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introduction to Buddhism and its permutations

The Ideal of Buddhism



buddhaThe Buddha (c 566-486 BC) was not satisfied with the ideas of his contemporary thinkers. Those who regard this earthly life as pleasant (optimists) are ignorant of the disappointment and despair which are to come. Those who regard this life as a life of suffering (pessimists) may be tolerated as long as they are simply feeling dissatisfied with this life, but when they begin to give up this life as hopeless and try to escape to a better life by practicing austerities (self-mortification), then they are to be abhorred. The Buddha taught that the extremes of both hedonism and asceticism are to be avoided and that the middle course should be followed as the ideal. This does not mean that one should simply avoid both extremes and take the middle course as the only remaining course of escape. Rather, one should transcend not merely escape from, such extremes.

The Buddha's doctrine, in fine, rests on the idea of "knowing and regarding reality as it is." That means one should know the true facts about this earthly life and look at it without making excuses, and regulate one's daily conduct of life according to this knowledge and standpoint.

This idea that there is nothing but hardship in this world-even pleasures end in hardship-is one of the significant points of Buddhism. Someone might say that this idea of recognizing this life as hardship cannot be anything but pessimism. But that is not right. The idea is this: in this present life there are both pleasures and hardships. It is shallow to try to regard it as entirely of pleasure; what one regards as pleasure will cause suffering when it ceases to exist. In other words we may call it a kind of hardship which appears in the guise of pleasure. Therefore this life must be regarded as consisting entirely of hardship. Yet one must not lament over it. If one is ignorant of the fact that pleasures can cause hardships, one will be disappointed when that fact presents itself. The Buddha teaches that one should regard hardship as hardship, accepting it as a fact and opposing it. Hence his emphasis on perseverance, fortitude, and forbearance, the latter being one of the Six Perfections.

In short, there are both pleasures and hardships in life, but one must not be discouraged when hardship comes, or lose oneself in rapture of joy when pleasure comes. Both pleasure and hardship must be taken alike with caution, and one must attack them with all one's might. For this reason bravery and diligence (virya) were included among the Six Perfections.

The middle course does not mean escaping from life but it means

invading life, and yet not to become a prisoner of life.

When the Buddha's idea on reality develops further and further

along its path, it becomes the Buddhist philosophy. To realize it

in the actual life of living men is the religious side of Buddhism.

Apart from Buddhism, however, there are efforts on the part of many thinkers to build up their respective thoughts on optimism and pessimism. Ever since before the time of the Buddha there had existed both schools of thought. The optimistic thought has developed into naturalism, hedonism, materialism, mechanism, etc. During the lifetime of the Buddha there existed even stronger materialism than that we see today. Pessimism developed along the line which may be described as more religious. They reasoned that since our organism (body and mind) is imperfect, we should overcome it by austerities (self-mortification); then in the next life we shall attain a perfect heavenly existence. Thus they invented various methods of self-mortification and practiced them. The Buddha abhorred this practice.

Because the Buddha's idea on both optimism and pessimism was very clear, there has never been anyone in Buddhism who strayed into materialism nor has there been anyone who went into the practice of self-mortification. In short, the extremes of both optimism and pessimism were prevented by the moderate doctrine of Buddhism. In a way Buddhism was a scheme against the ravages of both materialism and asceticism.

The special community established by the Buddha was called the Arya-sangha (The Assembly of the Nobles), intended to be the cradle of noble persons. Since the Brahmanical tradition had been firmly established, the race distinction was strictly felt. On that account the Buddha often asserted that in his own community there would he no distinction between Brahmans (priests) and warriors or between masters and slaves. Anyone who joined the Brotherhood would have an equal opportunity for learning and training.

Against the asserted superiority of the Aryan race and the appellation of anorya (non-Aryan) given to the aborigines or some earlier immigrants, the Buddha often argued that the word 'Arya' meant 'noble' and we ought not call a race noble or ignoble for there will be some ignoble persons among the so-called arya and at the same time there will be some noble persons among the so-called anarya. When we say noble or ignoble we should be speaking of an individual and not of a race as a whole. It is a question of knowledge or wisdom but not of birth or caste. Thus the object of the Buddha was to create a noble personage (arya-pudgala)-in the sense of a noble life.

The noble community (arya-sangha) was founded for that very purpose. The noble ideal (arya-dharma) and the noble discipline (arya-vinaya) were set forth for the aspiring candidates. The path to be pursued by the noble aspirant is the Noble Eightfold Path (arya-astangika-marga.) and the truth to be believed by the noble is the Noble Fourfold Truth (catvari arya-satyani). The perfections attained by the noble were the four noble fruitions (arya-phala) and the wealth to be possessed by the noble was the noble sevenfold wealth (sapta. arya-dhana), all being spiritual qualifications. The careful application of the word 'arya' to each of the important points of his institution must not be overlooked by a student of Buddhism. The Buddha thus seemed to have endeavored to revive the original meaning of arya in personality and the daily life of his religious community.

Whether the Buddha was an Aryan or not we cannot say. Some consider him to he an Indo-Scythian while others consider him to be an Indo-Sumerian. The question of race has nothing to do with him, who in his idea transcends all racial distinctions.



The Buddha's doctrine, in fine, rests on the idea of "knowing and regarding reality as it is." That means one should know the true facts about this earthly life and look at it without making excuses, and regulate one's daily conduct of life according to this knowledge and standpoint.

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