents. The whole desire for enlightenment has no place in this structure. Society does not encourage the seeking for truth. Its existence depends on the illusion of progress and civilization.

A PRACTICAL SOLUTION

When an individual who perceives these illusions promoted by the society, he tries to understand what is going on. He comes across other individuals who talk of a true life, self-realization, etc and he is intrigued. He tries to find answers in the society but quickly comes to the conclusion that nobody knows anything about it.

His mind is boiling with the question and he is not finding any outlet because he has to fulfill the responsibilities of his life. He cannot focus on anything unless he gets an answer and therefore needs time and space to go within to explore. However, life has no mercy. It is unrelenting in its demands for survival and sustenance of the family and societal institutions.

Therefore, the only practical way out for a person is to renounce the family and go off to live alone in search of the truth. This has been happening in India throughout history. All those who had this inner calling have promptly renounced their worldly life and went into the forest. Whether they were successful in their search or not is another question.

The search for one’s true self requires meditation for long periods so if you are sitting and doing nothing while at home, other people will think you are lazy and a shirker. They do not appreciate the inner calling of the person. On the other hand, if you are in the forest, away from the home life, then  there is no one to disturb you in your meditation. You have voluntarily retired from all responsibilities so you can focus singlemindedly on your goal.

The Buddha used to say that going from the home to the homeless life was the fastest way to self-realization. Hundreds and thousands of young men left their homes to join the Buddha’s Sangha. Even today, many people leave their homes and join a spiritual order, whether Buddhism or Christianity or Hinduism.

Point to note is that if a person is leaving home just to avoid the arduous responsibilities, then that is not the right renunciation. It is right renunciation only when the individual’s intention is to realize his true self. Only then is the renunciation a practical choice because there is no other way to live in the society and seek the higher reality.

So the question naturally arises. Is enlightenment impossible without this renunciation of worldly life? It is not impossible. There have been many cases of family people getting enlightened by hearing the teachings of masters.

In fact Gurdjieff actively promoted the fourth way, a way of self-realization while living the ordinary life. He was of the opinion that the situation one finds oneself in in one’s life is the most appropriate situation to start the struggle against sleep in order to awaken.

The truth about awakening is one of conditions. If a man is living in conditions that are conducive to enlightenment, then it will happen whether he is living at home or in the forest. And if the conditions are not suitable, then awakening will give him a slip even if he has renounced worldly life.

THE MIDDLE WAY

So is there a middle way between renouncing and not renouncing? Yes, definitely there is a way for the intelligent person who knows the conditions to be created. These conditions include first and foremost unobstructed time and space for meditation. If a man is able to organize this time wherein he is able to devote time to meditation with the sincere aim of awakening, then he will be in a much better position than a man who has renounced the world and is living troubled with the thought of where to get his next meal in the forest.

True renunciation is the renunciation of the idea of ‘I’. This can be done anywhere. The only problem of living in the society is that others remind you of being you all too often for you to practice the inner renunciation of ‘I’. However, for a person who is able to maintain self-awareness in all his worldly interactions, he will not be troubled. Within his mind, he has renounced while he is still performing ‘self’-less actions in the world outside.

If at some time, the awakened person wants to really change his way of life and live away from society, then the outer renunciation is only a formality. True renunciation has already happened when the person stopped identifying himself with his body and mind.

Therefore, it can be said that renunciation is the last obvious step rather than the first courageous step.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Sutra Parrots

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Recently I attended the engagement ceremony of a cousin. It was a Buddhist ritual. The monk recited the sutras & both the prospective bride & groom repeated those sutras.

All Buddhist sutras are recited in the Pali language. And in the repetition, the meaning is usually lost.

Wouldn’t it be better to say what the sutras mean rather than repeating them like a parrot?

Firstly it seems as if you are signing a document written in Chinese i.e. without understanding the content.

Going beyond the specific instance, this is a common problem while reciting sutras. If you understand the Pali language naturally then it makes sense but Pali is not anyone’s mother tongue.

