Samsaric Sources Of Refuge

shankara

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Buddhism is unique among the major world religions and spiritual teachings in that it is not based on the idea of a creator or ultimate being. It is experiential and practical, a path to walk rather than an idea to believe in. Many people believe that Buddhists “accept all religions”, believe in “many paths up the same mountain”, and this is to an extent true, it is clear to any sane observer that they all contain some kind of positive force. Yet we cannot ignore that there are negative aspects also, and in fact as Buddhists we are warned against relying on “Samsaric sources of refuge”, whether these be Hindu gods and gurujis or evangelists with their trinity. Why? Because it is considered that such teachings either do not lead to Enlightenment, or perhaps lead to it by a painful and circuitous road. Here then we will discuss the relation between Buddhism and other teachings, other views, and look at how other spiritual paths are interpreted from a Buddhist perspective.

Buddhism has the notion of the Six Realms of Samsara. That is to say; Hell Beings, Pretas, Animals, Humans, Asuras and Devas, the last meaning ‘gods’. These gods dwell in various realms, from those somewhat like the human world but with much greater pleasure, up to states of meditative absorption, “cosmic consciousness”. It is quite easy to see the parallel between the state of these gods and the various notions of paradise found in the Abrahamic religions (and even some forms of Hinduism), these being considered states of some kind of blissful individual existence.

One would think, therefore, that this might be what Buddhists strive for. This is not the case. Buddha taught that everything is impermanent, without exception, including heavens and hells. The Devas can live for immeasurably long times, even millions of years, but nonetheless they eventually die, and on doing so may fall into the hell realms, preta realm, animal realm. When we consider the suffering of death for a human being, imagine how immeasurably great would be the suffering of those in the Deva realm! Their long life makes them feel like they are immortal, and the pleasures of life being so much more intense, how much harder it would be to finally separate from them!

Being in such great states of bliss during their lives, the Devas have no strong motivation to practise Dharma. Buddhism begins with the truth of Dukkha, which means that “life is suffering”, or perhaps better said, dissatisfaction. We as human beings experience a lot of suffering, especially the suffering of change, being confronted with something pleasurable at one moment and something unpleasant the next. Our practical experience of life is constantly confronting us with this truth of dissatisfaction, and thus if we have the fortune to discover some teaching about liberation and understand it, we have the motivation to practise it. For this reason it is said that the human realm is the best realm to be born in, the realm which is most conducive to liberation and becoming a Bodhisattva.

Among the Devas is a being named “MahaBrahma”. He was born alone, and being unaware of how he was created, not seeing any limit to his lifespan, he comes to believe that it is in fact he who created the universe, Samsara. It is said that the Devas can see into the lower realms, so he has some awareness that there is existence in other realms than his, but his belief that he is any way responsible for their creation is false, the creation of his own karmic confusion. In fact Samsara has no beginning, but MahaBrahma does not know this. Over time different beings are born as attendants to him and are also convinced that he is the ultimate being responsible for creating the universe. When these beings take rebirth in the human realm, they go about spreading stories of this “Great Brahma”, remembering in some faint way or bearing the karmic imprints of the blissful state of rebirth they had in his realm, and still convinced about the notion of a self-created-creator-of-all.

This is of course a myth like other myths. Whether it is literally true, who knows. However it does fit quite well with the facts about many non-Buddhist religious teachings. Most of these include some notion about a paradise, a place of ‘eternal’ peace and bliss, somewhat similar to the Deva realms. Now, some would say that the Buddhist “Nirvana” is quite the same thing, however according to the highest philosophy of Buddhism, the Middle Way School, Nirvana is simply Samsara experienced by a being without “adventitious stains”. That is to say, Samsara is Nirvana when Samsara is perceived as it actually is, without grasping at appearances or selfhood. Hence Buddhism speaks of “Enlightenment”, which is a state of being, rather than “Paradise”. Enlightenment is not a state of coming from Samsara and going to Nirvana, not being in the presence of something or being in the presence of something, rather it is the ultimate nature of all sentient beings, beyond obscurations of delusion, ignorance, confusion, beyond “adventitious stains”. It is not even a state of meditative bliss, which is just another attachment we eventually have to shed.

