Many Westerners are turned off, or confused by Buddhism because of the traditional way in which many of the Buddhist concept words are translated into English. It appears in many some cases that words were chosen for dramatic effect rather than accuracy of translation. More often a single English word is merely standing in for a Sanskrit, Pali or Japanese word that has no direct translation. It is expected that the Western practitioner will have studied, perhaps for years, before grasping the actual meaning. This is a shame since a lot of the basic concepts are universally valuable to any seeker of enlightenment.
Here we will strive to make Buddhist concepts understandable to students of traditional Wicca by using every-day English words and other terms with which Wiccans should be familiar.
“Zen” is a Japanese word meaning “meditation”. Thus, “Zen Buddhism” is: “Meditation for the purpose of enlightenment”. Since one of the purposes of meditation in traditional Wicca is to advance our enlightenment we make use of many different tools, including Buddhist concepts, to make the most of our meditations.
The basis of Buddhist doctrine is said to have been set down by Buddha immediately after his “awakening” (enlightenment). This doctrine takes the form of “Four Noble Truths”. Buddha is considered to be a fully enlightened being, but not a god.
The “Four Noble Truths” as stated by Buddha are:
1. There is suffering.
2. Desire is a cause of suffering.
3. There is liberation from suffering.
4. There is the Path to Liberation.
If we read these “truths” literally we get the idea that Buddhists are obsessed with suffering and must have a very bleak outlook on life, and that the only cure for this suffering is to give up “desire” which sounds even more bleak. If we dig through enough writings on Buddhism though, we discover that the writers aren't saying that at all.
“Suffering” = Discomfort or pain which can be physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, etc.
“Desire” = An undue attachment; a feeling of wanting or needing something, or being overly attached to something which you believe is essential to your happiness or well-being.
“Liberation” = The insight that comes with awareness; must not be confused with avoiding issues or tuning out, but must result from careful examination, analyzing and understanding of your feelings and attitude about all things.
“Path” = The path of enlightenment.
So, the message of the Four Noble truths can be summed up thus:
“There is much in the world that has the potential for causing us pain, worry and anguish, however, we have the ability to make choices which allow us, instead, to have happy and fulfilled lives.”
If we of the Wise remember that: “All experiences are learning experiences”, we begin to see everything from new angles, with new eyes. Add to that maxim the message from the “Four Noble Truths” and we have plenty of fuel for digging up and eliminating those attitudes, perceptions and habits which are interfering with our happiness and sense of well being.
Attitude and interpretation are everything.
To see how we can use the Four Noble Truths as tools, we need to go back and examine the individual “truths”, this time in their translated form, and look at some examples.
1. There is much in the world that has the potential for causing us discomfort or pain, which can be physical, emotional, mental, psychic, spiritual, etc.
The word potential is emphasized here to call attention to the fact that whether we feel pain or not is largely due to our viewpoint about that which has the potential for causing us pain. While the worst physical pain may only be blocked or tempered with trance techniques all other pain and suffering can be reduced or eliminated through careful examination and analysis of the situation.
2. Undue attachment to, or expectations of, people, places, things, and ideas leads to disappointment and unhappiness.
Emphasis here is on the word undue, which is defined as “Exceeding what is appropriate or normal; excessive”.
You might have undue attachment when your happiness or sense of well-being is dependent on something outside of yourself. When you believe something outside of yourself is essential to happiness then you are putting yourself in a position where suffering can occur.
People, places and things can change or disappear. We must be able to revise or let go of our attachment to these things when it is in our best interest to do so.
3. Insight and awareness reduce discomfort and pain.
Paying attention, examining, studying and understanding our surroundings help us to understand where we have control, how much control we have, and when circumstances may be beyond our control. The lessons found in all experiences are our rewards for awareness. These rewards soften or remove all types of discomfort and pain.
4. The Path is the “The Noble Eightfold Path” (of awareness).
Enlightenment comes with awareness and the assimilation of our experiences. Neither awareness or enlightenment are destinations, they become part of our everyday life when we decide to follow the path.
The “Noble Eightfold Path” of the Fourth Noble Truth - the Path leading away from suffering . It is intended to force an examination of every aspect of the seeker's life. It shows us just how far-reaching our awareness must be.
