Although I devote no small amount of space on this blog to a discussion of Buddhist concepts, I have to say that overall, they are not that important. Not as important as practice, which is something I’ve said many times.
I haven’t delved much into the details of practice, which consists of meditation and/or the chanting of mantras, because I think it is a subject best handled through personal communication. You can’t learn meditation from reading words in a book or on an Internet page. It must be imparted to you from someone who has enough experience to guide you. It is also best learned through actual practice, doing it, so that you gain your own experience.
Unfortunately, too many Westerners try to approach Buddhism first through the concepts, as I have also noted a few times. Science, logic, and reason seem important to them, and when they are faced with ideas that are at variance with any of these three things, or does not conform to their preconceived ideas, they adopt a doubtful, pessimistic attitude, which I suspect is difficult to shake in the long run. Some will even form the opinion that mediation is some sort of dogma.
Buddhism is not about acquiring knowledge. It is about acquiring wisdom, and there’s a difference between the two. Buddhist wisdom or prajna, is not like a light bulb going off over your head, but is rather an intuitive feeling experienced only through meditation. It’s something that is subtle and difficult to explain satisfactorily. It has to be experienced.
Nowadays, folks throw up the Kalama Sutta and proclaim this as a “charter for free inquiry” and a license to judge everything according to science, logic, and reason. But I don’t think that’s what the Buddha was saying.
The Buddha does indeed state, “Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning . . .” He doesn’t say do not take these things into consideration, just don’t rely solely on them. Most importantly, he says “when you yourselves know: ‘These things are good . . .” In other words, you have to experience the teachings yourself to know. And while, reading can be an experience, what is actually referred to here is the experience of mindfulness, of meditation, practice.
You can give neither meditation nor Buddhism’s concepts a fair shot with a mind full of judgment, prejudice, and discrimination. In order to live a life of freedom, you must first free your mind.
The secret of Buddhism is to remove all ideas, all concepts, in order for the truth to have a chance to penetrate, to reveal itself.”
- Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddha Mind, Buddha Body: Walking Toward Enlightenment