Chapter 7 - The Occult Path of Buddha
ALWAYS the Buddha spoke of two ways of lifeone being the ordinary thoughtless course in which people seek happiness through various pleasures, always hoping that they can obtain conditions which will give them satisfaction, the other being called the Path (as distinguished from the former, which is wandering about), a progressive determination to cease such seeking for pleasure in material things.
There is no travelling on this Path, it is stated, for one is not going from one place to another, or even from one mental condition to another. The goal on this path is most occult, hidden from both sense and mind, but is revealed when there is cessation of the ordinary manner of life, which could well be called the way of error and sorrow. The goal is indeed called a ceasing, not a gaining; it is a ceasing of the error or ignorance of desiring and seekinglo here, lo there. This is called nibbanna or nirvāna.
Before describing the Path we must see what Buddha's great discovery was. It was the discovery that great indescribable joy comes to the man who realizes the universality of sorrow. It comes because he is thereby released from the sense of dependence upon material things and the craving for them. You are clinging to sorrow and suffering. In your ignorance you hug and kiss the spokes of this wheel of agony.
This doctrine was formulated as Four Noble Truths: The Universality of Sorrow or Suffering; The Cause of Sorrow; The Ceasing of Sorrow; and The Way of the Ceasing of Sorrow. We are a little handicapped in using the English language to express the central idea of this doctrine, for we have not one single word, as Buddha had, to express both bodily and psychological suffering, both pain and sorrow. Perhaps suffering will be the best word to use. Perhaps we shall see, if we examine our heart's desire closely, that if we had it fulfilled there would still be suffering. Some may say that they will accept suffering if they can have some pleasure as well. Shelley said that man looks before and after, and longs for what is not, and Shakespeare went further and pointed out that even if man has what he wants, the thought of time with its changes and uncertainties destroys his happiness. And Robert Burns mentioned that in one respect the life of a mouse was happier than that of a manthe present only troubles it. It is here that the revelation of Buddha came inthe assertion that from his own experience there is the incredible joy of nirvāna for those who put aside this error of seeking or expecting happiness from circumstances.
Buddha did not leave people to grope their way out of error and craving. His fourth Truth is called a Paththe Noble Eightfold Path. This means that there are eight things to do which, if successfully done, are ways of living without sorrow. We have now to examine this path, remembering always that there can be no cheating, that this path cannot be used for the purpose of attaining something that is within the wheel of sorrow, whether an object of the body or a quality of the mind.
In the naming of the eight requirements of the Path there is a reiteration of the word "correct" or "proper" at the beginning of each. The first four answer the question, "How does the pilgrim comport himself in thought, speech and action on all occasions?" The second four point to special efforts he must make in his life. The first four are as follows:
- Correct understanding, views, outlook, appraisal, judgment.
- Correct aims, motives, plans, considerations, decision.
- Correct use of speech.
- Correct behavior, conduct or actions.
Analyzing these and other modes of living in my book Character-Building many years ago, I reduced all the defects of human nature to three: laziness, selfishness and thoughtlessness, and all virtues to three, action, goodwill and thoughtfulness. These three touchstones are implied in the word "correct" in each of the four requirements. No. I implies that one has at the outset adopted the outlook described by Buddha, what is called the dhamma (dharma), law, rule, or proper way of life. Dharma means maintenancethe maintenance on all occasions, in all matters of life, small or great, of the resolution to put an end to pain, which is the basis of the three virtues of action, goodwill and thoughtfulness. These three are to be followed regardless of pain or trouble. Much stress is laid on speech for it is in this that dissipation of life most commonly occursidle chatter, cruel gossip and talk without information.
The second group of four requirements assigns the tasks:
- Correct mode of livelihoodthe fulfilling of a definite role in life, which shall be unselfish, sensible, useful.
- Correct effortsome work of doing good.
- Correct intellectual activitysome study.
- Correct contemplationthe expectant poise of the mind which allows intuition and insight to begin.
All these eight have to do with daily life and the use of personal abilities and energies in the world. They may be pursued with less or greater determination and constancy; as Edwin Arnold puts it in his beautiful poem The Light of Asia:
Strong limbs may dare the rugged road which storms,
Soaring and perilous, the mountain's breast;
The weak must wind from slower ledge to ledge,
With many a place of rest.
So is the Eightfold Path which brings to peace;
By lower or by upper heights it goes.
