St Buddha and the Way

Today, on the 27th of November, we celebrate the memory and teaching of St Ioasaph, or maybe you know him by his Arabic name, Yudhasaf.  I am sure you have heard his Sanskrit name, Bodhisattva.  This is the feast of the Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha.

I often take a lot of heat when I talk about the Buddha as a historical saint of the church, but he is.  Why wouldn’t he be.  His teachings, Dharma, are the same as the teachings of God and Christ.

In his first sermon, called the Turning the Wheel of Dharma into Motion, Buddha taught the core of his way, the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path.

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The Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path

Many Christian groups misunderstand the heart of the Buddha’s Teachings.  They confuse the Salvation Christ taught (Reconciliation with God) with the Salvation the Buddha taught (The Cessation of Dukkha).  Jesus taught us about our relationship with God and our neighbors.  Buddha taught us about our relationship with ourselves and our actions.

All is Dukkha (Suffering/Craving/Unsatisfying)

The first Noble Truth is that all is Dukkha.  All life is Dukkha.  Dukkha is a hard word to translate.  It means suffering, craving, and unsatisfying.  I don’t think anyone can disagree with that.

Nothing we do satisfies us for long.  “Man that is born of a woman is of few days and full of trouble (Job 14:1).”  We have what we don’t want, or we want what we don’t have.  That is the heart of the first Noble Truth.

Remember the words of the Preacher, “Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labor that I had labored to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun (Ec 2:11).”

“For what has man of all his labor, and of the vexation of his heart, wherein he has labored under the sun?  For all his days are sorrows, and his travail grief; yea, his heart takes not rest in the night. This is also vanity (Ec 2:22-23).”

We feel this emptiness in all the things we do.  We have to find the cause and solution.  Jesus gave is own version of the Four Noble Truths.

“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me you might have peace. In the world you shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world (John 16:33).”

Dukkha is caused by attachment and aversion.

Why is life unsatisfying?  Buddha taught that we suffer because of attachment and aversion.  It is like James said:

“Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempts he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.  Then when lust has conceived, it brings forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, brings forth death (Jas 1:13-15).”

All sin and death, all suffering, is born out of lust, our attached desire to have or get away from something.  We lie out of our lust to be praised or to avoid trouble.  Giving into this lust is the source of all our suffering and craving.

Our attachment is the source of our suffering.  This is the second Noble Truth.

Nirvana (Wellbeing/The End of Suffering) is a real part of existence.

Returning to the words of Our Lord:

“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me you might have peace. In the world you shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world (John 16:33).”

We too can find this peace in life and in the world.  The end of suffering is real.  

“Happy is the man that finds wisdom, and the man that gets understanding.  For the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold.  She is more precious than rubies: and all the things you can desire are not to be compared unto her.  Length of days is in her right hand; and in her left hand riches and honor.  Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.  She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her: and happy is every one that retains her (Pr 3:13-18).”

Nirvana is attained through the noble eightfold path:

How can we find wisdom and thus the peace of Nirvana?  The Buddha taught the Eightfold Path.

Samma-Ditthi (Complete or Perfect Vision/View/Understanding)

Right View or Right Understanding comes first.  We must seek wisdom in everything we do, and always desire to see the world as it is.

“How much better is it to get wisdom than gold! and to get understanding rather to be chosen than silver (Pr 16:16)!”

As the Apostle Paul said, “Wherefore be not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is (Eph 5:17).”  This is the beginning of the path.

Samma-Sankappa (Right or Perfected Emotion/Aspiration/Thought/ Attitude)

Right Thought comes next and at the same time.  Each step on the path must come together one with another.  Don’t think that these are steps like in a recipe.  They are the attributes we need to develop within ourselves.

Right Thought is very important.  “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he (Pr 23:7a):”

This is one of the most important lessons we can learn.

“Jesus said unto him, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like unto it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets (Matt 22:37-40).

This is the law and the prophets.  To see the world as it is.  To see the world as God does.  Perfect and broken.  Lost and found.

The other reason this is so important for us to learn is as the wise man said:

“He that has a wayward heart finds no good: and he that has a perverse tongue falls into mischief (Pr 17:20).”

Samma-Vaca (Right/Perfected/Whole Speech)

Right speech follows closely on right view.  As we learned in

our study of the Word of God we build our perception of the world from the words we say.  In many ways the world is what we say it is.

“Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones (Pr 16:24).”

Our words reveal a lot about us, everything from what we believe to who we really are.  

No time is this more true then when we are alone.  The words that pop into our mind.  The words we say when we think we won’t be overheard.  The words we say in secret reveal far more then the words we say in public.

“A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks (Luke 6:45).”

Far too often, the most outwardly religious among us are the gossips.  Far too often, the most hateful among us are the religious.  Far too often, those who have the most to hide among us are the religious.  This is why Our Lord taught us not to judge others, but to cast that eye of discernment inward so as to cleanse the house of God that we are.

It is not the words that we say it is the words that we let ourselves think and say that drive us from the path and breed suffering for ourselves and others.  Be mindful of the words that arise within you and vigilant of the words you say.

“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridles not his tongue, but deceives his own heart, this man's religion is vain (Jas 1:19,26).”

