Buddhist Principles
by Christmas Humphreys

The world is filled with suffering; its cause is desire, selfishness, the power of the illusory self. To remove an unwanted effect it is commonsense to remove the cause. The ending of suffering, therefore, is achieved by the elimination of desire. But how? By treading a Way, a Middle Way between all extremes. So taught the All-Enlightened One, and he later described the Way as an eightfold Way, for although perfection in any one step is perfection in all, yet there is an orderly sequence in the task of self-perfection: the higher stages of mind-development, for example, must wait, or should wait, for the purification of motive lest, when achieved, they are used to selfish ends.
The Middle Way, however, is no mere compromise between the "pairs of opposites." It is not a middle way between good and evil, nor between too much effort and too little. The key to its nature is in the word translated "Right." "Right" Views, "Right" Motive, "Right" Action and the like mean these things at their purest and best, and the Sanskrit word samma has affinities with the Latin summus, meaning highest or best. When a thing is "right," (and the etymology of this word is itself of the greatest interest), it is right in place, time, author, purpose and method of doing. It is done by the right person at the right time in the right place, for the right reason and in the right way. Hence the saying that there are two ways of doing everything, the right and the wrong way. As a car driver, I like the analogy of changing gears. When tried too soon or too late there is a grinding of the delicate cogs of adjustment; when done (without "effort") at exactly the right time, the shifting relationship of parts makes way for the "perfect" act, and a new arrangement of parts is born. Here is the motiveless act of the Bhagavad Gita, and the Taoist's WuWei. So with each of the steps; each must be "right" of its kind.
The Middle Way is far beyond the field of ethics. Ethics, the right relations with one's fellow men, is an essential part of progress, but the ethically perfect man may be a long way still from Enlightenment. When I joined the Buddhist movement in England forty years ago I was told that the Buddhist was known by the fact that he was a vegetarian, and wore no fur. Here is a principle sadly gone astray, a deviation from the Middle Path to Enlightenment. Ahimsa. the doctrine of "no-harm," of doing no injury to any living thing, is excellent Buddhism. But it is far more important to think harmlessly than to create rules for harmless action, and it is more important still to think creatively and helpfully. The Buddhist about to enter the final Path will, as a matter of course, have achieved the control of sense desire and thought which will make it impossible for him to injure his fellow beings, but "cease to do evil' is only the first of a threefold law. The second step is to "learn to do good," and the third to "cleanse your own heart," and thus develop awareness of the already possessed Enlightenment. First, clean the bulb by all means; then make way for the Light.
The Middle Way is not the life of the crank, still less of the egotist. Before one can be extraordinary one must learn to be extra-ordinary, to be as nothing in the eyes of the world. Personal ambition is a bar to spiritual progress, not a way to it, and the great men of the world have no desire for power in any of its worldly forms. The Way is a way of experience, and to the Buddhist all that happens is material for progress. We can learn something from everything, and "there is nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so."
The first step on the Path is obviously Right Views. There must be a reason for setting out on a long and tiring journey. A knowledge of the Signs of Being and the Four Noble Truths provides such a reason. Right Motive or Aims is the second step. At first men do what they do because it pays, because it seems to serve the interests of the self. Yet this is selfish, even if it is called "acquiring merit." A nobler ideal is the service of life, of the common-weal, and this involves an expansion of the self which is served, an enlargement, as it were, of the field of selfishness. Last of all comes such a sense of wholeness that action becomes motiveless. Thereafter there is just an awareness that something should be done, and the time and place and means of doing it. It is done, and there is no sense of purpose, still less of reward.
And so, with a right comprehension of first principles, and a right purpose in view, the pilgrim begins the treading of the Middle Way. It is interesting that the first fruits of its treading is given as Right Speech. There are many reasons for this. We can wound with the tongue more subtly and more deeply than with a knife. A knife wound hurts the flesh but slander, bitter criticism, and even a deliberate snub can terribly hurt the mind. But nearly as important is the task of diminishing the loss of power which comes from idle chattering. Silence is more than golden; it is power, and in the ideal there should be silence unless there is something useful to say. It is not for nothing that the fourth of the five Precepts which a Buddhist repeats on many occasions is the vow to abstain from evil speech in all its forms.
