Mind-Science * of
Than Htut (Harry), Canada
We are what we
Natural Appeal of Buddhism
Modern physics that brought about profound influences and much important changes in various aspects of our society were found to be in parallel with Buddhism in many aspects. The concept that matter in subatomic physics were totally different from the traditional ideas of material substance in the classical physics realized only recently, had been well known centuries ago, in Buddhism. The impact of these similarities are currently attracting the attention of many people, particularly more so in the Western world.
In the days of Rene Descartes, the views of nature were regarded in two separate and independent realms, that of the mind, and that of the matter. This led to a development of philosophical thought at that time, the formulation of the spirit / matter dualism.
The misconceptions that we were separate and independent beings were not only an illusion, but also a fundamental source of our suffering. This erroneous idea of being created and of being separate, remained fixed in the minds of some people despite the fact that science have recently shown us in specific ways that we have been fashioned out of other life forms and shaped by natural forces.
* Dr. Daniel Brown, a Harvard psychologist wrote in MindScience, "The meditative traditions take up where he (Freud) left off ..The way involves training attention so that you gain voluntary control over perceptual processes and eventually undercut the roots of reactivity .. This eliminates a great deal of suffering, since the basis of that suffering were in those mechanisms and that reactivity. You thus become a master of your own mind and experience"
Classical Physics, Modern Physics, and Buddhism
Isaac Newtons views on the classical physics theory were constructed and based upon the mechanistic world-views of Descartes. These scientific thoughts dominated the Western world from the second half of the seventeenth century until the end of nineteenth century. These thoughts and beliefs were also paralleled by the image of a monarchial God who ruled the world from above by imposing his divine laws. Thus any search in any part of natural laws in those days were invariably subjected to the laws of God.
The philosophy of Descartes has a profound influence on the general Western ways of thinking up to the present day. Descartes views that mind are separate from the body led individuals to become aware of themselves as isolated egos existing inside their bodies. This separateness engaged them in endless conflicts generating continuous metaphysical confusions and frustrations.
The narcissistic ego of ourselves propels us to measure, judge, discriminate and categorize mentally. This is called avijja, or ignorance, by the Buddha, and is seen as the state of a disturbed mind or mind-state. (Narcissismmeans self-love, excessive interest in ones own appearance, comfort, importance, abilities .)
A direct experience of reality which transcends not only intellectual thinking in a non-ordinary state of consciousness through vipassana meditation can only realize the Absolute Knowledge or Wisdom (Insight), said the Buddha.
In modern times, in a psychological research, William James said:
Our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different.
After over 2500 years, Buddhism is today finding new sources of strength and immense popularity amongst the Western world. The great traditional teachings of the Buddha, and the advancement of the cutting edge science and technology has led many to make comparisons with Buddhism into many areas, even in neuroscience, advance physics, evolutionary biology, psychology and psychotherapy.
Buddhist views and philosophies are now considered as also those views emerging in modern quantum physics. It has now been realized that Buddhist philosophic background provide a consistent and relevant background to contemporary science, a concept that both can be in perfect harmony.
The Buddhas specific prescriptions for the cultivation of ethical and moral conduct Right Action, Right Speech, and Right Livelihood forms the basis of all aspects of behavior, and they influence personal, family, fraternal, civic and social matters.
All over North America, Europe, Great Britain, Australia and many other places, Buddhism has attracted the intellectual curiosity of increasing number of people. Many have found Buddhism brings personal satisfaction and gratification.
Religion has always been regarded as belief in God or some Divine. Hence they become identified with a theistic attitude of a particular form or convention. Buddha, the Fully Enlightened One, was a human being and a Teacher. Many theists regarded Buddhism as atheist.
Modern Scientific and Medical
Application of Buddhas Teachings.
All over North America and other parts of the world, many notable medical doctors, physicists, scientists, psychologists and psychotherapists are applying Buddhas teachings in science, medicine and meditation practice.
