The Indian Tenet Systems on Rebirth, Liberation and a Creator
In India, at both the time before and after the Buddha came, there were many systems of tenets. Within the Charvaka school of tenets, there's no acceptance of past lives and future lives. They assert that the mind or awareness is something that relies exclusively on the body and therefore when there's no longer a body, there's no longer a mind.
There are other schools that accept past and future lives. Among those schools, one of the subdivisions of the Vaisheshika school asserts that the stains of the mind are in the nature of the mind and therefore they cannot be removed. Therefore, they do not assert liberation. In contrast, in those schools of Indian tenets that do accept liberation, there are those that assert that liberation or moksha is into a place, or a situation or a heaven. For instance, the Jain school of philosophy asserts that this state of liberation is into a pure land realm that is in the shape of an upside down white umbrella.
In a school of Indian philosophy called the Samkhyas, they have a presentation of the twenty-five classes of knowable phenomena. Just speaking in general, one of them is called primal matter or prakrti in Sanskrit. When all the various other aspects or manifestations of this primal matter are dissolved back into the sphere of primal matter, then in that condition one achieves liberation.
Among these schools of tenets, there is also a difference regarding whether they assert the existence of a creator. Jains and one part of Samkhya, do not accept a God or creator theory. Some others do accept a creator. However, all these schools of thought accept an independently existing self.
The Four Seals as the Basis for the Buddhist Tenet Systems
Buddhism itself is established as a school of tenets on the basis of its view or outlook on reality. Buddhist schools are those that assert the four sealing points for labeling an outlook as based on enlightening words, the so-called “four seals” or “four hallmarks” of the Dharma. This is true for all the Buddhist schools except for the Vastiputriyas, a sub-section of the Vaibhashikas. Except for that school, all the Buddhist tenet systems accept the four seals.
These four seals are:
- All affected or conditioned phenomena are non-static (impermanent)
- All tainted phenomena – everything associated with confusion – are problematic, in the nature of suffering
- All phenomena are devoid and lack an impossible “me”
- Nirvana, a release from all problems, is a state of stillness or peace.
The Four Causes for Removing the Fleeting Taints from Our Essential Factor Buddha-Natures
In terms of the actual source, the subject matter of this text we are discussing, the essential factor that allows for becoming a Buddha, this is something that can be made clear and purified of its fleeting stains, its taints, by means of various causes. The causes are:
- Fervent regard
- Discriminating awareness
- Absorbed concentration
- Compassion and intense loving concern.
Fervent Regard for Nirvana and Disgust with Samsara
One might ask what is meant by one of the first causes, fervent regard or admiration for the Dharma? When we speak about Dharma or the preventive measures in Buddhism, Dharma is referring primarily to a nirvana state of release from all problems. The preventive measure that one is aiming for is the achievement of nirvana, the state of release in which everything problematic, all suffering, has been stilled.
As Aryadeva says in the Four Hundred Verses:
(VIII.12) How can anyone who has no disgust with this (samsaric existence) have respect for (the state of) peace?
If a person does not have disgust with compulsive existence or samsara, they will not be able to actually achieve nirvana. They will not have fervent regard or respect for nirvana. In a sense, a religious practitioner is someone who is discontented, who feels something is wrong and feels lost. Therefore, the practitioner wants to do something, to gain something. On that basis, one makes effort.
This is the basis of progress, without which there's no possibility of development. In Africa or in some remote places in India, people's daily routines still remain as they were a thousand years back. Isn't it so? There is no progress. But in your case in the West, you always want something more, something more, something more. Isn't it so? Progress is materialized. In development, it is very important to growth to have some discontentment. For that, the realization of suffering is now involved.
The Four Noble Truths
In the four noble truths, the first truth is true suffering, the suffering nature of samsara. There are three categories of suffering. One category we all accept as suffering, the suffering of pain and unhappiness. Not only human beings, but even animals feel that is something they don’t want. Isn’t it so?
