Month: March 2022

What is: Dharma?

The word dharma comes from the Sanskrit root word Dhri, which means ‘to hold,’ ‘to maintain,’ or ‘to preserve.’ In the early Vedas and other ancient Hindu texts, dharma referred to the cosmic law that created the ordered universe from chaos. This is the natural universal law, whose observance enables humans to be contented, happy and to save themselves from degradation and suffering. The moral law combined with spiritual discipline that guides one’s life. Hindus consider dharma the very foundation of life. It means that which holds the people of this world and the whole creation, ‘law of being’ without which things cannot exist.  In Buddhist literature, dharma often refers to Buddhist teachings and practices and encompasses everything that was taught by the Buddha.

The Manusmriti is also known as the Mānava-Dharmaśāstra or Laws of Manu, is believed to be the first ancient legal text and constitution among the many Dharmaśāstras of Hinduism. In ancient India, the sages often wrote their ideas on how society should run in the manuscripts. Manu prescribes 10 essential rules for the observance of dharma: Patience (dhriti), forgiveness (kshama), piety, or self-control (dama), honesty (asteya), sanctity (shauch), control of senses (indraiya-nigrah), reason (dhi), knowledge or learning (vidya), truthfulness (satya) and absence of anger (krodha). Manu further writes, “Non-violence, truth, non-coveting, purity of body and mind, control of senses are the essence of dharma”. Therefore dharmic laws govern not only the individual but all in society.

Do not commit any unwholesome actions, accumulate virtuous deeds, tame and train your own mind.” Gautama Buddha.

The wheel of Dharma

After the Buddha’s enlightenment, out of compassion for all sentient beings, he gave his first dharma sermon in the deer park in Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh to a sangha of 5 monks. This is preserved in the Pali sutta Pitaka (Samyutta Nika Ya 56.11) as the Dhammacakkappavattna sutta or in Sanskrit Dharmacakra Pravartana sutra, and means ‘The setting in motion of the wheel of Dharma.’ In this sermon/ teaching the Buddha gave the first presentation of The Four Noble Truths, which are the foundation teachings or primary conceptual framework of Buddhism. Everything he taught after that, ties back to These Four Noble Truths, which comprise the essence of Buddha’s teachings, though they leave much left unexplained. They spark awareness of suffering as the nature of existence, its causes, and how to transform it. They are understood as the realization which led to the enlightenment of the Buddha.

What is Sangha?

A sangha of 5 monks

 Sanga is a Sanskrit word used in many Indian languages, including Pali (saṅgha) meaning ‘association,’ ‘assembly,’ ‘company’ or ‘community,’ and is traditionally composed of four groups: monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen, and together with the Buddha and the dharma is the threefold refuge, the basic faith of Buddhism.

What are The Four Noble Truths?

The truth of suffering – We live in the realm of rebirth called samsara (literally wandering). Buddha identified forms of the suffering of birth, aging, sickness, death, encountering the unpleasant, separation from the pleasant, not gaining what one desires and the five ‘aggregates’ that constitute the mind and body. (Matter, sensations, perceptions, mental formations, and awareness)

The truth of the cause of suffering – Buddha associated suffering with craving or attachment. In other Buddhist texts, the causes of suffering are understood as stemming from negative actions (e.g. Killing, stealing, and lying) and the negative mental states that motivate negative actions (e.g. Desire, hatred, and ignorance). In those texts, the mental state of ignorance refers to an active misconception of the nature of things: seeing pleasure where there is pain, beauty where there is ugliness, permanence where there is impermanence, and self where there is no self.

The truth of the end of suffering – Commonly called Nibbana, or in Sanskrit Nivarna, and is used to refer to the extinction of desire, hatred, and ignorance and, ultimately, of suffering and rebirth. Literally, it means ‘blowing out’ or ‘becoming extinguished,’ as when a flame is blown out or a fire burns out.

The truth of the path that leads to the cessation of suffering The action or path you can take to overcome suffering.

The Four Noble Truths, therefore, identify the unsatisfactory nature of existence, identify its cause, postulate a state in which suffering and its causes are absent, and set forth a path to that state. I will explain each one in more detail in my up and coming articles.

