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Paeonia suffruticosa

Texts and Meditation

Some show by their lives that "long-winded words will help them in some ways; long, difficult words in Sanskrit or Pali and in translations and commentaries of them. And still, there is a risk of getting confused, dumbfounded, bewildered and sidetracked by arrays of words. Aiming for stout Buddhism above words should work far better. It would depend on getting an eminent meditation method and follow up with a plan and so on, says Buddha. Buddhism is the result of meditation by and large, including Buddha's own meditations over years. Do not get it wrong, but put first things first, then.

Dr Richard Gombrich's study and conclusions

Westerners are awakening to the great wisdom of Buddha (cf. Rhys Davids, p. 20). Many Buddhist writings have been discovered in Buddhist centres North and North-East of India. Works in the Pali language are preserved in Sri Lanka, Thailand and Burma and getting published too. Many ancient texts, together with several of a somewhat later date, are entitled the Three Baskets of Tradition, the Tripitakas. They have been preserved, are freshly copied, commented on, and otherwise elaborated in manuscripts. It is taken that the vast collection contains thoughts of Buddha (Rhys Davids: 11, 12). However, Dr Richard Gombrich (2002) tells something about the first sermon of Buddha that seems to apply to most other texts. It may be wise to keep some reserve in the matter:

We do not really know what the Buddha said in his first sermon . . . and it has even been convincingly demonstrated that the language of the text as we have it is in the main a set of formulae, expressions which are by no means self-explanatory but refer to already established doctrines. Nevertheless, the compilers of the Canon put in the first sermon what they knew to be the very essence of the Buddha's Enlightenment. (Gombrich 2002, p. 61.)

In the process of oral transmissions for several years, and maybe later too, during translations, There were chances of misinterpretations and changes, with additions to them. It is indeed possible that the anatta doctrine that arose in Buddhism is due to misunderstanding of what Buddha thought, says Dr Gombrich in What the Buddha Thought (2009). Simply put, he holds that the most common Buddhist doctrine today holds there is no Atman (Self, soul, spirit) is rooted in a mistranslation of this:

Things are impermanent, i.e., ever-changing, and by that token they are not satisfactory, and by that token they cannot be the atman [spirit].

Later Buddhists came to interpret the third hallmark in that old doctrine as 'not having a self or essence', but that was not its original meaning, says Gombrich. He finds upon much study that both Pali grammar and a comparison with the Vedanta show that the true meaning is 'is not atman' rather than 'does not have atman'. And comparison with the Vedanta further shows that the translation 'self' is appropriate, Dr Gombrich sums up (p. 69-70).

It seems very wise to take expert thought into account. Dr Gombrich is an Indologist and scholar of Sanskrit, Pali, and Buddhist Studies. "He was the Boden Professor of Sanskrit at the University of Oxford from 1976 to 2004. He is currently Founder-President of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies. He is a past President of the Pali Text Society (1994–2002) and General Editor Emeritus of the Clay Sanskrit Library.

Also, Richard Gombrich is "one of the 20th century's important scholars of Theravada Buddhism. His recent research has focused more on Buddhist origins." He "stresses the importance of relating Buddhist texts and practices to the rest of Indian religion." (Wikipedia, "Richard Gombrich").

What Gombrich tells about Self (Atman) in Buddhism, may be seen as linked to the essential teachings in Mahayana Buddhism, which is by far the largest branch of Buddhism. From the 300s AD, China began to incline to the teaching of Buddhism, and from then until the seventh century we read of scholars and pilgrims going or returning to China laden with Buddhist literature. This says the body of Buddhism is just as complex and many-sided as "Christism", and that Pali is not the only source of ancient Buddhist texts. (Rhys Davids, p. 22-23, 26)

Buddha's sayings and discourses rule

An exegesis is a critical explanation or interpretation of a text, especially of scripture. Besides the Three Baskets, the Tripitakas, the Pali literature also contains a great body of exegetical commentary. The Pali Text Society, founded by Professor Thomas W. Rhys Davids in 1881, has published seventy volumes of texts and translations. The Sacred Books of the East, founded by the late Max Müller, has published several translations too. The Sacred Books of the Buddhists series, the Harvard Oriental Series, and the German Pali-Society are publishing more. (Rhys Davids, p. 13-14]

This said, wide and general acquaintance with literature may profit us very little unless we approach Buddhism in its many variants intelligently, master its core elements and live the Buddhist life fairly well and our way somehow. There are divergent, wide orientations available in Buddhism, apart from its common core elements, which revolve around Gautama Buddha and thoughts of his as they are found in various old discourses (called sutras, suttas). (Cf. Rhys Davids, p. 15)

There are many Buddhist discourses online today. These are among the large collections.

