2020-01-06: Introduction to Buddhism Part 1: The Story of the Buddha
2:22PM Jun 21, 2020
So, welcome to the first Monday evening talk of the year. And I've kind of used this as an occasion to start a series of talks. And for the plan is for the next 10 times that I'm teaching here Monday evening, to give a series of talks on introduction to Buddhism. And the, and I'm not here every Monday so you could check the IMC calendar to see if I'm here if you want to just come for that series. And one of the one of the things maybe that's prompting me to do this, is that when we first moved here, and I now it's been some 19 years ago, 18 years ago, 19 years ago, 19 years ago, and that was the first Monday. In January was the first you know, talk here, the before that we were for many years in Palo Alto and the church there. And there was a very strong desire and, and this insight meditation movement when it first came to this country, to not include a lot of the Buddhism in it, in order to have mindfulness be accessible to people who Buddhism would be turned off, but there are a lot of people who are interested in Buddhism and, and so it was kind of left, a lot of Buddhism was left out of the insight meditation teacher teachings. And I'm very happy with that, because mindfulness practice is a phenomenally effective practice that supports people with all kinds of ways. And the Buddhism part is kind of optional for mindfulness. But mindfulness is not optional for Buddhism. And so we've kind of content with this, but in the these 2030 years that I've been teaching, Know, the the, the environment for mindfulness has changed dramatically. Now, you know, mindfulness is everywhere, because you have people have it on their apps, in the amount of mindfulness in our society is just astronomical, compared to, you know, years ago when it was hard to find, and it was hard to hear. And I was here at the kind of not exactly a beginning of its time in the United States. But, you know, there was a time it wasn't even here. Right. And, and now, it's a secular mindfulness is just, it's in the schools and believe it or not my son in college, he's in a fraternity which just straight you know, odd enough for me my background, that that's the case. And, and, and there's a meditation group in his fraternity. Now, that's not there's a Congress, you know, cognitive dissonance, I don't know what did you make of that, given my background and with all this, I'll associate I had with these things and, and I recently I was asked to come to the local college and talk to them they weren't they were really eager to get more mindfulness because they say our students come to our college. already knowing mindfulness, they've learned it at school, high schools are in society and everywhere, and there's apps galore and for mindfulness. So what it means is that we don't have to be so careful anymore. Now we can be Buddhist. And, you know, we still I think I still think of us as kind of Buddhist light. We're kind of like almost, yeah, it's a kind of Buddhist light. You know, at the I don't, but it does give us an opportunity or maybe you know, is to not have to be so careful anymore. And what we have to offer something different now than just mindfulness. We have to we have we have the opportunity to offer it now. Much more freely in its original context of Buddha Buddhism. So I think it's a little bit behind this wall offering an hour an introduction to Buddhism for these 10 weeks. So first more introductory words about Buddhism and then we're going to go into the world of Buddhist myth. And an overarching way generalization that I've heard no one else ever make. There are two kinds of religions in this planet. And what they share and what caused What, what, what we what we makes them religions, is they have to do with teachings and practices that
are of ultimate value. The ultimate meaning ultimate purpose of people's lives, meaning it has represents the highest purpose or values that people live their lives by And the purpose in which they wants to infuse or bring into everything they do. It's kind of like the foundation of what their life is about. And so whatever it is that brings that kind of ultimate value purpose, that's that pervasive in their lives, I call it religion, you might have a different definition, you might not want to use my definition. But with that definition, there are two types of religion. Generally, there's theistic religions. And there's humanistic religions. And theistic religions, as the name says, says, is founded and based upon deities that divinities Gods such things and often come with that is some relationship to a transcendent world. transcendent reality, like so there's a heaven that these transcendent reality something completely separate and distinct from this world here. And that often goes along with theistic religions, and that the that transcendent reality of different types plays a big feature And so Buddhism is in the class of some religions which are humanistic, in that they're human centered. And there there isn't a transcendent being or Divine Essence among that's in a different dimension of reality and a heavenly realm or some transcendent reality that's quite radically distinct from this world we have here. And so the humanistic religions tend to be based on values and purposes and experiences that human beings can know for themselves. The istick religions are often based on many people who participate them are based on things that generally people don't actually know for themselves, but they come from through books or comes through teachers or tradition or something. It's a generalization and, and so Buddhism has really based in the Buddhist That's certainly I teach the Buddhism that I feel like I belong to and the Tera vaada. Buddhism is humanistic in nature. But historically over time, it has