Two more important doctrines were also introduced at this sermon:

Impermanence: All phenomena are impermanent, what begins will also end. This is the reason life is unsatisfactory, but because everything is always changing liberation is possible.

Dependent origination: All phenomena, either things or beings, exist inter-dependently with other phenomena. All phenomena are caused to exist by conditions created by other phenomena. Things pass out of existence for the same reason.

Throughout this sermon, the Buddha placed great emphasis on direct insight. He didn’t want his listeners to simply believe what he said, rather, to follow the path and realise the truth for themselves.

“Your own self is your master; who else could be? With yourself well controlled, you gain a master very hard to find.

Who wrote the Buddhist scriptures?

The Kanjur/Kangyur was produced by the Buddha’s disciples after his death in the later 13th and early 14th centuries CE. They contain scriptural texts such as Sutras and Tantras that represent the words of the Buddha. These contents of the canon were transmitted orally and first written down in Pali within the Theravada communities of Sri Lanka, probably during the 1st-century BCE. The Tanjur/Tengyur contains translations of treatises and commentaries that were written later by other scholars and disciples.

Each Buddhist sub-tradition has its own Tripitaka (3 baskets) for its monasteries, written by its sangha, each set consisting of 32 books, in three parts of teachings: Vinaya Pitaka (Basket of Discipline), Sutra Pitaka (Basket of Discourse), and Abhidhamma Piṭaka (Basket of Special [or Further] Doctrine).

The Vinaya – This is the division of the Buddhist canon containing the rules and procedures that govern the Buddhist monastic community, or Sangha. Three parallel Vinaya traditions remain in use by modern monastic communities: the Theravada, Mulasarvastivada, and Dharmaguptaka.

The Sutta Pitaka – This contains the Buddha’s teachings recorded mainly as sermons delivered in historical settings. It includes the Dhammapada or ‘the path or verses of truth’ and is the best known of all the Buddhist scriptures in the West.

The Abhidhamma – This contains detailed scholastic presentations of doctrinal material and refers to the scholastic method itself as well as the field of knowledge. They represent a development in a rationalistic direction of summaries or numerical lists. The topics dealt with include, ethics, psychology, and epistemology.

This is a concise article of what I understand about dharma, I hope you find it useful, I’ll be back soon with four articles on each truth.


What is: Buddhism?

Most people believe that Buddhism is a religion. It is true that it does have a big monastic sangha, (community) and rituals that give it that holy vibe, but I personally feel it’s more of a philosophy of our existence and the meaning of life. In this article, I am going to give a concise introduction to what I understand about it. Buddha was not a Buddhist but a prince named Siddhartha Gautama. Who was born into a very privileged life in a walled-off palace, in what is now northern India about twenty-five centuries ago. Wrapped up in a life of luxury, and comfort, where no one was sick, disabled, or old he had no idea of life beyond pleasure and the suffering outside his palace walls. Then one day at the age of 29, the prince asked his faithful charioteer, Channa, to drive him through his father’s great city. Channa tried to shield him from any unpleasant sights but was not able to do so. When the prince saw a sick person, an old man, and a corpse, which he had never seen before, it shook him to his core, as he realised that no riches would protect him from old age, sickness, and death. Continuing on, he then noticed a spiritual seeker, a mendicant ‘holy man’ sitting in peaceful mediation, and the urge to seek peace of mind arose deeply in him.

That night when everyone was asleep he renounced his worldly life, escaped his palace, and began a spiritual quest. He spent many years pursuing teachers and punishing his body with ascetic practices such as extreme, prolonged fasts. It was believed that punishing the body was the way to elevate the mind and that the door to wisdom was found at the edge of death. However, after six years of this, the prince felt only frustration. Eventually, he realized that the path to peace was through mental discipline, which could only be realised through meditation.

