A Human Buddha

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Note: I have included links below to full Suttas for those interested in further study of the human Buddha and his Dhamma. ([x])

This article was originally written as a comment to a Tricycle magazine article. Here is a link: The Human Deity?

I mean no disrespect to the author of the Tricycle article, Mr. Spellmeyer. I do not know Mr. Spellmeyer. This is my response to his Tricycle article posted in a public forum. I mention his name to maintain the context of this article and as an example of modern Buddhist teachers that develop elaborate strategies and practices never taught by the Buddha to fabricate a “dharma” that allows for disregard of the Buddha’s actual teachings. To me, there is nothing more tragic than professing to know what “Buddhism” is while insisting that the Buddha’s direct teachings must be ignored as they cannot be known – false – or are irrelevant to modern problems – also false. 

I use the word “Dhamma” referring to the teachings of an awakened human being and the word “dharma” referring to later developed “Buddhist” doctrines.

The depth of understanding and the profound wisdom developed from direct engagement with an awakened human being’s Dhamma is intentionally ignored by Mr. Spellmeyer.

The suttas, when read completely and in the proper context, reveal a human Buddha who awakened through his own efforts. Upon his awakening, he spent the next forty-five years of his life teaching anyone interested and willing to focus on his Dhamma alone to do the same.

At the age of 29 this human being left behind comfortable and familiar though fabricated views, and wealth, luxury, and power, seeking understanding of the human condition. After six years of arduous investigation and study, he came to the profound understanding that it is ignorance of Four NobleTruths that is the underlying condition that all manner of confusion, deluded thinking, and ongoing stress and suffering originate in and are dependent on.

As such, Dependent Origination and Four Noble Truths alone define the purpose and scope of His Dhamma. The necessary context for skillful understanding and application of the Buddha’s Dhamma can only be established through fidelity to Four Noble Truths and the Paticca Samuppada Sutta, the primary sutta on Dependent Origination. [1,2]

Insisting on a dogmatic ever-evolving doctrine that the Buddha was a magical, mystical, supernatural god-like being completely negates his Dhamma and the possibility that ordinary human beings could develop understanding in their present lifetime.

The modern hierarchical divide between those who are “master” Buddhists and the sorry lot of the rest of us still foolishly believing Siddartha was a mere mortal is firmly established and promoted by Mr. Spellmeyer’s authoritative presentation of what he believes Buddhism should be.

By fabricating a supernatural Buddha to be worshiped, many modern “masters” develops  widespreadcan now control what “ordinary” people practice and consider as “authentic Buddhism.” A supernatural Buddha requires supernatural dharmas and “advanced masters.” The Dhamma of an impossibly human being must be ignored for “advanced” Buddhist to promote continued ignorance.

(Fabrication means corrupted or perverted and in this sense fabricated views arising from ignorance of Four Noble Truths.) [3]

This human being was born Siddartha Gotama. Upon his awakening he was known as Buddha – a name he never attributed to himself.

Dependent Origination is (often intentionally) misunderstood and misapplied to fit fabricated views. Dependent Origination does not promote a doctrine of interdependence, (a completely different word) interconnectedness, or inter-being as stated in this article. (See below and [1])

In the Nagara Sutta, Siddartha Gotama describes his awakening and the process he went through of recognizing and abandoning the mental feedback loop of ongoing thinking stuck in ignorant fabricated views. [4]

This struggle within himself provided Siddartha insight into the problem of ignorance as the defining condition for all manner of confusion, deluded thinking, and ongoing distracting and unsatisfactory life experiences. He realized that a mind rooted in ignorance of reality – of Four Noble Truths – will compulsively create endless strategies to continue ignorance. [5]

Siddartha now understood that it is the nature of a mind stuck in ignorance to continue to ignore ignorance. This results in constant self-identification with a fabricated story. The fabricated story then becomes a substitute for the Buddha’s Dhamma and, through misguided “teachers”  preaching fabricated “dharmas”  develops widespread and pervasive communal justification for dismissing his Dhamma.

