Regarding this Note:
Please begin by reading the “Preface to Erik’s Notes on Buddhism:” found on the main page of Buddhism ~ Thanks
What is Buddhism?
From what I can tell, there are at least three major forms of Buddhism: Religious Buddhism, Philosophical Buddhism and the third form of Buddhism, what I have received from my teachers, the Buddhism that deals with the science of happiness. So what does it mean for Buddhism to be ‘the science of happiness’? Here, Buddhism simply describes the facts regarding our experiences of suffering and our experiences of happiness according to the science of observation and reason.
So what does it mean to use observation and reason to discover the facts about something?
Usually, we begin with a bunch of assumptions and then based on those assumptions you make a hypothesis (a guess) about what you think is true, then you test that hypothesis and see if we can disprove it. If after a reasonable number of tests (and reasonable is usually determined by the one doing the tests) we fail to disprove our guess, then ‘maybe it’s true!’
But there is another way to use observation and reason to discover the truth about something. In fact, Buddhism rests on this alternative method. Here we begin with a willingness to investigate fearlessly and unconditionally. Rather than beginning with a set of assumptions that we are leaving untouched and uninvestigated, we allow everything to be part of the field of investigation. No assumption or belief is so sacred or precious that it won’t be fearlessly and unconditionally examined, and if it is invalidated through observation and reason, then it is let go of.
What do we find when we diligently and insatiably investigate, both fearlessly and unconditionally, that which can be known about our experience of suffering and happiness? We find that there are some basic facts that govern those experiences. We find the experience of happiness and we find the experience of suffering. And we find that these felt experiences are not random nor are they caused by anything that is experienced as being outside of ourselves. We find that the cessation of our suffering follows from very specific and completely infallible causes; and we find that our increased happiness also follows from very specific and completely infallible causes. And best of all, we find that these causes are always within us.
In the rest of these Notes you will find some of these facts that govern our experiences of both suffering and happiness. At least that is my goal. Please keep in mind that this is Buddhism according to the Mahayana tradition of the Dzogchen Longchen Nyingthig lineage as it has been transmitted to me by my teacher Dzogchen Khenpo Choga Rinpoche and from his teachers all the way back to Shakyamuni Buddha – at least to the best of my fairly limited abilities. I beg that you forgive me and grant me your patience whenever I fall short of my goal.
For me, this is the most valuable and precious information in the universe – I hope that it will be of benefit to you as well. If you find value here and are interested in learning more about the facts that govern your happiness and the cessation of your suffering, I would strongly encourage you to find a competent teacher with whom you can study and from whom you can learn. After that it will be up to you to contemplate and ultimately meditate these facts. This is the path that leads to True Happiness – zero suffering. This is the Buddha Path.
If you are curious about what I meant above when I mentioned philosophical and religious Buddhism, what follows is a very brief explanation.
When Buddhism is treated as a form of philosophy – a set of ideas – a practitioner thinks about Buddhism. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions and ideas and if we all sit down together, perhaps we can share our favorite ideas and maybe we can even synthesize some new and better ideas. For the philosophers, Buddhism is a pool of ideas that can be dipped into and played with, analyzed, and engaged and accepted or rejected as is seen fit. This is fine, if all you want is to think about suffering and happiness. But it will not necessarily move you any further in the direction of decreasing your suffering and increasing your happiness.
And for those for whom Buddhism is really a religion, Buddhism is used to ‘give meaning’ to their lives. Buddhism is used by the practitioner to fulfill the practitioner’s personal agenda for better or worse.
According to Wikipedia: “A religion is an organized approach to human spirituality which usually encompasses a set of narratives, symbols, beliefs and practices, often with a supernatural or transcendent quality, that give meaning to the practitioner’s experiences of life through reference to a higher power or truth.” And, well, if Wikipedia says it then it must be true. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion.
However, using Buddhism to “give meaning” to our “experience of life through reference to a higher power [Buddha] or truth [Buddha’s teachings],” with the end result being that ‘my life now has meaning’ is not in keeping with what the Buddha taught about our experience of suffering and happiness; and this is not the Buddhism that I have been introduced to. In fact, there are many textural references from Shakyamuni Buddha that refer to this dynamic and strongly warn against it. Very quickly, it just gets in the way of decreasing suffering and increasing happiness.