At Bodh Gaya, in the modern Indian state of Bihar, he sat in meditation beneath a ficus tree, ‘The Bodhi Tree’, until he rediscovered the ancient path of enlightenment. This is a state of freedom from ignorance, craving, and desire, which leads to a peaceful, calm, happy mind, as well as liberation from attachment to worldly desires and ending the endless cycles of rebirth and suffering. (Sounds good doesn’t it?)

From that time on, he was given the title ‘The Buddha’ or ‘The Awakened One’, which in Sanskrit means a person who has awakened to the true nature of reality. We all live in a fog of illusions created by mistaken perceptions and impurities – hate, greed, and ignorance. A Buddha is one who has become free from the fog. It is said that when a Buddha dies he or she is not reborn but passes into the peace of Nirvana, which is not a ‘heaven’ but a transformed state of existence or mind.

After his awakening, the Buddha was hesitant about teaching others the truth of suffering that he had realized. He thought that this truth was so profound and radical people wouldn’t believe or listen to him. However, out of compassion for all sentient beings and their suffering, he decided he must try.  He gave his first sermon in modern-day Sarnath, near Benares on The Four Noble Truths (I will explain this in another article.) He then walked from village to village, attracting disciples along the way, and spending the rest of his life, around 45 years, teaching people and pilgrims the Buddha-Dharma of how to realize the nature of their minds to overcome suffering and attain enlightenment.  He founded the original order of Buddhist monks and nuns, many of whom became great teachers also.

 The Buddha died in Kushinagar, located in what is now the state of Uttar Pradesh in northern India, in the early 5th century, about 483 BCE. But the truth of his Dharma is still alive today.

There are three main schools or Yana’s (In Sanskrit and Pali: Vehicle), methods of spiritual practice in Buddhism: Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana which are centered on the idea of reaching enlightenment and finding Nirvana. Which is the ultimate goal for all Buddhists. However, these three schools of Buddhism believe in different paths to reach Nirvana and were taught by the Buddha in response to the various capacities of individuals.

Hinayana or Theravada Buddhism – The lesser vehicle.

This movement is strongest in Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, and Burma (Myanmar). The name means ‘the doctrine of the elders’ – the elders being the senior Buddhist monks. This school of Buddhism believes that it has remained closest to the original teachings of the Buddha. Theravada Buddhists strive to become Arhats, one who has gained insight into the true nature of reality, achieved nirvana, and gain freedom from the cycles of worldly existence or samsara.

Mahayana Buddhism – The greater vehicle.

This movement arose within India around the beginning of the common era and by the 9th century became the dominant influence on the Buddhist cultures of Central and East Asia, which it remains today. This method was taught to those with greater capacity with an emphasis on actions of mind. Compassion is very important and Mahayana Buddhists after reaching enlightenment may choose to stay in the cycle of samsara/ existence, out of compassion to help others to achieve the same state.

Vajrayana Buddhism – The diamond or thunderbolt vehicle.

This movement developed in India around the 6th or 7th century CE. The word Vajra refers to the diamond-hard thunderbolt that was used as a weapon by the Hindu god of thunder and rain, Indra. Yana refers to the way or the spiritual vehicle, for achieving enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. This method was taught to those exceptional beings that were able to directly realise the nature of the mind. Vajrayana Buddhism proposes that it can provide a faster path towards enlightenment, thus reducing the need of experiencing several lifetimes before reaching enlightenment, and contain many more skillful means (Upaya). The importance of the theory of emptiness is central to the Tantric Buddhist view and practice. Emptiness doesn’t mean nothingness but that nothing is permanent and thus everything is permeated by an underlying condition of impermanence and instability.  This means that nothing exists of its own accord but only through interdependence upon all other things. 

So, that is my brief view of what I understand about Buddhism. I hope you find it useful.


Why i’m offering my book for free.

A Lotus Trail was one of the hardest projects of my life and has taken me about 20 years to complete because I have written it from my life journey experiences. Also being uneducated, dyslexic, and having no time, didn’t help. I started writing part one back in 2002 in Thailand when I settled down on an island after backpacking around the world for 20 years. Hitching lifts when I could and getting dead-end jobs here and there to support my travel as I went. Life was a party and I was the party, where anything and everything goes… It’s a wonder I’m still alive today!!

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