THE PURITY AND SUBLIMITY OF THE MIDDLE WAY
U Ba Htu, B.J.S. (Retd.)
Vol. IV, No. 2, 1957
Gotama Buddha appeared at a time when the Indian mind round about the Ganges Valley was greatly disturbed over the deeper questions of life, it evinced a thirst for knowledge—a search for truth. It appears that people enjoyed a wide range of liberty of conscience and tolerance to an extent that the existing popular faiths and religions were freely criticised without apparent repercussion.
In that atmosphere there naturally arose philosophical schools of all shades of opinion and with them, of course, appeared the so-called sages, sophists, sceptics, and a host of disputants. Each school had its own followers and adhered to its particular views.
THE BUDDHA'S DOCTRINE
It was abundantly clear, when the Buddha proclaimed his doctrine for the first time to the five ascetics at Banaras, he was fully aware of the different schools of thought prevailing at the time, however, he was quite confident of his attainments and declared to the five ascetics who were his companions formerly that he had found the Way to Eternal Peace and had thus become the All-Enlightened Buddha. It is the Middle Way between the two extremes—the Way that is free from pain and torture, free from groaning and suffering ; it is the perfect Way which leads to insight, to enlightenment, to peace, to Nibbana. He points out the one extreme of indulgence in sensual pleasures as vulgar, degrading and worthless, and the other extreme of self-mortification as painful, vain and unprofitable. The Middle Way known as the Eightfold Noble Path breathes an air of noble freedom, for it teaches man to he independent of an outside agency and that he, alone of all others, can shape his future by his own actions.
AIM AND PURPOSE OF RELIGION
At this point it may be interesting to enquire what is the aim and purpose of religion. To my mind the aim and purpose of religion firstly is to point out the good and evil forces of the world (in Pali known as Kusala Dhamma and Akusala Dhamma), secondly to show how to remove the evil and promote the good, and thirdly the benefits to be derived there from.
It will be necessary to examine the Middle Way or the Eightfold Noble Path to see if it satisfies the standards as mentioned above. The Middle Way formulated by Gotama the Buddha is so practical and so fittingly relates to life that it is often called a way of life. This way of life has worked for 2500 years now, and has been a guide—a mainstay for millions of the peoples of the World. The Eightfold Noble Path may be divided under three different headings. (I) Morality (Sila), (2) Concentration of the mind (Samadhi), and (3) Wisdom (Panna). Under the first heading Morality or Sila, three steps are involved. (1) Right Speech, (2) Right Action, (3) Right Livelihood. A lay-disciple will have to restrain his speech in such a way that he does not lie, slander nor indulge in harsh language and vain talks. Killing, stealing, and adultery must be avoided under bodily actions, while for right livelihood he must not use any of the above seven restrictions as a means for his living. It is clear by enumerating the above seven factors as evils to be avoided, their observance automatically develops the seven corresponding meritorious courses of action known in Pali as Kusala Kammapatha. These seven evil actions of the body and speech constitute the grosser manifestations of corruptions or Kilesa. They are described in Pali as Vitikkamma Kilesa. It may be noted that lack of morality on the part of worldlings is the main cause for their killing, stealing, adultery, lying, etc. In other words strict observance of Sila will remove the above seven evils of the body and speech. It should be amply clear to anyone who wants to walk the Way for spiritual growth and perfection that it is an essential step to possess Sila or Morality in the first place. If a disciple is steadfast in Sila and is adorned with it as he is adorned with the garment around his person, he can be said to be fully equipped for the journey, for the Way he intends to walk on is one for the gradual purification of the mind until it becomes sublime on attaining arahatship.
Equipped as an earnest devotee is with Sila, the next step on the way is Samadhi. It is often asked why in Buddhism, concentration of the mind is so emphasised. It is true that strict observance of Sila cuts off the devotee from committing the above evil acts of body and speech but those evil actions of body and speech originally emanated from the impure mind. The source of all evil is in the mind. The World we live in is a sensuous World and therefore the human mind is always after the sense objects, which it considers as the good things of~' the World. Naturally the rich are intoxicated by them, the middle men are working for them with clenched teeth while the poor are hankering after them restlessly. From morning till sleep the whole world is astir hunting for the good things of life, for happiness, for what is called "enjoyment of fuller life", and nobody appears to be~ able to resist the temptation. Ah ! who can ? except the Arahat and Anagami on the top ladder. All throughout his life the worldling is after the sense objects of good form, good sound, good taste, good smell and good touch, but he is not all too lucky at that for he often comes across unpleasant sense objects or is repelled by unpleasant ones thus giving rise alternately to greed and hate, most of his life.