The second type of suffering is the suffering of change. What is that? Usually, it refers to those pleasant things that we want to obtain and our ordinary sense of happiness or pleasure. In their deepest nature, these are also aspects of suffering. If we are caught up too much in them, this serves as a cause for frustration. For example, today when we have no new television, we want to get one. When we get it, we feel very happy. We could even sacrifice our sleep, watching TV the whole night. One day passes, then three days pass, one week, a few weeks, a few months, and then we feel that same article is no longer so good. That kind of frustration becomes a kind of disliking. It’s still the same object, or the same person, but now we don’t like it. That is the indication of the suffering of change. That is the second category. Most mundane pleasure is in that category. It is important to realize that. As a result of this realization, we can make an effort to gain some other experience.
The third category of suffering is exemplified by this body itself. Because the aggregate factors of our experience, which we have taken, are under the power or influence of other things, namely our compulsive karmic behavior and disturbing emotions, then the aggregates themselves are in the nature of suffering. This is as it says in Pramanavarttika (A Commentary on Valid Cognition.)
From the understanding of impermanence, or nonstaticness, arises the understanding of suffering. From the understanding of suffering arises the understanding of selflessness – the lack of true identities. Impermanence has two levels, rough impermanence – the fact that some things come to an end – and subtle impermanence. Impermanence on a subtle level is referring to the fact that things perish or disintegrate in each moment. If something is affected or conditioned, or collected together, it is momentary. In other words, if something is produced and the conditions are produced, it will go on to perish.
It's said that whatsoever is produced is impermanent. What does this mean? What is produced refers to what comes into existence from causes and conditions. Such things appear to exist and really be there without changing; they don’t appear to be things that are perishing or going toward their disintegration. However, when something comes into existence produced by causes and conditions, the causes and conditions are what will lead this very phenomenon toward its perishing and destruction. It's very production means its later destruction.
Furthermore, the impermanence of phenomena is not something that is invented or outside the nature of the phenomena themselves. It's not something produced by some further and later created cause, but it's something very much inherent in conditioned phenomena themselves. If the causes of disintegration were not inherent in phenomena, but were from something external, then later if a positive boost were given to them, it would be possible for some impermanent phenomena to escape destruction. But this is not the case, because things are all impermanent.
The fact that things change in each moment, or only exist momentarily, is something that is well known to modern nuclear physicists. As far as matter is concerned, Buddhists and modern physicists say the same thing. Therefore, all collected or conditioned phenomenon are under the power of their causes.
If we speak specifically about the aggregate factors of our experience, of our body and so forth, since when it says that these are under the power of its causes, that is referring to their being under the influence of compulsive karmic behavior and disturbing emotions and attitudes.
Eliminating Disturbing Emotions
These disturbing emotions and attitudes are mental factors that, when produced in our minds, make the mind restless and disturbed. This is quite clear with such things as anger, jealousy and negative thoughts. When these thoughts come, the person immediately becomes unhappy and has unpleasant feelings.
If we let the factors of our experience, our aggregates, come under the power of these impure causes, these disturbing emotions and attitudes, that's quite pathetic. When it says that all conditioned phenomena are suffering, conditioned phenomena refer to what are under the power of causes. The causes refer to being under the power of compulsive karmic behavior and the disturbing emotions and they bring about problems and suffering. Therefore, it's said from impermanence comes suffering.
Realization of that kind of suffering nature is the key point. As soon as you get that kind of realization of that kind of suffering, then the only alternative is liberation from that state into a state of peace. It’s clear. As long as you remain under the influence of negative thoughts, that suffering is there. To get rid of that suffering, the only alternative course is the elimination of negative thoughts. That is nirvana; that is a state of peace.
This is the way to develop discontent about our usual situation, a way of training the mind to head toward something different. Our usual way of life is shortsighted. I think especially in modern society, this shortsighted view is very much the case. You always need something, today, today, today. You cannot wait until next year or the next generation. That's impatience, isn't it? Like that, our ordinary way of thinking and way of life are based on shortsightedness. In terms of religious practitioners, in this case Buddhist practitioners, the attitude is a more far-sighted, long-termed one.
