What Does It Mean To Be Enlightened? Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi
T he word "buddha" was already known and in circulation before the Buddha appeared on the Indian scene. The word means "enlightened," and spiritual seekers would commonly discuss the question "Who is a Buddha? Who is enlightened?" Once an aged brahmin named Brahmayu heard that the ascetic Gotama, the man rumored to be a Buddha, had arrived in his town and he decided to pay him a visit. When the old brahmin arrived, the Buddha was in the midst of a discussion with many people. Since the old brahmin was highly distinguished, when he came into the midst of the crowd, everyone gave way to him. The Buddha too realized that this was a highly respected brahmin, the teacher of several generations of pupils, so he asked Brahmayu to come right up to the front of the assembly and to take a seat beside him.
Brahmayu then said to him, "Honorable Gotama, I would like to ask you some questions." The Buddha invited him to ask what was op his mind, and the brahmin phrased his questions in a four-line verse, the basic point of which was, "How can one be called a Buddha, an Enlightened One?" The Buddha responded in verse:
This answer tells us, very concisely, three characteristics of an Enlightened One. These are not only three characteristics of a Buddha; they are also three objectives at which we aim in following the Buddha's teaching. If someone were to ask, "What is your fundamental purpose in taking refuge in the Triple Gem? What is your purpose in following the precepts? What is your purpose in practicing meditation?" your answer should come down to the same three points: to fully know what should be known; to abandon what should be abandoned; and to develop what should be developed. These are the goals of the Buddhist path and the three accomplishments that mark the attainment of enlightenment.
If you are familiar with the Buddha's First Sermon, you would immediately recognize that these three tasks are aligned with three of the Four Noble Truths. The first noble truth is the noble truth of dukkha, usually translated suffering, unsatisfactoriness, or stress. What is the task to be performed in relation to this noble truth of suffering? The noble truth of suffering is to be. correctly "known," fully known, fully understood. The noble truth of the origin, or cause, of suffering is craving, and the task to be performed in relation to this truth is abandonment: craving is to be "abandoned." The fourth noble truth, the Noble Eightfold Path, is the truth that has to be "developed." The one noble truth that isn't mentioned in the Buddha's verse is the third truth, the noble truth of the cessation of suffering. This has its own task as well: the cessation of suffering is to be "realized." But when the other three tasks are accomplished, realization of the noble truth of the cessation of suffering will naturally follow.
What does it mean to say that our task is "to know that which should be known"? What we have to know, what we have to understand, is that which is closest to ourselves, what we usually refer to as our self. What we usually refer to as our self is this complex of body and mind. For most of us, from the time we are born right up to the time of our death, our minds face outwardly, engaged in a tireless quest for pleasure and sensual gratification, for the enhancement of our self, for the confirmation of our sense of ego-identity. Very few people stop and turn around to consider the question, "What is it that I call my self? What is the 'I' behind the reference I make to myself?" And yet, if you reflect for just a moment, you will see that this is the most important question we can ask. If, from the day of your birth until the day you draw your final breath, the best you can do when you are asked, "Who are you? What is your identity?" is to pull out your driver's license or show your birth certificate, without really knowing who you are or what you are, then you've made a pretty bad job of your journey from birth to death.
Our task in following the Buddha's teaching is to investigate what it is we refer to as "I," as "my self;" as "what I am." We usually take these terms to refer to some kind of persisting entity, an ego, a substantial self possessing a real identity. But the Buddha teaches that all such ideas are deceptions. When we look, when we investigate the referents of the terms, 111,11 "me; " and "my self;" what we find are just components of bodily and mental experience. To aid investigation, the Buddha has neatly classified these components of bodily and mental experience into five groups. These are called the "five aggregates of clinging" because they are the things that we ordinarily cling to with the ideas, "This is mine, this is what I am, this is my true self."
So we find, underlying these notions of "I" and "self," just these five aggregates: the aggregate of bodily form, the material substance that constitutes our bodies; the aggregate of feeling: pleasant, painful, and neutral feelings; the aggregate of perception: the mental function of identifying the characteristics of things, acts of identifying, recognizing, and remembering; the aggregate of volitional formations, the various functions connected with volition; and the aggregate of consciousness: the light of awareness arising on the basis of the six sense bases.