The All-Enlightened Buddha sees that the sensual scheming life of the World is sick and ailing, that sound, form, taste, smell and touch the motley crowd is after, are not conducive to spiritual knowledge, mental peace and quiet, and that the rapture born of the concentration of the mind is alone the true and healthy state of the higher untramelled life. The defilements that arise from the impure mind are known in Pali as Pariyutthana Kilesa. In order to remove them the Buddha has prescribed Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration as the 6th, 7th and 8th steps on the Way. Under the heading of Right Effort great endeavours are necessary (a) to avoid the arising of evil, (b) to overcome evil that has already arisen, (c) to strive to arouse wholesome thoughts that have not yet arisen, and (d) to maintain the wholesome thoughts that have already arisen. It will be apparent that this disciplinary training for the culture of the mind admits of no unwholesome thoughts to arise in the disciple. The question is how to bring about this healthy state of mind. The answer is found in the 7th step, Right Mindfulness. There are four types of Mindfulness the gist of which is to focus one's attention on the body, feeling, mind, and mental objects so as to allow no opportunity for mental corruptions to get in. The next step is
Right Concentration. For a yogi who is inclined to undertake Vipassana meditation it is not necessary for him to enter into any of the four jhanic stages in order to attain insight or become an Ariya. The moment he has reached the stage of one pointedness of mind and thus is able to fix his mind on an object for a considerable length of time, he can switch to Vipassana Meditation. The corruptions of the body and speech (Vitikkamma Kilesa) and those of the mind (Pariyutthana Kilesa) are removed by the practice of Sila and Samadhi but those that are inborn in us still remain to be removed. Such corruptions in Pali are called Anusaya Kilesa.
A magnificent simile that one often comes across in Buddhist treatises may be mentioned at this point. The pruning of undesirable leaves and branches is like removing Vitikamma Kilesa (corruptions of the body and speech), while the cutting of the trunk of the tree is like removing Pariyutthana Kilesa (corruptions of the mind); but the roots of the tree that bears thorny leaves and poisonous fruits still remain embedded in the ground. The digging-up of the roots of the tree is like removing Anusaya Kilesa and the means for their eradiction prescribed is Panna.
The purpose of the Buddha's appearance in the World is to teach the doctrine of Soullessness, Selflessness, or Egolessness by means of Wisdom (Panna). Sila and Samadhi are ever present in the World and they are taught and practised by the people but the doctrine of Anatta or soullessness is known and can be taught by an Omniscient Buddha alone. The first and second steps on the Way, Right View and Right Thought, constitute Wisdom or Panna.
For a Yogi who possesses Sila and Samadhi as mentioned, the next step on the Way is Vipassana Meditation with a view to gain insight. Inasmuch as a modern scientist uses powerful lens and telescopes to delve into the secrets of nature, so too a Yogi uses the powers of Sila and Samadhi which he has developed, for penetrating into the secrets of mind and matter. As he perseveres in his meditation he soon realises that both the body and mind are undergoing processes of change at alarming speeds; neither his physical body nor his mind nor anything in the whole Universe is static; everything including him self is moving and changing, nor is there to be found from the ever-changing mind and matter anything that can be called entity, Atta, self, or ego; and the whole Universe is made up of mind and matter only. In this mental process and analysis the Yogi becomes aware with increasing conviction that every thing is restless and impermanent and hence it is Suffering, and there is nothing that can be called Atta and therefore all is Anatta.
And as he continues the meditation he soon passes the ten stages of mental development and there dawns in him Insight—and he becomes an Ariya, a Noble One, a Sotapanna (the first of the four Ariyas).
On entering into the state of a Sotapanna, the Yogi has cut off once and for all the first three fetters that bind him to the wheel of existence; Self-delusion (Sakkayaditthi), Scepticism (Vicikiccha), and Attachment to rites and ritual (Silabbata-Paramasa). He possesses unshakable Saddha (Inclination and belief in the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha), and is incapable of breaking the five moral precepts. He can be reborn seven times at the utmost in the Kamma Loka, that is, in a state not lower than the human World. In Catusaccadipani a book which should be read by every student of Buddhism, the Late Venerable Ledi Sayadaw has extolled the qualities of a Sotapanna in glowing terms. The moment a Yogi becomes a Sotapanna he enters into the select realm of Ariyas (the Noble Ones), a state which assures freedom from the four lower abodes of suffering. His future rebirths lie only in the human world and in the abodes of Devas and Brahmas. Being a Stream-winner heading for Nibbana there is no possibility of retrogression from this upward march nor is he capable of committing any act that could take him to an abode of suffering * as he has not only removed but eradicated those defilements. Yet a Sotapanna while in this World can be a householder enjoying the comforts and luxuries of life. It may be millions of years, many rebirths (in the upper regions only) and many kappas (World-cycles) enjoying worldly happiness before he finally enters Nibbana. In fact while in this World he enjoys part of the bliss of Nibbana. ** Now this is the Buddha-Dhamma proclaimed by the Omniscient Buddha—-the Knower of the Worlds. The Eightfold Noble Path is a practical formula as it gradually purifies the mind as one walks on until it becomes sublime on reaching the fourth stage of Perfection. There is no wonder that a Western scholar declared Buddhism as the grandest manifestation of freedom ever proclaimed. Yet there is another writer from the West too who says Buddhism is the cream of ancient wisdom of India. It is amply clear that Buddhism fulfils the requirements of an ideal religion.
May Buddhists all over the World and those who are contemplating to become Buddhist soon, attain to the bliss of Sotapanna here and in the quickest time possible.
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