Buddhism in a nutshell (draft) by Peter Morrell



Peter Morell: http://www.homeoint.org/morrell/buddhism/index.htm





„Om man padme hum“ = Juwel in the Lotus.

“The Buddha encouraged his followers to be sceptical - ”As the wise test gold by burning, cutting and rubbing it, so, bhikshus, should you accept my words only after

testing them, and not merely out of respect for me”. So, he gave us the liberty to investigate. I respect all the major religious traditions, but this advice is unique to Buddhism. It encourages questioning and using our human brains to the full.





Buddhismus und Hinduismus: ewiger Zyklus der Wiedergeburt

Die Vorstellungen zum Tod sind in einigen Strömungen des Buddhismus und Hinduismus sehr ähnlich. Beide Religionen gehen davon aus, dass das Leben nicht beschränkt ist. Geburt und Tod sind demnach keine Grenzen des Lebens, vielmehr besteht es aus vielen Wiedergeburten, die sich aneinander reihen.

Für die Gläubigen geht mit dem Tod des Körpers nur eine Epoche zu Ende und nach einer Ruhepause kommt die Wiedergeburt. Entscheidend für die Wiedergeburt ist das Karma, das man im früheren Leben gesammelt hat. Positive und negative Taten nehmen Einfluss darauf, wie man wiedergeboren wird.

Wird der Mensch eines Tages erleuchtet, wird er aus dem ewigen Kreislauf der Wiedergeburt befreit – für einige Buddhisten ist dieser ewige Kreislauf eine schlechte Vorstellung. Sie hoffen deshalb auf die Erlösung, die sie im Moksha oder Nirwana zu finden glauben. Dabei bedeutet dieses finale Stadium nicht etwa Unsterblichkeit, sondern Erlöschen. Es gibt jedoch auch andere Strömungen des Buddhismus, die nicht an diese Form der Wiedergeburt glauben.

It is perfectly possible to compress the entire practice and understanding of Buddhism into a very small compass of words, or into a nutshell. And to attempt this is a very worthwhile exercise.

“This task has always been one of the concerns of high lamas giving public teachings, so as to give a short address that contains sufficient depth for the advanced student

to appreciate, but also containing a simple overview for the less advanced - profundity combined with lucidity.

Apart from trying to 'do good, avoid evil and purify the mind'


Certainly the primary activities of the Buddhist life, then briefly, to gain a full and true understanding of Buddhism, replete with powerful insights, one needs above all else,

to gain a very deep grasp of impermanence and then to combine this with the stillness of meditation. Those two need to be cooked long together. Once impermanence is fully sgrasped, and peace obtained, it must be crowned with the glory of compassion for all living beings, just as if they were our own dear mothers. This is not easily followed.

The dear and tender, fragile preciousness of all living beings is only truly appreciated in the light of impermanence or once impermanence has been fully grasped. It is best to see this against the vast immensity, and the painful, raging melting-pot of the inexorable disintegratedness of samsara, which is a raging furnace of change, a ruthless and all-consuming continuum of flux, change, decay, disappointment and loss. Against such a raging maelstrom, containing as it does the inevitable nature of death, the fragile nature of each life form stands out as so precious and tender. Once the preciousness of each life is drawn against the terrifying background of samsara's cargo of pain and loss, that will inevitably be delivered, then this view generates the deep compassion one needs: a true sense of the great preciousness of all life.

Thus, in summary, Buddhism combines the wisdom of emptiness with the utter joy of compassion, set in the stillness of an empty meditating mind. Contemplating regularly along these lines brings great mental bliss and pliancy and one attempts thereby to transform feelings of unhappiness into states of greater joy.

This sequence of meditation on impermanence and emptiness and then realisation of compassion is also the sequence followed by the Buddha himself in his enlightenment experience. It was his realisation of emptiness that gave rise to, or laid the foundation for, his subsequent realisation of deep compassion. After his Enlightenment, which can be regarded as his realisation of the emptiness of all existence, the true nature of samsara, he subsequently realised the supreme power of compassion, which is regard for the preciousness of all life. He thus came to blend both views by realising that all events can be seen as aspects of bliss and emptiness.

The love and compassion we generate for all living things must constantly be measured against their certain death, and the disappointment and suffering that samsara will inevitably inflict upon them. Repeated contemplation of this deepens and reinforces one's sense of compassion Thus, emptiness and compassion really do feed and reinforce each other as topics of meditation.

By continually mingling in this way the contemplation of suffering and impermanence with contemplation of compassion for living things, one gradually deepens and extends one's feelings of great love for all living beings, on the one side, and deepens one's realisation of the pervasive emptiness of all created things, on the other side.

