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  The Four Noble Truths
  The Noble Eightfold Path
  The Three Unwholesome Roots
  The Five Aggregates

  Copyright © 1999 Neurotopia

      The Four Foundations of Mindfulness  
The Four Stages of Formlessness  
The Four Stages of Absorption  
The Four Perfect Exertions  
The Eight Liberations  
The Five Hindrances  
The Four Certainties  
Eight Masteries  


The Four Noble Truths

1.) The truth of suffering (dukkha)
2.) The truth of the origin of suffering
3.) The truth of the cessation of suffering
4.) The truth of the path that leads to the cessation of suffering

The first truth states that all existence is characterized by suffering and does not bring true
satisfaction. Everything is suffering: birth, sickness, death; coming together with what one does
not like; not obtaining what one desires; and the five aggregates of attachment that constitute
the personality.

"Now this, monks, is the Noble Truth of dukkha: Birth is dukkha, aging is dukkha,
death is dukkha; sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, & despair are dukkha; association
with the unbeloved is dukkha; separation from the loved is dukkha; not getting what
is wanted is dukkha. In short, the five aggregates for clinging/sustenance are dukkha."

The second truth gives as the cause of suffering craving or desire, the thirst for sensual pleasure,
for becoming and passing away. This craving binds beings to the cycle of existence.

The third truth says that through remainderless elimination of craving, suffering can be brought
to an end.

The fourth truth gives the eightfold path as the means for the ending of suffering.


The Eightfold Path

1.) Right Understanding
2.) Right Thought
3.) Right Speech
4.) Right Action
5.) Right Livelihood
6.) Right Effort
7.) Right Mindfulness
8.) Right Concentration

Different aspects of the eightfold path are sectioned into three categories that allow one to gain a better understanding of each. These categories are Ethical Conduct, Mental Discipline, and Wisdom.

The eightfold path does not actually represent a path on which linear progress is made, since in practice
the the first to be realized are stages 3-5(Ethcial Conduct), then stages 6-8(Mental Discipline), and then
finally 1-2(Wisdom). They are all interconnected and dependent on each other in different ways. One
cannot properly exist without the other.

Ethical Conduct

The Buddha claimed his teachings were out of compassion for the world. Ethical conduct is a means to
develop this compassion. Understanding and practicing Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Livelihood
will help us to decrease the suffering of others and eliminate that of our own.
Right Speech    -  abstaining from telling lies, and avoidance of slander and useless gossip.
Right Action     -  avoidance of doing that which causes harm, and of actions that conflict with moral discipline.
Right Livelihood -  determines that one should abstain from making a living through causing harm to sentient

Mental Discipline

Right Effort - cultivation of what is karmically wholesome, and effort to prevent unwholesome states of mind. Without Right Effort, it is easy to become sidetracked into using different, incomplete, or unwholesome ways of dealing with certain problems, and  easy to think of one's goals as being over-ambitious, idealistic, or extreme.

Right Mindfulness - ongoing awareness of body,feelings,conceptions,and objects of thought. Right Mindfulness relates Right Effort to the constantly present moment; without effort, mindfulness would be unproductive, and without both, Ethical Conduct would be no more than just a duty or burden.

Right Concentration - attentiveness and focus of and on everything. If Right Mindfulness is a matter of awareness, Right Concentration is the basis upon which that awareness is attained. This perfect concentration finds its highpoint in the four absorptions.


Wisdom is the summation of what has already been practiced. The two aspects of wisdom are
primarily dependent on Right Mindfulness, but also of the others because they signify the concepts
gained through the previous experiences that have evolved and built up one's present wisdom.

Right Thought  - constitutes selflessness renunciation or detachment, eliminating desire, hatred, and ignorance.
Right Understanding - realization of things as they are; viewing reality in its true form. Right Understanding is the
                              immediate condition for entering upon the supramundane path of sacredness and for the
                              attainment of nirvana.