​The Buddha chose to spread his message in the Pali language only because it was the common dialect & lay people did not understand the prevalent language of sutras – Sanskrit. So why can’t we speak the sutras in English or Hindi?

Wouldn’t it be better, instead of saying – Panatipata veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami; to say – “I undertake the precept to refrain from destroying living creatures.”?

I remember once I had been to a house warming ceremony. Again it was a Buddhist ritual & everyone recited the five precepts including this one – Suramerayamajja pamadatthana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami. It means “I undertake the precept to refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness.”

To my utter disgust I saw the people, after the Puja got over, get into a party mode with alcohol & meat.

So what the people said a while back in Pali language had no effect on them. If they had spoken the sutra in English or Hindi, it would have caused a contradiction in their minds.

You can repeat a sutra in an unknown language for a hundred thousand times without any benefit. but if you repeat it in a language you understand, it may sink in.

Arhat vs. Bodhisattva

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Arhat and Bodhisattva are commonly understood terms in Buddhism. The Arhat is the pinnacle of spiritual achievement as mentioned in the Theravada scriptures while the Bodhisattva is an ideal which spiritual seekers aim for in order to achieve Buddhahood.

There are several sects within Buddhism, the main ones being the Theravada, also called as Hinayana and the other being Mahayana. Arhat is a term used by the Theravada sect while Bodhisattva is used by the Mahayana. And there is some amount of debate among the Buddhists on these terms and what they signify. In order to understand what this means, it is important to learn the context of the terms used.

THE ARHAT

In many Theravada texts, the Buddha is described as an Arhat, one who has completely extinguished birth and death. An Arhat is not reborn in any realm. This is the highest spiritual achievement, the goal of all meditation and practice. The Arhat is the final stage of 4 stages of spiritual evolution – the stream enterer, the once returnee, the non-returnee and the Arhat.

The stream enterer is one who has entered the path of Nirvana and within a maximum of 7 rebirths will attain to the level of Arhat. He cannot go back into the realm of suffering. The once-returnee as the name suggests is reborn only once before he becomes an Arhat. The non-returnee has no more rebirths in the lower realms but has not yet become an Arhat. The Arhat is one who has extinguished all desire, all ignorance which leads to rebirth.

There is a distinction which is made between the Buddha and the Arhat. A Buddha is one who discovers the supreme path with his own efforts, without recourse to a teacher. The Arhat on the other hand achieves Buddhahood but with the guidance from a Buddha. There is another category called Solitary Buddhas or PratyekaBuddhas, who also become Buddhas without any teacher, but they are unable to teach others. It is mentioned in several texts that after his disciples became Arhats, the Buddha sent them all across the land to preach the Dhamma.

THE BODHISATTVA

Bodhisattva, which is the Mahayana ideal, is someone who has taken the vow to save all sentient beings, wherever they are however innumerable they are, from ignorance and the rounds of rebirth and until then, he does not enter Nirvana. In order words, he does not free himself until he has helped each and every other being to free themselves. The Bodhisattva willingly gets reborn in order to fulfill his vow.

A Bodhisattva is also someone who is eventually going to become a Buddha in a time to come. So if you are intent of attaining Buddhahood, you need to take the Bodhisattva vow and help people in innumerable lifetimes, leading to the perfections and eventually to Buddhahood.

THE CONTENTION

The Mahayana Buddhists accuse the Arhat of being selfish, looking after his own salvation without helping others. Monks in the Theravada tradition go off into the jungles away from society, beg for their food and spend their time in meditation in order to become Arhats. The Mahayanists claim that you cannot become a Buddha unless you have the Bodhisattva attitude.

The source of the Bodhisattva ideal can be traced to the stories of the past life of Buddha as told in the Jataka tales. In each of these stories, Buddha recounts how he helped other people through millions of previous births as a human being or as animal, on his path to becoming the Buddha.

