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What is the Buddha Dharma? by Louise Taylor
To answer that question lets go back 2600 years ago to when the the Buddha attained enlightenment, that is, he saw into the true nature of reality, and in doing so realized why we suffer and how to relieve it.
On doing so he sought out the 5 ascetics mendicants (homeless practitioners) he had previously been practicing with for many years to share his new found wisdom.
Now he had become recently estranged from his fellow meditators because the practices they were trying to reach enlightenment with were very extreme. Basically, trying to achieve mastery over the mind by denying the body’s needs. They denied the body food and water, meditated for long long hours without moving, denied the body sleep, they would not warm themselves when they felt cold or cool themselves when they were hot etc. Through this practice Gautama (as the Buddha was called before he became the Buddha) had became skeletally thin, so much so that when recalling these times he said he could press a finger into his belly and feel his spine. He was nearing death and he still had not transcended suffering when a village girl, full of compassion, offered him some milk and he accepted and nourished his body.
On seeing this, the 5 other practitioners were horrified and surmised that Gautama had gone soft and was not up to the strict practice so they left him to his own devices. Gautama, who had come from a princely upbringing had now experienced these two extremes and was able to see that neither indulging or denying the body’s and mind’s needs led to awakening - this is the root of the buddhas seminal teaching of the middle path. Starving leads to suffering, indulgence leads to suffering. But nourishment is essential.
Newly nourished and washed he sat down under the Bodhi tree in Bohd Gaya, Northern India and reflected on his life experience, determined to see the reality of the way things are. He sat all night and into the early morning and as dawn came he at last realised the truth. On doing so, he touched the earth and asked her to bear witness to his liberation.
At first, he didn’t want to teach, believing it to be ‘bothersome’ and he could not imagine being understood, such was the chasm between his awakening and the dream in which most people live their lives. But then he heard a voice of great compassion and wisdom which beseeched him to teach and told him that there are those with only a little dust in their eyes…. teach them, it asked.
So he went to find the 5 meditators, and when they saw him approach, they agreed not to greet him, since he clearly couldn’t handle their practices. But as he got nearer they we awed by his radiant presence and could not help themselves in responding warmly and respectfully.
The Buddha then gave his first discourse on what he now knew to be true. This discourse is called Turning the Wheel of Dharma - Dharma in this context means the truth of things. Seeing into the true nature of things, seeing things as they really are. The true nature of reality.
The discourse is called Turning the Wheel of Dharma as it signifies a revolutionary turning of understanding and practice with far reaching consequences as realised by the Buddha.
The discourse speaks about the characteristics of existence, that suffering arises, that all phenomena is impermanent in nature and therefore leading to one of the most radical teachings both then and now… that what we perceive as “self’…. the body, emotions, thoughts and concepts is, in fact, not ‘self’ and that there is no intrinsic, lasting “self” in any arisen, impermanent phenomena both living or inanimate.
It goes on to lay down the teaching of The Four Noble Truths and invites the practitioner to practice and achieve the corresponding Four Noble Tasks…. That will lead to the cessation of our dissatisfaction or suffering.
On hearing the discourse, one of the five instantly became enlightened and the other four soon followed and they formed the beginnings of the Buddha’s sangha - a community of practitioners.
The Buddha then went on to teach for another 45 years through out northern India.
He didn’t teach Buddhism, Buddhism only came later, after his death. The Buddha taught the dharma - the truth of reality as he had realised it. He is quoted again and again as saying he teaches about suffering and the way out of suffering - that was his gig. That there is mind made suffering, there is a cause of mind made suffering, and there is a way out of mind made suffering.
And just as he had realised the dharma through meditation which gave rise to concentration, insight and compassion, so can we realise the dharma through meditation and be liberated from enduring and causing further needless suffering to ourselves and others. He was emphatic that this path is a path of practice.
His teachings were not to be simply ‘believed’ and ‘subscribed’ to, like many other doctrines but to be practiced in meditation and concentration and thus to be ‘known’. Because the truth of reality cannot be understood or comprehended by the intellectual mind, but it can be experienced though the practice of present moment awareness.
After his death, the first council of the dharma sangha came together to write down his teachings, as, up unto this point, they had been delivered in verbal discourses. These written discourses then became known as the Buddha Dharma, in this context meaning: the truth of reality and the body of the buddhas teachings.
So this is what can be understood as the Buddha dharma. The truth of reality and the body of the teachings pointing to the way of realization.
The dharma gives us a framework to guide our practice, the Buddha devoted his life to awakening and trying to explain the unexplainable and so provided a large body of teachings that has grown into many different traditions espousing many different practices all with the same destination.
Within these teachings we can find illumination, inspiration, instruction, reassurance, guidance, wisdom, and a wellspring for faith, a new directions to try if we feel stuck and validation that we are progressing when we suddenly understand a previously mysterious teaching through our own lived experience and practice.
And it helps us to understand that the path of practice is not always smooth sailing. As we find a way in and begin to investigate the nature of mind, the nature of experience ….we will encounter things we don’t like. This is part of the path. The only way out is through.
The greatest gift that the buddha gave us is the gift of these priceless teachings.
When mindfulness meditation is within the context of the dharma, its true purpose and potential can be realised and it becomes both a wonderful friend and a beautiful path for us to tread for the rest of our lives.
Louise Taylor is an insight meditation teacher and dharma practitioner with over 20 years experience