1. Right View/Understanding.
2. Right Intention.
3. Right Speech.
4. Right Action.
5. Right Livelihood.
6. Right Effort.
7. Right Mindfulness.
8. Right Concentration.
Only two words in the Eightfold Path need translation, then we will elaborate on each of the Eight paths.
“Right” = The way that you know to be the best.
There is rarely a dogmatic, final, “right” way for anything. While specific sects of Buddhism, or specific cultures may have the right way for approaching any given thing, in traditional Wicca we trust that each person on the path of enlightenment will be able to choose what is right guided by common sense, the gods and their own conscience. We should all act in ways that show an awareness of our own beliefs and feelings and knowledge on what is “best” for ourselves, traditional Wicca, and the rest of the world.
1. Right Understanding.
Do you listen, or just wait to talk? When you aren't exactly sure that you understand what you have just heard do you rephrase and repeat a person's words back to them to be sure you have understood correctly? Do you listen and learn without the filters of preconceived notions and prejudice in place?
2. Right Intention.
Intention isn't everything, but it is a step in the right direction. Do you carefully plan your actions so that you achieve your intended goals? Do you choose your intended goals carefully so that you have reason to follow through? This Path is also interpreted as “Right Emotion”, which points toward the feelings which are attached to our intentions. Have we put a lot of thought into our intentions? Are we planning and doing those things which we truly believe in? Paying attention to our emotions as we act should tell us how “right” those actions are.
3. Right Speech.
Where do words go when they have been spoken? Do you think before you speak? Do you ask yourself, “Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?” Do you speak with all the words that should be spoken and no more?
4. Right Action.
“An it harm none, do what you will”. As a traditional Wicca you will spend much time contemplating the import of the Wiccan Rede. The ability to discern cause and effect guides our actions.
5. Right Livelihood.
Do you live to work? Do you work to live? Do you love your work? Do you do what you are? Is your work congruent with your ethics? What impact does your work have on other people? Other animals? The environment?
6. Right Effort.
Are your efforts producing the desired results? Buddhists break this down into four "Right Efforts": Develop the wholesome; Maintain the wholesome; Overcome the unwholesome; Avoid the unwholesome. Of course what is “wholesome” or “unwholesome” will be determined by the individual who is on the “right” path.
7. Right Mindfulness.
What happens when we take something for granted? What happens when we assume? Remember what sets witches and other enlightened beings apart: We pay attention.
Does your mind ever wander when you are doing your Self Blessing, your Food Blessings, or talking to a friend or loved one? Does your mind ever wander when you are preparing and cooking food, and if so what are you thinking about? Does your mind wander when you are driving or operating other potentially dangerous machinery? What is the difference between mindfulness and carefulness? Try going through one entire day doing everything as mindfully as possible.
8. Right Concentration.
Do you go about your life with awareness? “Concentration” is interpreted to mean “state of mind or state of being”, and also as mindset you should have for “meditation or contemplation”. This should begin to show the importance of meditation. Practitioners of Buddhism (and ideally those of traditional Wicca) know that meditation isn't only done when formally “sitting” in meditation. Meditation can occur anytime and anywhere. If you make it a goal to always be in a state where you are aware and "mindful" then you are working on having “right Samadhi”. While we tend to think of meditation as a trance state, it can also occur with full consciousness and deliberation. Anything done with awareness becomes meditation, and helps us achieve the "right" state of mind.
You may experience this state of being only for brief moments of time at first. That's ok. With time and practice and dedication to living as an awake and aware “wise-one” these moments will become longer and longer.
Take refuge in the Buddha.
Take refuge in the Dharma.
Take refuge in the Sangha.
“Take refuge in” = Immerse yourself in…for the purpose of pursuing enlightenment. This is sometimes translated as "Be one with…"
“Buddha” = A fully enlightened (awakened) being or state of being
You embrace the first Treasure when you recognize that there can be enlightenment in your life. In other words, you embrace the concept that you can become an enlightened being.
“Dharma” = Path or teaching of the Buddha; that which points the way to enlightenment
You embrace the second Treasure when you begin to use the tools which can assist in your enlightenment and the enlightenment of others.
“Sangha” = A group or gathering of
people who follow the Buddha's teachings; a group or gathering of people
interested in interested in enlightenment.
A traditional Coven or Mystery School can be viewed as a “Sangha”.
You embrace the third Treasure when you interact with others who are also pursuing a path of enlightenment.
