By Daniel Scharpenbrug
The Buddhist path is about trying to engage our lives more skillfully.
We’re trying to learn how to live our lives in a way that reduces our suffering and we’re also trying to change the way our suffering spills out of us onto other people.
The path isn’t about creating more pleasant feelings so much as it is about being more okay with whatever is happening. Suffering, neuroses ignorance…these are normal aspects of being human. We probably can’t get rid of them but let’s see if we can move through the world with a little more mindfulness.
I don’t talk about the Buddha much because I think people may get carried away thinking about him. This isn’t about his journey; it’s about yours.
That being said, I will say a little about him. The man we call the Buddha went on a search for meaning 2500 or so years ago. He saw suffering in the world and he was depressed, so he turned to the religions of his day for comfort and that didn’t work. He tried a really diligent personal meditation practice, because he wanted to have some personal insight into the nature of things. Suffering, he realized, was a natural part of life—our own reaction to impermanence and death.
We crave permanence and safety and we can’t just settle into the uncertainty that is often part of life. He put forth the four noble truths: life is suffering, the cause of suffering is wanting, suffering diminishes when wanting is abandoned, and the way to do it.
The way it culminates in a course of action is very important. This isn’t a philosophy for us to believe in; it’s a path for us to walk.
With this in mind, the Buddha put together the Eightfold Path. He said that living in a way that supports these eight fundamental things is a way to promote well being and create harmony with the world around us.
Wise View: Learning how to put down our baggage and preconceptions in order to see the world as it really is. This is training in clarity.
Wise Thought: Lessening our attachment to views and judgments. This is training in equanimity.
Wise Speech: Being honest and careful so that our words don’t cause harm. This is training in virtue.
Wise Action: Helping others whenever possible. This is training in virtue.
Wise Livelihood: Having a career that minimizes harm. This is training in virtue.
Wise Effort: Always trying hard. It’s hard to stick with these practices. This is training in diligence.
Wise Mindfulness: Being present with what’s happening. This is training in attention.
Wise Meditation: Cultivating a mind that does not move. This is training in wisdom.
This is the foundation of Buddhism. We are training in these things in order to minimize the suffering of ourselves and the people around us. It’s important to keep these foundational things in mind because sometimes we forget.
Editor: Dana Gornall