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For the next seven weeks he continued to meditate beneath the Bodhi Tree, and he was protected from the storms and the weather by the great serpent or Naga king Muchalinda. This is another symbol of integration with the earthy and the chthonic. Meditating beneath the tree, he found himself attended by Devas and Nagas, the spirits of sky and earth. Even the two high gods Indra and Brahma descended from the distant heavens and, coming before him, requested him to teach. At first he maintained a noble silence because, after having realizing the Real, what more is there to say? But then because of his overflowing compassion for the suffering experienced by sentient beings, he consented to teach. But who? His old teachers were already dead. But then he remembered the five yogis who were his companions previously. They were now dwelling in the deer park at Sarnath near the old city of Varanasi. So he set off in quest of them.
Arriving at Sarnath, the yogis were overwhelmed by the brilliance of his aura and asking the newly awakened Buddha what he had discovered, they requested his teaching. He proceeded to expound his first discourse, “the Discourse of the Turning of the Wheel of the Dharma”. The word Dharma in the Buddhist context means Reality, what actually exists, but it also means the teaching about what actually exists. So the teaching the Buddha came to be called the Buddha Dharma. The Sangha is the community of practitioners who follow this teaching. The Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, that is to say, the teacher, the teaching, and the community, constitute the Three Jewels to which the practitioner goes for refuge in order to enter into the practice of the Dharma. This first exposition of the Dharma by the Buddha was cast in the form of the traditional Ayurvedic medical model, namely, the diagnosis of the disease, the etiology or cause of the disease, the prognosis of the disease, and the prescription for a cure to the disease. These are known as the Four Holy Truths.
RELEVANCE OF THE DHARMA FOR TODAY
What is the relevance of the Dharma and the practice of meditation for contemporary life and the modern predicament? For indeed, the Buddha lived in another culture in a distant land and in another period of history some 2500 years ago. What relevance do his teachings have for us in the modern world?
Meditation is found in many spiritual and religious traditions, but it does not always have the same meaning and function there. However, in Ancient India, meditation, yoga, and science of mind were developed to an extraordinary degree. The approach in the Buddhist tradition especially was psychological and very practical. We now find that this approach is very accessible to us because it is empirical and based on the immediate experience of the individual. It is not based on some myth or on some story about the creation of the world that one must accept on faith or on some theological doctrine asserting the existence of a transcendent God. The Buddhist teachings are humanistic rather than theocentric. Buddhist teachings always points to our immediate experience in life. Personal experience is always the touchstone. However, the Buddha merely indicated the way, but we ourselves must walk the path. No one else can do that for us, not even God.
Buddhist meditation practice begins with our actual situation here and now, with our existential predicament. We begin with our present human condition, not with a myth or story about creation of the world or with a doctrine concerning the alien origins of the spirit. This was emphasized in the first discourse of the Buddha, the First Turning of the Wheel of the Dharma. The first Holy Truth is the diagnosis of our present condition or predicament. Our life in this world is ultimately frustrating and dissatisfactory. Even though things may be going well at the moment, inevitably we will suffer from old age, sickness, and death. This is our human condition in time and in the world. It is called Duhkha, which is usually translated as suffering.. It is our illness and our disease. The second Holy Truth represents an etiology or investigation of the cause of this illness of Duhkha. This condition is due firstly to our ignorance, our not knowing and not being aware, and secondly to our craving and desire. This craving is both of unconscious instinctual origin and of consciousness origin. The third Holy Truth is that of the prognosis for this disease, that there exists the possibility of a cure and a cessation of our symptoms. The fourth Holy Truth prescribes the cure or treatment, namely, the Eightfold Path, which is embodied in the threefold training in ethics, meditation and psychology, and philosophy.
Thus, in terms of our human condition, Buddhism places the emphasis on the healing of our body, soul, and spirit that, in turn, represent our three dimensions of Body, Speech, and Mind. The Buddhist teachings clearly address the ultimate questions concerning our human existence here on this planet earth.
[Note: This is a partial transcript from the workshop entitled “Self-Discovery through Buddhist Meditation”, presented by John Myrdhin Reynolds at Phoenix, Arizona, on October 20, 2001.]