The Truth of the Path Leading to the Cessation of Suffering
The Noble Eightfold Path
The Buddha taught that the only way to end suffering is to cultivate the right ingredients in mind and action. The Buddha gave a detailed diagnosis on life just as a medical doctor diagnoses illness. He researched the disease of life and prescribed for it. He prescribed no charms or wonder drugs. Instead, he thoroughly designed a therapeutic method called the Noble Eightfold Path. The aspects of it are right speech, right behavior, right livelihood, right thought, right meditation, right views, right aspirations and right efforts.
Safeguard from Distortion
When we run our life fueled by ignorance, we will think and act in a way distorted by ignorance. The Noble Eightfold Path is designed to safeguard us from such distortion. It is formulated to help us to get rid of all habitual attachments that are generated by greed, hatred and delusion. If we honestly practice it, the goal of freeing ourselves from suffering can be achieved.
The Middle Way
The Buddha characterized the Noble Eightfold Path as a middle way. He urged us not to practice any extremes such as self-mortification and self-indulgence. The solitude of a hermit's life is not recommended even though it surely provides a non-distracting environment for practice. Realizing the manifestation of compassion is important in attaining Buddhahood, we cannot leave others behind awash in the sea of suffering. The Buddha urged us to help enlighten others as well. Living in a society, therefore, is a more advantageous approach to accomplish this. After all, the wisdom we need in seeking enlightenment has to be the one perfected by the flaws and problems of life while interacting with others. Self-indulgence is not recommended either. We should not indulge our fondness for luxury or for sensual pleasures. Yielding to the desires of our six-senses and influenced by six-sense objects, we will fall back into the turbulent sea of greed, hatred and delusion. The Buddha urged us to stop seeking things from outside so that we can open up our limitless wisdom from within.
The word, Dharma, refers to the teachings of the Buddha. The Dharma is the technique
and the knowledge that can liberate us from delusion and suffering. According to a verse in the Dharmapada Sutra, the Dharma is summarized as follows:
Avoid any evil
Practice all good
Purify one's mind
That is the Buddhas' teaching
The Dharma is one of the Three Treasures of Buddhism, which include the Buddha,
the Dharma, and the Sangha. The Sangha are a community of monks and nuns, who have
given up their lifestyle as a householder and practiced vigorously the Buddha's teachings.
They also teach laymen and laywomen the Dharma.
Thus Have I Heard
The teachings of the Buddha are recorded in sutras. They are written in Pali and Sanskrit. Many are preserved in Chinese and Tibetan translations. Some of the widely-known sutras are the Flower Adornment Sutra, Diamond Sutra, the Heart Sutra, Perfect Enlightenment Sutra, and the Lotus Sutra. The sutras were written in prose style. The format was simple without metrical or poetic structure. The opening line is always "Thus have I heard", indicating what follows after it are the actual words of the Buddha. The "I" was Venerable Ananda, a disciple of the Buddha. He was famous for his memory and contribution to retaining most of the sutras.
The Importance of Reading the Sutras
Reading the sutras is just like letting the Buddha speak directly to us. In the Diamond Sutra, the Buddha said, "Whoever can read and study this sutra and pass it on broadly, will be clearly seen and fully recognized by the Tathagata (one of the highest titles of the Buddha). They will achieve an immeasurable, incomparable, boundless and unthinkable mass of merits. Such people will share the Tathagata's burden to help others realize the highest perfect enlightenment." He stressed the importance of studying the sutras. The Buddha reminded us, however, that the sutras are only a means to practice, not a creed to cling to. He said, "The teaching is analogous to a raft which is used for crossing a river but not for the purpose of holding upon." His spirit and wisdom will be conveyed to us only if we actually practice his teachings.