Buddha said: “test my words as a goldsmith tests gold in the fire”. There really is no requirement of blind faith in Buddhism as there is in those religions which speak of “believers”. It is an experiential doctrine, based on developing stillness and insight through practise. There are devotional elements, and it is sure that among the Buddhists of the world there are those who were simply raised into this kind of devotional environment and practise devotion to Buddha without any understanding of the philosophical foundations. This is unfortunate because the philosophical aspects of Buddhism are truly the core of the doctrine, they are not only of great beauty but actually possess an incredible logic and coherency, far ahead of the confused notions of many western philosophers. Anyway, those who practise Buddhism solely as a devotional religion may have had the fortune to be born in some circumstance where they have a connection with Buddha, perhaps they are making progress, but their blind faith is not only partial, it could even be considered to be antithetical to the spirit of inquiry and investigation of deeper Buddhist practise.

The crux of the matter is, Buddhism is really the only religion which does not seek a paradise. There are “Pure Lands”, but these are considered to be places where people go in order to practise Dharma, not places with no suffering, and they are not so important in most schools of the Mahayana or Vajrayana. Everybody wants peace, everyone wants to go to some place where all is ease and there is no pain, everyone desires to be happy and this is natural. However from the Buddhist perspective, in order to find true peace we need to uproot all negative emotion and develop insight into reality. We may be able to escape temporarily to the peace of the Deva realms, but we can never escape from what we are, and it is what we are which contains all the causes of suffering or happiness for us. As Buddha said:

“All experience is preceded by mind,
Led by mind,
Made by mind.
Speak or act with a corrupted mind,
And suffering follows
As the wagon wheel follows the hoof of the ox.

All experience is preceded by mind,
Led by mind,
Made by mind.
Speak or act with a peaceful mind,
And happiness follows
Like a never-departing shadow.”

This is perhaps a rather simplistic presentation, but it gets to the essential point that it is mind which creates suffering, it is our own mind’s non-virtue and ignorant grasping which leads us on this endless tiring journey through illusion and suffering, not any external god or demon. There is no saviour as such, certainly no “free gift of salvation”, there is no easy way out, there is only facing up to what we are and overcoming ignorance about the true nature of things. There is no paradise to be sought, nor hell to be avoided – if we want to avoid hell, it would only be because it isn’t a good place to practise Dharma.

So effectively all of these religions seeking paradise are only seeking the shell of happiness, the Deva realms. True happiness is something internal, a state of perfect equanimity whether external phenomena are good or bad. It is good that the various religions practise some renunciation, that they stop people from getting too deeply enmeshed in the web of illusion through accumulating strong karmas of passionate attachment and negative deeds. But at the same time these “tirthika” teachings fail to confront the causes of suffering even of the individual, and certainly don’t generate the altruistic mind seeking to become enlightened not for one’s own benefit but for all sentient beings, which is the foundation of the Mahayana and Vajrayana.

If people want to seek a state of peaceful and easy existence without the difficulties and pains of life on earth, this is quite their own choice, though they would do better to at least comprehend that it is temporary. In fact the Devas are said to practise Dharma sometimes, though it is not an ideal rebirth for this generally speaking. Perhaps if the person is sincere in the religion they are practising, their sincerity will bring about causes to encounter the Buddhadharma later on, though perhaps reaching this stage will involve a passage through the hell or hungry ghost realms. Yet if we can accept the rather terrifying truth that all is impermanent, then we can go beyond this longing for paradise and start to simply accept and embrace things for what they are, trying to develop non-deluded perception unobscured by ignorance.

This is a process which requires ethics, abandoning longing for a paradise and opening up to the reality of things is not a license just to do as one pleases and ignore ethical conduct, quite the opposite - Buddhism is not a nihilistic doctrine. Indeed nihilism is even more problematic than the eternalism of seeking refuge in Samsaric gods, it prevents any real spiritual progress. Coming to experience reality as it is requires not only developing insight into the true nature of things, but also Merit, good deeds and strivings. Though there have been practitioners of the Dharma known for their “crazy wisdom”, this is not something that normal people should attempt. Indeed in order to take Refuge in the Buddha, we must avoid alcohol, killing etc., and without following such regulations it is difficult to make progress on the path. Quite simply we must develop equanimity as a foundation for overcoming ignorance about the true nature of things, acting under the influence of strong passionate attachments and aversions is destructive of this.

