Liberation of the individual in Buddhism

By Ellawla Nandisvara Nayaka thera

The Buddha whilst addressing the monks once said, "O monks, within this fathom long body, are the world, the origin of the world, the ceasing of the world and the path leading to its cessation"

The world where the problem arises and the solution is discovered is in no other sphere than the every day world of ours with all its frivolities, corruption, delusions, superstitions and ostentation. This arena of the terrestrial sphere is the stage for man’s endeavours failures and perfection’s. It is humanity’s task to make or mar itself in this plane of material existence. Is the homosapiens essaying to evaluate his latent powers to eliminate future chaos or is he dilly dallying with his valuable life?

The Buddha says, "during your vital days having not observed celibacy nor even having accumulated wealth in your youth, are you now anxiously vituperating yourself like the crane that scrutinizes the dried bed of muddy pool freed of all aquatic life." Thousands of millions are faced with this problem at the even tide of life, alas! repentance comes too late and the injury is already wrought and redemption quite remote.

We are living in an era when spiritual values have become mere by words. The hurry and scurry of industrialization and consequent urbanization of life have to a great extent inculcated an intrepid ruffled mind in man and the patient tranquillity of the noble homosapiens has receded to the background. Is man eternally damned in this nuclear age to be a victim of the very product of his genius, and succumb to irrevocable fate of callous destruction? Couldn’t mankind be saved from this dire fate? The fatalist will conclude that the world will have its own solution to evils that spring in this tide of time but still mankind could be sculpted away to safety before the catastrophe occurs.

Though a prince and heir to the throne he shunned all claims to the kingdom. He was an analytical researcher. His aspiration was to discover truth in its stark naked form. At an early age he discovered that the luxurious dispensation of his father's palace nor the three palaces congenial for his lonely quest.

In his twenty ninth year being utterly bored with frivolity and indulgence in royal paraphernalia he fled into the dark night in his quest for truth and liberation from worldly cares.

He practised the severest of penance and observed austerity to a degree one could hardly imagine. Yet did he fail to solve the problem of life and death? He was disappointed that the erstwhile Gurus had failed to guide him to any successful degree in his quest and now he began scrutinizing within himself the answer to the question that mankind had ever been faced with.

He was earnest in his quest, dauntless in his efforts, despite occasional failure’ he possessed the highest possible sense of reality. The qualities of earnestness, sincerity and reality ushered him forth into the luminous path.

Having discovered the path of emancipation from suffering, the Buddha did not rest contented. He yearned to liberate mankind from its austere role of lethargic surrender to the way of the flesh and body. He had now been convinced that the path of deliverance for mankind lay in the midst of morality, discipline and wisdom. These were realizable by liberating the mind from worldly cares through physical and mental restrain. Discipline endowed one with knowledge and for discipline the moral background was vital.

The Buddha was motivated by his unique devotion for the uplifitment of mankind from the sensual lives that had ensnared him. His compassion for all living phenomena was limitless, but his endeavours to release humanity from woe were particular after his attainment of Buddhahood. For forty-five years he traversed through the length and breadth of India exhorting men and women preaching the message of deliverance and peace. His entire life is an unbroken record of service to humanity.

The Buddha did not feign the achievement as exclusive to himself. The aspiration for such enlightenment as Buddhahood was within the ken on any human being provided he had the strength, inclination and the background of morality befitting such a status. It is a result of endeavours in millions of lives in the antique past and may take aeons for perfection. Those who aim at such a lofty goal may right in earnest practice the tenfold endeavours for perfection and achieve the crowning joy of his endeavours in the future.

The Buddha brought into the sphere of daily life action and result. Man and animal were motivated in their behaviour by long habits. Habit is an inheritance from parents or associates but certain peculiarities in behaviour depend upon past conditioning. This mind is not a product of this life; it is a residue of recollections from past lives. The action of the past, influences the results in this life. It is this law of Karma and result that distributed mankind in various stations of life. It is Karma that shaped the millionaires and paupers; it is Karma that decided the noble and ignoble, the same Karma created wise and delinquent. The universal law of cause and effect played a paramount role in the destinies of mankind. Its cycle of result has inexorable and spontaneous impact upon the law of causation that Buddha built upon the chain of dependent origination (Paticca Samuppada).

All component matters (Sanskaras) are ephemeral in nature and being constituted or component is destructible. Corporeality of man is in Mind and Matter (Nama Rupa) the physical and mental elements. The mental elements are further sub divided into Vedana (Sensation), Sanna (Perception), Samkhara (complexes or mental activities or even mind and mental committances), Vinnana (conception or cognisance). These five aggregates - Rupa, Vedana Sanna, Samkhara and Vinnana constitute ‘ego’ or I.

Life is a flux a stream of energy flowing forth. Often it has been named a combustion that consumes itself not remaining the same any two seconds. No permanent self abides besides the stream of activity. The arising of the aggregate and their momentary changes are in accordance with the universal law of flux, therefore the sensations arise and are lost forever in a moment.

