I'm a Buddhist - what does this mean?

My approach to Buddhism is based on the teachings of Sangharakshita the founder of the Triratna Buddhist Order, through his books and recorded lectures, and as taught to me by his senior disciples in particular Subhuti, Sona, and Nagabodhi. I've supplemented this with my own study and practice, the results of which can be read on my blog Jayarava's Raves. I am particularly influenced by scholars such as Sue Hamilton, Jan Nattier, Paul Harrison, Greg Schopen, and Richard Gombrich. I also try to take into account ideas and discoveries from evolutionary biology and neuroscience.

Buddhism is sometimes said to be a religion, and sometimes a philosophy. I argue, following the Buddha himself, that it is neither. Buddhism is concerned primarily with human suffering and what to do about it. Religious and philosophical systems have been built upon the foundations (dharma) laid down by the Buddha, but they do not get to the heart of his method. For the Buddha religious practices and rituals could be subsumed within his system to deal with suffering, but it was important not to deify them, nor to pay homage to gods of any kind - indeed Vedic and Hindu gods are regularly portrayed in Buddhist art and literature paying homage to the Buddha. Similarly opinions about metaphysics were largely seen as a distraction and more a cause of dissension than anything.

What the Buddha offered the world was a way of looking at the world which explained why we experience suffering, and a series of methods which would enable us to see what he saw and to liberate ourselves from suffering. Deliverance was not put off into some afterlife but available to anyone here and now. It was not doled out at the capricious whim of remote gods, but was down to the individual who undertook the work.

In contemporary terms the main problem we have is that we confuse pleasure with happiness - we understand happiness to exist in experiencing pleasurable sensations. Thus the pursuit of happiness is confused with the pursuit of pleasure. The Buddha points out the all experiences are impermanent - that pleasurable sensations do not last, cannot be grasped, and cannot be repeated. On the other hand our response to pain is to avoid it at almost any cost, and to seek out pleasure to soothe the pain. Painful sensations are also impermanent.

I hold the view that the Buddha was always talking about experience - the subjective - rather than the world. In philosophical terms the Buddha had nothing to say about ontology or 'what there is'. It our relationship to our experiences, especially to pleasurable and painful sensations that is central to the Buddha's teaching and method. Both pleasure and pain are natural and normal - pleasure and pain help us to make good decisions under the right conditions. However since we began to be 'civilised' the conditions have changed so radically that our decisions based on pleasure and pain are no longer rational. It is our own reactions to sensations which enslave us - which drive us to craving more and more pleasure, to be ever more energetic in avoiding any kind of pain.

Buddhist methods aim to create the conditions for a useful investigation of the mind. Ethical practices create restraints that help us to focus on what is important, and to limit inputs - like the old adage 'we are what we eat' the mind is strongly affected by what comes in through the senses, and if we are to have any hope of understanding what is going on in our minds then we need to cultivate calm and contentment. Having attained some measure of calm we begin to examine the nature of experience and our relationship to it, in order to be liberated from the reactions. I believe that all Buddhist practice boils down to this.

I would describe myself as agnostic about many Buddhist beliefs, but fundamentally pragmatic in my approach to the Dharma.

My Buddhism Websites

Dependent Arising

My diagrams of, and writing about, paṭicca-samuppāda in the Pāli Canon on this website.

The Five-fold Niyāma

Source Texts for the Five-fold Niyāma

A translation of the Pāli source texts for the five-fold niyāma (aka the five niyamas) including Sumaṅgalavilāsinī (2.431), Atthasālinī (272-274) and Abhidhammāvatāra (CST 66; vs. 468-473; PTS 54), including medieval commentaries on the latter. Also included are representative texts for the use of the word niyāma in the Nikāyas: Paccaya Sutta (S 12.20), Uppādā Sutta (A 3.134), Āvaraṇa Sutta (A 6.86), Cakkhu Sutta (S 25.1).

Karma and Rebirth

Some Problems With Believing in Rebirth.pdf

Buddhist Texts

My translations and commentaries from Pāli

Translations from Sanskrit

Translations from Chinese