because of maybe human nature or something. It's often kind of started to evolve towards theistic directions. And there are forms of Buddhism that would be, I think, in my definition, theistic forms of Buddhism, where there are kind of supernatural beings, kind of godlike beings where there are transcendent realms and heavens are very important in touch things like that. And so Buddhism is not separate from that as many kinds of Buddhism's but the Buddhism that we teach here at IMC comes from the Buddhism of Southeast Asia, Buddhism of Thailand and Burma, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, and A tradition called tera, vaada, and Buddha, tera, vaada, Buddhism, and vada means like doctrine or teaching, and tera means the elders. So it's the teachings of the elders. So it's the teachings of the, the ancients, who are to the Buddha and his disciples. And this tradition makes the claim that it represents the earliest teachings of Buddhism going right back to the historical Buddha. And, and if there's any living Buddhist tradition, that can make that claim kind of responsibly, or something hates the Tera vaada Buddhist traditions of this tradition here. Most other forms of Buddhism that survived into the Common Era kept other kind of origins in Asia and teachings and stuff like that. So, and if you go back and really dig into this earliest tradition and try to really do some text critical studies, To see what was really being taught back there, and what was the earliest teachings of Buddhism, it the more you dig and look, the more it has a very strong humanistic quality to it. And really based on what people can experience and know for themselves, pointing to our own experience, pointing to ourselves, being our own teacher, and and pointing to something we can discover in ourselves of ultimate value of ultimate purpose, ultimate meaning that can be a really, you know, so central to people's lives that it's can be called a religious life. So, but, you know, so in the earliest time, that's my reading of it, it's relatively humanistic. But there's a little strange thing that goes on. And that
is that it seems like from the earliest records we have this person that we now call the Buddha didn't quite Want to go along with being defined or being seen in the usual ways in which people identify human being? He didn't quite, you know, maybe have the one or two like you didn't want to be identified, you know, as a, I didn't know what but as a plumber or as a parent or as a, you know, a son or, or he didn't want to be identified as many things. In fact, if someone asked him who are you one very famous story, he answered, I am awake. But that doesn't tell me much. Where were you born and you know, who are your parents and you know, it's not like I'm awake. And, and then another. The most common way that he referred to himself, like the name he used for himself was this little unusual title called targeter. So it's very rare that he called himself Buddha and he's other people were calling him that. But he's called, he called himself the target. And the target probably means we don't really know what it means. It has two possible meanings. It means either the one that usually people say, the one who is thus gone, or the one who has thus come. And I think, whether I'm suspected meaning I mean something, like more closely to something like the one who is thus. So who are you like this? I mean, it doesn't give you much right. You know, you get what you see, you know, this is what it does. In some ways, it's quite refreshing. to just be this just not have to be definition not have to be anything for anyone and don't have to prove yourself or apologize for yourself or Explain yourself, you just, you know, just show up and you don't carry any baggage with you of your identity. And you just, you know, I'm thus like this. And then we'll see where we go from there. So, so, in this kind of this kind of way, I also he didn't seem he did talk about himself some, but mostly he talked about himself as a example for what he had to teach. It didn't seem like there's no biography of him in his lifetime. in their early life, he didn't kind of say, I'm going to tell you my story of my life that he didn't do and he didn't want to define himself in ordinary terms. human terms, so was a human. And, well, you know, well, of course, he was human, but he's kind of like a little bit a morphus. Little bit not he's not quite there and the way we expect from a human being in terms of a definition So even at seemingly the earliest kind of records we have, he's kind of a little bit not quite being described or understood in ordinary human terms. Well, it turns out that that's also then a very nice blank slate kind of inkblot. You to fill in and down through the centuries, Buddhists have filled it in. And, and there are some pretty phantasmagorical stories about the Buddha and his life and who he is. And you can, you can watch if you watch the development of historical texts over time you watch the growth of what I call the Buddhist myth. You're not really supposed to talk about others religions as they have myths, because, you know, myths are not supposed to be true, right? They believe them. But since I'm a Buddhist, I think I'm allowed to admit that There are these, you know, amazing myths. And that I don't take as being literally true it's just a little bit too too much to believe as being true. But they're kind of fascinating and fascinating as myths. I there's some people point out that myths have their own truth. Sometimes myths can be more true than reality, because they point to sign the underlying underlying patterns underlying realities and drying kind of processes, truths, understandings of our life that really speak to people kind of like poetry. So I'm going to offer you the myth, the myth of the Buddha's life.
