Buddhism in a Nutshell by Peter Morrell
Buddhism in a Nutshell
by Peter Morrell
It is perfectly possible to compress the entire practice and understanding of Buddhism into a very small compass of words, or into a nutshell. And to attempt this is a very worthwhile exercise. This task has always been one of the great concerns of high lamas when giving public teachings, so as to give a short address that contains sufficient depth for the advanced student to appreciate, but also containing a simple overview for the less advanced - profundity combined with lucidity.
Apart from trying to 'do good, avoid evil and purify the mind' (Dharmapada), which are most certainly the primary activities of the Buddhist life, then briefly, to gain a full and true understanding of Buddhism, replete with powerful insights, one needs above all else, to gain a very deep grasp of impermanence and then to combine this with the stillness of meditation. Those two need to be cooked long together. Once impermanence is fully grasped, and peace obtained, it must be crowned with the glory of compassion for all living beings, just as if they were our own dear mothers. This last point is not easily followed.
The dear and tender, fragile preciousness of all living beings is only truly appreciated in the light of impermanence or once impermanence has been fully grasped. It is best to see this against the vast immensity, and the painful, raging melting-pot of the inexorable disintegratedness of samsara, which is a raging furnace of change, a ruthless and all-consuming continuum of flux, change, decay, disappointment and loss. Against such a raging maelstrom, containing as it does the inevitable nature of death, the fragile nature of each life form stands out as so precious and tender. Once the preciousness of each life is drawn against the terrifying background of samsara's cargo of pain and loss, that will inevitably be delivered, then this view generates the deep compassion one needs: a true sense of the great preciousness of all life.
Thus, in summary, Buddhism combines the wisdom of emptiness with the utter joy of compassion, set in the stillness of an empty meditating mind. Contemplating regularly along these lines brings great mental bliss and pliancy and one attempts thereby to transform feelings of unhappiness into states of greater joy.
This sequence of meditation on impermanence and emptiness and then realisation of compassion is also the sequence followed by the Buddha himself in his enlightenment experience. It was his realisation of emptiness that gave rise to, or laid the foundation for, his subsequent realisation of deep compassion (bodhicitta). After his Enlightenment, which can be regarded as his realisation of the emptiness of all existence, the true nature of samsara, he subsequently realised the supreme power of compassion, which is regard for the preciousness of all life. He thus came to blend both views by realising that all events can be seen as aspects of bliss and emptiness.
The love and compassion we generate for all living things must constantly be measured against their certain death, and the disappointment and suffering that samsara will inevitably inflict upon them. Repeated contemplation of this deepens and reinforces one's sense of compassion Thus, emptiness and compassion really do feed and reinforce each other as topics of meditation.
By continually mingling in this way the contemplation of suffering and impermanence with contemplation of compassion for living things, one gradually deepens and extends one's feelings of great love for all living beings, on the one side, and deepens one's realisation of the pervasive emptiness of all created things, on the other side.
I try to observe all people in terms of their suffering state, because this reinforces my feeling of love for them. It deeply reinforces a sense of compassion for them. I try to especially love them for their faults and impurities, just as they are in their innate suchness. I try to tune into and feel the suffering that they feel, their sadness, their pain, their loneliness, their fears, their hurt, their unhappinesses - because to do so refines my sense of compassion, and leads to an appreciation both of emptiness and compassion together. Each person can be observed as a focal point for the interplay of emptiness and suffering. This is in fact a very difficult perception to grasp. It is indeed genuinely very hard for most people to regard their pain as a blend of bliss and emptiness!
Yet, the suffering of each living being is and can eventually be seen as an aspect of bliss and emptiness, for 'form is emptiness; emptiness is form' (Heart Sutra). Thinking along these lines is very fertile and one realises that each individual is a slightly different blend of forms of suffering, some mostly desire, others mostly hate, some mostly fear, others mostly loneliness, depression or despair. However, it is not a purpose of Buddhism to stand in judgement over people, to condemn them for the suffering they endure in samsara. But it is a purpose of Buddhism to study suffering, and to attune to these facts of our lives, to understand them and to use them in religious practice to refine our own good qualities, like compassion, love, forgiveness and acceptance, as well as to contemplate these unpleasant aspects of life as 'cocktails' of bliss and emptiness.
Therefore, we might say that deep scrutiny of our lives and the suffering it contains, as well as the suffering of others, not only inspires us to feel deeper compassion for them, it can also be employed as a meditation in its own right, leading to deeper understanding of emptiness, which is undoubtedly the most advanced and difficult Buddhist teaching.