The firm soul hastes, the feeble tarries. All
Will reach the sunlit snows.
Now we have to look at the inner or esoteric aspect of all this, and answer the question: "What is happening to the pilgrim himself?" For this purpose Buddha gave the four stages of the Path, and showed what are the defects or "fetters" which bind the ordinary man, and how they are to be thrown off one after the other. The first result of practicing the eightfold way is the weakening and disappearance of the error that the body is itself important. All the eight efforts lead one to be intent upon the life-side of living. It is not a mere intellectual discovery or piece of psychic science which is proposed here. The man will instinctively stop placing bodily interest first in his thoughts. Pleasures and pride in body and personal qualities will be replaced by the eight general life interests. The second fetter to go is uncertainty or doubt about this path. The life proves its value as it goes along and great confidence or faith arises from this knowledge and experience. Third comes the cessation of dependence upon outward forms or rules or ceremonies. It is the life that will speak in this man on all occasions. On life he will depend, and to life he will respond with life. His action will then face the problems which arise, and will be full of both love and thought. Outer rules and forms are for those who are not on this path.
Then fade away the two terrible "fetters" which hold back the ordinary man from almost any semblance of true living: ignorant likes and dislikesone should say more than this, passionately ignorant likes and dislikes, producing an inflexibility of mind and living which in most cases borders on the psychopathic. Doctors are acquainted with the fact that many people go about in wheel chairs; not because of inability to walk, but inability to think they can; here we have masses of inabilities and dependencies among mankind, including negativeness and fears. But the grip of fixed likings and dislikings loosens its hold on those who are treading the Noble Eightfold Path, and they become ready to meet everything appreciatively according to its nature. All their troubles are then real or material ones; they have ceased making psychological ones in additionpsychological troubles such as discontent, envy, jealousy, resentment, malice, anxiety, worry, impatience, irritability, etc., which do no good, and only hinder the use of the powers of the life in their dealing with the real troubles.
When these five fetters lie in the dust, as the poet puts it, there are still five more. This situation marks the half-way house of the upward Path. The man is now called an Arhat, a word which means "ready" or "qualified." He now knows what he wants and he is competent to go after it. In a secondary meaning he is worthy, admirable, deserving. The five remaining fetters are:
- Desire for life in form.
- Desire for formless life.
It would not be fitting here to attempt to say what this final ignorance is, except negativelyit is the conception of oneself as anything conceivable. Perhaps we had better leave it at that, for it is fundamental in Buddha's thought, as in that of Krishna, Shankarāchārya, Jesus and all great gurus or teachers, that our final union is with something Beyondbeyond the limitations of mind, thought, feelings and the will, all these, as well as bodily things, being limitations. Buddha more than all others impressed this thought constantly upon his hearers, and emphasized the use of the word nirvānawhich means "to extinguish" as, for example, the blowing out of a candle. But this includes even the extinction of extinction. In Edwin Arnold's words:
Seeking nothing, he gains all;
Foregoing self, the Universe grows "I";
If any teach Nirvāna is to cease,
Say unto such they lie.
If any teach Nirvāna is to live,
Say unto such they err; not knowing this,
Nor what light shines beyond their broken lamps,
Nor lifeless, timeless, bliss.
Suggestions for Further Reading
- Relax With Yogay
- Hinduwebsite - Yoga Science Resources
- The Power of Concentration
- The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran
- Dharmashastras or the Books of Laws for Hindus
- The Gautama Sutras, Chapters 1 to 14
- The Sankhya Sutras of Kapila, Index page
- The Hungry Stones and Other Stories
- A Brief Biography Of Kabir, the Mystic Poet Saint of India
- The Songs of Kabir - About Kabirdas
- Gitanjali - By Tagore
- The Daily Zen Sutras
- Confucian Analects
- The Works of Mencius, Complete Text
- Tao Te Ching by Lao-tzu
- The Doctrine of the Mean by Confucius
- Words of Truth, A Prayer by Dalai Lama
- The Art of Money Getting or Golden Rules for Making Money
Source: Reproduced from the Great Systems of Yoga, by Ernest Wood, 1954. This text is in the public domain in the United States because it was not renewed at the US Copyright Office in a timely fashion. These files may be used for any non-commercial purpose provided this Notice of Attribution is left intact in all copies.
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