Are You A Buddhist

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Are You A Buddhist? 

Introduction 

Being a Buddhist is quite open because if you believe in certain aspects it is better than not believing in anything.  We take what we can get. However, here  are the more traditional aspects of being Buddhist.  One should believe in The Triple Gem – ie: The Buddha, The Dhamma and The Sangha).  This can be expanded to include The 4 Noble Truths.  This can be expanded to include the Eightfold Noble Path as well.  The Four Noble Truths also include a belief in cause and effect and past lives (aka Sasāra).  Lastly, one should live by these ideals and follow the five precepts for morality, and follow the Eightfold Noble Path which includes meditation for the purpose of gaining Buddhist wisdom with the goal of reaching Nibbāna.  If one is a Bodhisatta (Skrt. Bodhisatva), and wishes to attain full Self-Enlightened-Buddhahood, one should still have an ultimate goal of Nibbāna but delaying it to attain the full perfections. However, a Bodhisatta should strive to attain mundane insight knowledges while they are available in this lifetime.     

 

The 5 precepts:   

 

  1. Not to kill 
  2. Not to steal 
  3. Not to engage in sexual behavior without the “owners” permission 
  4. Not to lie 
  5. Not to take any amount of intoxicating substances. 

  

I think most Westerners are Ethical Atheists or Monotheist (those who believe in one God) who have a liking towards some Buddhist ideals.  These people are still called Atheists or Monotheists or Christians etc.   These days it is “cool” to be Buddhist and we old-school Buddhists are OK with that.  But this is the official definition and you are not really full Buddhist without these factors. 

 

What is The Triple Gem? 

The Triple Gem is the belief in : 

  1. The Buddha = The one who discovered the 4 Noble Truths and taught them to the world. 
  1. The Dhamma = The doctrine related to the 4 Noble Truths 
  1. The Sagha = The Ariya Saṅgha are those who have reached the goal of the 4 Noble Truths; aka Nibbāna. Often Sagha commonly refers to Buddhist monks and nuns along with the whole community of lay followers. 

 A person who reaches the goal of Buddhism, which is Nibbāna, has unshakable faith in the Triple Gem.  That is because he knows Nibbāna directly and understands that he is the member of the Saṅgha that knows the Teachings of The Buddha.  It is like an astronaut who has seen the Earth from space and knows without a doubt that the Earth is really round. Otherwise, one can be led to conspiracy theories that the Earth just sort of looks that way from a mountain top through fake science and fake math.  I wonder what Trump thinks about Earth? 

What are the Real Four Noble Truths? 

These days we hear about the Four Noble Truths without understanding or having faith in the factor of Saṁsāra.  This is a big problem.  Normally, the Four Noble Truths are vaguely defined as follows: 

The Four Noble Truths 

  1. Life is Suffering 
  2. The Cause of Suffering is Craving 
  3. The way out is Nibbāna 
  4. The Way is the Eightfold Noble Path. 

 

The Eightfold Noble Path is: 

  

  1. Right View 
  2. Right Thought 
  3. Right Speech 
  4. Right Action 
  5. Right Livelihood 
  6. Right Effort 
  7. Right Mindfulness
  8. Right Samādhi (concentration)

It should be noted that the Eightfold Noble Path is always continuously with enlightened beings.  That’s the key point of being enlightened and The Path cannot be lost for an enlightened person.  A monk (excluding laypeople) who uses money is definitely without a doubt engaging in wrong livelihood.  Go ahead and ask any monk if having money is “wrong livelihood” or “wrong”.  They will confirm this, yet say they need too.  It is difficult to call a real monk “Enlightened” if he uses money because he does not keep The Path. 

