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“You will succeed in truly spreading the Buddha’s Dhamma here only if you are not afraid to challenge the desires and opinions of your students. If you do this, you will succeed; if you do not, if you change the teachings and the practice to fit the existing habits and opinions of people out of a misguided sense of wanting to please them, you will have failed in your duty to serve in the best way possible.” (Ajahn Chah 1979)
Hi, I am John Haspel. I teach the Dhamma and I write on the original teachings of the Buddha. Since October of 2009, I have been teaching weekly Dhamma classes within the framework of the Eightfold Path in Frenchtown New Jersey, and other locations in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. I also teach the Dhamma individually in person and online.
I am also a recovered alcoholic and drug addict.
I am the author of three books, Becoming Buddha – Becoming Awakened, The Truth of Happiness and The Spiritual Solution.
Information about my books is here: John Haspel’s Books
At an early age I became disappointed, unsettled and confused with my life. The purpose of life seemed to be the acquisition of things and superior labels. External phenomena such as gender, skin color, religious and political beliefs, body type, scholastic achievements, financial status, and an almost endless list of temporary states appeared to define a person’s value and usefulness. Life was uncertain and nothing could bring certainty.
The competitiveness for the acquisition of things and superior labels seemed pointless and rife with struggle. No achievement or acquisition could bring lasting peace and happiness. I often blamed myself for my confusion and growing frustration.
While in an alcohol and drug rehab at the age of nineteen, a family member gave me two books that would point my thinking in a new direction. I read Siddartha by Hermann Hesse, and Think on These Things by Jiddu Krishnamurti. While I understood little of what I read, I was able to recognize a new way to view the phenomenal world. I did not realize at the time that I was beginning to question my views of myself and the world.
I would drink and drug for another six years. Now twenty-five, and near death from the effects of alcohol and drug abuse, I took the 12 Steps of the Alcoholics Anonymous program of recovery as originally presented. One of the 12 steps, step 11, emphasizes the need to develop spiritually through prayer and meditation.
Having been brought up in a Christian household I understood prayer (or thought I did) but I had no understanding of meditation. As I knew nothing of meditation, I wanted to dismiss it. Meditation was presented to me as necessary if I was to recover, and remembering the emphasis that the Buddha and Krishnamurti placed on meditation, I sought out meditation teachers.
I first learned Transcendental Meditation and practiced the TM technique for 4 years. I became disappointed with this technique as it did not seem to be able to provide any framework for developing understanding and only a measure of concentration. The Hindu rituals and dogma loosely associated with TM created more confusion for me. The need to be able to afford the more “advanced” levels of TM, or not be allowed the teachings, seemed just another aspect of the competitiveness and “bottom line” mentality that were all part of the confusing nature of the world.
I settled on Buddhism and studied and practiced in the Tibetan schools for many years. I attended many retreats and special teachings and learned of the beauty and depth of these teachings. The more I studied and practiced, the more elusive understanding became. The more I learned, the more confused I became. The more I learned, the more I was asked to take on faith.
This seemed contrary to what The Buddha would teach. I had to admit, though, that after many years of “Buddhist” study I likely knew little of what the Buddha actually taught. Ultimately I left Tibetan Buddhism.
I then spent some time simultaneously studying in the Zen schools (Zen, Chan, Soen) and in the New Kadampa Tradition sect. A few years into the NKT sect I found their teachings to have little to do with the teachings of the Buddha. The NKT seemed to have their own contrary philosophy by professing worship of a worldly deity, Dorje Shugden, and an intense hatred for the Dalai Llama. Neither seemed consistent with the Buddha’s teachings.
I then put my efforts into the various Zen schools, thinking that a less dogmatic or less mystical teaching may be more in line with what I could use to develop understanding. After extensive study, sesshin’s, and diligent practice, I found that I was still not developing understanding or finding anything that would likely lead me to understanding. I found nearly as much dogma and nearly as much mysticism in the Zen schools. The Four Noble Truths seemed to be treated more as an anachronism rather than the defining understanding of the Buddha’s teachings.
Through all these different teachings and association’s, it seemed that “becoming” a Tibetan Buddhist, or a Zen Buddhist, or Chan or Soen Buddhist, or an NKT Buddhist, was more important than actually developing useful understanding and awakening as a human being. There was much more emphasis on adapting to, and adopting, the individual and cultural embellishments to the original teachings as there was in developing an understanding of the nature of confusion, delusion, and suffering.
