The teachings of the Buddha have been summarized in three short but very powerful statements: 1. Avoid evil
2. Do good
3. Purify your mind
In order to accomplish these goals, here is some background that may prove helpful in understanding the Thai Theravada Buddhist way of life. The official national religion of Thailand is Theravada Buddhism and about ninety percent, if not more of the population are Buddhist. Buddhism, of course comes from its founder, Gautama Buddha (563-483 B.C), born in Nepal, which is north of India. Some academics believe that Buddhism was brought to Thailand during king Asoka’s reign of the Maurya Empire in India (??-237 B.C) (King Asoka was responsible for much of the spread of Buddhism in Asia), by Indian merchants and emigrants and particularly by two monks, Phra Sona and Phra Uttra. Hinduism came as well and there is evidence of devotions to the Indian gods Vishnu and Shiva, such as those stone depictions at temples in Phiman and Lopburi. Mahayana Buddhism was introduced to Thailand around 700 AD, but reverted to Theravada Buddhism some 300 years later when it re-introduced through Burma. Theravada is the orthodox form of Buddhism based on Pali Scripture (Pali is to Buddhism as Latin is to Catholicism, it’s sacred language). Mahayana is an enlargement of the original doctrine and based on the Sanskrit Scripture (the sacred Hindu language) but translated into Pali text. The following account gives some basic information about Buddhism and is taken, in part, from brochures published by the Tourism Authority of Thailand.
The Four Noble Truths
1. The Noble Truth of Suffering (dissatisfaction)
Our suffering is caused by birth (re-birth), disease, old age, death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, despair, association with objects we dislike and separation from objects we love. Not to obtain what one desires causes suffering. There are many happy hours and pleasure in a person’s lifetime but they are impermanent, lasting for a short time then vanishing into nothing, by the law of nature. In other words…. Please know that existence is but suffering caused by desire.
2. The Noble Truth of the Cause and Origins of Suffering The three-fold cravings are: sensual craving, craving for existence and craving for wealth and power. There are also further six-fold cravings: the eye craves forms, the ear craves sounds, the nose craves smells, the tongue craves tastes, the body craves tangible objects and the mind craves dreams and/or mental objects. Understand that these cravings and ignorance of the law of nature are the conditions of the origin of individual sufferings.
3. The Noble Truth of the Cessation or Extinction of Suffering The condition of the cessation of suffering is the complete fading away and extinction of these three-fold cravings. Forsaking them, giving them up, and the liberation and detachment from them. Please note that when the mind has given up all these three-fold and further six-fold cravings, the realization of the Extinction of Craving or Nibbana (or Nirvana in Sanskrit), is then possible. This is the ultimate desire of desires, meaning therefore, the end of all suffering or dukka.
4. The Noble Truth of the Path Leading to the Cessation of Suffering This is the Noble Eight-fold Path, also called the Middle Path because it avoids the two extremes of sensual pleasure and self-mortification. These are:
1. Right Knowledge and understanding: intellectual grasp of the teachings of Buddhism (called Dhamma), the Four Noble Truths and the Law of Kamma (or Karma in sanskrit), (cause and effect).
2. Right Intention and thought: elimination of all ambitions, revenge, hatred, greed, lust and violence.
3. Right Speech: stamping out all lies and controlling words. Being courteous, truthful, letting no evil words escape from the lips, being compassionate and full of sympathy, with a heart full of loving kindness and free from secret malice.
4. Right Action: meaning the avoidance of destruction of any living being, of taking what has not been given, indulging in sensuality, slander, intoxicating liquor or harmful drugs.
5. Right Livelihood: that is, pursuing a trade or occupation compatible with the precepts.
6. Right Effort: preventing new evil from entering one’s mind, removing all evil already there. To develop such good in one’s mind and maintaining all of the goodness that is there.
7. Right Attentiveness: also called mindfulness: this is the continual recollection of all phenomena about bodily structure, all parts of the human body, all states of health, all impurity and purity of mind, contemplation of various states of mind and all kinds of temperaments.
8. Right Concentration: which is the threshold of Nibbana and consists of the four Great Efforts, namely, to avoid and overcome evil states of mind, to develop and to maintain a good state of mind. The purpose of attaining Right Concentration is to develop the eye of wisdom.There are three levels covering each Noble Truth. They are as follows: First comes saccanana, insights into what the Four Noble Truths are. Second is Kiccanana, Knowing what is to be done regarding each of the four Noble Truths. Third level is Katanana, which is insight into what has been perfectly done regarding The Four Noble Truths.