 

Many “Buddhists” and most of the people reading this article are quite content with not expanding the Four Noble Truths to its entirety and don’t know what they are claiming.  Most people sum up the 4 Noble Truths to “Life’s a bitch and then you die (again and again).  Of course, people can say that but they often are not open to or  do not believe in past or future lives.  If you cannot believe in past lives, how can you believe in future lives?  If Saṁsāra goes on indefinitely, then your particular lifetime is not going to be the very first life according to basic probability.  The 4 Noble Truths are more accurately  defined below: 

 

The Real Four Noble Truths 

Dukkha Sacca = The Truth of Suffering 

Samudaya Sacca = The Truth of the cause of suffering 

Nirodha Sacca = The End of Suffering 

Magga Sacca = The Path leading to the End. 

 

The big question is what is Dukkha or Suffering?  The Buddha said in his very first discourse, “In short, the 5 khandhas are suffering.”  The 5 khandhas are: 

 

5 Khandas 

  1. Material form 
  2. Feeling 
  3. Perception 
  4. Formations 
  5. Consciousness 

 

These 5 khandhas are what make up a “you.”  These khandhas arise and pass away again and again and it is a new set of khandhas from moment to moment.  When you die, they want to keep arising and passing away because of previous kamma which is a fueling cause for a new life. They want to continue to arise again, and a new life occurs at that stage to satisfy this momentum.  This is called “rebirth linking.” Again, once the new life is “relinked”, the khandhas continuously arise and pass away again and again without a hiccup.  When you die, the relinking process happens all over again.  The arising and passing away never stops until one has removed the causes for the 5 khandhas to re-arise.  Those causes can be summed up as craving, but it is deeper than that.  The causes are actually kamma, but it is deeper than that.  These causes are actually Dependent Origination.   Dependent Origination is both Saṁsāra and also suffering because the Five Khandas (mentality and materiality) are part of the formula.  Old age sickness and death are also part of the dependent origination formula.  It all happens over and over again until these causes are removed like the fuel of a candle flame.  However, the fuel is not limited in time, or lifetimes like a candle.  It continually refuels itself countless times in each life through kamma (mental, verbal or bodily actions both good and bad). 

 

So you must believe in or understand that Saṁsāra of the 5 khandas is suffering and Dependent Origination is the cause.  You must believe in or understand that removing the causes is the goal to reach Nibbāna.  You must believe in or understand that the Eightfold Noble Path is the way to remove those causes for Saṁsāra.  You must believe in these Four Truths to call yourself a real Buddhist.   

 

Have you ever seen the Tibetan Wheel of Life?  Of course you have because it is the cover picture.  That is why the wheel is so symbolic for Buddhism.  Saṁsāra and the Wheel and Buddhism are quite synonymous.  Buddhism is the study of cause and effects or Saṁsāra itself.  We study the wheel so we can finally get off the wheel of Saṁsāra.   

Summary 

If you want to say you are a Buddhist, that is fine.  It is better than nothing.  It is however, best to know what a real Buddhist is though.  It is possible to be a Christian and believe in some Buddhist elements.  It is possible to be an Atheist and believe in some Buddhist Elements.  However, if you are a purebred or want to be a purebred Buddhist, you should believe in and want to learn about Saṁsāra and Dependent Origination.  If you don’t, you are not in tune with Buddhism and its goal of Nibbāna.  You might not want Nibbāna or more specifically Parinibbāna.  Actually most people don’t want Parinibbāna.  They want to live for ever and ever with a happy Fat Buddha inside Nibbāna.  See my article, Does The Buddha Live in Nibbāna.  Parinibbāna is the opposite of Saṁsāra, but it is not Nihilism because only those who fully understand Saṁsāra and its causes can escape from Saṁsāra.  When the causes are fully removed, the khandhas do no arise again.  It is finished.  No new life takes place and there is no remainder.  This is clear in the texts.. “no remainder.”  So nothing lives in Nibbana after final death.  Nihilistic theory believes that everyone escapes Saṁsāra by default.  Actually Nihilistic theory does not believe in Saṁsāra.  This is the Atheist view.    

 

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Article by Bhikkhu Subhuti

Bhikkhu Subhuti is an American Buddhist Monk with roots in both Sri Lanka and Myanmar Forest Traditions. He currently resides in Myanmar but his heart sometimes floats back to Kauai, HI where he spent six months in 2015.

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