The primary purpose of the Eightfold Path is to provide the framework and guidance to recognize and abandon this fundamental ignorance. [6]

Dharmas that dismiss the Eightfold Path do so to conveniently avoid addressing this fundamental understanding and ultimate abandonment of ignorance.

Creating fabricated doctrines of interdependence, interconnectedness, and inter-being become very useful and comfortable for collectively conditioned mind-states to continue avoiding ignorance.

It is these conditioned mind-states the Buddha is referring to as “hard to see, not easily realized, abstruse, subtle, deep, going against the flow.” [1]

Siddartha saw the stress of continued self-identification with these ignorant views and rejected the teachings of two prominent “spiritual” teachers as they promoted continuing ignorant views through grasping after and clinging to magical and mystical “dharmas” just as is proposed by Mr. Spellmeyer. [7]

This awakened human being’s teaching on this understanding provides the essential foundational context for everything he would teach during his forty-five-year teaching career. Adapting, accommodating, embellishing, or ignoring the Buddha’s Dhamma only furthers ignorance of his Dhamma.

In order to understand, evaluate and integrate the Buddha’s Dhamma properly, and realistically, Dependent Origination must be understood as it was originally taught.

What the Buddha struggled with post his awakening, (conveniently viewed quite differently by Mr. Spellmeyer) was that as a human being he did struggle with the decision to teach what he knew. He considered carefully and mindfully how to pierce the veil of ignorance common to all human beings.

Now awakened, Siddartha understood the subtle but powerful strategies a mind rooted in ignorance will develop and cling to in order to continue ignorance, including ignoring and so dismissing his Dhamma.

The most common strategy then and continuing to today,  is to simply conclude that since the authentic teachings of this awakened human being cannot be reconciled with current (fabricated) views of what Buddhism should be, then the teachings themselves must be fabricated and should be ignored. A mind rooted in ignorance will fabricate subtle (“hard to see”) and powerful (“hard to realize”) strategies that ignore anything that challenges ignorance.

Notice below the initiating sequence of Dependent Origination shows that ignorance is the requisite condition for developing fabricated views of self and the world.

Perhaps the most adapted, accommodated and embellished teaching of the Buddha is his teaching on Dependent Origination. When seen in the proper context of fabricated views requiring ignorance to continue, the fabrication of views justifying ignoring the Buddha’s Dhamma become apparent.

The Twelve Links Of Dependent Origination:

  •  From ignorance as a requisite condition come fabrications. (When this is that is – when ignorance of Four Noble Truths is present fabricated views follow)
  •  From fabrications as a requisite condition comes consciousness. (Consciousness here is referring to ongoing thinking rooted in ignorance)
  •  From consciousness as a requisite condition comes Name-And-Form. (A mind rooted in ignorance creates fabricated self-referential views – clinging “me” and “I” to form)
  •  From Name-And-Form as a requisite condition comes the Six Sense Base. (The six-sense-base are the five physical senses and consciousness – ongoing thinking rooted in ignorance)
  • From the Six Sense Base as a requisite condition comes contact. (A mind rooted in ignorance will interpret its experience through contact with the six senses resulting in perceptions and resulting experience based on ignorance rather than reality.)
  • From contact as a requisite condition comes feeling. (Ignorant perceptions protecting a clinging view of self creates reactions – a disturbed mind that now grasps after relief including relief in fabricated “dharmas.”)
  • From feeling as a requisite condition comes craving. (A “self” now established in fabrication craves for more self-establishment in every thought, word, and idea that arise.)
  • From craving as a requisite condition comes clinging and maintaining. (Name and form, Anastta, Self-referential views, compel this troubled mind to cling to ignorant  views and now protect and defend these fabricated views of “self.”)
  • From clinging and maintaining as a requisite condition comes becoming. (By clinging to fabricated views one can only become further distracted and confused.) [8]
  •  From becoming as a requisite condition comes birth. (Now the experience of confusion, deluded thinking, and ongoing unsatisfactory experiences become manifest and unavoidable.) [8]
  • From birth as the requisite condition comes sickness, aging, death, sorrow, regret, pain, distress, and despair. Such is the origination of the entire mass of confusion, deluded thinking, and suffering. (From ignorance of Four Noble Truths confusion, deluded thinking and continued unsatisfactory experiences – suffering – occurs.)

