Monday, January 18, 2010

Five Ways

When it comes to explaining the phenomena we encounter in our world, most people choose one of the following four ontological extremes:
  1. Something is
  2. Something is not
  3. Something both is and is not
  4. Something neither is nor is not
No matter how hard we may try, there simply is no fifth alternative, fifth extreme. Thus, we speak about the four exhaustive ontological extremes.

Let's take an example of a vase. A vase may be sitting on a table, and so we may say that the vase is there. Or, that vase may fall off the table and break into pieces on the floor, at which point we may say that the vase is not there anymore.

However, some of us may be prone to looking at the broken pieces of that vase, and claim that the vase actually still is there, since we can reassemble it from its constituent pieces, but at the same time it is not there, because it has not been reassembled yet.

Finally, the fourth extreme view would claim that the vase is not there, obviously, since it ceased to exist after the accident, but it's also not not there, because its constituent pieces still remain, and could be propped up to give it a new lease on life.

Even though there cannot be any possibility of the fifth extreme, as the above four are absolutely exhaustive, there still is a fifth way: it's the Buddhist way, namely, the Middle Way.

Middle Way is the way that avoids all four ontological extremes. As such, it relies on vigilant practice which ensures that the Buddha's disciples never stray into any of these four ontological extremes. Middle Way is the only possible way out of the world of entanglement we sometimes refer to as samsara.

Sidebar: This article deals with ontological extremes, so it will be useful to keep in mind that ontology is a metaphysical discipline which explores the nature of unchangeable entities. From the metaphysical/ontological perspective, any phenomena that is subject to change is not worth focusing on, since such phenomena are deceptive, or they're the work of the devil (or the work of some such ungodly creature).

Monday, January 4, 2010

What Is The Best Approach To Buddhist Practice?

People sometimes ask me what would be the best way they should approach the Buddhist practice. Given the hectic pace of modern living, the traditional ways of Buddhist practice don't seem feasible at all, and so many of us are left wondering and scratching our heads -- is there a way to practice Buddhism and still continue living in modern society?

Well, the good news is -- yes, there definitely is a way to do that, however, the caveat will be that you'd have to assume a proper orientation in order to successfully do that. The aim of this article is to provide you with exactly that -- a proper orientation on your spiritual path.

Here, then, is how you should do it: imagine for a moment that you have injured your right arm (like, you've broken it). The pain would be excruciating, and from that moment on there will be only one thing, one intention on your mind: how to heal the injury as quickly as humanly possible. All other thoughts, wishes and dreams would all of a sudden take a back seat, and all your best efforts wold be fully engaged in healing your broken arm.

But the healing does not happen overnight. So it would require some time, and you must be patient with it. Not only that, you must also be extremely careful not to exacerbate and further aggravate the injury. All these intentions will no doubt be constantly on your mind, no matter how intelligent or how educated and trained you might be. Even the biggest simpleton in the world would have no problems recognizing the seriousness of his injury and focusing all his efforts on healing it.

While the healing is slowly going on, you would be extra careful when moving about your daily business. Like if you were forced to move through an unruly crowds, for instance, you will no doubt spend each and every second of that event being painfully aware of your arm, of its position, and of your bodily movements. This is so that you don't further aggravate the injury.

And the fact is that if you persevere in doing that, your arm is guaranteed to heal. But if you remain reckless (an extremely unlikely event, by the way), then the arm will not only not heal quickly, its condition may worsen to the point of flaring up with a gangrene, in which case this whole affair may end up fatally.

The above is super easy to understand and grasp, right? Well, in the exact same manner, day-to-day Buddhist practice is super easy to understand and grasp. Simply put, in the Buddhist practice, the fundamental premise is that your entire presence in the world has been fatally injured, and the only way to prevent tragedy is to mobilize all your forces and resources and to work on healing the injury. What that means is that in the Buddhist practice you will be switching your attention from your thoughts to your intentions. Thoughts are like clouds, they come and go, in a seemingly unpredictable fashion. Intentions, on the other hand, are much less random, as they are strictly concerned with the present injury. Admit and acknowledge the injury, and you immediately formulate an iron-clad intention to heal it.

Only an utter fool would leave his injury unattended. And that's why in Buddhism we usually refer to regular, non-practicing people as 'foolish'.