Monday, August 21, 2006

Buddhism in 438 Words

As our final topic in my time as a guest blogger at A Pagan Sojourn, we were asked to write, in 300 words or less, a synopsis of our path. Well, my attempt came in at 438 words. So sue me. :) This is cross-posted from A Pagan Sojourn:

Joseph Campbell observed that there are three ways in which mythologies—our current religions—reconcile our existence to the world’s conditions. The earliest mythologies affirmed existence. They taught that the world is perfect in all its horror. The next set of mythologies to emerge denied life, providing a means to escape the horror to something better beyond. The third type of mythology surfaced with Zoroastrianism: The world was originally good and subsequently fell, resulting in the "human condition." In this third type, which is the basis of the Judeo-Christian traditions, people are to align themselves with the forces of good and work to eliminate evil.

Early Buddhism may have tread on Hinduism’s heels as a "denying-type" religion. However, Mahayana Buddhism, the type I practice, is an "affirming" religion. The tagline for my blog, "This world—just as it is with all its horror, all its darkness, all its brutality—is the golden lotus world of perfection," says it perfectly. The world is as it is, beautiful, wondrous, awe-inspiring, even in its brutality.

Suffering exists. This is the first noble truth. Having been born, we will suffer. Suffering has a cause. This is the second noble truth. Look at the world around you. I challenge you to find something cause-less; suffering is no different. Next is the third noble truth. I like to call Buddhism the ultimate optimistic religion, and the third noble truth is the reason: Suffering can be ended. Like anything, if the cause is removed, the effect does not occur. If we remove its oxygen supply, a candle flame will expire. In the same way, if we can figure out a way to remove the cause of suffering, suffering itself will not occur. Toward this end, the Buddha discovered, and taught, the fourth noble truth: The path that leads to the end of suffering.

If we were only to seek for our own escape from suffering, Buddhism might register as a "denying-type" mythology. But a key practice transforms Buddhism into a life-affirming religion. While we work on the path noted in the fourth noble truth, we also realize that we are already Buddhas. We look for perfection within ourselves by recognizing that our intrinsic nature is ultimate perfection.

We are already endowed with Buddha qualities, or Buddha perfections, the moment we are born, even at the beginning of our existence. The only problem is that somehow we are trapped in samsara, which comes about from the accumulations of our defilements. So if we are able to purify our defilements, then we discover that we are already Buddhas, already enlightened ones.1