I try to observe all people in terms of their suffering state, because this reinforces my feeling of love for them. It deeply reinforces a sense of compassion for them.

I try to especially love them for their faults and impurities, just as they are in their innate suchness. I try to tune into and feel the suffering that they feel, their sadness, their pain, their loneliness, their fears, their hurt, their unhappinesses - because to do so refines my sense of compassion, and leads to an appreciation both of emptiness and compassion together. Each person can be observed as a focal point for the interplay of emptiness and suffering. This is in fact a very difficult perception to grasp. It is indeed genuinely very hard for most people to regard their pain as a blend of bliss and emptiness!

Yet, the suffering of each living being is and can eventually be seen as an aspect of bliss and emptiness, for 'form is emptiness; emptiness is form' [Heart Sutra]. Thinking along these lines is very fertile and one realises that each individual is a slightly different blend of forms of suffering, some mostly desire, others mostly hate, some mostly fear, others mostly loneliness, depression or despair. However, it is not a purpose of Buddhism to stand in judgement over people, to condemn them for the suffering they endure in samsara. But it is a purpose of Buddhism to study suffering, and to attune to these facts of our lives, to understand them and to use them in religious practice to refine our own good qualities, like compassion, love, forgiveness and acceptance, as well as to contemplate these unpleasant aspects of life as 'cocktails' of bliss and emptiness.

Therefore, we might say that deep scrutiny of our lives and the suffering it contains, as well as the suffering of others, not only inspires us to feel deeper compassion for them, it can also be employed as a meditation in its own right, leading to deeper understanding of emptiness, which is undoubtedly the most advanced and difficult Buddhist teaching.


A Buddhist View of Suffering.x

Buddhism is pretty centrally concerned with suffering. It never really stops studying the suffering of oneself and that of other people. These form a central focus of the religion, its practice and its philosophy. One is encouraged to explore what suffering is, the various forms it comes in and their root causes. Though they can all be reduced

to attractions and aversions based upon the illusion of a real self, which desires certain things and is averse to others, yet this is not immediately obvious or a point easily grasped:

"And the people, who hide themselves behind a wall of illusion

Never glimpse the truth, then it's far too late, when they pass away."

[George Harrison, Within you without you, 1967]

We live much of our lives in an entangling spider’s web of these desires and aversions. Buddhism aims at the demolition of the self, the creation of subtle mindfulness,

bliss, great compassion and moderation and gentleness. These must be cultivated within a general atmosphere of subduing the passions, subduing the desires and aversions

and of cultivating reflection and a caring attitude to all life.

The Theravada tradition primarily emphasises ethical conduct, mindfulness and self-restraint, which aim at achieving enlightenment, probably after many future lifetimes.

The Mahayana tradition primarily emphasises the attainment not just of enlightenment, but also of full Buddhahood. This subtle difference means training not just to gain insights and personal release from Samsara, but also to actually become a Buddha, a fully enlightened being who compassionately helps others through their lives to attain wisdom and realisation. In the Mahayana, the emphasis is upon becoming a bodhisattva, which is a Buddha-to-be who strives for the enlightenment of others ahead of his

or her own.

The Tantrayana comprises Mahayana paths that aim to achieve full Buddhahood in this lifetime.


In the Mahayana Zen tradition, the rather ruthless destruction of the self through reflection, passivity and self-denial is the fruit of a life of great discipline, simplicity and focus. In this way, it aims to achieve perfection of mind control and ethics through the exhaustive realisation of emptiness and mental stillness:

"The farther one travels

The less one knows."

[George Harrison, The Inner Light, 1969]

All other aspects of human life, and even Buddhist scriptures, are deliberately reduced to a stark minimum. The meat of the Zen life is unrelenting confrontation with one’s own psychological shortcomings:

"We're just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl, year after year,

Running over the same old ground.

What have we found?

The same old fears."

[Pink Floyd Wish you were here, 1975]

The Tibetan tradition strives for the attainment of selflessness through practising extraordinary compassion and by putting the suffering of others before one’s own to develop the very special, selfless love of a Buddha as well as his wisdom. This strives to develop these two key aspects of Buddhahood together, side-by-side. Mindfulness and meditation also play a prominent role. Ritual, visualisations, rote learning of scriptures and engaging in debates on the finer points of doctrine are also used to maximum effect arousing religious feeling and a thorough understanding of emptiness.

