Books 6 & 7 in the Little Books on Buddhism series are now available on the Books tab. Book 6 is on rebirth. It has four sections. One is on whether the Buddha taught rebirth, the second one is on whether there is evidence for the truth of rebirth, the third is on whether it is necessary to believe in rebirth to Awaken, and the fourth is on the Buddhist cosmology.
Book 7 is on Awakening (Enlightenment). This was a very difficult book to write. The Buddha gave different descriptions of what it means to Awaken. And since nirvāṇa lies outside the dimensions of time and space you cannot use conventional language to describe it. In addition, the experience of Awakening is different for everyone. The exact path is not the same, although fundamentally the moment of Awakening is when the meditator sees into the truth of dependent co-arising. It is like the difference between reading about and seeing pictures of Macchu Picchu and going there and experiencing it for yourself. When you Awaken you see into the causal nature of existence. But getting the mind quiet enough and insightful enough to see that is not so easy. And our habits and conditions, which so strongly reinforce the idea of a permanent “self”, resist this insight.
I found myself resorting to the enigmatic language of Zen. If you take Zen Buddhism as described by Dogen and put it on top of a good understanding of the Pali Canon it all fits together. And the descriptions of Awakening from Zen offer some good pointers on the experience. But as the saying goes, even then you are only a finger pointing at the moon. You can only give hints about what it is like.
There will be one final book. Book 8 will be on Daily Living. It was an oversight on my part not to include it earlier. The Buddha said that he taught the Dhamma and Discipline. In the monastic world the Dhamma is the discourses and the study and practice of meditation. The Discipline is the Vinaya, the monastic code. In the lay world we have the Five Precepts. In most Buddhist countries lay people do not practice meditation, but they do follow the precepts. They also practice generosity by supporting the monks and nuns.
But in the West we have a more hybrid practice, and it is not always easy for lay people who meditate to bring the practice from the cushion into their daily lives. Further, we do not practice the Five Precepts and generosity as rigorously as they do in Asia. So Book 8 will try and address our unique Western flavor of lay practice. I am using the Vinaya as a basic source, and trying to see how the monastic code can be used as a basis for lay life. Some of what will be in Book 8 will simply be common sense, skillful ways of living that are consistent with what the Buddha taught. The goal is to bring together elements of monastic life into the sort of lay-monastic practice that we have in the West and to create a lay Vinaya, something that greatly expands on the Five Precepts.