Again, notice there is nothing in this sutta that remotely suggests adopting or accommodating a doctrine of interdependence, interconnectedness, inter-being, or any doctrine that would continue ignorance and the suffering of continual self-identification with impermanent objects, events, views, and ideas.

The common doctrine of Zen and most modern Buddhist “dharmas” of “perceiving oneself as all things” can only be established as a “dharma” by intentionally ignoring or misapplying Dependent Origination.

The Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta is the very first teaching ever presented by the Buddha. It occurred a few weeks after Siddhartha Gotama awakened and gained full human maturity – complete understanding of the human life experience. [2]

For a few weeks after his awakening, Siddhartha carefully considered if it was possible to teach others his profound understanding of the nature of suffering  (Dukkha) arising due to wrong views of self (Anatta) within an impermanent, ever-changing environment (Anicca). [9]

Rather than adapt, accommodate, or embellish his Dhamma to fit ignorant views, he carefully, compassionately, and courageously considered how he could effectively teach his Dhamma. This shows a real human with the wisdom, courage, and true compassion considering carefully how to present what he now understood to others whose mind are rooted in ignorance.

Rather than depict this as an aspect of Awakened Right View, Mr. Spellmeyer denigrates the Buddha’s concern because he would prefer what his view (Mr. Spellmeyer’s)  expects of a supernatural Buddha: “elation, bliss, or unity with all things.” This is a typical escapist view adopted by most modern religions including Modern Buddhism. [10]

The Buddha taught that suffering occurs due to ignorance of Four Noble Truths. He further taught that craving and clinging are rooted in this specific ignorance. He taught that emptying oneself of ignorance is possible. He taught one path – an Eightfold path – as the path for recognizing and abandoning ignorance in all its many manifestations.

A truly wise and compassionate human being would be deeply concerned when realizing the suffering of humanity at the profound level of Siddartha. Rather than elation, bliss, or the ongoing distraction of believing he was united with all things, he carefully considered if he could help other’s to end their own suffering by becoming Rightly Self-Awakened through developing profound wisdom and understanding of suffering.

The purpose of the Buddha’s Dhamma and specifically the Eightfold Path is so others could avoid or abandon the common human strategy for dealing with stress and disappointment of escaping to speculative, magical, and mystical, realms complete with a savior or two and establishing “dharmas” that support continued ignorance. [7]

As described in the Paticca-Samuppada Sutta,  the primary sutta on Dependent Origination, the condition that human confusion, deluded thinking, and suffering is dependent on arise from ignorance of Four Noble Truths. As shown and taught in the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, the Eightfold Path is the middle-way that avoids extreme fabricated views that would continue wrong views rooted in ignorance of the Four Noble Truths. The Eightfold Path is the path developed by the human Buddha for Dhamma practitioners that, when developed, brings wisdom and awakening. [6]

It is the self-identification with fabricated views that maintain ignorance and ongoing suffering – clinging or joining with suffering – that obscures impermanence through the continuation of self-referential unsatisfactory experiences.

The Buddha taught each factor of the Eightfold Path to develop the concentration supporting the refined mindfulness necessary for recognizing and abandoning all wrong views rooted in ignorance.

As Mr. Spellmeyer concludes, the preserved teachings of the Buddha “seems real only because it’s collectively shared and individually internalized. “

The Buddha’s Dhamma only “seems” legitimate because a large number of people believe in it!?

