An introduction to the principles behind the Noble Eightfold Path, the doctrine of anatta and the spread of Buddhism.

The psychology of the principles behind the Noble Eightfold Path allows students to understand what the eight paths mean and how they are meant to be viewed. The doctrine of anatta, which concerns the original Buddhist view that the soul is as impermanent as all other things in the universe, also can be explained through the notion of flux. It concludes with the way Buddhism expands from its homeland in India into Central, East and Southeast Asia.

This should be read in conjunction with the discussion elsewhere in this Library entitled "Making Sense of Buddhism".

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...ss and mindfulness, and that word is nirvana.

Now, let's suddenly change the setting. Instead of me here persuading you to begin to observe the preliminaries to the practice of meditation, let's pretend that I have become transformed into a Baptist preacher. I have just convinced you that you've got to let Christ into your life, that you can be blissfully redeemed from your lives of wickedness by God's forgiveness and you can be reborn as a new, spiritually perfect person. You'll get down on your knees and pray to a loving God and thank Him for His salvation.

Why did I suddenly switch scenes and personae? The reason is that I want to make a contrast between that point of spiritual bliss that the Christian or the Muslim might reach on the moment of surrendering to God - a contrast between that and what the Buddhist approach is all about. In Christianity, you can have your sins washed away by an act of genuine contrition, washed away by the love of God. Buddhist philosophy does not have a parallel to that, except perhaps in the later Mahayana tradition.

What Buddhism says is that contrition for sins is a wonderful thing and certainly a step in the right direction, but that you cannot undo the consequences of your action. You might make amends, but you cannot wipe the slate clean, because you simply cannot go backwards. In the great computer program of life, there is no UNDO command! You have to come to terms with the consequences of your actions and you have to see yourself as a part in a gigantic link of causation - of cause and effect - and after all, no-one can deny that that is exactly what we are - we're here on this earth because of all the events that have occurred since the beginning of the universe, and we're making waves, however small they might seem to be, that will reverberate to the end of time. The butterfly that flutters its wings in Beijing may set off a chain reaction that has immense consequences for the world, as the chaos theorists tell us.

What have fluttering butterflies got to do with saving your soul? Well, Buddhism has some rather mind-boggling interpretations of the soul too, but let's not confuse the issue more than we have to for the moment. Buddhism is all about taking responsibility for your actions, because you are in control of your destiny to an important extent. You make decisions and you take responsibility - that's what the law of karma is all about. It's the moral law of cause and effect, that neither you nor I nor anyone can escape from, because you cannot escape from the consequences of action. Karma literally means action. In the original Buddhist philosophy, there is no god sitting up there somewhere who takes an paternal interest in you or me. There is no god to whom you can pray for forgiveness and who can intercede on your behalf. To Buddhist philosophy, such an idea of godhead - or ultimate reality or ultimate salvation - some father-like figure - is a rather child-like conception, just as the vision of a heaven where the streets are paved with gold, or the cool green and water-filled paradise of the Muslims might be considered a childlike one in spiritual terms. Whatever godliness or heavenliness there is, it is within you - within us all - it is to be realised. And that is the goal of meditation - to realise truth and to act upon it. Through this discipline of meditation, it loses its selfishness in the superficial sense and becomes a kind of mantle of loving kindness radiating from you to all creation.

So that's why people now go to Buddhist places of retreat that seem to have sprung up everywhere and in many cases are maybe confusing themselves by chanting strange phrases that have to be understood in a very special way. They are trying to get away from stereotyped ways of looking at the world or ways that might seem to be too ...