The Four Certainties

These are characteristic marks of a buddha. The four certainties are:

1.) Certainty that his perfect enlightenment is irreversible
2.) Certainty that all defilements are exhausted
3.) Certainty that all obstacles have been overcome
4.) Certainty of having proclaimed the way of abandoning samsära (cycle of existence)


The Four Foundations (Awakenings) of Mindfulness   - Satipatthäna

Satipatthäna is one of the fundamental meditation practices of the Hïnayäna, which
consists of (in order):

1.) Mindfulness of body
      This includes mindfulness of inhalation and exhalation as well as of bodily posture, clarity of mind
          during all activities, contemplation of the thirty-two parts of the body, analysis of the bodily elements,
          and charnel ground contemplation.

2.) Mindfulness of feeling
          This is where one recognizes feelings as pleasant, unpleasant, or indifferent, worldly or supramundane,
          and sees clearly their transitory quality.

3.) Mindfulness of mind
      In mindfulness of mind, every state of consciousness that arises is noted and recognized as passionate
          or passionless, aggressive or free from aggression, deluded or undeluded.

4.) Mindfulness of mental objects
          In mindfulness of mental objects, one is aware of the conditionedness and inessentiality of things,
          knows whether or not the five hindrances are present, recognizes the personality and the basic elements
          of the mental process as consisting of the five skandhas, and possesses an understanding of the four
          noble truths that corresponds to reality.


The Four Perfect Exertions

This is one of the meditation practices recommended by the Buddha. The objective is to
avoid unwholesome factors in the future and eliminate those that are present. The four
perfect exertions are:

1.) The exertion of restraint (i.e., avoiding unwholesome factors)
2.) The exertion of overcoming (unwholesome factors)
3.) The exertion of developing (wholesome factors, especially the factors which help attain enlightenment)
4.) The exertion of maintaining (wholesome factors)

The four perfect exertions are identical with the sixth element of the eightfold path, right
effort or exertion.


The Four Stages of Absorption (Dhyäna)

Dhyäna - in general, any absorbed state of mind brought about through concentration. Such a state
is reached through the entire attention dwelling uninterruptedly on a psychical or mental object of
meditation; in this way the mind passes through various stages in which the currents of the passions
gradually fade away. Dhyäna designates particularly the four stages of absorption of the world of form,
the condition for which is the removal of the five hindrances. These four absorptions make possible the
attainment of abhijñä. They prepare the way for the elimination of the defilements or cankers (äsrava.)
This is tantamount to liberation.

The first absorption stage is characterized by the relinquishing of desires and unwholesome factors and
is reached through conceptualization and discursive thought. In this stage, there is joyful interest and

The second stage is characterized by the coming to rest of conceptualization and discursive thought,
the attainment of inner calm, and so-called one-pointedness of mind, which means concentration on
an object of meditation. Joyful interest and well-being continue.

In the third stage joy disappears, replaced by equanimity; one is alert, aware, and feels well-being.

In the fourth stage only equanimity and wakefulness are present.


The Four Stages of Formlessness

These are meditation practices from the early phase of Buddhism, the objective of which
was to raise oneself stage by stage into increasingly higher levels of incorporeality. These
are the four stages of formlessness:
    1.) The stage of the limitless space
    2.) The stage of the limitlessness of consciousness
    3.) The stage of nothing whatever
    4.) The stage of beyond awareness and non-awareness


The Five Aggregates (Skandha)

The five aggregates explain what -concerning that fact that nothing exists - we consist of. The
Buddha stated that we are a combination of ever-changing forces or energies which can be divided
into five groups, which themselves are both dukkha (suffering), and the basis of attachment. The
five aggregates are:

1.) The aggregate of matter
2.) The aggregate of sensations
3.) The aggregate of perceptions
4.) The aggregate of mental formations
5.) The aggregate of consciousness

The aggregate of matter

This includes our five material sense organs: eyes, ears, nose, tongue; and 'body and mind' objects,
which are thoughts, ideas, and conceptions.