It is true to say that Buddhism begins and ends in the study of suffering. This lies at its root just as it lies at the root of life itself. We are born into suffering - "like a dog without a bone, into this life we’re thrown" [The Doors] – and we all must die and experience pain and loss. Obviously, we also experience great joy as well, but suffering seems to be a dominating influence of all life and in our lives. Buddhism concerns itself very much with the study of suffering in all its forms, what it is, how it arises and how its causes might be cut, overpowered or transformed into a life-plan that minimises suffering coming into being, by cutting off its causes within one’s life, attitudes and behaviour. In this way, a ‘new life’ can be forged when effort and determination are harnessed to the task. Real change and real improvement are only possible when great effort is made at the right tasks. Such are the schools and paths of Buddhism. It is thus a religion of self-transformation and self-improvement, through application of continuous effort:

"Try to realise it's all within yourself

No one else can make you change."

[Within you without you, George Harrison, 1967]

Because Buddhism is a religion primarily involved with suffering, so it especially identifies with the working classes who are burdened with ‘failure in life’ and the suffering of delay, lack of progression, frustration and poverty, etc. Buddhism therefore identifies to some degree with all poor and suffering people like that, as it makes a central study of such figures. It identifies as a subject of its own study, therefore, with the grosser forms of human suffering, which are predominantly found in the lower social strata of society. This is not to say that rich and privileged people do not experience suffering, or even those happy people who happen to be enjoying life now. They also suffer to some extent.

In any case, there are subtle and pervasive forms of suffering and impure states of mind even for rich and happy people. They also suffer losses, disappointments and frustrations. They are also burdened with jealousy, avarice, fear and desire. Yet, suffering is predominantly confined to the poor and lower classes compared with the rich. One of the defining features of working people is that they suffer more than average setbacks and disappointments in their lives. They therefore form a good subject of study for Buddhists. Their position in society gives one a justifiable sympathy towards them, and one is predisposed to empathise with their suffering, even if a strict Buddhist might contend that their suffering is the ripening of their own bad karma [is their ‘own fault’] or that it is illusory in the deeper sense of it being an aspect of a non-existent self that is a mental construct.

It can truthfully be said in Buddhism that meditation and mindfulness on their own may not achieve selflessness, because employed alone these forces do not directly counteract the ego. The ego must be tackled; it must be subdued and diminished if true realisation is to occur:

"When you've seen beyond yourself then you may find

Peace of mind is waiting there."

[George Harrison, Within you without you, 1967]

For example, one can engage in meditation and mindfulness for years, know all the great teachings by heart, and yet still remain innately arrogant. This is because our sense of self is so persistent and so hard to dislodge. In some of us, the self becomes too solid and we identify with this mind, this body and the details of this life too tightly. We are then very reluctant to let these elements go, to loosen their grip and let ego melt away:

"I built my prison stone by stone

how many useless knots I tied

I dug the pitfalls in my path

how many useless tears I cried."

[Robin Williamson, Cutting the Strings, 1970]

If we rely on these matters so much then our sense of self is very powerful; if, however, we loosen our sense of identification with our body, our mind and our position in life, making them slightly more distant and less important, that is being non-attached to them, then the sense of self becomes correspondingly diminished. But awareness then brightens and joy and compassion actually become possible:

"You give all your brightness away and it only makes you brighter."

[You get brighter every day, Mike Heron, 1967]

It seems one cherishes others to the degree that one no longer over-cherishes the self:

"You never enjoy the world aright

Till the sea itself floweth

In your veins and you are clothed

With the heavens and crowned with the stars."

[Thomas Traherne]

This is the correct application of non-attachment and mindfulness as spiritual antidotes of egotism. Whether through emptiness or compassion, or patience, or giving, somehow or other one must release the grip of the ego in order to achieve great realisations. There simply is no other way.

It is the resistance the ego puts up against the realisation of selflessness and emptiness that prevents us from gaining good insight. This resistance can be enormous in those who have habituated a very solid identification of their current consciousness and life situation with the bright and empty awareness that underpins all life and flows through all things:

"And to see you're really only very small

And life flows within you and without you."

[Within you without you, George Harrison, 1967]

Ego is terrified of its own extinction above all else. That which flows through all things cannot be destroyed, thus no fear need arise.

When these ideas become fully absorbed and appreciated, it then becomes possible to understand why Buddha was called the Subduer, the World Conqueror, the Tathagata, the One-Gone-Thus, the World Honoured One, the Great Sage of India, World Teacher and the One Gone to Bliss [Sugata] for truly when ego is destroyed and a joyful and compassionate selflessness has emerged, then mind has truly merged into bliss, which is Buddhahood.

Strive to be

"not attached to the pleasures of mundane existence

"craving cyclic existence thoroughly binds the embodied."

"Emphasis on the appearances of this life is reversed."