For each of us, this is the totality of what we call our self. Our task in following the Buddha's teaching is to come to know, to come to understand, the true nature of these five aggregates. We thereby come to know what constitutes our real identity. From birth, through adulthood, to old age and death, this whole process of life is just a succession of the five aggregates bound together as conditions and conditionally arisen phenomena. The bodily aggregate or form is the basis, and on this basis, the mental aggregates arise and pass away. Through meditation practice, we examine very deeply, with a fine focus, the nature of these five aggregates as they occur from moment to moment. We see them arising, standing, and dissolving, which gives us the insight into impermanence. From the understanding of impermanence comes the insight into suffering, the unsatisfactory nature of the five aggregates. We then realize that these changeable five aggregates are undependable, insecure, unreliable, and therefore cannot be taken as our self: they are empty or selfless.
The second project the Buddha's teaching sets for us is "to abandon that which should be abandoned." What should be abandoned are the defilements. The Buddha uses the word kilesas as an umbrella term that includes all the mental states that cause suffering and unhappiness in our lives. The Buddha's teaching offers a detailed investigation of the mind which enables us to understand how the mind works. But this investigation is not undertaken in the value-free way in which contemporary psychology might describe the workings of the mind. Buddhist psychology defines its values clearly and sharply. It draws definite ethical distinctions, draws them without hesitation or ambiguity, because these ethical distinctions have vital implications for our desire to achieve happiness and avoid suffering.
According to the Buddha's teaching, unethical actions and impure mental states can never give rise to true and lasting happiness. Rather, unethical actions and defiled mental states inevitably germinate in unhappiness, in suffering. It is true that defiled states of mind, especially greed and craving, are accompanied by pleasure and enjoyment. If that weren't the case, the world would be filled with enlightened people. And yet the pleasure that accompanies present craving and greed is just a superficial coat that covers a bad seed. When that seed germinates and bears its fruits, it will bring pain and suffering either in this life, or if not in this life, then in future lives. In contrast, wholesome states of mind may sometimes be accompanied by present pain, because to develop them we have to go against the current, against the natural grain of the mind. But when those wholesome states bear their fruits, inevitably they will lead to happiness, to peace, and to inner well-being. Again, this is part of the same law, the law of moral causation.
The unwholesome mental states are called kilesas. The word can be translated afflictions because they bring suffering. It can also be translated defilements because they defile and corrupt the mind. The Buddha has analyzed the nature of the defilements and has beautifully explained how they can all be traced to the three "root defilements" of greed, hatred, and delusion. Our task in following the Buddha's teaching, in practicing the Dhamma, is to overcome, to eliminate, to abandon the defilements of greed and hatred that give rise to many other branch defilements. But greed and hatred spring ultimately from delusion or ignorance. And thus to eliminate all the defilements, we have to eliminate ignorance.
Ignorance is what covers up the five aggregates, what we refer to as I, mine, and myself. Thus the way to overcome ignorance or delusion is through the first task "knowing that which should be known." When we know that which should be known, ignorance falls away - greed, hatred, and all the other defilements fall away. It isn't possible, however, to accomplish this merely by having the desire to do so. We can't expect simply to think, "I want to know that which should be known;" and immediately it is known. That's why the whole practice of Buddhism is a process of walking a path. The great gift that the Buddha offers the world is not simply a profound philosophy, not simply a penetrating psychology, but a practical, systematic, step-by-step path that we can cultivate in every aspect of our lives.
To cultivate the path means to "develop that which should be developed." This is the third project the Buddha speaks of in his four-line verse: "That which should be developed, that I have developed." So what the Buddha has developed is what we have to develop. One cultivates the path in order "to abandon that which should be abandoned," namely, the defilements. And again, one cultivates the path in order "to know that which should be known," the five aggregates.
How does developing the path do this? Again, the path is structured in such a way that it proceeds not suddenly, not abruptly, but in a gradual step-by-step manner to help us climb the ladder to the ultimate freedom of enlightenment. One has to begin by keeping the coarser expression of the defilements under control. One does this by observing the precepts. One observes the Five Precepts or the Eight Precepts. These control the coarser expressions of the defilements, the defilements that erupt in the form of unwholesome actions.