Amongst them, Jack Kornfield, Ph.D.., and psychotherapist were trained as a Buddhist monk, by Mahasi Sayadaw, U Asabha Sayadaw and Achaan Chaa. He is one of those teachers who have introduced Theravada Buddhist practice to the West.
In a forward in a book, "Teachings of a Buddhist Monk", by Ajahn Sumedho, Jack Kornfield wrote in the preface:
Spiritual life is not about becoming someone special but discovering a greatness of heart within us and every being. It is an invitation to inwardly drop our opinions, our views, our ideas, our thoughts, our whole sense of time and ourselves, and come to rest in no fixed position. Ajahn Sumedho invites us all, ordained and lay people alike, to enjoy our freedom beyond all conditions, a freedom from fears, from gain and loss, from pleasure and pain. This is the joy and happiness of the Buddha."
Modern physics has given wide attention to agreement in Buddhism and science, is now evident, and it is believed that the sharing of information between Buddhist meditators, scientists, physicists, psychotherapists and biologists will bring even more significant results in the coming years, particularly in the areas of neuroscience.
Case of Mistaken Identity (the "I")
Buddha as scientist has always admonished us to use ourselves as an object for research and analyses. The object of Buddhas vipassana meditation is a process of careful deconstruction of the apparent solid realities of the mind and body as a way to explore their sources, and reveal our oneness with the world, said Wes Nisker.
In the Abhidhamma, it is said that " the first task of insight ( vipassana ) meditation is ..the dissecting of an apparent compact mass."
In a truly meaningful way, Buddhas message to mankind is to remind us that we are always lost in a circle of mistaken identity which is one of the main cause of our suffering. That we had been disillusioned to the fact of our permanent self, and the grasping of the I, the me and the mine had made us difficult to attain liberation from the cycle of rebirth.
True happiness consists in eliminating the false idea of "I"
The true value of a human being is determined primarily by the measure and the sense in which he has attained liberation from the self.
In a compassionate but scientific manner, Albert Einstein was noted to have offered solace to a Rabbi, who sought advice from him, on how to comfort his nineteen-year-old daughter over the death of her sixteen-year-old sister :
In Buddhism, consciousness is regarded as the discriminative function of the mind. Consciousness always creates the impression of a subject and an object thus giving the delusion of dualistic view of " I am my body, I am my feelings, I am myself." This is how we perceive the mistaken identity of ourselves.
The Mahasatipatthana Sutta provide clear instructions on how we have to strive to become aware of our mind-states and emotions. Even though our different mind-states may come and go, and at times may experience ups and downs, we will not be so identified by these occurrences, being mindfully aware that they are part of nature based in evolution.
Buddha knows very well that as sentient beings we have nervous system that works according to stimulus response. We have often seen on television how people goes wild and out of control, killing and murdering senselessly. Here we can see the biologically conditioned desire, lust, and hatred that springs out very much like an animal instinct. Buddha understood very well the place where our experience begins. We inherit from lifes conditions the approach-avoidance, fight or flight response from being consciously unaware of our own actions. The Buddha has exalted in many discourses on the Four Foundations of Mindfulness to be mindful of these basic sensations, feelings, emotions, so that we become constantly aware of our actions lobha, dosa, moha (which means - greed, anger, and delusion.)
To guard against doing wrong, Buddha prescribed the five precepts*, wherein one trains one self to refrain from senseless killing, speaking falsehood or lies, not to take or steal what does not belong to oneself, to refrain from adulterous sex, and abstain from using intoxicating substances.
In the training and observing of the precepts, the individual makes a personal commitment thus : " I undertake the rule of training to refrain from " (1) destroying life, (2) taking what is not given, (3) illicit sexual relationships, (4) false speech, and (5) intoxicants causing heedlessness. Note the commitment or affirmation, " I undertake refraining from" is that individuals responsibility and commitment to keep when observing the precepts. It is entirely different from the divine commandments of the Hebraic and Christian decalogue , " Thou shall not .".