"If you think again and again

About deeds and their inevitable effects

And the sufferings of cyclic existence,"

"generation of a complete aspiration to highest enlightenment," which is the same as "the supreme altruistic intention to become enlightened."

"Have entered into the iron cage of apprehending self (inherent existence),"

"the realisation of emptiness," which is "the cause and effect of all phenomena."

from Tsong Kha pa, Three Principle Aspects of the Path


11 Pearls of Wisdom From the 14th Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama, a monk and the spiritual head of Tibetan Buddhism. Today’s current Dalai Lama is the 14th Dalai Lama, and known worldwide for spreading a message of compassion and tolerance.

Below are a few of my favorit quotes from the 14th Dalai Lama. My hope is that they bring you a little extra peace today.

1. “In the practice of tolerance, one’s enemy is the best teacher.”

2. “We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves.”

3. “Sleep is the best meditation.”

4. “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

5. “We all have to live together, so we might as well live together happily.”

6. “Look at situations from all angles, and you will become more open.”

7. “Disagreement is something normal.”

8. “In order to carry a positive action we must develop here a positive vision.”

9. “The purpose of our lives is to be happy.”

10. “Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.”

11. “My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.”



[Katrin Zeug/Melina Grundmann]

Menschen, die meditieren, haben eine höhere Dichte bestimmter Nervenzellen

Eine Möglichkeit, die Selbstwahrnehmung zu lernen, bietet die Achtsamkeitsmeditation. Sie folgt der buddhistischen Tradition. »Meditation nimmt der emotionalen Erregung die Spitze, sodass man nicht wie eine Reiz-Reaktions-Maschine in automatische Verhaltensmuster rutscht«, sagt der Psychologe Ulrich Ott , der die Wirkung der Meditation am Bender Institute of Neuroimaging der Universität Gießen erforscht. Ruhe ein Mensch mehr in sich, könne er gelassener in ein unangenehmes Gespräch gehen. Er lasse sich dann gar nicht erst provozieren oder verunsichern.

Außerdem schärfe das mentale Training die Aufmerksamkeit. Meditierende lernen, ihre Gedanken zu beobachten und zu stoppen, bevor sie schlechte Gefühle auslösen.

»Es entsteht eine Lücke,  in der ich mich fragen kann: Was nehme ich wahr, und wie will ich darauf reagieren?«

Hirnstudien weisen darauf hin: Menschen, die seit Langem meditieren, weisen eine höhere Dichte an Nervenzellen im orbitofrontalen Kortex auf, einer Region oberhalb

der Augenhöhlen, die mit dem Umlernen emotionaler Reaktionen in Verbindung gebracht wird.

Welche Rolle die eigene Haltung in Extremsituationen spielt, hat Ott mithilfe von Experimenten untersucht, bei denen er Probanden Stromschläge verabreichte. »Wer sie mit Gleichmut registrierte, ertrug sie viel besser als jemand, der sich in Erwartungsängste hineinsteigerte«, sagt der Psychologe. Auf emotional schwierige Situationen sei das gut übertragbar.

Martina Aßmann kann das bestätigen, sie meditiert seit vier Jahren regelmäßig, vor allem in der U-Bahn. Die 49-jährige Hamburgerin möchte ihre Ungeduld überwinden, die ihr selbst und ihren Mitmenschen oft das Leben schwer macht. »Wenn die U-Bahn mal länger im Tunnel steht oder jemand langatmig und umständlich erzählt, ist das für mich kaum zu ertragen«, sagt Aßmann. »Manchmal könnte ich dann an die Decke gehen.« Einmal ist sie sogar im Urlaub ausgerastet, weil das Ferienhaus bei ihrer Ankunft noch nicht frei war. »Wie eine Furie habe ich die Frau von der Zimmervermittlung angebrüllt«, erzählt sie. Der Tag ist ihr in schmerzhafter Erinnerung geblieben.

Heute würde ihr das vermutlich nicht so leicht passieren, dank der Meditation hat sie ihre Ungeduld besser im Griff. Zwar fährt sie immer noch nicht gern U-Bahn.

»Aber ich kann mich jetzt bewusst für diesen Moment entscheiden und ihn ertragen.« Wird ihre Geduld heute strapaziert, beobachtet sie sich selbst. »Da drückt was im

Bauch, nimmt mir den Atem, verspannt meinen Nacken«, erklärt Aßmann. Negative Gedanken kann sie jetzt einfach weiterziehen lassen. »Ach, jetzt bist du wieder ungeduldig, denke ich dann und versuche mir das auch selbst zu verzeihen.«

Manchmal konzentriert sie sich beim Meditieren auch bewusst auf liebevolle Gefühle anderen Menschen gegenüber. »Ich kann mich seitdem besser in andere hineinversetzen und mich von ihnen berühren lassen«, sagt Aßmann.

