Advayavada Buddhism

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Archive for the month “November, 2011”

Advayavada Buddhism in a Nutshell

Buddhism is a collective name for the diverse philosophical, esoteric and religious beliefs that are derived from the way of liberation taught, in the 6th century B.C., by the North-Indian prince Siddhartha Gautama, called the Buddha, which means the Awakened or Enlightened One. Advayavada Buddhism, formally established in 1995 as a new, secular branch of Mahayana Buddhism by the Dutch lay Buddhist author and translator Advayavadananda (John Willemsens, b.1934), is a non-dual and life-affirming philosophy and way of life derived in turn from Nagarjuna’s Madhyamaka, or philosophy of the Middle Way. The purpose of Advayavada Buddhism is to help us to become a true part of the whole. Because of its open character and structure, and, above all, its autonomous and non-prescriptive nature, it is difficult to determine how many Buddhists share the views of Advayavada Buddhism worldwide at this time.

According to Advayavada Buddhism, it is indisputable that the Buddha did not believe in Brahman (God, transcendent and immutable Absolute) or in the atman or atta (soul, immortal self) and taught that man suffers because he does not understand and accept that all things in life are instead utterly changeable and transitory; if the Buddha had ever expressed belief in Brahman and the atman or atta, such a fact would have been unequivocally recorded in History. Man is prone to suffering (duhkha, dukkha) quite simply because he wrongly strives after and tries to hold on to things, concepts and situations which he believes to be permanent, but are not.

Man’s mistaken view of things is produced by a thirst or craving (called trishna in Sanskrit and tanha in Pali) which is in turn caused by his fundamental ignorance (avidya, avijja) of the true nature of reality. And this thirst or craving can easily take on a more unwholesome form: already as sensuous desire, ill-will, laziness, impatience or distrust will it seriously hinder any efforts to better his circumstances.

His compliance, however, with the five precepts that apply to all followers of the Buddha will allow him to arrest his thirst or craving and to commence removing the root cause of his suffering, i.e. his fundamental ignorance of the true nature of reality. The five fundamental Buddhist precepts are not to kill, not to steal, sexual restraint, not to lie, and abstinence from alcohol and drugs. Man’s observance of these precepts in his daily life gives him the moral strength required to embark upon the Buddha’s Middle Way that, avoiding first the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification, will in due course bring him to the blessed state of Nirvana.

Nirvana is the complete extinction (nirodha) of all suffering (duhkha, dukkha) as a result of our full reconciliation with reality as it truly is. Nirvana and Samsara are not two different realities or two different conditions of reality. Nirvana is to experience the phenomenal world at the level of ultimate truth (paramartha-satya), i.e. truth divested of all our preconceptions, including even those expressed here. Samsara is to experience the same phenomenal world at the level of conventional everyday truth (samvriti-satya). It is as a result of the purification of our perception of the phenomenal world at the level of conventional truth by following the Buddha’s Middle Way, that we shall come to understand the significance of ultimate truth and its rewards.

The Middle Way devoid of extremes that we must follow is concretely the Noble Eightfold Path that the Buddha taught in his very first sermon in Sarnath, near Benares. The Noble Eightfold Path, when interpreted dynamically as an autonomous and creative process of progressive insight reflecting in human terms wondrous overall existence becoming over time, as Advayavada Buddhism does, is that of our very best (samyak, samma) comprehension or insight, followed by our very best resolution or determination, our very best enunciation or definition of our intention, our very best disposition or attitude, our very best implementation or realization, our very best effort or commitment, our very best observation, reflection or evaluation and self-correction, and our very best meditation or concentration towards an increasingly real experience of samadhi, which brings us to a yet better comprehension or insight, and so forth. We thus regain our place in totality advancing over time, in human terms, towards better and better, breaking, as we advance along the Path, the fetters (samyojana) that restrict us to Samsara.

