The Sakya Buddha’s agenda
“One thing only do I teach: ‘Suffering and the release from suffering’.”
At about 30 years of age, the Buddha-to-be, Siddartha, a rich young man who had everything the heart and loins could desire, felt miserable. He just couldn’t understand it. He resolved to figure out the cause of his suffering (Pali: dukkha) and, hopefully, a solution.
So he dumped the wife and kid and took off into the world, there to roam as an itinerant beggar seeking a solution that would bring him if not happiness then at least release from misery. He interpreted the life-style of the itinerant beggar as ‘The Noble Life’, thereby suggesting (and in fact stating) that the ‘home’ life was ignoble.
After about 7 years of relentless striving, Siddartha finally claimed to have solved the problem of the arising and cessation of suffering. He also claimed that because his solution was perfect (= full, = complete, = samma-sam-(bodhi)), he had earned the right to call himself The Buddha (English: The Awakened). He then spent the next 40 years attempting to fully explain and apply his via 84000 methods, at which task he failed (since suffering did not disappear either from within his motley band of followers nor from India as a whole). During the next 1400 years his fans continued upgrading his explanation and techniques and adding/substituting (as in Mahayana) their own explanations and techniques. Thus did the simple (and very secular) solution to recurring personal suffering offered by Siddartha become a grand world religion, until it was completely extinguished in India in the 11th century AD (and the Lord Buddha (the solver of the problem of human suffering) was replaced by Lord Ganesh, the Universal Problem Solver).
Siddartha (now calling himself Tathagata) came up initially with two universal principles/causes (and which he later elaborated for more user friendly access into a wide range of causes).
Firstly: all dharmas (i.e. all phenomena, hence samsara (viz. the wheel of life = a life cycle) as a whole), and which included the dharma of suffering and his own teaching/dharma, happen as transient effects (or on-going after-events*) and not as stable (everlasting) causes. That is the ‘ground’ cause of suffering, to wit. ‘Nothing lasts’. Consequently, if you attach to that which doesn’t last you’re going to get hurt.
Secondly: dharmas (i.e. ‘things’ and processes, to wit, persons) arise as secondary after-affects of pre-cursor conditions (or causes) over which one has no control, therefore doesn’t own. Hence, things (or persons) are not prime or 1st causes (i.e. original selves). If and when the conditions disappear, so do their affects. Therefore, suffering arises from attachment to that which one does not own (and last) and therefore does not control.
In the everyday world, suffering also arises from ignorance (this was the Vedantists’ position) and/or from greed (or desire), hatred (or ill-will) and delusion (or stupidity) and from the naïve schedule of the 4 Noble Truths.
Did Siddartha get it?
At the everyday level of human experience he got it right. Suffering happens as personal response to personal adversity/misadventure (that is to say, of FAILURE) and which includes the unpleasant effects of ignorance. That satisfied most of the villagers who provided his lunches. Yet his attempt to resolve the universal, i.e. basic or ground level of response to adversity (specifically, to impeded survival) didn’t even get close. The universal explanation of the ‘ground’ of suffering was left to be resolved by two later Buddha’s (Buddha’s are those who solve universal problems perfectly = fully), namely Heisenberg, and who in 1929 solved the problem for physics with his Uncertainty Principle, and Gödel who later resolved the problem for mathematics with his incompleteness theorem.
But that still left one significant unresolved issue.
Strangely, the Sakya Buddha never asked the obvious question, namely: does suffering (i.e. the feeling response of mild to extreme unpleasantness) serve a useful (i.e. survival) purpose. Is a negative emotional response a means to be skilfully and profitably applied? Is suffering a vital part of the bio-logical Guide & Control mechanism? After all, his own samma-sambodhi (i.e. perfect, complete (hence universal) awakening), release from bondage, boundless joy and subsequent nirvana had arisen from, hence been dependent on (i.e. driven by) suffering as its direct condtion/cause. Had he not suffered he would not have attained complete awakening and become a Buddha. Indeed, had he not desired (to attain release = nirvana) he would not have become the Fully Accomplished One.
And it’s this unresolved issue that makes his universal suffering elimination programme universally dodgy, indeed, seriously incomplete. The new user friendly (mitreya, or meteyya) Buddhism (of the 21st century) cleans up the mess the Sakya Buddha and his followers left.
* Like the weather or hunger; or a chariot.