We know very, very little. That's actually what we about him as a person. We don't know what his name was. Nowadays, we say his name was siddartha. But the words this name siddartha first appears in text five Hundred Years after he was born. So it's possible that you know, he, you know, that was his name, but you seem to appear much later. There's all kinds of aspects that people tell stories people make about the Buddha. Most of what I'm going to say today is not probably never happened. And, but it's makes a good story, especially an Angus valuable story, if you're willing to suspend disbelief, enough to take it as poetry to take it as kind of pointing to something about every person. Something about you. And I'll give you at least one example as I go along of how I do this around the Buddhist birth, when I teach children so once upon a time are far away. There was in India in northern India, there was a king in a queen. We don't know that the Buddhist parents were kings and queens. But they gave birth to the Buddha who has a prince, there's no much later This is like hundreds, hundreds of years later this came up this kind of idea. So I'm gonna stop making these caveats or these footnotes with notes. But just to give you an example, so once upon a time, there was these kings and king and queen. And at some point, the Queen was pregnant to give birth. And she and she then, as apparently was a custom was going to give birth in her own home country. So she left the world where she was living with a king and was walking back home to her country. And on the way the contractions began, or something she knew she was going to give birth. And so halfway between the countries under a tree, she's she's stood standing, lifted one hand up to hold the branch. And the Buddha was born out of her side, because that's what is pure or something. And or at least a Syrian. And, and the Buddha popped out. And the first thing he did was he took seven steps. That's pretty precocious. He took seven steps. And then he pointed one finger to the sky and one finger to the earth. And he said, heaven above earth below. I am the world. Honored One. So that's pretty good for a newborn. Oh, and then as he walked the seven steps, he didn't actually touch the ground. Yeah, Davies came and put their hands or lotus petals or something underneath his feet and held him up so you don't have to touch the ground. So I'll tell the story, the story two kids, and I say that's strange, you know that someone would say that about themselves. I'm the best in the world. You know, however, the way we should understand that can understand this story. And they go around to each kid and I say, You're the most wonderful person in the world. You're the most wonderful year, the most wonderful year, the best year the government all the kids like that. And they said, there's a some way in which everyone is the best, everyone is the most the World Honored One. And that's the you know, that's my interpretation to the story that everyone comes to realize that they're using unique and special and important and valuable, and to the whole enterprise of Buddhism is to inhabit that so thoroughly, that you end up having no conceit whatsoever. Isn't that great? So, the idea of conceit and being defined that way you want to be free of that. But so you start with that kind of underlying basic foundation. So that's my interpretation of that story. So, then he was raised, and by the king and the queen, and soon after his birth, there was a came a a sage,
a Tisa I think his name is came to see the baby. And he looked at the baby and looked at his signs, look at you know, could read signs on the body or something. And Sage said, lo and behold, this is a phenomenal person. This person will grow up Either to be a world ruling monarch ruled the whole world or a great sage. A Buddha Well, the father didn't think much of this you know, religious life, you know, for a son, it was his first son and he you know, he the idea of being, you know, following in the footsteps of the Father and taking over the kingdom and becoming a world renowned monarch, I mean, that was the way to go. So, the father then built all these palaces, to raise three palaces apparently to raise his son and one for each season, the three seasons they had it in this is now in the in the foothills of the Himalayas and, and built these palaces in order to protect his son. So his son would not see any human suffering. Because if he was afraid if he saw human suffering, really saw the human condition, that then he would go their religious route. But he wanted to make sure he went the king route. So, you know, he made sure that he was living in a gated community. And he made sure that he went to private schools. And, you know, and had all the luxuries of his life and, you know, and probably lived in Woodside.
