Life is cyclical. At least my life is, which for me means that I keep coming back to things again and again. I took an interest in Buddhism many years ago and then let it fade away. And then I came back to it, and let it fade away. And then came back to it, and well, you get the idea. The point is, Buddhism has never completely left me, and therefore I take that to mean that the ideas that Buddhism puts forth must be important to me. This essay is about what I think Buddhism is. I’m not an expert, and I’m not a teacher. I’ve never been very good at telling others what I know myself. If you are interested in something I write about, do like the Buddha has suggested, and learn about it for yourself, don’t just take my word for it. Try it, see if it works for you, and then do it, or let it go. There is no compulsion in Buddhism. You will never find Buddhists on your doorstep, inviting you to join.
The Buddha, as history tells us, lived about 2500 years ago. The “facts” of his life are unimportant. Just like with Jesus, what he taught is much more important than anything else we might think we know. This, in a very basic explanation, is what the Buddha taught. There are what is referred to as, Four Truths. The first truth is:
There is suffering in life.
The second truth is:
There is a known cause of all suffering.
The third is this:
There is a way out of suffering.
And finally the fourth truth:
Following a certain path in life will end suffering.
Sounds simple, right? This part is simple. Human beings suffer and we are the cause of all our suffering. If you want to end that suffering you can, by following a particular path, or way of life that the Buddha taught. The hard part is examining your life, picking it apart to find all the things that don’t agree with the path, and getting rid of them, thereby conforming your life to the path. That’s the hard part. The reason it’s hard is because we humans have a very large capacity for self deception. We don’t like to admit mistakes, or believe that we’re wrong about anything. We don’t like to admit that we don’t know something. Self examination, looking deeply at ourselves and realizing that we’re flawed, is not an enjoyable enterprise, and therefore, we don’t do much of it. But if we want to improve, if we want to end our self inflicted suffering, then that is exactly what we should do. To end our suffering the Buddha prescribed what is called, The Eightfold Path. There are eight things we should do to end suffering. These are:
Right View: Seeing things (ourselves) as they really are.
Right Intention: Giving up selfish attitudes that bring about more suffering.
Right Speech: Words have power. Use them only for good.
Right Action: Do only those things that avoid causing harm.
Right Livelihood: Earn a living in the world that causes no harm.
Right Effort: Being aware of your thoughts and actions and words that promote suffering and banishing them.
Right Mindfulness: Paying close attention to what is happening right now; not letting your mind wander.
Right Concentration: Focusing your mind through mindfulness and meditation.
The Buddha taught that doing these things will end your suffering by changing your attitudes about everything. Many volumes have been written over the years as to what this all means, so I won’t go into details about what I think it means because like I said before, I’m not a teacher. I have formed my own opinions based on many years of reading and deciphering Buddhist texts. Is it difficult? Yes in a word, yes it is. That’s probably why I haven’t stuck with it from the start. However, each time I go back to Buddhism, I stick with it a little longer and get better at it. I’ve thought about taking lay person vows but have never gone through with it. Now, I don’t think it’s necessary to take vows to call myself a Buddhist anymore than it’s necessary to have gone through conformation in church to call yourself a Christian. Christians dedicate their lives to the teachings of Jesus, Buddhists dedicate their lives to the teachings of Buddha. Simple.
For me, following the teachings of the Buddha means applying them to my life and making the effort to make a better world while doing no harm in the process. It’s not easy. It means constant self examination to make sure I’m doing no harm, to myself or others. It means practicing mindfulness and meditation because these techniques help in that effort. It means constantly watching what I think, do , and say and conforming these to the effort of making a better world for all. I’ve finally come to believe that this is the right thing to do, and it’s important to do it all the time. Right Effort. Constant reminding helps drill it into my head. For me, it’s worth the effort.