Any individual who has thought of following the path of Buddhism is committed by their own free will to conduct themselves with benevolence compassion, joyous sympathy, and equanimity. These are the foundations of ethical conduct, without which that person will not be able to follow the Noble Eightfold Path, which is a step forward to mental cultivation and to insight-wisdom.
A simple manner of observing and maintaining the precepts involves constant vigilance over (right) action , (right) speech, (right) thought ( kayakan ,wasikan, manokan, ) A Buddhist pays homage to the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha by repeating in confirmation, " I go to the Buddha for refuge, I go to the Dhamma for refuge, I go to the Sangha for refuge", three times. (Known as the Triple Gem).
* See my rendition of : Basic Burmese Buddhist Homage and Affirmations'
Understanding Pain and Suffering.
In the Samyutta Nikaya, the Buddha said:
In the Journal of Neuroscience published by the University of California, researchers have discovered that at the height of a painful experience the human brain could produce relief which can be as potent as a high dose of morphine..They said that the body has the ability through the mind to activate its own painkillers to deal with intense pain.
The Samyutta Nikaya Buddhist text describes two kinds of pain. Mental and physical pain suffered by people with untrained mind, and people who has been trained through Vipassana meditation and are acutely aware and mindful of the pain. Such trained people are able to understand that the pain does not belong to them and they are able to confront the agony. The attitude of mindfulness meditation toward pain is to know and accept it.
An excellent and pathetic account of how he eventually conquered and overcome pain, agony and suffering through vipassana meditation, was written and described by Gavin Harrison in the book called In The Lap of The Buddha. Gavin Harrison was molested when he was a child, and later in adulthood was raped. He contracted HIV, and doctors pronounced that he has not many years to live. I strongly recommend this superb book.
Dr. Kabat- Zin has successfully applied the principle of Vipassana meditation at the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Centre, where sessions are conducted to teach patients to focus on the sensations of pain.
Impermanent Nature of all Phenomenon.
As a scientist, Buddha is not very much concerned with the cosmic consciousness, or on the question of the "first cause". He remained clearly silent on the issues of gods and the creation process, saying it would be impossible to trace the kammic source of either an individual or the beginning of the universe. Buddha instead emphasized the importance of mindfulness, which Wes Nisker, author of Buddhas Nature appropriately termed, "biological consciousness".
Buddhism is not dogmatic nor catechistic as others perceived it to be. One does not have to renounce ones present religion in order to become a Buddhist. Sylvia Boorstein famous author of Its Easier Than You Think, says she is a Jewish mother but a devout Buddhist. A Montrealer I know quips, " Je suis Catholique, mais Buddhist". Buddhists do not believe in praying to a divinity, ignores the question of whether there is a God, and discourages reliance on ritual and ceremony.
The Buddha admonishes one to rely on themselves and to find truth within themselves. Buddhism does not preach sin. Buddha taught Dhamma, which might be simply stated as how to live the good life. In fact Buddhism is indeed a way of life a life of morality, meditation, and the cultivation of in-sight wisdom.
Empirical science considers the world as material world. Buddhas teachings stressed the ultimate point that all perceptions, all mental states, all emotions, all feelings, all material world and objects are impermanent.
He said, "What arises, ceases."
He emphasized this over and over again that this is a very important insight that frees mankind from all kinds of delusions. What arises, ceases. - Anicca. ( in Pali ).
A major dissimilarity between Buddhism and other religions lies in the Buddhist perception of dukkha, which is loosely translated as suffering.
Birth is dukkha, a shocking traumatic experience.
Sickness is dukkha, with its pains, fever, discomforts and anguish.
Old Age, decay and decrepitude are dukkha, with strength and vigor diminishing, with appetites waning, with vital organs faltering, with dependence on others Increasing.
Death is dukkha, as is fear of death.
Grief, lamentation, pain, anguish, and despair are dukkha.
Being united with what one dislikes is dukkha.
Being separated from what one likes or from the people one loves is dukkha
Not getting what one want is dukkha.
Attachment to the five khandhas, the five aggregates which makes up an individual - body, feelings, perceptions, intentions and volitions, acts of consciousness is dukkha.
