Matthieu Ricard: what Buddhism really is

- through Francois Leclercq

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Buddhism is often served with all the sauces – philosophy, religion, art of living, etc. – in a way that often amounts to caricature. One can then wonder what are the essential points that define Buddhism according to the Buddha himself and according to the qualified masters to whom we owe the authoritative commentaries on the meaning of his teachings.

Buddhism has as its main goal the remedying of suffering in all its forms.
– For this, it is necessary to identify the causes of suffering at different levels. These causes are in the first place ignorance and the afflictive mental states that result from it and condition both words and deeds.

– We can appease certain afflictive mental states such as hatred, desire, lack of discernment, pride, jealousy and many others by resorting to antidotes: benevolence to thwart hatred, non-attachment to neutralizing desire, understanding the laws of cause and effect to remedy the lack of discernment, etc. However, these antidotes are powerless to eradicate the root cause of suffering: ignorance defined as failure to recognize the true ultimate nature of phenomena.

– The one and only remedy for this fundamental ignorance is the understanding of “absolute” or “ultimate truth”, which designates the fact that phenomena appear while being empty of their own existence. In doing so, Buddhism avoids the two erroneous extremes of nihilism and materialism (or naive realism).

– All the other teachings of the Buddha belong to the conventional truth and aim to gradually lead beings to the direct experience of the ultimate truth, which goes beyond concepts and words, and constitutes the one and only means capable of eradicating a once and for all ignorance and suffering.

Do not confuse ultimate truth with conventional truth

This last point was clarified during a cycle of lessons given in April 2017 in Nepal on the Heart Sutra, or The Essence of Transcendent Knowledge by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche. The latter recalled the fundamental distinction between the teachings belonging to the conventional truth, or “expedient” (samvrti-satya) and the teachings belonging to the ultimate truth (paramartha satya). He insisted that the ultimate truth was the only one that truly expressed the Buddha's thought and that all other aspects of his teaching were only skillful means to lead the disciple to the understanding of the ultimate truth, to even that one gives liquid food to an infant first before feeding it with solid food.

This is why, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche explained, when the Buddha taught generosity, discipline, patience, diligence, analytical meditation, etc., it was not really what he thought or wanted. say. It is therefore unnecessary to specify that all cultural and religious aspects of Buddhism – rituals, prayers, beliefs, ceremonies, sacred music and dances, monasteries, etc. – fall under conventional truth. This is also why the XNUMXth Dalai Lama never ceases to encourage those who come to listen to him to study the fundamental texts instead of focusing on simple cultural aspects of Buddhism. The study of these texts, for those who take the trouble to indulge in them, makes it easy to dispel the clichés that still run about Buddhism – nihilism, individualism, disinterest in beings, etc.

“The study of the fundamental texts makes it easy to dispel the clichés that still run about Buddhism – nihilism, individualism, lack of interest in beings, etc. »

On a practical level, for the individual who walks the path of enlightenment, all virtuous activities performed with body and speech are indispensable, but they have no other purpose than to bring the spirit of straying from knowledge.

Understanding the ultimate nature of all things, this knowledge frees from the causes of suffering. Buddhism therefore offers a path to Enlightenment, accompanied by the desire to free all beings from suffering, which leads to transcendent knowledge, expressed thus by the Buddha when he attained Enlightenment: "I have found a dharma like ambrosia, peaceful, deep, luminous, free of concepts and uncomplicated. From this point of view, the Buddhism hardly meets the usual criteria that define a religion.

There are countless philosophical texts and treatises that explain in detail the few points mentioned above. In French, we can for example consult Understanding Emptiness (1), which presents two commentaries on the 9th chapter of the Walk to Awakening of Shantideva, entirely devoted to transcendent knowledge

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Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

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