The aggregate of sensations

This includes all sensations: pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral. Sensations are experienced through
the contact of physical and mental organs with the world and include the creation of visual form,
sounds, smells, taste, touch, and thoughts or ideas.

The aggregate of perceptions

Perceptions involves recognition, and arises from sensation in relaxation to matter. Perceptions are
produced through the contact of our six faculties with the external world.

The aggregate of mental formations
This is meant as volitions, mental acts of will which include intuition, determination, heedlessness,
and the idea of the self. They also include the three poisons: desire or craving, ignorance or delusion,
and hatred or aversion. The important thing about mental formations is that they are the basis of karma,
because they are the basis on which we act. The relationship between mental formations and actions is
so close that they cannot be separated.

The aggregate of consciousness

In this context, consciousness does not contain the idea of recognition; rather, it denotes awareness in
its most rudimentary form. Consciousness creates awareness of a sense object, so that visual consciousness
arises when the eye comes into contact with a color or form. It is perception that then identifies the color
as blue, or the form as round, for example. The same is true of the process occurring with each of the other
sense organs.



Karma is the Universal law of cause and effect, which according to the Buddhist view takes effect
in the following way:

"The deed (karma) produces a fruit under certain circumstances; when it is ripe then it falls upon
the one responsible. For a deed to produce its fruit, it must be morally good or bad and be conditioned
by a volitional impulse, which in that it leaves a trace in the psyche of the doer, leads his destiny in
the direction determined by the effect of the deed. Since the time of ripening generally exceeds a lifespan,
the effect of actions is necessarily one or more rebirths, which together constitute the cycle of existence."

The effect of an action, which can be of the nature of body, speech, or mind, is not primarily determined
by the act itself but rather particularly by the intention of the action. It is the intention of actions that
cause karmic effect to arise. When a deed cannot be carried out, but the intention toward it exists, an
effect is still produced. Only a deed that is free from desire, hate, and delusion is without karmic effect.
In order to liberate oneself from the cycle of rebirth, one must refrain from both "good" and "bad" deeds.


The Five Hindrances (Nivarana)

This refers to the five qualities that hinder the mind, obstruct insight, and prevent practitioners from
attaining neighboring or complete concentration, and from knowing the truth.
The five hindrances are:

1.) Desire
2.) Ill will
3.) Sloth and torpor
4.) Restlessness and compunction
5.) Doubt

The elimination of the five hindrances is the precondition for attaining the four stages of absorption.


Samsara - The Cycle of Existences

This is a succession of rebirths that a being goes through within the various models of existence
until it has attained liberation and entered nirvana. Imprisonment in samsara is conditioned by the
unwholesome roots. The type of rebirth within samsara is determined by the karma of the being.

In the Mahayana, samsara refers to the phenomenal world and is considered to be essentially identical
with nirvana. This essential untiy of samsara and nirvana is based on the view that everything is a
mental representation, and thus samsara and nirvana are nothing other than labels without real
substance. To the extent that one does not relate to the phenomenal aspect of the world but rather
its true nature, samsara and nirvana are not different from one another.The chain of existences is
without a knowable beginning. If you take into consideration the untiy of samsara and nirvana, then
there was never anything to be created.


The Three Unwholesome Roots (Akushala-mulas)

The three unwholesome roots are what bind a sentient being to samsara.
The three unwholesome roots are:

Greed is attraction to a gratifying object and can be removed through the practice of generosity.
Hate is ill will toward everything that stands in the way of gratification, and is overcome through
the cultivation of kindness. Delusion refers to the inconsistency of an action or thought with reality
and is overcome through insight.The removal of these factors is necessary for the attainment of
enlightenment. In symbolic representations, greed is depicted as a cock, hate as a snake, and
delusion as a pig.



