The idea of a Yana, of vehicle, comes from the basic notion or image of Buddhism as a raft for crossing a river. This shaw is ordinary everyday consciousness, such as we have, mainly the consciousness of being an ego or a sensitive mind locked up inside a mortal body. A consciousness of being you in particular and nobody else. The other Shaw is release or Nirvana. A word which means literally blow out. As one says when heaving a sigh of relief. Nirvana is a never, never, never to be interpreted as a state of extinction or a kind of consciousness in which you are absorbed into an infinitely formless luminous ocean which could best be described as purple jello. But luminous, you know, kind of spiritual. It isn’t meant to be that at all. Nirvana has certain many senses, but the primary meaning of it is that this everyday life just as we have it now, but seen and understood and felt in a very very different way. Buddhism is called in, general a Dharma, and this word is often mistranslated as the law. It’s better translated as the doctrine. And still better translated as the method. And the dharma is formulated originally by the Buddha, who was the son of a north Indian Raja living very close to Nepal who was thriving shortly after six hundred B.C. The word buddha is a title. The proper name of this individual was Guatama Siddhartha. The word Buddha means the Awakened One. From the Sanskrit root Budh, which means to wake. Or to know.
So we could say Buddha means the man who woke up, and the Buddha was a very very skilful psychologist. He is in a way the first psycho-therapist in history. A man of tremendous understanding of the wiles and deviousness of a human mind. What ism it is made to be easily understood. Everything is numbered so you can remember it. And the basis of it is and I want to call the four noble truths. The first one is the truth about suffering. The second the truth about the cause of suffering the third the truth about the ceasing of suffering. And the fourth, the truth about the way of ceasing the suffering. Then let’s go back to the beginning: suffering. The Sanskrit word as Dukha D. U. K. H. A. Dukha. In means suffering in the widest possible sense but chronic suffering chronic trust ration is probably as good a translation as any chronic frustration and the blood it does and says the life of mankind and of animals indeed also of angels. If you believe in angels is characterized by chronic frustration. And so that constitutes the problem if if anyone if anyone of you says I have a problem I don’t suppose you would be here if you didn’t in some way have a problem. Well that’s dukha.
Now the next thing is the cause of it., which is called Trishna T R I S H N A, is a Sanskrit word that is the root of our word thirst. Thirst. But more exactly craving or clutching or desiring. Because of craving or of clutching in us, we create suffering, but in turn this second truth includes that behind Trishna there lies another thing called ignorance. Avidya. Non Vision. And you see video. Vid in Sanskrit is the root of the Latin v Dale and of vision. And in front of the word is none as we say atheist is a non theist so I Vidia is not seeing ignorance or better ignoring because our mind as it functions consciously is a method of attending to different and particular areas of experience, one after another one of time. When you focus your consciousness on a particular area, you ignore everything else. That is why to know is at the same time to ignore. And because of that there arises Trishna craving. Why? Because if you ignore what you really know you come to imagine that you are separate from the rest of the universe. And that you are alone. And therefore you begin to crave. To thirst. You but you develop an anxiety to survive. Because you think if you’re separate if you’re not the whole works you’re going to die actually you’re not going to die at all you’re simply going to stop doing one thing and start doing something else you know when you die in the ordinary way you just stop doing this thing called Alan Watts. But you do something else, later, later man and I’m like that and you and it is nothing to worry about at all. Only if you are going tally law up in the illusion that you’re only this then you begin to be frightened and anxious and that creates thirst. So if you can get rid of ignorance, ignore-ance, and widen your mind out so as to see the other side of the picture, then you can stop craving. That doesn’t mean to say you won’t enjoy your dinner. And that it won’t be nice to make love to girls or anything like that. It doesn’t mean that at all it means you enjoying your dinner and making love and generally. Enjoying the senses and all the experience that only becomes an obstacle to you if you cling to that in order to save yourself.
But if you don’t need to save yourself you can enjoy life just as much as ever. You don’t have to be a Puritan.
