Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Buddhism by Numbers: 3 True Teachings

Buddhism has many aspects to it, which may appear somewhat bewildering to someone new (or not so new!) to it. Various systems of thought exist to classify the diverse aspects of the Buddha Dhamma, on of which is called saddhamma, or the three ‘true teachings.’ These three Teachings are as follows: pariyatti, patipatti, and pativedha, or in translation, study, practice, and realization. Buddhist scholars may often view ‘the three Ps’ from a doctrinal position, seeing them as ways to intellectually understand Buddhism, but Ajahn Sumedho has pointed out a more reflective usage for them.

Ajahn Sumedho sees the saddhamma as a means to approach the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism: dukkha (suffering; imperfection), samudaya (origin), nirodha (cessation), and magga (path).  Pariyatti is the statement of each truth – which we learn from a teacher or a book, and is on the conceptual level, which consists of memorizing the meaning of the words. If one stops at this level, then one might best be described as a ‘Buddhologist,’ as opposed to a Buddhist who is living the teachings.

As Ajahn Sumedho points out, patipatti is the practice of what one actually does with the teachings. So, in truly understanding dukkha, we come to know it in our lives, feeling it, accepting it as part of one’s life. Rather than simply thinking about suffering, patipatti involves being aware of it, recognizing it in each moment of one’s experience, seeing the reality of it, not only the theory. This is done through mindfulness and meditation (founded on a solid moral basis), which when focused on the four truths reveal their actuality in the light of wisdom.

Pativedha indicates the full realization of the truths as a result of practice. In the case of the First Noble Truth, it means that suffering has been understood; in the case of samudaya, that it has been let go of, according to Ajahn Sumedho. This is because the cause of suffering is desire (tanha), and if desire is let go of, then there’s no more dukkha. Nirodha, or the ending of suffering, is to be achieved, which is done through the development of the Noble Eightfold Path (magga).

The three true teachings are true in that they involve more than just intellect and faith: they include experience and direct realization of the truths. Ajahn Sumedho emphasizes that this is a reflective form for cultivating awareness of the Dharma (the truth of the way things are). Investigating everyday suffering, the feeling of an underlying unsatisfactory side to life, can lead to the penetration (pativedha) of the Four Noble Truths. You still experience all the ups and downs of living as a human being, but see them through the Dhammacakkhu, the ‘wisdom eye’ of awareness. 

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