There are many sutras and many texts in addition to all those that Buddha is credited with. It should not obscure the main part of Buddhism as set down by Buddha: is is treading The Noble Eightfold Path, also called the Gentle Middle Way (of avoiding extremes). Extremes of reading sutras has to be included in extremes to avoid, basically.

The main thing is to meditate well, and adhere the rest of the eight figurative spokes of the wheel after setting it in motion. If some reading of texts help that alignment, it works along with Buddha's main directives. Dogen's guidelines in this shows how the linking of meditation (Zen, dhyana), and and sutras (texts) has been problematic for hundreds of years, really. [More of Dogen on it]

For all that, in some cases or circumstances it can be fine to have many texts and different translations to compare with against being dumbfounded - bewildered - , or against something something else. The phrasing of many sutras in English differs considerably in many cases.

Many forms of Buddhism share core elements and venerate Buddha and his assumed sayings too. "Meditate as well as you can, and the rest should follow," is what Buddha personally stands for.

Buddhism has become a vehicle of ideas Buddha was fond of, and the additions

1. In genuine Buddhism you are not asked to believe blindly, at least not stupidly. Compare, for example, "Buddha is Fully Enlightened, the Happy One, and the knower of the world. His Dharma teachings are essentially timeless and inviting investigation, leading to emancipation, to be comprehended by the wise, each for himself."

2. You do not have to be encumbered with secret teachings. It is worth noting that Buddha says in his "Last Days Discourse" that he himself had no secret teachings and methods. "I have set forth the Dharma without making any distinction of esoteric and exoteric doctrine; nothing is held back." [2nd section] However, gurus and lamas of Buddhism might say that some methods are so mighty that they require a qualified teacher to supervise and guide the practitioner. It is a possible dilemma a guru or lama is operating. Besides, if methods are called mighty and great, they may be tested scientifically, and many results published. And Buddha advocates sane investigation (above).

3. Bodhisatva ideals and pledges of later Mahayana are not part of Buddha's teachings. There is no need to promise things way over your head, beyond what you have reasonable control of.

4. Buddha did not advocate worship of representations of himself, but see what has happened, and compare it with his, "He honours me best who practices my teachings best," among his last words against venturing onto such thin ice. If worship of Buddha statues were helpful, he would have advocated it, it is well implied in his teachings.

Several of Buddha's teachings may be termed timeless. Much seems summed up by this: there should be no need for for the Bodhisatva pledge, or for picture-and-statue worship. These things are uncalled for by Buddha, according to the Pali canon. It is not that they are not helpful to some - at least somewhat - but some additions to Buddha's teachings may counteract self-help and something central that Buddha says. "His Dharma teachings are essentially timeless and inviting investigation, leading to emancipation, to be comprehended by the wise, each for himself."

It could help to make a stand - for example that of preserving your freedom to think, act and live all right without being dictated. Genuine Buddism both allows and advocates these things, at least for lay persons. With monks and nuns that intend to continue as monks and nuns it could be different, as they are subjected to regulations.

To help in advocating genuine Buddhism and preserve its teachings is good, tells Buddha.


Early Buddhism had much in common with other Indian traditions, most of all yoga, as they all are outlets from the Vedic age (ca. 1500 – ca. 500 BCE). Buddha was trained in certain yogic ways and teaches old yoga methods too.

And as "we advance in Central Asiatic research," writes Professor Pischel, "the clearer it appears that, for a great portion of the Orient, Buddhism was not less a vehicle of culture than Christianity has been for the Occident. . . . I am convinced that Buddha as a philosopher is entirely dependent on Kapila and Patanjali (in Rhys Davids, p. 30, 14)." The works in question are the Sankhya Aphorisms of Kapila and Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. In Chinese Buddhism (Mahayana) and in Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism (Mahayana) there are many translated Buddhist texts. Many of them have become available over the last fifty years or so, adding to what is taught in Southern Buddhism.

As for the cultural impact of Buddhism, the influence of Buddhist religion and philosophy on post-Buddhistic Indian literature is well marked. Also, contemporary Indian thought and culture today is influenced and modified by it. (Rhys Davids, p. 25, 28)

Beginners could profit from sensible gist that is handed over gently enough to count.