Attachment to the notion of "self", "me" or "I" is dukkha.
This last notion of attachment to "self " is best explained from the Samyutta Nikaya, where the Buddha said, " This body does not belong to you or to anyone else. It is the result of previous activity .. ; for now it should be felt". In other words, Buddha is explaining that this body is not of our own creation or choosing but arises out of our process of multiple causes and conditions. Wes Nisker calls it : evolutionary adaptation , organic process, in scientific parlance.
Buddha explained the pain of attachment to self as Anatta, or the doctrine of no-self. One of the simplest reason being that we do not control our body. Buddha said in the Anattalakkhana Sutta : " Were it self, the body would not suffer affliction, and one could have of body what one wished, saying Let my body be this, let my body be that ."
Anicca, Dukkha and Anatta in Buddhism are the three characteristics of being.
Foundations of moral and ethical conducts.
The cultivation of ethical conduct is the first requirement in the Buddhist discipline. It is the most important foundation on which development of mental tranquility and mindfulness is based. Vipassana Meditation is the discipline from which insight wisdom is derived.
Most intellectuals and academics find it difficult to accept the notion of no self , or the Doctrine of Anatta. They claim they are in control and in charge of their lives. Kenneth Chen, author of Buddhism, the Light of Asia, explains, " there is only a living complex of mental and physical elements ( the khandhas) succeeding one another continuously, living on the fruits of acts. Because of this it can control itself and can exert efforts to better itself, so that by proper discipline it is able to attain nirvana or deliverance".
Buddhists reasons that all good deeds have good effects, bad deeds have bad consequences or effects. Such effects are either felt in this very lifetime or in the next life. Buddha said that it is kamma, the accumulation of our good or bad deed, of merits, that controls us, either now or from the past It is wrong to blame God or Divine for any deficiencies in our life, and even worse, to accuse him of any natural disasters and lifes tragedies as an Act or Punishment of God.
Sowing the seeds of merit.
Walpula Rahula, a Sri Lankan monk wrote in his book What the Buddha Taught:
" Buddha said: It is volition that I call kamma. Having willed, one acts through body, speech, and mind. Volition is mental construction, mental activity. Its function is to direct the mind in the sphere of good, bad, or neutral activities,' " It is only volitional actions such as intention, will, determination, confidence, concentration, wisdom, energy, desire, repugnance or hate, ignorance, conceit, idea of self, etc. that can produce kammic effects."
The Venerable Rahula Walpula also said:
"The theory of kamma should not be confused with so-called moral justice or reward and punishment. (These ideas) arise out of the conception of a supreme being, a God, who sits in judgement, who is a law-giver and who decides what is right and what is wrong. The theory of kamma is the theory of cause and effect, of action and reaction; it is a natural law, which has nothing to do with the idea of justice or reward or punishment. Every volitional action produces its effects or results. If a good action produces good effects and a bad action bad effects this is in virtue of its nature, its own law."
"What is difficult (to understand) is that according to kamma theory, the effects of a volitional action may continue to manifest themselves even in a life after death. Here we have to explain what life is according to Buddhism.
"We have seen earlier that a being is nothing but a combination of physical and mental forces of energies. What we call death is the total non-functioning of the physical body. Do all these forces and energies stop with the non-functioning of the body? Buddhism says, no. Will, volition, desire, thirst to exist, to continue to become more and more, is a tremendous force and moves whole lives, whole existences, and even moves the whole world. This is the greatest force, the greatest energy in the world. According to Buddhism, this force does not stop with the non-functioning of the body, which is death. It continues manifesting itself in another form, producing re-existence which is called rebirth."
Thus one who has achieved enlightenment or the state of nirvana will not be reborn, and have escaped the continuity or rounds of dukkha. It is the culmination of having successfully followed and practiced the Noble Eightfold Path, of having realized the realities of dukkha, impermanence, and no-self (Anicca, Dukkha, Anatta).