Advayavada Buddhism indeed considers progress (pratipada, patipada) as the fourth sign of being, this next to the impermanence and the selflessness of all things and the ubiquity of suffering in the world, which are the three signs or marks of being traditionally taught in Buddhism. When the Path expounded by the Buddha as the correct existential attitude and way of life is viewed as an ongoing reflexion at the level of our personal lives of wondrous overall existence becoming over time, it follows that human beings experience as good, right or beneficial that which takes place in the otherwise indifferent direction that time-being as a whole flows in of its own accord. The teaching of the Buddha must be seen as a Way of Reconciliation with wondrous existence as a whole just right as it is, i.e. as it truly is beyond our commonly limited and biased personal experience of it. Nirvana is, in Advayavada Buddhism, the ultimate reconciliation with reality becoming achievable by man. Indeed, in certain schools of Buddhism, Nirvana itself is seen as the fourth sign of being or seal of the dharma.

The Advayavada Study Plan

The revelation of Buddhism is in its practice: The Noble Eightfold Path, when interpreted dynamically as an ongoing and autonomous, non-prescriptive, investigative and creative process of progressive insight reflecting in human terms wondrous overall existence advancing over time, as Advayavada Buddhism does, is (1) that of our very best (samyak, samma) comprehension or insight followed by (2) our very best resolution or determination, (3) our very best enunciation or definition of our intention, (4) our very best disposition or attitude, (5) our very best implementation or realization, (6) our very best effort or commitment, (7) our very best observation, reflection or evaluation and self-correction, and (8) our very best meditation or concentration towards an increasingly real experience of samadhi, which brings us to a yet better comprehension or insight, and so forth. By following the Noble Eightfold Path thus you get in tune with wondrous overall existence advancing over time, sorrow, doubt and remorse immediately start disappearing, and your life at once gathers new impetus.

The Noble Eightfold Path in Advayavada Buddhism is fully personalized: it is firmly based on what we increasingly know about ourselves and our world, and trusting our own feelings and conscience. Adherence to the familiar Five Precepts and a well-considered understanding of the Four Signs of Being and the Four Noble Truths suffice to start off on the Path at any time. Nirvana is, in Advayavada Buddhism, the total extinction of existential suffering as a result of our complete reconciliation with reality as it truly is. The Path is, in other words, the sure road to enlightenment.

samadhi = total concentration (of the mind, cf. enstasy); non-dualistic state of consciousness in which the experiencing subject becomes one with the experienced object; total absortion in the object of meditation; transcendence of the relationship between mind and object; merging of subject and object; to contemplate the world without any perception of objects; suspension of judgement; turiyatita; satori; bodhi; rigpa; realization of the sameness of the part and the whole, of the identity of form and emptiness, of samsara and nirvana, of the immediate and the ultimate; mystic oneness; perfect attunement with wondrous overall existence; oceanic feeling; wonder, awe, rapture; essential purity; deep love and compassion; awareness of our common ground and the innocence of sex.

The purpose of the autonomous Advayavada Study Plan ASP is that we study (and debate in a local group, the family circle or with good friends) the meaning and implications of the weekly subject, not as a formal and impersonal intellectual exercise, but in the context of whatever we ourselves are presently doing or are concerned with, or about, such as our health, relationships, work, study, our place in society, etc. Advayavada Buddhism does not tell you what to do or believe, but how to make the very best of our own lives by becoming as wondrous overall existence advancing over time now in its manifest direction.

Week of the current year and subject:

Preliminary subjects:
01, 14, 27, 40 : The impermanence of all existents (First Sign of Being).
02, 15, 28, 41 : The selflessness of all existents (Second Sign of Being).
03, 16, 29, 42 : Existential suffering (Third Sign of Being and First Noble Truth).
04, 17, 30, 43 : Craving and its elimination (Second and Third Noble Truths).
05, 18, 31, 44 : Path and Progress (Fourth Noble Truth and Fourth Sign of Being).

The Noble Eightfold Path:
06, 19, 32, 45 : Our very best comprehension (1st Step on the Noble 8fold Path).
07, 20, 33, 46 : Our very best resolution (2nd Step on the Noble 8fold Path).
08, 21, 34, 47 : Our very best enunciation (3rd Step on the Noble 8fold Path).
09, 22, 35, 48 : Our very best disposition (4th Step on the Noble 8fold Path).
10, 23, 36, 49 : Our very best implementation (5th Step on the Noble 8fold Path).
11, 24, 37, 50 : Our very best effort (6th Step on the Noble 8fold Path).
12, 25, 38, 51 : Our very best observation (7th Step on the Noble 8fold Path).
13, 26, 39, 52 : Our very best meditation (8th Step on the Noble 8fold Path).

…and so forth!