Suffering is Unwelcome . . . at Last at Least

Buddism in a nutshell: Either eliminate the sources of stress and other forms of suffering (dukkha), or get better stress resistance and ways of dealing with stress, or all three. It is possible to learn about how to improve on stress-management. There are books on it. You can also move away from a stressful environment, at least in theory. Even better to many, it is also possible to transcend dukkha (stress, suffering, etc.) in meditation, and also to reduce several effects of stress. [◦TM is effective, shows research] Many of these approaches and several more may be combined, aiming for health and sound pleasure, guarding your native happiness and favourable all-round conditions, and avoiding extremes. The teachings of Buddha advocate skilled, decent self-help along such lines, and still others. To apply of teachings as formulated in Buddha's Gentle Middle Way as well as you are up to, is the main idea.

It is fit to guard oneself against great sufferings by such as forestalling, to learn from the errors of others too, and be on your way. Protect and preserve your happiness very well, says Buddha.

Yet, no matter how well you do your part, stress and suffering, dukkha, may come your way anyway. Dukkha is a wide-ranging term that also applies to stresses, pains, ills and unhappiness. Philosophically it is analogous to disquietude, as in being disturbed. The term is also related to anxiety, frustration, misery, affliction, dissatisfaction, discomfort, and sorrow, among others. Among the possible origins of the word dukkha are "uneasy" "unsteady", and "disquieted". [Wikipedia, "Dukkha"]

The so-called Four Noble Truths as formulated by Buddha, aim at getting rid of dukkha. In the sutra Buddha talks of three kinds of dukkha: (a) obvious and often not fully controllable ones, such as pain, illness, old age, dealth and bereavement; (b) from changes, such as violated expectations; and (c) subtle ones in the human mind etc.

Buddha's "cure" for suffering may remind of "The patient died, but the fever left him". Some think he advocates extinguishing oneself, but no, he talks for getting to Nirvana, which is happiness itself, grossly stated - and worth going for, he also says. It is reasonable enough to think that core parts of Buddha's accomplishments gainsay that he was extinguished in Nirvana. Also, the idea that Nirvana is a complete nulling out, stems from copious mistranslations, according to modern scholars. One translator of Buddhist texts, Kåre Lie informs that nibbana (Nirvana) could be translated as extinction, blotting-out,

but from how the word is used, that is a little satisfactory solution, because it opens up to deep-going delusions, as when Europeans gradually learnt to know Buddhism in the 1800s. They thought it was a nihilistic longing for death, a longing to slake the "thirst for living". Closer acquantance with Buddhism shows that to be a very misleading and wrong way of presenting it. (Lie 2005:9-10)

Lie goes on to discuss the various places in the Pali canon where Buddha speaks of Nirvana (nibbana, in the Pali language). Pali texts offer many example of persons who have reached the pinnacle of Buddhism, Nirvana and Paranirvana, and were alive. (Lie 2005:10-12)

It stands to reason to try to prevent illness, such dukkha, to bulwark and be prepared for future sufferings and strains, by preventive, advance measures, and so on. In such way you are able to gain a lot from living, in time. At times there are ways to lessen sufferings and prevent many more of them, such as by living up to "Safety first". Thus, we can increase our odds for making a success in life, if we care enough for it. (Rhys Davids, p. 157]


By avoiding . . . extremes, the Tathagata [Awakened One] has gained knowledge of the middle path which is vision-making, knowledge-making, which makes for calm, for insight, for enlightenment, for Nibbana. [Samyutta-Nikaya, v. 420 L {178]

Frankly, he did not avoid extremes when he sat down beneath a banyan tree to meditate, emaciated after overly fasting, and determined to keep at it even if he should die in the attempt. A good middle course is to eat enough food, and if one meditation session does not bring Nirvana, maybe another session will for the one who takes a break while still alive and by that lives to fight (read: meditate) another day, and so on.

A little story

Tibet's patron saint came to the same all-round conclusion of avoiding extremes. That was after he had gone to extremes for many years, sitting there, meagre and green with rags wrapped around him. He had lived only on nettle soup for years, and said he was most fortunate, far from where people live and dwell.

Milarepa's sister Peta was told he sat and starved himself and was about to die from his sufferings. She screamed, and soon carried a sack of meal to her brother. When she caught sight of him, she became terrified. His eyes lay deep in their sockets beneath the brows, and the body was skin and bone and bluish-green from nettles. The muscles were shrivelled away, and his bluish-green hair was stiff and matted. His limbs appeared as if they were about to break. She said: "Are you a human?"