Man is an absolute product of his Karma and its influence pervades throughout his life. The Buddha’s teaching was phenomenalistic. Twenty centuries later David Hume expresses his imagination in these terms "I never can catch myself at any time without a perception and never can observe anything but the perception, what we call the mind is nothing but a heap or bundle of different perception united together by certain relationship". In the empirical sense the individual exists but Buddhism refuses to accept a permanent self unchanging whilst all around it is subjected to catacysanic changes. Man’s personality in existence is a fact but seeking a permanent residue besides the self is non-factual. Reality necessarily need not be eternity. It is the thirst for life that upholds existence repeating itself now here now there; the unsatiated desire for existence craves clinging. The five forms of clinging to body, sensation, perception, mental activities and consciousness reproduce the individual in corporeal form.

Every moment of the individual’s existence is the creation of a fresh form for the future. Every action accumulates a fresh stream of newer energy reflecting upon his future abode. This stream of energy links man and animal from birth to birth. In each cycle of birth it is not the same being that is born nor is he distinctively another as he inherits the same conditioned mind from the current sphere.

Individuals are divisible according to the inherent traits of character. The Buddha makes three main divisions namely, the Raga, Dosa, and Moha Charitas. The one filled with lust and is beguiled by luxury, music, art and entertainment, ever indulging in fragrance and beauty falls with the first category of ‘Raga’. The second type ‘Dosa’ has morose, unfriendly, selfish qualities. He avoids contact with the world, as he is unable to bear the comforts and happiness of others. The third is harmless; he is neither indulgent nor vindictive but being less intelligent is unable to take advantage of the opportunities that befall him.

In another category three individuals are displayed in accordance with their mental leanings. They are the Saddha (devotional), Buddhi (intelligent), Vitakka (dubious) characters. The first is highly sensitive and emotional and is rapidly convinced in the efficacy of a doctrine or dogma and accepts it without further question. The second type, the intelligent one scrutinizes probes and questions every matter before he accepts something and being convinced does not reject it. The third type, the dubious one is the most difficult to convince even after conviction still he doubts whether he is correct. He does not accept the words of teacher unless he has all his doubts dispelled.

The individual is born to a world of utter consternation. Those that had not fully comprehended the implications of his doctrine of liberation have often called the Buddha a pessimist.

The Buddha was always optimistic. he was not fatalistic. Even the worst of sinners like Angulimala the murderer or Ambapali the courtesan, or even Sunita the out caste? He endeavoured to liberate from their abject destiny. He made a saint of Angulimala, a liberated virtuous nun of Ambapali and a profoundly learned saint of Sunita the night soil cleaner. He scrutinized the latent powers of the individual, read his psychic yearning and then suggested the cure for his Sansaric malady. True pessimist would have abhorred the patronage of the patricide Ajasatta. He knew well that Bimbisara was done to death by his son but for his future benefit he urged him to be righteous and he became a great devotee of the Buddha. Even after the passing away of the Buddha Ajatasatta was responsible for the first council of Elders conducted at Rajagaha.

The truth of Dukkha cannot be sufficiently interpreted by rendering it as suffering. Dukkha means something profoundly deeper that the shallow idea of common suffering. It implies the state of utter conflict, frustration, incompleteness, non adoptability and withal the constant failure to beget what one aspires for. Among the individuals of this world is there one that could say that he has had a sweet bed of roses in life. The constant struggle for existence is the sum total of Dukkha.

The Buddha discovered pain disease, suffering and death in the world of individuals but he did not surrender himself to this woe, as a pessimist; he was optimistic that there was a path to curb suffering and through travail and tribulation he discovered this path. This path of emancipation from suffering, disease and death as he revealed to the world.

The root cause of Dukkha is the conditional craving or thirst for existence, worldly indulgence and final annihilation. This craving or Tanha is mundane, therefore he alone could impede its further growth. The Buddha does not accept that man is fore ordained a sinner or does he suffer from innate depravity. No atonement for sins committed could assuage their after effects. Acts once committed cannot be redeemed. Every action has its own result though it may not be immediate. 

You are your own deliverer, why look for external aid? By cleansing your own self you could reach the loftiest of goals. In the process of cleansing he emphasized, morality, discipline and wisdom. Meditation was the process for emancipation.

The Buddha prescribed a path of morality in the noble eightfold path; but he did not force his doctrine upon the throat of his listeners. He exhorted that doctrine or dogma should not be able to understand the spirit of the teaching beyond all doubt, then alone should it be accepted. The Buddha ushered a charter of free will and expressed that man should have the fundamental freedom to exercise his discretion in choosing his religion and worship. He also conceded man’s right to freedom of expression. Simultaneously he should be accorded complete liberty to follow his livelihood without hindrance.

