Buddhism is a religion which, first of all, claims to help people find happiness. This happiness is called, enlightenment by Buddhists and comes about as the result of a transformation which occurs within.
As a religion, Buddhism stresses far more the immanence of God, as contrasted with the transcendence of God. God is within. Buddhism is very dependent upon human effort, and there is considerable responsibility upon the human person to find truth. In Buddhism, wisdom begins with awareness and develops through meditation and contemplation.
Historically, the beginnings of Buddhism can be traced back to one man, Siddhartha Gautama, known as Buddha, which means, “The awakened.” He was born in India about 557 B.C. and was a member of the Sakya clan. He was taught Hinduism at a young age, and at 29, abandoned his family, renounced his possessions and gave himself up to a life of asceticism and thought, in an effort to seek higher truth.
At first he sought out different mentors who would teach him contemplation and meditation to bring him to a state of nothingness. For a time he tried starvation and torture, to no avail, bringing him no closer to the wisdom he sought. It was while sitting under a fig tree, “ficus religiosos” ( as the story goes, “a wisdom tree”), that he became enlightened, saw the great truths and was henceforth awakened and became “The Buddha.”
How much of this is legend and how much is fact? Like many things in Buddhism, it is always best to take the middle path. The Buddha began to wander the countryside, preaching his new creed and bestowing upon others the Four Great Truths and the Eightfold Path to wisdom. The Buddha, died at about the age of 80.
The Four Great Truths of Buddhism are as follows; 1. (Dukkha) Suffering is universal in a rapidly changing world. 2. (Samudaya) Suffering stems from selfish desire, its root. 3. (Nirodha) The extinction of selfish desire causes suffering to subside and ultimately cease, and this is the doorway to deeper insight. 4. (Magga) The way to do away with selfish desire is to follow the eightfold path.
So, what is the Eightfold Path? What is this Magga, called, “The Buddhist Path Of Perfection?” It is comprised of the following: 1. (Samma Ditthi) Right understanding; 2. (Samma Sankapa) Right thought; 3. (Samma Vaca) Right speech; 4.) (Samma Kammanta) Right conduct/Action; 5. (Samma Jiva) Right work; 6. (Samma Vayama) Right effort; 7. (Samma Sati) Right mindfullness; and 8. (Samma Samadhi) Right contemplation.
In Buddhism, The Eightfold Path is also called The Middle Path and is seen as a clear road to follow. Once suffering ceases, one attains what is called Nirvana, which is absolute truth or ultimate reality.
For the seeker of wisdom, the first two elements of the Eightfold Path, right understanding and right thought, constitute the initial finding of wisdom (Panna) in Buddhism. In right thought, all thoughts of selfish desire, hate, negativity, anger or violence are the result of a lack of wisdom, and they begin to cease. In right understanding; it is the understanding of things as they are and understanding the Four Great Truths that things are seen as they are. Thus, right understanding is the highest wisdom, which is not so much a wisdom of knowing (Anubodha), as much as a wisdom of penetrating (Pativedha). It is this “penetrating wisdom” which allows one to see the ultimate reality, or Nirvana.
It has been said by the Zen Buddhist Master Shunryu Suzuki that, “It is the readiness of the mind that is wisdom.” Zen Buddhism is the practice of enlightenment. The practice is about self-realization and awakening to the truths of reality in the here and now. You experience Zen intuitively, because it is not about intellectual thoughts.
In Zen, there is only emptiness, no thought or ego, no preconceived notions. At the heart of Zen Buddhism is “Zazen” which to the novice like myself, can only be approximately described as a seated meditation with total concentration/contemplation of mind and body. Zazen is an experience.
As a Christian, with only an intellectual interest in Buddhism, I believe that Jesus Christ was the most “enlightened” being in all of history. In him, the transcendence of God became immanent on Earth. Jesus not only found the truth that Buddhism promises, he was the truth (JN 14:6). He not only found the wisdom which Buddhism promises (Pativedha), he was the very embodiment of divine wisdom on earth. Jesus not only knew the ultimate reality which Buddhism promises (Nirvana), he became the Logos; which is not only the embodiment of wisdom, but also is the complete summation of all intelligible reality (John, ch. 1).
Michael Hickey is a local writer and poet who lives in Pelican Bay and Swampscott, Mass. His book, “Get Wisdom,” is published by Xlibris Div. Random House Publishing and is available at 1-888-795-4274, ext. 822, at www.Xlibris.com or your local bookstore. E-mail Mike Hickey at Mikehic@nii.net.