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Mahayana - The Expansion of Buddhist Thought and Practice

In the mythology of the Buddha, it is stated that, in addition to the discourses he gave to his human followers on Earth, the Buddha was also attended by many thousands of bodhisattvas, sentient beings existing on a more expanded plane of consciousness, and that he gave many more teachings in these discourses. It is thought that the Buddha considered these teachings were on a level that his human followers were not ready for yet, that the Buddhist community needed to rely on his direct words for some time so that they could establish themselves as a distinct spiritual path and not get too easily distracted and absorbed by concepts from other paths. So the Buddha entrusted the Mahayana ("expanded vehicle") teachings to a race of beings called the nagas, who were intelligent serpents, or possibly dragons of the sort seen in Chinese and Japanese culture, to be given to humanity when they were ready.

 

The 4 Noble Truths - Marga

There is no way for us to talk directly about nirvana, because words and images are finite things and are therefore unable to directly describe what an infinite consciousness actually is. So we may understand, on an intellectual level, that we are living in a finite, cyclical reality, which is not our true nature, and that the complete expression of who we are, once the bonds of karma are released, is infinite, but unfortunately just knowing that does not actually do anything for us. There has to be a way for us to return to our true self, even though we do not understand exactly what that is.

The 4 Noble Truths - Nirodha

According to Nirodha, there is a way out. This repeated suffering through conditional lifetimes is not inevitable, there is an alternative. The simple fact is that this limited, finite consciousness is not we truly are. Our true self is unbounded and unconditional, not subject to the limitations of body, perceptions, emotions, thoughts and self-awareness, which are states created by our karma and maintained by our attachments to them. If we exist without the attachments, then the karma is released and our consciousness returns to its natural state: infinite beyond time and space.

The 4 Noble Truths - Samudaya Addendum

When discussing the nature of samudaya, the causes of this unsatisfactory existence we are currently experiencing, there is perhaps, especially for us Westerners, the temptation to ask the question "why?" We have identified the source of suffering but we still do not understand why this situation exists. If, for example, we were infinite consciousness once, why did we become finite, limited and subject to suffering?

The 4 Noble Truths - Samudaya

This unsatisfactory reality that we find ourselves in is the direct result of our cravings and our aversions. We desire pleasure, in all of its forms, and we fear pain, in the many ways that we experience it, and through these attachments we create a finite reality for ourselves that, on a fundamental level, is false and illusory. Craving for pleasure and aversion to pain creates a screen, metaphorically, in front of our perceptions which filters out our true nature and presents a fictional narrative in which the drama of our desires and fears plays itself out.

The 4 Noble Truths - Duhkha

Shortly after his enlightenment, the Buddha traveled to the Deer Park outside the town of Sarnath (modern-day Varanasi, now a pilgrimage site for Buddhists) to meet with his former companions, Kondanna, Bhaddiya, Vappa, Mahanama and Assaji, to explain the nature of his experience to them, in hopes that they might also discover their own true natures. That first discourse is detailed in the Buddhist text called the Dharma Chakra Pavottana, and many of the most fundamental aspects of the Buddha's philosophy and practice are contained therein.

Who Was the Buddha? (Conclusion)

From these humble beginnings, with a sangha of 5 monks, the Buddha's quest to spread the Dharma began. Over the next 45 years, he traveled throughout Northern India, wearing only a simple robe and carrying a begging bowl, teaching the path to enlightenment to any who would listen. He had no interest in money or power, and begged for his meals like the other monks. The Buddha felt that his teachings could be transformative for anyone who desired an end to the madness of this cycle of life-death-rebirth. He brought kings to the Dharma, he accepted criminals and outcasts, and ordinary people were welcomed too.

Who Was the Buddha? (part 5)

Having achieved enlightenment and merged his own consciousness into the infinite consciousness of shunyata, the Buddha sat beneath the Body tree and contemplated what he should do next. His own journey was now complete. If his body died, his consciousness would remain in the infinite forever. He knew that he would not be returning to the Earth for another incarnation. So knowing this, he wondered what he should do. He could go out into the world to teach people about his realization, help them to find their way to enlightenment as he had done, but as he meditated on the possibility of becoming a guru, he felt despair.

Who Was the Buddha? (part 4)

At that time, Siddhartha was near the town called Bodh Gaya, in what is today the province of Bihar. He was now 35 years old. Upon finding a fig tree that offered shade and serenity, he seated himself there and entered into a deep state of meditation. He was determined to break through the boundaries of his limited consciousness and attain the goal of nirvana (enlightenment, liberation, self-realization, infinite consciousness), so he vowed to remain in meditation until that goal was achieved. Local villagers, in awe of the miracle that was occurring, brought him food and water, which he was able to take without breaking his meditation, and so he sat beneath his tree for 49 days and nights.

Who Was the Buddha? (part 3)

Having left the comfort of both palace and family, Siddhartha Gautama gave up his princely name and became one of the wandering holy men, a sadhu, whose only possessions were a ragged robe and a begging bowl. At that time, around 500 BCE, there were many who took up this ascetic lifestyle, disappearing into the forests and the mountains to devote their lives to meditation and the promise of enlightenment. On his travels, Siddhartha studied under advanced gurus on two occasions, who pronounced him to be a gifted yogi who would do great things for the world.

Who Was the Buddha? (part 2)

Living in his father's palace, surrounded by material luxury and a loving family, Siddhartha Gautama was still unsatisfied, there was something inside of him that remained unfulfilled. Now in his late twenties, he had never set foot outside the carefully controlled environment that his father had created for him, and a burning curiousity to explore, to mingle with the people he would one day rule, became his constant companion. Unable to resist this calling, he hatched a plot with his faithful servant, Candaka, who drove his chariot, to sneak out of the palace in the dead of night.

Who Was the Buddha? (part 1)

Any serious investigation of the Dharma must begin at the beginning, with the Buddha himself. The teacher we know of as the Buddha lived about 2500 years ago, according to the most reliable accounts, and the circumstances of his birth are very significant when considering the context of his eventual enlightenment.

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