Buddhist Philosophy/Introduction

Buddhist Philosophy

  1. Introduction
  2. Details
  3. Meditation
  4. Mindfulness
  5. Sutra
  6. Schools
  7. Esoteric Buddhism
  8. Yinyana
  9. Developments
  10. Glossary
  11. Quips
  12. References and Links

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What is Buddhist Philosophy gives an introduction to some key points developed here. Buddhism will be explored from some of its less known attributes:

  • Its influence on medicine and healing.
  • Buddhist Cosmology.
  • The teachings of Buddhist rasayana.
  • The development of a secular religion.
  • Non theistic ethics and morality


Buddhism often traces its religious foundation to the life and inspiration of the Shakyamuni Buddha. Buddhism has been associated with peacefulness towards others, including animals (especially the monkey), and an emphasis on meditation. Many words originally largely associated with Buddhism are now part of Western usage, for example: Zen, karma, mantra, nirvana.

What Led to the Buddha's Enlightenment?Edit

The semi-mythological nature of the Buddha's life is also reflected in many Sufi tales of princes who gave up their kingdoms to follow paths of spiritual unfolding, although these stories are much much later and as such were probably influenced by the Buddha story (for an important academic analysis of the Buddha story, see 'Suttas as History' by Jonathan Walters in History of Religion, University of Chicago). The Buddha was born to the ruler of a small kingdom in Nepal and led a sheltered life. After seeing the four signs, he resolved to leave his life of ease and find the cause of overcoming of dissatisfaction or dukkha. After study, ascetic and meditative practices, the Buddha developed an understanding or realization. The rest of his life was spent in transmitting this realization.

Buddha expressed his philosophy when he said: "I teach only two things, O disciples, the fact of suffering and the possibility of escape from suffering."

Buddha inspired the famous "Four Noble Truths" and "Eightfold Path," which allows people to achieve nirvana. What is nirvana? Before this is answered, you must understand the concept of karma. Buddhist Philosophy states that everything is subject to the law of karma. Buddha taught that positive actions build up karma, and negative ones detract from it. Buddhists try to achieve good karma, and free themselves from bad karma by living a morally sound life, and by following Buddhism. Nirvana is the state of being free from mental defilements (klesha), which are chiefly hate, desire and ignorance; ignorance being the cause of all of them. With the cessation of kleshas, all forms of suffering cease, and a state of bliss and equanimity is attained. According to Buddhist philosophy, life is part of a cycle of suffering called Samsara. If one achieves good karma, and follows the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path, then this cycle will end, and rather than being subject to the law of karma, they will be free of it, and will live in a state of eternal happiness.

What Were the Four Signs?Edit

The Buddha led a leisured and protected life within a royal palace and fathered a child. When he, against advice, left the palace, he encountered four signs of human suffering:

  1. An old person
  2. A sick person
  3. A dead person
  4. A wandering ascetic

Siddartha was affected by what he saw, and resolved to find out why there was suffering, the cause of the suffering, and how to end one's suffering.

The Sanskrit word "karma" literally means "action". Hetu is the Sanskrit for "intention" and phala designates "effect". Karma may be either "positive" or "negative" and both categories of actions have their respective effect.

What are the Four Noble Truths?Edit

  1. Existence entails discomfort, or suffering. (dukkha) All worldly life is unsatisfactory and disjointed.
  2. The cause of this (dukkha) is attachment, craving or desire. (tanha)
  3. The cessation of dukkha (Nirodha) There is a way out of suffering, which is to eliminate attachment and desire.
  4. The way leading to the cessation of dukkha (Marga): The path that leads out of suffering is called the Noble Eightfold Path

Buddha taught that in order to achieve nirvana (Nirodha), man must free himself from his ego, and give up all desires. Buddha claimed that by having so many desires (such as wanting pleasure, wealth, happiness, security, success, long life, etc.), man condemns himself to suffering, and will never escape the cycle of rebirths.

Buddhism believes that suffering is self-created.

Four leading Western Buddhist teachers each explore the meaning of one of The Four Noble Truths for the contemporary audience. - [1]

What is The Eight Fold Path?Edit

  1. Right View/Understanding
  2. Right Thoughts
  3. Right Speech, abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, & from idle chatter. (Sutta Nipata 45.8)
  4. Right Action, abstaining from taking life, abstaining from stealing, abstaining from unchastity. (Sutta Nipata 45.8)
  5. Right Livelihood, there is the case where a disciple of the noble ones, having abandoned dishonest livelihood, keeps his life going with right livelihood (Sutta Nipata 45.8). Basically this means not selling guns, living creatures, poisons, and others which may harm any being.
  6. Right Effort
  7. Right Mindfulness
  8. Right Concentration, meditation