Tip: Write down the weekly subject in your pocket diary!

The Noble Eightfold Path

“The Fourth Noble Truth is that of the Way leading to the cessation of dukkha (dukkhanirodhagaminipatipada-ariyasacca). This is known as the ‘Middle Path’ (Majjhima Patipada), because it avoids two extremes: one extreme being the search of happiness through the pleasures of the senses, which is ‘low, common, unprofitable and the way of the ordinary people’; the other being the search for happiness through self-mortification in different forms of ascetism, which is ‘painful, unworthy and unprofitable’.. This Middle Path is generally referred to as the Noble Eightfold Path (Ariya-Atthangika-Magga), because it is composed of eight categories or divisions..” (Walpola Rahula, What the Buddha Taught, first published 1959)

In Advayavada Buddhism, the Noble Eightfold Path is understood dynamically as an ongoing and fully autonomous, non-prescriptive, investigative and creative process of progressive insight, reflecting in human terms wondrous overall existence becoming over time, and is composed of (1) our very best (Pali: samma, Sanskrit: samyak) comprehension or insight followed by (2) our very best resolution or determination, (3) our very best enunciation or definition (of our intention), (4) our very best disposition or attitude, (5) our very best implementation or realization, (6) our very best effort or commitment, (7) our very best observation, reflection or evaluation and self-correction, and (8) our very best meditation or concentration towards an increasingly real experience of samadhi, which brings us to a yet better comprehension or insight, and so forth.

The Noble Eightfold Path in Advayavada Buddhism is fully personalized: it is firmly based on what we increasingly know about ourselves and our world, and trusting our own intentions, feelings and conscience. Adherence to the familiar Five Precepts (not to kill, not to steal, sexual restraint, not to lie, and refraining from alcohol and drugs) and a well-considered understanding of the Four Signs of Being and the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths suffice to start off on the Path at any time. Nirvana is, in Advayavada Buddhism, the total extinction of suffering as a result of our complete reconciliation with reality as it truly is.

The writer of these pages shares fully and wholeheartedly the Buddhist view that existence is a constant flux of ever-changing events with no known beginning or necessary end. As a serious student of the Madhyamaka theories of existence, particularly of the concepts of emptiness, interdependent origination and the two truths, he has come to understand the Noble Eightfold Path as an ongoing reflexion at the level of his own life of existence as a whole becoming over time. By learning to follow the Noble Eightfold Path successfully, he hopes to live every time more and more in tune with wondrous overall existence. For the Advayavadin, Nirvana is when we experience our own existence as being completely in harmony with existence as a whole becoming over time. In Buddhism, there is no static being, only dynamic becoming: to live is to become. And in Advayavada Buddhism, the Noble Eightfold Path is moreover seen, not as a means to become something in the future, but as a way to become as something in the here and now. The Noble Eightfold Path is seen as a proven autonomous method or ‘upaya’ to achieve the abandonment of all fixed views and to become oneself in the here and now as existence, as wondrous overall existence becoming over time now in its right direction. It is by becoming here and now as wondrous overall existence becoming over time now that we free ourselves altogether from suffering and realize complete happiness. In Advayavada Buddhism the Path is understood, in other words, as the sure road to enlightenment.

The Pali word samma is usually rendered as ‘right’, but allow us to quote as follows from Prof. Archie Bahm’s Philosophy of the Buddha, first published 1958: “Each fold of the Eightfold Path is clearly labelled with the prefix samma. And sam means sameness, ambiguity, universality, equality, regarding willingness to accept things as they are.. Sam is middle-wayedness between over-acceptance and under-acceptance, between attachment to them as more than they are or less than they are. Translation of sam as ‘right view’ etc. fails to convey to most readers the ideal of equanimity which is then to be perfectly sought. […] The term ‘right’, although fitting better into the puritanic, rigoristic, and perfectionistic preconceptions of many Western translators, and into the perfectionistic (extinctionistic) tendencies of Theravada, is only slightly justified.” It is our view that it is only by following the Path in a non-prescriptive way that we shall eventually be able to come to understand the non-conceptual import of ultimate truth, and it was this explanation of the term samma by Prof. Bahm which a.o. prompted us to translate samma in Advayavada Buddhism as ‘very best’ or ‘best possible’. See also the short excerpt ‘The Path Understood Dialectically (Bahm)’ in the relevant excerpts section of this website.