In short, so long as we seek paradise as a place or even as a psychological state of bliss, real happiness is far from us. As already mentioned, the psychological state of bliss brought about by meditation is not the purpose, it may be a step on the way to perception of reality as it is however it is not something we should become attached to. Such attachment will only lead to rebirth in the formless deva realms as an all-pervasive consciousness, these realms also are temporary. Really we have to accept that there may be facets of reality which are ugly, and we should not be repulsed by them. We must go beyond continually fleeing from what we perceive as negative towards what we perceive as positive, both are conditioned reactions.

Impermanence is scary, frightening, so people seek refuge in comforting doctrines, in the notion that there is some permanence behind it all. This is not a totally crazy impulse. Buddhism also involves seeking refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, the Sangha, but from the Mahayana perspective this is not for ourselves, rather for all sentient beings. Anyway, in the end the Buddhist practise of Refuge isn’t about seeking something permanent behind becoming, hiding in eternity to escape the terrible reality of impermanence, rather it is simply seeking to overcome our ignorance, our deluded perceptions or projections, with the help of the Buddhas and the positive force they radiate.

All of this is without even going into the question of the theistic attitude and it’s (lack of) compatibility with Buddhist philosophy, particularly in relation to the doctrine of Shunyata. Really the deeper philosophical foundations of Buddhism, particularly Tibetan Buddhism, require previous comprehension of the simpler doctrines like the Four Noble Truths and the Twelve Links of Dependent Arising, otherwise they will simply be causes of confusion, perhaps causing the development of nihilism which will surely lead us away from the path. Nonetheless, in order to illustrate the quite profound differences between Buddhist teachings and theistic approaches (differences which remain, though in less extreme form, with Advaita etc.), I include here THE HEART SUTRA, with the caveat that it should really be understood in the context of Buddhist teaching as a whole, with its emphasis on ethics, the overcoming of negative emotion, altruistic motivation, and dependent arising.

To emphasise, in relation to the last, dependent arising, though it is taught that ultimately reality lacks inherent existence this does not in any way negate the truth of cause and effect – create negative causes and suffering follows, positive causes and happiness follows. Even the Buddha, who has fully realised ultimate reality, teaches in accordance with cause and effect, and in no way ever teaches any kind of nihilism.

THE HEART SUTRA

The Bodhisattva of Compassion,
When he meditated deeply,
Saw the emptiness of all five skandhas
And sundered the bonds that caused him suffering.

Here then,
Form is no other than emptiness,
Emptiness no other than form.
Form is only emptiness,
Emptiness only form.

Feeling, thought, and choice,
Consciousness itself,
Are the same as this.

All things are by nature void
They are not born or destroyed
Nor are they stained or pure
Nor do they
wax or wane

So, in emptiness, no form,
No feeling, thought, or choice,
Nor is there consciousness.
No eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind;
No colour, sound, smell, taste, touch,
Or what the mind takes hold of,
Nor even act of sensing.

No ignorance or
end of it,
Nor all that comes of ignorance;
No withering, no death,
No end of them.

Nor is there pain, or cause of pain,
Or cease in pain, or noble path
To lead from pain;
Not even wisdom to attain!
Attainment too is emptiness.

So know that the Bodhisattva
Holding to nothing whatever,
But dwelling in Prajna wisdom,
Is freed of delusive hindrance,
Rid of the fear bred by it,
And reaches clearest Nirvana.

All Buddhas of past and present,
Buddhas of future time,
Using this Prajna wisdom,
Come to full
and perfect vision.

Hear then the great dharani,
The radiant peerless mantra,
The Prajnaparamita
Whose words allay all pain;
Hear and believe its truth!
GATE GATE PARAGATE PARASAMGATE BODHI SVAHA
 






Sen

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Everything is impermanent = Becoming/Changing

Dukkha= Life of the 3rd dimensional world which is veiled by the illusion. Once we born to this world, we forget everything including our past lives and Karma. Therefore, we tend to repeat the same mistakes instead of learning the lessons and go forward. By opening third eye, one can penetrate through the veil which creates the illusion (breaking the space/time) and witness all the past lives(entering the time/space) and the many great lessons they skipped. Through that one comes to the greatest understanding/nirvana/ realizing the truth and cease existing in the third dimensional realm (Earth). Therefore, Dukkha is the life in third dimensional world. It is not necessarily just "suffering". It is mortality.

