A) What is Buddhism?
Buddhism has alternately been called a religion, a philosophy, an ideology and a way of
life. As with all the other great spiritual traditions that have withstood the test of time, Buddhism offers many different
paths for people with different kinds of sensibilities, needs and capacities.
B) Core Teachings of Buddhism
There are immutable core teachings expounded by the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni, that create a collective wellspring
for all forms of Buddhism. Specifically, these are the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. Yet these basic teachings
have themselves been subject to interpretation and again have various flavors within different Buddhist cultures.
C) The 4 Noble Truths
The first noble truth:
is that life is frustrating and painful. In fact,
if we are honest with ourselves, there are times when it is downright miserable. Things may be fine with us, at the moment,
but, if we look around, we see other people in the most appalling condition, children starving, terrorism, hatred, wars, intolerance,
people being tortured and we get a sort of queasy feeling whenever we think about the world situation in even the most casual
way. We, ourselves, will some day grow old, get sick and eventually die. No matter how we try to avoid it, some day we are
going to die. Even though we try to avoid thinking about it, there are constant reminders that it is true.
second noble truth:
is that suffering has a cause. We suffer because we are constantly struggling to survive. We are
constantly trying to prove our existence. We may be extremely humble and self-deprecating, but even that is an attempt to
define ourselves. We are defined by our humility. The harder we struggle to establish ourselves and our relationships, the
more painful our experience becomes.
The third noble truth:
is that the cause of suffering can be ended.
Our struggle to survive, our effort to prove ourselves and solidify our relationships is unnecessary. We, and the world, can
get along quite comfortably without all our unnecessary posturing. We could just be a simple, direct and straight-forward
person. We could form a simple relationship with our world, our coffee, spouse and friend. We do this by abandoning our expectations
about how we think things should be.
The fourth noble truth:
the way, or path to end the cause of suffering.
The central theme of this way is meditation. Meditation, here, means the practice of mindfulness/awareness, shamata/vipashyana
in Sanskrit. We practice being mindful of all the things that we use to torture ourselves with. We become mindful by abandoning
our expectations about the way we think things should be and, out of our mindfulness, we begin to develop awareness about
the way things really are. We begin to develop the insight that things are really quite simple, that we can handle ourselves,
and our relationships, very well as soon as we stop being so manipulative and complex.
D) The Noble Eightfold Path
According to the Buddha, the Eightfold path is the means
to achieve liberation
from suffering. Specifically, this path includes:
(1) Right View,
(2) Right Thought,
(3) Right Speech,
(4) Right Action,
(5) Right Livelihood,
(6) Right Effort,
(7) Right Mindfulness,
The path to liberation from these miserable states of being, as taught by the Buddha, has eight
points and is known as the eightfold path.
(1) Right View
The first point is called right view -- the
right way to view the world. Wrong view occurs when we impose our expectations onto things; expectations about how we hope
things will be, or about how we are afraid things might be. Right view occurs when we see things simply, as they are. It is
an open and accommodating attitude. We abandon hope and fear and take joy in a simple straight-forward approach to life.
(2) Right Thought
The second point of the path is called right intention. It proceeds from right view.
If we are able to abandon our expectations, our hopes and fears, we no longer need to be manipulative. We don't have to try
to con situations into our preconceived notions of how they should be. We work with what is. Our intentions are pure.
(3) Right Speech
The third aspect of the path is right speech. Once our intentions are pure, we no longer
have to be embarrassed about our speech. Since we aren't trying to manipulate people, we don't have to be hesitant about what
we say, nor do we need to try bluff our way through a conversation with any sort of phoney confidence. We say what needs to
be said, very simply in a genuine way.
(4) Right Action
The fourth point on the path, right discipline,
involves a kind of renunciation. We need to give up our tendency to complicate issues. We practice simplicity. We have a simple
straight-forward relationship with our dinner, our job, our house and our family. We give up all the unnecessary and frivolous
complications that we usually try to cloud our relationships with.
(5) Right Livelihood
is the fifth step on the path. It is only natural and right that we should earn our living. Often, many of us don't particularly
enjoy our jobs. We can't wait to get home from work and begrudge the amount of time that our job takes away from our enjoyment
of the good life. Perhaps, we might wish we had a more glamorous job. We don't feel that our job in a factory or office is
in keeping with the image we want to project. The truth is, that we should be glad of our job, whatever it is. We should form
a simple relationship with it. We need to perform it properly, with attention to detail.
(6) Right Effort
The sixth aspect of the path is right effort. Wrong effort is struggle. We often approach a spiritual discipline as
though we need to conquer our evil side and promote our good side. We are locked in combat with ourselves and try to obliterate
the tiniest negative tendency. Right effort doesn't involve struggle at all. When we see things as they are, we can work with
them, gently and without any kind of aggression whatsoever.
(7) Right Mindfulness
the seventh step, involves precision and clarity. We are mindful of the tiniest details of our experience. We are mindful
of the way we talk, the way we perform our jobs, our posture, our attitude toward our friends and family, every detail.
(8) Right Concentration
Right concentration, or absorption is the eighth point of the path. Usually we
are absorbed in absentmindedness. Our minds are completely captivated by all sorts of entertainment and speculations. Right
absorption means that we are completely absorbed in nowness, in things as they are. This can only happen if we have some sort
of discipline, such as sitting meditation. We might even say that without the discipline of sitting meditation, we can't walk
the eightfold path at all. Sitting meditation cuts through our absentmindedness. It provides a space or gap in our preoccupation