A Very Short Buddha
Excerpts from Buddha, A Very Short Introduction
‘Thirst for existence’ is, to be sure, the ‘thirst which gives rise to repeated existence’, but perhaps a better way to think of it is as the desire for becoming other than what present experience gives.
Under many guises it is a ceaseless striving for some new state, some new sense of being, some new experience, at the same time as being a striving for satiety and permanence, and it is a striving always frustrated.
‘The world [in the sense of all individuals of the world], whose nature is to become other, is commited to becoming, has exposed itself to becoming; it relishes only becoming, yet what it relishes brings fear, and what it fears is pain’.
‘Rebirth’ may be rebirth from moment to moment to moment experience, or it may be rebirth into another life, but in either case it is the consequence of this lust to be something else.
One craves not only what is attractive but also relief or escape from what is unpleasant or undesirable. And we crave a great deal. We crave all sensual pleasures — sexual, gustatory, olfactory, tactile, or whatever. We yearn keenly to escape pain. We crave wealth, power, position. We even lust sensually after our own bodies. There is even a ‘thirst for views’, the urge to be right, to be ‘in the know’, to have an answer for every question.
The Buddha held that in human affairs it is the mental choice or intention which is of ultimate significance: “the world is led by mind.” Only intentional acts are regarded as transgressions, and unintentional acts — such as those committed while asleep, or mad, or under duress — are not culpable.
Intentions are not negligible, they have consequences. They do work, are in themselves actions. This is the sense of the term ‘karma’, whose primary meaning is ‘work’ or ‘deed’, and in the Buddhist sense ‘mental action’.
(Karma does not refer to the results of actions, as we now assume in ordinary usage in the West.)
“It is choice or intention that I call karma — mental work — for having chosen, a man act by body, speech, and mind.”
Intentions makes ones world; it is they that do work whose results & consequences may be reaped & sown. They form the subsequent history of our psychic life.
The only difference, for the Buddha, between conscious choices & unconscious impulses is that impulses occur in ignorance of their nature as choices: they are choices made under the delusion that there is no better choice, no better way of acting.
Meditation is allied with morality: the attempt to restrain ones senses from what is immoral and to create good, wholesome, and skilful frames of mind within which to work. The counterpart to this is the avoidance of not only bad actions but bad frames of mind, which lead not to clarity but to delusion.
Against this background the basic skill is concentration, coupled with equanimity, and this meditative control is then the basis of insight meditation. Insight meditation, however, is not practiced by sitting in quiet solitude. For it demands a general attitude of self-recollection, of clear consciousness, of awareness of ones surroundings, ones experiences, and ones actions and their consequences moment by moment, day by day.
All these individual exercises blend into a single alert and calm way of life.
“The monk neither constructs in his mind, nor wills in order to produce, any state of mind or body, or the destruction of such state. By not so willing anything into the world, he grasps after nothing; by not grasping, he is not anxious; he is therefore fully calmed within.”
One should neither look forward to coming experience, nor clutch at present ones, but let them all slip easily through ones fingers.
The same applies to ideas: to indulge in speculations and theories about the past or future, eternity, the fate of the world, and so forth, is to lose oneself in a ‘tangle of views, a thicket of views’.
Instead one is to view the world simply, directly, with the perception achieved in insight meditation.
“By neither standing nor struggling, I crossed the flood.”
“Do not repent the past nor brood over the future. Live in the present.”