And so, so that's an interesting way to be raised. And at some point, as a young man, I think it was, it was just you know, so he was married, probably it was a custom of his time when he was late teens, and he was married for a good number of yours because it says that this happened probably around the time he was 29 He, he got kind of curious about what's outside the palace walls. And so he had a chariot here, his chariot here to kind of get the horses ready and get the chariots ready and, and and somehow was able to get out, sneak out of the palace and, and went riding around the seat part of the world. And lo and behold, he saw something he'd never seen before. He saw an old person, and he asked his charioteer, what's that? And Cheerios here said, that is an old person. It's the nature of all people to become old. Wow. So then they went back home the next night and the next day they snuck out again. And this time, they saw a sick person. Probably really sick. The Buddha said, What's that? That's a sick person to nature of all beings to be sick. Wow. He had no idea. He was so protected. And so then the next day they went out. And they said, What is that? That's a dead person. And for coincidentally, the first time I ever saw a dead person was not far from where the Buddha sought in the MIT. It was in Kathmandu when I was 11. And they were carrying a body down, down to the river to be burned. So maybe you saw something similar. And bacteria tear said that's a dead person. It's the nature of all people to die. The fourth day, the Buddha went out. They saw a renunciant someone who had contemplative devoted himself to the spiritual life religious life. And he was walking down the street in a very different way. And the Buddha never seen anybody walk calmly, self is self possessed with kind of clarity and presence and simplicity and conducting himself very different than most people not not looking at the billboards and the advertisements googling people and, and so, the boy said, What is that? That's a renunciant. That's a contemplative. So these, these four sites are called the four heavenly messengers. And, and these are the messengers that came to the Buddha to show him what this human condition is like, that he'd been protected from. And I think it's not uncommon for people to know whether it's consciously done or unconscious or You know, to be protected from a lot of what goes on this human life to not really see the degree of suffering that exists in this world and the challenges of the world that people have and but even what we all share, you know, for lucky enough, we get old will be sick someday, we're gonna die. And for the Buddha, this became an existential crisis. This became something that can imagine someone growing up already fully grown to see this for the first time what's going on here, I had no idea. This made a huge impact. So much so that the palace life now seemed uninteresting for him. He felt like now I have to get to the bottom of this. I have to kind of see what's going on here. To understand this. I have to find what's been what's beyond this or the freedom or the awakening or something that has greater value or find something here So then the next night the Buddha snuck out again and, and had his tears here, take him to the edges of the country. And then when he's going across the river, he took his sword. And he cut off his beautiful long hair and took all this jewels royal jewels off and his nice clothes off, gave him just Cheerios here, and then went forth into the world. And that's called the Great renunciation, renouncing the palace life. And
many of people know that the Buddha also there's this way the Smith Goes. That same day, his wife gave birth to his first only son. And, and in spite of just having a newborn baby, he left and that's pretty shocking in modern terms. In the ancient world, some people say that he as a as the male of the household of the royal household. He had fulfill his duty. The most important role he had was to make sure there was an heir to the throne. And so once he had a son he was free to do this go off and discover something. And I think in some ways that's pretty dramatic what he did. But remember that there were no schools universities there were no IMC is down the street. There was a you know, so little that was available for someone who really wanted to understand this world understand spirituality, there's like up there when you could wasn't a therapist, you can go see down the street either. There was no nothing. And so what there was the only thing that was available for people with that kind of inquiring spirit, that kind of existential need was to go forth leave the regular lady life and be a renunciant being ascetic be a contemplative and live that life. So then he went off, and, and the first thing he did was he went and found the meditation Teachers of his time. And those teachers taught him how to go into very deep states of trance. And he became the best of the best students of his teachers can be equals to them and the ability to go into deep meditative meditations, trances. And he realized that now that he masters, his teachers, teachings, this didn't really address the existential issues that he was concerned with. And so he left them. The other option that was available at his time was a set of ascetic practices, starving oneself and eating just one rice Colonel a day and, you know, sleeping, having no clothes, sleeping outdoors all the time and just, you know, severe asceticism, one of them was holding one's breath until one fainted almost. And there are gruesome