Akushu-ku - "falsely understood emptiness"
This refers to a misunderstanding of the teaching of emptiness which arises from the experience of
enlightenment. In this misunderstanding emptiness is understood as mere nothingness, as a negation
of all existence. Emptiness, as it is spoken of in Zen, has nothing to do with this purely philosophical
concept of nothingness. It is an emptiness that is not the opposite of existence of all things and their
properties but rather the basis of this existence, that engenders and bears it and, from the standpoint
of complete enlightenment, is absolutely identical with it.Thus it says in the Heart Sutra:

"Form is no other than emptiness, emptiness is no other than form."



The word "enlightenment" is used to translate the Sanskrit term bodhi (awakened). This is when a
person awakens to a nowness of emptiness which he himself is - even as the entire universe is
emptiness - and which alone enables him to comprehend the true nature of all things. Since
enlightenment is repeatedly misunderstood as an experience of light and experiences of light
wrongly understood as enlightenment, the term awakening is preferable, since it more accurately
conveys the experience. The emptiness experienced is no nihilistic emptiness; rather it is something unperceivable, unthinkable, unfeelable, and endless beyond existence and nonexistence. Emptiness
is no object that could be experienced by a subject, since the subject itself is dissolved in the

The perfect enlightenment of Shakyamuni Buddha is the beginning of the buddha-dharma, that which
is known as Buddhism. Buddhism is basically a religion of enlightenment; without this experience there
would be no Buddhism.

Although enlightenment by its nature is always the same, there are quite different degrees of this
experience. If we compare the process to breaking through a wall, then the experience can vary
between a tiny hole in the wall and the total annihilation of the wall as in the complete enlightenment
of Shakyamuni Buddha - and all degrees in between. The differences in clarity and accuracy of insight
are enormous, even though in both cases the same world is seen.

In a profound experience it becomes clear that emptiness and phenomena, absolute and relative, are
entirely one. The experience of true reality is precisely the experience of this oneness.There are no
two worlds, as misunderstood by many. In profound enlightenment the ego is annihilated, it dies. Thus
it is said in Zen, "You have to die on the cushion." The results of this "dying," of this "great death," is
"great life," a life of freedom and peace.


Eight Liberations

This refers to a meditation exercise that moves through the eight stages of concentration as
an aid to overcoming all clinging to corporeal and noncorporeal factors.
The eight stages are as follows:

1.) Cognition of internal and external forms
2.) Cognition of forms externally but not internally
3.) Cognition of the beautiful
4.) Attainment of the field of the limitlessness of  space
5.) Attainment of the field of the limitlessness of consciousness
6.) Attainment of the field of nothing whatsoever
7.) Attainment of the field of neither perception nor nonperception
8.) Cessation of perception and feeling

Liberation 1 (cognition of internal and external forms) refers to the contemplation of things within
and outside the body as impure in order to overcome attachment  to forms.
Liberation 2 (cognition of forms externally but not internally) - since there is no further attachment
to forms internally,"contemplation of the external as impure" is practiced in order to reinforce this condition.
Liberation 3 (cognition of the beautiful) - no attachment to the beautiful arises; contemplation of
impurity is dropped

Liberations 1 & 2 correspond to the first stage of the eight masteries.
Liberations 3 & 4 correspond to the second stage of the eight masteries.
Liberations 4-7 are identical with the four stages of formlessness.


Eight Masteries

Also known as the eight fields of mastery - Eight meditation exercises for mastery of the sphere
of the senses through command of perception of forms in relation to various objects.
The eight masteries are:

1.) Perception of forms in relation to one's own body and of limited forms in the external world
2.) Perception of forms in relation to the body and of unlimited external forms

(these first two stages permit the practitioner to conquer attachment to forms and correspond
 to the first of the eight liberations)

3.) Perception of no forms in relation to one's own body and limited external forms
4.) Perception of no forms in relation to one's own body and unlimited external forms

(stages 3 & 4 serve to strengthen concentration and correspond to the second stage of the eight liberations)

In masteries 5-8 no forms are perceived in relation to the body, but externally blue, yellow, red, and
white forms are perceived. These exercises aim at restraining attachment to beauty. Masteries 5-8 are
identical with the third stage of the eight liberations and the fifth through eighth kasina exercises.