In most other forms of Buddhism, the Noble Eightfold Path is indeed made up of eight largely unrelated factors, often of very differing content and interpretation, and always somebody else is telling you what to be and do. For Advayavada Buddhism, however, it is clear that the objective of the Middle Way devoid of extremes, the madhyama-pratipad, being the correct existential attitude expounded by the Buddha, is to reconnect and reconcile us with existence as it truly is beyond our (and most other people’s) commonly limited and biased personal experience of it. The Noble Eightfold Path is therefore understood dynamically as an ongoing reflexion at the level of our personal lives of existence as a whole becoming over time, of pratitya-samutpada. It is for this reason that the eight steps of the Noble Eightfold Path as advocated by Advayavada Buddhism do depend sequentially on each other, are free of any conventional criteria set beforehand by somebody else to which one is supposed to conform, and are fully ‘actual’ in the sense that they are not done for a further purpose or motive which is not in the step itself. The method created by the Buddha is, as we see it, like a wheel. It has no beginning and no end. When one has meditated well, new and better insight will arise in our minds, and we must lead our lives accordingly until we and the circumstances surrounding us have again changed, until it is time to think things through again, and to start afresh if necessary.

Also the Ven. Narada Mahathera understands the steps sequentially: “Right Understanding, which is the keynote of Buddhism, is explained as the knowledge of the four Noble Truths. To understand rightly means to understand things as they really are and not as they appear to be. This refers primarily to a correct understanding of oneself, because, as the Rohitassa Sutta states, ‘dependent on this one-fathom long body with its consciousness’ are all the four Truths. In the practice of the Noble Eightfold Path, Right Understanding stands at the beginning as well as at its end. A minimum degree of Right Understanding is necessary at the very beginning because it gives the right motivations to the other seven factors of the Path and gives to them correct direction. At the culmination of the practice, Right Understanding has matured into perfect Insight Wisdom (vipassana-pañña), leading directly to the Stages of Sainthood.. Clear vision or right understanding leads to clear thinking. The second factor of the Noble Eightfold Path is therefore Right Thoughts etc.” (Narada Thera, Buddhism in a Nutshell, first published 1933)

But Diana and Richard St Ruth, on the other hand, say the following in their Simple Guide to Theravada Buddhism, Folkestone 1998: “This [the Eightfold Path] is not a linear path, first perfecting one’s view about things before moving on to perfecting one’s intentions and speech and so on. It is a way of living one’s whole life. It is like saying: Try to live your life in the right way in everything you do. The word ‘right’ or ‘perfect’, of course, is a subjective term, and that is what it is meant to be. There is no definition laid down of what is right; it is not a set of rules. What may be regarded as right effort for one person, for example, may be quite different for another. It is a question of deciding for oneself whether enough effort is being put into what one does, or whether there is a sense of laziness, or of making too much of an effort. There is a delicate balance to be found between too much and too little, and this is something to be discovered for oneself. The eightfold path is a life; it is one’s whole way of life.”

It is not clear what is meant by ‘subjective’ in the aforegoing quotation from the Simple Guide to Theravada Buddhism. In Advayavada Buddhism, the term is used in this context in the Kierkegaardian sense and would not apply to all steps, but only to the noun ‘comprehension’ in the first step: the first step of the Noble Eightfold Path in Advayavada Buddhism would be in full ‘our very best (or best possible) subjective comprehension of things at this time’. See in this respect the short excerpt ‘Existential Thinking is Subjective (Kierkegaard)’ on the relevant excerpts pages of this website.

Also for the Ven. Walpola Rahula the Path is not sequential or linear. He does, however, teach unqualifiedly that the categories should be developed, not as we deem fit, but ‘as far as possible’ to the best of our ability: “It should not be thought that the eight categories or divisions of the Path should be followed and practised one after the other in the numerical order as given in the usual list above. But they are to be developed more or less simultaneously, as far as possible according to the capacity of each individual. They are all linked together and each helps the cultivation of the others.”