Then she recognised his voice and fainted. When she woke up, she wailed bitterly.

He said to comfort her: "My body has become a skeleton. I'm like a madman with a green body summer and winter."

She then gave him chhang [an alcoholic beverage] and the food she had brought. He felt very much strengthened and refreshed.

Peta: "I cannot bear to see you in such utter want of clothes and food."

When she had left in search for clothes for him, he realised that proper, supernatural knowledge could be gained by taking well care of one's body and health too, without giving up nourishing food and comfortable clothes. [Milarepa stories] (Evans-Wentz 1969).

Modifications and elaborations

We see that two of those who advocate not going to extremes, had gone to extremes, each in his own way, and survived only barely, it seems. Much depends on some who live to tell. Also, steady and appropriate focus here and now may help gains.

Why has the Exalted One not declared whether the Tathagata exists after death? Because, brother, this is a matter that does not make for things needful to salvation, nor for that which concerns the holy life, nor for calm, nor for insight, nor for enlightenment, nor for Nibbana.

What then has the Exalted One declared?

The path leading to the cessation of dukkha! [Samyutta-Nikaya, ii. 223, and many similar passages] {179]

It is good to keep that in mind, and put that spin on basic terms of Buddhism as well.

Nibbana, for example, is "no place" [Milinda, ii. 182] {232], rather a state of mind excellence. If we make do with focusing on its most glorious aspects here, Nibbana is made a synonym for the acquisition or realization of Truth and mindful Gladness. Buddha likens it to a border town too, thereby illustrating that the roads to truth and insight are not one but many,

having walls and towns and gates, with a wise and prudent gatekeeper keeping out strangers, welcoming friends. . . . Now have I made you a parable . . . and this is the meaning. The town is this body; the gates are the senses, the gate-keeper is conscience; the messengers are calm and insight; the lord is mind; the message of truth is Nibbana. (Samyutla-Nikaya, iv. 195)

This is the supreme Ariyan insight, even knowledge how to destroy all dukkha. Liberty, founded on truth, is firm and sure. That which is genuine is true, even Nibbana . . . That which is genuine, is even Nibbana. (Majjhima-Nikaya, iii, 245)

Buddha explains in the Great Karma Teachings that there is no uniformity in how the further fare is in the hereafter and beyond that again, as much depends on sums of lives. We do well to take that into account against what Mrs. Davids maintains: "There is nothing joyless . . . about death and after." (Rhys Davids, p. 182, 183). Do not be taken in; Buddha says that some who do good in this life, go to a hell, and some who do evil, go to a heaven, for example. It is the long run that doing good counts for something. It may take several lives before karma seeds sprout in conditions that suit them, and later bear good or bad fruits. That is the teaching. To become skilful in the art of meditation and treading the Path well enough counts for something too.

As they plod on, some lay person modifications of the basic Buddhism could be permissible, tells Buddha (cf. Velama Sutta [AN 9.20]).

Vemala and giving along

Once, Buddha was visited by a householder and told him such as: "Whether one gives coarse or choice alms, if one gives with respect, thoughtfully, by one's own hand, then, wherever one is born as a result of having given with respect, the mind will experience pleasantness."

Buddha shows something better than giving with your hands, and that is giving with your tongue, that is oral teachings about the "fit view" part of the Eightfold Path.

So to gain from giving, do it with respect and seek to offer the higher gifts also, Buddha goes on to tell. He says he once was a man called Velama, one who gave very valuable gifts that flowed like rivers, but there were no ones worthy of receiving them.

Buddha tells further that if Vemala had fed just one person with a right view, the fruit of that deed would have been greater than "very valuable gifts that flowed like rivers."

Perspectives need to be right. The attitude one gives with, evaluations of receivers, and how valuable the gifts are in the eye of Buddha. All of that is to be taken into account. Therefore, the worthier the receiving ones are, the better the giver and his or her gains, tells Buddha, and ranks several of them: "Though he sincerely took refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma and the Sangha, the fruit of sincerely undertaking the Five Moral Precepts would have been greater," says Buddha, and that developing focus and loving-kindness is even better. Best of all is cultivating awareness of anicca (impermanence) - even for the moment of a finger snap." (AK Navakanipata, Sutta 20)

What is this awareness of impermance, anicca? It is of a realm and in contrast to nirvana, the reality that is nicca, or knows no change, decay or death. After all, gentle awareness of Nirvana is the wise goal, and a solid goal also.

Rank your gifts, your ways of giving, the worthiness of receivers, and also how much you can afford - and what will become your lot afterwards, for example.