Samma-Kammanta (Right/Integral Action)

Right action is something we religious like to talk about a lot.  We either proclaim it’s absolute necessity or it’s absolute futility.  Do this!  Don’t do that!  Thou Shalt, Thou shalt, Thou shalt not.

Our actions are both the evidence of our inner life and the seeds of our future life.  With every action we take we either prove our faith, disprove our faith, sow seeds of growth or seeds of destruction.

“Even so faith, if it has not works, is dead, being alone (Jas 2:17).”

As James knew, one builds the other.  Actions can lead to faith, and faith can lead to actions.  

It is easy to forget that our actions speak for themselves.  They build up the picture that others have of us and of how we see ourselves.  The children of God in Christ must:

“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven (Matt 5:16).”

Samma-Ajiva (Right/Proper Livelihood)

“Whether therefore you eat, or drink, or whatsoever you do, do all to the glory of God (1Cor 10:31).”

Right Livelihood might be the hardest deed of all.  This encompasses everything that we do: the job that we have, how we treat our children, even what and how we eat.  

Christ said “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect (Matt 5:48).”  We so often take this out of context.  Jesus was talking about how we love our neighbors and how we love our enemies.  How we treat everyone and everything we come in contact with throughout our day.  In this we should have right livelihood, being perfect and showing compassion to everyone and everything regardless of how we feel or think about them.  

Samma-Vayama (Complete/Full/Right Effort/Energy/Vitality/ Diligence)

“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.  Those things, which you have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with You (Phil 4:8-9).”

Right effort may be the easiest thing for us to gage.  I can hope my speech, livelihood, or any of the others are right; but if we are honest with ourselves we know when we are putting the effort in and when we are not.  

How often have we let ourselves off the hook saying something like: I know I should be nicer to them, but I just don’t like them; or I know I shouldn’t have done that but I just couldn’t help myself.  Excuses are the easiest and most natural thing but they only help to tear us down.

“Whether therefore you eat, or drink, or whatsoever you do, do all to the glory of God (1Cor 10:31).”

How do you eat to the glory of God?  Be civil, polite, refrain from gluttony and drunkenness.  It sounds so easy.  I think that is why the apostle brought up food and drink.  They are so mundane it’s not: every time you help the homeless do it for the glory of God.  

He is trying to remind us of the effort we need to put into every aspect of our lives not just the moments we think are important but every single moment.  Living in God so that his glory in light may shine on all that we encounter without boasting.  This truly is right effort.

Samma-Sati (Right/Complete/Thorough Awareness/Mindfulness)

Right Mindfulness my be the greatest of all the spiritual disciplines for by it we can discern all the others.  As Paul said, “While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Cor 4:18).”

I dare to say the things unseen are not necessarily invisible.  Many things happen right before our eyes unseen.

Mindfulness is learning to not just pay attention to what is going on around us and within us but to be present in the moment they happen.  

We have all had the experience of someone yelling at us, but how few of us were mindful in that moment.  Instead of trying to see what is going on and why, we start thinking about what we are going to say and do or we start dwelling in the times that it has happened before.  This like all moments is a time for mindfulness a time for us to see what is really happening.  Did they misunderstand me?  Did I misunderstand them?  We won’t know the answer if we are not in the moment present with the grievance.  

Think about what Jesus said: “And why do you behold the mote that is in your brother's eye, but consider not the beam that is in your own eye?  Or how will you say to your brother, Let me pull out the mote out of your eye; and, behold, a beam is in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of your own eye; and then shall you see clearly to cast out the mote out of your brother's eye (Matt 7:3-5).”

How often do we criticize others for our own faults?  We could be exaggerating their problems because ours is so big before us.  We could be imputing a problem to them that they don’t have at all.  If we are not mindful in the present moment we can not trust any of the thoughts and actions that we take.

Samma-Samadhi (Full/Integral/Holistic Samadhi/Concentration/ Meditation/Absorption/One-pointedness of Mind)

“No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon (Matt 6:24).”

Right Concentration takes many forms it could be our focus in meditation, or our state of mind when we perform an action.  Christ is right we can not serve two masters.  When working, playing, or giving charity if we serve our money we are not serving the will of God.  So how do we know?  

Any thing we set before God is an idol.  It does not matter if it is a saint, the bible, our morality, or our practice.  God is love.  God is compassion.  Any thing that comes between us and compassion is an idol distracting us from God and showing that we do not have right concentration.  

“Set your affection on things above, not on things on the Earth (Col 3:2).”

The things above does not mean the afterlife.  Heaven, hell and purgatory are right here and now.  God is here and now.  The kingdom is here and now.  

The wise man tells us that wisdom stands at the gate of the city crying out for any who will hear.  We can not hear if we are not listening.  We can not hear if our prayers are nothing more then us prattling off wish lists to the Divine Santa.  We can only hear when we listen.

Remember Elijah when he went out to the mountain.  God was passing by there was and earthquake, God was not in the earthquake.  There was a fire, God was not in the fire.  There was a mighty gust of wind and God was not in the wind.  Then came a still, small voice.

A quiet inner voice isn’t dramatic enough for a Cecil B DeMille film, but it’s dramatic enough for God.  So, we go into our stillness, into the present moment and listen.  We listen for Wisdom’s cry and if we do not hear it we ask her to cry out again.

“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraides not; and it shall be given him.  But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavers is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.  For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.  A double minded man is unstable in all his ways (Jas 1:5-8).”