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(13 pages total)

Page 5 - From India to China: Transformations in Buddhist Philosophy

The Four Noble Truths are as follows:

1. That suffering exists.

2. There is a cause to suffering.

3. Suffering can cease.

4. There is a path which leads to permanent cessation of suffering.

It is interesting to note an important distinction. Buddhism holds that life is suffering, not evil, such as some of the Hindu pundits of the time proclaimed. Suzuki claimed that Mahayana Buddhism (the variety which was accepted in China) was the "first...teaching in India that contradicted the doctrine of Nirvana as conceived by other Hindu thinkers. The Nirvana of the Hindu yogis was a complete annihilation of being, for they thought that existence is evil, and evil is misery, and the only way to escape misery is to destroy the root of existence, which is nothing less than the total cessation of human desires and activities in Nirvanic unconsciousness."8 This is a point of view antithetical to Chinese thought. It is also a point of view which betrays Suzuki's own bias against Hindu thought; Paramahansa Yogananda, for example, a highly regarded yogi of the 20th century, said existence was not evil, but the play or game of God. This view is sustained in the Vedas and Bhagavad Gita, seminal texts of Hinduism. While undoubtedly some schools of Hindu thought advocated cessation of thought and lethal mortifications to escape from an evil world, others believed that human life is the greatest possible blessing because it is only through this level of incarnation that one can rise to an understanding and experience of Ultimate Reality, or what Plato would call the Good.

Suzuki believed that unlike other Hindu teachers, Buddha did not teach that Nirvana (complete awareness) could be achieved through the complete cessation of existence as we commonly know it. The way to conquer suffering and attain Nirvana is outlined in the Eightfold Path, which holds that one must develop "right" understanding, thought or motives, speech, action, means of livelihood, effort, mindfulness and concentration. These concepts are abstract enough to inspire many contrasting canons of philosophical speculation within southern schools of Buddhism and yet specific enough to promote (at the very least) a certain level of ethical9 commitment or behavior in anyone who claimed to follow the Buddha's way. Underlying these precepts are injunctions to mindfulness and compassion which adds warmth through personalization and concern for others, making the Path more than a cold "laundry list" of required commandments. Although the Eightfold Path was introduced as a radical departure from Hindu ethics, it is not really so different from the eight kriyas of orthodox Hindu thought: yama, noninjury to others, trustfulness, nonstealing, continence and noncovetousness; niyama, purity of body and mind, contentment, self-discipline, self-study and devotion; asana, right posture; pranayama, control of the breath and subtle life currents; pratyahara, withdrawal of senses from external objects; dharana, keeping the mind focused on a thought or object; dhyana, meditation; and samadhi, superconscious experience. Only the hatha yoga admonitions on right posture and breath are not among the precepts of the Eightfold Path; and yet both play an important role in Buddhist practices of all schools.

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