The Importance of Removal of Desire
All the Oriental religions share in common the belief that Enlightenment cannot be obtained without the removal of worldly desires and passions. In Buddhism, the basic statement of this belief is known as the "Fourfold Noble Truth", and it occupies a position in that religion which is roughly comparable in importance to the "Ten Commandments" in Western religion.
Buddhists regard the non-Enlightened state as being a state of suffering, whose end can only be brought about only by the removal of desires and attachments to things in the material world. This relationship between suffering and desire is referred to as the "Noble Truth About Suffering".
To the "Western" mind, which is filled with desire for wealth, power, fame, comfort, security, sex, and innumerable other worldly things, the idea of removing desire itself can be very difficult to comprehend. But the method of working toward Enlightenment turns out to be surprisingly familiar. Known as the "EIGHT-FOLD NOBLE PATH", here are some of its aspects:
The resolution to remove desire. Since human beings are filled with endless and insatiable desires, one must take a steadfast vow to cease from vainly striving to satisfy them. If at first this seems unreasonable, consider the opposite: Should we abandon ourselves to gluttony, selfishness, and unrestrained sexuality? Or do we actually agree with this teaching already?
The Law of Cause and Effect. This is simply a statement of a principle which may seem totally obvious; namely that the world is a vast concurrence of causes and effects. The heart of this law is the recognition that our minds, as well as all things in the material world, are in a constant state of flux. Nothing remains unchanged forever. The conclusion is that: we should not allow ourselves to become attached to things which have no permanence, if we wish to gain that which is Eternal.
Right speech. This means the avoidance of lying words, idle words, abusive words, and double-talk.
Right behavior, and right livelihood. This means not to kill, not to steal, not to commit adultery, and not to pursue any occupation which would bring shame.
Right effort means to try to do one's best to proceed diligently in the right direction.
Right mindfulness and right concentration. These, the final steps in the Noble Path, refer to a form of mental discipline which is not emphasized in Western cultures today. If the term "meditation" comes to mind, it should be emphasized that the meditation of Buddha was not a mere attempt to obtain "peace of mind", but was an all-out war against ignorance, with the goal of obtaining complete Enlightenment, and nothing less.
Are the Precepts of Buddhism Foreign to Western Thought, or the Same?
Christians and Jews will immediately recognize that almost all of the Buddhist precepts listed above are to be found in the Bible, either in the Ten Commandments, the Proverbs, or the Prophets.
It may seem, at first glance, that "meditation" is an exception to this. Orthodox practitioners of "Western" religions often speak contemptuously of this practice, as if it were obviously pointless and slothful. But before dismissing meditation as unworthy, do not fail to recall first the great Prophets of the Old Testament: What is it which is referred to in Biblical verses which say that such-and-such a prophet "called upon the Lord", or "inquired of the Lord"?
It is not necessary to limit our consideration of this question to mere speculation. In the Dead Sea Scrolls, which have already created a storm of controversy regarding the nature of pre-Rabbinical Judaism and early Christianity, we have been given an unparalleled opportunity to examine the minds and methods of the most devoutly religious of Israelis during a period of history where documentation was previously sparse.
The Dead Sea Scrolls are almost universally considered to have been the work of an ascetic sect, usually assumed to be the Essenes. They lived in Qumran, a desert in the wilderness of Judea. Every aspect of their lives was ordered according to strict regulations, the nature of which have been preserved in these Scrolls. In them, there are frequent references to a book known as the Book of Meditation, whose contents the members of the severely ultra-orthodox Qumran community were required to master.
The text of the Book of Meditation has not been found yet. That notwithstanding, it is clear that Orthodox Jews of old practiced meditation -- a form of observance which disappeared from Jerusalem but became highly developed in the Orient. Did Orientals learn meditation from Jewish refugees? That seems most unlikely. But, without a doubt, Jews used to meditate, and it is a mistake to think that Buddhist practices are, by their nature, foreign to Western religion. Perhaps they, like the "Lost Tribes" themselves, have merely been forgotten.
For more information about Buddhist teachings, look in the Table of Contents for these two titles:
"The Relationship Between Enlightenment and God"
"Practical Disciplines of the Buddhist Religion"
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