The great charter of freedom of living, freedom of speech, freedom of religious pursuit and liberty to choose ones profession or vocation was propounded by the Buddha to the society of his era. Kings were encouraged to concede these fundamental liberties to their subjects, if the subjects were to be loyal to the kings.

The Buddha did not exhort the individual to be a pauper. He was permitted to amass wealth by moral methods of trade, agriculture, state service etc., wealth, he said, was like a venomous snake; it should always be under control or else it would turn back and sting the possessor. A wealthy master should possess or cultivate the friendship of faithful, intelligent, liberal and virtuous ones who would not abuse his benevolence.

Among trades he forbade the selling of arms for destructive ends, sale of poison or animals for slaughter, slavery and fraudulent practices in trade he frowned against. The sale of manufacture of liquor too he disapproved.

A layman who leads a family life must have four forms of happiness:

1. economic security (atthi sukha),

2. disposition to spend his wealth upon family (bhoga sukha),

3. freedom from debts and obligation ( anana sukha),

4. contentment, because he is free from all evil (anavjja sukha),

A house holder that does not possess these four securities pours tears upon his hearth.

Liberty, equanimity and fraternity are the echoes from the Buddha’s teaching. All men were born free, therefore they should not be impeded in any, way from enjoying the fundamental liberties. All beings in the world had the right to be equal with all others, therefore his freedom to move about in the society should not be restricted. Mankind was one fraternity therefore differentiation was immoral. It was the effort of Lord to weave humanity into one brotherhood.

The Buddha was a great democrat. The Sangha Council that the Buddha founded is the oldest democratic institution in the world. Each member possessed a vote and by common polling they choose their seniors in the event of un-unanimity. On the eve of his final demise the Buddha refused to appoint or name his successor. He allowed the monks themselves to choose their leader in accordance with seniority. Here again he upheld the individual liberty to choose his own path.

He extolled the position of women of his day. He refused to accept the idea of a slavish life to her husband. In family life the husband and wife are equal partners. One is not superior to the other. They should equally endeavour to maintain the integrity of the family and its economic balance. Woman that had no position whatsoever hitherto was given major responsibility by Lord Buddha’s acceptance of equality of opportunities to all irrespective of sex. Even in this modern era women in certain countries are struggling for their liberation. Women of India, the Buddha liberated two thousand five hundred years ago.

The Buddha also elaborated the principles upon which the individual should be placed in society. He has to be courteous, charitable, hospitable and compassionate towards all members of his company. He should consider their happiness as his own.

Nirvana or release of the Individual

Nirvana is the summum bonum of all mundane endeavours for the individual. The hitherto worldly being arise from the residue of his Karma into a state where he accumulates no further Karmic resources. This state is achievable by the focusing of the mundane mind upon the ultra mundane path. The worldly fetter of sensual attachment, ill will, slothfulness, torpor, concur and doubt are cleared by the stream-enterer. The state of Nirvana is a psychic experience. Its empiric implication cannot be expressed but is to be experienced. The psychic power ever sweeps the physical background and all craving for worldly attachment ceases. The thick curtain of ignorance that concealed reality from him is dispelled, he visualizes an ethereal world hitherto invisible to him. Divine power of perephin and audience he begets and in a cavalcade visualizes his past lives in the ocean of existence. Beings leaving the world and sweeping into fresh form he beholds; he reads the Karmic forces that guide them in their new abodes. He sees the reality of the celestials but has ceased to pine for such spheres. His mind flutter not for fresh grasping or fresh anchor upon life. Lives lures have been satiated permanently.

Does a permanent existence lie in Nirvana? Nirvana is the final attainment of a state of deliverance. Beyond this stage no individual exists. The being proper ceases to be. Nirvana is not a sphere of existence as erroneously connoted. It is non-existence but the saint that attains Nirvana lives until the final release of his form with the five aggregates. At the final release he is said to have attained the state of Pari-Nirvana - cessation of corporeality.

Then the argument arises that Nirvana is Nihilism but the Buddha had always rejected Nihilism as an extreme view not compatible with the via media path that he elaborated on the noble eight fold path. Our endeavours to visualize the experiences of the supra mundane sphere, living a materialist life in the sensual sphere will be totally inadequate. The Empiric State of Nirvana is for the exalted Arahant to experience, not for the worldly one to elaborate.

Vaccagotta, a Brahmin once requested the Buddha to explain the question regarding time and eternity and the Buddha’s reply to him was "The doctrine is indeed profound, scarce would you comprehend, the implication is beyond your power but it excellent, beyond the sphere of reasoning and so subtle that only the enlightened could approach it".

Khanti paramam tapo titikkha

nibbanam paramam vadanti buddha;

nahi pabbajito parupaghati,

samano hoti param vihenthayanto,

The Buddha specifies that Nibbana is the noblest of spiritual attainments.