“Total abstinence is easier than perfect moderation.” – St. Augustine.
Last time we examined contentment as conceived in the Hindu tradition. Today we look at the legacy of the Buddha who followed, but eventually rejected Hinduism’s extreme asceticism in favor of a middle way. His lesson is that renunciation is indeed essential, but mortification is counterproductive. The body must be cared for as it is an important factor in spiritual development.1 In an earlier section we discussed in detail Buddha’s four Noble truths: (1) Life is suffering, (2) Suffering is due to desire, (3) To eliminate suffering, eliminate desire, and (4) To achieve Nirvana, follow the eightfold path.2 We will not in this section repeat a detailed analysis of this last point, rather I hope to extract facets integral to contentment and defer on enlightenment to the next section.
Contentment for Buddha comes from recognition that reality is in constant flux and there is no individual self or soul. The corollary of this latter observation is profound; there is also no annihilation. “Nirvana is not extinction, but timeless and unconditioned existence.”3 One is freed once one realizes one’s own infinite, not as immortality. “Being freed, he knows he is freed.”4 Karma exists only in the world of Appearances and has no effect on the Absolute and the Universal.5 Peace comes from the attainment of timeless emptiness.
There is more. Buddha tells us we are fettered to Mara or the physical world and our continued attachment to passions and yearnings for pleasure and the material only strengthens those fetters.6 By quieting doubts and constant reflection, rather than dwelling on pleasures and the physical, we can cut those fetters and become free. Contentment comes from the avoidance of riches, passion, hatred, vanity and lust.7 Then he comes upon the perhaps the greatest hope for freedom “Give up what is before, give up what is behind, give up what is between, when thou goest to the other shore of existence; if they mind is all together free thou wilt not again enter into birth and decay.”8
(continued next post)
1Beck, L. Adams, The Story of Oriental Philosophy. The New Home Library, New York, 1928. Page 177.
2See post titled SUFFERING – THE FIRST NOBLE TRUTH – PART I dated 2/24/2020 on this site.
3Beck, L. Adams, The Story of Oriental Philosophy. The New Home Library, New York, 1928. Page 175.
4Ibid. page 176.
5Ibid. page 182.
6Stryk, Lucien (editor), World of the Buddha. Grove Press, New York, 1968. ISBN 0-8021-3095X, page 61.
7Ibid, page 62.
8Ibid, page 61(from the Dhammapada).