Thorough Investigation to Eliminate Negative Thoughts
Next, we need thorough investigation as to whether negative thought can be eliminated or not. This is the big question. What we’ve mentioned so far involves the first noble truth as true suffering and the second noble truth as a true cause. As for whether there is any possibility to overcome negative thoughts, this deals with the third noble truth, true cessation or stopping.
If we investigate our inner world more carefully, our negative thoughts, we notice that when these negative thoughts arise, there is an attitude that serves as their basis. For example, some unfortunate things happen to us, then sometimes we get angry. The basis of the feeling of anger is a strong feeling of "me." "I" am facing this the problem. Negative thoughts and anger come as a defender, as a protector. There’s a strong feeling of "me" acting as their basis. During that moment, although a "me" is there, as in "’I’ want liberation,” or “’I’ want this and that,” but during that moment, the appearance of a "me" is very solid. It is something very firm. That kind of attitude is there. This is a wrong conception and this is the real trouble maker.
Valid and Invalid Ways of Knowing
In terms of mind, there are valid and invalid ways of knowing things. Among invalid ways of knowing, there's presumption, in which we are uncertain about what is appearing. Distorted cognition cognitively takes its object in an incorrect, distorted manner. When we conceive of an "I" as something that is so solid, so strong that we could actually point a finger at it, and that it could actually stand up on its own two feet by itself, this type of conception of an "I" is a distorted conception. It is a distorted way of knowing.
How do we know that this is a distorted conceptual awareness? It's in terms of the implied object, the object that is being conceived. If the object that it is conceptualizing about, its implied object, were to actually exist, then it should be something that would become clearer and clearer when we look for it. However, in this case, when we look for the implied object of this conceptual thought with which we conceive that we have such a solid "me," this "me" is something that we cannot find.
We're not saying that nothing can be found at all in a nihilist sense. But, in terms of conceptual thought, the implied object is something that cannot be found and therefore it's not corresponding to anything that exists. If it’s not corresponding to anything that exists, then obviously it's distorted.
If we have a distorted cognition deceived about what it's conceiving, deceived about its implied object, then that type of misconception is undermined by its opposite. It's undermined by a conceptual mind that takes its object in the completely opposite way from the way in which this misconception is taking the object.
Such a conceptual mind relies on lines of reasoning; based on lines of reasoning, one gets a convinced state of mind, a conviction. That convinced state of mind or conviction is what undermines the distorted misperception. This is not only the case with respect to our own selves, but this is also true with respect to outer phenomenon as well. Whatever objects appear to us appear to have truly self-established existence, as if standing by themselves.
Developing the Understanding of Selflessness
There are two categories here. When we talk about selflessness, or the lack of true identities, we can speak on two levels. There is the level of speaking about our self – the lack of an impossible “me” – that the self or a person is not something that exists self-sufficiently knowable as something that can stand on its own feet as a ruler with authority over the aggregates. The “me” doesn't have this type of self-sufficiently knowable existence by itself. It's devoid of that.
But then on a subtler level, we can think in terms of all phenomenon including the self. Although all phenomenon appear to have truly established existence, they do not exist in that way from their own sides. This is a subtler way of talking about how all things are selfless, that all things lack true identities.
This is what is involved when we see some beautiful flower, or some watch, or some people.
When we see a flower or perceive different objects with our various types of sense perception, grasping for their truly established existence is not necessarily operating or helping at that time. However, they do appear to be truly existent. When either attachment or repulsion arises with respect to an object such as that flower, then at that time the disturbing emotion is giving a confirmation to that appearance of truly established existence; it's agreeing to it. That is when one is grasping for truly established existence. In this way, we have the type of grasping for truly established existence that agrees with or confirms or accepts that that appearance of truly established existence is actually true.
