BCEM 393 Lecture Notes - Lecture 8: Middle Way, Towel, Impermanence
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1. How is the biography of the Buddha a lesson in the Middle Way of Buddhism?
a.) What kind of life does the Buddha have in his youth?
b.) What is present and absent in this early life? Give examples.
c.) How is this early life the opposite of the life he has when he first becomes an
d.) What is this early ascetic life like?
e.)What is the middle way between these two extremes that the Buddha - and
Buddhism - finally recommends?
a. In his youth, the Buddha has every possible luxury available to him because his
father wants him to be earthly and become a great king like him. The king avoided
everything that is dissatisfying for the Buddha.
b. In his early life, he has everything for e.g. pleasure and even the sadness because his
mother died at an early age. But he has no contact with the outside world.
c. After Buddha gets married and has a child, he becomes curious about the outside world. So, he
decided to leave. While he was exploring the life of the outside world on his own, he saw 4 signs: a
sick man, an elderly man, dead corpse and an ascetic. The Buddha becomes a renunciate after he sees
these four signs. These signs taught him that life has suffering, and everyone is going to die, and
becoming an ascetic is the only solution.
d. His early life is the complete opposite of the life he has when he first becomes an
ascetic because now he has no family, no luxuries and he’s facing all the problems
that his dad had been protecting him from.
e. The life that he had chosen has made him torture himself, he performed extreme
austerities and got so skinny that even his backbone can be felt by touching his
f. On the verge of death, Buddha realizes that renunciation was not the solution he was
looking for and so he decides to bathe himself and eat to recover, therefore was going
against the ascetic practices.The middle way between the two extremes (self-
indulgence and self-mortification) that the Buddha and Buddhism finally recommends
is where one should renunciate in a way that don’t require a torture to one’s life.
2. State and explain the First Noble Truth of Buddhism.
a.) What is the first Noble Truth?
b.) What are the two possible English translations for the single word ‘duḥkha’?
c.) What are the two readings of the First Noble Truth, with these two different English
translations of duḥkha inserted?
d.) How might each interpretation of the First Noble Truth be explained and/or
e.) Why think everything is unsatisfactory? Give examples.
f.) Aren’t there also apparent counter-examples – examples of things that are in fact
g.)How does the Buddha deal with these kinds of cases?
h.) Why think everything is suffering?
i.) Don’t some lives contain much less suffering/pain than pleasure?
j.) How does the Buddha deal with these kinds of cases? Give examples throughout.
a. The first Noble truth is “All of this is Duhkha”.
b. The two possible English translations for the single word ‘duhkha’ are suffering and
unsatisfactory. From suffering it means that all of the life is suffering both mentally and physically
and from unsatisfactory, it means that nothing we experience is finally satisfying because there’s no
c. The two readings of the first Noble Truth with these two different English translations of
duhkha inserted are “All of this is suffering” and “All of this is unsatisfactory”.
d. The interpretation of the first noble truth, “duhkha” as suffering means that everything in life
is suffering by means of both physical pain and mental pain. It explains that there’s more pain
than pleasure in life. And everyone feels the same level of physical pain, for example- taking out
blood would hurt everyone the same, but there are different levels of pain associated with
mental pain. Mental pain is something one can have immediate and more direct control over
and it is not the same for everyone because some people have more stress and anxiety than
others. For example, the stressfulness about getting a needle beforehand.
e. The interpretation of the first noble truth, “duhkha” as unsatisfactory means that nothing in
life is finally satisfying because nothing is permanent; there is no permanent happiness. For
example; Even if you manage to get you dream job, or your soulmate, it will all come to an end one
day. You will be satisfied with something until it dies, and then after that, you’ll be unsatisfied again.
f. There are counter-examples of things that are in fact satisfactory such as latest devices, soul-
mate and we think these things can be a permanent source of satisfaction but they aren’t
because everything has an end (everything is temporary).
g. The Buddha deals with these kinds of cases by focusing more on the mental pain as it is more
avoidable and can have direct control over than the physical pain.
h. According to the Buddha, some sources of suffering are, birth, aging, death, sorrow (grief), fear
and anxiety. In general, there is more pain than pleasure in life. Some people may experience
more pleasure than pain in life but then the Buddha wants them to expand their viewpoint
because as a worldview there is so much suffering going on for e.g.- wars, poverty and even if
that gets fixed, we can look back in history when people’s life span was only 40 years.
3. State and explain the three elements of the Eight-Fold Path that constitute
a.) What are the three elements?
b.) What does Right Speech include?
c.) What does ‘frivolous speech’ refer to?
d.) What does Right action involve?
e.) What is sexual misconduct in this context?
f.) How is sexual misconduct different for the laity than it is for monks and nuns?
a. The three elements that constitute morality are right speech, right action and
b. Right speech includes avoiding things like lying, gossiping, slandering
someone and “frivolous speech”.
c. “Frivolous speech” is referred to as something that is counter-productive in
ending duhkha and something that caters to our own ignorance, insecurities,
desires, lesser motives, compliments, self-aggrandizing speech which is when
someone is talking about something that is unnecessary to say, for e.g.-
having chit-chat with someone just to fill yourself.
d. Right action involves things such as refraining from taking life (killing),
harming, stealing and sexual misconduct. Not harming people is a broad term
in right action because Buddhism believed in ahimsa (non-harm).
e. Sexual misconduct in this context is to avoid any sexual conduct or activities.
f. Sexual misconduct is different for the laity than it is for monks and nuns.
Monks and nuns are required to have complete celibacy, includes wet dreams
but laity is prohibited from having sex outside of marriage, but not complete
g. The Right Livelihood is an honest living that does not involve any wrong
actions. It is also a blameless profession that cause no harm to others and it
involves no violation of the other elements of 8-fold path.
4. Explain the doctrine of Mindfulness in the Early Discourses, using the example of knowing
the body in particular.
a) What is mindfulness in general?
b) What things about our body should we know/be aware of?
c) What should we know about these things?
d) What should we know about the actual parts of our bodies?
e) What kinds of meditations does the Buddha recommend for knowing the body?
f) What is the fundamental realization(s) we are supposed to have about the body?
a) Mindfulness in general is noticing what occurred in your experience and being aware of
it. A mindful person is one who knows the body as body, the feeling as feeling, the mind
as mind, and mind objects as mind objects.
b) One of the things about our body that we should be aware of is to know the breath as
breath which means we should know that we are breathing and the quality of the breath
by being calm. And the second thing is to know the postures and actions which means
we should be aware of our actions such as walking, standing, carrying robe, eating,
drinking, chewing, waking up, etc. The third is to know the actual parts of our bodies
such as arms, legs, chest, neck, arteries etc. and to emphasize the repulsiveness of our
body. The fourth is to know your body by knowing other’s (deceased) bodies by
looking at corpses and knowing that our body will end up in the same way and eventually
will be eaten up, skinned, and then the bones will all turn into dust/soil/ash and therefore
we should understand that our body is not permanent.
c) Buddha recommend the cemetery meditations for knowing the body where you look at a
skeleton and see the bones scattering and eventually turning into dust/soil and understand
the impermanence of your body.