stories of you know, being because, you know, what are these myths that got formed around the Buddha, he always had to be the person who was best at anything. With everything, because that was makes him that's, you know good publicity for for getting new new adherents. And so he, you know, he did asceticism, you know more than better than anyone else had done to the point where he, he collapsed. And I think at the edge of a river and laid there as if dead, and the people who saw I'm laying there, though this person is dead, but somehow he revived himself enough. And he thought, you know, I've now done asceticism better than anyone right up to the edge of dying. This is not providing the answer either dying is not going to provide the answer. So then he decided to start eating. When he started eating to get some energy cooking, he had some companions who were also ascetics, who then saw that he had you know, now he was indulging. Now he was giving up the status So they were kind of upset with him. So they left. He was left alone. And then he went to looking for a place to sit and he found this tree. That's called the Bodhi tree. And nowadays, it's a ficus tree. And it was a beautiful place not far from a river. And he sat there and he's wondering what to do. And what's what's next. And he'd done two different things that the religious people of his time it offered, didn't work. And then he remembered a story remembered an event in his life. That I think the myth says it happened when he was seven. And which his father was doing the Royal the first ceremonial plowing of the spring. And so father in the entourage is out in the fields plowing and the seven year old was left under a rose apple tree at the edge of the fields. It was probably a comfortable spring day, nice weather, feeling of safety of contentment, just watching some activity in the fields maybe. And in that sitting upright just sitting there and not, you know, not doing anything not being anything, not trying to accomplish anything, just kind of sitting there in a very easy, relaxed way. His mind got settled, relaxed,
collected, unified. And he entered into the first of the deep jhana meditations into a state of great ease, peace well being. And as an adult, he remember that he said that, that well being I had that sense of well being and peace and joy that I felt in that meditation state as a seven year old. That is, that is the path to liberation, because that doesn't depend on anything in the world. It's experience a well being that's free From preoccupied free of being caught up in sensual desire and, and hatred and fear and all the kind of things that people get caught up in, I was really free of all those things. And their well being I had kind of had that feeling of freedom in it, because it just welled up from inside, not dependent on anything. He said, that's the path. And so then he continued that evening, and then through the night doing this, that that line of meditation, it's not a trance, where you kind of go into some formless realm and really disconnect from the world. But it's a deep state of meditation, that is very much connected to oneself connected to this world connected to the body, but where there's deeper and deeper states of stillness, stillness, of freedom of the mind from its preoccupations, freedom from being caught up in thoughts and ideas, identity, desires of all kinds. And the mind, in a sense kind of can settle on itself and come home to itself. It's no longer fragment and caught up with all these things. It's a remarkable experience to be able to settle so deeply that we're not in conflict or preoccupied or chasing everything with our minds. And then he was on the brink of become of awakening of liberation. But there happens to be this semi. Well, it's kind of a deity, but not most deities are good. But this one was the bad ones. And, and this state is called Mara. And Mara's job description is to prevent people from getting enlightened. Yeah, and to keep people immersed in the world of sensual pleasures and central pursuits. And Nora saw finally someone's going to leave them realm, someone's going to leave the world of sensual pursuits and become free. So we have to stop this. So Mara came with his army huge battalions of people and, and started to try to frighten the Buddha from getting enlightened and through spears and arrows and flashing swords and axes and, you know, you name it, they threw at the Buddha. And the Buddha just sat under the tree meditating and did nothing and every arrow and spear and axe that was thrown, turned into flowers and fell on the ground around him. So then Mara said, Okay, this is not working. Let's try something Else. So Mara got his daughter's birthday, Mara had some really gorgeous daughters, who I guess had been trained for this purpose maybe to try to somehow Do what? I'm not going to say what, but it tried to present himself in such a way that he would be more interested in them then his pursuit for enlightenment. And they did what they do what they did, and probably a little bit x rated and but Buddha sat peacefully, didn't take the bait. So then Mara came with his biggest weapon. He came up to the Buddha himself, and he said, What right? Do you have to become enlightened now Not a few people have a lot of doubt about themselves. They feel they're unworthy they feel I can do it. I'm not deserving all kinds of things about for many things in life. But you know, when it comes to something as powerful as spiritual liberation, it can come it can rear its head pretty strongly. What right do you have to do this?