According to prof. Peter Harvey, in An Introduction to Buddhism, first published 1990, the eight factors exist in Theravada Buddhism at two basic levels, the ordinary and the transcendent or ‘holy’, so that there is both an ordinary and a Holy Eightfold Path. The first type, which “most Buddhists seek to practise”, only “supports actions leading to good rebirths” and is described as “belief in the efficacy of karma, the reality of rebirth, in the benefit of helping one’s parents, in the existence of levels of rebirth invisible to normal vision, and in the existence of virtuous religious practitioners who have direct knowledge of other worlds”. Practice based on such beliefs is seen as creating a good basis “for the additional development of wisdom”; if and when such practise is perfected, a person will gain a first glimpse of Nibbana and of “the ‘stream’ which leads there”, namely the Holy Eightfold Path. Prof. Harvey also states that the Path immediately leading up to becoming an arahat has two extra factors, right knowledge and right freedom, making it tenfold.

The Rider Encyclopedia reminds us that Bhavaviveka (ca. 490-570), the founder of the Svatantrika school of Madhyamaka, interprets the Eightfold Path as follows: perfect view is insight into the dharmakaya of the perfect one; perfect resolve represents the coming to rest of all mental projections; perfect speech is the recognition that speech is rendered dumb in the face of the dharmas; perfect conduct is the abstention from all deeds directed toward karmic gain; perfect living is the insight that all dharmas are without arising or passing away; perfect effort means becoming intentionless; perfect mindfulness means giving up pondering on being and nonbeing; perfect concentration means being free from opinions in that one does not grasp onto ideas.

John Peacocke tells us in Tricycle magazine that according to the British scholar Richard Gombrich, the Buddhist Middle Way is in fact the middle way between highly materialistic Brahmanism and excessively ascetic Jainism. It’s not just asceticism in general that the Buddha is reacting to, it’s the extreme asceticism primarily associated with the Jains, and, likewise, the household life and the strict and materialistic rituals of the Brahmins. Somewhere in between the two lies the Middle Way of the Buddha’s teachings.

Stephen Batchelor writes in his Confession of a Buddhist Atheist: “I no longer think of Buddhist practice solely in terms of gaining proficiency in meditation and acquiring ‘spiritual’ attainments. The challenge of Gotama’s eightfold path is, as I understand it, to live in this world in a way that allows every aspect of one’s existence to flourish: seeing, thinking, speaking, acting, working, etc. Each area of life calls for a specific way of practising the Dhamma. Meditation and mindfulness alone are not enough. Given the task of responding to the suffering that confronts me each time I open a newspaper, I find it immoral to relegate the demands of this life to the ‘higher’ task of preparing oneself for a postmortem existence (or non-existence). I think of myself as a secular Buddhist who is concerned entirely with the demands of this age (saeculum) no matter how inadequate and insignificant my responses to these demands might be.”

MODERN DEFINITIONS OF THE EIGHT STEPS COMPARED:

1 – samma-ditthi (samyag-dristi); in Advayavada: our very best comprehension or insight: right doctrine (Arnold), right view (Bahm, Bodhi, Ch’en, Gethin, Grimm, Guenther, Harvey, Horner, St Ruth, Takakusu, Watts), appropriate vision (Batchelor), right understanding (Burt, Dhammananda, Fernando, Humphreys, Keown, Kornfield, Narada, Nyanatiloka, Rahula, Saddhatissa, Stroup), right views (Conze, David-Neel, Dharmapala, Eliot, Malalasekera, Rhys Davids), right knowledge (Dharmapala, Khemo), right belief (Narasu); proper views (Edwardes); correct insight (Kloppenborg), correct faith (Scheepers)

2 – samma-sankappa (samyak-samkalpa); in Advayavada: our very best resolution or determination: right purpose (Arnold, Burt, Horner), right resolve (Bahm, David-Neel, Keown), appropriate thought (Batchelor), right intentions (Bodhi, Conze), right intention (Ch’en, Gethin, Khemo, St Ruth), right thoughts (Dhammananda, Narada), right desires (Dharmapala), right aspirations (Dharmapala, Eliot, Malalasekera, Rhys Davids), right thought (Fernando, Rahula, Saddhatissa, Takakusu), right resolution (Grimm), right conception (Guenther), right directed thought (Harvey), right motives (Humphreys), right attitude (Kornfield), right attitude of mind (Stroup), right aspiration (Narasu), right mindedness (Nyanatiloka), right understanding (Watts); proper hopes (Edwardes); correct resolve (Kloppenborg), correct thinking (Scheepers)