Teachings on how to get rid of sufferings, should not give us deep suffering and misconstrued ideas. If you try to give more than you own, you may be in trouble.


Typical Dilemmas

There can be many dilemmas in life, but there is no attack worth mentioning made by Buddhism on the notion of Brahman as life and order.

In ancient India there was a prolonged controversy between Atman (spirit) adherents and those who opposed the idea of an inner Self (Atman). Within Buddhism too, there were opposing parties in the matter [Self in Buddhist thinking].

Buddha launched an understanding of nirvana (nibbana) that is much similar to the Self, Atman-Brahman: Nirvana (nibbana) is gladness, it is something, not nothing, that it is non-decaying, worth going for in deep meditation. It corresponds to some of the key characteristics of Atman or Self.

Dogmas made by bosses may give rise to dilemmas that both the ego instance and the deep soul admit.

Who says there is no God, and where is the evidence?

To someone who said, "There is no God," I mentioned, "What if he is sitting in some underground cave on one of the moons of Jupiter. That is theoretically possible - just as there is a possibility of life in more than one place in this wide universe. How can you dismiss the possible just because you have not "been there" and inspected fairly and squarely?"

Those who have not inspected every nook of the universe, might even have met God or Self without noticing or recognising it. "It takes one to know one," is a saying to consider in this.

It is a grounding idea in Soto Zen to align oneself and establish one's life in harmony with the characteristics of the Divine.

I have set forth the Dharma without making any distinction of esoteric and exoteric doctrine; nothing is held back. Who has arrived wholly into Truth (a Tathagatha) does not operate with any secret teaching. Who has entered and got established in Truth, has no wish to lead the sangha (community) either (Lie 2005:92, tr. by T. K.).

Those statements are from Buddha's final teachings, the Maha-parinibbana Sutta, part 2, verse 32 [1]. It is the longest text of the Pali canon, and contains a wealth of teachings, including final instructions.



It seems that faith is often wrong, for there are many faiths that go against one another. And wise words may not be wise enough. An example: "Follow the wise one who knows and knows he knows." However, it is hard to be sure that the one who says he knows really knows. Faith soon becomes a problem with many ramifications and cramping.

Parts of teachings could be traps, but which parts, in case? To know it, first get Awakened Buddhism and Hinduism alike teach that wealth, artha righteously attained and had, is very valuable, and among the main life goals. Buddha:

With wealth acquired this way [righteously],
a layman fit for household life,
divides his wealth in four portions:
thus will he win friendship. [Buddha]

One portion he uses for his wants,
two portions he spends on his business,
the fourth he keeps for times of need. [Buddha] [More]

There is a time for detaching oneself from lots of gold also. In a nutshell Maharishi says, "Here is a method that helps development, a way of living which propels development. As you get subtler inside, you subsequently need to drop material attachments and ideas from coarser spheres. In the end you will get to the state of Being." (Yogi 1969:193-96, extracts)

You could learn about TM (Transcendental Meditation) and improve your life and yourself through it. [◦Link]

Be as guarded as you can; that often comes first.


Buddhism at a Glance, Literature  

Evans-Wentz, Walter Y., ed. 1969. Tibet's Great Yogi Milarepa. 2nd ed. London: Oxford University Press.

Gombrich, Richard F. Theravada Buddhism: A Social History from Ancient Benares to Modern Colombo. London: Routledge, 1988, repr. 2002.

Gombrich, Richard F. What the Buddha Thought. London: Equinox, 2009.

Lie, Kåre A, oms. Buddhas samtaler: De lange tekstene. Digha Nikaya. Bind 2. Det store bindet: Mahavagga. Oslo: Solum Forlag, 2005.

Rhys Davids, Caroline A. F. Buddhism: A Study of the Buddhist Norm. Home University Library of Modern Knowledge. London: Williams and Norgate, nd.

Yogi, Maharishi Mahesh. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi on the Bhagavad Gita: A New Translation and Commentary with Sanskrit Text. Chapters 1 to 6. Reprint ed. London: Arkana, 1990 (1967).

Pali Canon collections:

AN - Anguttara Nikaya (Collection of Discourses arranged according to numbers)

DN - Digha Nikaya (Collection of Long Discourses)

MN - Majjhima Nikaya (Collection of Middle-Length Discourses)

SN - Samyutta Nikaya (Collection of Kindred Sayings)


Harvesting the hay

Symbols, brackets, signs and text icons explained: (1) Text markers(2) Digesting.

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