And so, in reply, this time the Buddha responded, and this time he took his hand like the statue here, the statue here is the picture of what the Buddha did. When Mara came, Buddha sitting meditating. And the Buddha takes his right hand and pulls it over his his knee and touches the earth. And he says he, I says, I call upon the earth, as my witness, to become enlightened by witness to my right to become enlightened. And when he touched the earth, there was an earthquake that was attested to his worthiness to be enlightened. And that frightened Mara away. And Mara ran away. And then the Buddha continued to meditate. And then in the early morning, as the sun was rising, he there was a deep transformation. He had a deep insight, a deep understanding of reality, that so that he was able to let go in a very deep way. And, and that letting go was his awakening is enlightenment. And then he went off to teach. And he had a career teaching that lasted over 40 years. And now we're in ancient India, but he got to be about 80 or 81 years old, which is fairly old at that time, I guess. And he had his challenges as a teacher now. Nothing too big. But then at some point when he was about 80 years old, it was time for him to die. And he, at that time he was walking back to his home country, make some sense. Maybe you want to die in your home country and he was walking back. But he didn't make it. At some point, he got sick. And he actually got very sick twice and that trip the first time he was in tremendous amount of pain. And I said the only way he gets some relief from his pain, was in deep meditation, those deep trances that he'd been taught when he was young, he then use them in order to kind of cope with the deep pain he had. When he got better, then he continued to walk. And then after eating something, we don't know what he ate to say they're the it's the the original language. Food creators called pigs delight. And some people think maybe it takes some pork that was bad. Some people think is maybe pigs delight as mushrooms to the wild pigs like to eat. No one knows what it is. But he was offered it by someone. And then it was offered to have that meal. He said, I'm the only one who can eat this. Don't give it to anyone else. But I'll eat my portion and bury it. Otherwise, it's not gonna work for other people. So he ate it. And then he got sick. And so you walk a little bit further, and then he felt he was going to die. So he laid himself down under two trees. And under those two trees, he then for a couple of days or a day or something just was available for the villagers that people around his disciples to come and visit him and he gave his last teachings. One of the last things he said to his disciples was, do you Have any questions, any questions left over? And they said no. Or they didn't say anything. And he asked like three times, I think, and don't you know, you may be out of respect for me being sick and dying. You don't ask me. But please ask. And no one said anything so okay. And then he said,
then when the last thing he said was something like, all things are impermanent. practice hard, strive with diligence. And then he closed his eyes. And he went into the deep meditation states that he knew. He kind of did a last tour through these deep meditation states. There's eight of them, and he went kind of through them systematically. And when he was in the deepest one, someone asked one of the monks, is he dead, and the monk who was also a deep meditator knew that he was the Buddha was not that he was in this deep state of meditation. And then the Buddha started coming back from is going through the deepest place to what's called the middle one, the fourth what's called the fourth absorption. And in that deep, blissful, peaceful, very peaceful state of meditation, he let go. And conventionally he died, he passed away. And, and that's the myth. And it's a myth of someone who discovered how to be at peace, so that when it was time for him to die, he could die peacefully. He was no no fear, no distress. He had done what he had to do. He felt complete it passed his teaching on he asked them Do you have any more questions and they said no. And, and to have that ability to die without ease and pieces, quite a phenomenal thing. It's quite phenomenal to have it even if none These stories are true. It's quite phenomenal for this person who set them have set in motion, a religious tradition that continues right to today. And, and this myth, you know, is maybe the myth of every person, the myth that somehow or other, we are protected somehow or other we don't really understand what's really going on here for us in our lives. We don't really understand why we suffer. We don't really some of us don't really face our existential issues of our lives, some people do, and that, in order to really face them, we have to turn towards them, sit with them, and then in deep insight, deep ability to sit and really look honestly at what this life is about. We ourselves can find something called awakening we ourselves can find a level of peace, resolution of this existential issues of our life. So that not that we're in a hurry to die, but when it's time to die, that we've had a very full, very meaningful, very purposeful life, we've touched into something very true about human life. That gives us a degree of peacefulness, freedom, love and compassion for this world. That is one. That is what Buddhists have been pursuing or practicing for ever since. So that's the myth. And the Buddhism that has lent headed off into this is theistic religion. When we come back next time, I won't be here next week, the next time I pick up this series, then I'll offer you much more my kind of interpretation of this humanistic Buddhism and very much, you know, based on some of the existing earliest texts, rather than from the myths and so you'll get a very different flavor. What Buddhism can be, but I hope I was hoping I could tell this story as a good storyteller and tell it in a way that's inspiring as with the rest poetry, so I don't know how well I did but, but and so go out and look for your heavenly messengers, and then come back and we'll pick up a story from another way. Thank you.