Right Action is the key to progress. We are a restless, active people, not easily trained to contemplation or devotion. But we understand good deeds, and the Dhammapada is a famous hand-book for the practice of right action, even as the Bhagavad Gita proclaims the philosophic principles on which right action is founded. In the perfect act there is no room for self, and where there is no self to receive the consequence of an act, the law of karma, the law which brings us back to earth again and again for fresh experience, has ceased to operate. Hence the saying that the perfect act has no result.
Right Livelihood is a logical extension of the ideal of the perfect act. One's working day, and the reasonable reward attaching to it, should be in the first place harmless. A Buddhist would not be a butcher, and there are other employments, ranking highly in the social scale, which it is difficult to defend from the Buddhist point of view. If possible, one's job should be one which is helpful to others. Healing, teaching and all forms of social service are clearly a higher form of livelihood than manufacturing something which is of no service on the Way to any man. But we all have our individual karma to perform, and duties have a way of conflicting.
Right Effort is important, for wrong effort, particularly on the later stages of the Path, may do vast damage to the doer and to the receiver of the deed. It is not enough to "mean well." Karma takes an accurate record of all actions, "good" or "bad," and an act done with the best intentions will, if wrong in fact, bring painful consequences. Thus a mother may love her children, but love unillumined with common sense may do great harm to the child. Much folly is committed in the name of love, and those who think they love their neighbours, but in fact merely love interfering in their lives, bring hatred on themselves for their mis-spent effort.
The last two stages on the Eightfold Path are Right Concentration and Right Samadhi, an untranslatable term for the highest state of consciousness which precedes Nirvana. Concentration is the forging of the instrument, the acquiring of control of the mind until, like a searchlight, it can be used to illumine the subject chosen, and to exclude all others from the field of consciousness. Just as the modern searchlight throws a beam where chosen, and can be turned on, moved about and then turned off at will, so must the trained, controlled and developed mind be an instrument in the hands of will. One cannot meditate until one has learned to concentrate, for meditation is the right use of the mind as an instrument for Enlightenment. First must come control of sense, that is, of the mind's reaction to outside stimuli. Then comes emotional control, the power to refuse to react to the forces of doubt, delight, conceit, despair and many more which surge into the beginner's mind. Then at last comes mind-control, and the task is the task of a life-time.
Meditation is the profound concentration of the poised and directed mind on the seed or object of thought. To be useful it should be regular, for the mind works easily in habits, and the place, the posture, the time and the "devices" used, should be, at any rate in the early stages, the same. Later, all devices will be discarded, and the mind will "meditate" with ease in any place or time. The level of consciousness will have begun to rise, and its habitual focus-point be higher than the average level of those about one. Sense, emotion and thought will be under some sort of control, and a sense of synthesis, of the wholeness of life, begin to replace the destructive, analytic habits of the mind. When this much is achieved there will be time enough to consider the higher stages of the Middle Way, for this is a Middle Way wherein the whole man must develop equally, and no stage on the Path can be avoided. It is easy to lose oneself in dreams of a far ideal, but while the head is lost in the clouds, the feet must still "walk on," and Nirvana is a state of consciousness beyond description by the intellect and therefore beyond words, blind symbols of the intellect, to describe. Yet Nirvana is not here nor there, nor placed in time. Each moment of the day we enter Nirvana whenever a higher thought replaces a lower or feeling guides an action into "right" and therefore nobler ends. Nirvana is no far off heaven; it is the state when life is "rightly" lived, and may be won in its entirety, as the Buddha won it, on earth.
So much for the first two of the Triple-Gem of Buddhism, the Buddha and his Teaching. There remains the Sangha, the Order which he founded, first of men and later of women followers. The Buddhist Bhikkhu, clad in the Yellow Robe which meets the eye all over the Buddhist East, is no mere "priest." He makes no claim to stand between man and his divinity, still less between a man and the God in whom, as a Person, he does not believe. But he has left the world of men to tread more strenuously than other men the Middle Way, and to the extent that he is an example to all men of the Buddhist life he is respected and revered. He is the teacher of children and the teacher of men. His words are those of the Blessed One, his deeds an attempt to live in accord with them. So long as he lives a self-controlled, unworldly life he advances the cause of Buddhism. When he fails, from laziness, or from dabbling in mere wordly affairs and politics, he is unfaithful to the Robe he wears. But the Sangha is still the shrine of the Dhamma which the Buddha gave mankind, and so long as the Triple Gem is a force in the world, so long will its followers tread the Middle Way to the heart's enlightenment.
Peace to all Beings!