Maha Brahma = This is the Hindu interpretation of One Infinite Creator or Abrahamics called/personified as God. This idea of personifying the Great Source or the one infinite creator came to Abrahamic religions through Hinduism. This is more than 12000 years old teaching. In actuality, Maha Brahma is the source which formed what we call as the universe. One can call it the great central sun, it's a energy field or a The Source field because it is the source of everything/nothing.

Buddhism isn't a religion = It is a philosophy. Buddha never wanted to create a religion. He was a great teacher who taught a way of life one can simply be one with the Truth. A religion is a mind controlling aspect. One who blindly build faith creates the religion out of a philosophy. To understand Buddhism, one need to be balanced in both faith and intelligence.

Mind= Energy/Light/Intelligence therefore, Good Karma= Positive energy. Bad karma = negative energy.
Once both polarity been balanced to Zero, the zero point where ALL is ONE = Nirvana
(+1)+(-1)=0 =Nothing/Everything/Zero point/Omega point

My understanding of these terms and teachings.
 






shankara

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Joined
Apr 23, 2018
Messages
501
Everything is impermanent = Becoming/Changing

Dukkha= Life of the 3rd dimensional world which is veiled by the illusion. Once we born to this world, we forget everything including our past lives and Karma. Therefore, we tend to repeat the same mistakes instead of learning the lessons and go forward. By opening third eye, one can penetrate through the veil which creates the illusion (breaking the space/time) and witness all the past lives(entering the time/space) and the many great lessons they skipped. Through that one comes to the greatest understanding/nirvana/ realizing the truth and cease existing in the third dimensional realm (Earth). Therefore, Dukkha is the life in third dimensional world. It is not necessarily just "suffering". It is mortality.

Maha Brahma = This is the Hindu interpretation of One Infinite Creator or Abrahamics called/personified as God. This idea of personifying the Great Source or the one infinite creator came to Abrahamic religions through Hinduism. This is more than 12000 years old teaching. In actuality, Maha Brahma is the source which formed what we call as the universe. One can call it the great central sun, it's a energy field or a The Source field because it is the source of everything/nothing.

Buddhism isn't a religion = It is a philosophy. Buddha never wanted to create a religion. He was a great teacher who taught a way of life one can simply be one with the Truth. A religion is a mind controlling aspect. One who blindly build faith creates the religion out of a philosophy. To understand Buddhism, one need to be balanced in both faith and intelligence.

Mind= Energy/Light/Intelligence therefore, Good Karma= Positive energy. Bad karma = negative energy.
Once both polarity been balanced to Zero, the zero point where ALL is ONE = Nirvana
(+1)+(-1)=0 =Nothing/Everything/Zero point/Omega point

My understanding of these terms and teachings.
Interesting perspectives, particularly what you say about Maha Brahma. I'm not totally against the idea of some benevolent creator being behind all of this, but in Buddhism and even Hinduism, Brahma isn't really worshipped. From the Buddhist perspective he's just another confused being with his own Karma, from the Hindu perspective Shiva chops off one of Brahma's heads (for incest with his daughter Sarasvati, apparently).

Also I get what your saying about philosophy as opposed to religion, though I don't think that there is always such a clear dividing lin. Buddhism is definitely logical, analytical, experiential, rather than based on any kind of blind faith. At least it should be, of course there are practitioners who are just into the devotional side and unfortunately don't seek out the philosophical aspect of the wisdom.
 






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Sen

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Brahma shouldn't be worshiped. I don't think it should be the case though billions do. In my perspective one need to "realize" Brahma.

Hindu Yoga methods like Kriya Yoga, Buddhist meditation Anāpānāsati, and Tibetan Meditation methods like rainbow body are perfect techniques to be one with the universe.

None of these philosophies say one need to worship Brahma. It is kind of like master-slave model if one think they need to worship the higher to get spiritually advance. That is like a archetype in collective unconscious of human kind and I believe that's what make us as a collective go backwards compared to higher beings like Buddha, Babaji, Naropa, Padmasambhava....and many others.
 






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