Bewiesen ist es bislang nicht, aber erste Studien deuten darauf hin, dass Menschen mit viel Meditationspraxis mitfühlender sind. Forscher der University of Wisconsin etwa zeichneten die Hirnaktivität von buddhistischen Mönchen und Laien auf, während diese affektive Geräusche etwa das Lachen eines Babys oder die Stimme einer traurigen Frau – hörten. Bei den Mönchen waren jene Hirnregionen, die Wissenschaftler mit Mitgefühl in Verbindung bringen, deutlich aktiver. »Sie waren offenbar besser dazu in der Lage, die Emotionen in sich selbst nachzuvollziehen«, sagt Ulrich Ott.

Ob auch Erwachsene, die zuvor nicht meditiert haben, durch ein mehrwöchiges mentales Training mehr Mitgefühl erlernen können, untersuchen derzeit Tania Singer und ihre Kollegen am Max-Planck-Institut für Kognitions- und Neurowissenschaften in Leipzig. Erste Befunde, die jedoch noch nicht publiziert sind, deuten stark darauf hin.

Wie gut Meditation geeignet ist, den Umgang mit Emotionen zu verändern und ob sie dafür ausreicht, hängt von der Person und ihrem Problem ab. »Sie ist ein guter Einstieg, aber mehrere Werkzeuge zu beherrschen ist besser«, sagt Matthias Berking. Manchen Menschen lägen kognitiv-analytische Strategien eher. So könne etwa ein Manager, der es gewohnt sei, täglich eine Vielzahl von Problemen zu lösen, lernen, negative Emotionen ebenfalls als Problem zu definieren. Wie bei anderen Problemen gehe es dann darum, die Emotion erst einmal genau zu beschreiben und die Auslöser zu analysieren. Dann gelte es, eine konkrete und realistische Ziel-Emotion zu finden und Ideen zu sammeln, wie diese sich bewusst auslösen lasse. Andere Menschen müssen Veränderungen durch Taten schaffen: Wer Angst vor etwas habe oder unter starken Schamgefühlen leide, müsse sich langfristig mit solchen Situationen selbst konfrontieren, um korrigierende Erfahrungen zu sammeln, sagt Berking.

Die Wirkung von Selbsthilfe ist wissenschaftlich kaum untersucht

Die Angebote auf dem freien Markt sind zahlreich, aber nicht immer wissenschaftlich fundiert. Wer keine Therapie benötigt, sondern vergleichsweise kleine Probleme hat, hat es daher schwer, sich zu orientieren. Anders als bei Psychotherapien sind die Wirkungen von Selbsthilfeseminaren äußerst selten Gegenstand wissenschaftlicher Studien. »Das ist ein Problem«, sagt Matthias Berking, »es muss aber nicht heißen, dass diese Angebote schlecht sind.« Wer nicht allein auf Mundpropaganda vertrauen will, dem rät er, sich an einen zugelassenen psychologischen Psychotherapeuten zu wenden. »Die sind in der Regel sehr gut ausgebildet. Auch wer keine Therapie möchte, kann sich von ihnen hilfreiche Bücher empfehlen lassen.« Für besonders aussichtsreich hält er Ansätze, die sich an der kognitiven Verhaltenstherapie orientieren: »Die Verhaltenstherapie hat sich von Anfang an durch den Fokus auf messbare Erfolge definiert.«

Der Hirnforscher Gerhard Roth findet es vor allem wichtig, die Sache nicht allein anzugehen: »Man braucht eine Rückmeldung von außen, sonst betrügt man sich nur selbst.« Einen Therapeuten oder Coach brauche man dafür aber nicht gleich. Auch ein guter Freund könne bei der Umsetzung des eigenen Trainingsplans helfen.

Welchen Weg man auch wählt: Er kostet Mühe. Kurse, die schnelle Erfolge versprechen, sieht Roth kritisch: »Ein teures Wochenende, und am Montag ist man ein neuer Mensch – das ist unmöglich.« Nur durch stetes Training lässt sich das Gehirn umstrukturieren. Jemand, der depressiv sei, so Berking, müsse entsprechende Übungen regelmäßig und bestenfalls bis ans Ende seines Lebens machen, damit die Hirnstrukturen, die auf das limbische System wirken, sich nicht wieder zurückbilden. Es ist wichtig, diesen »Muskel« im Alltag zu trainieren – etwa durch kleine Rituale. Auch wenn das oft anstrengend und langweilig ist.



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