Observing the precepts is not merely a matter of abstaining from negative actions. One also has to cultivate their counterparts: virtuous, wholesome actions. These suffuse the mind with pure and purifying qualities. One has to be compassionate and kindly towards others, to be honest in one's dealings with others, to be constantly truthful in one's communications, to be responsible to one's family and society, to observe right livelihood, to be diligent, to be respectful of others, to be patient under difficult conditions, to be humble and upright. All these virtues gradually help to purify the mind and make the mind bright, clean, and radiant.
To develop what must be developed, it isn't sufficient merely to cultivate morality. One must go further and cultivate concentration. When we try to collect and concentrate the mind, we begin to understand how our minds work. We gain insight into the workings of our own minds. By understanding the workings of our own minds, we're gradually changing the shape of the mind. First, we are beginning to weaken and undermine those unwholesome qualities that defile the mind. We are scraping away the soil in which the unwholesome roots have been lodged. We have to remember that the unwholesome roots have been lodged in our minds throughout beginningless time. The process isn't a quick or easy one, but requires gradual, persistent, and dedicated effort.
As one practices consistently, the mind will eventually settle into firm concentration. It acquires the skills needed to remain settled upon an object consistently, without wavering, and this provides the opportunity for wisdom to arise. Wisdom is the third quality that needs to be developed. Wisdom comes through examination, through investigation.
To be sure, wisdom does not arise only from meditative concentration. Even in your dayto-day life, when you study the Buddha's teachings, especially the important discourses on the development of wisdom, such as the teachings on the five aggregates, dependent origination, and the Four Noble Truths, you are investigating the Dhamma and thereby creating the conditions for wisdom. You are generating a conceptual wisdom that is already starting to dig away at the root of ignorance. So just by studying the teaching and reflecting on the teaching, you are already shaking the deep root of ignorance.
But the ultimate wisdom is experiential. When one has developed a strongly concentrated mind, one uses that mind to investigate the five aggregates. As one observes one's own experience, one directly sees into their real nature, into "the true characteristics of phenomena." Generally, one first sees the arising and falling away of the five aggregates. That is, one sees their impermanence. One sees that because they're impermanent, they're unsatisfactory. There's nothing worth clinging to in them. And because they're impermanent and unsatisfactory, one cannot identify with any of them as a truly existing self. This is the empty or self-less nature of the five aggregates. This marks the arising of true insight wisdom.
With insight-wisdom, one cuts deeper and deeper into the root of ignorance until one comes to fully understand the nature of the five aggregates. When one does so, one can then say that one has "known that which should be known." And by fully knowing that which should be known, the defilements "that should be abandoned have been abandoned;" and the path "that should be developed has been developed." One then realizes that which should be realized, the extinction of suffering right here and now. And, in the Buddha's own words, that is what makes an Enlightened One.
Buddhism and AIDS: How out
religion offers help to those suffering from
According to Buddhism, death is definitely not a subject to be avoided. Instead it is the key to unlocking the apparent mystery of life. The four sights of a sick man, an old man, a corpse, and a recluse prompted Siddhartha Gotama to leave his comfortable princely life and to seek the end of suffering, not just for himself, but for all. We are encouraged to consider old age, sickness, and death, not in general terms, but in a very personal way, mentally reciting this daily reflection:
I am born of my kamma, heir of my kamma, abide supported by my kamma and of that which I do, of that I will be the heir.
AIDS is a true pandemic, with a cure still a long way off, and its prognosis, sooner or later, death. In that sense, AIDS has been called the "illness of all illnesses." Still, the thoughtful Buddhist sees that we are all under a sentence of death. Death, by illness, by accident, or by another's hand, comes inevitably along with birth. Thus, AIDS is still just another graphic proof of the suffering intrinsic to existence. If the Buddha's lesson is wisely applied, the person with AIDS, as well as the rest of us, can contemplate death, thus weakening its threat and finding comfort, strength, and support in understanding what AIDS and death really mean.