So then, that state of letting go instead of clinging to everything. Supposing you’re in business, and you have to make money and keep up this family support or something like that you know the thing is do that but don’t don’t let it get you down. Do it what the Hindus call Nishkama Karma. Karma, Nishkama means passionless karma activity. And that means doing all the things that one would do in life one’s business one’s occupation and cetera et cetera but doing it without taking it seriously. Do it as a game. And then everybody who depends on you will like it much better, because if you take it seriously, they’ll be feeling guilty because they’ll say “Oh dear papa absolutely knocks himself out to work for us,” you see, and they all get miserable and they go on. They live their lives out of a sense of duty which is a dreadful thing to do.
So that’s Nirvana, to live in a let-go way. Then the Four Noble Truths describes the way the method of realising Nirvana, and that’s called the Noble Eightfold Path. And the eightfold path is a series of eight human activities such as understanding of your effort, vocation or occupation, speaking, conduct, etc., and they’re all prefaced by the Sanskrit word Samyak, which is very difficult to translate. Most people translate it right, in the sense of correct. But this is an incomplete translation. The word sum, the root sam in Sanskrit is the same as our word sum, through the Latin suma. And of course the sum of things means completion. But it also has the sense of balanced, or middle wayed. Not W E I G H E D, but W A Y as in the middle way, and Buddhism is called the middle way. And we will find out a great deal about that later.
But the thing that you must recognize is this. Buddhism, although when you say right speech in other words, don’t tell lies. Well let me put it this way, everybody who belongs to the Theravada school in the south expresses the fact that he is a Buddhist by reciting a certain formula. And it’s called Kisarana, and Panchasila. This is I’m talking Pali now, not Sanskrit. And I means the three refuges punch a seal on the five precepts. And they put their hands together like this and say “But the hung on them be done hung on Tom the sun Hung’s on me” [sic], that means I take refuge in Buddha, I take refuge in the method, the Dharma, I take refuge in the Sangha, which means the fraternity of the followers of Buddha, and then he goes on and he takes the five precepts [chants]. And this precepts one after another I have promised to abstain from taking from life. Taking life. I do not die now, that I many I have promised to abstain from taking what is not given Kama Summa. God, I promise to abstain from exploiting my passions. Most of out of out on me, I promise to abstain from false speech [chants]. I promise to abstain from getting intoxicated by a list of various boozes. [laughs] Now that this, everybody, Buddhists in the southern school says this.
Mahayanas have a different formula. All this is the method and the method, the dharma, is there for a moral law. Just like the Ten Commandments but it isn’t. There’s nothing. It’s quite different. You see, you don’t take the five precepts in obedience to a royal edict. You take them upon yourself. And there is a very special reason for doing so. How can you call fill the precept not to take life? Every day you eat, even if you’re a vegetarian, you must take life. And so on.
Now therefore, understand this, and this is absolutely fundamental to an understanding of Buddhism. Buddhism is a method. It is not a doctrine. Buddhism is a dialogue. And what it states at the beginning is not necessarily what it would state at the end. The method of Buddhism is first of all a relationship between a teacher and a student. The student creates the teacher by raising a problem and going to someone about it. Now if he chooses wisely, you see, he’ll find that if there’s a Buddha around to use as the teacher. And then he says to the Buddha, “My problem is that I suffer, and I want to escape from suffering.” So the Buddha replies. “Suffering is caused by desire. By Trishna, by craving. If you can stop desiring, then you will solve your problem. Go away and try to stop desire.” And he gives him some methods. How to practice meditation, and to make his mind calm and still to see if he can stop desire. The student goes away and practices this. Then he comes back to the teacher and says, “But I can’t stop desiring not to desire. What am I to do about that?” So the teacher says. “Try then to stop desiring not to desire.” And now you can see where this is going to land up. Or he might put it in this way. “All right if you can’t completely stop desiring, do a middle way.” That is to say, stop desiring as much as you can stop desire. And don’t desire to stop any more desire than you can stop. See where that’s going to go.