This particular conclusion and this entire article is the result of this common strategy. The more “Buddhists” that can be convinced that the Buddha’s Dhamma is archaic and unfounded the more “Buddhists” can be convinced to follow dharmas that fabricate imaginary characters residing in imaginary realms convenient for continued distraction through continued self-establishment: “ 

The Lotus Sutra insists that both the so-called Buddha of history and the cosmic Vairocana, one of the celestial Buddhas, are constructions of our own minds, only visible to each of us in our individual ways. “ In other words, the Buddha’s Dhamma must be dismissed because it cannot be easily reconciled with individual views rooted in ignorance of Four Noble Truths – precisely what the Buddha teaches must be recognized as continued I-making and abandoned.

The “logic” of insisting this is a justifiable and reasonable “practice” is established in a lack of understanding that comes by maintaining the self-referential mental feedback look described by the human Siddartha prior to his self-awakening. [4]

Mr. Spellmeyer uses quotes from the Lotus Sutra and other Zen teachers but fails to mention the genesis of these sutras and other sutras that Modern Buddhism is based.  Their only connection to the human Siddartha Gotama is a magical, mystical, imaginary fable that a superhuman Buddha taught these sutras while in imaginary supernatural disincarnate form. [11]

What would be responsible and Right Speech for Mr. Spellmeyer would be to simply state that he does not rely on the Buddha’s teachings as preserved in the Sutta Pitaka and instead relies on later-developed dharma teachings whose only connection to any “Buddha” is an imaginary, magical, supernatural connection and so is unfounded.

What is now “justifiably” ignored is an awakened human being’s Dhamma in favor of ever-changing “dharmas” that are gleefully embraced simply because they legitimize current conditioned views. [10]

Of course, a human Buddha is unacceptable if entire lineages are established by a superhuman, magical, god-like Buddha.

What is also overlooked and easily dismissed in this article is Siddartha’s arduous search simply because Siddartha, as a human being, “looks like one of us.” This was the same argument the Mahasangikas made at the second Buddhist council to justify their own compulsive desire to adapt and accommodate the Buddha’s Dhamma to maintain ignorance and fit their own magical and mystical views. [11]

The remarkable story of the way that monks and nuns from the original sangha diligently worked to preserve these teachings in an authentic and accessible volume is also conveniently ignored and dismissed here. [11]

Mr. Spellmeyer’s position that the Suttas should be ignored simply because they are impossible to reconcile with his conditioned view, and the prevailing modern view, is the common strategy of most contemporary Buddhists to continue to ignore ignorance of Four Noble Truths. Unfortunately, this strategy continues its effectiveness as it directly appeals to like minds grasping after strategies and practices that allow for maintaining ignorance (of Four Noble Truths.)

Mr. Spellmeyer is very convincing in his call to dismiss the Buddha’s original teachings in favor of his modern view. He fails to notice that the argument he uses to dismiss the Buddha’s Dhamma is precisely the “logic” he has used to selectively choose and mischaracterize a small section of a sutta to support his view. He states “Using the Pali suttas, we can create a biography of the Buddha that aligns with our conventional thinking, but only by reading them quite selectively.“ This is a very smug but convenient and complete dismissal of the only preserved teachings of an awakened human being.

His selection from the Ayacana Sutta leaves out a concluding statement by the Buddha: “going against the flow— those delighting in passion, cloaked in the mass of ignorance won’t see.

Mr. Spellmeyer further denigrates the Buddha’s Dhamma by pointing out that there were typical community difficulties as if this is further justification to dismiss the belief that Siddartha was a mere mortal: “this Buddha makes mistakes and changes his mind.”  Yes, Siddartha lived in a real world, just like ours, with real problems while always maintaining a calm and peaceful mindfully engaged with the reality of human life from a position of profound wisdom. Mr. Spellmeyer also conveniently ignores the profound quality of wisdom and calm developed by Siddartha Gotama’s direct Right Effort. What more could anyone want except a path to do the same?