Some may distinguish between those who become HIV positive through risky behavior, such as unprotected sex or intravenous drug use, and those passive victims who get AIDS "through no fault of their own," infected through blood transfusions, during birth, or in nursing. From a Buddhist point of view, however, this distinction is not useful and can indeed be harmful, especially if it impedes prevention or imperils treatment. Essentially, AIDS is no different from tsunamis and earthquakes. Like all other phenomena and other diseases, AIDS develops only within the complex and natural set of causes and conditions. Thus Buddhism offers to those with HIV/AIDS, acceptance and compassion without discrimination.
Buddhism wholeheartedly agrees with the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as formulated in article 25, paragraph 1:
"Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of sickness.
Certainly, AIDS poses tremendous social and public health problems in Asia. In predominantly Buddhist countries such as Thailand, Cambodia, and China we can find prominent and inspiring examples of Buddhist monks, the third jewel of Buddhism, tackling AIDS education in their communities, encouraging prevention, dispelling myths about AIDS, and preaching and practicing compassion and tolerance in AIDS hospices. Some of the hospices are actually set up in temples. Buddhist leaders, both lay and monastic, are working to empower those affected by AIDS, and teaching the time-honored techniques the Buddha taught for living fully, meaningfully, and wisely.
If you ask a Burmese Buddhist why someone died, he will say "96 diseases." If you ask a Buddhist monk, he will succinctly answer that the cause of death is birth. If you ask a physiologist what causes a disease, he may reply that disease comes from the irregular functioning (dis-ease) of the body or from unhealthy living. Each of these can impair some part of the system, causing disease. Ask the physiologist what causes the entry of a bacteria or a virus, the breaking of health rules, or an accident, and he will be forced to say that he doesn't know. When two people are exposed to an infection, such as avian flu, why should the sickly old grandmother survive, while the healthy young boy succumbs? When three people walk across the same slippery floor, why should one slip, fall, crack his skull, and die, the second slips but gets only bruises, while the third does not slip at all? Why did the European live through the tsunami, only to fall to his death while climbing in the Thai mountains the following week?
Buddhism can help us answer these questions, with the Law of Kamma, also called the Law of Cause and Effect. Kamma determines why one succumbs to infection, while another does not. Kamma explains why the three crossing the same slippery floor experience three different results. Under the law of Kamma, each person gets what he has created for himself. Each one's life, with its particular share of joys and sorrows, is neither more nor less than the result of his own past actions, good and bad. Each person is the architect of his own fortune.
In the Anguttara Nikaaya, the Buddha said, "Beings are the owners of their deeds. Their deeds are the womb from which they spring. With their deeds they are bound up. Their deeds are their refuge. Whatever deeds they do, good or evil, of such they will be heirs."
Since choices, decisions, and intentional actions are various, results also are various. Hence, the varying causes of death to various persons under various situations. Every cause has its particular effect. Every action has its particular reaction. This is the unfailing law. There is no question of punishment from an angry power; no one is directing things; no one is in charge; it is only a matter of impersonal causes.
We say that the law of gravitation causes a mango on the tree to fall to the ground, not that there is a supreme power or being which commands the mango to fall. It is in the nature of things "the ripeness and the weight of the mango and the earth's gravity" that cause the mango to - fall. Likewise, in the realm of intentional human actions, ethnical decisions, and human affairs, the law of cause and effect, of action and reaction, operates. It is not dependent on any extraneous arbitrary power, but it is in the very nature of things that certain actions produce certain results. Hence, birth and death are no more the result of an arbitrary power than is the rise and fall of a tree. Nor is it mere chance. We only fall back on the word' chance' when we do not know the cause.
In kamma, we find the root cause of death. We also know that no arbitrary power fashions this kamma according to its will or caprice. It is the result of our own actions. As we sow, so shall we reap. We must understand, though, that kamma is not something generated in the "closed box" of the past. It is always in the making. By our words and deeds, at every moment, we are contributing to it. Hence, the future is not conditioned only by the past. It is constantly being conditioned by the present. This is the great optimism of the Buddha's teaching.
In a sense, we are all of us under a sentence of death, but an HIV/AIDS diagnosis means that the patient can't pretend otherwise, can't delude himself with the illusion of immortality. How a person reacts, though, creates the conditions for his future.
If we fear our death sentence, we should understand that all other living things instinctively react as we do as well. Reflecting on our fears, it should naturally follow that we develop compassion for others, because we are in the same situation. Meditating on death means that we reflect that it is the common lot of all living things. Furthermore, if we reflect sufficiently on death, we should feel the urgent need to make wise use of the present, so as to ensure a happy future. The Buddha talked about this urgency "as if one's turban were on fire!" Certainly if the turban wrapped around your head were flaming, you wouldn't be daydreaming or wasting time!
Our religion gives us useful tools to face living and dying. We know that the person who leads a virtuous life, harming none, living openhanded, being generous and compassionate, helping whom he can, living in conformity with the Dhamma, and always remembering the Dhamma, is without doubt laying the foundation of a happy future life.
Dhammo have rakkhati dhammacdri ,m The Dhamma most assuredly protects him who lives in harmony with it. Such harmony is encouraged by the contemplation of death. The fear of death subsides for one who knows that he is doing good and avoiding evil.
The Buddha gave us a number of techniques for purifying our minds. For someone who has been diagnosed HIV positive, one of the most useful is to practice loving-kindness, or metta. The HIV/AIDS patient may, at first, feel great shock, or even anger, but metta meditation begins by being kind and friendly to oneself. In metta meditation, we must begin by wishing that we ourselves be well, free from anger and hatred, free from greed and envy, free from fear and grief, free from disease and pain. We pervade ourselves with peacefulness. This practice means no reproaches, no pernicious self-hate, no painful what-ifs. We must wish ourselves happiness now, suffusing ourselves with calm and well-being.
When we have succeeded in being kind to ourselves, we proceed to spreading friendliness and loving-kindness to those close to us, then to those who are strangers, and finally to those who may wish us ill. Metta is beneficial to all of us and may be especially useful to someone dealing with AIDS.
Another useful technique the Buddha taught is mindfulness of breathing. When we meditate on the breath, we stay in the present and become aware of the minute workings of the law of change in our bodies and in our minds. Watching the breath rise and fall away, aware of the flow, of the changes, and of the processes that we are, we can finally face death for what it is. Ultimately, we will see and understand that dying is just one more change, not different in kind from the rising and falling of breath.
If we constantly reflect on what is good, good thoughts good tendencies will arise in the mind, and these wholesome tendencies will dislodge evil ones. When thoughts and tendencies change for the better, when one's mind is permeated with the good and the positive, speech and deeds automatically change for the better. As our conduct becomes purer, deeper meditation is possible.
Greater meditation leads to an increase in wisdom. Thus, bad can be changed into good. A careless, or even a cruel, person can become a mindful and good person. One who is good is always happy. He has no fear of death because he has no fear of the life beyond. Of such a man has it been said in the Dhammapada:
The powerful changes that good deeds and meditation bring about in this life will also ensure, after death, the rebirth of a more fortunate being. This means that the person who has practiced diligently can face a good death, without fear, confident in a good next birth. The Buddha taught us to meditate on death, carefully and systematically, in order to weaken our infatuation with sense—pleasures, to reduce our vanity, and to give us perspective. We should all reflect that "death will take place,"
"death will come to me;" lest we be
Mindfulness of death purifies and refines the mind. It also can rob death of its terror. It will help, at that moment when one is gasping for the last breath, to face that situation with courage.
On one occasion the Buddha asked several monks, "How often do you contemplate death?"
One of them replied, "Lord, I contemplate death every day."
"Not good enough," the Buddha said and asked another monk, who replied,
"Lord, I contemplate death with each mouthful that I eat during the meal."
"Better, but not good enough;" said the Buddha. "What about you?"
The third monk said, "Lord, I contemplate death with each inhalation and each exhalation."
Contemplating death relieves fear. It teaches us to live with proper values, and it enables us to die a good death with fortitude and calm.
This paper was presented and read out by Ven. Nandobatha at The American Information Resource Center, Calcutta, on 29/12/05. The title of program was "The role of religious leaders and faith-based organisations in the fight against HIV/AIDS ". Ven. Nando Batha is the vice president of the Russa Road Young Buddhist Student Literacy Mission, PO. Badu, PS. Barasat, 24 Parganas (N), Kolkata 700128, West Bengal, India.
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