The way of life the Buddha preached was very simple. To the layman it consisted of just five simple precepts: do not kill, do not steal, do not engage in sensual pleasures through wrong means, do not lie, and do not take intoxicants - a very simple set of precepts indeed.
But the Buddhist way of life, the way the Buddha described does not end with this kind of precepts. Simplified in a manner that anyone could understand, there are three things that each person is expected to do, namely DANA(Dispensing charity), SILA (Observing the moral precepts), and BHAVANA (Practicing Meditation).
DANA would mean liberality, generosity- the art of giving. It is very important that Buddhism begins with DANA as the first virtuous act which one should engage in, in order to put himself on the correct path, because giving is an act of sacrifice.
To be able to give something is to prepare your mind fully to give up something that you have, something you treasure, something to which you are attached. Thereby you counter one of the biggest causes of all the problems which, again in Pali, is called lobha or desire or greed.
It is very interesting to see how the way of life is presented to us in a manner that in following it step by step we get rid of some of the human weaknesses and characteristics that cause tension, and the boredom that is bothering most of us today. Liberality is to counteract desires, the greediness, the clinging nature.
Then SILA is adherence to certain precepts, or ethnical or moral conduct. Buddha was fully aware of the fact that one could not set rules and regulations for everybody in the same manner.
So there are a few rules for the lay people. There are a few more for those who want to enter into a committed religious life, and still more for our venerable. There as present here, who have committed themselves to adhere to a very strict path of discipline and purification. So the Sila is a graduated thing, so that each person picks up that which he is able to follow for the present.
In SILA or moral conduct or the ethnical teachings of the Buddha, we come back to this original doctrine: they are not commandments, they are not prescribed from above, and they are not prescribed by the Buddha in a supernatural capacity.
Each one of the precepts, which we, as Buddhists take, is a promise onto ourselves of our own freewill. And the way they are worded is “I take upon myself the discipline of not killing”, “I take upon myself the discipline of not stealing” and so on, because I am the master of my own destiny and it is I who should decide which kind of life I should lead.
The Buddha as a guide had shown certain fundamental weaknesses, or faults, that one should try to avoid. The second cause of most of the problems we have is our animosity, or hatred to others. In Pali we say dosa (anger). Sila is one of those antidotes for this second cause of all our weaknesses. When we follow SILA we control, or we rather completely eliminate, the cause of hatred.
The Buddha was one of those who were very conscious of the many effects of hatred. He had seen people ruining themselves as a result of hatred. That is what made it possible for him to state very categorically that hatred never ceases by hatred, which the more you hate, the worse it becomes.
You hate me, I hate you: I hate you more, you hate me more and the hatred keeps on increasing to a point where both you and I burn ourselves in our mutual hatred, and to the Buddha the only way to solve it is that one party must stop.
Because without one party, or better still both parties, trying to conquer hatred with friendship, hatred with non-hatred, this sequence of hatred would never cease. On the way of dealing with it is based the entire doctrine of the virtuous life of Buddhism.
Because a virtuous life is attacking the second cause of our weaknesses, namely hatred, we have in Buddhism a most interesting, and again a timeless doctrine, of loving-kindness. Loving-kindness, which is the cornerstone of Buddhism (the foundation on which the Buddhist doctrine is built), has not been taken by the Buddha as merely a simple ethnical principle. He had analyzed it in detail. In fact the Buddha analyzed the principle of loving-kindness into 4 aspects and called them the Four States of Sublime Life.
- The first of them is METTA or MAITRI , which most of you, here, associate with Buddhism. Etymologically meaning friendliness, and defined by the Buddha as that quality which a mother has towards her only son, METTA or loving-kindness is the first sublime state of life.
- Then comes KARUNA- compassion. Compassion is more easily generated. You see somebody in trouble, you see somebody who needs your help, your heart moves towards that person and you rush to help him. That quality of rushing to somebody’s help- feeling sorry for the other who is suffering, which is another aspect of loving-kindness. KARUNA or compassion is the second sublime state of life.
- Then comes a third aspect of it which is more difficult to practise, and that requires tremendous love and pains, that is called MUDITA, that is, to share in others’ happiness- to wipe out from your mind all traces of jealousy and envy, so that you enjoy the well-being of the other person, your neighbor, even your enemy.
- Last of all comes the fourth aspect of loving-kindness and that is total equanimity,UPEKKHA. You have no friends, no enemies, no one higher, no lower. You have absolutely no distinctions between one person and another, and you are totally merged in a kind of unity with all beings, all things, all situations.
So, once you are able to live a life in which all these four characteristics govern your actions, there is no place for hatred, there is no place for rivalry, there is no place for competition. So these Four States of Sublime Life or the second principle of SILA look after this set of troubles that we would have. Note: The first principle of SILA is to observe the 5 precepts well.
Last of all comes the most significant, and the one to which you will be preparing to proceed immediately after this, that is BHAVANA-meditation. BHAVANA means the training of the mind. The word itself etymologically means development- a further development of the mind.
The Buddha believed, and He is one of the earliest to state it in that manner, that everything emenates from the man’s mind. The organization that I represent has as the preamble to its Constitution “As wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.” And that reflects the first line of the first verse of the DHAMMAPADA.
A pure mind, a trained mind, a well-developed mind, a mind that can be controlled at will, a mind that does not go on to subjects that are conducive to tension and boredom, but keeps alert, keeps on developing itself, discovering itself and within itself the secret of life, the problems of life and the reality of life, is man’s greatest treasure. We could get a well-trained mind by practicing VIPPASANA BHAVANA or VIPPASSANA MEDITATION.
Nowadays, it’s not a surprise that there is almost a craze, in the highly technologically developed part of the world, for all types of meditation. It makes no difference who preaches what, or what philosophy or technique is adopted. But the fact remains that the people are beginning to realize that a moment of quiet contemplation, a moment of deep penetrative thinking, a moment of well-directed properly controlled functioning of the mind, is an essential thing for the well being of Man.
2500 years ago the Buddha taught exactly the same way. And if there is nothing else that man of today needs peace of mind. He wants to get away from his tensions and battle against boredom. And I see the answer in Buddhism, particularly in the three-fold path of DANA, SILA and BHAVANA.
Source : By Ye' Thu Aung (Buddhism for Beginners)