Adapted from the Visuddhimagga, and translated by Henry Clarke Warren, the Buddha explained:
"When body and mind dissolve, they do not exist anywhere, any more than musical notes lay heaped up anywhere. When a lute is played upon, there is no previous store of sound; and when the music ceases it does not go anywhere in space. It came into existence on account of the structure and stem of the lute and the exertions of the performer; and as it came into existence it passes away.
In exactly the same way, all the elements of being both corporeal and non-corporeal, come into existence after having been non-existent; and having come into existence pass away.
There is no self residing in body and mind, but the cooperation of the conformations produces what people call a person. Paradoxically though it may seem: There is a path to walk on, there is walking being done, but there is no traveler. There are deeds being done, but there is no doer. There is the blowing of air, but there is no wind that does the blowing. The thought of self is an error and all existences are as hollow as the plantain tree and as empty as the twirling water bubbles."
Why People find Buddhism Realistic to Accept.
It is devoid of authority.
It is devoid of rituals.
It is devoid of speculation, metaphysics and traditions. Buddha said: " Do not go by what is handed down, nor on the authority of your traditional teachings" The teachings of the Buddha are empirical. Our progress is based on the level of our personal understanding and experience. Finding the truth by us by following the Path. Not based on hearsay or blind-faith.
It is devoid of supernatural. Buddha deplores divination, forecasting, and soothsaying, which he thought specifically diverted people from the principles of the noble Eightfold Path.
Buddha taught Dhamma.based on the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path.
He explained that the concept of "self" is an illusion.
Buddha taught that all things are impermanent.
Buddha admonished that the great impediments and fetters of enlightenments are greed, anger and delusion. One combats greed with generosity and renunciation, aversion with loving kindness and compassion, delusion with wisdom.
On the observance of kayakan, wesikan, and manokan of kamma (body, speech and mind deeds)
Beware of the anger of the body.
Master the body.
Let it serve truth.
Beware of the anger of the mouth.
Master your words.
Let them serve truth.
Beware of the anger of the mind.
Master your thoughts.
Let them serve truth.
The wise have mastered
Body, word and mind.
They are the true masters.
From the Dhammapada
Buddha explained the concept of kamma, that good acts induce good consequences, evil acts evil ones.
Buddha explained the concept of rebirth, in which ones kammic energy prevails through many lifetimes influencing ones future rebirths and future lives.
Buddha urged us to avoid "attachment."
Buddha taught the fundamentals of moral behavior.
Buddha showed us how to meditate to induce tranquility and gain insight wisdom.
Buddha advised us not to take excessive delights in our good fortune nor excessive despair over our misfortunes or disappointments, as neither is permanent or enduring.
Buddha showed us the path to enlightenment.
We should always bear in mind, Buddhas constant advice that we should not blindly believe but rather question, examine, inquire and rely on our own experience. Buddha said:
Finally, it is noteworthy to quote Dr. Albert Einstein on religion:
May you be happy,
May you be free from suffering,
May you be free from anxiety.
The article is written for our children, future generation and for those who are interested in Buddhism. Our children are growing up without clear and proper understanding of what Buddhism is all about. For readers who are interested in Buddhism, I hope the article provides insight and meaningful understanding.
It is regrettable that the only Burmese Buddhist Association of Ontario does not teach, conduct discussions or provide hands-on Vipassana meditation in English.
It is hoped that this article will provide an impetus and encourage the younger generation to understand and practice Buddhas teaching. As unlike other religions, Buddhists do not compel or convert others to follow their faith, and therefore it is hoped that the democratic process will instill readers with clear and comprehensive understanding of the philosophy, whereby they will find for themselves the value to practice the Dhamma of their own free-will.
As the Buddha said, he can only show the Path. It is up to the individual (including all of us) to follow and practice the Dhamma.
I would like to take the opportunity to suggest the formation of an informal Dhamma and Vipassana meditation group in English. I would be pleased to hear from readers.
I can be reached at telephone 905 276 7770.
EMail : Harry.Htut@royalbank.com