What are the Three Jewels?Edit

The crowning achievements of the Buddha were

  1. The Buddha ~ His lifetime of gaining wisdom, understanding and awakening
  2. The Teaching (Dharma) ~ The oral teachings and transmission
  3. The Community (Sangha) ~ The group of awoken teachers or disciples of the Buddha

The Thirty-One Realms (Bhumi 31)Edit

Buddhism knows about 31 types of realms, where beings lived. Human realm is one of the 31 realms, where human (manussa bhumi) is included in the happy realms (sugati bhumi). The realms are divided into four main divisions, which are

  1. The suffering realms (apaya bhumi), consists of the Hell (niraya), the asura, the peta, and animals. Beings are being reborn here because of their bad actions in their past lives.
  2. The happy realms (sugati bhumi) or the realms of sense (kama bhumi), which consists of the human realm and the six realms of gods (the meaning of 'god' should be distinguished with the meaning of 'God'). Beings are being reborn here as the result of their good deeds (mainly by practicing generosity, self-constraint/virtue, and meditation).
  3. The form realms, where beings who have successfully practiced meditation to the level of rupa-jhana are being reborn.
  4. The formless realms, where beings who have successfully practiced meditation to the level of arupa-jhama are being reborn.

What are the Six Realms?Edit

The six realms are the six possible states of existence for sentient beings. There is an immense variation in the beings of each realm, but these beings will all share certain characteristics. We re emerge in these states according to our karma. The 'lower realms' is a term used to refer to the states of hell, hungry ghosts (pretas) and animals. These three states are severely restrictive in the ability of a sentient being trapped in them to attain liberation, and because of this their suffering in Samsara is prolonged. The most basic reason for refuge is to attain a dwelling that avoids these realms.

The Heavenly, or Deva RealmEdit

These are the realms of existence inhabited by the devas ('shining ones'), and are marked by experiences of bliss and pleasure for long period of time.

This is separated into two main states of existence - that of form and that of no-form. The deva realms are correlated to the eight jhanas/dhyanas, which are eight distinct meditative states. The first four of which are marked by an awareness of form - such as the mediator's body, and the last four are entirely mental experiences, where sensory input to the material senses is no longer felt.

Beings gain rebirth in these realms by a combination of right conduct and/or deep meditative experience during life.

Beings in such a realm have immense lifespans, especially in the higher states, and their perception of time is similarly different to humans - with their perception of a 'day' sometimes thousands of human years.

Being reborn in such a state is seen as being ultimately useless since it is temporary, and there is no apparent reason to work towards liberation from Samsara. When the karma of a sentient being living in such a state begins to run out, they usually have very little merit relating to pleasurable existences remaining in their mind-stream, and are usually born in one of the three lower realms. As they die, they become clearly aware of this, and such an experience is said to be worse than all the suffering that could be experienced in any of the other realms.

Conflict or demi god realm of Asuras (jealous gods)Edit

Buddha Level: The Life of the Father, Conflict between duty and resolution, the four signs

to put it in the words of Orson Wells/Graham Greene
"In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare,
terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo,
Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance.
In Switzerland they had brotherly love,
they had five hundred years of democracy and peace,
and what did they produce? The cuckoo clock."
Orson Welles in The Third Man

"For thirty years people have been asking me how I reconcile X with Y!
The truthful answer is that I don't.
Everything about me is a contradiction and so is everything about everybody else.
We are made out of oppositions;
we live between two poles.
There is a philistine and an aesthete in all of us, and a murderer and a saint.
You don't reconcile the poles. You just recognize them."
[To Kennety Tynan, 1967]

Human Development: Toddler

The passion or animal realmEdit

Buddha Level: Training the Buddha

The main
passions of Mohammad
were women and perfumes.
This realm is about the patterns of instinct,
the needs of the animal. For food, and interaction.
It is interesting that some systems utilize this realm as a source
of wisdom and inspiration. Acknowledgement
is part of the key rather than denial, asceticism or willful
denial or indulgence that is the Middle way

characterized by stupidity and servitude

Human Development: Teenager

Hell RealmEdit

Buddha Level: Trained and nowhere to go

There is a wonderful story of a (I think it was a PureLand Buddhist Master) who had a disturbing dream

In the dream, the Master saw himself in the God Realm
He called his fellow monks together and with tears in his eyes
recounted the portent dream
pleading they pray that he be sent to the hell realms
to rescue the beings dwelling there.

A true Bodhisattva.

wracked by torture and characterized by aggression

Human Development: Young adult

The Craving Realm or Hungry Spirit RealmEdit

Buddha Level: The extreme ascetic

characterized by great craving and eternal starvation'

Human Development: Mature adult

= Human RealmEdit

Buddha Level: The world transformed

Beings who are both good and evil; enlightenment is within their grasp, yet most are blinded and consumed by their desires

Human Development: Matured adult7