THE RESOLUTION

I believe the people who make a dispute out of Arhat and Bodhisattva have not really grasped the essential teaching of the Buddha. The core of the realization which makes a Buddha is that there is no Self, separate from the rest. It is not that you strive and meditate to destroy the Self. The Self does not exist right from the beginning. What you do is to eliminate the illusion or notion of its existence.

So looking at things from this view, there are no people to begin with. And if you really understand in your bones what impermanence is, what emptiness is, there is no more dispute. Then there is no difference whether you help people or not because you are not there at all and neither are they. When you eliminate the notion of self, there is no me and no others, so no sentient beings to save.

​But so long as you see others suffering, you also have a subtle notion of self. When you do away with this, whatever you do will be a help to people. You see, there is a limit to explanations with words.

If you are taking the Bodhisattva vow, it is good. It helps to direct the mind outwards away from the self-centeredness. But eventually, your goal is to become the Buddha when you no longer hold the view of Self. If you are coming back again and again into the world to help people, you are only increasing the delusion. On the other hand, if you consciously strive to become an Arhat, you are caught in the deepest swamp.

The true son of Buddha only looks directly into the mind, discovers there is emptiness, and stays there with nothing further to be done.

Reinterpreting the 3 Jewels of Buddhism

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The Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha – The Triple Gem

All practitioners of Buddhism take refuge in the triple gem. However, a deeper meaning can be interpreted about them apart from the conventional meaning.

The 3 jewels of Buddhism are the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha. Conventionally, the Buddha stands for the person Gautama Buddha who taught 2500 years ago in India. The Dhamma stands for his teachings and the Sangha is the order of monks which he founded.

Whenever a lay person wants to get ordained as a Buddhist, he has to recite the three refuges thrice. By doing this, the person expresses his intention to lead his life by following the teachings of the Buddha. If the person wishes to become a monk, he must take formal vows.

Most lay people who consider themselves as Buddhists do not investigate the deeper meaning of the triple gem. They pay respects to the statue of the Buddha; they perform rites and rituals or read Dhamma and also offer food and robes for the monks in the Sangha. However, if one really investigates the true significance of the three jewels, one can discover the Buddha’s teaching for himself and become enlightened.

First Jewel – Buddham Saranam Gacchami (I Take Refuge in the Buddha)

Buddha literally means the ‘Awakened One’. It also stands for the Buddha Nature which is the underlying substance of all the phenomena of this universe and also one’s true self. So when one takes refuge in the Buddha, it is not bowing down to the image of Buddha or praying to that image. In a deeper sense, it means taking refuge in one’s true self or true nature.

Ordinarily, we are known by our individual names and are living according to the circumstances that life presents to us. However, in the Buddhist understanding, this is bondage. To be free, one must recognize one’s true nature and live in it, which puts an end to all striving because one has reached one’s home.

Second Jewel – Dhammam Saranam Gacchami (I Take Refuge in the Dhamma)

The word Dhamma has many meanings. The most commonly used is that of the body of teachings of the Buddha in the form of discourses and the sutras. However, a deeper meaning of the word Dhamma is also phenomena or ultimate reality. It is like saying that ‘water flows because it is the Dhamma of water to flow’.

Taking refuge in the Dhamma does mean, at the superficial level, studying the sutras and following the teachings in one’s life. However, in a deeper sense, one must take refuge in the true nature of things. One must understand that all things have the nature of impermanence, dissatisfaction and emptiness and live that understanding. This refuge meant to free oneself from attachment to things and wrong notions.

Third Jewel – Sangham Saranam Gacchami (I Take Refuge in the Sangha)

The Sangha is the community of monks who live according to the teachings of the Buddha. They beg for their food and spend their time in meditation. In the literal sense, taking refuge in the Sangha means to join their order by becoming a monk. However, in the deeper sense, it means living the right life oneself. Living in society, where one is tempted by all kinds of desires and influences, one must live rightly even if one has to stand alone.

Taking refuge means one is protected against all danger and calamity. And taking refuge in the triple gem is the true protection from the vicissitudes of life. However, one must take the refuge understanding the deeper significance of the three jewels.