In these later-developed schools it was first necessary to learn the dogma, rituals and methods of each school, no small matter, and then engage with their particular teachings for “many lifetimes” in order to gain any understanding. There exists a subtle, and often not so subtle, elitism within most of these schools. I came to understand that the Buddha did not teach any of these individual or cultural embellishments as part of his Dhamma.
After careful and intensive study, I became convinced that these later schools would not be able to develop in me the Buddha’s stated goal of release from all clinging views and the resulting suffering.
I then looked to the Theravadin school. I found much of what I was looking for in “the teachings of the elders” but I found that the mystical aspects still practiced by many Theravadins confusing and not helpful to developing understanding. I found the modern “Vipassana” movement, considered a sub-school of Theravada, to be stripped of most of the Buddha’s original teachings in favor of an extensive and hybridized meditation technique.
This was my experience. Many people have gained a measure of belonging and comfort from all of these schools, and the many other modern “Buddhist” schools.
Many years of extensive study and practice left me more confused and frustrated. I had put in the time and studied with many of the foremost teachers. I read the writings of all the great Mahayana teachers. Yet I was more confused as to what the Buddha taught than when I first began studying the Dhamma 25 years prior.
I decided that I would try to separate what the Buddha likely taught from what developed later. I learned that the original teachings of the Buddha were still available and preserved in a set of books called “The Pali Canon.” I learned that the Hinayana form of Buddhism was more consistent with the original teachings than the later-developed Mahayana teachings.
As I studied the Pali Canon, in particular the translations of Thanissaro Bhikkhu and the books by Bhikkhu Bodhi, it became clear that the Buddha taught that he was a human being who through his own efforts “awakened” to the truth of his existence. The Buddha taught a Dhamma that any human being could engage with. If his Dhamma was engaged in whole-heartedly, The Buddha used the word “ehipassiko,” (come and see for yourself) any human being could develop an understanding of dukkha and experience the cessation of confusion, delusion, and suffering.
The path he taught was an Eightfold Path of developing heightened wisdom, virtue and concentration. The Buddha taught that nothing needed to be taken on blind faith.
The Buddha taught that with conviction arising from a basic understanding of the Four Noble Truths, a “Right View” of the world could be achieved.
I found that there were no special rituals, chants, initiations or empowerments taught by the Buddha that were necessary to develop understanding.
The Buddha taught a specific meditation technique with specific goals. This meditation technique, shamatha-vipassana meditation, was to be practiced within the entire framework of the Eightfold Path if it would contribute to and support awakening.
I found that the Buddha described awakening not as finding an essential inner nature, or “Buddha-nature” but as unbinding from all views that developed from a doctrine of “I.” The Buddha described the state of mind of an awakened human being not as “Buddha-nature,” or “Buddha-hood,” but as released, unbound, and calm.
I found that there were 12 causative links, known as Dependent Origination, that simply and directly describe how suffering arises from ignorance of the Four Noble Truths.
I found that what I had previously thought of as my “self” was an impermanent and insubstantial creation of my own ignorance. This “self” was a composition of 5 psycho/physical aggregates that cling together, and cling to phenomena. It is these 5 clinging-aggregates that I have projected a doctrine of self onto and into, and it is this impermanent “self” that is prone to confusion and suffering.
This cleared much of the confusion of other teachings that taught a continued doctrine of self within a cosmic environment and inter-dependent and interconnected to (clinging to) other conditioned objects.
I found that I did not have to reconcile my understanding of the Buddha’s teachings with every other philosophy or “spiritual” teaching, “Buddhist” or otherwise. I developed this understanding by learning that the Buddha felt no such compulsion to reconcile the Dhamma to the prevailing beliefs or religions of his day. I found that the Buddha did not concern himself with having to prove through magical, mystical, scientific, or any other means, the truth of his Dhamma.
Here is an article of the confusion that often arises from the need to reconcile all the many Buddhist schools into a one-size-fits-all Buddhism: Modern Buddhism – A Thicket Of Views
I found that the Buddha taught an Eightfold Path to awakening that any human being who whole-heartedly engaged with the Dhamma, as he presented his Dhamma, could, and often did awaken.
Most importantly, I found a Dhamma that I could engage with and understand. I found a Dhamma that developed in a direct way understanding without becoming confused or distracted with dogma, ritual or “spiritual” acquisition.
I found that the problem of suffering was due to my own need to establish and maintain a doctrine of self, and the Buddha’s Dhamma develops the understanding to abandon all views arising from a doctrine of self.
I found, through direct inquiry of the Buddha’s Dhamma, a peaceful and calm mind, and lasting peace and happiness.