Our training in traditional Wicca can be categorized or grouped in several
different ways. Some of those include following the Paths of Power; meditation
on the Tenets of Faith; the Know Thyself exercises; and working through the
levels within Coven training. Each system is complete in itself
and should prompt us to examine every aspect of our lives, but each also
emphasizes different ways of looking at our lives.
Buddhism also provides the seeker with a variety of tools to make sure no stone is left unturned. The Threefold Training breaks all efforts toward enlightenment into three main categories. Unlike some groupings, which may change with the seasons, or be used only occasionally to double check one's progress, each part Threefold Training is employed simultaneously and constantly.
Samadhi (state of mind; state of being)
Morality: The moral guideline of Wicca is the Rede, which advises us to Harm None. This guideline is, at one and the same time, both very simple and enormously complex. Instead of giving us a list of “commandments”, traditional Wicca gives us one, basic measure against which we test all of our actions and intentions. So, if are using the Threefold Training tool of Morality, we will always ask ourselves, before acting or speaking, “What will the outcome of my words or actions be? Will any harm occur? Am I following the course of least harm?”
In traditional Wicca we also use vows and sacrifices to better ourselves and
to further encourage ourselves to live moral and ethical lives.
Traditional Wicca is a “religion of clergy”. As such we are expected to be self-motivated and self-disciplined. Ultimately we have no one but ourselves to answer to when we break our self-imposed moral code, and we are expected to have a self-imposed moral code. The Threefold Training gives a hint at how to view this self-imposed code. Instead of a list of things we should not do (which begins to sound like a list of commandments), i.e. “don't gossip”, “don't waste natural resources”, etc. The student of Buddhism says, “I undertake the training not to _____.” Notice the differences in the following statements:
1. I vow not to gossip.
2. I vow to try not to gossip.
3. I vow to undertake the training not to gossip.
The first, which is our must usual way to state a vow, hangs over us with the threat, "I will feel like a failure if I slip even once. Slipping on a vow shouldn't (but often does) cause one to give up on the vow entirely.
The second has a built in expectation of failure. Whenever we use the word "try" in a sentence we are including our perception of the difficulty of the task and giving ourselves "out" since we've only vowed to "try", not to actually accomplish the task.
The third, Buddhist method, sounds better and has much more potential for success. When you vow to “undertake training” you will be using every available tool, idea, and opportunity to make your vow a success. You will be counting every step forward - not the occasional slip.
State of Mind; State of Being: How do you feel right now? Examine your mood…are you happy? Calm? Agitated? Angry? Distracted? How do you feel about your current physical surroundings? How are they affecting your mood? How often are you aware of your mood? How much thought have you given to the importance of state of mind and state of being?
Do you have an ideal state of being toward which you are working? Are there people you have known or known of who you look to as good examples of the ideal state of being? (i.e. the Dalai Lama or Yoda) Do you have methods for instant relaxation that work well for you? Do you believe you are projecting the aura you want to project? If not are you confident in your ability to adjust your state of mind and state of being?
State of being is more than how you feel physically and emotionally. It also involves being conscious and aware in the current moment and place. Your attachments, focus, appreciation and involvement in all things, past, present and future affect your state of being. Meditation can and should bring us temporarily into an ideal state of mind and being. The trick is maintaining this state and incorporating it fully into your conscious modes of operating as well.
You must be careful though not to use meditation and other methods of achieving calm to merely anesthetize yourself against those things which might ordinarily cause you pain or distress. We cautioned earlier, where we describe “liberation” as the result of insight that comes with awareness, that you must not achieve this state through tuning out your problems. Instead you must work toward eliminating those things in your life which you now might view as problems. It is much easier for someone skilled at meditation and self-hypnosis to simply avoid those things which cause problems instead of working to solve them, so we have to always be on the lookout for this tendency in ourselves. The exception to this rule would we deal with chronic physical pain which has defied all other means of cure. This is one area ideally suited for application of your skills in relaxation and dissociation.
Wisdom: One may know a lot and still not be wise, one may have lived many years and not be wise. Wisdom is having knowledge combined with experience and knowing how to apply that knowledge and experience well.
1. Greed or wrong desire
2. Hatred or anger
3. Illusion or stupidity or ignorance
This grouping is self explanatory. The fact that greed, hatred, illusion, stupidity and ignorance are categorized as “poisons” should give food for thought.
(A work in progress….)