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Please enter a valid ZIP Code. One of these factors is attachment or craving, tanha, and another is ignorance; these two are emphasized as being the weak links in the chain, the place to make a break. To overcome selfish craving, one cultivates the heart through compassion; to eliminate ignorance one cultivates the mind through wisdom. Compassion and wisdom are twin virtues in Buddhism, and are cultured by ethical behavior and meditation, respectively.

It is a process of self-discipline and self-development which emphasizes the heart and mind equally, and insists that both working together are necessary for enlightenment. If Buddhism can be seen as a process of personal development, one may well ask: what is a person, if not a soul or self? In keeping with the ideas of dependent origination, Buddhism views a person as a changing configuration of five factors, or 'skandhas.

Second there is the factor of sensation or feeling; here are found the five senses as well as mind, which in Buddhism is considered a sense organ. The mind senses thoughts and ideas much the same as the eye senses light or the ear senses air pressure. Thirdly, there is the factor of perception; here is the faculty which recognizes physical and mental objects.

The Essentials of Buddhist Philosophy

Fourth there is the factor variously called impulses or mental formulations; here is volition and attention, the faculty of will, the force of habits. Lastly, there is the faculty of consciousness or awareness. In Buddhism consciousness is not something apart from the other factors, but rather interacting with them and dependent on them for its existence; there is no arising of consciousness without conditions. Here we see no idea of personhood as constancy, but rather a fleeting, changing assortment or process of various interacting factors.

A major aim of Buddhism is first to become aware of this process, and then to eliminate it by eradicating its causes. This process does not terminate with the dissolution of the physical body upon death; Buddhism assumes reincarnation. Even though there is no soul to continue after death, the five skandhas are seen as continuing on, powered by past karma, and resulting in rebirth.


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Karma in Buddhism, as in Hinduism, stems from volitional action and results in good or bad effects in this or a future life. Buddhism explains the karmic mechanism a bit differently; it is not the results of the action per se that result in karma, but rather the state of mind of the person performing the action.

Here again, Buddhism tends to focus on psychological insights; the problem with bad or selfish action is that it molds our personality, creates ruts or habitual patterns of thinking and feeling.

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These patterns in turn result in the effects of karma in our lives. Many other metaphysical questions were put to the Buddha during his life; he did not answer them all. He eschewed the more abstract and speculative metaphysical pondering, and discouraged such questions as hindrances on the path.

Such questions as what is Nirvana like, what preceded existence, etc.

Asked what happens to an Arhant, an enlightened one, upon his death, the Buddha was said to have replied: "What happens to the footprints of the birds in the air. He evidently felt that many such questions were arising out of a false attachment to self, and that they distracted one from the main business of eliminating suffering.

The Buddha intended his philosophy to be a practical one, aimed at the happiness of all creatures. While he outlined his metaphysics, he did not expect anyone to accept this on faith but rather to verify the insights for themselves; his emphasis was always on seeing clearly and understanding. To achieve this, however, requires a disciplined life and a clear commitment to liberation; the Buddha laid out a clear path to the goal and also observations on how to live life wisely. The core of this teaching is contained in the Noble Eightfold Path, which covers the three essential areas of Buddhist practice: ethical conduct, mental discipline 'concentration' or 'meditation' , and wisdom.

The goals are to cultivate both wisdom and compassion; then these qualities together will enable one ultimately to attain enlightenment. The path is laid out in eight steps, but one may practice all of the steps simultaneously, since they work together. The first two steps or factors constitute Wisdom. Right understanding or right views is the grasping of true reality, as seen in the Buddhist teachings; it is not merely an intellectual understanding, although this helps. Rather it is a direct insight and penetration into the nature of things.

Right thought or right intentions is that frame of mind which is selfless, detached and free of malice; that generosity of spirit which extends loving benevolence to all beings. The next three steps on the eightfold path constitute ethical conduct. Right speech involves abstaining from lies, from rude or malicious language, from foolish gossip, and from slander or backbiting that may cause disharmony.

One should speak a gentle, kind, and useful truth, or not speak at all. Right action requires abstaining from killing and all violence, stealing, dishonest practices, intoxicating drinks and improper sexual behavior. Right livelihood means that one should abstain from any profession that brings harm to others, such as weaponry, butchering animals or selling liquor. Also one's career should develop one's talents, overcome the ego by joining in a common cause, and provide what is needed for a worthwhile existence -- basic comforts and necessities, but not ostentatious luxuries.

The last three steps on the path are those which promote mental discipline.

Buddhist Philosophy

Right effort is the will to cultivate wholesome states of mind and eliminate evil or unwanted ones. Right mindfulness or attentiveness involves being keenly aware of the processes involved in one's daily existence, those of the body, the sensations, the mind and the experiencing of thoughts and ideas. Mindfulness is practiced in Buddhist forms of meditation such as vipassana, through techniques like observation of the breath and bodily sensations.

Right concentration refers to the progressive stages of dhyana this is closer to what is called meditation in most Hindu traditions.


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In this discipline, the mind is gradually cleared of passionate desires, then thoughts, then finally even feelings of joy, until only pure awareness remains, in a state of perfect calm and equanimity. Other teachings speak of the Four Friends and the Five Hindrances that one encounters along the path; these are qualities in the heart which may aid or distract one from the process. The four friends are: loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity. Loving kindness is universal love for all beings, without distinction. Compassion is the ability to empathize with others -- to feel what they are feeling.

Sympathetic joy is the quality that takes delight in the happiness of others. Equanimity is a calm acceptance of all that happens, based on the insight of the impermanence of all things; in the end, the only thing that really matters is liberation, so the vicissitudes of life don't really have much significance. The five hindrances are: sensual desire; ill will; sloth and torpor; restlessness and worry, or distraction; and skeptical doubt. Everyone has these hindrances in common, so it is important to find ways of eliminating them; they are like toxins or weeds which prevent the cultivation of those qualities essential for self-discipline and stand in the way of our liberation.

The Buddha's teachings on ethics and living a good life also extended to the realm of the social and political.