The Rapid Path to Liberation






Author: Linmu

Question: ...The path of liberation you mention is undoubtedly the right path, but... it seems like a long journey. Is there a quicker way to gain insight and escape from the sea of suffering?

Answer: Your understanding of liberation might be somewhat skewed. You should consider the canonical Buddhist teachings: keeping precepts, guarding the sense doors, practicing right mindfulness and right understanding, eliminating the Five Hindrances, attaining the first jhana up to the fourth jhana and finally realizing the ending of defilements. This is the fastest path to liberation, and you can witness it in the present moment.

Perhaps you think that you need to achieve the ending of defilements to be free from suffering and find happiness. But in reality, that's not the case. As soon as you genuinely start keeping precepts, even in the very moment you decide to keep them, you will experience great joy because of that decision. Further guarding the sense doors will prevent afflictions from invading your mind. Not to mention the inner peace arising from right mindfulness and right understanding, as well as the joy found in meditation.

But why can't you experience joy right away because of keeping precepts? It's because you still lack faith in the Buddha and his teachings. Even though you may think you have faith in the Dharma, you are holding onto a false version of the Dharma. You believe that you can attain some legendary or magical form of Nirvana through a specific method, and this Nirvana will annihilate your afflictions. This is a wrong view, a false interpretation of the Dharma propagated in the world, and those who believe in such a distorted version of the Dharma will not experience joy from keeping precepts. This is because this twisted form of Dharma doesn't require precepts. They think, how could keeping precepts bring joy? People who believe in this distorted version of the Dharma think they will only experience happiness when they've realized something like extinction, Nirvana, awakening, enlightenment, etc., a false Nirvana. Until they drop the illusion of this false Nirvana, they won't experience the unshakable joy of liberation. They might even add more suffering.

However, true Dharma is different. If you understand that so-called Nirvana is the cessation of greed, hatred, and delusion, and not a Nirvana that terminates these, you won't expect to quickly attain something to resolve your afflictions. If you understand that ending afflictions, and preventing them from arising is the right path to liberation, you'll find joy in keeping precepts because doing so immediately stops unwholesome bodily and verbal actions that lead to the rebirth of coarse afflictions. It's similar to how someone feels elation when they're hungry and then sees food because they know eating is the only way to end their hunger. When someone who's nearly starving sees food, they're filled with ecstatic joy. They don't have to wait until they're full to feel happy.

In the same way, if you know what the right Dharma is, and believe in it, you'll feel joy when you make the decision to keep precepts. The moment you decide to keep precepts, guard the sense doors, practice right mindfulness and right understanding, you will be brimming with joy. Deep inside, you will have no doubt that you now have hope and are on your way to eliminating afflictions. Thus, you should seek the right view in the suttas to understand what Buddha Dharma is, and what liberation is and what the path to liberation is. That's what you need to do right now.

Adendum:

People have accepted teachings that suggest that through certain practices, they can attain a sudden realization of something like extinction, Nirvana, awakening, enlightenment, etc., quickly eradicating greed, hatred, and delusion, putting an end to afflictions, eliminating suffering, and achieving transcendental sanctity. From ancient times to the present, many people have propagated such teachings. However, these are not the teachings of the Tathāgata, nor are they the true path to liberation. If you strip away all interpretations and simply study the suttas, you will find that the entire canon teaches from various perspectives how to eliminate greed, hatred, and delusion concerning form, feeling, perception, volitional formations, and consciousness. This is because the elimination of greed, hatred, and delusion is Nirvana, just as eliminating illness is health. It is not some sort of thing called health that eliminates illness. Keeping precepts can eliminate the most evil forms of greed, hatred, and delusion. Guarding the sense doors can stop new greed, hatred, and delusion from arising. Right mindfulness and right understanding can remove more subtle forms of greed, hatred, and delusion.

By eliminating the Five Hindrances, the mind becomes righted. Through rightening the mind, true reality is seen. With this vision of true reality, defilements are completely eliminated, and defilement cessation is the ending of afflictions; affliction cessation is the ending of suffering; and suffering cessation is the ending of all suffering.


The Tathagata's teachings

After achieving enlightenment, the Tathagata (Buddha) initially hesitated to teach because he believed the profound nature of his insights was too deep and subtle for anyone to grasp. He believed that complex concepts like not-self and dependent origination could not be understood by ordinary beings, who were often preoccupied with worldly pleasures and attachments.

The Tathagata’s reluctance to teach was overcome when Brahma Sahampati, a high deity, urged him to share his teachings, assuring him that there were individuals, with little dust in their eyes, ready to comprehend and benefit from his teachings.

Consequently, the Tathagata began teaching, delivering his first sermon at the Deer Park in Sarnath, which marked the start of his extensive teaching career spanning 45 years.

So, it's important to remember that although some Buddhist teachings have been adapted for the general public and Buddhism has been turned into a religion, the Tathagata's teachings were never meant for the general public. They were meant only for those few people with "little dust in their eyes" who were willing to renounce, seek the truth and liberation from "the world."


Sutta Reading

In order to penetrate the Tathagata's teachings, one will need to read, recall, and frequently contemplate his teachings and put them into practice to clearly know their meaning for oneself.

However, one must keep in mind that the Tathagata's teachings were intended for people with a very different mindset who lived 2,600 years ago. We now live in a world where people are overwhelmed with information, have very short attention spans, where words have lost their value, and very few people are willing to figure things out for themselves.

This means that you will have to change your expectations about how teachings should be delivered, not as step-by-step instructions to follow, but as pointers in the direction to explore and discover the truth that lies inside for yourself.

Only by practicing will you be able understand the Tathagata's teachings. It is not enough to understand his teachings at the conceptual level.

Read the following Sutta to understand the Tathagata's gradual training path and how each part of the path is dependent on mastery of previous stages.


Read another Sutta that covers the whole of the path from a different angle:



Contemplation






Questions for contemplation:

The path to liberation
The path to liberation

Now read the second part of the Sutta and contemplate the Tatagata's explanation as to why some of his students never reach their destination.


Read the third part of the Sutta and consider if you have the qualities to start on this path.


Bulb

Verily, one ought to tread with utmost circumspection whilst delving into the sacred scriptures, for it behooves the reader to bear in remembrance the formidable challenge of comprehending writings penned three centuries hence.

Not to mention the considerable difficulty in grappling with a distinct tongue and the distant bygone age that stretches two and a half millennia into the past.


Reading the Suttas

It's important to remember that the Tathagata adapted his teachings to various audiences with different capacities and mindsets and for diverse situations.

What we have now in the form of Suttas was written down many centuries after the Tathagata's passing away. Before then, the Suttas were formatted in such a way, with a lot of repetition, so that they could easily be memorized for chanting, which is how they were passed on for hundreds of years before they were written down. The format was not meant for modern-style reading but to be chanted and remembered easily.

It's important to understand that the mindset back then differs greatly from today, so we should be cautious not to consider English translations as the exact words of the Tathagata. Many words in the Pali language don't have English equivalents, and some concepts and ways of thinking are radically different and are no longer present in the modern mindset.

Further points to keep in mind about the Suttas: