Thursday, June 18, 2015

Dhamma and Buddhism

I am currently taking the Bachelor of Arts in Buddhist Studies in Buddhist and Pali College of Singapore at Mangala Vihara. I am also a Buddhist practitioner with knowledge of the Dhamma since 11 years ago. This article is to clarify what is the difference between Dhamma and Buddhism as I see it currently. This article would reflect what is being taught in Majjhima Nikaya no. 22. Clarification, I didn't read it fully.

I would define Buddhism as the container of Dhamma. The Buddhist Societies, the humans who practices it, the culture, history, geographical spread, the social context, Buddhist arts, etc... all these are Buddhism, you can also include the Dhamma in here as well.

Dhamma there might be many deep meanings. First and most commonly that I would use is the words of the Buddha. Technically that is also Buddhism as the words are signpost to the thing pointed to. So the second and truer meaning is the realization of the truth of the world as it really is. Yet, the Buddha has also mentioned this before: the Dhamma is like a raft to cross the river of suffering. Let it go after crossing. So the third meaning of Dhamma is the way to the end of suffering.

To learn Dhamma properly, one only needs to understand properly the Four Noble Truths and Noble Eightfold Path.

The Four Noble Truths in brief are:

  1. This is suffering (or dissatisfaction) to be understood.
  2. This is the cause of suffering (craving and ignorance) to be abandoned.
  3. This is the end of suffering to be attained/realized. 
  4. This is the way to the end of Suffering to be developed.
Right View, Thoughts, Speech, Action, Livelihood, Effort, Mindfulness and Meditation are the Noble Eightfold Path. 

There is a repeat there that the Right View of the Noble Eightfold Path includes Four Noble Truths. And the Fourth of the Four Noble Truths is the Noble Eightfold Path itself. Thus saying the Dhamma is the way to the end of suffering (Noble Eightfold Path) is technically correct as well.

Properly taught so that the learner can know how to attain to Nibbana (the end of suffering), that is the purpose of learning Dhamma. In this sense, learning Dhamma is a lot about strengthening one's Right View. Thus, don't criticize a person who keeps on learning Dhamma. They are starting on the path. If they somehow is not able to apply it to develop Right Thoughts, Speech, Action, Livelihood, Effort, Mindfulness and Meditation yet, then encourage them to continue on the path and develop them.

To learn the Dhamma, one can go to various Dhamma talks, Basic Buddhism Courses, Dhamma Class, online, Dhamma books, etc... that's the business of Buddhism.

The danger is when the Dhamma is not properly taught and the grasping on the Dhamma becomes wrong grasping as stated in the sutta.

In brief, the way is to establish Right View properly, so that one thoughts becomes gentle, kind and able to let go. One develops Right Thoughts. With this, one's speech and action is also Right when one observes the 5 precepts. One's Livelihood would be Right when it does not harm oneself and others. Right Effort and Right Mindfulness are involved together with Right View in developing the rest of the Right Factors. You have to know clearly, remember and put in effort to develop these factors. Finally, Right Meditation is to have stillness of mind together with the seven Right factors, to let go all the way into the Jhana states (of mental absorption, and shutting off of the five physical senses).

Right knowledge will appear as one uses the mind with strong mindfulness from the Jhana states to examine body, feeling, mind and phenomena (dhamma). One would find that all conditioned things are impermanent, suffering, not self (a thing that is impermanent and suffering is not worth to call a self or identify as me, mine, I.) Right liberation comes as a result of disenchantment and letting go of all cravings to all conditioned things as the result of seeing things as they are. This is wisdom from realization, not from intellectual knowing and understanding. The whole process of meditation to attain to insight and to prepare for meditation, one has to be virtuous, and to start the path correctly, one has to have Right View.

Buddhism is what you learn if you dabble in the Buddhist world for quite long and also if you take up the Diploma in Buddhism course here: which opens registration in July and August!

In the course, you will learn some Dhamma as well as many other things not needed for the practice to enlightenment. The benefits would be to be able to see objectively how Dhamma has affected the world and to read the Buddha's words. We base it mainly on the Pali suttas, and we have to read up quite a number of them, even learning the Pali language so that we can read the originals without depending on translators!

This path can be called scholastic Buddhism. To be objective in the learning of the Dhamma itself. It is easier to let go of the raft like this in the end. It is also easier to be able to come to terms with the existence of so many different schools and traditions of Buddhism that some would have contradictions in Dhamma. To practice the Dhamma however, does require one to choose a path. Whether one chooses Varjayana, Mahayana, or Theravada or Early Buddhism (the common suttas amongst the traditions, basically Theravada without relying on commentaries and Abhidhamma which may contradict with the Sutta and Vinaya), one can totally practice it well. The worst thing might be to learn Buddhism and not practise the Dhamma. Like mentioned in the sutta above, it is to the long-term harm and suffering to those who wrongly grasp the Dhamma.

To learn Buddhism also enables one to teach more effectively. However it is also possible to just learn the Dhamma, practise, realize, and then teach. That would perhaps be a more direct and effective way.

Anyway, just keep on practising! And if you are serious in knowing the Dhamma objectively, take up Buddhism!