The confusing and circular logic in this article is hard to miss and equally hard to follow. Either the Suttas are fabricated, or they aren’t. If one believes they are fabricated, then it is furthering fabrication to use the fabrications to support a view of current reality. Whew!

Referring to this quality of a confused mind to continue fabricating, the Buddha taught: “Why is the fabrication aggregate called ‘fabrication’? Because it fabricates. It fabricates what is experienced as form,  feelings, perceptions, consciousness. It fabricates fabrications.” The reference here is to the Five Clinging-Aggregates, an awakened human being’s description of the personal experience of suffering arising from a confused mind ignorant of Four Noble Truths. [3]

Mr. Spellmeyer could avoid teaching others to ignore an awakened human beings Dhamma by clearly stating that he prefers these later teachings because they fit the views of his teachers and they fit his view of what Buddhism should be. In this way,an awakened human beings he would at least leave open the possibility that the efforts of the human Buddha, and the monks, nuns, and teachers that worked so diligently to establish and continue an awakened human beings Dhamma, would not be dismissed and further ignored.

The conclusions of a mind rooted in ignorance of Four Noble Truths are always self-reflective and self-protective. In other words, a deluded mind will attempt to establish its “self” in every thought, word, and idea that arises, including its view of “dharma practice.” In the Dhatu-Vibhanga Sutta, the Buddha teaches that a person is made up of six impersonal and ordinary properties. [13]

The Buddha teaches this to show the foolishness of continually attempting to establish a “self” in all things impermanent. Dismissing this key teaching, Mr. Spellmeyer quotes a misguided Dogen that we should “perceive oneself as all things.” What is this if not continued I-making by clinging to fabricated views?

Again, promoting a confusing modern doctrine that establishes a “self” in all things requires dismissing a Dhamma that teaches to recognize and abandon all views that continue self-identification and magical establishments.

Let me conclude my comments by way of explaining why so many continue to compulsively grasp after views that support ignoring the Buddha’s Dhamma. As stated earlier the Buddha awakened to the profound understanding that it is ignorance of Four Noble Truths that, through twelve observable causative links, results in all manner of confusion, contradiction, and delusion.

The Buddha consistently taught that he was an ordinary human being that through his own extraordinary Right Efforts became Rightly Self-Awakened. [4]

He taught a practical, accessible, easily integrated and developed Dhamma and that any human being could achieve human awakening through wholehearted integration of the Eightfold Path. The Buddha’s Dhamma does not rely on questionable and unfounded “lineages” or any magical or mystical practices. It does not rely on speculative beliefs. Developing an understanding of the Buddha’s Dhamma only requires refined mindfulness – knowing what the Buddha taught and knowing what he did not teach. Essential to whole-hearted engagement with the Buddha’s Dhamma is the profound understanding that an ordinary human being awakened and then taught others to do the same. [10]

As has been seen in this article, dismissing the Buddha’s Dhamma to justify an imaginary, supernatural, magical Buddha is a required fabrication necessary to allow for the contradictory doctrines presented here.

Dismissing the Buddha’s teachings began during the Buddha’s lifetime and will continue long into the future as long as confused human beings create ever-changing fabricated dharmas.

Self-identifying with and protecting views rooted ignorance of Four Noble Truths is indeed “hard to see, not easily realized, abstruse, subtle, deep.” It is for this reason the Buddha taught an Eightfold Path that provides the framework and guidance necessary to recognize and abandon fabricated views rooted in ignorance.

Of course, a mind, or a teacher, determined to continue ignorance must seek out and legitimize other “dharmas” while insisting that a human being who actually awakened is a fable or, at best, an insignificant part of the “story.”