Distorted and Valid Cognition
That grasping for truly established existence is the subtlest trouble maker. That's the ultimate trouble maker. Usually we call that the ultimate ignorance and it's the basis for samsara, the basis for uncontrollably recurring existence. It is the basis for the opposite of liberation. That grasping is also a distorted cognition. In general, when we analyze all phenomena for their mode of existence with gross detection and subtle discerment using logic, we can prove, understand, and realize that things are not independently existing.
We can prove to ourselves that the mind with which we grasp for things to exist truly and independently is in fact distorted. Conceptual cognition has an object that the mind is involved with, an object that appears, and an object that is implied (in other words, the object that is conceptualized about). The involved object would be, for instance, an object that could be seen in a valid sensory perception. When we're speaking about conceptual cognitions, for instance of flowers, there can be two different ones. At the initial moment, they are aimed at one and the same object, simply the flowers. To one of the conceptual minds, the implied object would be truly existent flowers. Whereas to the other conceptual mind, the implied object would be flowers that do not exist truly and inherently by themselves.
Behind the implied object of truly existent flowers, there's no basis. It's not supported by anything; it's not correct. That is a distorted cognition. However, when we investigate if there is something supporting the conception about non-truly existing flowers as the implied object, then that is something that has support in logic and reasoning. That is a valid cognition. Therefore, the two are quite different in terms of whether or not the implied object of a conceptual mind has logic and reasoning backing it as its support. With logic and reasoning, it's a valid way of knowing. Whereas if it does not have any backing behind it and is not supported by logic and reasoning, then it's a distorted cognition.
These two minds exist in a relation of one harming or undermining the other. The mind supported by logic and a valid way of knowing is something that has much greater strength than the one that does not have such a basis. However, at this moment, at the initial stage, for all the persons who practice this, it feels like the other is stronger even though there is no valid support for it.
It is much stronger because of time. Within this lifetime and, from the Buddhist viewpoint, throughout infinite past lives until this moment, that wrong conception has always been there. Due to time, it has become something very deeply engrained in our minds. The other correct cognition, although it has valid support, is something like a new friend. The other is a very old friend. The old one has much stronger influence than our new friend. Here, the important question is time. The potential is there and this correct understanding has every potential to destroy the other; but, due to it being very new, due to the lack of time, it is something that at this moment is very weak. It is just growing, isn't it?
Mental and Physical Training
The qualities or features that we might gain in terms of physical trainings based on our body, for instance in athletic training, are very rough. Also, these physical qualities cannot be limitless. They cannot be infinite. Why? Because they're based on a human body. The qualities that come from training the mind are much subtler.
When we speak about qualities of the mind, these have as their basis something that doesn’t pass away like the body; rather they have as their basis the mind. The mind or the continuum of awareness or consciousness is something that continues forever and therefore it's something that has a much more stable and enduring basis. Therefore, if we develop good qualities of the mind, which as a basis is something very stable and enduring, then those are good qualities that can grow limitlessly.
Here, the good quality we want to develop is the understanding of a lack of a true identity of our person and of all phenomena. When some good quality has as its basis something stable, like the mind, and also has as its backing support valid reasoning and logic, then it is something that can grow limitlessly. Based on this very stable foundation, we can then slowly say good-bye to this bad friend, which was the mind with which we grasped for things as truly existing with truly established identities.
The Third Noble Truth
This is the explanation about true cessation. From this viewpoint, if we try to experiment, even for one year’s time, to minimize our negative thoughts such as anger or attachment, we could see some change. This is the way of explaining about cessation through experiencing the possibility of cessation. Naturally, no one wants suffering and if such a goal is something possible, if there is something that will bring about the total cessation of suffering, then that is something worthwhile to achieve.
The Fourth Noble Truth
Then the fourth noble truth, the true path or true pathway minds is now involved. When, not with mere faith or mere acceptance, but through reason you see something valid, this is the way to develop fervent regard or admiration for the preventive measures, for the Dharma. This is the path of discriminating awareness or wisdom.