3 – samma-vacha (samyag-vac); in Advayavada: our very best enunciation or definition (as Karl Popper says, putting our ideas into words, or better, writing them down, makes an important difference, for in this way they become objective and criticizable): right discourse (Arnold), right speech (Bahm, Bodhi, Burt, Ch’en, Conze, David-Neel, Dhammananda, Dharmapala, Eliot, Fernando, Gethin, Guenther, Harvey, Horner, Humphreys, Keown, Khemo, Kornfield, Malalasekera, Narada, Narasu, Nyanatiloka, Rahula, Rhys Davids, Saddhatissa, St Ruth, Stroup, Takakusu, Watts), appropriate speech (Batchelor), right speaking (Grimm); proper language of definition (Edwardes); correct speech (Kloppenborg, Scheepers)

4 – samma-kammanta (samyak-karmanta); in Advayavada: our very best disposition or attitude: right behaviour (Arnold), right conduct (Burt, Conze, Eliot, Malalasekera, Rhys Davids), right action (Bahm, Bodhi, Ch’en, David-Neel, Fernando, Gethin, Guenther, Harvey, Horner, Humphreys, Keown, Khemo, Kornfield, Narada, Narasu, Nyanatiloka, Rahula, Saddhatissa, St Ruth, Stroup, Takakusu, Watts), appropriate action (Batchelor), right actions (Dhammananda, Dharmapala), right acting (Grimm); proper behaviour (Edwardes); correct action (Kloppenborg, Scheepers)

5 – samma-ajiva (samyag-ajiva); in Advayavada: our very best implementation, realization or putting into practice: right purity (Arnold), right vocation (Burt, Watts), right livelihood (Bahm, Bodhi, Ch’en, Conze, Dhammananda, Dharmapala, Eliot, Fernando, Gethin, Harvey, Horner, Keown, Khemo, Kornfield, Malalasekera, Narada, Rahula, Rhys Davids, Saddhatissa, St Ruth, Stroup, Takakusu), appropriate livelihood (Batchelor), right living (David-Neel, Narasu, Nyanatiloka), right mode of life (Grimm), right life (Guenther), right means of livelihood (Humphreys); proper way of earning one’s living (Edwardes); correct living (Kloppenborg), correct livelihood (Scheepers)

6 – samma-vayama (samyag-vyayana); in Advayavada: our very best effort or commitment: right thought (Arnold), right effort (Bodhi, Burt, Ch’en, Conze, David-Neel, Dhammananda, Eliot, Fernando, Gethin, Grimm, Harvey, Humphreys, Keown, Khemo, Kornfield, Malalasekera, Narada, Narasu, Nyanatiloka, Rahula, Rhys Davids, Saddhatissa, St Ruth, Stroup), appropriate effort (Batchelor), right exertion (Dharmapala, Guenther), right endeavour (Bahm, Dharmapala, Horner, Takakusu), right application (Watts); proper effort in the proper direction (Edwardes); correct exertion (Kloppenborg), correct striving (Scheepers)

7 – samma-sati (samyak-smriti); in Advayavada: our very best observation or reflection and self-correction: right loneliness (Arnold), right alertness (Burt), right mindfulness (Bahm, Bodhi, Ch’en, Conze, Dhammananda, Dharmapala, Eliot, Fernando, Gethin, Harvey, Horner, Keown, Malalasekera, Narada, Rahula, Rhys Davids, Saddhatissa, St Ruth, Takakusu), appropriate mindfulness (Batchelor), right attention (David-Neel), right recollectedness (Grimm, Watts), right inspection (Guenther), right recollection (Humphreys, Stroup), right attentiveness (Khemo, Nyanatiloka), right concentration (Kornfield), right thought (Narasu), right remembrance, right memory, right awareness; full understanding of action and thought (Edwardes); correct attention (Kloppenborg, Scheepers)

