Structure within Buddhism
May 10, 2013
7 minutes read

Be warned: The work here, written for a philsophy class from the past, has little to do with the thoughts/feelings/beliefs of the author. Much was written with an intentional bias or viewpoint which was given as part of the assignment. Tread lightly, and try not to take it too seriously.

Buddhism is a hierarchical religion founded somewhere in India between 6 and 4 BCE. The origin area and date, like many ancient texts, is disputed among scholars. Buddha, the figure who is attributed to having lived out the experiences that were described in the Dhammapada by Buddhaghosa, spoke these stories while living his life within a monastic community(or as Conze refers to it, a sangha). The word ‘dhammapada’ is actually made up of two root words in Sanskrit Hindu that when translated to English are similar to the meanings of “truth” and “base”. This, perhaps, is to signify that this document is the base of all other similar doctrines within this sect of theology. Buddhism is hierarchical, like most ancient religions, but the structure of that hierarchy is unique. In most ancient theologies, the reward for living a life that is within accordance of said theology is directly tailored to how righteous a life an individual has lived. Within Buddhism there exists only two states, Enlightened, and unenlightened. This reward is self-attained, not given, and it can be so attained when still a member of the mortal realm (physical existence). Enlightenment is seen as the ridding of Earthly matters and ties to one, or rather ‘total detachment’. Buddhism doctrine largely promotes the quelling of intemperate behavior, reliability and the power of the ‘mind’, while still keeping the reader aware of the fragility and the temporary nature of man.

Buddha valued the ‘mind’ above all other things within his texts. The mind is actually governor of all things perceived and experienced by your self, and as such certain exercises and aspects of life could be fine-tuned as a way to allow the mind to work towards ‘Nibbana’, or ultimate understanding or truth. One who achieved such things was considered ‘Enlightened’, and before achieving that status one must always try to work towards that goal. Buddha promoted temperance throughout the Dhammapada. The author often used metaphors to explain such things as temperance. “Just as rain does not break through a well-thatched house, so passion never penetrates a well-developed mind”(p.24) is one such metaphorical example. ‘Passion’ was a phrase used commonly within the texts as reference to the human tendency to gravitate towards imbalance or intemperate habits. The phrase is used as a general describe for any act that is wrought with over-zealousness. Through the self-riddance of such habits, the mind will begin towards the path of Nibbana. The author wants to relate the fortification of the mind to the structural fortification of a house or hut. These two things are actually not unlike, the only difference being the means of bolstering each. The actual methods of strengthening the mind are mentioned later in the text.

The mind, being the most powerful and prioritized of the components lending themselves to your self, is given extreme credence within Buddhism. As such, the texts offer insights into how one would improve the mind, or at least it provides an insight into what the wisest of people may practice. This is possibly a method of teaching by example. “The wise ones, ever meditative and steadfastly persevering, alone experience Nibbana, the incomparable freedom from bondage.”(p.25). An observance : The wise achieve their goals of Nibbana not by action, but rather by steadfast perseverance and meditation. This observance also gives a glimpse at what achieving Nibbana is like, “the incomparable freedom from bondage.”. The bondage spoken of is not the physical chains of the physical world, but rather the chains of the physical world that have lodged themselves around the mind, and aid in the hiding of the real reality that exists outside of the self. Achieving Nibbana, thus, is achieving freedom from the restraints that attach the mind to the unenlightened self, and allows the freedom to attain Enlightenment. The mind , being of the most important aspects, is able in limited cases to separate itself from the physical world and allow for the existence within both. Detaching emotionally from the physical world, but still occupying the space within it.

One theme of Buddhism is the temporary nature of the physical world. Buddhism promotes the idea of fortifying the mind with meditation, however it concedes that the body is fragile and temporary.

“Realizing that this body is as fragile as a clay pot, and fortifying this mind like a well-fortified city, fight out Mara with the sword of wisdom. Then, guarding the conquest, remain unattached.”

Buddha refers to the attachment to the first realm, the physical realm, as Mara. He states that like during the defense of a city, you must pick up the sword of wisdom (the gathering of knowledge, meditation and steadfastness), and use that weapon to destroy your attachments to the physical realm (Mara). Once that has been done, only the maintenance of guarding the mind is required - the ability to remain detached from the physical, unenlightened realm. Buddha again uses a metaphor here, the comparison of the fragility of a clay pot and the temporary body that burden humankind against the perils of time. One who possesses a keen enough mind to be steadfast in their actions enjoys deathlessness in the form of Enlightenment, as stated earlier in the text. Conze, also, mentions Buddha says that those among us who attain ‘Enlightenment’ open ‘the doors to undeath’, and can then live a deathless life via the propagation of their wisdom and knowledge.

Virtue, as defined by earlier acts and examples in the text, is one of the greatest commodities within Buddhism. Virtue, by it’s nature, plasters itself all over the possessor.

“Faint is the fragrance of tagara and sandal, but excellent is the fragrance of the virtuous, wafting even amongst the gods.”

Even among the Earthly fragrances, Virtue itself is immediately visible even to those as important as the Gods. A human, having not yet gained enlightenment, is infinitesimally less important than a God, but if they possess virtue as an attribute, and live a life filled with virtuous intent; it’s immediately obvious to all of those around them regardless of status or rank. Virtue has many aspects; living a just life, allowing others to do the same. The tenants of Buddhism are somewhat less stringent than other ancient religions, and a lot of freedom is left to the interpreter as to what virtue and neutrality may be considered, all depending on not necessarily strict rules, but context of the situation and all of those affected. Most of the punishments from non-virtue are not incorporeal, but rather the acts of others in response to those actions, and the way that those new actions may affect you.

Buddhism doctrine largely promotes the quelling of intemperate behavior, reliability and the power of the ‘mind’, while still keeping the reader aware of the fragility and the temporary nature of man. Metaphorical examples are common among ancient religions. They are a great way to explain abstract moral and ethical concepts to a mass that may not possess the linguistic or mental ability to understand the greater concepts clearly without example and relation. Buddhism isn’t lacking in this aspect. Buddha uses extensive metaphorical example to demonstrate the tenants of this base doctrine in a very easy to emulate manner. It’s easy to try to employ measures to make yourself more heedful and considerate, and the results are immediately visible to the engaged party, thus one can understand how a mass of people, practicing these tenants and seeing positive personal results, could then as a whole decide that this theology is one that should be practices or sought after. Edward Conze contends that a large point that attracts people to Buddhism is the satisfaction that it gives to people who are of a thinking mindset that is largely ‘existential’, or rather people who are comforted by the idea that knowledge and wisdom gives birth to a higher realm of existence.


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