Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Difficult concepts.

(Picture by Tony Wills)



I have a questiong about Buddhism. From my understanding (I could be mistaken), Buddhism teaches that all reality is illusion and to let go of self, desires and even the thought of heaven, because those are also illusions. It doesn't make sense to me, but my main question is...in Buddhism once you reach enlightenment, then what? we become voids in the sky, with no thought, no soul desires, no heaven, no nothing? And all of the life we've lived and lessons we learned are all forgotten? I'm open to knew beliefs and very spiritual, but this point in buddhism seems to really bother me, I was hoping maybe you could better explain it. Thank you so much.

Many Blessings,

My comment:


Thank you for asking me.

Since you are just beginning to study the teachings of the Buddha, you will find most concepts very intriguing and at times very contradictory to conventional beliefs which you have been taught to accept as truths. The best approach to study Buddhism is to have an open mind and gather knowledge of what the Buddha taught, without overtly trying to analyze each concept in depth. Gradually you will come to a deeper understanding and be able to interpret the Buddha's teachings with less contradiction and confusion.

The Buddha's teachings are about universal truths or ultimate truths. These truths are truths irrespective of who you are or where you are. In other words, these truths transcend race, nationality, belief, and even time and space. These truths are universal and cannot change. The 3 characteristics of the nature of this world are universal truths. They are impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and without substance. In each of us, there are also 3 universal truths. They are greed, hatred, and delusion. They vary in intensity at different times and in different people.

The other truths are what we call conventional truths. These truths are based on convention and acceptance by the people who are concerned with them. Examples of conventional truths are money, laws of the country, customs, etiquette, culture, rites and rituals, and many other such conventional conduct and behaviour. These may not be considered as good or bad, although generally, they are for the benefit and protection of the population.

As lay persons, we are subject to abide by these conventional truths so that we can live in harmony within our society. However, at times conventional truths may not be in congruent with universal truths. Likewise our conventional thinking may not be able to understand and accept the Buddha's teachings of ultimate truths. We simply have not the mental or "wisdom" foundation to understand the Buddha's revelation of the ultimate truths.

So be patient and continue to have an open mind as aptly advised by the Buddha himself, that we should use our human intelligence and common sense to analyze his teachings, and to accept only when we are convinced.

Coming back to your questions. What we experience with our senses are very real in this world. However, in the ultimate analysis, they are just passing images or experiences. After some time all our experiences will also pass away, and in the end we also follow suit; just to start all over again in this cycle of births and deaths. In this sense, they are all illusions. If we understand this concept, the rationale of Buddhist liberation is to break away from this vicious cycle. In order to achieve this, we have to get to the core of the cause of our continuing existence, which is CRAVING to want to exist. If we have no more craving to exist, we will break away from this cycle. One can only achieve this if one is completely rid of the 3 roots of "evils" which are greed, hatred and ignorance. At this juncture just treat this liberation as getting out of this cycle. The next difficult concept will be "what then after this escape from the cycle"? It is very difficult to explain, especially I too am not liberated. The next best way is to give an illustration. Assuming a candle burning, and the flame is the life. When the flame is extinguished, we don't see the flame anymore; but can we say that there is no more flame? Try light a match, and the flame reappears. The question then is; "where did the flame go when it was extinguished"?

Another important concept is what constitute a life. A life consists of the physical form and the mind or consciousness. It is this mind that transcends repeated births. It is energy; and energy cannot be destroyed. It merely transforms into different form. This mind which is pure energy can exist anywhere even without a form.

As a lay person, one can still find happiness and contentment by practising the teachings of the Buddha to live a harmless and noble life. By understanding and accepting the true nature of this world and this life, one can live a happy and contented life by balancing the dictates of conventional requirements with the wisdom of universal truths.

I think that is more than enough to confuse you further. Please be patient and as the Buddha advised us; strive on with diligence. Please come back if you need further clarification.


PM said...


Can you please elaborate on "ignorance". without substance. Does it also means no form.

Justin Choo said...


"Ignorance" here is not about "sex" or the internet. Hahahahaha!!!
I like to joke, sometimes overboard that people feel offended. Sorry.

In Buddhist parlance, "ignorance" is not knowing the 4 Noble Truths and its derivatives.

"No form" and other terms are quite similar but with very subtle differences. They are all only semantics. Not to worry too much over these terms.

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