Fortunately, the Suttas maintaining Siddartha’s Dhamma are still accessible. A few teachers still teach what the Buddha taught. Those modern Buddhist practitioners that are not so convinced that their adapted view is a “Right View” can still follow an awakened human being who urged others to “come and see for your self.” [14]

Wholehearted engagement with the Buddha’s Dhamma is perhaps more difficult today. Authoritative voices such as Mr. Spellmeyer are the prevailing voice of modern Buddhism. The Buddha provided clear direction for this common problem. As the Siddartha Gotama taught in the Kalama Sutta: “Do not go by reports, or legends, or traditions, or scripture, or conjecture, or inference, or analogies, or common agreement, or unexamined loyalty. When you know from your own experience that the qualities taught are skillful, shameless, unambiguous, and direct these teachings should be developed. When these teachings are praised by the wise, they should be developed. When these teachings lead to unbinding and calm they should be developed.” [15]

I spent the first twenty years of my “Buddhist practice” studying with many of the modern “masters” of most Mahayana traditions, always becoming more confused and frustrated with the confusing rituals and contradictory “dharmas.” It was not until I discovered and thoroughly developed the Buddha’s direct teachings that I was able to refine my mindfulness and develop a calm and peaceful mind. 

Modern Buddhism is, in fact, always evolving to fit ever-changing views of what “Buddhism” should be. Most today insist that “Buddhism” should always “evolve.” This is a very useful and necessary strategy that allows for continual adaptation, accommodation, embellishment, and ignorance of an awakened human beings Dhamma. In fact, it is precisely this strategy that has legitimized later-developed practices such as those presented here. It is the basic compulsion of a mind rooted ignorance of Four Noble Truths to insist that these later-developed practices are the authentic teachings of the Buddha while hoping to continue an awakened human being’s preserved Dhamma is a fairy tale.

The Four Noble Truths, as taught by an awakened human being, are timeless and always effective in recognizing and abandoning all self-referential views. The problem is that the “evolutionary” conclusions arrived by those choosing to directly ignore the Buddha’s Dhamma continued to be rooted in ignorance of Four Noble Truths and are as confused and contradictory as they have always been.

Finally, I mean no disrespect to Mr. Spellmeyer. The issue here is that when speaking with authority on Buddhism and arguing that the Buddha’s own teachings as an awakened human being should be ignored in favor of adapted, accommodated, and embellished forms of Buddhist practice that evolved well after his passing only serves to discredit the Buddha’s Dhamma and distract people from the most effective teachings ever taught to end ignorance and develop a calm and peaceful mind. [12]

Right Speech, the third factor of the Buddha’s Eightfold Path, would bring this clearly to mind. Of course, substituting fabricated views and “dharmas” that promote ignoring the Eightfold Path won’t. [16]

Peace.

  1. Dependent Origination – The Paticca Samuppada Sutta
  2. Four Noble Truths – The Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta
  3. Vipallasa Sutta – Fabrications
  4. Nagara Sutta – The Buddha Describes His Awakening
  5. Teaching An Authentic Dhamma
  6. Eightfold Path – The Magga-Vibhanga Sutta
  7. The Noble Search For The Noble Path
  8. Becoming Explained
  9. Three Marks Of Existence – Anicca, Anatta, Dukkha
  10. Modern Buddhism – A Thicket Of Views
  11. Pail Canon
  12. Released From Affliction
  13. Nothing Personal – A Buddha’s Analysis Of Self
  14. Ehipassiko – Come And See For Yourself
  15. Kalama Sutta
  16. True Refuge – The Ratana Sutta 

 

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My Dhamma articles and talks are based on the Buddha's teachings  (suttas) as preserved in the Sutta Pitaka, the second book of the Pali Canon. I have relied primarily on Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s excellent and insightful translation of the Pali generously made freely available at his website Dhammatalks.org, as well as the works of Acharya Buddharakkhita, Nyanaponika Thera, John Ireland, Maurice Walsh, Hellmuth Hecker, and Sister Khema, among others, as preserved at Access To Insight.

Also, I have found Bhikkhu Bodhi's translations from Wisdom Publications Pali Canon Anthologies to be most informative and an excellent resource.

I have made edits to the suttas from these sources for further clarity, to modernize language, to minimize repetition, and maintain contextual relevance to Dependent Origination and Four Noble Truths.

 

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