Thursday, April 17, 2014

Buddha's Raft

In the similitude of Buddha’s teaching to a raft*, it is explained that we shouldn’t cling to Buddhist teachings but rather use them for “crossing over to the other shore.” (The other shore being a synonym for enlightenment.)  This is because Buddhist teachings (Dharma) are expedient means (upaya) to achieve awakening, and not doctrines to be clung to and identified with. In fact, if we cling to the teachings as indispensable dogmas, we can never achieve complete release from suffering, for the latter entails letting go of all attachments, including the Buddhist teachings themselves. Indeed, in letter to this author, the well-known Buddhist monk Ajahn Sumedho wrote that enlightenment involves a complete letting go of everything including Buddhist teachings to realize what he calls ‘ultimate simplicity.’

To understand this point further, it would be helpful to look at Buddhist teachings as part of the noble eightfold path (ariya-attangika-magga). In this path, Buddhist teachings are known as ‘right-view’ (samma-ditthi), as opposed to other views which are classified as ‘wrong-views’ (miccha-ditthi). Right-view is ‘right’ because it leads to awakening to the way things are, which is what Buddhism is ultimately about. Wrong-views are ‘wrong’ because they do not lead to such an awakening. But, as written above, Buddhist teachings are skillful means that point to this awakening and merely believing in them or identifying with them does not use them in the correct way, if enlightenment is one’s aim. So, right-view is not so much the holding of certain views as opposed to others, but rather a different way of looking at life altogether. It is this seeing that is the doorway that opens to a whole new vista that we might term the enlightened perspective.

Obviously, right-view (which includes the four noble truths, the three characteristics, dependent arising, and emptiness, not to mention many other major Buddhist teachings) is to be used in some way by the Buddhist aspirant, otherwise what is its purpose? Well, right-view exists as a focus for reflection; we should develop a calm, focused mind though meditation and then reflect upon right-view to allow our inner wisdom to illumine the above teachings. In this way, right-view is developed as opposed to clung to. This means that Buddhist teachings are not doctrines to be dogmatically adhered to and argued for in the face of other, different beliefs, but tools by which we awaken our innate wisdom. Arguing with someone that holds different views to our own may feel good or right, but this is not the purpose of Buddhist teachings; using them in this way to uphold our sense of self as a Buddhist is a major hindrance to awakening to our true nature. Indeed, it should be abundantly clear that to cling to the Buddhist teachings, which include the teaching of not-self (anatta), as a form of self-identification is nonsense. Right-view is right not because it is clung to but rather because it is reflected upon correctly.

Right-view is right in another way, too. It is right because it is the absence of any specific view at all. Instead, it is the experience of enlightenment, awakening. And this is neither the result of holding particular views nor is it an intellectual understanding of such views. Rather, it is the transcendence of all views altogether, and the realization of what Ajahn Sumedho calls ultimate simplicity. Thing is, caught up as we are in the delusory self-view (sakkaya-ditthi), we require teachings to enable us to free ourselves from our self-made prisons. This is where right-view comes in; reflecting on it with a calm focus can free us of the delusion of self, revealing our true nature in its unfettered state. Using Buddhist teachings wisely in this way is to truly follow the example of Buddha, and like him, will lead us to the ultimate unbinding from all views. May we all use right-view to achieve awakening!

 *See the previous article on Buddha Space, ‘Buddha on His Teaching As a Raft,’ dated 07/04/2014.


Anonymous said...

Thank you.
This is meaningful to me :)

G said...

Thank you, Anonymous; youre most welcome. :)