"Perception of forms in relation to one's own body" means picking a limited (small) or unlimited (large)
place on one's body and directing one's attention fully onto it, so that after some practice this object
appears as a mental reflex. In masteries 3 and 4 one selects an external object (e.g., a flower). A
limited, small object is supposed to be beneficial for mentally unsteady persons, a large one for mentally
deluded persons, a beautiful one for person inclined to reject things, and an ugly one for lustful persons.



This is the term for the ten "total fields" that serve as objects of meditation, i.e., as supports for
concentration of the mind. In this process, the mind is exclusively and with complete clarity filled
with this object and finally becomes one with it (samadhi). If one continues in the exercise, every
activity of the senses is nullified and one enters the state of the first absorption(dhyana).
The ten kasinas are:

1.) Earth
 2.) Water
 3.) Fire
 4.) Wind
 5.) Blue
 6.) Yellow
 7.) Red
 8.) White
 9.) Space
10.) Consciousness

In the form of an earthen disk, a water bowl, a burning staff, a colored disk, etc., these are employed
as meditation objects.



This is the collectedness of the mind on a single object through (gradual) calming of mental activity.
Samadhi is a nondualistic state of consciousness in which the consciousness of the experiencing
"subject" becomes one with the experienced "object" - thus is only experiential content. This state of consciousness is often referred to as "one-pointedness of mind"; this expression however, is misleading
because it calls up the image of "concentration" on one point on which the mind is "directed." However,
samadhi is neither a straining concentration on one point, nor is the mind directed from here from here
(subject) to there (object), which would be a dualistic mode of experience.

The ability to attain the state of samadhi is a precondition for absorption (dhyana).

Three supramundane types of samadhi are distinguished that have as their goal emptiness, the state of no-characteristics and freedom from attachment to the object, and the attainment of nirvana. Any other
form of samadhi, even in the highest stages of absorption, is considered worldly.



This is the goal of spiritual practice in all branches of Buddhism. It is the departure from (and in
the same way unity with) the cycle of rebirths (samsara) and entry into a whole new mode of
existence. It requires complete overcoming of the three unwholesome roots and the coming to
rest of active volition. Nirvana is freedom from the determining effect of karma. It is unconditioned;
its characteristic marks are absence of arising, subsisting, changing, and passing away. It is
conceived as oneness with the absolute. Nirvana is also described as dwelling in the experience
of the absolute, bliss in cognizing one's identity with the absolute, and as freedom from attachment
to illusions, affects, and desires.

In many texts, to explain what is described as nirvana, the simile of extinguishing a flame is used.
The fire that goes out does not pass away, but merely becomes invisible by passing into space;
thus the term nirvana does not indicate annihilation but rather entry into another mode of existence.
The fire comes forth from space and returns back into it; thus nirvana is a spiritual event that takes
place in time, but is also, in an unmanifest and imperishable sphere, always already there.



In Buddhism the concept of an ego, in the sense of consciousness of one's self, is seen as composed
of nonvalid factors, as delusion. This should not be confused with the word that is used to denote
selfishness or conceit, such as in "big ego". The concept of an ego arises when the dichotomizing
intellect is confused into presupposing a dualism between I and not-I. As a result we think and act
as though we were entities separated from everything else, over against a world that lies outside of us.
Thus the idea of an I becomes fixed in our subconscious, a self which produces thought processes like
"I hate this, I love that; this is yours, this is mine." Nurtured by such conceptions, we reach the point
where the I or ego dominates the mind; it attacks everything that threatens its dominance and is
attracted to everything that seems to extend its power. Enmity, desire, and alienation, which culminate
in suffering, are the ineluctable results of this outlook, which in Zen is cut through by the practice of
zazen. Thus in the course of Zen training under a roshi, who leads people on the path to enlightenment,
the dominance of the ego illusion over the practitioner's thinking and aspirations is gradually overcome.


Resource: The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen
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