Study Night # 4 – A Foundation Knowledge of the Dharma


Much of this study night relates to other study nights we had here at Trevince and many more of them will become interlinked as they go on. This weeks study was on the Dharma and this is inextricably linked to the ideas stated in ‘The Truth of Cause and Effect’ and ‘Enlightenment’ posts we published in November.
We read from extracts of Sangharakshita’s book ‘What is the Dharma’
In short the Dharma means Truth. In Sanskrit it can mean many things but truth is the most relevant and understandable explanation of the word. It is not useful though to pin this word down to a single meaning as it varies throughout the various Buddhist traditions and cultures.
So many a better explaination of the word Dharma is whatever helps humans to transcend their present limited state
The 4 noble truths – (see Study Night #1)
1) Human existence just involves suffering
2) Cause of suffering is that we want things to be other then as they are. 
3) There is an end to suffering
4) This is to follow the eight fold path (or the three fold way which consists of Ethics, Meditation and Wisdom)– provide us with a framework for understanding the Dharma and how to follow it, what is stated above and enhanced on in the Eight fold path are the ideas of having a ‘right view’ on life. They are helpful in keeping us on the right track and our practise heading off in the right direction. If we do not follow this then our lives will continue to follow the unconscious and unquestioned beliefs and values that make up our conditioning. This will go unchallenged and therefore never we will reach nirvana and we will stay in a state of dissatisfaction.
The first truth is possibly why Buddhism is said to have bad name because it basically states that all life is suffering, a better way to describe this is that there is always something missing or better still dukkha (which can be translated to uncomfortable, uneasy or ill-fitting). What is important to remember about Buddhism is that is honest, it puts it plain and simply about how life can be better. If satisfaction does exist in life as it is normally lived then there would be no craving, but there is craving and the constant notion that something is always missing. Happiness is good but it cannot be relied on.
Dukkha was spoken about in Ruth’s post about Enlightenment but knowing about it in terms of Dharma I can go into more depth:
  • The suffering that comes from living with an impermanent body and living within a hostile environment.
  • The suffering that comes from not getting the things we like and having to make do with those that we do not like.
  • The suffering of change, happiness does not last.
  • Suffering that arises from general dissatisfaction at whatever situation as long as we are not fulfilling our spiritual potential.

The second noble truth states that the origin of dukkha is craving. We are constantly craving our world to be a certain way but as the world is constantly changing then all this is doing is leading to unhappiness. There is a difference between a healthy desire for something such as a need to quench you thirst or for friendship but these are very different from the craving for a chocolate bar or the latest fashion accessory. Craving ultimately just distracts us from realising our full spiritual potential. On a more extreme level, craving is just a ‘result of our deluded obsession with ourselves. Things to remember are that life is full inescapable sufferings, as soon as you are born you start to die, there is sickness, old age and all other ailments that come with having an impermanent body. To transcend this suffering we must look inside ourselves and turn our negative states into positive ones.

The third noble truth takes a more positive look at life. Our suffering is based on our conditioning. All the events that have happened before leads us to where we are now. To over come, understand our conditioning / limitations and then to transcend it will be our end to suffering.

The fourth noble truth helps us to understand how we can overcome our suffering by following the noble Eightfold path. The Eightfold path is basically saying is that if we follow the precepts more deeply and be aware and mindful at all times, if we keep ourselves positive, meditate and follow the Dharma then we will crave less and therefore suffer less. Is being dissatisfied with current state of awareness a bad thing? Rejoice in your happiness when you are feeling it. Accept the sadness and be with it. Whether this is a cruel or beautiful world depends on your vision. Actions are determined by how you respond to how you feel.

“Circumstances such as illness or good fortune come and go, but what lingers with us are internal conditions. If we have peace of mind, we can weather through the rough patches, but guilt, hatred or depression will cloud the brightest day. A millionaire or a king can be beset with worry and mistrust, but a property-less monk can dwell in ease and fulfillment. Suffering and the cessation of suffering live in our minds and our hearts.” ~Theravadin monk Ajahn Sucitto


Next Time.. Karma and Rebirth.