Because he keeps coming back. Because what the teacher has done in saying stop desiring he has given his student what in Zen Buddhism is called a koan. This is a Japanese word that means a meditation problem, or more strictly it means the same thing as case means in law. Because koans are usually based on anecdotes and incidents of the old masters, cases, precedents. But a koan, the function of the koan is a challenge for meditation. Well who is it that desires not to desire? Who is it that wants to escape from suffering? And here we get to a methodological difference between Hindus and Buddhism on the question of who are you. The Hindu says you, yourself, he calls Atman, the self. And he says now strive to know the self. Realize I am not my body because I can be aware of my body. I am not my thoughts because I can be aware of my thoughts, and not my feelings, for the same reason I am not my mind, etc., because I can be aware of it. Therefore I really am other than, above, transcending, all these finite aspects of me. Now that the Buddhist has a critique of that. He says “Why do you try to escape from yourself as a body?” The reason is your body falls apart and you want to escape from it. Why do you want to decide then to fight yourself from your emotion. The reason is your emotions are uncomfortable and you want to escape from. You don’t want to have to be afraid. You don’t want to have to be in grief or anger. And love even is too much, you see, it involves you and suffering because if you love someone you have a hostage to fortune.
So the Buddha says the reason why you believe you are the Atman, the eternal Self, which in turn is the Brahman, the self and the whole universe, is that you don’t want to lose your damn ego. And if you can fix your ego and put it in the safe deposit box of the lot. You’ve still got yourself, you haven’t really let it go. So the Buddha said there isn’t Atman. He taught the doctrine of an non-Atman, non-self. Your ego is unreal. And as a matter of fact, there’s nothing you can cling to. No refuge really. Just let go, man. There’s no salvation, no safety, nothing anywhere, you see how clever that cross. Because he what he was really saying is any Atman, that you could cling to or think about or believe in wouldn’t be the real one. This is the accurate sense of the original documents of the Buddha’s teachings, if you carefully go through it that’s what he’s saying he’s not saying that there isn’t the outline of a Brahman is anyone you could conceive wouldn’t be it. Anyone you believed in would be the wrong one. Because believing is clinging still. There’s no salvation through believing. There’s only salvation through knowledge.
And even then. The highest knowledge is to know is non-knowledge. And he agrees with the Hindus, who say in the opening Upanishads, if you think that you know Brahman, you do not know him. But if you know, that you do not know the Brahman, you truly know. Why? Well that’s very simple. If you really are it, you don’t need to believe in it. And you don’t need to know it, just as your eyes don’t need to look at themselves and see. So that’s the the difference of method in Buddhism. Now understand method here. Method as that dialogue. And the so-called teachings of Buddhism are the first opening gambit in the dialogue. And when they say you cannot understand what is an out of books the reason is that the books only give you the opening gambits. Then having read the book you have to go on with the method. Now you can go on with the method without a former teacher, that is to say you can conduct a dialogue with yourself. Or with life. You have to explore and experiment on such things as, could one possibly not desire? Could one possibly concentrate the mind perfectly? Could one possibly do this that and the other and you have to work with it you see so that you understand the later things that come after trying these experiments. These later things are the heart of Buddhism.
So then shortly after the Buddha’s time. the practice of Buddhism continued as a tremendous ongoing dialogue among little various followers, and eventually they established the great universities. Such as there was at a place called Nalanda in northern India. This discourse was going on, and if you looked at it superficially, you might think it was nothing but an extremely intellectual bull session where philosophers were outwitting each other. Actually, the process that was going on was this. That the teacher or guru in every case was examining students as to their beliefs and theories, and destroying their beliefs showing that any belief that you would propose any idea about yourself or about the universe which you want to cling to and make something of use for. A crutch, a problem, the security, the teacher demolishes that. This is how the dialogue works, until you are left with not a thing to hang on to. Any religion you might propose, even atheism, they’ll tear up. Agnosticism they’ll destroy. Any kind of belief. They’re experts in demolition, so that they finally get you to the point where you’ve got nothing left to hang on to. Well then you’re free, cause you’re it, you see? Once you’re hanging on to things, you put it, somewhere else and see, something I can grab. And even when you think that “I’m it,” you’re still hanging on to, then they’re going to knock that one down.
So when you are left without anything at all, you have seen the point. Now that the method of the dialogue essentially. That is the dharma. And all but it’s make jokes about. Buddha says in the Diamond Sutra “When I attained complete perfect unsurpassed awakening I didn’t attain anything.” Because it’s like, to use a metaphor that is used in the scriptures, it’s like using an empty fist to deceive a child. So you know, you say to a child, “What have I got here?” The child gets interested immediately, and wants to find out, so you hide it, and the child climbs all over you can’t get a give and finally you do let him get it and there’s nothing in it.