This page offers articles about selected important and somewhat controversial Buddhist topics. At present five articles are available for downloading, others may follow.
An introduction into the basics of Buddhism is available at the Book page of this website.
1. Non-Self and The Five Aggregates
The teaching about anattā (egolessness, non-self, no unchanging, permanent, enduring core or essence to anything) is one of the pillars of Buddhism and is a doctrine which sets Buddhism apart from all other religions as those, in one form or another, postulate something permanent, a self or a soul.
The Buddha said that the self is not a reality. He did not say that there is nothing at all however, but all there is, is just an ever changing process of nature, consisting of an ever changing body and an ever changing mind. He labelled this process the Five Aggregates, no abiding self to be found in it.
The concept of non-self is of utmost importance for the understanding of other core Buddhist principles like Dependent Origination (the 2nd Noble Truth) including re-birth (who or what is re-born if there is no self?) or the doctrine of karma (which non-self receives the result of a karmic action committed by a non-self?). A lot of confusion amongst Buddhists and people interested in Buddhism is caused by misinterpreting the doctrine of anattā.
2. The Here-and-Now Interpretation of Dependent Origination - Paticcasamuppāda
The understanding of this article requires some familiarity with basic Buddhist concepts like The Three Characteristics of Life
and the Five Aggregates.
In the first of the Four Noble Truths the Buddha states that human existence is governed by Dukkha (discontentment, suffering); the second Noble Truth demonstrates the arising or the cause of Dukkha, summarized in a teaching called Dependent Origination or Dependent Arising or Dependent Co- Arising, the Pāli expression is Paticcasamuppāda.
Various forms and differing explanations of this teaching are given today, the most frequently discussed ones being:
- The Three-Lives-Theory is an explanation covering three lifetimes, a past, the present and a future life, that is, it is used to teach rebirth.
- The Here-and-Now-Theory proclaims that Dependent Origination is concerned with the present life only, with the 'here and now', with the birth and death of the notion of 'self', happening countless times each day.
Both theories aim to explain how Dukkha arises and how to put an end to it. At first a brief idea about the Three-Lives-Theory is given but the main focus of this paper is the Here-and-Now Interpretation.
According to the late Tan Ajahn Buddhadāsa, a prominent Thai Buddhist monk and proponent of the Here-and-Now- Theory, the arising of suffering equals the arising of the notions of 'self', 'I', 'me' and 'mine' in the ignorant human mind. Resulting selfishness does not only lead to personal calamities but to problems in society and to the pollution and exploitation of the natural resources of our planet too. The ignorant person thinks it is the same 'self' that is living life from the cradle to the grave; here an attempt is made to show how the mind constructs the concept of a permanent 'self' out of countless momentary 'selfs' arising with sense-contact.
Wherever possible the early Buddhist texts, the Nikāyas, have been used for reference. The relevant quotes are given either in the text itself or in footnotes so that readers who do not have the Nikāyas at hand can follow up easily.
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3. Karma and Merit in (Thai) Buddhism
The topic is Karma and Merit in (Thai) Buddhism and thus we will define at first the meanings of the terms karma and merit before we investigate in which ways they contribute to the unique form of Thai-Buddhism, but much of the explanation is valid for other Buddhist countries as well.
Karma is intentional action of body, speech and mind based on volition and will bring about a result (vipāka
). Karma is not fate or destiny. According to the early Buddhist texts the result can ripen in this life or in a future life or even in subsequent lives. This is the generally accepted understanding of the Law of Karma, the worldly level, on which the teaching regarding karma and merit is usually offered and this seems to be the level most people prefer.
Complementary to the basic mundane interpretation of karma and merit is the supramundane or spiritual level of the doctrine which clarifies that the teachings on anattā (non-self) and karma do not necessarily contradict each other. The worldly explanation helps people to behave properly in this word while developing their mind to a higher level; the transcendental teaching follows the Noble Eightfold Path to the end of all suffering.
4. Free Will in Buddhism and Western Philosophy
From the beginning of western philosophy the possibility of a human free will has been contentiously debated. Today the literature regarding the free will problem and offered solutions are vast and conflicting.
In early Buddhism the possibility of a free will has not been discussed. Neither in the Nikāyas, the early Buddhist texts of Theravāda-Buddhism, nor in the scriptures of Mahāyāna Buddhism the free will problem is mentioned. It was only when people from the West started to get interested in Buddhism that the possibility of a free will had become a topic.
Relevant Buddhist teachings are the ones about non-self (anattā), the principle of causality (idappaccayatā) represented by the law of Dependent Origination (paticcasamuppāda) and the law of Karma and its results. Not accidentally an introduction into these teachings is available in the three articles given above.
The present text is meant to provide an easily understandable introduction into the problem. At first a few definitions from a western point of view are given, followed by introducing some basics regarding the free will question from a western and Buddhist perspective. The discussion of the Buddhist viewpoint is based mainly on the Theravāda-Buddhist scriptures. The interested reader will find additional material in the quoted literature.
5. Bhikkhuni Ordination Controversy in Theravāda Buddhism
The Pāli-word for a male monk is Bhikkhu. The female equivalent of a Bhikkhu is a Bhikkhuni. In Theravāda Buddhism it is widely but not unanimously accepted that Bhikkhunis (nuns) need to be ordained in a dual ceremony by both the male Sangha and the female Sangha (community of monks and nuns). It is believed that approximately 1,000 years ago the Bhikkhuni lineage died out and there were no more nuns left to ordain new Bhikkhunis and since then until recently Theravāda Bhikkhunis did not exist. At the end of the 20th century more and more women voiced interest to revive the Bhikkhuni Sangha and to receive full ordination in Theravāda Buddhism again.
In a grand ordination ceremony in 1998 Bhikkhuni ordination in the Theravāda tradition was re-established. While this was acknowledged by the Bhikkhu Sangha in Sri Lanka, the monks in some other Theravāda Buddhist countries still do not accept Bhikkhuni ordination.
After a short look at the historical background of Bhikkhuni ordination in Buddhism, some arguments for and against a revival of female ordination in Theravāda Buddhism will be presented and, as I'm living in Thailand, we will specifically look at the situation in this country.
"In such cases, if there are [...] no senior disciples among the nuns, ... no middle-ranking or junior nuns, ... no white-robed lay followers, male or female, celibate or otherwise [...], then the holy life is not perfected."
Pāsādika Sutta, Digha Nikāya 29.12
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