Four Noble Truths, Eightfold Path, Enlightenment

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1 The Way of Martial Arts MONTHLY INTERACTIVE LESSONS TO HELP IMPROVE YOUR DAILY LIFE B Y M A S T E R E R I C S B A R G E Lesson 39 Four Noble Truths, Eightfold Path, Enlightenment As you know, all of the arts taught at The Peaceful Dragon are aspects of kung fu, and kung fu is rooted in traditional Chinese culture and belief. One of the major forces influencing China s culture and beliefs is Buddhism, which spread quickly after it was introduced to China from India. Buddhism, therefore, plays a significant and influential role in the learning and practice of kung fu. Though I am not a Buddhist, I am of the belief that learning kung fu without the cultivation of at least some essential Buddhist components particularly the unique Ch an (Zen) practice is fairly meaningless. You might just as well play ping pong or bocce ball if kung fu were nothing but a physical activity. Yes, you can argue that kung fu gives you self-defense skills that other activities do not, but if you re a generally nice person you don t need to defend yourself regularly any more than you need to smack a ping pong ball. So in this lesson I want to detail some essential concepts of Buddhism, and let you decide how they fit in with your own religious and philosophical views and whether they might in some way enhance your current views. THE FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS AND THE EIGHTFOLD PATH Regardless of the sect of Buddhism, the core of the teachings can be summed up in the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path.

2 The Four Noble Truths are: 1. Life is suffering 2. Suffering is the result of attachment. 3. We can end suffering by letting go of attachment. 4. The path to letting go and ending suffering is the Eightfold Path. Life is Suffering In the Buddhist view the cycle of birth, old age, sickness and death creates suffering. Our unfulfilled desires create suffering. The hardships and pain we regularly face in life create suffering. Suffering is the Result of Attachment Suffering arises from our attachment to desires: to sensual pleasures, to life and existence itself. We Can End Suffering by Letting Go of Attachment When we relinquish our desires and craving, give up sensual pleasures, and accept our natural demise our suffering will end. The Path to Letting Go and Ending Suffering is the Eightfold Path The method for learning how to let go of our attachments is outlined and explained in the Eightfold Path. The Eightfold Path includes: 1. Right View This means to realize the validity of the Four Noble Truths. This is accomplished with the cultivation of the wisdom mind. 2. Right Intention We must develop ethics and morals and intend to use them in a consistent and mindful way. Additionally, we must intend to resist desire, overcome aggression, and cultivate compassion and loving kindness. 3. Right Speech We demonstrate strong ethics and morals by speaking truthfully, speaking kindly, not offending, and avoiding gossip or mindless talk. 4. Right Action Bodily actions should be wholesome and harmonious. We abstain from harming ourselves or other creatures. We do not take what is not ours. We avoid sexual misconduct. 5. Right Livelihood We should earn a living in a lawful, moral and honest way that benefits rather than harms others. We should avoid work that includes: weapons, live beings (animal farming, prostitution, etc.), meat -2-

3 production, making or selling intoxicants such as drugs and alcohol. 6. Right Effort We must be disciplined and committed to our selfcultivation. We must strive to be wholesome in our thoughts, which lead to wholesome actions. 7. Right Mindfulness We must see the truth cognitively and intellectually, and not be swayed by prejudice or past experience when evaluating a new topic. In Buddha s Foundation of Mindfulness he spoke of contemplating the body, contemplating feelings, contemplating the state of mind, and contemplating all phenomena. 8. Right Concentration This means developing mental stability and the ability to maintain a one-pointed focus with your mind. We develop this through meditation. Once you can keep your mind focused, you than can maintain your focus on wholesome and harmonious thoughts. FAITH OR EXPERIENCE? Buddha advised his followers never to accept anything with blind faith including his own teachings. He said that we must experience the truth of all things first hand, and if we find some idea to be false we should discard it. In many ways, Buddhism is more a philosophical roadmap for leading a peaceful and harmonious life than it is a religion that demands faith. We can test each of the characteristics described in the Eightfold Path by acting at one extreme or the other and seeing which extreme reduces attachment and suffering. You don t need faith to conclude that following Buddha s eight paths will bring you and those around you greater harmony, happiness and peace of mind. You just need to try it. But on the other hand, there are religious elements to Buddhism that do require faith and can t be experienced firsthand. For example, while we can observe and test whether our thoughts and actions have a causeand-effect impact on our lives, we cannot observe this impact on any future lives we might have. So the notion of reincarnation and karma, which was taken for granted in Buddha s time and his society in general, demands faith and reasoning rather than experience. In Buddhist belief, upon death one will be reincarnated into one of various forms: a human of lower or higher stature than that currently -3-

4 enjoyed in this lifetime, a lower form such as animal or hungry ghost, or a higher form such as a deity. The ultimate goal is to reach enlightenment (nirvana) and become a Buddha, at which point you escape the ongoing cycle of rebirth and are no longer reborn, thus forever escaping the suffering of existence. In some Buddhist traditions, an enlightened one may opt to stay on the wheel of existence and come back for the sole purpose of helping others achieve enlightenment. As an aside, in my observations, many Buddhists, particularly those raised in Asia, view reincarnation as a fact of life or an absolute given. In their practice of Buddhism, they often seem more concerned with how their thoughts and actions will affect their karmic future lifetime, rather than how it affects their happiness and the happiness of others here in this lifetime. I don t believe that was Buddha s intent from my studies I believe his Eightfold Path and other teachings were meant for the here and now. I think he might have admonished those who follow his path in the hope of attaining a higher rebirth that such hopes are indicative of the ego s continued struggle with attachment. Such people remain attached to desire, in this case the desire for good karma. I m not a Buddhist because to declare myself a Buddhist would seem to indicate I am not a Taoist or Christian or Jew, each a faith or philosophy which guides me to one degree or another as does atheism. But as a traditional kung fu practitioner, I find many of the experiential teachings of Buddha to be indispensable in my journey of self-cultivation. EXERCISE: Meditate on the first of the Four Noble Truths. Is life really suffering, or is that a misguided and negative take on our existence? Or something else? ASSIGNMENT Explain whether the teachings of the Eightfold Path match your religious or philosophical views, or if any are contradictory to your views explain why. Send your thoughts to me at Please put Lesson 39 in the subject line. -4-

5 RECOMMENDED READING An Introduction to the Buddha and His Teachings Edited by Samuel Bercholz and Sherab Kohn The literature on Buddhism is so vast and there are so many perspectives, that for a good overview I am recommending this collection of essays and articles new and old from a variety of Buddhists. This book was inspired by the making of Bertolucci s film Little Buddha, which you may have seen. Topics include basic teachings, Zen, tantric Buddhism, ethics, karma, and much more. SSSS Every month a book or article will be suggested by Master Sbarge. Reading about topics related to the arts you are training in will help you get the most out of your practice. Just remember that reading can never replace your practice! Each month s recommended reading is purely optional, though Master Sbarge may on rare occasion ask that you do read a particular book. For additional reading suggestions by Master Sbarge, go to Note: All Peaceful Dragon students are urged to complete monthly assignments because they are important for you to fully benefit from your training. Master Sbarge reads every single student's lesson responses every month, and will periodically respond or comment on them. -5-

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