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The Way of Martial Arts

M O N T H LY INTERACTIVE LESSONS TO HELP IMPROVE YOUR DA I LY LIFE

B Y M A S T E R E R I C S B A R G E

Lesson 39

Four Noble Truths, Eightfold Path,


Enlightenment
As you know, all of the arts taught at The Peaceful Dragon are aspects of
kung fu, and kung fu is rooted in traditional Chinese culture and belief.
One of the major forces influencing Chinas culture and beliefs is
Buddhism, which spread quickly after it was introduced to
China from India. Buddhism, therefore, plays a significant
and influential role in the learning and practice of kung fu.
Though I am not a Buddhist, I am of the belief that
learning kung fu without the cultivation of at least some
essential Buddhist components particularly the unique
Chan (Zen) practice is fairly meaningless. You might
just as well play ping pong or bocce ball if kung fu were
nothing but a physical activity. Yes, you can argue that kung fu gives you
self-defense skills that other activities do not, but if youre a generally nice
person you dont need to defend yourself regularly any more than you need
to smack a ping pong ball.
So in this lesson I want to detail some essential con-
cepts of Buddhism, and let you decide how they fit in
with your own religious and philosophical views and
whether they might in some way enhance your current views.

THE FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS AND THE


EIGHTFOLD PATH

Regardless of the sect of Buddhism, the core of the teachings can be


summed up in the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path.
The Four Noble Truths are:

1. Life is suffering
2. Suffering is the result of attachment.
3. We can end suffering by letting go of attachment.
4. The path to letting go and ending suffering is the Eightfold Path.

Life is Suffering In the Buddhist view the cycle of birth, old age, sick-
ness and death creates suffering. Our unfulfilled desires create suffering. The
hardships and pain we regularly face in life create suffering.
Suffering is the Result of Attachment Suffering arises from our attach-
ment to desires: to sensual pleasures, to life and existence itself.
We Can End Suffering by Letting Go of Attachment When we relinquish
our desires and craving, give up sensual pleasures, and accept our natural
demise our suffering will end.
The Path to Letting Go and Ending Suffering is the Eightfold Path The
method for learning how to let go of our attachments is outlined and
explained in the Eightfold Path.

The Eightfold Path includes:

1. Right View This means to realize the validity of the Four Noble
Truths. This is accomplished with the cultivation of the wisdom mind.
2. Right Intention We must develop ethics and morals and intend to
use them in a consistent and mindful way. Additionally, we must intend to
resist desire, overcome aggression, and cultivate compassion and loving
kindness.
3. Right Speech We demonstrate strong ethics and morals by speaking
truthfully, speaking kindly, not offending, and avoiding gossip or mindless
talk.
4. Right Action Bodily actions should be wholesome and harmonious.
We abstain from harming ourselves or other creatures. We do not take what
is not ours. We avoid sexual misconduct.
5. Right Livelihood We should earn a living in a lawful, moral and hon-
est way that benefits rather than harms others. We should avoid work that
includes: weapons, live beings (animal farming, prostitution, etc.), meat
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production, making or selling intoxicants such as drugs and alcohol.
6. Right Effort We must be disciplined and committed to our self-
cultivation. We must strive to be wholesome in our thoughts, which lead
to wholesome actions.
7. Right Mindfulness We must see the truth cognitively and intellec-
tually, and not be swayed by prejudice or past experience when evaluating
a new topic. In Buddhas Foundation of Mindfulness he spoke of contem-
plating the body, contemplating feelings, contemplating the state of mind,
and contemplating all phenomena.
8. Right Concentration This means developing mental stability and
the ability to maintain a one-pointed focus with your mind. We develop
this through meditation. Once you can keep your mind focused, you
than can maintain your focus on wholesome and harmonious thoughts.
FA I T H O R E X P E R I E N C E ?

Buddha advised his followers never to accept anything with blind faith
including his own teachings. He said that we must experience the truth
of all things first hand, and if we find some idea to be false we should dis-
card it.
In many ways, Buddhism is more a philosophical roadmap for leading
a peaceful and harmonious life than it is a religion that demands faith.
We can test each of the characteristics described in the Eightfold Path by
acting at one extreme or the other and seeing which extreme reduces
attachment and suffering. You dont need faith to conclude that following
Buddhas eight paths will bring you and those around you greater harmo-
ny, happiness and peace of mind. You just need to try it.
But on the other hand, there are religious elements to Buddhism that
do require faith and cant be experienced firsthand. For example, while
we can observe and test whether our thoughts and actions have a cause-
and-effect impact on our lives, we cannot observe this impact on any
future lives we might have. So the notion of reincarnation and karma,
which was taken for granted in Buddhas time and his society in general,
demands faith and reasoning rather than experience.
In Buddhist belief, upon death one will be reincarnated into one of
various forms: a human of lower or higher stature than that currently

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enjoyed in this lifetime, a lower form such as animal or hungry ghost, or a
higher form such as a deity.
The ultimate goal is to reach enlightenment (nirvana) and become a
Buddha, at which point you escape the ongoing cycle of rebirth and are no
longer reborn, thus forever escaping the suffering of existence. In some
Buddhist traditions, an enlightened one may opt to stay on the wheel of
existence and come back for the sole purpose of helping others achieve
enlightenment.
As an aside, in my observations, many Buddhists, particularly those
raised in Asia, view reincarnation as a fact of life or an absolute given. In
their practice of Buddhism, they often seem more concerned with how their
thoughts and actions will affect their karmic future lifetime, rather than
how it affects their happiness and the happiness of others here in this life-
time. I dont believe that was Buddhas intent from my studies I believe
his Eightfold Path and other teachings were meant for the here and now. I
think he might have admonished those who follow his path in the hope of
attaining a higher rebirth that such hopes are indicative of the egos contin-
ued struggle with attachment. Such people remain attached to desire, in
this case the desire for good karma.
Im not a Buddhist because to declare myself a Buddhist would seem to
indicate I am not a Taoist or Christian or Jew, each a faith or philosophy
which guides me to one degree or another as does atheism. But as a tradi-
tional kung fu practitioner, I find many of the experiential teachings of
Buddha to be indispensable in my journey of self-cultivation.

E X E R C I S E :

Meditate on the first of the Four Noble Truths. Is life really suffering, or
is that a misguided and negative take on our existence? Or something else?

A S S I G N M E N T

Explain whether the teachings of the Eightfold Path match your reli-
gious or philosophical views, or if any are contradictory to your views
explain why. Send your thoughts to me at lessons@thepeacefuldragon.com.
Please put Lesson 39 in the subject line.

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R E C O M M E N D E D R E A D I N G

An Introduction to the Buddha and His Teachings


Edited by Samuel Bercholz and Sherab Kohn

The literature on Buddhism is so vast and there are so many perspectives,


that for a good overview I am recommending this collection of essays and
articles new and old from a variety of Buddhists. This book was inspired by
the making of Bertoluccis film Little Buddha, which you may have seen.

SSSS
Topics include basic teachings, Zen, tantric Buddhism, ethics, karma, and
much more.

Every month a book or article will be suggested by Master Sbarge.


Reading about topics related to the arts you are training in will help you get
the most out of your practice. Just remember that reading can never replace
your practice! Each months recommended reading is purely optional,
though Master Sbarge may on rare occasion ask that you do read a particu-
lar book.
For additional reading suggestions by Master Sbarge, go to
http://www.thepeacefuldragon.com/books.shtml.
Note: All Peaceful Dragon students are urged to complete monthly
assignments because they are important for you to fully benefit from
your training. Master Sbarge reads every single student's lesson respons-
es every month, and will periodically respond or comment on them.

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