8 – samma-samadhi (samyak-samadhi); in Advayavada: our very best meditation or concentration towards samadhi: right rapture (Arnold, Eliot, Malalasekera), right samadhi (Bahm, Dharmapala), right concentration (Bodhi, Burt, Ch’en, Conze, Dhammananda, Fernando, Gethin, Grimm, Guenther, Harvey, Horner, Khemo, Narada, Nyanatiloka, Rahula, Saddhatissa, St Ruth, Takakusu), appropriate concentration (Batchelor), right meditation (David-Neel, Humphreys, Keown, Stroup), right illumination (Dharmapala), right awareness (Kornfield), right tranquility (Narasu), right contemplation (Rhys Davids, Watts); absolute concentration of purpose (Edwardes); correct concentration (Kloppenborg, Scheepers)

samadhi (Skt.) total or perfect concentration (of the mind, cf. enstasy); non-dualistic state of consciousness in which the experiencing subject becomes one with the experienced object; total absortion in the object of meditation; transcendence of the relationship between mind and object; merging of subject and object; to contemplate the world without any perception of objects; suspension of judgement; turiyatita; satori; bodhi; rigpa; realization of the sameness of the part and the whole, of the identity of form and emptiness, of samsara and nirvana, of the immediate and the ultimate; mystic oneness; perfect dynamic attunement with wondrous overall existence; oceanic feeling; wonder, awe, rapture; essential purity; deep love and compassion; awareness of our common ground.

The Fourth Sign of Being

The concept of progress as the fourth sign of being propounded by Advayavada Buddhism is a controversial one because most other forms of Buddhism shun life in one way or the other. The conventional signs or marks or basic facts of being in traditional Buddhism are three: impermanence, suffering and selflessness, usually listed in that particular order. Impermanence (anitya in Sanskrit and anicca in Pali) refers to the unstability and transitoriness of all things, including ourselves; suffering (duhkha, dukkha) refers to the existential sorrow that all non-liberated human beings are prone to; and selflessness (anatman, anatta) refers to the fact that nothing has an enduring self or independent substance.

In Advayavada Buddhism, we name those three conventional signs of being in a different order: first impermanence, then selflessness, and finally suffering. This seems to us more logical, because it is generally agreed that existential sorrow, which is also the first of the four noble truths of Buddhism, occurs when the facts of impermanence and selflessness are not fully recognized and understood. The second noble truth affirms, indeed, that all such suffering is brought about by a thirst (trishna, tanha), i.o.w. a craving or clinging, which is produced in turn by that fundamental ignorance (avidya, avijja) of the true nature of reality – in Buddhism, ignorance of the true nature of reality, i.e. of its impermanence and selflessness, is correctly seen as the root cause of all ill.

It is indeed obvious that all existential sorrow and conflict, be it at the level of the individual or of the group to which he or she belongs, stems from the non-recognition of the facts of impermanence and selflessness, from not understanding and accepting that everything changes and nothing lives on. Out of sheer ignorance also personalities, ideas and beliefs are accorded indefinite validity, and compromise, consensus and change are felt by many as an infringement upon their integrity. Religious, ethnic and nationalist convictions have no regard for the lessons of History. Could the zealots, the fanatics, the flag-wavers but hear the scorn and condemnation, and even ridicule, that their actions will receive in future generations!

It is already more than two and a half thousand years ago that the Buddha uncovered the reason for this sorry state of affairs and pined for a way to overcome it. His solution to the problem, contained in the third and fourth noble truths of his most essential teaching, is, as we understand it, surprisingly simple and common-sensical: people must eliminate their thirst or craving, which is the immediate cause of their suffering, by following, and teaching their fellows, an intelligent, open-ended path which is, instead, in complete harmony with the true nature of reality.

The method created by the Buddha, the Buddha’s Middle Way devoid of extremes as understood by us, has no beginning nor end and is very adequately depicted by the Wheel of the Teaching (dharmacakra, dhammacakka). When followed conscientiously, it becomes nothing less than the main karmic factor in one’s share of the universal interdependent origination process (madhyamaka-pratityasamutpada): when we have meditated well, new and better insight will arise in our minds, and we are asked to organize and lead our lives in accordance with that renewed insight, until we observe (seventh step) that we and the circumstances in which we are embedded have again changed, and it is time to think things through again, and even to start afresh if necessary.

Our contention is, now, that if the Buddha’s path means, as it does, real progress at last and is in complete harmony with the true nature of reality as a whole becoming over time in its manifest direction, it then follows very clearly that, expressed purely in terms of human perception and experience, reality as a whole progresses over time as well. In other words, that progress is all life’s inner driving force and, therefore, the fourth sign, mark or basic fact of being.

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